All posts by Sr. Lisa Marie

Sister Lisa Marie Doty is a Canossian Sister. She enjoys giving retreats and vocational talks to teens and young women, and providing on-going formation to her Institute’s Lay Canossian Associates. She is a director of youth and young adults at Our Lady of the Annunciation Church in the Diocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the national director of the Association of Lay Canossians, and regional coordinator of vocations for her religious family. She also gives retreats and talks on various religious topics. In her spare time, she enjoys graphic design, learning guitar, taking walks and making rosaries. Her website is Nunspeak.

The Lord’s Hidden Message

PuzzleAs a little girl, I loved puzzles. The more difficult they were, the more I loved them. And how I remember my anticipation at Christmas to see if  a new mystery would be waiting under the tree for me to unravel.

So, it comes as no surprise that I found the following an interesting and exciting Christmas message!

The much loved Christmas hymn, Veni, Veni Emmanuel – or ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ – is sung at Evening Prayer during the octave before Christmas (December 17 – 23). Each night highlights one of the seven “O” Antiphons, each a different name for the Christ: Sapientia (wisdom), Adonai (Lord of Might), Radix Jesse (Stump/Rod of Jesse), Clavis David (Key of David), Oriens (Dayspring), Rex Gentium (King of the Nations), Emmanuel (God with Us).

These names in themselves give us something to ponder, as we marvel each year at the wonder that God became flesh, and dwelt among us (John 1:14). As we reflect on this anew, in anticipation of celebrating Christ’s birth, these antiphons together have another message for us. A very timely message as we – on the eighth night (23rd) – sing the refrain for the last time:

Rejoice! Rejoice! O Israel,
to thee shall come Emmanuel!

If we pause to look back at those seven names of Christ, in reverse order:

Emmanuel (Dec 23)

Rex Gentium (Dec 22)

Oriens (Dec 21)

Clavis David (Dec 20)

Radix Jesse (Dec 19)

Adonai (Dec 18)

Sapientia (Dec 17)

we find an acrostic through which the Lord responds, “ERO CRAS!”, which can be translated, “Tomorrow, I will come!”

And so it is! Our Lord is coming!

Maranatha! Come, Emmanuel!

And the Lord responds, “Behold, I am coming soon!” Revelation 22:12.

Let us make ready our hearts to receive Jesus, the “…Alpha and the Omega, the one who is and who was and who is to come…” Revelation 1:8

 

 

The Jonah Experience: Prophets of Life

ZechBenJehoWhat would it be like for God to send a prophet among us? How would we of today’s society respond? Would it be like in the days of the prophet Zechariah, who pointed out the people’s unfaithfulness, and was stoned in the porch of the Temple (2 Chron 24:20-22)? Or would it be like in the times of Jonah, reluctant as he was to speak to the Ninevites, was able to change the hearts of the people, from the least to the greatest (Jonah 3)?

The Sacred Scriptures teach us, the Lord does send His prophets:

The Lord said to me, ‘…I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him. Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it…’ (Deuteronomy 18:18)

I hope, that when God does send His prophet, it will be another Jonah experience.

After much reluctance – and running away from his call – Jonah went to Nineveh, and for three days walked through the city proclaiming to the people that God will destroy them because they have not been obedient to God and his ways: “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed!”

Happily for the people of Nineveh, the king heard the warning and headed it, and instructed all the people to do the same by proclaiming a fast, “from the least to the greatest”. The city of Nineveh listened to the words of the Prophet, changed their lives, and God did not carry out their destruction, for “God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way”.

40daysforlifehands_001In the current 40 Days for Life campaign, there is the telling of story after story how God is changing hearts because of those who are willing to silently pray for women going into abortion clinics, for the people working inside, and for mercy. In a way, they are preaching by their actions the prophetic message of God’s love. These silent prayer warriors are proclaiming a prophetic message by standing up for what they believe in. It reminds me of the Prophet Ezekiel who was told to dig a hole in the wall and go through it as though he were going into exile. After the fact the Lord instructed him, “did they not ask you what you are doing? Tell them…” (Ezekiel 12:9-10).

Our prayer warriors standing for life in front of abortion clinics across the nation are being that very prophetic witness. And many hearts are being opened to the truth through their silent presence. To date in this 40 Days campaign, 289 babies have been saved from death. And, it isn’t only saving little babies; it is helping mothers who have done the unthinkable, offering loving counsel and forgiveness.

Let us pray with the participants of the 40 Days for life campaign, asking our friends and families to do the same. And, if you can, volunteer as a prayer warrior on the sidewalks of the abortion clinic near you. You never know how God is going to use you to save a life.

Are We a New Nineveh?

In January 2012, on the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo spoke to many young people gathered National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for Mass. In his Homily he implied, we too are walking through Nineveh:

“Jonah had at first run from his call and his mission and is not bubbling with joy when it meets success as the Lord’s ways are sometimes, maybe many times, not his and not ours. Perhaps that is why we are more like Jonah than we would care to admit, especially to those hostile to us. If we are to be critical of Jonah, we must see him as our mirror. (By the way, I wonder how many days it would take to go through Washington, D.C.?)…”

May the Lord of Life hear our prayers and come to the aide of the unborn who are in danger of having their lives ended. And may He continue to change hearts and reclaiming a culture of life.

