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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.

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.

Moments of Grace in Prison

Guest post by T.E.W., a brother in prison.

A few new men have entered our unit and one of them is Catholic. We were having a chat about prayer time and the shows he watches on TV. He likes watching (Pentecostal preachers) Joyce Meyer and Joseph Prince; I personally don’t. I was sharing my sentiments about this, saying that I prefer to listen only to Catholic sources of teaching. Then he told me that there is Mass televised at 6 a.m. on Sunday mornings on Channel 10. I am praying that the Lord wakes me up in time to be there with Him at the Mass (since we do not have alarm clocks in our cells).

[Continued the following day]

I was so happy this morning, because just as I had asked in my heart, the Lord woke me up at an appropriate time to be able to spend a few minutes in prayer giving thanks for the day before Mass started at 6 a.m. on Channel 10. The Lord is looking after me so well in here, giving me the gifts I need at just the right time, gifts which are beneficial to my developing trust in Him, however slight and gradual that trust may be.

On another day, I went out to the oval for some sun and exercise. After we finished, I struck up a short conversation with a guard about his beard. A ladybug landed on my arm. I couldn’t help but just look at it and see it as a sign of God’s abiding presence with me while I’m in here. Although I know that God is always with us, it was a nice little reminder that He is looking after me.

What I think really made the moment special is that I usually never go out to the oval because it means forfeiting “Access” to our cells. The most wonderful thing happened. I was really tired, and resigned to waiting around for access to my cell, but the guards gave us another “Access” at 3:15 p.m. until dinner. This was an exceptionally blessed day.

Jesus in the Prison

Guest post by T.E.W., a brother in prison until All Souls Day.

Today was a wonderful day. I had an opportunity to speak to the Catholic chaplains, one whose name was Deacon Russ and the other, Mary.

I received some Catholic daily devotionals entitled The Word Among Us and Living Faith. I also received a prayer book titled Pray in the Spirit, and Mary is going to bring me a Catholic Bible that I may keep.

While we were speaking, God touched her heart, because she happened to ask whether I would like to receive Holy Communion and I said yes. Mary said that she happened to have two hosts with her, when she usually only visits one inmate who receives Communion!

So while Mary went to ask permission from the guards and clean her hands, I sat and prayed to prepare myself.

I couldn’t believe it, I wept a little at Our Father’s love and the extent He will go to bring His Son to us.

The really amazing part is that they turned up before “Access”, when usually the Catholic chaplains arrive after I go into my cell for “Access”!

Praise God.

____

Editor’s note: Please keep this young man and his fellow prisoners in prayer! He is a new Catholic and is really missing the Mass.

Blessed feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe!

Image: The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Joachim

Guest post by Br. Gregory Liu, OP.

Just a few days ago, I heard about the death of a brother, a Dominican priest, Fr. Joachim Li, OP who on June 27th, died at the young age of 32. While enjoying his day off at the seaside in Rome, he lost his life successfully rescuing and saving two swimmers from drowning. Fr. Joachim’s heroic death reminded me of the story of his patron saint, St. Joachim Royo, OP, a Dominican missionary martyr in China. As Fr. Joachim gave up his life to save the two swimmers, St. Joachim gave up his life to save the souls of many.

St. Joachim Royo, OP was born around 1691 in Spain. In 1708, he joined the Dominican Order in Valencia. Filled with the zeal to preach the Gospel to the end of the world, he arrived in Manila in 1713. There he finished his studies and was ordained as a priest. St. Joachim arrived in China in the spring of 1715. In the missionary territories of southeastern China, he not only baptized many, but he formed the newly baptized converts into Dominican tertiaries and lay catechists. During the persecution of the early Qing Dynasty, he went into hiding in the wilderness and caves. Only in the cover of the night, was he able to administer sacraments for the faithful. While in prison, he continued his penitential practices, even going as far as asking the prison guards to whiplash him! He finally gave the ultimate witness of faith in Fujian, China in 1748. St. Joachim’s heroic life is just one story out of those of the 108 martyrs in China (33 of which were missionaries), whom we commemorate on July 9.

