Hidden in Plain Sight

But Jesus said to them,
“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place
and in his own house.”
And he did not work many mighty deeds there
because of their lack of faith.
—Matthew 13: 57–58

IMG_1987This Gospel reading is an extension of the message from the previous week’s reflection, of the idea that our own disposition will affect how God is able to work in us. As we read last week, if our soil is rocky, the Word will not be able to grow unless we first allow God to till the soil. In today’s Gospel, we read of Jesus’s failed attempt to preach in His hometown. If we, like the people in today’s reading, are closed off to the very idea that God might work through the ordinary details of our everyday lives, then His attempts to work miracles in us will be futile. If our hearts are stubborn, if we turn our heads away from the divine in-breaking of grace, then we are refusing to receive His miracles.

The truth is that God often enters into our lives in the ways we least expect. We might anticipate chariots and thunder, when really He’s trying to get our attention through our next-door neighbor. If it seems mundane to us, it is only because we’ve lost the perspective that God cherishes each tiny detail of His creation. He works within the intricacies of the world He created, gently and earnestly appealing to us in the most ordinary moments.

Jesus’s neighbors didn’t recognize that the Messiah was in their midst. Think about your own neighbors: perhaps there is a saint among you, hidden in plain sight. Don’t miss out on the gift of their presence. God give us eyes to recognize the miraculous when it comes in the trappings of the familiar.

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

Jet Lag

Here it is, 3:44 AM in New York City and I am wide awake because it is 9:44 AM in France. I have been back from my pilgrimage to France for a few days now and I thought that I had been adapting to the time change pretty well… evidently not. My inconsistent work schedule most likely has some part to play in this. I am either getting up really early to open the store or getting up really late to close the store. I am severely lacking consistency. In addition to my unstable work schedule, I do have quite a few things on my mind. Coming back from my pilgrimage has been a true emotional roller-coaster to say the least, especially going back to work.

Work has become almost unbearable. France allowed me to see my work life with refreshed eyes and it helped me realize how much chaos my work creates. I truly dreaded the first day because I was scared of what I would walk into. The people I work with are wonderful but can be unpredictable. I never know what I am going to get with them. The pilgrimage ignited a deeper relationship with God and Mary and they definitely had my back as I walked back into my work and ensured that I had a joyful return. There was a select group of people I was very excited to see and it was reassuring when I realized that they were just as excited to see me.

I had brought back assorted gifts for different coworkers. There was one coworker in particular who wanted a magnet. I must confess getting her this magnet was actually more out of guilt. I had brought back some Colorado magnets the last time I went home and gave them to a few people. She saw them and asked if she could have one. I was not planning on giving her one then simply because I did not think that we had that close a relationship. She later revealed to me that she collects magnets and if I could bring her back a Colorado magnet the next time I go home she would appreciate it — she even offered to pay for it. The old Catholic guilt seeped in and I was bound and determined to get her a magnet from this trip.

I ended up buying her a magnet highlighting the city of Lourdes. I tried to make it as non-religious as possible just because I didn’t know what her background was. Her reaction to the magnet was something I would have never expected in a million years. I gave the magnet to her Monday and I told her my reason for going to France was for a pilgrimage. She smiled and nodded her head; this was the typical reaction I was getting from my coworkers. I assumed she wasn’t sure what a pilgrimage was. The next day she came up to me and inquired more. She started asking me specific questions about Lourdes and pilgrimages there. I was impressed, she was the first person at my work who actually knew why Lourdes is so important to my faith. She even talked about Saint Bernadette and how she grew up watching the movie “The Song of Saint Bernadette.” It was one of her favorite movies.

Our Lady of Lourdes
Our Lady of Lourdes

Throughout the day she continued to ask me questions about my religion. It started very general, basically just telling her why I went, but evolved into discussing her faith and how she had fallen away over the years. She told me that she was baptized but never received any other sacraments. She has a daughter who does not practice any religion and her granddaughter is a self proclaimed atheist. I could hear the regret in her voice and tears even welled up in her eyes. I said that I have had my struggles with my faith and had my moments of questioning. She asked me how I found my way back to my religion. I told her that I first had to reconcile my relationship with the Lord and I did that through prayer. She added that she never has received a good answer from her granddaughter as to why she refuses to go to church. At the end of the conversation, she seemed to be more determined to re-address the conversation with her granddaughter — she is older now and may be able to articulate her feelings better. My coworker was still in tears and I could tell something was still bothering her. She brushed it off saying she was just going through a lot of things lately. I didn’t want to pry plus we really needed to get back to work. I ended up just giving her a hug and said that no matter what she was going through she was a beautiful person and I was always there if she ever wanted to talk more. The rest is in the Lord’s hands. I will pray for her of course, along with her daughter and granddaughter.

