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The Burning Passion of St. Francis – October 4, 2016

On his deathbed, Lenin reportedly uttered, “To save our Russia, what we needed . . . was ten Francises of Assisi.” Lenin was right: St. Francis of Assisi is one of the greatest saints in the history of the Church. Almost single-handedly, he helped revive the medieval Church in the 13th century with the foundation of his mendicant Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscans. He had many preternatural gifts as a mystic, healer, and leader, as well as a special symbiosis with nature. It is not surprising that Dante dedicated a canto in Paradiso to St. Francis, calling him a “prince” who “was all Seraphic in his ardour.” More than these great many gifts, however, St. Francis’ success was rooted in his desire, to live a life in imitation of Jesus Christ, particularly the crucified Christ. Many people today erroneously think of St. Francis as a sandal-wearing, milquetoast peacenik whose greatest legacy was in gracing birdbaths everywhere. Rather, St. Francis lived a life of radical conformity and divine union to the sacrificial life of Christ. In retracing the life of St. Francis, we can see how his divine union with Christ grew and developed through successive stages of personal martyrdom.

As with many young people, especially those coming from a wealthy family, Francis in his youth was given to follow the vanities of life. Tradition holds that he loved wine, food, and feasts, and lived a life of indulgence. The lyric poems of troubadours and wandering minstrels also held sway over his imagination. Perhaps they sparked his daydreams of becoming a gallant knight, fighting chivalrously in a far off crusade. In fact, it was not long before the high-minded youth was caught up in a skirmish in 1202 against the nearby rival city of Perugia. In the battle the young Francis was wounded and taken captive. He was held in prison for a year, during which time he developed a long and protracted illness. Eventually, after his release and his continuing maladies, his thoughts began to turn away from knightly adventures and worldly desires. He then began to spend long hours in intense prayer, religious exercises, and in the contemplation of God. This was his first conversion.

It was in this period that Francis had a miraculous encounter with a leper. He had discerned in prayer that God wished him to deny himself and conquer his self-will. To this end, his conscience was tugging at him about his strong aversion and disgust of lepers. One day, tradition has it that while he was riding through the countryside, he came upon a leper. Recalling his resolution, he approached the afflicted person, gave him some alms, and kissed his diseased hand. Upon remounting his horse, he turned to look back at the person, but no one was there. From this point on, Francis began to visit and minister to lepers in hospitals and other undesirable places, washing their sores, kissing them, and eating with them. With this, he began his process of detachment from himself.

While praying intently in a chapel at San Damiano in 1205, and kneeling devoutly before a large Byzantine crucifix, Francis heard the voice of Jesus. He saw the lips on the image of Jesus move and heard the voice of Jesus say to him, “Francis, go, repair My house, which as you can see, is falling completely to ruin.” Three times Jesus spoke this to him. Francis was overwhelmed by the miraculous vision, and sought at once to repair, literally, the chapel at San Damiano. Initially he sold some of his father’s possessions to pay for the repairs at the chapel. Later, under direction from the Bishop, he understood that it was wrong for him to have taken his father’s wealth. At last, to the astonishment of the Bishop, his father, and many witnesses, Francis stripped his fine garments off piece by piece, and renounced all his possessions, save a hair shirt he had on. With this nakedness, Francis officially detached himself from his father and the world, and embraced a life of poverty.

For several years Francis lived in a small cottage, in an intense life of prayer and severe bodily discipline. He also begged for money to continue repairs to the chapel and other churches. After repairing San Damiano, he moved on to repair San Pietro della Spina, and then, the Portiuncula, or Little Portion, dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels. St. Bonaventure later recounted that Francis’ restoration of these three churches symbolized the three orders he would later establish: the Order of Friars Minor, the Poor Clares for women, and the Third Order of St. Francis for the laity. During mass at the Portiuncula, he heard the gospel reading, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.” (Lk. 9:3) This made a profound impact upon Francis as if Jesus Himself had commissioned him. He set off with only a common peasant’s tunic tied by a cord, to preach the good news of penance and salvation to all he met.

Francis, the “poor man of Assisi,” continued to live the life of renouncement and poverty. With Francis’ tremendous charisma and preaching, he soon began to develop a large group of followers. They too were converted to a life of radical poverty of Christ, of begging and serving the poor and preaching the Gospel. Their life of self-martyrdom consisted of mortifications, penances, and prayer. In 1209, after Pope Innocent III had a remarkably vivid dream of Francis holding up the papal Lateran Basilica, he gave approval to the first Rule of the Order. They had tonsured haircuts and an austere habit made of coarse grey cloth with a pointed hood and a knotted cord around their waist. Francis was also ordained a deacon; in his profound humility, he did not deem himself worthy to be ordained a priest. Once his Order was established, the friars lived by the rules of poverty, chastity and obedience to the Roman Catholic Church.

Francis also sought to evangelize others and save souls, which manifested itself in his missionary work. In 1219, Francis travelled with the crusaders to Egypt, but not as a knight in battle as he had imagined in his youth, but now as a missionary for Christ. Pope Honorius III had enacted the Fifth Crusade to retake the Holy Land and Jerusalem. Since his initial conversion, Francis had been living a life of spiritual martyrdom and physical mortifications. Now, with the crusaders surrounding the Egyptian city of Damietta on the edge of Cairo, Francis was prepared to offer up his life as a true martyr for Christ. After warning the crusaders that they would lose the battle and suffer horrible losses, they attacked anyway. Once the Muslim forces won the battle, with some 5,000 crusaders killed and another 1,000 taken prisoner, a truce was called. It was at this time with the battle barely simmered down that Francis and one of his companions were permitted to enter the camp of the Saracens and approach the Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil.

Francis boldly entered enemy territory, prepared to die, armed only with his zeal to save souls. He was immediately beaten and chained by the Saracens, and brought before the Sultan. There, he informed the Sultan that he came as a messenger of God to reveal the truth of Christianity and save the Sultan’s soul. Despite the Imams’ urging to cut off Francis’ head, the Sultan was moved by Francis’ concern for the Sultan’s eternal salvation. One of Francis’ companions described the Sultan, “that cruel beast,” who in response to Francis, “became sweetness itself.” By God’s grace, Francis was allowed to stay for weeks in the court of the Sultan, discussing theology and evangelizing him. The Sultan refused to convert to Christianity, at least publicly and be killed by his followers, so Francis eventually returned to the crusader encampment, undoubtedly to their amazement. According to oral tradition, the Sultan converted on his deathbed and embraced the faith of St. Francis. Francis’ companion, Brother Illuminato, said that after hearing Francis preach, the Sultan “always had the Christian faith imprinted in his heart.” As a lasting legacy of Francis’ encounter, the Franciscans were later made custodians of the Christian holy sites in the Holy Land and Middle East, a position they still hold today. After his brush with martyrdom, St. Francis updated the Order’s Rule of 1221, Regula non Bullata, chapter XVI, on travelling and evangelizing in Muslim territory by quoting the Lord thusly: “Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves.” (Mt. 10:16) His recommendation was to boldly proclaim the Gospel of Christ, even if it meant persecution and death.

In 1224, St. Francis climbed a remote mountain La Verna for a forty-day fast and spiritual retreat for the feast of St. Michael. On the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, September 14th, while contemplating the passion and death of Christ, St. Francis had a vision of a six-winged Seraphim fixed on a cross and flying towards him. As it came closer, he recognized that it was Jesus with his hands and feet nailed to the cross. St. Francis understood the vision to mean that he himself would be transformed by his seraphic love of God into a perfect image of the crucified Christ. Waking from the vision, St. Francis found he had received Christ’s wounds into his very own body, holes in his hands and feet, and a wound in his side. He had received the sacred stigmata as a testament to the oneness of spirit he had with Christ, recalling the words of St. Paul, perhaps the Church’s first stigmatist, “For I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” (Gal. 6:17) For the next two years until his death, St. Francis bore the stigmata as a sign for all, enduring this painful martyrdom supernaturally manifested in perfect unity with Christ’s passion.

St. Francis embraced his sufferings out of love for God and his neighbor. St. Bonaventure quotes him as saying, “Nothing would make me more happy than to have you afflict me with pain and not spare me. Doing your will is consolation enough, and more than enough, for me.” It was at this point that the saint composed his “Canticle of Brother Sun,” including the line “May thou be praised, my Lord, for those who forgive for the sake of They love and endure infirmity and tribulation.” Having trouble walking from the wounds in his feet, and his eyes now nearly blind, the little poor man of Assisi approached death on the evening of October 3, 1226. In recollection of his initial conversion, and in perfect imitation with the poverty and death of the Lord, he asked to be placed naked on the ground in anticipation of his own death. With his dying breaths, St. Francis implored his followers to hold fast to the Gospel and the faith of the Church. With that, he entered into his eternal reward.

In meditating on the life of St. Francis we are reminded of the stages of martyrdom he went through in his life, from renouncing his wealth and possessions, to serving lepers and the poor, to placing himself in danger by evangelizing Muslims, to suffering through infirmities, to eventually receiving the very wounds of Christ Himself with the stigmata. As much as anyone in the history of the Church, he imaged Christ perfectly. St. Francis believed in a life of sacrifice, poverty, and humility. It was St. Francis’ seraphic love and humility that led him to create the first creche, or manger scene, in its beautiful simplicity and reverence on one Christmas night for midnight mass. He lived his whole life out of this great love for the Lord, in imitation of the life of Christ. He also believed that vicarious and redemptive suffering, when offered to God, can be meritorious for the salvation of souls. His concern for the salvation of all souls was central to his life. As members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we are all called to complete what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ and share in His redemptive work, for as Jesus said, “where I am, there shall My servant be also.” (Jn. 12:26) Let us be there now, with St. Francis, our brother, as we honor him on his feast day.