Even now, there are countless missionaries making all kinds of sacrifices, even risking their lives, so that people may hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How can you help? First of all, you can pray for them. As St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote in 1896, to Fr. Adolphe Roulland, MEP, who was about to be sent to Sichuan, China,

“Distance can never separate our souls, even death will only make our union closer. If I go to Heaven soon, I shall ask Jesus’ permission to visit you in Sichuan, and we shall continue our apostolate together. Meanwhile I shall always be united to you by prayer…”

If you hear the Lord’s call to be a missionary yourself and go to Asia, please do not hesitate to contact us!

Brother Gregory Liu, OP serves with the St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society, which prepares and sends missionaries to spread the Good News throughout Asia, in the footsteps of the great Jesuit.

Image: 120 Martyrs of China

My Vocation Story: Father Jason Smith, LC

If not for a hockey game, I wouldn’t be a Legionary of Christ priest today. As a good Minnesotan, I naturally considered hockey as divinely inspired, a sign of God’s love for us. But it’s what happened after the game that took me by surprise and lead me to know my priestly vocation.

During my first year at college, I often went to the rink at the University of Minnesota with my friends. After one such event —ending in a double overtime victory for the Golden Gophers, and a long celebration— I returned home in the wee hours of the morning, too tired to get out of bed until Sunday afternoon.

Stumbling upstairs for something to eat, I found my Dad sitting at the kitchen table, reading the paper. Opening the fridge, I heard from over my shoulder: “Jason, did you go to Mass this morning?” I swallowed hard. I hadn’t. Quickly I tried to think up the perfect excuse. None came. Trying to hide behind the refrigerator door, I quipped “No, I didn’t go”. Without looking up Dad replied solemnly, “Go tomorrow then.”

It was my first Monday morning Mass ever. I was struck by how quiet the Church was, and how empty. I sat about halfway up and waited. Little by little people began to filter in. Then an attractive girl sat down a few pews behind me. How is it I find a girl like this now and not last Saturday evening? It must be God’s providence! I decided the sign of peace was the perfect time to introduce myself. When the moment came I turned around and, to my surprise, she passed me a note. I put it in my pocket pretending it happened all the time.
When I got home I opened the note. It read something like this: “It’s good to see someone young attending daily Mass. You must really love your faith! I want to let you know about a group of young people who pray and study scripture Wednesday evenings. If you would like to come, here is my number.” I decided I could find time in my packed schedule to go. That’s when it occurred to me I hadn’t seriously looked into my Catholic faith since Confirmation. What would I say? What would I pray? Where was my Rosary? I found it stuffed in the bottom dresser drawer along with a pamphlet of prayers.

As to what I would say, I went to my Dad’s study and checked out his library. It had books on music, history, politics —but the largest section was religion. I found one book called True Devotion to Mary. It seemed like a good place to start since it was short. The book changed my life. It explained how St. Louis de Montfort, a priest who tirelessly preached the Gospel and underwent extraordinary trials, spread devotion to Mary throughout France. It was my first encounter with the life of a saint. I marveled how someone could dedicate himself entirely to Christ, even to the point of heroism. It inspired me to truly seek God and sincerely live my faith.

A few months later I went on a retreat with the youth group. It was the first time the priesthood entered my mind. During the consecration, as I gazed at the elevated host, I thought to myself —in words that were my own, but which carried a remarkable resonance I will never forget: If there is one thing I should do, it’s that. It was the defining moment of my life and it came entirely by surprise. I knew I had to look into the priesthood, but I didn’t know how or where. To make a long story short, the same girl who gave me the note in church then gave me a brochure on the Legionaries of Christ. It had testimonies of the young men who entered the year before. I read it and was convinced. I called and asked for an application. A Legionary came to visit. I went to candidacy. I joined. My younger brother followed the next year.