God and Mary truly surprised me with this one. This coworker was one of the last people I would have guessed would understand what I encountered in Lourdes. The conversation we had blessed me just as much as it blessed her. It allowed me to relive my experiences I had in France and I was able to give a more honest account of my trip instead of the general, “oh I had a great time.” I pray that my affirmation of my faith will encourage her to revisit hers and maybe bring her back to the Lord.

___

Originally posted at Kitty in the City.
Featured image: Mosaic in the Rosary Basilica, Lourdes / PD-US

Miracles & Mysteries

2 Kings 4:42-44, Psalm 145, Ephesians 4:1-6, John 6:1-15

When Jesus performed the multiplication of food, the people immediately adored Him: “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the hills by himself.” (Jn 6:15)

Similarly when Jesus walked on water, His Apostles revered Him: “Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going” (Jn 6:21).

However, after Jesus taught about the Eucharist and that we have to eat His flesh, most of his followers deserted Him: “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.” (Jn 6:66).

It was easy for the people to believe in simple signs and truths, like witnessing the multiplication of food or Jesus walking on water. However, the moment Jesus teaches something seemingly controversial, i.e to eat His flesh, everyone left Him.

This alone speaks volumes of the Hard Truth of the Eucharist. Sometimes, it’s not about what we want, but what Jesus wants. Often times, we pick a church because of the service structure or how charismatic a particular priest or pastor is. We also tend to pick doctrines which we agree with and chuck the rest out.

However, that was never what Jesus wanted for us. Christ clearly established in the scriptures how He wanted to be worshiped and how He wanted His disciples to live. The perennial question is, are we able to assent even though we don’t understand certain mysteries?

___

Originally posted on Instagram.

Classical music’s divorce from God has been one of the great failures of our times

By Dr George Corbett, Lecturer in Theology, Imagination and the Arts, University of St Andrews.

Reverend Jonathan Arnold, dean of divinity at Magdalen college, Oxford, has written about the “seeming paradox that, in today’s so-called secular society, sacred choral music is as powerful, compelling and popular as it has ever been”.

But is this a paradox? Arguably the power of this music derives from having been written by supremely talented, well-trained composers who just happened to live in a Christian tradition, writing mainly for the church. If the dominant religion over the past millennium had been atheist secularism, say, talented composers might still have written equally compelling music.

The same might also be true elsewhere in the arts – not just for Christian composers such as Mozart, but also for Christian poets like Dante, and Christian artists like Beato Angelico. If so, the power of Mozart’s famous Ave Verum has nothing to do with the mystical body of Christ in the Eucharist and everything to do with the innate genius of the composer.

A problem with such counter-factual hypotheses, however, is that this is all they are: hypotheses. By contrast, sacred music and extraordinary Christian art is a reality. Many of these Christian artists also experienced their own creative process as “inspired”, believing God had had a hand in their work.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI claimed that “in no other cultural domain is there a music of a greatness equal to that which was born in the domain of the Christian faith”. He even added that “this music, for me, is a demonstration of the truth of Christianity”.

Many others have touched on this sense that music springs from faith and can only be artificially separated from it. This includes non-religious people, who often speak of their experience of music in spiritually inflected terms, describing it as “soulful” or “transcendent” or “mystical” or whatever. This is where there really might be a paradox: secular people being moved by the sacred through music.

The God exclusion

Classical composers in the post-war period sought to make a clear break with tradition, including with the cultural baggage of Christianity. The Scottish composer James MacMillan, who is also a professor at the University of St Andrews divinity school, lamented the divorce of music from extra-musical inspiration in this period:

Composers like Boulez, Stockhausen, Berio and the young Turks of the post-war generation wanted to start afresh from year zero, to write a music that was untainted by tradition.

British music departments and conservatoires of MacMillan’s generation in the 1970s saw music as “complete in itself” and that “anything else was extraneous and irrelevant”.