Running to Win the Spiritual Race – May 19, 2016

William Shakespeare famously wrote “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” and so it is with us. Each of us “performs” each day on the world’s stage before the spectacle of our fellow man, and before the saints and angels in heaven, and under the watchful eyes of God. We act out our lives from moment to moment, for good or for ill, before the human and the heavenly audience. St. Paul says, “..we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men.” (1 Cor. 4:9) The letter to the Hebrews depicts us as competing in a packed stadium filled with all the saints and heroes that have gone before us, cheering us on, competing in a race around the track. “..since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses . . . let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us..” (Heb. 12:1) St. Paul urges us to shed “every weight” of sin that slows us down so we can persevere and win the race. The cloud of witnesses, the saints in heaven, are not only cheering us on but also offering personal intercession for us. (CCC 2683) St. Paul must have been a great admirer of runners and athletic competitions, such as the Isthmian and Olympiad Games; he uses the running metaphor a number of times in his letters. To the Corinthians he says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Cor. 9:24-25) St. Paul compares the spiritual life to an athletic competition, in which we should strive not for a laurel victory wreath but for the crown of eternal life.

How should we compete for this crown of eternal life? Much in the same way that an athlete must plan his or her exercise regimen each day to prepare for the race, so should we plan our spiritual regimen each day. We can exercise our souls with a schedule of daily prayer. In this way we can grow in faith and holiness, pleasing to God, and on the path to eternal life. First, we must discipline and train our spiritual selves. This can be difficult. It can be so much easier to sit back and watch a TV show or surf the internet rather than pray. I can find a million excuses not to pray at any given moment, but I have found my day is so much better if I do pray. My day is given direction and satisfaction, and a sense of purpose and connection to God. It sacramentalizes my whole day. The best way to approach our spiritual training is to have a simple, fixed schedule of prayer. Basically, we need a plan. It should be a simple one, accommodating our individual circumstances and responsibilities. The key is to faithfully stick to the plan as best we can, and repeat it each day and each week. If we do this, we can “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess. 5:17) We can become, as St. Josemaria Escriva described, “contemplatives in the midst of the world.”

Here are some suggestions for us to include in our daily spiritual exercises:

  • The Morning Offering upon waking up
  • Pray the Rosary
  • Attend Mass and receive Communion
  • Pray the Angelus at noon
  • Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet (maybe at the 3:00 hour)
  • Small acts of penance or mortification throughout the day
  • Grace before meals
  • Attend Adoration
  • Pray the Liturgy of the Hours (particularly, in the morning and evenings hours; see phone apps to assist with this)
  • Short conversations of mental prayer (a “heart to heart” talking and listening to God)
  • Spiritual Reading (Bible or other spiritual reading)
  • Meditate on the Stations of the Cross
  • A Nightly Examination of Conscience and Act of Contrition before bed

Of these, I have found it particularly important to never miss the Morning Offering or the Nightly Act of Contrition. These help frame our day and orient it completely towards God, sanctifying the hours of the day from morning to night. I also find saying the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy particularly powerful, but this is my own particular spiritual affinity. Each of us should determine what we are drawn to personally.

It does not take much time to speak to God each day, even mere minutes. Yet, it can still be difficult. Much like our regular muscles, we need to exercise our prayer muscle to improve. The more we exercise our prayer life, the stronger and easier it will become. Prayer is our connection to Him. Our relationship with God will take on a much more personal flavor and commitment. God calls us friends and His children. He is personally interested in us, even down to the most minute details of our lives. Jesus said, “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Mt.10:30) This should give us comfort. God knows our hearts and thoughts. He hears everything we ask and tell Him. He cares about us more than we could ever imagine. We just need to make the time to speak and listen to Him. Our daily prayer schedules are part of our commitment to Him, and proof that we love Him. If we live this way, each and every day, and continue this over our lifetimes, a “compounding interest of prayer,” if you will, this is the stuff of saints. Then, we can come to the end of our lives, the end of our race and competition, and declare as St. Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7)

 

The 100th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima (long version) – February 24, 2016

“And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Rev. 12:1)   

The Angel / 1916:

This spring 2016 is the one hundred year anniversary of the Fatima apparitions. It is true that Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary, did not begin to appear to the three shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco dos Santos, in Fatima, Portugal until May 13, 1917. However, in the spring of 1916 they were first visited by the “Angel of Peace,” who prepared the way for the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima the following year. The angel appeared to them “whiter than snow, transparent as crystal when the sun shines through it and of great beauty.” He spoke to them, “Do not be afraid. I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me.” The angel returned to three shepherd children again in the summer of 1916, and then again, lastly, in late September-early October 1916. The angel imparted heavenly entreaties to them for prayer, conversion and intercession; sacrifice and reparation; while imploring them to adoration and devotion to the Holy Eucharist.

The Virgin Mary later told Jacinta that war is a punishment for sin. In the spring of 1916, when the angel first appeared, Europe and the world were already embroiled in the “Great War,” World War I. It began on July 28, 1914, with an Austro-Hungarian declaration of war against Serbia, and an invasion soon after. Eventually, the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Turkish Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria had joined forces to form the “Central Powers” in a war of aggression against the main Allied countries of Britain and the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Russia, and later on, the United States. There were many more countries obviously involved too, making it the first truly global conflict. It was “the war to end all wars,” and by the end of it, on November 11, 1918, over 17 million people had died. Portugal, for its part, had, at least initially, remained neutral, yet they ended up losing over 7,000 Allied combatants, and over 80,000 civilians as well due to disease, hunger, and the worldwide Influenza pandemic.

By the spring of 1916, Germany and the Allies were locked into their positions, along trench lines, in a grueling battle of attrition, and poison gas attacks, on the Western Front across northern France. Along the Eastern Front, Russian and Romanian forces continued to fight bitterly against German, Austro-Hungarian, Turkish and Bulgarian troops. During the time of the angelic apparitions in Fatima in 1916, one of the largest battles of World War I was raging at the Battle of Verdun, along the Meuse River in France. Here, during the ten month long campaign, French and German forces suffered cumulative losses of over 300,000 dead and over 700,000 casualties. During the same time period from July to November 1916, the British and French, backed by the first ever use of tanks (British) on the battlefield, engaged the Germans at the Battle of the Somme River. The five month long assault resulted in over 1,000,000 men being killed or injured, including the shrapnel wounds of a German soldier, Adolf Hitler.

It was in this context of savage war that the Angel of Peace first appeared to the innocent children Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco. He invited them to pray with him, as he bowed down touching his forehead to the ground, similar to as Muslim men pray five times a day. [It is interesting to note that God chose the small village, Fatima, in Portugal for these occurrences, as it is named after Muhammad’s favorite daughter, Fatima, from the time of Moorish Muslim occupation. Bishop Fulton Sheen attributed this to God’s attempt to reach out to and convert Muslims, who, in fact, do hold Mary, as the mother of Jesus, in high respect within Islamic tradition and the Quran. Perhaps, they will one day be converted, in part, as the Aztec Indians were through the intervention of Our Lady of Guadalupe.] At this first appearance, the angel taught them the “Pardon Prayer.” He prayed, “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You.” This is the heavenly entreaty for us to pray intercessory prayer for others, especially for those who do not worship God. This is one of the central messages of Fatima: to pray for the salvation of souls. Upon departing, the angel told them, “Pray thus. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications.”  

In the summer of 1916, the angel appeared again to the three children. One day during the siesta hours the children were relaxing and playing games, when the angel appeared, gently admonishing them, “What are you doing?” Then, he entreated them, “Pray! Pray very much! The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High.” The angel was exhorting them to live a strong prayer life, to pray constantly and to offer sacrifices to God. The children continued to pray the Pardon Prayer he had previously taught them. Upon questioning the angel of how they should make sacrifices, he said, “Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners. You will thus draw down peace upon your country. I am its Angel Guardian, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, accept and bear with submission, the suffering which the Lord will send you.” With that, the angel made known to them that they should offer sacrifices to God as reparation and intercession for the conversion of sinners. They should also humbly bear any sufferings that God sends into their lives, as a form of intercession on behalf of sinners.

In late September or early October 1916 (Lucia did not recall the exact date), the angel returned again one last time. This time he came to teach them to pray and adore the Holy Eucharist and to receive Communion. He came with the chalice in his left hand with the Eucharistic host suspended over it, with drops of the precious blooded falling into the chalice. Bowing down, again touching his forehead to the ground, he taught them another prayer, “Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference with which He Himself is offended. And through the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners.” With that, the angel then offered the Eucharist as Holy Communion to the children. The angel said to them, “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.” This underscored the importance of the Mass and the Eucharist; in it, we receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ to dwell within us. God wants us to receive Him and adore Him in the Eucharist. The angel also tells us to “console your God.” God has made Himself vulnerable for us, and because of us. He is hurt by our sins, especially our mortal sins, and the thought of the eternal loss of His children. God’s main goal in the Christian faith and the Catholic Church is to save our souls, as we are all sinners in need of His forgiveness, mercy and grace. Thus, by our intercession and sacrifices on behalf of others, we can atone for their lack of prayer, lack of faith and lack of sacrifice. We can be co-redeemers with Christ, by uniting our sacrifices to His one eternal sacrifice and infinite merits, for the salvation of souls. By virtue of our Baptisms, we are baptized into the priesthood of Christ, and so, we can offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God in atonement for sin. In this way, we can, in fact, console God by renouncing ourselves for the good of others.