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, Patron of the Unborn, Pray for us.

Blessed Margaret of Castello, Patron of the Unwanted, Pray for us.

Pharisees, Publicans and a Pope

This week, an in-depth interview with Pope Francis was released in Jesuit publications around the world. In the opening question, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?”, the Bishop of Rome took his time to answer:

“…I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

If we were asked this kind of question, how would we respond? What kind of man answers in this vein? Is it the beginnings of a holy man? What is holiness then?

In many spiritual writings I am often struck by the paradox involved in our call to holiness. Words often used to describe this quest linger in my mind: progressing, striving, climbing, self-discipline, reaching heights or levels, with each of these expressions of action able to mislead us. They suggest a physical movement, an effort we make to obtain holiness through our deeds and acts of piety. If we are not careful, we can leave our “ascent” towards God at this level – a self-made, false, holiness and forget the true source of our sanctity which lies outside of our human grasp.

Let”s use the scene from Luke, chapter 18 as an example. We have the Pharisee on one hand, who was probably a model citizen, well respected, and externally a tower of piety. He gave to the poor, fasted and prayed, was honest in his dealings with others, and yet, he fell short before the eyes of Jesus. Our culture today, like the Pharisee, often determines one”s worth by his accomplishments and status. It is easy to look upon others, such as the publican, who externally seems less, with contempt or simply presuming they “got what they deserved”.  But how does Jesus see the publican? He doesn”t look at him on the basis of his status in society, nor in the eloquence of his prayer, nor by the works he has done, but solely in his reverence of God and his humility before the Almighty. “O God, be merciful to me, a poor sinner”. No eloquence here. The publican sees the truth of who he is in the light of God, and clings to God”s mercy as his hope. This is the power beyond our own capacity; we remain In The country, sports betting ate up up to 50 % (49%) of GGR, then poker cash games (23%), (13%), tournament poker (10%), bingo (4%) and horseracing (1%). small and allow God to be great.

Imagining these two figures in a dark room makes their contrast a stark one. The publican is bathed in light as he “humbly ascends” towards God. The Pharisee, only feet away, is stumbling in the dark trying with all his might to illumine his own greatness so that others may see how high he has ascended. As was a common theology of his day, the Pharisee believed that his obedience to the law and man-made perfection equate with sanctity. The thrust of Jesus” praise of the publican”s prayer opens a before-concealed door to the heart of God; it reveals how much God doesn”t want us to be self-made saints, but rather made holy through Him who is refuge and mercy.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that perfection passes through the cross and that there is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle (CCC 2015). Renunciation is evident in the publican”s display of humility. It was once described to me that the spiritual battle as filled with often imperceptible barriers which mask themselves under the name of virtue; a virtue that in the end deceives us into climbing up the rungs of the wrong ladder disguised in our prayer and works of mercy. The problem with going up the wrong ladder is when we meet with obstacles of fatigue and unpleasant situations, we have nothing solid to stop our fall – it crashes down like a house of cards. We begin to think like the Pharisee that believes he has done everything right, so “why is this happening to me?” Our failing in these circumstances lead to discontent, envy, and maybe even despair. These feelings are signs we are going in the wrong direction. The right direction is pointed out to us by the publican whose prayer is focused solely on God, and who was perfectly comfortable to admit his lowliness.

It is in moments such as these, we can choose to be the Pharisee and cling to our external shows of piety, hoping all will notice our virtue. Indeed, the world will congratulate us for our “goodness”. We have a choice, and can dare to follow the publican”s ascent down, off the ladder of external practices and perfectionism, into the depths of true humility where we risk to lose position and esteem before others. It is here, before God, we are not afraid to cry out, “Have mercy, O God, I am a sinner” and be wrapped in his grace. Here we can place ourselves before the Lord, in His light which reveals how truly small and broken we are…and not be afraid to be home there.

Perhaps it is the Pope”s attitude of first attributing himself as a sinner, that has many people intrigued. He is in a position of power and yet he is not ashamed to lower himself, placing all down at the feet of God, and publicly defining himself with the lowest. Perhaps this sign of humility makes him so able to reach out to the crippled and wash the feet of sinners. He sees himself as one of them.

May the Lord grant us the grace to follow the publican”s and Pope Francis” examples, shedding the outer layers that give reason for boasting, and instead walk resolutely down into the earthiness (humus), or humility.

Totus Tuus Again…and Again

All around the World people are making final preparations for World Youth Day in July, my thoughts wandered back to its beginnings.

It was Palm Sunday, 1984. Blessed John Paul II, speaking in Saint Peter’s Square said to the people, “What a fantastic spectacle is presented on this stage by your gathering here today! Who claimed that today’s youth has lost their sense of values? Is it really true that they cannot be counted on?”

He entrusted the youth with the World Youth Day Cross, and placed his trust in the young people of the world to carry forth the lasting values of the Church. In reading the life of Blessed John Paul, we find in him a vibrant young person full of zest for life. But if we look closely, we have to ask ourselves, Where did he get this zeal?  We might also say, What a pity more Christians are not like him!