James MacMillan. Helsingborgs Konserthus, CC BY-SA

The English-Polish composer Roxanna Panufnik described something similar:

I left music college swearing never to write another note again … It was during the mid-1980s when esoteric and cerebral avant-garde music was still considered the right kind of music to be writing.

Classical music in this era became ultimately sterile, delighted with its own inaccessibility and unpopularity; a cerebral playing around with notes on the page. MacMillan and Panufnik only discovered their own compositional voices by being true to themselves; allowing the “spiritual dimension to emerge” and reacting against the culture of the time.

The irony, as MacMillan has pointed out before, is that mainstream modernist music has often been more plugged into the Judeo-Christian tradition than is sometimes appreciated. Arnold Schoenberg reconverted to Judaism after the Holocaust. Igor Stravinsky was Russian Orthodox, Olivier Messaien was Catholic. From this perspective, Christianity is an extraordinary source of artistic originality; rejecting a search for the sacred leads ultimately to a dead end.

21st century composition

Today, if you go to a concert even of sacred music, you are unlikely to find reference in the programme notes to religious inspiration. There remains a snooty condescension in intellectual circles towards the “extra-musical”, and a privileging of pure musical analysis.

The recording industry is driving technical perfection, while the notion of “historically informed performance” is becoming ever more dominant as part of a wider focus on achieving a supposedly “correct” style. All too easily these become goals, rather than the means to express something deeper.

Our response at St Andrews has been to try to introduce the next generation of composers to the creative power of Christianity, pioneering what we call theologically informed programming and performance. We paired six of the best upcoming composers from around the UK and Ireland with doctoral theologians from the university.

The theologians were tasked with researching passages from scripture that could be set to music by the composers. Participants didn’t need any faith, and were encouraged to engage with the Christian tradition however they wanted. Mentored by MacMillan and part of our wider TheoArtistry project, the collaborations have produced six wonderful new works of sacred music, which are available on the CD Annunciations: Sacred Music for the 21st Century.

One great example is by Rebekah Dyer and Kerensa Briggs. Dyer’s research on fire in theology, combined with her hobby as a fire spinner, gave talented composer Briggs a fresh perspective on Moses’ encounter with God through the Burning Bush. Using textured sounds of choir and organ, the composition conveys a meeting between earth and heaven, history and eternity.

When music encounters religion, I see the result as being like the scriptural image of water and wine: the art can be transformed and come not to serve theology, but to be theology – or more exactly theoartistry, insofar as it may reveal God in a new way through artistry.

From the earliest Gregorian chants through Bach and Mozart to the very different contemporary sacred music of MacMillan and Arvo Pärt, there are so many examples of the great beauty that this can achieve.

Originally published at The Conversation. Republished by MercatorNet.
Featured image by Sergio Delle Vedove.

Studying Theology

I’ve had some people come up to me and ask:
“What do you study in theology?
“Do you just study the Bible?”

Believe me, I had all these questions too before I embarked on any sort of theological study.

So allow me to clear the air. It’s not just about studying the Bible. It’s more than that. For sure, the Bible is a key source — for it is God’s Word revealed to us, it is His way of communicating to us mere mortals, to help us continually grow in love with God.

The (i) Holy Bible, in addition to (ii) Sacred Tradition, (iii) our reason, and (iv) our human experience (4 loci/sources of mediation between theologian and God) all function to help us in relating to God.

The job of a theologian is this: To articulate the true meaning of God as revealed to us through different eras, social milieu, contexts.

The revelation of God is not to be seen as a mere historical revelation, but one that is continuing today and very much alive in the presence of the Church.

For those of you desiring to embark on any sort of theological study, do not be afraid! If God brings you to it (He has, after all, planted some seed of desire in you!), He will bring you through it.

___

Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.
Image: PD-US

The Tiller

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Hear the parable of the sower.
The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the Kingdom
without understanding it,
and the Evil One comes and steals away
what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

—Matthew 13:18–23

Rosa_Bonheur_-_Le_laborage_(1844)The parable of the sower is a reminder that our own interior disposition will affect how we receive the Word of God. If we are hardened and resistant, it will not find root within us. But if we are pliant and willing, the Word will grow and bear fruit in us, making of us an outward sign of God’s abundant grace.