For the next seven months or so, the three little shepherd children contemplated and practiced these spiritual things the angel had taught them. Yet, in early 1917, Europe and the world were still engulfed in total war, unspeakable carnage, genocides and revolutions. Of note, the Ottoman Turks were in the process of exterminating 1.5 million Armenian Christians, along with Greeks and Assyrians, in the ethnic and religious genocide of their territory. Along the Western Front, the Germans had established a second defensive position called the Hindenburg Line. The first-ever aerial warfare was well underway as the Allies and German planes, including the German ace Manfred von Richthofen, the “Red Baron,” clashed in the skies over Europe, fighting for air superiority. Naval and submarine warfare continued around the North Sea, as Germany tried to cut-off the British Isles and sink American ships. On April 6, after repeated German U-boat attacks, the U.S. finally declared war on Germany. To the East, British and Indian troops were fighting the Turks in Mesopotamia. Then, in March and April 1917, Russia, faltering and in the midst of revolution, overthrew the Czar, Nicholas II, and established a new provisional Russian Democratic government. Consequently, on April 16, a political agitator, Vladimir Lenin, returned from years in exile in Switzerland, and went back to Russia with his radical Bolshevik Party.

Our Lady / 1917:

It was amidst these years of swirling, manmade evil, and chaos, and devastation, that on May 13, 1917, the first apparition of Our Lady appeared to the same three shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, seven months or so after they had last seen the Angel of Peace. Mary appeared to the children as they tended to their flock of sheep in a field, Cova da Iria. Shining “more brilliant than the sun,” Mary said to them, just as the angel had, “Do not be afraid. I will do you no harm.” When Lucia asked her where she was from, she replied, “I am from Heaven.” Mary focused her message along the same lines as the angel had done: on prayer, reparation and the Eucharist. She asked the children if they would be willing to accept the suffering God sends them as an act of reparation for sins and the conversion of sinners. Again, this gives insight into how heaven views our roles as intercessors and priests who can offer sacrifice on behalf of others. We are called to stand in the breach! Then, the children, led by an interior impulse, fell on their knees and recited this prayer, “O Most Holy Trinity, I adore You! My God, my God, I love You in the most Blessed Sacrament!” As the Catechism teaches us, the Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion, is the source and summit of the Christian life. Before departing Mary made one more request of them, “Pray the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world, and the end of the war.” Just as she indicated that sin is the cause of war, so too Mary shows them that by prayer, and specifically praying the Rosary, we can bring about peace. Sin brings conflict, suffering and war, whereas prayer brings resolution and peace. Interestingly, her request to pray the Rosary every day is the same and only request she repeated at all six apparitions. This is one of the central spokes of Fatima, to pray the Rosary everyday.

Mary appeared again to the three children on June 13, 1917. She repeated her request of them to return there on the 13th of each month, and of course, to pray the Rosary daily. Mary told them that Jesus wished to establish a worldwide devotion to her Immaculate Heart, which “will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.” This is another central component to the apparitions, that is, to offer devotion and reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. To honor her along with her Son, Jesus Christ, and the devotion to His Sacred Heart, given previously to the world through revelations to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. Mary was kept immaculate, without sin, at her conception. She became a suitable dwelling place for the Word of God. Yet, God did not force her to accept becoming Theotokos, the God bearer, but asked her assent, through her own freewill, to bear the Son of God. It is in Mary’s fiat, her yes to the archangel Gabriel, saying “Let it be done to me according to your word,” (Lk 1:38) that Jesus came into the world. Our salvation was contingent upon Mary’s obedience and compliance with the divine plan. Thus, Jesus asks us to honor her, as our spiritual mother, through which, grace, mercy and redemption entered the world.

The Secrets

The following month, on July 13, 1917, Mary imparted a secret message in three parts to the children. By now many people were following the happenings at Fatima and making requests, such as healings, of the children to ask Mary. It is interesting that Mary’s response to Lucia is that it would be necessary for such people to “pray the Rosary in order to obtain the graces” they were requesting. Now, the first secret was a terrifying vision of hell, shown to them for a brief instant. She wished to show them that eternal damnation is real, and that is the place where sinners go upon death if they do not amend their lives. She taught them to plead to God on behalf of sinners living in mortal sin and in danger of being eternally lost. She said, “Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say many times, especially whenever you make any sacrifice: O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” Again, her focus is on prayer and sacrifice for the conversion of sinners and reparation to her Immaculate Heart. This is a stark reminder of how vitally important it is to live a holy life, close to the Church, and avoiding sin, because our eternal destiny hinges upon it. As horrible as it is that millions of people had lost their lives during World War I, losing your soul is far worse. God is much more concerned about the soul than the body. It is because of this that Mary requested a special prayer to be said at the end of each decade of the Rosary: “O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need.” Fatima is an urgent plea to stay on the narrow path to heaven.

In the second part of the secret message, Mary conveyed to the children a warning that if mankind did not stop offending God, another war would happen, far worse than the current war (ie, WWI). She said, “If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end; but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that He is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father.” Of course, as we now know, that this all came to pass. Hitler and the National Socialists, Nazis, came to power in 1933. During the reign of Pope Pius XI, Germany annexed Austria and invaded the Sudetenland in 1938, marking the beginnings of aggression by Nazi Germany and World War II. This was heralded on January 25-26, 1938 by an extraordinary aurora borealis that illuminated the skies over Europe. Newspapers across Europe and America recorded the event. The January 26th edition of the NY Times has an article describing how Europe was “startled” by the brilliant display of lights. They were “pulsating beams like searchlights in dark red, greenish-blue and purple.” One person described it as a “shimmering curtain of fire.” Indeed, people from all over Europe, fearful and panicked that war had begun, called police stations and fire departments asking, “Where is the fire?” The true fire was soon set ablaze across the world, as it plunged into a second global conflagration.

Continuing in this third apparition in July, Mary also warned them, “To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are granted, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. If not, she will scatter her errors throughout the world, provoking wars and persecution of the Church.” In this, Mary focuses attention not upon the Central Powers, but upon Russia. This might have seemed odd at the time. At this point in 1917, Russia was still part of the Allies, and was busy trying to establish a democratic government after the overthrow of the Czar, which put an end to the 300 years Romanov dynasty rule. Mary knew, however, the brutal atheistic Marxist regime that was emerging from the rubble of Russia’s Christian past. For the rest of the 20th century, atheistic Communism did run rampant from Russia and Eastern Europe to Red China and countries around the world, enslaving and killing tens of millions of people, and persecuting the Church.

First Five Saturdays Devotion

Mary did, in fact, come back again appearing to Lucia on December 10, 1925, while she was a postulant for the Congregation of Saint Dorothy Sisters in Pontevedra, Spain. The holy Virgin mystically showed her Heart covered and pierced by thorns from “ungrateful man” with their “blasphemies and ingratitude.” It was here that the Virgin Mary asked us to “console” her and make reparation to her Immaculate Heart. She said, “..I promise to assist at the hour of death, with the graces necessary for salvation, all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, shall confess [their sins], receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me.” This is the wonderful promise of graces necessary for our salvation, which the Virgin Mary makes to us, if we fulfill the first Five Saturdays devotion. This notion, for a holy, grace-filled death, is in the Hail Mary prayer itself, when we pray “..pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” The devotion is not difficult. As she outlined, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months we must (1) go to Confession; (2) receive Holy Communion in a state of grace; (3) recite five decades of the Rosary; (4) meditate on the fifteen (now twenty) mysteries of the Rosary, all with the intention of offering reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Lucia believed that peace and war, and the salvation of souls were dependent upon spreading and fulfilling the First Five Saturdays devotion.   

The third Secret of Fatima also was given to the children that day on July 13, 1917. Whereas the first Secret was a vision of hell, and the second Secret concerned warnings about World War II and the spread of Communism, the third Secret was more enigmatic. It was a symbolic prophecy concerning the future sufferings of the Church, if the warnings of the other secrets were not heeded. In the vision, the children saw an angel with a flaming sword about to set the world on fire, crying out “Penance, Penance, Penance!” The flames from the sword, however, died out before they reached the earth, when they met the “splendor that Our Lady radiated..” The intercession of Mary on behalf of the world staved off divine chastisement. People, however, have to embrace a constant state of conversion; a metanoia, a constant turning away from one’s sins. The rest of the symbolic vision showed the Church, including the Bishops and Pope, climbing a large mountain, where they were attacked, killed and martyred. Although some have disputed the official interpretation, the Church has said this vision is a representation of the martyrdoms of the saints and Church through the 20th century, especially under the atheist, Communist regimes, and the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.

In the next apparitions in August and September 1917, Mary again reiterated the need for prayer, in particular the Rosary, and conversion, especially to save sinners. In August, Mary said, “Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them.” Christians, by virtue of our Baptism into the priesthood of Christ, can offer our prayers and sacrifices on behalf of other souls. As Christ suffered for our sins and redeemed humanity, so too, can Christians, as mini-Christs, offer suffering and prayer for others. Indeed, many prayers and intercessions were needed for others, for as these apparitions were happening, the war lingered onwards. On the Western Front, the Third Battle of Ypres in Belgium was raging, and resulting in approximately half a million casualties by the Allies and the Germans. Russia continued to battle the Central Powers along the Eastern Front, in which, by the end of the war, both sides had suffered over 5,000,000 casualties in total. By October, in the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence, “Lawrence of Arabia,” a British officer and diplomat, was leading an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks in the Sinai and Palestine. Carnage, death, uprisings and revolutions continued to rule the day.