Oh, but we are meant to be like saintly John Paul! We may not become pope, but we are called to be filled with the same spirit and zeal for Christ. It is the path to holiness. But how? How in our modern world where there are so many obstacles that bombard our daily life are we to carve a life of holiness?

There is no magical solution. We cannot expect a vision or event to heighten our spiritual senses so to be thrust into a life of prayer overnight (that’s not to say that God doesn’t intervene in special ways from time to time, but I am not counting that as the norm). We need to make a move toward God. As a young man, Karol Wojtyla read Saint Louis de Montfort’s book, True Devotion to Mary, and he credits the book for how his life took a decisive direction. His Papal moto “Totus Tuus” comes directly from de Montfort’s shorter prayer of consecration. His holiness did not happen overnight; but it began by a decisive turning to God.

Can we not do the same? Why not make these simple words ours? Why not make all that we are, a prayer to be “totally yours” to God through Mary? What would our world be like if all of us followed Blessed John Paul’s example and became “Totus Tuus”?

‘Totus Tuus ego sum et omnia mea Tua sunt.
Accipio Te in mea omnia. Praebe mihi cor Tuum, Maria.’

(I belong entirely to you, and all that I have is yours.
I take you for my all. O Mary, give me your heart)

I often hear from young Catholics how they find it so hard to set aside consistent times of prayer, Mass, devotions, reading the Bible.  Even Karol Wojtyla had to pick up that book by de Montfort and read in order to meet his life-changing event. We have to be willing to dedicate a time – a window – through which God can begin to work in us.  And if we do, the Holy Spirit will meet us and guide us the rest of the way.

33DaysOne very useful book that I came across: 33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat In Preparation for Marian Consecration by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC.

I had made my Marian Consecration in 2004, but felt a desire to re-consecrate myself and found this book very helpful. It takes the teachings of Saint Louis de Montfort and breaks them down, using four Saints – de Montfort, Maximilian Kolbe, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, and Blessed John Paul II – to lead us through understanding Marian consecration. Many parishes have used this book to bring more of their members to ‘give themselves to Christ through Mary. In fact, our parish has a small group preparing for their consecration on July 16 (Feast of Our Lady of Mt Carmel).  The book is rich in insight, and yet not time-consuming. The book is enjoyable. The daily reflections short. It leads little by little to a deeper appreciation of Mary’s role, and how she is there waiting to make us other Christ’s, all for God and His Divine Glory.

Blessed John Paul led a life with giving all to Mary (Totus Tuus). What would happen if one after another resounded these words ‘Totus Tuus’ again…and again!

Never Despair in God’s Mercy

A few years back while I was on retreat, I received an emergency phone call. A teenage girl who volunteered with us had committed suicide while at home. I had to ask twice, Are you sure? She was vivacious. Pretty. Friendly. Intelligent. Loved. At the funeral, we learned from her parents that their daughter struggled for years with depression and had attempted to take her own life several times before. This time she succeeded, and the parents were left with unanswered questions. They tried therapy of all sorts to help her, and although she seemed to love life, when not with her friends, the darkness would overwhelm her. But why? What could cause her to want to take her own life?

It isn’t the last time I have been called and asked to pray for a young person and their family in a crisis such as this, and my heart aches for them, the unanswerable questions added to the burden of their loss. One question often asked, “Will my child/spouse/nephew/cousin/mom go to hell?”

We can take consolation in the words of Saint Benedict from his Rule, chapter 4 (73), “Never despair of God’s mercy.”

What is the expanse of God’s mercy? The scriptures remind us:

  • “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.” (Joel 2:13)
  • “Let us fall by the hand of God, for he is most merciful.” (2 Samuel 24:14)
  • “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ.” (Ephesians 2:4-5)
  • “…not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy…” (Titus 3:5).

The Old Testament gives hope to those suffering from the weight of sin, reminding us of God’s mercy and calls us to trust in Him. Jesus summarizes the mercy of God in the parable of the prodigal son. Blessed John Paul II explains this loving mercy, “This love is able to reach down to every prodigal son, to every human misery, and above all to every form of moral misery, to sin. When this happens, the person who is the object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and “restored to value” (Dives in Miserdicordia, Bl.  John Paul II, Ch. 4).

Yes, the Catechism of the Church does speak of suicide and its consequences. We know that to take one’s own life is wrong. We were all given life by God, and thus we are responsible for our lives before God who has given it to us. We are stewards, not owners of the life we are given (2280). When one commits suicide she contradicts the natural inclination to preserve her life…it goes against a just self-love and, likewise departs from a love of neighbor as the act cuts those bonds of solidarity to which a person still has obligations. It also is contrary to love for the living God (2281). It is also a grave sin if one would take their own life with the intention of leading others to do the same (creating scandal) (2282). And yet, can we dare to hope that:

“God is greater than our hearts.” 1 John 3:20

The Catechism also states how, “…in cases of grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide” (2282).

Therefore, we should not despair of eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to God alone, He can provide the opportunity for repentance. We as a Church must pray for such persons who have taken their own lives (2283).

We have lived a Lent, walking in the shadows of the desert with Jesus, confronting the sin in our lives. If we are honest with ourselves, we know just how difficult that battle can be. Yet, Easter comes. We find in the suffering at the Cross the hope of the Resurrection. The paschal Christ, in Blessed John Paul II’s words,  is the “definitive incarnation of mercy…as sung in the Psalm 89 (88): Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo.”