It is important for us to also remember that God does not simply toss the seed and walk away, leaving us to either flourish or wilt based on the merits of our soil. If we want to try our luck alone, of course, He will leave us be, never imposing Himself upon us. But if we let Him, He will gladly go deeper and till the soil of our hearts—removing the rocks, untangling the thorny ground, protecting the precious seed He has sown.

Johannessen_-_Pflügen_im_Frühjahr_-_1916-18Most likely, our soil is imperfect. We might have some rich, verdant areas here and there, but there are also the rocky mounds, the dried-out patches of dirt, the weeds that prevent anything else from growing. We want to receive God’s Word, but we also know that there is work to do within our hearts to remove all the disordered attachments, sinful habits, and unloving attitudes that prevent us from truly embracing it. But we need not despair. If we have the will to improve, God will meet us where we are, and He will do the work in us. All we need is patience and perseverance—for this process won’t be simple or easy, but it will absolutely be worth it. At first, the soil will appear broken and raw as He reaches in and pulls out the rocks and brambles. But if we remain open to His grace, a verdant landscape will sprout up before our eyes.


1. Rosa Bonheur, Le laborage / PD-US
2. Aksel Waldemar Johannessen, Plowing in the Spring / PD-US

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

The Little Flower

On my pilgrimage in France: I find it funny that most people come to France primarily for the Paris attractions. Not for my group though — being in Paris was just an added benefit. Our main purpose was to visit Lourdes, where Saint Bernadette received apparitions of Mary in a small grotto next to a river in 1858. Such humble beginnings have transformed the site into a grand shrine devoted to Our Lady of Lourdes. This shrine has been a place of numerous miracles over many years, especially of healing. The water has become famous for its healing properties. Every single day people flock to this site with the hope of being healed by bathing in the water.

We started the day early to catch a flight from Paris to Lourdes. Anticipation filled the air with each one of us holding special intentions in our hearts, secret hopes that we desire Mary to answer. I confess my deepest desires were rather selfish. I intended to bring the desires I have had since I was a child: to find a loving husband and to start a family. Simple in nature but it is something I have felt is my true vocation. This is also a desire I have feared might never come to fruition. However, as I sat in the line awaiting my time to enter into the water, the more I drew closer, the more my mind, heart and soul began to shift. It felt wrong to place my prayer intentions only for myself. To be honest I already had the faith that Jesus would fulfill my deep desires with or without receiving the bath, and there might be more urgent prayer intentions to focus on.

Yesterday, we visited the Sanctuary of Lisieux where we devoted our time to learning about the life of Saint Thérèse and her family. It was also Consecration day for the Pilgrims who went through 33 Days to Morning Glory by Father Gaitley. For those who don’t know, Marian Consecration is a way to give yourself entirely to Jesus through Mary. Through this Consecration, you surrender your entire self to Mary for her to use in whatever way she wishes to further glorify the kingdom of God. This can be difficult to do, especially for me; I naturally want to maintain control. Nevertheless, I sincerely felt called to France to do this. After my Consecration, I ended up in the gift shop filled with Saint Thérèse souvenirs. I was drawn to a simple key chain. A small pink rose, a symbol of Saint Thérèse. I heard a quiet voice tell me to buy it. I struggled with this at first. I knew it would be hard to give this key chain to the person it was meant for. She is a sweet and in some ways very innocent girl but she is a victim of this fallen world. While she appears as a girl herself, she has a daughter and is addicted to marijuana. Before leaving on this trip, she asked me to bring her back a French husband. She was serious about it too, listing off all the attributes this husband should have. I promised I would bring her back something even if it was not a husband. I have been working with her for some time but Mary was definitely working to strengthen our relationship during the weeks leading to this trip. Throughout this trip, Mary continued to place her on my heart. In that gift shop and after my Consecration I saw why.

Sitting waiting to go into the bath I released my selfish intentions and placed all my time and devotion on this girl. I truly believe that Mary will be able transform her and her life for good. When the time came to enter the bath I was asked to say my prayer intentions. I prayed for her and went down into the water. There are no coincidences and I believe that through the graces I have received, Mary wishes to reach this girl with the help of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Oh and by the way, this girl’s name is also Therese.

___

Originally posted at Kitty in the City.
Image: Saint Thérèse dressed as Saint Joan of Arc.