Since then 25 years have passed by like a whirlwind. There is much more I could write, but the essential is simple: Christ crossed my path, called, and by His grace —definitely not my own strength— I found the courage to drop everything and follow him. I have never looked back. Our Lord’s presence and the needs of the Church have captivated my attention ever since.

___

Originally posted by Catholic Convert. Reprinted with permission of Fr. Jason Smith LC.

Making Sense of Suffering

By guest writer Sarah Coffey.

Why do we suffer?

I’ve wrestled with this question and with God for a long, long time. It’s still a struggle sometimes, more often than I’d like to admit.

If God is so good, and if God loves me like He says He does, then WHY do I have to fight a chronic illness? Why do I have to watch my family members suffer? Why did my grandfather have to die a slow death from cancer? Why did my grandmother have to suffer so much with loneliness and illness? Why did her death have to be slow and painful, too?

I’ve never understood suffering. The first time I came face to face with people telling me that suffering is redemptive is when my husband (who was at that time my boyfriend) lost his mother unexpectedly. I read things about suffering. Catholic things. Things written by literal saints.  They told me that suffering — the pain of losing someone, the pain of seeing someone else hurt, and your own hurt be it physical or emotional — can bring you closer to God. It’s redemptive and salvific.

But suffering didn’t do that for me — it didn’t bring me closer to God. Instead, it made me quite frustrated, and even mad at Him.

This was not just a battle I faced every so often, when a big life event like someone becoming sick, hurt, or dying occurred. No, this was something I faced every month for the past several years as I battled the effects of endometriosis and severe PMS (medically diagnosed as PMDD, which goes WAY beyond typical premenstrual mood swings) plaguing me every four weeks and many, many days in between.

Relentless pain, emotional turmoil, and at times, the feeling of being incredibly depressed for days that interrupted almost every facet of my life and relationships. It made me constantly say WHY, God, WHY do I have to deal with this, when you could so easily will it away? Is this fun to you? Am I just not faithful enough, tough enough, strong enough to deal with this, because this sucks so much?

My dislike — no, loathing — of suffering went on until a few months ago when after it looked like just about every feasible medical option for treating the ridiculous effects of this awful illness had been tried and found wanting. That’s when, by God’s grace, I finally relented in my anger and took this struggle to the foot of the Cross. I prayed that if this was a struggle I had to deal with, that God would give me the grace to carry it better. That He would help me understand this Cross and have peace with why I had to carry it. Just as with St. Paul wrote, that God won’t take away the thorn in our side, but He’ll give us the grace to deal with it: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

My answer, my help in understanding this suffering and all others came in the form of a talk by none other than Fulton Sheen.

I watched a clip of him giving a talk, in his lofty, articulate, awesome voice about a time he had a toothache as a child. To paraphrase, he was a young boy and he HATED going to the dentist. But he developed a severe toothache — an abscess, even. He hid it from his father as long as he possibly could to put off going to the dentist, which he HATED and wanted to avoid at all costs. But his father eventually found out. And took him to the dentist.

Now, mind you, this was the dentist’s office in like the early 1900s. So you can imagine the kind of suffering that went on in there when you came in with an abscessed tooth. Fulton Sheen talked about how, as the dentist began to work on fixing his tooth, Sheen became so upset at his father, wondering why he wasn’t helping him, protecting him, sheltering him from this immense suffering of the dentist treating his tooth.

At the time, as a child, it didn’t make sense to him. But his father knew that ultimately, even if he protected his son from this momentary suffering of going to the dentist, which he really hated and didn’t want to do, it would be very bad, would result in even more suffering, and at that point in time could eventually have caused serious illness or death if left untreated.

Fulton Sheen’s father allowed him temporary suffering for his ultimate good.