It is no wonder the Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday on the second Sunday of Easter. We are given the opportunity to reflect on God’s mercy through the lens of the Paschal mystery. As we pray for souls who have taken their own lives, let us reflect on the words of Jesus, as given to Saint Faustina:

divinemercyMy daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity. Everything that exists has come forth from the very depths of My most tender mercy. Every soul in its relation to Me will contemplate My love and mercy throughout eternity. The Feast of Mercy emerged from My very depths of tenderness. It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy. (Diary of St. Faustina Kowalska, # 699)

 

From the Divine Mercy Chaplet:

Eternal Father, I offer you, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ. In atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.

For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Amen.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may Your perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.

Give Me a Great Heart

Sometimes it is necessary to stop ourselves and retreat, to open ourselves and realign our thinking with the ways of God. If we don’t do this from time to time, we become vulnerable to our weariness, and we risk becoming disillusioned and easily offended.

Take this as an invitation to stop. for. a. moment. Acknowledge that the world can wait a few minutes.
Pray to the Holy Spirit to help you, with whatever is getting in your way and blurring the lines between you and God.

 

Holy Spirit, give me a great heart
—–open to your silent and strong word;
—–closed to all mean ambitions;
—–against any human contemptible competition,
——–filled with faithfulness to the holy Church.

Give me a great heart that desires to become
—–like the Heart of Our Lord Jesus;
a great and strong heart to love everyone,
—–serve everyone and suffer for everyone;
a great and strong heart to overcome
—–all trials, tedium, weariness,
——–every disillusionment and offence.

Give me a great and strong heart,
 —–constant to the point of sacrifice,
 ——-when necessary.
A heart whose happiness consists
—–in beating with the Heart of Christ
——–and doing the will of the Father
———–humbly,

—————faithfully

——————–and perseveringly.

Amen.

– attributed to Pope Paul VI

Needed Instruments of Peace

In our current election cycle, perhaps more than any other in the last forty years, we have two candidates for President with stark, contrasting views about the role of government in the working of society. The differences, one would think, would leave a very clear choice for Catholics to make in going to the polls. Yet, many of us have experienced division among our friends and new media acquaintances.  My Facebook feed has had some contested back-and-forth arguing among Catholics on the issues of the economy, healthcare, social security and medicare, women’s health, and services to the poor.

Under one of my posts, a fellow Catholic supporting the current administration wrote, “… there are many sick and broken people in America:  the marginalized, the underclass, those who are thrown from their homes (because of) banking policies, and those who simply cannot afford the health care system.”  Many compassionate friends fear that undoing the newly implemented healthcare law will leave those without a voice in the dust. Others have voiced the importance of personal responsibility and economic stability in order to ensure on-going help to those in dire need.

So what to do? How to reconcile the needs on the minds and hearts of the modern Catholic facing an election that is so polarized?

Another  friend of mine, reading a article about subsidiarity that I posted on Facebook was quick to remind me, “Subsidiarity without solidarity, is as unbalanced as solidarity without subsidiarity.”

This is, I believe, part of our problem in trying to reconcile our social beliefs with our civic duty. Many of my compassionate friends who live in close solidarity with the poor, advocating for their needs, have not considered the Church’s teaching on subsidiarity within the broader framework of the Magisterial teaching on the Human Community.  On the other hand, many who are concerned with the economy and limited government have not integrated the Church’s teachings on solidarity and the common good.

I’d like to explore these two principles – on solidarity and subsidiarity – together; the way they were meant to be; like to ends to an accordion that work together for the good of society. These principles are discussed in Part Three of the Catechism: Life in Christ, in the second chapter on The Human Community, in three articles:

ART 1: CCC 1878-1896

ART 2: CCC 1897-1927

ART 3: CCC 1928-1948

The Person and Society

Participation in Social Life

Social Justice

Subsidiarity

Authority – Common Good

Responsibility and Participation

Solidarity

 

Since we are made in the image of God and called through baptism to reflect the Son, Jesus Christ, our lives and relationships should also reflect the relationship of the Most Holy Trinity. By understanding human relationship in this way, the image of the Holy Trinity can be reflected upon in both an individual’s relationships, but also in the relationship of government bodies over the care of their people. “The human person…is and ought to be the principle, the subject and the end of all social institutions.” (Gaudium et Spes, 25).

With this in mind, organizations – both voluntary and governmental – find their reason for existence, for the purpose of developing “the sense of initiative and responsibility, and helps to guarantee individual rights.”  But there are limitations that government has if the human person is to be free to act as intended by God.

Subsidiarity

While recognizing the importance of organizational structures in society, the Magisterium warns of the danger that organizations and government can have on society, that “excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative.” This is where the principle of subsidiarity becomes important.

The Catechism explains the principle: “according to which ‘a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the later of its functions, but rather should support it…’” (CCC1883). In this way, government becomes a mirror of God’s governance: “God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of his own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life” (CCC 1884).