The Miracle of the Sun

This set the stage for the sixth and dramatic final apparition of the Virgin Mary to the three small shepherd children on October 13, 1917.   She had also promised a sign, a miracle to show all present that she was really appearing in Fatima. In anticipation of this promise, an estimated 70,000 people came out in October in the driving rain to witness the final apparition. They were not disappointed. Mary spoke to the children again saying, “I am the Lady of the Rosary.” She implored them to continue to pray the Rosary every day and not to offend God anymore with our sins. Then, as she ascended back up to heaven, she reflected light from her hand onto the sun. This is when the great crowd there witnessed the “dancing of the sun” as it seemed to spin, and zigzag and shoot off multicolored beams of light. It grew larger in size, and brightness, although the light did not hurt their eyes. The sun looked like a spinning wheel of fire that seemed to detach itself from its place in the sky and fall downwards close to the earth, frightening and terrifying the crowd. Many people began to pray and confess their sins out loud, thinking it was the end of the world. After the miracle was over with and the sun returned to its normal place and brightness, people realized that their clothes and the ground, which had been soaked in the rain, were now completely dry.

Yet, at the same time that many people witnessed the dancing of the sun, the seers, and some of the people, witnessed something different. Lucia described seeing at first, “..St. Joseph with the Child Jesus and Our Lady robed in white with a blue mantle, besides the sun. St. Joseph and the Child Jesus appeared to bless the world, for they had traced the Sign of the Cross with their hands.” Next, Lucia described seeing “..Our Lord and Our Lady; it seemed to me that it was Our Lady of Dolours [Sorrows]. Our Lord appeared to bless the world in the same manner as St. Joseph had done.” Then, finally Lucia and the seers saw Mary one last time “..resembling Our Lady of Carmel.” The first apparition they saw was that of the holy family. God was showing the world the need to strengthen the bonds of marriage and the Christian family unit, as represented by the perfect model of St. Joseph, Mary and the Child Jesus. Jesus lived most of His life as part of a family. By His life in a family, Jesus sanctified all families, raising them up by His sanctified humanity. God blessed the family, as our model, because He knew the unrelenting attacks on the family that would come for the rest of the century and into the 21st century. We know now the scourge modernity has had on the family unit, from divorce, broken-marriages, single parent homes, adultery, abortions, sexual abuse, same sex marriages, and negative forces of every kind. The tragic breakdown of the family has been the single most interiorly corrosive development to the fracturing of modern culture and society. It is also interesting that in the first vision, St. Joseph, as the father figure, is the one to bless the world. Again, stressing the importance of fathers and fatherhood in the family and society. In the second apparition, Jesus and Mary appear and bless the world. Lucia said Jesus appeared as “the Perfect Man” and Mary appeared as “Our Lady of Sorrows.” She attributed the meaning of this as a call to perfection in the Christian life, following the examples of Jesus and Mary in all things, especially in sacrifice and suffering. In the last apparition, the children saw Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, in a religious habit, which Lucia attributed as a call of our total consecration to God, a call to holiness and to our intimate union with Him.

Russia

Immediately following the last apparition in Fatima in October 1917, more cataclysmic events befell the world, particularly with Russia, as Our Lady had placed so much emphasis upon. On November 6-7, 1917, the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, overthrew the provisional democratic government in Russia, in the “October Revolution,” (by the Russian calendar).  Soon thereafter, in March 1918, the new Bolshevik Russian regime signed a peace treaty with the Central Powers, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, effectively withdrawing from WWI and abandoning their alliance with the Allies. The Bolsheviks instituted a Soviet, non-democratic government based upon Marxism, without private enterprise or land ownership, repression of political rivals and ideas, and massacring their opponents, especially priests and the Church. They nationalized all of the Russian Orthodox Church property, sought to destroy all Christian practices, such as religious instruction, Sunday masses and holy days. The Bolshevik Communists sought to wipeout Christianity completely from Russia, and replace it entirely with atheistic materialism. Over the next couple of years, the Communist “Red Terror” campaign swept the country as the Communists and their secret police engaged in imprisonment, mass killings and gruesome torture of anyone, especially the Church, not seen as loyal to the new State. The era of Communist Russia had begun, and, as Our Lady had warned, to spread their errors around the world. From the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to China, Cambodia, Vietnam, North Korea to Africa, Cuba, and Latin America, it is estimated that Communists killed approximately 94,000,000 people in the 20th century; the largest collective massacre of peoples driven by a single ideology in the history of the world.  Systematic mass killings and genocides became state run programs. For seventy years, Communism metastasized from one country to the next, and fought a Cold War with the United States and the West, but as Mary had predicted in the July 1917 apparition, “..in the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” And so it happened, with the eventual consecration of Russia and the fall of the Soviet Union.

Mary did come back again to ask for the consecration of Russia. This time it was on June 13, 1929, twelve years later, while Lucia was a postulant with the Sisters of Saint Dorothy in Tuy, Spain. Lucia had a vision of the Trinity, and then, Mary came to announce, “The moment has come in which God asks the Holy Father, in union with all the Bishops of the world, to make the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, promising to save it by this means.” We know, unfortunately, now through the long gaze of history, that the full consecration of Russia, with all the Bishops and the Pope, was delayed for various reasons and not fulfilled until 55 years later, when Pope John Paul II completed the consecration in St. Peter’s Square in Rome on March 25, 1984. That same month, in which, in March 1984, Mikhail Gorbachev became the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Soviet Union. A year later, in March 1985, hardline Communist leader Konstantin Chernenko died, and Gorbachev became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He soon began to initiate his program of Perestroika (“restructuring”) and Glasnost (“openness”), which altered the whole trajectory that the Communist country had embraced for seventy years. Gorbachev reached out to the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholics, and began pushing for religious freedom and liberty again. As a sign of the great conversion happening in the East, the Berlin Wall, a symbol of Iron Curtain repression, was torn down in November 1989. Finally, on Christmas night, December 25, 1991, President Gorbachev announced his resignation and the dissolution of the Soviet Empire. The Evil Empire was no more. The fifteen countries of the Soviet Republic were now free to become independent countries, and miraculously all happening virtually without war and bloodshed. In fulfillment of Mary’s promise, when the consecration happened, Russia was converted, and “a period of peace” has been granted to the world. One has to wonder now, some years later, in 2016, with a world in percolating turmoil, if that period of peace is coming to an end?

Consequential events continued in the next month, in December 1917, when the British captured Jerusalem, and then, Palestine and Syria, ending four centuries of control by Muslim Ottoman Turks. It was in this year that British foreign diplomat, Lord Balfour, sent a letter, the “Balfour Declaration,” to Jewish leaders indicating that the British government’s “..view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” This led to the years of the British Mandate (1920-1948), when Britain controlled Palestine. It paved the way for the fulfillment of Jewish Zionist aspirations to return to their ancient homeland and reconstitute the state of Israel. This was propelled in the 1930’s and 1940’s with anti-Jewish pogroms in Europe, and of course, the Holocaust of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Eventually, on May 14, 1948, the Jewish people in Palestine won their war of independence and declared the new state of Israel. This opened the way for the Jews to return to Israel with an ingathering of their diaspora from around the world, which many saw as fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies of Ezekiel and Isaiah. The Jewish Israeli and Arab Muslim conflict remains to this day a central dispute in international geopolitical affairs.

On October 4, 1918, nearly a year after the last apparition of Fatima, Germany requested an armistice, and on November 11, 1918, it officially surrendered, ending World War I. In the midst of that, however, in 1918 and 1919, a worldwide Flu pandemic killed around 50 million people, including two of the child seers, Jacinta and Francisco Santos, while Lucia ended up living much longer (until February 13, 2005), as Mary had predicted. Yet, the groundwork was laid for a second worldwide conflagration in World War II, in which over 60 million were killed. In the June 13, 1929 apparition in Tuy, Spain, Lucia had a final vision, of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; with a supernaturally illumined Cross, and Eucharistic imagery of a chalice and a large host with drops of blood issuing from the side of Jesus, with the words “Grace and Mercy.” She also saw Our Lady below the right arm of the Cross, with her Immaculate Heart in her hand. Mary was again at the foot of the Cross, just as she had been at the original crucifixion of Jesus. This is the same place we go to every Mass, to receive in Holy Communion, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus, into our lives. God was imploring us again to turn away from sin, to embrace the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. The message of Fatima is just as relevant today, 100 years later, as it was in 1916-1917. We receive the grace and mercy of God through the sacrificial offering of Christ in the Eucharist. We see Mary, our spiritual mother, there too, leading us to God, just as Jesus from the Cross had beckoned the beloved disciple, St. John, and us, to embrace His mother as our own, “When Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’” (Jn. 19:26-27)

The 3:00 Hour, The Hour of Divine Mercy – January 27, 2016

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:45-46)

Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.” (Acts, 3:1)

“O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus, as a fountain of mercy for us, I trust in You.” (Diary of St.Faustina, 187)

Jesus died at the three o’clock hour. This is known in the bible as “the ninth hour.” It was for this hour that Jesus had come into the world. In the beginning of His Passion, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to the Father, in agony and sweating blood, with foreknowledge of His coming torture and death, saying “Now My soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save Me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” (Jn. 12:27) As the Catechism states “..for His redemptive passion was the very reason for His Incarnation.” (CCC 607) The Word of God became flesh and suffered and died as an expiation for our sins, in order to reconcile humanity with God. (CCC 457) St.John reinforces this point by declaring that the Father “sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn.4:10) This atoning sacrifice, the Passion and death of the Son of God, was accomplished at the ninth hour, or at three o’clock, on a Friday afternoon. As the Scripture tells us, “And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit.” (Mt. 27:50) Jesus’ willing sacrificial death freed us from our sins and gave the possibility of conquering death and resurrecting us to eternal life.