And it sort of clicked after I listened to this story. God doesn’t enjoy watching us suffer no more than Fulton Sheen’s father enjoyed watching his little boy writhe in pain in the dentist’s chair. For Fulton Sheen, his father allowed suffering because it was for the good of his ultimate health. For us, God allows suffering because it’s for the good of our souls.

When I heard suffering presented in this way, I was able to finally pray, Lord I don’t like this suffering. In fact, I HATE IT. But if this is for the betterment of my soul, I trust in you, I trust that you, the loving Father that you are, know what is best for me, and that you’ll give me the grace to bear it.

It became so much easier to carry that cross.

Peter Kreeft wrote, in Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas, that “Nothing more powerfully helps us to bear pain than the realization that God wills it.” And I can say that in my own life I have experienced that this is true.

Not more fun — as the struggle was and still is definitely there. And I. don’t. like. it. But seeing it as something God allows for my ultimate good — something that can help me grow in faith for the sake of my eternal salvation — helped make me less bitter and more at peace.

I was challenged again by this as I watched my grandmother suffer in her last few weeks of life. And in watching my family members suffer, too, as they experienced her suffering at her side. Those questions crept back: Why, God, why do you allow her to suffer so much? Why can’t you just take the pain away?

But I am not God. So I don’t know why these things happen. But He does know why. And His ways are higher than mine. And just as Christ’s suffering led to the resurrection and the promise of eternal life, God allows our suffering to bear the fruit of our redemption — even though we probably can’t see it now or even until after our own death.

Our sufferings here on Earth make sense if we trust that there is something after this earthly life. If there’s nothing after that, then suffering means nothing. It is just endless pain and sadness and sorrow and heartbreak. But if there is something beyond this, as Jesus promised and as the Church teaches, then our suffering has so much meaning. Because God wills it for sake of our eternal salvation.

Peter Kreeft also wrote, “… God in His wisdom wills that we suffer because He sees that we need it for our own deepest, truest, most lasting good, or the good of someone else.” For our own deepest, truest, and most lasting good. May this truth help us to take suffering to the cross, and say Lord, use this to mold my heart even more into Yours so that I may spend eternity with You.

_____

Originally published at Sarah Coffey.

Sarah Coffey is a convert to Catholicism who enjoys delving into Church history and the Theology of the Body. She is blessed with a wonderful family, husband, and a cat named Stella (as in “Ave Maris Stella”, of course).

Sell Everything

I began my discernment journey 11 years ago with these two words that kept coming up in prayer, but I wasn’t sure what it really meant.

Months later, I attended a Vocation Discernment Retreat, hoping for God to give me an affirmation that I wasn’t called to the priesthood, so that I could get a confirmation on marrying the girl of my dreams then. But God instead revealed a path that immediately gripped my heart with excitement and joy, even amidst the pain of knowing I would have to leave the one I love with all my heart. I then realized: God was asking me to sell my dreams of marriage, for a higher calling to the priesthood.

Many years later while in my 6th year of seminary formation, I went through a vocation crisis. I was experiencing desolation in prayer, unworthiness in sin, and even an attraction towards someone. I thought God changed His mind, and I was close to calling it quits. That’s when I learnt that just as love is more than a feeling, but a choice, so too is my vocation dependent not just on my feelings, but on a choice to remain faithful regardless of how I was feeling. At this stage, I was asked to sell my need for spiritual consolations.

Recently, after having completed my seminary formation and waiting for my ordination, I went through another round of crisis, feeling frustrated and disappointed with things that seemed to obstruct what I wanted to do in my eventual priesthood. It wasn’t till someone challenged me if I had fully given up my life to Christ that I realize I had placed so much emphasis on my priesthood as the pearl of great price, that I hadn’t really fully given my life to Him who ought to be my pearl of great price. This time, God was asking me to sell my attachment to the vocation of priesthood in order to more fully give my life to Him and really do whatever He tells me. And when I did, all desolation was removed, and I felt immense peace once again.

For now I’ve learnt, that seeking one’s vocation is not about the WHAT, but about WHO am I giving my life entirely to, so that I do whatever He tells me to, even if it means SELLING EVERYTHING.