In his article on subsidiarity, Benjamin Wiker uses an example where government, in providing for a man’s family takes away the man’s role as husband and father to care for his children and wife, and thus strips him of the capacity for moral perfection in his vocational role as a father and husband. Too much intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative:

“The state, like a benevolent dictator, could provide food, clothing, and shelter for my wife and children, but in doing so, it would violate my “moral space,” the space in which I have the opportunity and responsibility of using my freedom to become morally good.”

The danger then, becomes one that, a government that does too much doesn’t allow her people to do for themselves what they can, and thus weakens the whole society, and threatens the moral fabric of that society.

Then, what about those who are poor, who legitimately need assistance of one kind or another? This leads us to consider the proper place of the principle of solidarity.

Solidarity

Human beings are made differently. Saint Paul describes the body of Christ comprised of many people with different gifts that go to build up the whole body (Romans 12:3-8). The differences between persons lead to an interdependence in society. We are different, but as the Church defends, “these differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods; they foster the mutual enrichment of cultures.” And this is all part of God’s plan (CCC 1937). The principle of solidarity is characterized as “friendship” or “social charity” that we are called to show toward our brothers and sisters.

Our society sometimes confuses the idea of solidarity with ‘leveling the playing field’ where everyone is the same. The Church doesn’t teach that. On the contrary, she acknowledges that “talents are not distributed equally” (CCC 1936), but also that there are ‘sinful inequalities’ that exist, where unhealthy work conditions are imposed; where human dignity is downplayed (CCC 1938). These would be appropriate areas that government can intervene, to protect and uphold the human dignity of the person, and to ensure that justice – the giving one what is due to him – is assured.

Solidarity, then, the building of friendship and charitable respect between rich and poor, workers and employers, government and its peoples become the foundation by which socio-economic problems can be resolved (CCC 1941). It promotes an individual to act in the best interest and fairness toward his neighbor, and to practice charity freely out of love.

In conclusion, it is good to remind ourselves that the purpose (the end) of human existence rests in God himself. The pattern of inter-relationship found in the unity of the three Divine Persons is a model for the human family and government as well. The love that resides in the Blessed Trinity is the call of all peoples, making the love of neighbor inseparable from the love of God.

It is as though all humanity is called to communicate divine love. Each individual is called to reflect God’s love to his neighbor. Similarly, the greater society, is called to be a mirror of God in the way it must govern her people. In doing so, it “bears witness to such great regard for human freedom” (CCC1884) and by providing security and order, becomes an instrument of true peace.

Prayer Takes Two

We know we need to do it; to put our busy lives on hold for just a bit, turn off the phone and computer and spend time in prayer. We want to do it. We know we’ll be better for it. But life churns at an incredible pace that keeps us racing from one thing to another. We procrastinate. Time passes.

What to do? What we really need is to retreat!

What? No time for a week-long retreat let alone a weekend? Not a problem! A spiritual director told me recently, “God doesn’t need a lot of your time (since He is not bound by time); but He does need a little, not much, at least enough to get His foot in the door of your heart.” It is a good way to look at prayer then, as mini-retreats, moments to let ‘God get His foot in the open door of your heart.’

Saint Teresa of Avila described prayer this way:  “…prayer is nothing else than a frequent solitary sharing with a friend of whose love we are certain.” If prayer is a sharing with a friend, why is it so difficult for us to do so with God?  Saint Teresa is a good retreat director for us here, as she herself struggled in the beginning of her prayer; she understands our struggle and distractions and gives us some simple, sound advice.

According to Teresa, our prayer journey has two main parts: our effort (such as is found in vocal prayer and meditative prayer using our imagination) and that infused by God (this is where we move away from the activity of prayer into the quiet and are able to remain still before the Lord, which leads to a deeper prayer, union with God).

Part one. Our effort means, we have to show up. We have to show up at our friend (Jesus’) door and knock. This is our assent – our turning to God. When we show up at Jesus’ door and he invites us in, we do not distract ourselves with our media devices. We silence them and speak with our friend. Remember – not a lot of time; but in the beginning, especially, be attentive to the wonderings from prayer and call yourself back. St. Teresa’s friend in her distraction was perseverance. We must work to come back to our prayer – again and again – especially when it doesn’t seem to mean anything; those times when it seems we are doing all the work, and God is absent.

Part two. All the while, with our small efforts in prayer – whether it is vocal prayer* or meditation – God is pouring His gifts of prayer on us. God desires union with us, thus he infuses a spirit of prayer in our hearts, allowing us to experience intimacy with Him, an increased detachment from the preoccupations of our daily life, and hopefully, a deep union with God (this is our goal: to be transformed in our relationship with God).

Throughout our prayer, St. Teresa mentions, it helps us ‘advance’ in our prayer, to recall the sacred humanity of Jesus in our conversation with the Lord. She explains, having this capacity will not always require words to be spoken, but at times silence is even better, as we grow in awareness that we are not only looking at him, but that he is looking at us.

This act of prayer, from the active, imaginative prayer of talking with Jesus, to the quiet reflective prayer of silently being with Jesus is a progression from the “carnal” love to a “spiritual” love for God. It is a recognition that our prayer takes two. It is a meeting that involves more than our showing up; but it is a sacred meeting between us and our Creator – an appointment that can’t wait forever.

So, what will it be for you? Will you procrastinate or persevere? When is your ‘retreat’ or appointment with God?

* examples of vocal prayer: memorized prayers, rosary, talking out loud with God. 

