Category Archives: Prayer

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.

___

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.

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.

___

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

Music at Mass: Fewer Guitars, More Chant

By guest writer Sarah Coffey.

This is a post that’s been brewing for months but I didn’t quite have the right words to say until recently. In the past year, I’ve gone to several Masses at several different parishes (which are wonderful parishes, by the way) and the music was altogether disappointing. Loud. Overdone. Reminiscent of a Protestant revival (seriously).

For example, at one, the “worship band” extended out IN FRONT of part of the sanctuary. There were no fewer than four singers, 2 guitarists, a pianist, and a guy on a full drum set. When I walked up to receive communion at this Mass, the music was so loud, I could not even hear the Eucharistic Minister say “The Body of Christ” before I received Jesus. I left that Mass exhausted because of the constant noise, noise, noise that the Church had been subject to for the past hour.

At another Mass at a different parish, there was yet again an example of the recurring trend of having at least four singers, two guitarists (one acoustic and one electric!), a pianist, a drummer; and this one included a tambourine, too. The only way to describe every time this group started playing and singing is that it was oppressive. Call me an old lady who hates noise but the volume was so incredibly loud I couldn’t hear my husband speaking to me in a normal-level voice as he was sitting right next to me.

Even the Lamb of God was made to sound like part of a Matt Maher concert.

In both cases, the sheer number of participants in the “worship band” and most especially the high volume of the music made it so that the Eucharist was not the focus; the music became the focus. How could it not have been when it was so loud and marked by constant concert-esque flourishes? In true concert fashion, this Mass was marked by people swaying to the Alleluia with their hands in the air, and the congregation cheering – yes, cheering – the band when the recessional hymn ended.

Again, I left exhausted. And frustrated as it had been nearly impossible to pray or focus on Jesus.

Contrast this with my experience last weekend attending the priesthood ordination Mass at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis. This city is blessed with a beautiful and very large cathedral – a church in which the size of both those worship bands may have be appropriate, only in terms of size.

But instead of a Catholic jam session, we were blessed (THANK GOD) with the Cathedral choir and organist, who provided absolutely STUNNING hymns and chants in both Latin and English. Just by the music, one could tell that this ordination Mass was a special occasion – and it was, of course. Two amazing men gave their lives to Christ and His Church. It was solemn. It was quiet in some parts. The voices of the choir sounded angelic as they sang the parts of the Mass. And the focus was the Eucharist.

I left that Mass having been able to focus on the prayers, the parts of the Mass, the beauty of the rite of ordination, and my own silent prayer and reflection because the music was COMPLEMENTARY to the Mass itself. It didn’t try to insert itself as the main focus, but provided a backdrop conducive to worship, prayer, and a spirit of reverence.

Of course, this was a special occasion. A special Mass. But shouldn’t every Mass be like this?

Shouldn’t we come to every Mass prepared to create the most reverent possible atmosphere for the moment when the bread and wine is consecrated on the altar and becomes the BODY and BLOOD of Jesus Christ?

But how can we do that when the music is so loud that we can’t hear ourselves think? How can we focus on the mystery and the miracle when the music demands all our energy and attention, robbing us of the silence we need to truly appreciate the depth and beauty of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

The short answer is that we can’t. You can’t hear the Holy Spirit speaking to you in the recesses of your soul when the excessive sound of drums and guitars and tambourines are drowning out His voice.

Robert Cardinal Sarah, a great and holy man of the Church, wrote recently in his book on the topic of silence, “Sounds and emotion detach us from ourselves, whereas silence always forces man to reflect upon his own life… wonder, admiration, and silence function in tandem.”

There was absolutely a sense of wonder at Mass at the Basilica. It felt like I was experiencing a very small piece of Heaven on Earth – because that’s precisely what the Mass is.

And it’s sad when we aren’t able to have that very same wonderous atmosphere every Sunday at Mass in our parishes because the music is just too loud or too excessive.

I’m not saying we should not use any contemporary music at Mass. My wedding liturgy had several Matt Maher and Audrey Assad songs! But I’m saying the music at Mass should not try to thrust itself into the forefront of our minds; it should not distract from the real reason we are there – to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist and to let His grace work within us.

It should pave the way for our hearts to seek and find Jesus at the altar, at the foot of the Cross. And it shouldn’t distract us from hearing what He is trying to say to us.

In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Jesus becomes really and truly present on the altar. Let me reiterate: Jesus Christ, God incarnate, the Creator of the Universe, becomes present on the altar and we receive Him.

The music at Mass should serve as a backdrop for receiving Our Lord and creating an atmosphere conducive to worship; but it can never make that reality – the reality of the True Presence of Christ – more “cool” or “hip,” or more entertaining. And it doesn’t need to.

_____

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).

Image: PD-US

A Quiet Place

By guest writer Br Nicholas Lye.

In a world where we tend to avoid too much silence in our lives, the latest thriller A Quiet Place seems to suggest that silence can actually save us.

[Minimal spoilers]

Unlike your typical horror film whose aim is to simply scare the living daylights out of you, this film intends to send a message through a world where monsters have invaded the planet and kill any living thing that makes a sound. As scary as the monsters might look, what may be scarier is the deeper truth and reality that the loud noises of our society have already been killing us softly and slowly.

In the movie that contains little dialogue for the most part of it, you hear the deafening sounds of guilt, hurt, jealousy, unworthiness, fear resounding in the characters, which resonate with our own realities. Yet it appears that the silent actions of each character, whether by sign language, body language, gestures of love or great acts of sacrifice, actually speak louder and eventually overcome the damaging noise in their hearts. It seems to suggest how little we actually pay attention to our silent actions that can actually go a long way to heal and unite.