The three o’clock hour inaugurates the new covenant, the New Testament between God and man, through the person of Jesus Christ. As the next line indicates, “And behold, the curtain of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom;” (Mt. 27:51) The curtain, or the veil, was the massive cloth that hung between the two holiest chambers in the Temple, hiding the inner most holiest of holies, or the presence of God. No man was allowed to approach the holy presence of God there, except only the High Priest himself, on one day of the year, the Day of Atonement. The fact that God rent the veil in half, down the middle, thus exposing the inner holy of holies, or God Himself, shows that the sacrificial death of Jesus now allows man again to approach God directly. God is no longer partitioned, or hidden from humanity, but rather, He is available now for all, intimately for each of us. As the letter to the Hebrews describes this radical change in the God-to-man dynamic, saying “..since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh..” (Heb. 9:19-20)

At the three o’clock hour, Creation itself is in distress over the dying and death of its Creator. From noon until three o’clock, as Jesus hung on the Cross, the sun withheld its light and darkness came over the land. We do not know exactly whether this was an eclipse or something supernatural. This hearkens back to the prophet Amos, who prophesied, “On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight.” (Amos, 8:9) With the earth too, at the three o’clock hour, when Jesus expires, there is a great earthquake. St.Matthew describes the scene saying, “and the earth shook, and the rocks were split” (Mt. 27:51), again echoing the prophet Amos, “Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it…. I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.” (Amos, 8:8,10)  

At the three o’clock hour, in the midst of His Passion, Jesus, the only Son of the Father, took on the sins of the whole world, in order to free us from our sins. As St.Paul tells the Corinthians, “For our sake He made Him to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) During the original Passover of the Israelites in Egypt, they offered the sacrifice of a one year old lamb “without blemish” (Ex.12:5), putting its blood on their house doorpost, so that the angel of death would “pass over” them, and keep them from dying. Later, in the Temple period, under the Mosaic law, the Temple priests sacrificed two lambs a day in expiation for the sins of the people. (Ex.29:38-39) So, now too, Jesus, as He went into His Passion and Crucifixion, was “like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, He was silent and opened not His mouth.” (Is. 53:7) The Old Mosaic lamb sacrifices were merely symbolic representations, typologies, to prepare the Jews for the one true sacrifice of the Son of God. Jesus is the true lamb of God. This is why, upon first seeing Jesus, John the Baptist declares, “Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29) Jesus took on our sins and became sin on the Cross, for the sake of our eternal well-being.

This is why at the three o’clock hour He cries out just before His death, quoting the Psalmist, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps.22:1) Jesus quotes Psalm 22, which prophesied His suffering and death. All the Jews who were present would have known exactly what He was referencing. Psalm 22 speaks of an ignominious death of a righteous man, but who does not lose faith, and is ultimately justified before God. The parallels are amazing, and not because they are amazing coincidences, but because they fulfill the word of God exactly. The Psalmist prophesies, “All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver; let him rescue the one in whom he delights!” (Ps. 22:7-8) As St.Matthew describes this fulfillment:

“And those who passed by derided Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked Him, saying, “He saved others; He cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God deliver Him now, if He desires Him; for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Mt.27:39-43)

Psalm 22 continues foretelling the events that would unfold: “Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet; I can count all my bones; they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots.” (Ps.22:16-18) This parallels the account in the Gospels, “And when they had crucified Him, they divided His garments among them by casting lots; then they sat down and kept watch over Him there.” (Mt.27:35-36) Ultimately, the righteous man of Psalm 22 does not lose hope, but is justified. The Psalmist says, “The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live for ever!” (Ps. 22:36) This is similar to the end of the Crucifixion account, which ends with the righteous praising God and saints rising from the dead. As St.Matthew described it:

“..the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Mt. 27:52-54)

The three o’clock hour is hour of great mercy for the whole world. It is the hour of divine mercy, when humanity was restored to fullness in its relation to God through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Beginning in the 1930’s, Sister Faustina Kowalska of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Krakow, Poland began to have divine revelations from our Lord Jesus Christ. Sister Faustina, now Saint Faustina, recorded all of these revelations in her private diary, “Divine Mercy In My Soul.” Among the many revelations imparted by Jesus to St.Faustina in her diary is the great importance of the moment of the three o’clock hour. The moment of three o’clock, the moment of Jesus’ agony and death, is the great moment of God’s divine mercy for the whole world. Jesus told St.Faustina of the tremendous importance we should attach to this moment each day. As per Jesus’ words from her revelation:  

“At three o’clock, implore My mercy, especially for sinners; and, if only for a brief moment, immerse yourself in My Passion, particularly in My abandonment at the moment of agony. This is the hour of great mercy for the whole world. I will allow you to enter into My mortal sorrow. In this hour, I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of Me in virtue of My Passion.” (Diary, 1320)

And again, Jesus reminded St.Faustina:

“As often as you hear the clock strike the third hour, immerse yourself completely in My mercy, adoring and glorifying it; invoke its omnipotence for the whole world, and particularly for poor sinners; for at that moment mercy was opened wide for every soul.  In this hour you can obtain everything for yourself and for others for the asking; it was the hour of grace for the whole world — mercy triumphed over justice.” (Diary, 1572)

“My daughter, try your best to make the Stations of the Cross in this hour, provided that your duties permit it; and if you are not able to make the Stations of the Cross, then at least step into the chapel for a moment and adore, in the Most Blessed Sacrament, My Heart, which is full of mercy; and should you be unable to step into the chapel, immerse yourself in prayer there where you happen to be, if only for a very brief instant.” (Diary, 1572)

The three o’clock hour is a privileged moment in the day for us, to claim mercy for the salvation of sinners, and the whole world, by virtue of Jesus’ passion, suffering and death. We can be there with Mary and St.John at the foot of the Cross. As Jesus implores us, we can, even “for a very brief instant,” at the three o’clock hour, immerse ourselves in prayer to Jesus, calling upon His divine mercy, in intercession for others. We can make a short prayer each and every day at 3:00, despite our busy days and schedules, whether at work, or at home, or in the car, or whatever we might happen to be doing at that moment. It is very easy to make this a part of our daily schedule. After a while, it will become second nature to us, pausing for a moment in our daily routines, to worship the divine mercy of Jesus and ask for intercession of behalf of the salvation of sinners. A brief prayer at the three o’clock hour should be a part of our prayer life, each and every day. In this way, we can trust in Jesus’ divine mercy for the salvation of our souls.

 

The Didache, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles – 25 January 2016

Wouldn’t it be great to have a snapshot into the life of the early Church to see what they believed and taught and practiced on a day-to-day basis? Of course, we have the New Testament, which is divinely-inspired, and tells us about the life of Jesus Christ and the faith of the first Christian communities. Its 27 books, and eight (possibly nine, depending on if you think St.Paul, or a disciple of St.Paul, wrote the letter to the Hebrews.) authors – including the Apostles St.Matthew, St.John, St.James, St.Peter, St.Jude, and disciples St.Mark, St.Luke, and St.Paul – is the scriptural foundation of all Christian canonical beliefs. All of the books were written in the first century by eye-witnesses to Jesus, or by the first disciples of the Apostles. Aside from being the Word of God, these are incredibly reliable historical documents, reflecting direct contact with the person of Jesus and written relatively soon after. Yet, there are also many extra-biblical sources and letters, from the first century and early second century, that describe the life, belief and practices of the early Church. These are the writings of the early Church Fathers, in particular, the Apostolic Church Fathers, such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp of Smyrna. They are considered “Apostolic” because they had direct contact with the Apostles themselves, thus making their work fascinating and of utmost importance (even though they were not ultimately included within the canon of Church Scripture).

One such document is called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” or known simply as “The Didache.” It is one of the earliest known Christian writings, even possibly predating some of the New Testament books. It is generally agreed to have been written between 50-120 AD, well within the lifetime of some of the Apostles and first disciples. Some of the early Christians even considered it an inspired book, although again it was ultimately not included in the canon. The Didache is generally divided into four different sections concerning: (1) a moral catechesis (ie, “The Way of Life” vs. “The Way of Death”), (2) liturgical instruction, (3) a Church manual for various ecclesiastical and community norms, (4) and a brief eschatology of the parousia (ie, the second coming of Christ). One of the most profound aspects of the early Church Fathers’ writings is that they are thoroughly sacramental in nature, that is, they speak explicitly of the sacraments of the Church. Simply, from an apologetics point of view, they demonstrate that the sacraments and doctrines of the Catholic Church are not something contrived or incrementally slipped into Christianity over the centuries. They are not paganism, or a so-called Roman mystery religion. Christianity holds all of that in contempt as idolatry and blasphemy. Rather, the sacraments, the prayers, the Church, they were all there from the beginning. This is also true in The Didache. The tracts of the Didache, as are all the early Church Fathers’ writings, are decisively Catholic. [of note: The Way of Life specifically mentions not to commit “abortion, or infanticide,” which is probably the earliest known Christian writing explicitly condemning abortion and infanticide. Later, it references The Way of Death, in which they “murder their infants, and deface the image of God.”]