Silent Retreat: Prayer

Spending 2.5 days in silence was certainly a new and enriching experience for me and my spiritual life. I wrote and read so much, it’s difficult to summarize all my thoughts succinctly.

What I would say though, is that there is true wisdom in Jesus’s advice to be still, find a quiet place, and pray. Time was tremendously slowed and I felt like I was Adam in the Garden of Eden (before the Fall) during the retreat.

The place was beautiful and the moment I stepped foot inside, I experienced peace and serenity. The retreat center sported a huge garden with birds, rabbits and flowers. A 15 minutes walk outside would take me to the Chiang Mai lake and waterfalls.

I felt like it was Heaven on Earth. In my experience, all Christians should find time to turn contemplative instead of consistently remaining active, especially in stressful Singapore. All should at least once in their life, be still and retreat to a lonely place.

It is easy to find God in Silence, and even easier to pray unceasingly. By silencing ourselves, we are forced to listen, to read, to reflect, to contemplate. Moreover, the beautiful nature there helped sharpen my focus. I’ll share a few scriptural verses that best describes my entire experience, in order:

Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while. (Mk 6:31)

But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray. (Lk 5:16)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. It will be a healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body. (Prov 3:5,8)

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you would wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Mt 6:25-26)

Bless the Lord, O my Soul. O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty. (Ps 104:1).

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning; the patient in spirit are better than the proud in spirit. (Eccl 7:8)

___

Originally posted on Instagram.

Memorials of faith under oppression in a Baltic state

Guest post by Dr. Chiara Bertoglio.

It is only very rarely that I have time for proper holidays, that is the idea of packing, flying and then enjoying a journey just for the sake of it. Much more frequently, I have to travel for my job, but – whenever possible – I try and make the most of these journeys, particularly attempting to know the places and people I’m visiting.

This happened in the past week, when I had to go to Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania, for a conference. I was very curious, because I had never been to a Baltic country before. What will follow is just a kind of diary of what I saw, and, of course, I have no pretension to write as an expert of Lithuania or of its history. I’m merely a traveling musician who happened to spend a few days there.

The first thing I discovered was that Lithuania, along with its sister Baltic countries, Latvia and Estonia, is celebrating this year its 100th birthday. These countries declared their independence in 1918, though the following hundred years were marked by systematic violation of that independence and freedom. They experienced occupation and the deprivation of freedom and democracy, particularly during the long Soviet era.

Though the anniversary celebrations are stressing very strongly that the country’s independence is a hundred years old, and therefore that there is substantial continuity between Lithuania in 1918 and in 2018, they are also not hiding the country’s history and what it suffered in this century.

Just in front of the Academy of Music, where our conference took place, there is a building which immediately caught my eye. It is rather imposing, occupying one whole block; between the Academy and the building there is a small monument, in the shape of a little hill made of rocks, surmounted by a cross and with many flowers and candles spread around and above it. This tiny memorial invites attention, as does a block-long exhibition of drawings by children and teenagers – some of which are really beautiful – and which illustrate the history of Lithuania’s occupation. In fact, the large building a few steps away has had the debatable privilege of being the prison and operational centre of both the Gestapo (during the Nazi era) and of the KGB (during the longer Soviet occupation).

The building is covered in large square stones, on which the names and dates of birth and death of Lithuanian heroes are sculpted; many of them share the year 1945 as the second of the two. Inside the building is the Museum of the Genocide. I must admit that at first I had no intention to visit it. I can’t stand the sight of violence, I never watch horror movies, and I believe that one can learn enough about history without indulging in what I think are voyeuristic descriptions of torture and sadism.

In spite of this, in the end I convinced myself to enter, thinking that I would certainly not miss a visit to Auschwitz if I had the opportunity of going there, and so I had to take courage and enter here too. I was rewarded for this minor act of courage. The museum was by no means a chamber of horrors, even though it was more than a chamber of horrors. In the cellar, the KGB prison has been left as it was; and it is something one has really to see in order to believe it.

For example, you see what looks like a grim but not particularly terrible prison cell, about three by five meters, with three beds with no mattresses. The point is that up to a hundred prisoners were crammed into one of these cells. When you see it and think “well, this must be a cell for three people” and then you learn that a hundred people lived there… it makes you feel how inhuman their condition was. Then you see the showers, which are nothing to write home about, but when you learn that prisoners could take one shower a month you realize how terrible that was (and, incidentally, how the smell of a hundred unwashed people must have been).

