Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Day for the Sick

Today is the World Day of Prayer for the Sick. This coincides with the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. In Lourdes, France, on this day in 1858, Bernadette Soubirous, a young illiterate girl, first saw the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary called herself The Immaculate Conception. When her Bishop heard Bernadette say, "The Immaculate Conception, he made the connection--this has to be real! Bernadette complete her earthly life as a religious Sister. Now she is St. Bernadette. Miraculous cures of all kinds happen at the spot where Mary appeared in Lourdes.
Here is just part of the story of Our Lady of Lourdes:
On 11 February 1858, Bernadette Soubirous went with her sisters Toinette and Jeanne Abadie to collect some firewood and bones in order to buy some bread. After taking off her shoes and stockings to wade through the water near the Grotto of Massabielle, she said she heard the sound of two gusts of wind (coups de vent) but the trees and bushes nearby did not move. A wild rose in a natural niche in the grotto, however, did move. "I came back towards the grotto and started taking off my stockings. I had hardly taken off the first stocking when I heard a sound like a gust of wind. Then I turned my head towards the meadow. I saw the trees quite still: I went on taking off my stockings. I heard the same sound again. As I raised my head to look at the grotto, I saw a lady dressed in white, wearing a white dress, a blue girdle and a yellow rose on each foot, the same color as the chain of her rosary; the beads of the rosary were white....From the niche, or rather the dark alcove behind it, came a dazzling light."[11]
This year the main celebration for this Day of Prayer for the Sick is happening in Nazareth, in the Holy Land. On this second day of lent, take some time to pray for the sick, especially those with chronic or terminal illness. Our Holy Father Pope Francis sent his message for this Day. Here is some of what he wrote: Illness, above all grave illness, always places human existence in crisis and brings with it questions that dig deep. Our first response may at times be one of rebellion: Why has this happened to me? We can feel desperate, thinking that all is lost, that things no longer have meaning…
In these situations, faith in God is on the one hand tested, yet at the same time can reveal all of its positive resources. Not because faith makes illness, pain, or the questions which they raise, disappear, but because it offers a key by which we can discover the deepest meaning of what we are experiencing; a key that helps us to see how illness can be the way to draw nearer to Jesus who walks at our side, weighed down by the Cross. And this key is given to us by Mary, our Mother, who has known this way at first hand. At the wedding feast of Cana, Mary is the thoughtful woman who sees a serious problem for the spouses: the wine, the symbol of the joy of the feast, has run out. Mary recognizes the difficulty, in some way makes it her own, and acts swiftly and discreetly. She does not simply look on, much less spend time in finding fault, but rather, she turns to Jesus and presents him with the concrete problem: “They have no wine” (Jn 2:3). And when Jesus tells her that it is not yet the time for him to reveal himself (cf. v. 4), she says to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you” (v. 5). Jesus then performs the miracle, turning water into wine, a wine that immediately appears to be the best of the whole celebration. What teaching can we draw from this mystery of the wedding feast of Cana for the World Day of the Sick? The wedding feast of Cana is an image of the Church: at the centre there is Jesus who in his mercy performs a sign; around him are the disciples, the first fruits of the new community; and beside Jesus and the disciples is Mary, the provident and prayerful Mother.
Pray for and if possible visit the sick today. Have a very blessed Lenten day!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday

The opening prayer of today, Ash Wednesday's, Mass goes like this:
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
This prayer summarizes in a few phrases what Lent is all about. On Facebook this morning, someone kindly posted a quote from Saint John Paul on why ashes for today. Here it is:
May today's fast bring us clarity of mind, deeper love in our hearts and more life in our souls to begin this "holy campaign" against our own personal sin and failings, so that the whole Body of Christ will be more holy as we approach our Easter of Resurrection. As many Saints have told us: Keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. May we be joyful "ambassadors of Christ" as St. Paul tells us in today's reading from 2 Corinthians, and messengers of mercy.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Lent Begins