The Didache speaks matter-of-factly about Baptism, going to Church on Sundays, receiving the Eucharist, and making a general confession of sins. For example, as part of “The Way of Life,” the author says “In church, make confession of your faults, and do not come to your prayers with a bad conscience.” Later, he instructs:

“Assemble on the Lord’s Day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until they have been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice. For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations.”

In the Church manual section, he similarly states, “No one is to eat or drink of your Eucharist but those who have been baptized in the Name of the Lord; for the Lord’s own saying applies here, ‘Give not that which is holy unto dogs.’” The manual gives in-depth instruction of the eucharistic prayers to say over the chalice and over the broken bread, offering us a glimpse into the first century Mass. They are to pray, “Thou, O Almighty Lord, hast created all things for thine own Name’s sake; to all men thou hast given meat and drink to enjoy, that they may give thanks to thee, but to us thou hast graciously given spiritual meat and drink, together with life eternal, through thy Servant. Especially, and above all, do we give thanks to thee for the mightiness of thy power.” The manual similarly gives precise details about how to go about baptizing people saying, “..immerse in running water ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’” It offers a similar prescription for standing water, or simply pouring water over the person’s head. The manual delves also into fasting, instructing people to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, much like the modern tradition, and to pray the Our Father three times every day.

And, how should this affect us? These brief snippets offer us glimpses, from outside the New Testament (i.e., accepted Scripture), into the hearts and minds of the first Christians. They lived a sacramental life in toto. Their daily lives were rooted in Baptism, Confession, the Eucharist, Sunday worship, fasting, and prayer. This is what they called The Way of Life. The Way of Life involves modeling our lives after Christ, that is, among many other things, loving our enemies, living a moral life, being meek and compassionate. Moreover, it instructs us, “Accept as good whatever experience comes your way, in the knowledge that nothing can happen without God.” We are to live out our Christian vocations within our ordinary circumstances and trials of each day, with Christ as our “spiritual meat and drink, together with life eternal.” As some have argued, The Didache could be a form of vade mecum, a small handbook that Christians would have carried about with themselves. It spoke to them of how they should live their lives, conduct themselves and embrace the sacramental life. And so it remains with us!

Nightly Examination of Conscience – January 22, 2016

Each day is a microcosm of our entire life. In the morning we are “born” into our day, and at night we go to sleep into our “death.” Each day is analogous to one’s life, and each night is analogous to one’s death. If we consecrate each morning and day to God, should we not also consecrate each night and sleep to God? In that way, our whole day, whether awake or asleep, is consecrated to God. Our sleep anticipates our death, and our waking in the morning anticipates our resurrection. What is more important at the end of one’s life, at the doorstep of death, than to review one’s life, and to ask forgiveness for all one has done or failed to do? If we seek pardon and forgiveness at the end of life, in anticipation of the final judgment, should we not seek to examine our lives and ask for forgiveness each and every day? After all, we do not know when our end will come, it may be fifty years from now, or fifty minutes from now. As Jesus cautions us, the end may come for us at an hour we do not expect, and so, we must be like the faithful servant, and always vigilant and ready. As Jesus warns in the Gospel of Matthew in the parable of the ten bridesmaids: “..the Bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with Him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But He replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Mt. 25:10-12)

Even though this is a horrible judgment, Jesus gives us reason to hope. He tells us that we can be ready for the end and welcomed into the “marriage feast” of the Lord. But, how? We must remain vigilant and prepared for the return of the Master, either at the end of the world, or at the end of our lives. And, how do we remain vigilant and ready? We must remain faithful servants, obedient to the Church, living closely to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession, have an active prayer life, read the word of God, and live a life filled with good and merciful deeds, in short, we must love God and our neighbor. All of these activities contribute to us having a well-formed moral conscience. Once we have a well-formed moral conscience we will better understand that we regularly fall short of the commandments of God, and are in constant need of His forgiveness. Moreover, the more we examine our lives and seek forgiveness, the more clearly we will know right from wrong, that is, have a “correct conscience,” and seek to perfect our lives. This is the idea of the nightly examination of conscience. As the Catechism quotes Gaudium et Spes, “ For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” (CCC 1776) In the traditional canonical hours of the Church the nightly examination of conscience would be “Compline,” or night prayers for the last hour of the day. Before we go to sleep each night, we should examine in our minds, at least briefly, the events of the day, and everything that we did or said, or failed to do, good or bad.

So, how should we proceed? First, we should ask for the Holy Spirit to come upon us and enlighten our consciences, to give us discernment about the events of the day. Then, we should offer thanksgiving, by thanking God for all the good gifts and blessings that day. Where did we receive His grace and encounter Christ throughout the day? Where did we pray, sacrifice, be merciful or love throughout the day? Where did we fail to do so? Then, we should also confess directly to God, in the silence of our heart, all our sins and failures for that day, and ask forgiveness.(**see below) We can ask God to forgive us and to help us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to do better tomorrow, in renewal of our commitment to Christ. We can consecrate ourselves to God in our sleep, that even our rest may glorify God. After having examined our whole day, from beginning to end, and asked forgiveness for our sins, we should pray an act of contrition. This is a typical version of the Act of Contrition:

“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You, and I detest all my sins because of Your just punishments, but most of all because they offend You, my God, Who is all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.”

It is also traditional to end your nightly prayer by saying the Our Father. We can also offer our breath and our heartbeats, in union with the breath and heartbeats of Christ, for the sanctification of the world. The examination of conscience and Compline prayers at night are the final seal of prayer and consecration of the day, finishing what we began in the morning, with our Morning Offering prayer, in that way the whole day is consecrated to God, where Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of our life (for that day), sealed in God as one. In this way, we can go to rest in the peace of the Holy Spirit, at peace with our day and with our God, in hope of the resurrection to a new and eternal life.

**There are a number of standards by which we should judge our selves and our actions for the day. These are the same questions we should measure ourselves, in the examination of our consciences, when approaching the sacrament of Confession. They are all rooted in following the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. The questions include (but, obviously not an exhaustive list): Have I humbled myself before God today and prayed? Did I fail to make acts of faith or charity today? Have I made an idol out of anything in my life? Have I taken the name of God in vain? Have I missed going to Church? Have I stolen anything? Have I lied? Have I hurt someone? Have I bore false witness against someone, or gossiped about someone? Have I cursed today? Have I committed sins of the flesh and lust? Have I been envious of others’ property? Have I lashed out in anger? Have I been lazy and wasted time? Have I engaged in gluttony? Have I been greedy? Have I harbored jealous or evil thoughts? Have I been stubborn or unforgiving today? Did I give into temptation today? Have I seen, said or watched anything sinful, or blasphemous? Did I respect and honor my family and my parents today? Did I fail to be merciful to someone? Was I joyful and nice to other people today? Was I arrogant and proud? Have I willingly not followed Jesus in any aspect today?

Divine Filiation and Ordinary Life, St.Josemaria Escriva – January 20, 2016

“The street does not get in the way of our contemplative dialogue; the hubbub of the world is, for us, a place of prayer.” St.Josemaria Escriva (letter 9, Jan.1959, No.60)

St.Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer was a Catholic priest from Spain in the 20th century who founded the Catholic organization, Opus Dei, “The Work of God,” a personal prelature comprised of lay people and clergy. The mission of Opus Dei is to evangelize Christians everywhere to live out their faith in their ordinary lives, to sanctify their daily work, and offer it all up to God. As St.Josemaria Escriva said, We have come to point to the example of Jesus, who spent thirty years in Nazareth, working at His job. In Jesus’ hands, work, an ordinary job like that done by millions of people throughout the world, becomes a divine task, a redeeming job, a path of salvation.” Josemaria was the “saint of ordinary life.” On October 2, 1928, God gave him an overwhelming vision. It was of ordinary Christians, who direct all their activity towards God, as a sanctifying sacrifice in participation with their baptismal vocation in the priesthood of Christ. He saw ordinary Christians sanctifying their daily work and activities by uniting them with the life of Christ. He saw the laity, of every background and race and profession and social status, all becoming apostles, saints in the world. Factory worker saints, farmer saints, carpenter saints, teacher saints, regardless of their profession or work, no matter how small, average or ordinary, they could all be saints. This is echoed in Lumen Gentium from Vatican II with the “universal call to holiness.” (LG, 5) All people, not just the clerical and religious class, but all people are called to holiness, even the lowliest of the laity are called to “be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1:16) Josemaria called this “The Way,” or more precisely, the way of sanctification. By this, he meant that we should unite our daily duties, whatever they may be, with God, through Christ; that is, to live out our Christian vocation within our daily secular vocation. Then, our daily secular work will become divine work that transforms us into holy apostles of Christ.

But, how is any of this possible? The key to St.Josemaria is “divine filiation,” the idea that, through Baptism, we have become God’s children. In Baptism, we are born by grace into the death and life of Christ, and become by grace what Jesus is by nature, namely, a son of God. St.John says See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 Jn. 3:1) This idea is scattered throughout the New Testament. St.Paul says to the Romans, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God… but you received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God..” (Rom. 8:14-16) In the second letter of Peter, he says God has let us “become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Pet. 1:4) Even Jesus Himself quotes Psalms 82:6 saying, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’?” (Jn.10:34) Of course, He also teaches us at the Sermon on the Mount to pray to God by radically calling Him “Our Father.” (Mt.6:9) As part of our redemption and sanctification in Christ, St.Josemaria points out, it also involves our deification and divinization. We are no longer just servants created by God, but rather, we have been grafted through Jesus into the divine family. We have become adopted sons and daughters of the Father, and brothers and sisters to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus, as the second person of the Trinity, by incarnating into the world, humanized His divinity, and divinized His humanity. God reached down to humanity, so humanity could reach up to God. By giving us His Spirit, the Holy Spirit and grace, we can become one with Jesus in our life, just as the Persons of the Trinity, in their inner relationship, are one. Through Baptism and faith, we are brought into oneness with Jesus, and then, necessarily into the life of the Holy Trinity. Jesus prayed this in the Garden of Gethsemane saying “As you, Father, are in Me and I am in You, may they also be in Us..” (Jn 17:21) This is the scandal of Christianity. Not only do we believe in a singular divine, omnipotent Being, but we also believe that He came into the world to personally save us, and by grace, adopt us into His divine family of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. By nothing of ourselves, but only by the free gift of faith and grace, God makes us part of His family.