___

Originally posted on Instagram.

Pier Giorgio Frassati’s Life of Grace

By guest writer Lauren Winter.

This morning I listened to the always enlightening Bishop Barron talk about Frassati. First of all, Bishop Barron is a national treasure and I 10 out of 10 recommend the Word on Fire Show. Secondly, let’s take a minute to talk about our boy, Frassati.

Frassati’s life is an example of how grace and faith can grow in the most surprising places. Frassati wasn’t raised in a faith-filled home like so many of the Saints. His father was a prominent Italian politician and his mother a well-known painter. His father was agnostic, and his mother was *vaguely* Catholic. Frassati wasn’t given a spiritual upbringing but found one for himself instead.

Even from a young age and without any humanly prompting he was captivated by the Eucharist and the liturgy. He would disappear for hours at a time and visit the chapels for Eucharistic adoration causing his parents to frantically search for him. (Now where have I heard that story before? *cough cough* finding at the temple *Cough cough*)

Similar to his surprising devotion to the faith, he also had a devotion to the poor. He gave all his money and all his time to the poor. He was truly a man of the poor. He was both their caretaker and their advocate. His love of the poor was so brilliant that when he died of polio at the age of 24 his funeral was a HUGE event. It wasn’t his prominent parents’ friends who overwhelmed the event, but the poor. His funeral was a massively-attended event because of the massive amount of people he attended to and cared for while he was living.

When we hear about mountain-climbing Frassati’s “Verso L’alto” we are reminded of his acceptance of grace and his determination to climb closer to Christ. Frassati was a man of action. First, he accepted grace into his life and then boldly ACTED. May he be an example to us all. To the heights!!! Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us.

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Originally posted on Instagram.

Lauren Winter is a mother of three and owner of the apparel brand Brick House in the City, designing inspirational clothing for Catholic women as her contribution to the New Evangelization.

Oceans

[Oceans]
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your Name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

I discovered many beautiful water bodies in Sydney, including popular coastal beaches as well as obscure lakes in the suburban areas. There’s always something about the ocean or lakes that speaks volumes to our human heart.

The thunderous roar of the waves crashing against the rocks or shore proclaims mightily the awesome power of God; the ever-changing patterns created by shore waters imprinted on rocks just declares God’s creative beauty; the calm ebb and flow of the lake waters gently caressing the boats they hold somehow reflect God’s gentle touch in our inner being.

But what I discovered even more was the ocean in my heart, where God was pounding ferociously to awaken a much deeper call and desire deep within my heart; where God was creatively revealing even more beautiful patterns and plans that invite me to participate in; where God was gently seducing me into an even more unimaginable plan of His that is giving me much peace, freedom and joy as I consider the deeper waters God is calling me to.

I pray I may have the strength and courage to walk on water wherever He may call me, the faith and assurance that He shall be with me above the waves, and the peace and freedom to trust in His greater plans and desires.

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Originally posted on Instagram.
Image: PD-US

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

By guest writer Catherine Sheehan.

The image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is one of the most common images associated with Catholicism. Numerous Catholic churches and schools are named after the Sacred Heart and many churches contain an image or statue of the Sacred Heart.

But how often do we stop to think what the devotion to the Sacred Heart is actually all about? What was Christ communicating to us when He revealed His Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century? Why did the Church establish a feast day devoted to the Sacred Heart and does this devotion still have relevance for us today?

For human beings, the heart symbolizes the very center of our being since it is the organ that keeps us alive by pumping blood around the whole body. It also symbolizes the depths of our feelings and therefore our capacity for love. We speak of being ‘heart-broken’ when something tragic happens to us, when someone we love dies, a friend betrays us or our love is rejected. When we desire to be close to others we refer to ‘speaking from the heart’ or having a ‘heart to heart’ conversation.