Tomorrow I will read from the Prophet Joel. His voice echoes through the millenia with the same message he proclaimed to the people of Israel:
Even now says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment....
The selection from Joel ends with these words of hope:
Then the Lord was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on hia people.
Lent is that recurring season that culminates in Easter. Before we get to Easter however, there is work to do, and suffering to endure. C. S. Lewis wrote that "nothing that has not been crucified will rise." A number of candidates seeking the office of our United States presidency have latched onto catch phrases such as "rise" and take up "greatness." Rising, just like the process of tiny plants during their growth crack open the seed and leave it behind as they push through the earth toward the sun, requires leaving the familiar and cozy behind to risk getting above ground and thriving in the light of the sun. So we need to crack open the shell of our old sinful patterns of allow the Light of Christ's grace to penetrate us to our very depths.
Even in our mundane world changes, many of them painful events transpire before positive changes are made to improve a family, a community, a nation. Physical trainers repeat the axiom, "No pain, no gain." It is so true that Christ saved us without us, but he wants us to correspond to that amazing grace with our own daily practice of virtue. Just as muscles rebel when made to exercise, so our human side can rebel at the very idea of change. Durig Lent we want to emphasize imitating Christ, even in some little thing every day. Certain folks give up chocolate, or ice cream, or going to movies. Why not fast from an hour of TV to do some good spiritual reading for an hour a day? If you are not a reader, you can listen to good audio books, or watch Catholic TV or EWTN if either or both of these are available to you. In Canada Salt & Light TV offers wholesome Catholic viewing. Pope Francis is asking us to remember those who are financially poor in this Year of Mercy. On the Internet I have seen how some families keep a supply of plastic "survival kit" bags in their cars. The kits contain bottled water, granola bars and other snacks. Others keep modest supplies of dental hygiene needs, bars of soap, shaving needs and other toiletries. I know of some people who purchase gift cards for Dunkin Donuts, or McDonalds and hand them to street people. I heard of a family that often has to drive through a depressed neighborhood. Before the couple and their teen children set out, they prepare bags of sandwiches to hand to any homeless people whom they see.
"Lent is like a long 'retreat' during which we can turn back into ourselves and listen to the voice of God, in order to defeat the temptations of the Evil One. It is a period of spiritual 'combat' which we must experience alongside Jesus, not with pride and presumption, but using the arms of faith: prayer, listening to the word of God and penance. In this way we will be able to celebrate Easter in truth, ready to renew the promises of our Baptism." -- Pope Benedict XVI
While most of us cannot physically retreat from our daily routine, we can always reflect more, examine our consciences on a daily basis, pray more intentionally, practice humility and patience. None of these practices are flashy or attention-getting. It is love for God lived out in the nitty-gritty of our lives; stuck in traffic, yet not cursing or complaining, but taking that time to pray or turn on the local Catholic radio, or listen to an audio book on the spiritual life...there are so many ways to return "love for love" in this Holy Season. These 40 days are a way for us to say a daily thank you to Jesus for coming among us, especially for suffering and dying and rising for us. I wish each of you readers a holy and grace-filled Lent. May it be the best ever!

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Mercy Mindfulness

In the last several years, schools and houses of prayer have recommended the practice of mindfulness. In other words it means paying attention to what we are doing or experiencing in the here and now, We tell kids to "eat mindfully" and to savor each bite of food. When we hear music, we can be mindful of the lyrics, the mood the music creates, the rhythm, and perhaps memories or images that music brings to us. On December 8th, 2015, Pope Francis initiated the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The Pope reminds us to be merciful and to receive mercy. The sacrament of penance/reconciliation or confession is one of the greatest ways to experience God's mercy in our life. The Pope recommends practicing the 7 Corporal and the 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy. No doubt you practice many of these "works" everyday without being mindful of them showing "mercy." If someone inadvertently steps on your toes, you may practice mercy by saying "That's OK, my toes have endured worse than that." Or you might even be in a position to apologize yourself, if your feet were in someone's path. There are myriads of occasions to forgive, and to receive forgiveness everyday. Lent begins a week from today. As a positive Lenten practice, why not practice at least one each of the works of mercy each day. That resolve may seem trivial to some. Yet, remaining faithful to practicing virtue--AKA a work of mercy--is a sign of love for God and for neighbor. The "neighbor" could be your spouse, your child, your roommate, your co-worker, a street person, or a total stranger. In Matthew Chapter 25, verse 31 and following to the end of that chapter, Jesus says he will consider done to him or denied to him works of mercy we either carried out or neglected.
For more information on the Year of Mercy see The US bishops' website:usccb.org/jubilee-of-mercy, and our Sisters' website: www.pauline.org. God bless you!