Mission is … a heart to serve and love

Meghan, during her second year in Nurobo, Indonesia.

Meghan’s parents were with her as she waited to check in at the airport. Her father asked her again, “Why are you doing this?” With honest simplicity, she replied, “Dad, like I’ve told you, I can’t explain it. I just know I have to do this.”

What was it that Meghan felt so compelled to do?  Mission.

She was on her way to Rome for her preparation to serve in Indonesia for two years. With her bags checked and a last hug, she made her way toward her boarding gate without a real clear idea of what she was getting herself into. All she knew was, ‘she had to do it’.

Many young people today consider going on mission projects. It is an exciting prospect, going to a far off land to learn about another culture and people, while serving the less fortunate.

During my six and half years with VOICA (Canossian International Voluntary Service), I have had the honor of preparing Meghan and many other young men and women to serve one to three years in our Canossian missions.

One of the first things we do with a new group of fledgling missionaries is to sit them down and ask them to share with us and their peers, “Why are you here?” On a rare occasion one might state they weren’t really sure why they were preparing for mission, but that it just ‘seemed like the right thing to do’. For the most part, those that come to us desire one of these – or a combination of – things:

  • Be able to see another country, and serving is a good way to learn about the locals;
  • Give back to God for the good education received, by helping others;
  • Travel;
  • Round out a resume;
  • Experience something new before settling into a career, and or getting married;
  • And sometimes they want to escape (not a good reason for mission).

These answers will naturally shift as they learn what mission really is and what mission really is not:

 

Mission is not:

  • A place we go to import our knowledge as though we have all the answers.
  • An attitude that I’ve done what was expected of me today; the rest can wait until tomorrow.
  • Set on a fixed schedule. Someone may knock at your door in need of help at an inconvenient time.
  • A division of chores between volunteer missionaries.
  • Grass huts and wild animals (although there are those things).

 

Mission is:

  • A place where we learn to be humble, realizing that even the poorest of those we serve will have something to teach us.
  • An attitude of putting others first, especially when you are tired and don’t think you can give any more.
  • Spontaneous at times, asking volunteers to drop what they are doing and give a hand to an urgent need.
  •  A union of hearts between volunteers, to be generous in helping one another.
  • A desire to know the other person and their inherent dignity given by God.

Little by little our volunteers grow into their missionary skin while preparing in Rome. They learn to live together in community (essential for successful mission); they learn to pray together, and to lead prayer; they learn about their particular missions, the language, culture; they learn to solve problems using the few resources they have; they learn to cook and clean; they learn about our Saints, Magdalene Canossa and Josephine Bakhita; they learn about mission in the Church; they learn how to serve others and their community.

More importantly, they learn that mission is hard work, but there is also much joy.

Those who experienced long-term mission may resonate with Meghan’s strong need to give a couple of years of life. Her reflections describe her need to go serve in mission an “illness” that “enveloped her entire being…a great desire on my heart to serve others”.

Our volunteers may not start out with such a desire; but as they complete their missions, and say goodbye to their new friends, they have learned well what it means to have mission penetrate their being, and grow in desire to give their heart to serve and love.

It’s something worthwhile to consider:

Voica Volunteer Missionaries in Action, serving as catechists, teachers, healthcare workers, bakers, diggers, brick makers, painters, and most of all, a sign the hope of God’s love to those in their midst.

 

Related Posts:

Last week Bonnie wrote about her call to mission from her kitchen.

Meet the Costyns, a young married couple now in Rome for preparation for mission with us. They are keeping a blog of their missionary journey.

 

Free to Exercise

There Peter was, chained, with two guards on either side of him. More guards were standing watch outside the gate. His crime? He was a part of a religious sect that followed the teachings of a man named Jesus, whom they profess had risen from the dead.

According to the laws of Rome, Peter’s crime was not so much he and the other believers held Jesus as a god – for Rome had many of them; but that the so-called ‘Christians’ would not pay tribute to Caesar as god. Rome saw itself as a mother that knew what was best for her children, including how and what would be considered proper worship.

It is good during these last few days of the Fortnight for Freedom to keep this thought in mind. What does it mean that we have – as the Bill of Rights points out at the top of the list – ‘free exercise of religion’? This says more than just a right to worship freely, but we are free to publicly exercise that which we profess.

Unfortunately, the United States government is trying to redefine that very freedom by stringently determining what groups are considered religious and which are not under the Health and Services (HHS) Mandate. The mandate’s definition of religious organizations is the basis for what organizations can declare exemption from a healthcare provision that employers must include abortificient and contraceptive ‘care’ in their healthcare plans.

The HHS regulation exempts “religious” organizations only if they meet four criteria:

  1. their primary purpose is the inculcation of religious values,
  2. they primarily employ people who share their religious tenets,
  3. they primarily serve people who share their religious tenets, and
  4. they are organized under the section of the Internal Revenue Code used by churches per se.

What this means, groups such as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s Missionaries of Charities would not be defined as a religious organization, because they – and most Catholic charities – have always provided their services to anyone – regardless of faith or lack of faith – that finds themselves in need. Catholic institutions employ many people of other faiths because of the skills they offer to assist the works of charities; not because they share in the same ‘religious tenets’.