All of this tells us much about why Jesus desired a devotion to His Sacred Heart. He wanted to be close to us, to reveal to us the depths of His love for us, and to call us to respond to this love by loving Him in return and extending that love to others. Indeed He gave the commandment to His followers to ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ (John 15: 12).

Since St. John told us that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8), devotion to the Sacred Heart is nothing other than acknowledging and reinforcing this revelation of who God is, and asking us to enter more deeply into his love.

From 1673 to 1675, Our Lord appeared several times to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Visitation nun, in the French town of Paray-le-Monial. The first apparition took place on 27 December 1673, the feast of St. John the Evangelist. Interestingly, it was St. John who was called the disciple ‘whom Jesus loved’, and who rested his head near Christ’s heart at the Last Supper (John 13: 23).

Christ showed St. Margaret Mary His Sacred Heart which was crowned with flames and a cross, and encircled by a crown of thorns. She also saw that His heart was pierced. This corresponds with the fact that Christ’s side was pierced with a lance when He hung on the cross (John 19:20).

Jesus expressed to St. Margaret Mary His desire that a devotion to His Sacred Heart be established and a feast day on the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi.

As part of this devotion, Jesus asked that people receive the Holy Eucharist on the first Friday of each month for nine consecutive months, in honor of His Sacred Heart. This is known as the First Friday devotion.

The feast day of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus was officially established in 1765 and in 1899 Pope Leo XIII consecrated the entire world to the Sacred Heart.

In his encyclical on devotion to the Sacred Heart, Haurietis Aquas, Pope Pius XII wrote:

… Christ Our Lord, exposing His Sacred Heart, wished in a quite extraordinary way to invite the minds of men to a contemplation of, and a devotion to, the mystery of God’s merciful love for the human race … Christ pointed to His Heart, with definite and repeated words, as the symbol by which men should be attracted to a knowledge and recognition of His love; and at the same time He established it as a sign or pledge of mercy and grace for the needs of the Church of our times.

He further wrote: “The Church gives the highest form of worship to the Heart of the divine Redeemer.”

Let us celebrate the great feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus with particular fervor, since it announces to the world the unfathomable love and mercy of Jesus Christ. His Sacred Heart burns with love for us each and every day!

The 12 promises of Christ to those who have devotion to His Most Sacred Heart, as revealed to St Margaret Mary:

(1) I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.
(2) I will establish peace in their homes.
(3) I will comfort them in all their afflictions.
(4) I will be their secure refuge during life, and above all, in death.
(5) I will bestow abundant blessings upon all their undertakings.
(6) Sinners will find in My Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
(7) Lukewarm souls shall become fervent.
(8) Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection.
(9) I will bless every place in which an image of my Heart is exposed and honored.
10) I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
(11) Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart.
(12) I promise you in the excessive mercy of My Heart that My all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays in nine consecutive months the grace of final perseverance; they shall not die in my disgrace, nor without receiving their sacraments. My divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.

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Catherine Sheehan is an experienced writer and a journalist with The Catholic Weekly.

The Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

By guest writer Victor R. Claveau, MJ.

Let me tell you a story that will illustrate one of the many reasons why the Catholic Church teaches that Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Not long ago, I was invited to address the Bible and Philosophy students at a Protestant High School. The teacher and I were to meet a few days before I was to speak to the students, to get to know one another and to discuss the schedule. We met on a Sunday evening at 5:30 pm.

A few minutes after I arrived at his home, the doorbell rang, and four other people entered. As it turned out, these people were the teacher’s pastor, the pastor’s wife, and two other teachers. I was a little taken aback by the circumstances as the teacher did not tell me that he had invited other guests.

After brief introductions, our host invited his friends to ask me questions about the Catholic religion.

As I began to answer their questions, one of the teachers interjected time and again trying to explain the Protestant position. After two or three interruptions, I finally said, ‘Everyone here, including me, knows what you believe, now is your chance to find out what the Catholic Church really teaches and the foundations for those beliefs. I did not come here to argue but am willing to explain and possibly build a bridge between us.’