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Candlemas Day, The Presentation

While every February 2nd some folks in our Northern Hemisphere check groundhogs to find out if they see their shadows, this morning we gathered in our chapel for a special feast, the Presentation of the Lord. Joseph and Mary had taken their son Jesus to the temple for a rite of purification of the mother and a presentation of the child to the Lord. Because Jesus is the Light of the World, this day has been called Candlemas Day for centuries in the English-speaking world. Candles are blessed to be used at prayer services at home and in chapels. This morning in our chapel, candles were blessed, lit and then held high as we processed into our spacious chapel.
When the Baby Jesus was brought into the Temple two elderly people sensed in that Baby Jesus the presence of God, the arrival of the Messiah. Simeon and Anna, both advanced in age, were prompted by the Spirit to be in the Temple just at the right moment. Luke's gospel says, "Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God saying,
Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.
Luke goes on to say, "There was also a prophet, Anna....She was of great age....At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel." (Luke 2:36) Both Simeon and Anna proclaimed the Good News that the Messiah had arrived. I pray that when I get to be really advanced in age that I will be capable of listening to the urging of the Holy spirit. I guess one has to begin early to be attuned to the suggestions of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual writers suggest that we read the Scripture often to see examples of what God did for others. Regular daily prayer helps as well as an effort to quiet our minds. This is a prayer to invoke the Holy Spirit:
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful And kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth. Let us pray: O God, by the light of the Holy Spirit you have taught the hearts of your faithful. In the same Spirit, help us to know what is truly right and always to rejoice in your consolation. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Catholic Schools Week

During the past month of January the Church celebrated a number of Saints who were officially declared "Doctors" of the Church. That is, their teaching is not only to be admired but held up as worthy to treasure and study. As the year began two friends from the area once known as Cappadocia were honored: Basil the Great, and Gregory Nazianzen. Their homeland is in the middle of what is now known as Turkey. Basil and Gregory were friends who loved to pray and to study. They became hermits for awhile until each was named a Bishop. St. Basil is considered the founder of monasticism in the East. Gregory for a time was bishop of Constantinople. Then he returned to his hometown of Nazianzen. Both Saints died between 370 and 390 AD. Each defended the Faith from the Arian heresy which denied the divinity of Jesus. Saint Hilary became the Bishop of Poitier in France around the year 350 where he too had to defend his flock from Arian influence.
Mother Seton and St. John Neumann are two American citizen Saints who were great educators. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Mother Seton, was a convert from the Episcopalian faith. Even as a devout Protestant she helped the poor. She began a Catholic school in Emmitsburg, Maryland around 1810. In Philadelphia, the saintly Bishop John Neumann, himself an immigrant, organized the Catholic Parochial School System. He died on January 5, 1860. On January 28, one of the greatest theologians ever, is celebrated as a Saint and the patron of Catholic students and Catholic schools: St. Thomas Aquinas. Born around 1225, Thomas' family was determined to get him married off to a suitable bride. He would hear none of it, despite family members various efforts to dissuade him. Thomas wanted to devote his life to God in the Dominican Order. He had already studied at Monte Casino. After joining the Order of Preachers (known as the Dominicans), Thomas was sent to study in Paris and Cologne. He even studied under St. Albert the Great. Thomas soon became a professor and a prolific writer. His books are still published and sought after today. He was not afraid to incorporate the best parts of the philosophy of the Greek Aristotle with theology. Thomas also learned from the Jewish philosopher Maimonides. Thomas would introduce a tenet of faith, or a question about a religious topic then he would say: This particular matter is true, however to the contrary, this is also true. In Latin it is named "sed contra"--but on the other hand....
While Thomas worked mainly in the halls of great centers of learning, the last Saint honored in January was St. John Bosco. Hailing from Northern Italy, John was concerned about the many young people caught up into and victimized by the Industrial Revolution. John realized that without guidance, knowledge of the Faith, and solid training for life skills, many of the boys on the streets would end up not only in poverty but in a life of crime. Don Bosco as he was called, employed a cheerful, balanced and prayerful method of teaching. He also wrote and published books to instruct the wider public who were ignorant of their faith. St. John Bosco started the Salesian order of priests and the Sisters of Our Lady Help of Christians, Salesian Sisters to carry on his work of education. His religious orders spread throughout the world prepare thousands of young people academically, spiritually and practically to contribute to building a civilization of love.
Fittingly the week which we now experience is Catholic Schools Week. Support your local Catholic Schools. If you are able why not donate some Pauline editions for the school library. Of course, it is a wise thought to ask the principals and librarians which books or audio/visuals they may need. You might even suggest that the school host a "JClub" Catholic book fair in the school. Just let me know in your comment line if you need more information. Pray for Catholic school personnel, teachers and principals as well as the young boys and girls who attend. Let us pray for young people so they may grow as Jesus did in wisdom, age and grace!