Under such definition, it is true, Mother Teresa and her works of charity are not ‘religious’ at all, and would be forced to provide medicines and procedures (contraceptives and abortion-related procedures) that go against her religious beliefs. Her religious freedom to act according to conscience would indeed be suppressed.

To understand how grossly errant this policy is, let us compare it with an example from history.

In the years following the writing of the Declaration of Independence, Napoleon was conquering Italy. There is a little known story about his ‘governance’ that is well documented in our own religious institute’s history. By decree, Napoleon ordered the closing of all religious institutions in Italy, including those in the city of Verona, the home of our Foundress, Saint Magdalene of Canossa. She was still working out her plans to begin a new religious congregation that, much like Mother Teresa focused on the welfare of the sick and dying, and education of the poor. But of course, she needed a place in which to carry out her works of charity and to house and prepare her followers for this work. Napoleon had made himself a guest of the Canossa palace, and Magdalene understood that she would need approvals from his government in order to obtain the abandoned convent of Saint Joseph for her works.

It is interesting to note, that despite the fact that Magdalene’s works of charity were clearly based on religious principles, Napoleon was able to appreciate them as a benefit for the society. Her request for the acquirement of the convent of Saint Joseph’s was approved for her works of charity, and thus, May 8, 1808 the Canossian Daughters of Charity – Servants of the Poor was born in an abandoned convent of Saint Joseph’s in Verona, Italy.

Napoleon, who obviously had no regard for religious (demonstrated by the decree of 1806, ousting religious from their convents), was able to recognize the good in a young woman’s works of charity, and grant her the approval to open a house to fulfill them. How is it that the United States government cannot see the harm of restricting religious from equally acting for the good of society through their works of charity, according to their good conscience?

This is what we are up against. Solely because we by conscience cannot restrict our services and hiring practices to those who share our own religious tenets, we are not recognized as ‘religious’ organizations.

In these last days of the Fortnight for Freedom, we must pray – and pray hard – that our freedom to exercise faith in the service of the least of our society will be upheld and protected by law. Otherwise, what guarantee will there be from preventing in the future our freedoms from being further reduced to a point where we, like Saints Peter and Paul whom we celebrate today, will have to pay a very high price to follow Christ?

We are on Day Nine of the Fortnight for Freedom. Join us in prayer and reflection on the gift we have in religious freedom.

Check out the USCCB website for opportunities during this Fortnight.

Well worth reading, Archbishop William E. Lori addresses the Religious Liberty Observatory of the Italian Ministry of External Affairs and the City of Rome on Religious Freedom.

Related Post: I Dare You!

Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us!

Saint Magdalene of Canossa, pray for us!

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/profile_sr_lisa-e1313147535417.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Sister Lisa Marie Doty is a Canossian Sister. She enjoys giving retreats and vocational talks to teens and young women in the Sacramento Diocese, and on-going formation to her Institute’s Lay Canossian Associates. She is also the local vocational director for her religious family. In her spare time, she enjoys graphic design, playing with new media, taking walks and making rosaries. Her website is Nunspeak.[/author_info] [/author]

For Greater Glory: A Lesson

The story of the Cristiada – or Cristero War – was released today in the United States under the film title, “For Greater Glory“. It tells of the rise to power of President Plutarco Elias Calles and how he becomes obsessed with the idea the Catholic Church in Mexico is a threat as he tries to enforce the anti-clerical articles of the constitution of Mexico* by writing a new and more stringent law, the Calles Law (1926), penalizing clerics for any infraction of the constitution. At first, there is little resistance, but as Churches are closed and priests are arrested and foreign priests deported, a resistance to the government silently begins to build. The film uses the backdrop of the rebellion to tell the story of a boy, José Luis Sánchez del Río (March 28, 1913 – February 10, 1928) and how his faith and courage opens the heart of the agnostic rebel general Enrique Gorostieta to return to the Catholic faith. Some film reviews have called For Greater Glory “simplistic” story telling. But within its story, there are many lessons to be learned. I’d like to share just one.

On the way home from the movie, my Sisters and I were discussing various scenes in the movie, and how impressed we were with the story of young José and the deep courage he had shown. But where did he get it?

One of the opening scenes depicts an eleven year old boy, José, and his friend playing a joke on the parish priest, Father Christopher (Peter O’Toole). José is caught by his father and brought to the priest so that he can make up for his wrong doing. The light-hearted priest plays down the matter of the joke, and the boy is taken under Father Christopher’s wing. Over the days that follow, a friendship forms between the priest and the boy. One day, José asks Father Christopher why he doesn’t go into hiding like many of the other priests. He tells the boy how God will watch over him in His house. The boy continues to insist, only for the priest to conclude, “There is no greater glory than to give your life for Christ.”  These words impress José very much. A few days later, José is up in the bell tower marveling at the view of hills, when he notices government horsemen riding toward his village. He shouts to warn the people and then goes to find Father Christopher to warn him. José urges Fr Christopher to hide, but he refuses. He gives his rosary to José and sends him off. José returns to the bell tower from where he watches as his priest friend is brought out of the church and shot by a firing squad. As the squad prepares, it seems that the priest and José are repeating the words from their places, aware of the others presence, “There is no greater glory than to give your life for Christ.”