So, what is the significance of all of this? Firstly, we should recognize our special dignity as Christians, and our unique status conferred upon us in Baptism. The gift of faith, the Church, the sacraments should not be taken lightly. We should live our lives uprightly as fitting as children of God. As St.Peter states, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” (1 Pet. 2:9) We have been baptized into the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ, the one true mediator between God and man. So, we are anointed as a priest of Christ, as part of the common priesthood of the faithful. (CCC 1547) St.Josemaria urged us that we should have a “lay mentality” with a “priestly soul.” Yet, unlike an ordained ministerial priest who offers the sacrifice of the Mass, what are we, as ordinary lay people, to offer and sacrifice? To answer that, we should understand that Jesus’ whole life was a mystery of redemption. (CCC 517) Even before Jesus’ passion and death, He was performing redemptive acts in His daily private life, which He lived for thirty years. Jesus lived the ordinary life of each one of us, a private life of work and daily routine, and as part of a family. During Jesus’ “hidden life,” He sanctified our everyday existence. Since Jesus, as God, became man, all of His life and actions were that of a divine Being. Jesus divinized humanity, and made holy everything in His ordinary life, from work, to leisure, to eating and meals, to family and friendship. Jesus sanctified everyday life. The people of Jesus’ day who saw Him declared, “He has done everything well.” (Mk. 7:37) Jesus lived out perfectly the common priesthood of the faithful that God had intended for Adam and Eve. He is our perfect model. (CCC 520) Jesus offered His priestly action and sacrifice throughout His whole life, including the thirty years of His private life, so that while He worked in Joseph’s carpenter shop, He offered work as a redemptive spiritual sacrifice. Jesus made possible the elevation and transformation of all of our mundane, ordinary actions into acts of divine worship. Because God performed these actions and lived this life, He has made them holy. So now, too, we as His divinely adopted children, can in conjunction with Him and His life, offer to God, all of our everyday routines and works as spiritual sacrifice, prayer, worship and praise. We can now fulfill our role as children of God, imitators of Christ, striving to become holy and sanctified, interceding on behalf of the souls of others, exercising our common priesthood of the faithful in the midst of the streets and homes and workplaces of the world.     

Jesus said “and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (Jn. 12:32), and so, St.Josemaria had another vision of God drawing all men and women to Himself through their ordinary lives and occupations and vocations throughout the world, becoming “another Christ,” or Christs, within the world. Jesus endowed our work and our actions and our sufferings with divine efficaciousness. St.Paul mentions this idea saying, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church..” (Col. 1:24) Because of the mystery of the Incarnation, we are connected in some way with the life of Christ and His redemptive actions. We can offer all of our works, prayers, and sacrifices in conjunction with His. God has willed that we can, in effect, be co-redeemers and co-workers of Christ in the mystery of sanctification and redemption, both of ourselves and of others. For through our Baptism and in the Eucharist, we are connected to Jesus and in a real way with each other. We form, as it were, a communion of saints. Our work then is the sanctification of ourselves and of each other, in unity with the grace of Christ. As St.Paul says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” (1 Thess. 4:3) Now, through Christ, we can “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12) by offering worship to God through our everyday activities. All things sacred need not be relegated just to Church on Sundays while the rest of the week is occupied by the secular, devoid of holiness. God wills that all of our lives, each and every day, be holy and sanctified, worshipping God ceaselessly. (1 Thess. 5:17) We can do that by offering sacred worship to God through our secular ordinary activities. St.Josemaria cautioned against living a “double-life,” but rather instead, we should live an “integrated life,” single-minded in the pursuit of holiness. The key is bringing the presence of God into our lives, in whatever it is we are doing, making the secular holy.

And how can we bring the presence of God into our lives in whatever we are doing? Well, first off, this is not necessarily a loud, visible obvious presence. On the contrary, this is an invisible, interior apostolate. This is us, interiorly asking for the presence of God in our lives each day, consecrating all of our actions, submitting even our “small” actions, to God, in order to please Him. This involves our invisible, interior relationship with Him directly. We can join all of our work to the saving work of Jesus, again via the mystery of the Incarnation. Now, St.Josemaria asks, in effect, should we leave our jobs or families, and run off to do great, heroic deeds, or join a contemplative, monastic order in order to please God? No, not necessarily. Although some most certainly are called to religious life, most are not. As St.Paul again instructs us, “Every one should remain in the state in which he was called.” (1 Cor. 7:20) We can be at peace with where we are, and work out our sanctification amidst the circumstances we find ourselves.

Yet, to answer the original question, St.Josemaria recommended a number of daily markers and spiritual milestones to follow each day. These spiritual practices, a daily “plan of life,” followed by Opus Dei begin with offering a Morning Offering, or prayer immediately once we wake up in the morning; attending Mass each day if possible; prayer, such as saying the Rosary and the Angelus; reading the Gospels or scriptures, or a spiritual book; offering small acts of penance and mortifications; adoration before the tabernacle; three hail Marys at bedtime, examination of your conscience and asking forgiveness at night before going to bed. He also recommended regular sacramental confession and yearly spiritual retreats. By sticking to these simple milestones throughout the day, the person spiritually orders his or her workday to worship. Thus, our most common actions become spiritual sacrifices, offered in our temples (of our lives), which can be anywhere and everywhere of everyday life. St.Paul exhorts us directly to do this, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Rom. 12:1) Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes also highlights that this glorification of God in our lives “concerns the whole of everyday activity.” (GS, 34) Our most basic tasks can be transformed into supernatural activities, ie, folding laundry, cooking dinner, serving customers at work can become holy acts of worship. So, we should strive, as Jesus did, to “do all things well,” and offer everything we do for the glorification of God and the sanctification of ourselves and for each other. Our secular day should be wrapped in spiritual prayer and sacrifice. This is part of the “pure offering” mentioned by the prophet Malachi (Mal.1:11) St.Josemaria spoke of how we should live: “Live as the others around you live with naturalness, but ‘supernaturalizing’ every moment of your day.” This is how we should approach each day, with a “holy ambition,” to ambitiously pursue holiness in the ordinary things of life. We are not called out of the world, but to sanctify the world from within, as leaven within the dough, to raise up Christ in ourselves and in our actions and in our place in life, as St.Josemaria espoused, to be “contemplatives in the midst of the world.” Then, we will truly be children of God.

Pray Without Ceasing: The Liturgy of the Hours – 5 October 2015

“Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there: If you set it on fire it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them, and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that.” St.John Vianney

The public prayer of the Church is the “Liturgy of the Hours,” also known as the “Divine Office.” (SC, 90) The Liturgy of the Hours unites the voices of the whole Church into a singular and constant prayer, a mighty fire, offered around the world, day and night. It – in conjunction with the liturgical sacrifice of the Mass – echoes Malachi’s “pure offering,” where “in every place incense is offered to My name” among the gentile nations “from the rising of the sun to its setting.” (Mal.1:11) The two liturgies, the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours, together form the central components of the Church’s public prayer life. This is the incense offered up to Heaven in God’s name. The Eucharistic sacrifice is obviously the primary liturgical focus, as we are offering Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity back to the Father. But, the Church’s offering of praise and worship, in the Liturgy of the Hours, is like an extension of the Mass. (CCC 1178) It is liturgical in nature, and it continues the Church’s public worship throughout the whole day, albeit in a complementary way to the Mass. As the Bishops state, “In the Hours, the royal priesthood of the baptized is exercised, and this sacrifice of praise is thus connected to the sacrifice of the Eucharist, both preparing for and flowing from the Mass.” (USCCB) We, as the Laity, can participate in this liturgy and offer up our sacrifices too, because of our common, baptismal priesthood. The Liturgy of the Hours is part of the Church’s response to Jesus’ exhortation to us to “pray always” (Lk.18:1) and to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess. 5:17) We pray always by consecrating and sanctifying our days and hours and minutes, and even our seconds, from moment to moment. Hence, the primary purpose of the Liturgy of the Hours is the sanctification of time. In it, we consecrate to God the phases of the day. (SC, 88) As the “General Instructions of the Liturgy of the Hours” highlights, “it consecrates to God the whole cycle of the day and the night.” The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, says it this way, By tradition going back to early Christian times, the divine office is devised so that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God.” (SC, 84) It invokes an anointing of the Holy Spirit upon us, an epiclesis, from morning, to noon, to afternoon, to evening, to night sanctifying all that we do. As the letter to the Hebrews says “Through Him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God.” (Heb.13:15)