From then on, we had a worthwhile dialogue.

I had been answering their questions for almost three hours when the Pastor’s wife posed the question: ‘Why do you believe that you are really eating Jesus when you have communion in your church?’

Thank you for the question,” I said. “Let me try to explain by asking you a few questions.

Who created the universe?” I asked.

“God”, she answered.

“And how did God create?” I asked further.

“He spoke,” she answered.

“Right,” I said, “now let’s look at the Book of Genesis, Chapter 1:1-30 and follow along with me as I read.” Then I read the following passages.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”, (Genesis 1:1-4)

“What happened when God said, ‘Let there be light’,” I asked.

“There was light”, she answered.

“Yes,” I said, “in verse 4 it says that ‘there was light.’ God spoke and there was light”.

And God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so (Genesis 1:6-7).

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so (Genesis 1:9).

And God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth.” And it was so (Genesis 1:11).

And God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so (Genesis 1:14-15)

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so (Genesis 1:24).

And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so (Genesis 1-29-30).

In each of these creation accounts,” I said, “God declared something to be and ‘It was so.’”

Let’s go to the Book of Isaiah.” ‘So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it’ (Isaiah 55:11).

“Doesn’t this passage indicate that whenever God declares something to be, then it becomes a reality at that instant?” I asked.

“Yes,” she agreed.

I went on.

“In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said to the fig tree ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once (21:19). Isn’t that correct?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“When the hemorrhaging women reached out through the crowd and touched Jesus’ cloak, she was healed by her faith. ‘And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’ (Mark 5:30). Jesus had the power to heal.

“When Jesus said to the adulterous woman that her sins were forgiven, were they in fact forgiven?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Jesus withered the fig tree, healed the hemorrhaging woman, and forgave the adulterous woman. How could he do this?” I asked.

And the Pastor’s wife answered, “Because Jesus is God.”

“Yes, of course,’ I said, “we all believe that Jesus is God and as God He has no limitations.”

Then I went on to further explain:

“And Jesus (God) said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).

“And Jesus (God) said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever” (John 6:53-58).

“And Jesus (God) said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:22-24).

During the Last Supper, Jesus held bread in His sacred hands and declared that the bread was in fact His Body.

“Who. Not what, was Jesus holding in his hands at that moment?” I asked.

There was a pregnant silence for a few seconds, before the pastor’s wife said, “Himself”.

I pressed on and asked, “Who. Not what, was Jesus holding in His hands when He declared the contents of the cup to be His Blood?”

“Himself” She answered.

“Yes,” I said, “He actually gave His Body and Blood to the Apostles to eat and drink. Certainly, this is a mystery, one of the greatest mysteries in the history of the world. These elements still looked and tasted like bread and wine, but in fact they had become in reality Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, simply because, as God, He declared them to be so.

“‘Christ held Himself in His hands when He gave His body to His disciples.”

I felt as though I was on a roll, so I said, “Let me explain further”.

“Jesus went on to say, ‘Do this in memory of me’. What did He mean by the word ‘this’?

“He had just changed bread and wine into His Body and Blood, and He commanded His Apostles to do the same. At that moment Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Priesthood, and during the Mass, when a duly ordained priest says the same words Jesus spoke, the Holy Spirit changes bread and wine into the reality of Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

“The faith of the Apostolic and early Church in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Eucharist is attested by the words of Saint Paul and the Fathers; by the discipline of the Secret: the symbols and illustrations found in the catacombs. The fact that the Church from the very beginning believed in the Real Presence proves that the doctrine must have been delivered to her by her Founder.

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Victor R. Claveau, MJ has been a full-time Catholic evangelist since 1989 and is a graduate of the Diocese of Melbourne School of Evangelization. As the Director of Catholic Footsteps “The Evangelization Station” in Angels Camp, California, he has lectured on Catholic belief and evangelization both nationally and internationally.