There was, indeed, the display of some means of torture, of which I won’t write, but it was not like a splatter movie; rather, it made me deeply touched, sad and intensely moved. I was on the verge of tears when I descended into the execution room. I knew that thousands of people had died there; and while I felt the immense sacredness of a place like that, where heroes, martyrs and common people had been shot and had left this earth, I was also impressed by the “practical details” which made those killings so vivid in my eyes – such as the hosepipe used for washing the blood after the executions. It was like perceiving the reality and the truth of it all, not in the form of a tale, but as a true experience of life.

Similarly, I will never forget some small items which I saw in the museum in the upper floors, where tiny objects from the prisoners’ and the deportees’ lives were displayed. Many unsung heroes of the Lithuanian resistance were in fact sent to Siberia and other pleasant holiday places in the USSR, and, once more, the living truth conveyed by these objects was much more impressive for me than descriptions of tortures or other horrors which these people experienced.

There were handkerchiefs on which a married couple embroidered the portraits of their children: the parents had been sent to Siberia and this was a way for keeping the beloved features of their offspring with them. There were Christmas cards written on birch bark; small bags in which a handful of Lithuanian earth was kept by the deportees. But what most impressed me were the numerous examples of how faith kindled courage and hope in these prisoners.

A rosary made of bread, which belonged to the political prisoner Elena Kirlyte, Kazakh SSR, circa 1954.

There were rosary beads made of breadcrumbs (and one can only imagine how precious a breadcrumb could be for these people in forced labor at the end of the world); tiny holy vessels with which the priests celebrated Mass, sometimes even on the trains which brought them to Siberia, as witnessed in a “Mass diary” kept by a priest; minuscule crucifixes made from toothbrushes (!); portable altars carved in wood, or Lilliput prayer books written by hand. There were also some exquisite Christmas decorations which a deported bishop, from his internment at a kind of lunatic asylum, sent to his little niece; her picture was found in his own portable altar, so that he celebrated Mass for this little child.

I emerged from this visit with a full heart. I was impressed by some dates, telling me that some of these events happened during my own lifetime; in fact, I can distinctly remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, though I had forgotten about the human chain made by some two million inhabitants of the Baltic republics in 1989 (the “Baltic way”).

Outside the museum, I found a vibrant city, with a wonderful Old Town which is part of the Unesco World Heritage and modern shops like those I find in the major Western cities (though whether this homogenization is a positive aspect is debatable). But I also found an elderly man who sold simple bunches of homegrown flowers, tied with a shoelace – a touching reminder that freedom is not the same as well-being, and that consumerism is not the antidote to past abuses. The true antidote, I think, is in the deep faith and values of the Lithuanian people, some of whom I saw praying in the Cathedral church of Vilnius. I will not forget an old nun, who was so beautiful in her prayer that I couldn’t resist taking a picture of her.

The country, along with the other Baltic countries, will be receiving a visit by Pope Francis in a few days; possibly he will also go on pilgrimage to the Hill of the Crosses, a place I longed to see but which was too far from Vilnius to be compatible with my schedule. But I hope to be able to visit it in the future: it is yet another living witness of the power of faith and love to heal the deepest and most painful sorrows of humankind.

Dr. Chiara Bertoglio is a musician and theologian moonlighting as a journalist. She writes from Italy. Visit her website.

Originally published at MercatorNet.

Featured image: Hill of Crosses, Lithuania / PD-US
Photos: Chiara Bertoglio.

Humility and Gratitude

An ex-student has been so gracious as to keep me in the loop about her successes. She’s a particularly bright and hardworking girl. And I never thought what small messages like that could do for me — I felt so proud of her.

What more would our Heavenly Father in heaven feel if we thanked Him and kept Him in the loop about our successes in life?

I thought, what exactly about this ex-student won my heart? She was humble; never conceited. Even when she was so smart, she listened to whatever I had to teach — she knew she could always learn something.

As the saying goes, students often teach the teachers more so than the other way round!

Prayers today for everyone — that we may always be humble in all we say and do.

___

Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.
Image: PD-US

Something Greater

I say to you, something greater than the temple is here.
If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
you would not have condemned these innocent men.
For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.