But, what is the Liturgy of the Hours? How is it performed? The Liturgy of the Hours is a set of psalms, antiphons, scripture readings, canticles, hymns, intercessions and other prayers offered at seven canonical hours throughout the day. These seven Hours are: (1) Lauds or morning prayer (about 6am); Daytime prayer: (2) Terce or third Hour (about 9am), (3) Sext or sixth Hour (about 12 noon), and (4) None or ninth Hour (about 3pm); (5) Vespers or evening prayer (about 6pm); (6) Compline or night prayer (about 9pm); (7) Office of the Readings or formerly Matins (traditionally around midnight; but now, anytime in the day). These are the prayers the Church offers up twenty-four hours a day and 365 days a year. Now, envision what is really happening here. As the earth turns on its axis and the hours shift from time zone to time zone, groups of Christians pass the prayer-baton to the next ones continuing the spiritual relay across the globe. Believers together all singing, chanting, and praying, one after another, the same ancient prayers of the Church; lay people along with the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and even with the Pope himself. The Liturgy of the Hours is more than a simple private devotion, such as a particular novena. Rather, it is said as a form of prayer in unity with the broader body of believers; it is no less than the universal Church coming together every day in liturgical, public worship. The Catechism describes the Liturgy of the Hours as “intended to become the prayer of the whole People of God. In it Christ Himself “continues his priestly work through his Church.” (CCC 1175) As a liturgical work, we exercise our priestly function in the Divine Office in unity with the high priest, Christ. The Church, as the bride of Christ, prays to her bridegroom, Christ. And together, the bride and bridegroom sing praise to the Father. (CCC 1174) The Liturgy of the Hours is an unending dialogue of love between God and man. Sacrosanctum Concilium beautifully describes it:

“Christ Jesus, high priest of the new and eternal covenant, taking human nature, introduced into this earthly exile that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven. He joins the entire community of mankind to Himself, associating it with His own singing of this canticle of divine praise.” (SC, 83)

The Liturgy of the Hours connects us back with our most ancient traditions. Christians inherited the idea of the seven canonical hours in the day from Judaism. As David wrote in Book of Psalms, Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous ordinances.” (Ps.119:164) In the Book of Daniel, Daniel’s shown praying three times a day, presumably morning, afternoon and night. (Dan.6:10) These traditions were then carried forward with the first Christians. In the Book of Acts, the Apostles pray specifically at various canonical hours in the day, such as St. Peter praying at noon and again at three o’clock. (Acts 3:1; 10:3; 10:9; 10:30; 16:25) These are the same prayers Jesus would have known and would have prayed. Now, how can we, today, continue forward this ancient prayer into our modern times? Most of us know with evident certainty that our daily lives are awash in clutter, stress, noise, duties, work and responsibilities. It is not easy to pray the seven canonical Hours of the Divine Office. Not easy, especially with young kids, or with a highly demanding job. So, depending upon circumstances, having that time available can be quite difficult. Nevertheless, the Church encourages us to pray what we can, especially if possible, the three major hours of morning, evening, and night prayers. We need to adapt the Liturgy of the Hours to meet our particular circumstances and the rhythm of our day. It should not be a burden, but rather, a sanctifying joy. Although there’s something nostalgic about owning the physical breviary (the book containing the Liturgy of the Hours), I have found it much easier to use an online App for my phone, such as the ‘Divine Office’ app. In this way you always have it at your fingertips (as long as you have your phone), and you won’t have to carry around a large book. It’s very easy to use.  At this point, the most important thing is to just get started, and do what we can. Let the prayers cultivate our days into a sacramental life. It will help provide a spiritual framework to our hours; blessing us from our waking moments till drifting off to sleep. So, let us stop here, and pray as every Liturgy of the Hours begins, “O God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me.” (Ps.70:1)

Pray Without Ceasing: The Morning Offering – 1 October 2015

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”  (Mt. 13:44-46)

How ought we to live our lives once we find the “pearl of great value?” In Jesus’ parable, the pearl of great value is a metaphor for the kingdom of heaven. What could be of greater value than to live in communion with God in heaven for all eternity? This is the pearl we are in search of. We are the merchants in search of eternal life. It is the central purpose to our existence here on earth: the salvation of our souls and to live in communion with God for all eternity. Truly, nothing else matters. But, where do we find this pearl of great value? Well, Jesus answers this question directly for us. He says, “For, behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Lk. 17:21) Other translations have it “the kingdom of God is within you.” To find the kingdom of God, the pearl of great value, we must look inside ourselves, and amongst ourselves. What is the state of our soul? What is the state of our life? Are we examining our consciences each day, and living in communion with the Church and the sacraments? Are we seeking forgiveness for our sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation, and doing deeds of mercy and charity? We attain the salvation of our souls and live out the kingdom of God by being in a state of grace. This is the pearl of great value. It’s finding the goodness of Christ and applying His grace to our souls. And what should our response be when we find this pearl of grace, eternal life? We should conform ourselves in totality to the treasure that we have found. As Jesus says of the merchant, “he went, and sold all that he had and bought it.” Eternal life requires our response. We ought to “sell,” or let go of anything, and all, that prevents, breaks or interrupts our holding the pearl, the kingdom, within our hearts. Finding the pearl of great value implores us to live in a constant state of grace. By living in a state of grace, we can actualize the kingdom of heaven in our lives.

But, how do we live in a state of grace? For starters, we follow the Commandments. We can examine our consciences regularly to see when and where and how we may have broken the Ten Commandments. In such cases, especially for mortal sins, we should go receive forgiveness and absolution in the sacrament of Reconciliation. There, our friendship with Christ, and our state of grace, is restored. We should be frequent visitors to the confessional. To neglect this, is to neglect the state of our souls and risk our friendship with Christ. Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, and He answered: “`You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt.22:36-39) We must love God and our neighbor. These are the two greatest commandments that sum up the whole Judaic law and God’s law. And how must we love God with all our heart, soul and mind? We love God by having a relationship with Him. Yes, we love God through our actions of obedience to His will. We can do this by avoiding sin and doing good. Primarily, this means obedience to the Church, staying close to sacraments, and loving our fellow man. But, it also means we have a relationship with God by talking with Him. Simply put, it means we pray. Through prayer, we can show our desire to have an intimate friendship with God. In order to have an intimate relationship with someone, do we not have to speak with them? And speak with them often? St.Paul exhorts us to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess. 5:17) Our lives should be a constant state of prayer. Even Jesus Himself beseeches us “to pray always and not to lose heart.” (Lk. 18:1)

But, how do we pray without ceasing and pray always? We know it is mentally impossible, and for all practicality, inconceivable to pray at every moment in a day. We have jobs, we work, we have children that demand out care, and probably millions of other, everyday activities that demand our near constant attention and focus. God knows this. So, how then can we live out the command the Bible seems to give us? I think we can do this by sanctifying our time. We can, with intentionality, offer up each day to God and invoke His anointing on all that we do throughout the day. Saint John Vianney gave us insight into the consecration and sanctification of time, saying All that we do without offering it to God is wasted.” The Church teaches us that the best way to sanctify our day is to say a special prayer to God first thing in the morning, as soon as we wake up. This has come to be known as “The Morning Offering.” In so doing this, we can consecrate the whole day to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Catechism says the Christian begins his morning in prayer to dedicate his day to the glory of God and “calls on the Savior’s grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father.” (CCC 2157) The Morning Offering helps us to fulfill our daily vocation to be children of God, by which we “act in the Spirit.”

The Morning Offering is the key moment at the beginning of each day. It sets the tone. It’s in that instance that we consecrate our whole day to Jesus Christ. The importance of this cannot be overstated. It allows us, from the first waking moments, to waste nothing. Now, the whole day, whatever happens, can have eternal meaning. It all becomes consecrated and sanctified to God; in effect, spiritualized. Our desire in the Morning Offering is to subsume all the moments that follow into an intentional spiritual sacrifice. This is our baptismal right, as royal priests of Christ. In our mind’s eye, we can imagine offering up all of our actions, works and sacrifices, united by the power of the Holy Spirit with the works and sacrifices of Christ, and placing them on the altar before God the Father. God will accept our offering. Then, all the things that happen in a day, from moment to moment, like eating, driving, working, feeding your children, cleaning your house, etc., which otherwise may seem insignificant and like wasted time, is now consecrated and sanctified by the grace of Jesus Christ. All of our ordinary and mundane actions become efficacious spiritual works. Our day infused with grace. Anointed with the Holy Spirit and offered to God, walking up a flight of stairs may help repair a friend’s sin. Anointed with the Holy Spirit and offered to God, sweeping the kitchen may help stir belief into a brother’s heart. Now, there are various formulations of the Morning Offering that we can recite, or we can even make up our own prayer. But, one of the most famous versions espoused by the Church is this:

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day 
for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians, and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month. Amen.   (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops)

It does not have to be very long.  It just needs our desire and intention to please God.  The Morning Offering makes it possible for us to “pray without ceasing.” It unites our whole day, and all that we will do, with the life of Christ. It consecrates us and sanctifies our actions, so that we can live out our prayer.  We become a dynamic temple of the Holy Spirit and an ambulatory altar of spiritual sacrifices. Our lives become liturgical in nature; our actions sacramental. And, it helps to renew – daily – our firm grasp on the pearl of great value. As St.Paul says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)

Prayer in the events of each day and each moment

“Prayer in the events of each day and each moment is one of the secrets of the kingdom revealed to ‘little children,’ to the servants of Christ, to the poor of the Beatitudes. It is right and good to pray so that the coming of the kingdom of justice and peace may influences the march of history, but it is just as important to bring the help of prayer into humble, everyday situations; all forms of prayer can be the leaven to which the Lord compares the kingdom.” (CCC 2659-2660)