The movie goes on to show this young boy as a person of deep moral fiber, courageous and zealous for the things of God. Towards the end of his young life, he is tortured to reveal the base camp of the rebels, and in his refusal they cut the bottoms of his feet. He is then led through the village – his personal via crucis – his feet bleeding, to the spot prepared for his execution. With his parents standing by, he is given the chance to walk away, if only he will say Christ is dead. He continues to say “Viva Cristo Rey!” He is stabbed and topples over, tracing the sign of a cross in the ground with his blood shortly before he is shot to death.

Reflecting on his character, I mused:

  • “What if Father Christoper had gone into hiding?” 
  • “What if – in his moment of confrontation – the priest gave in to his prosecutors and denied his faith there in the square under the watchful eyes of young José?” 
  • “What if others chose not to get involved, risking their personal safety, for the sake of the war for religious freedom?”

The movie doesn’t tell us, but hints at the inspiration in Jose’s life in a simple parish priest who lived – and died – well for Christ.

This lesson is one we all must take to heart. We might not be called to die – as many did in the Cristero War did – for what we believe in. But we can ask ourselves, “Who are the Josés in our lives that might be carefully watching, wanting to do what is right but need someone to show them the way?”

Will the witness of our life and faith be such, that when José must choose, we have helped prepare him to be courageous to do what is right, no matter the cost? Viva Cristo Rey!

___

To know more about José and the other beatified martyrs of the Cristero War.
 
In the United States, now, there is a threat to religious freedom brewing, that would not even allow Mother Teresa and her works of charity to continue.
 
For more information on religious, please visit US Conference of Catholic Bishops website.
 
* The Mexican Constitution, ratified in 1917, was based on a previous version instituted by Benito Suarez in 1857.

Dialogue with a Heretic

Have you ever sent a tweet only to have someone criticize you for it?  That’s what happened the other day. I found a message in my feed that made me ponder:

 

In truth, I didn’t know a lot about Joyce Meyer when I retweeted her message, a quotation from Scripture: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” -Proverbs 3:5. I knew she is not Catholic; she is a professed Christian. Questions swirled around in my head, the words “heretic” and “oneHolyCatholicApostolic” bouncing back and forth in an odd game of ping-pong.

Is a non-Catholic Christian a heretic? What should be our attitude toward those who believe in Christ, yet who remain outside the loving arms of our mother, the Church?

One definition of a heretic: “a dissenter from established religious dogma; especially : a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church who disavows a revealed truth; one who dissents from an accepted belief or doctrine.”

So, can one be a dissenter (heretic) if one was never a part of the established religion to begin with? The use of the word sounds so archaic in an age where dialogue between Christian churches and their people is commonplace. It gives the sense that Catholics have no business socializing with non-Catholics, as though they have nothing to offer us.

The pro-life movement gives us a different view: it is one great example of how Christians have united for the protection of the unborn. Common ground is a great place to start when there are differences.  Does that mean we, as Catholics, are to lay down our Rosary beads for the sake of ecumenical dialogue (there, I said it!)? Absolutely not. We must not shy away from our Christian brothers and sisters by hiding our faith like a frightened ostrich with its head in the sand. Rather, we must know our faith and be willing to share it when others ask, and to affirm our brothers and sisters when we are on common ground. Blessed John Paul II gave us a great teaching in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint:

Ut unum sint! The call for Christian unity made by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council with such impassioned commitment is finding an ever greater echo in the hearts of believers, especially as the Year 2000 approaches, a year which Christians will celebrate as a sacred Jubilee, the commemoration of the Incarnation of the Son of God, who became man in order to save humanity.

The courageous witness of so many martyrs of our century, including members of Churches and Ecclesial Communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church, gives new vigour to the Council’s call and reminds us of our duty to listen to and put into practice its exhortation. These brothers and sisters of ours, united in the selfless offering of their lives for the Kingdom of God, are the most powerful proof that every factor of division can be transcended and overcome in the total gift of self for the sake of the Gospel.

Christ calls all his disciples to unity. My earnest desire is to renew this call today, to propose it once more with determination, repeating what I said at the Roman Colosseum on Good Friday 1994, at the end of the meditation on the Via Crucis prepared by my Venerable Brother Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. There I stated that believers in Christ, united in following in the footsteps of the martyrs, cannot remain divided. If they wish truly and effectively to oppose the world’s tendency to reduce to powerlessness the Mystery of Redemption, they must profess together the same truth about the Cross. The Cross! (#1).

This led me to respond back to Mr Posh the following way:

Let us boldly hold on to our faith, and ask the Lord to give us courage, that we will not avoid our non-Catholic brothers and sisters, but be reminded by Blessed John Paul II, and look to the common ground of the Cross, by which to build bridges towards a true unity. Charity does demand it.

 

 

 

 

 

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/profile_sr_lisa-e1313147535417.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Sister Lisa Marie Doty is a Canossian Sister. She enjoys giving retreats and vocational talks to teens and young women in the Sacramento Diocese, and on-going formation to her Institute’s Lay Canossian Associates. She is also the local vocational director for her religious family. In her spare time, she enjoys graphic design, playing with new media, taking walks and making rosaries. Her website is Nunspeak.[/author_info] [/author]