—Matthew 12:6–8

Cross_in_the_Wilderness_by_Frederic_Edwin_Church,_1857_AD,_oil_on_canvas_-_Museo_Nacional_Centro_de_Arte_Reina_Sofía_-_DSC08680Throughout Scripture, we find stories where God asks someone to give up everything for Him. Countless prophets and disciples are asked to separate themselves from earthly attachments, leave their old lives behind, and start from scratch. Why does the God of mercy require such extreme sacrifice from His people?

God uses these experiences of sacrifice not as punishments but to prune our hearts and allow us to grow into who we were created to be. He asks us to let go of our attachments in order to prepare us for a greater mission; to increase our dependence upon Him; to replace our earthly perspective with a heavenly one; and to give us a testimony of the God Who has walked with us and sustained us through every desert, Who has shouldered the crosses we bear.

Jesus does not desire sacrifice for its own sake but to make room for something greater. He sacrificed everything for us as a means to show His mercy. He endured torture, betrayal, wrongful conviction, and death for love of us. He entered into our human condition, sharing with us an intimate closeness. And in doing so, He has redeemed all of our sacrifices, transforming them into pathways of His mercy.

In light of Jesus’s sacrifice, our sufferings are not burdens holding us back but graces lifting us upward toward the Cross of salvation. Sometimes, He requires us to let go of good things so that our hands are open to receive great things. His claim is a bold one: that He Himself is greater than the temple. Greater than the temple! What seemed like blasphemy to the Pharisees is in fact a profound truth: there is no offering more sacred than the Body of Christ, no sacrifice greater than the Mass, and no act of devotion more powerful than His Passion.


Image: Frederic Edwin Church, Cross in the Wilderness / PD-US

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

The World Cup

I found myself on yet another Pilgrimage. This marked the fifth Pilgrimage I have had the privilege to take. This time my destination was France, with the main focus on visiting many of the places where people have encountered Mary. It was only the second day and I already experienced Mary’s strong presence in this country. The Lord has shown His presence as well.

It was Sunday, the Lord’s day. Our day began with Mass at the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral. Our group was given the honor of sitting in the front rows of the cathedral. Of course, the entire Mass was in French, so I probably did not get as much out of it as I could have. Nevertheless, it was truly a sacred time and little did I know how significant the Gospel reading would be regarding the events that occurred later in the day.

The itinerary for the day was originally supposed to include a cruise on the river and a visit to the Eiffel Tower, but both events had to be canceled because of the World Cup Final. Since France’s team was in the final, the entire city practically shut down to watch the game. When the match started there was no-one in the city who was not watching the game; people were piling into bars and restaurants. The square in front of the Eiffel Tower was blocked off by military because there were so many people in the square watching the game. Our group of pilgrims ended up splitting into a few different groups depending how each one of us wanted to experience the game. I went with the group who wanted to watch it on the square. Our plan was quickly dashed when we were met by a wall of French Military holding machine guns blocking off all entrances into the square. It was a true miracle that we were able to find a bar with seats right in front of a television. Unfortunately, there were two different televisions playing the game in the bar and our television lagged, which meant that every time someone scored, we knew before we were actually able to see it. By halftime the group had had enough and we returned to our hotel. I honestly don’t know which was more exciting, watching the game or watching people watching the game. As the game ended, the action in the streets grew wilder and wilder. People were chanting the national anthem, jumping on moving vehicles, setting off fireworks and tear gas. In a sense it was beautiful chaos. When France officially won, everyone flooded into the streets and began to march. No one knew where we were going but we marched on anyway. Eventually, my group had to stop and head back to our hotel for dinner, but even as we were walking back we continued to see people coming, all chanting their anthem.

When we reached the hotel and gathered for dinner, we all engaged in intense conversation retelling all the crazy stories. One group saw a gang fight break out, while another saw a parked car completely destroyed because of all the people climbing and jumping on it to see the game. All law and order was forgotten; to be a part of the World Cup aftermath was to be a part of something that has never happened before and will never happen again. France winning set Paris on fire. Witnessing it made me think of the Gospel for the day. Mark 6:7-13 is all about Jesus sending the disciples out to preach the Word of God. The disciples now had their mission, which was to set the World on Fire with His Word. If winning a sports game can set Paris ablaze in such a spectacular way, can you imagine what the world could be like if we all accepted our mission and set the World on fire?

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Originally posted at Kitty in the City.
Image: PD-US

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