Another takeaway from the film is the importance of silence not just in prayer but in waiting. Our common complaint in prayer is that God remains silent to our request. Yet as in the film, timing is essential, whether to escape from the monster, or to discover a way to defeat them. Had they chosen to take the easy way out and scream in impatience, death would have come in one quick swoop. Silent waiting, on the other hand, keeps them alive.

When God remains silent, He could simply be putting a finger to His lips and telling us to wait for the right moment, and to be still and know that He’s got it covered. Having it our way sooner could just bring terrible consequences.

So go catch the film if you can and you might just learn how a little more silence in your life can actually save you from the monsters lurking in the corner of your hearts.

___

Br Nicholas Lye is a seminarian in Singapore.
Originally posted on Instagram.

Also see: Sonny Bunch, The Washington Post — “‘A Quiet Place’ isn’t just pro-life. It makes us understand what being pro-life truly means.

My Alabaster Jar

“When he was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard. She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head. There were some who were indignant. ‘Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil? It could have been sold for more than three hundred days’ wager and the money given to the poor.’ They were infuriated with her. Jesus said, ‘Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me. She has done what she could. She has anticipated anointing my body for burial. Amen, I say to you, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.'” (Mk 14:3-9)

The gift of the woman at Bethany was not small. She came to Jesus with repentance and sincerity of heart; with her broken jar she anointed Him with the best that she had, holding nothing back. She gave to Christ from her heart.

Such sincere gift left her vulnerable in the eyes of others. They were irritated and criticized her gift. Why wasn’t she following convention? Why wasn’t she displaying kindness in the popular way?

Perhaps this woman knew what their reaction would be beforehand. Her actions were somewhat radical… but at the same time, they weren’t. Would one who truly loves hold anything back from the beloved? Nothing is wasted on Christ.

Amid the scoffing of the bystanders, Christ read the woman’s heart. “Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me…She has done what she could.” These words must have been a wealth of consolation for the woman. She had the guts to run to Christ and now He was hiding her in His bosom, acknowledging that her actions were beautiful and pleasing.

The woman cared little for human respect and public opinion. She gave glory to God in the best way she knew how, and let the others think what they wanted.

The bystanders thought that she should love God through charity to the poor. But the woman went far beyond mere external actions- she gave God her heart. This woman gave all that was most precious to her to Christ, without bothering about people’s opinions and envious thoughts.

What is in my alabaster jar? What is my gift of priceless worth that I am holding back from God for fear of the opinions of others? Dear Lord, help me to break my alabaster jar and give my heart to You.

My outraged Jesus, / by the weakness You suffered in going to Calvary, / give me enough strength to overcome all human respect / and all my evil passions which have led me to despise Your friendship. / I love You, Jesus my Love, with all my heart; / I am sorry for ever having offended You. / Never permit me to offend You again. / Grant that I may love You always; and then do with me as You will. (The Way of the Cross according to St. Alphonsus Liguori) 

Beatitudinem quaerens – a joyful album of modern Latin hymns

Italian musician Beppe Frattaroli has produced an album in Latin, Beatitudinem quaerens: “Looking for Bliss”. By turns joyful, reflective, and gloriously stirring, Beatitudinem quaerens brings the Latin language to life, imbuing it with the emotive qualities of Italian music while preserving its linguistic integrity.

Frattaroli combines modern instruments and vocal effects with this ancient tongue to produce delightful songs of praise, composing catchy, uplifting tunes like Cogitatiònes (“Thoughts”) with which one can sing or hum along. One may even be moved to dance to the beat.

The more melancholic pieces like Inimici Mei (“My Enemies”) can be aids to prayer (such as praying for those who try you, or praying in sorrowful reparation for the sins which made you an enemy of Christ).

In learning languages, I have always found it helpful to learn songs in those tongues. Although years have passed and I have forgotten most of my lessons, those Mandarin, French, and Italian songs remain with me. Music helps you remember words and develop a feel for how they fit with each other in a particular language’s grammatical system. Frattaroli’s album provides a fabulous opportunity for those who wish to learn Latin and are looking for something besides Gregorian chant to sing. It also melds new expressions of faith with one of the oldest sacred tongues of the Church.

Beatitudinem quaerens is available on iTunes. Frattaroli contacted me via Facebook while “looking for those who love Jesus”. He says: “If you are happy, help me to make it known. I wish you so much joy.”

We address especially the young people: In an epoch when in some areas, as you know, the Latin language and the human values are less appreciated, you must joyfully accept the patrimony of the language which the Church holds in high esteem and must, with energy, make it fruitful. The well-known words of Cicero, “It is not so much excellent to know Latin, as it is a shame not to know it” [Non tam praeclarum est scire Latine, quam turpe nescire (Brutus, xxxvii.140)] in a certain sense are directed to you. We exhort you all to lift up high the torch of Latin which is even today a bond of unity among peoples of all nations.
Pope John Paul II, 1978

Dealing with Resentment

I’m one of those people who tend to attract people with problems.

I’d be sitting quietly at a party, or at a church event, and strangers come up and spill their guts about their illnesses, their romantic woes, their family problems, everything. Sometimes, strangers on the Internet do that too!

It feels good to be able to help with a listening ear, but after awhile one can get really overwhelmed and resentful, and wish everyone would just go away and deal with their own problems.

Jesus probably felt something similar when, following his cousin John the Baptist’s death, he retired to an isolated area by boat, only to be followed by crowds on foot. He took pity on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:13-14)

How does one respond when one is overwhelmed?

Firstly, you should listen to your own feelings. Jesus was God, but He didn’t preach and heal non-stop. He took refuge in prayer and silence, resting in His human form and communing with the Father and the Holy Spirit so that He could minister anew. If you don’t recharge, you can’t serve, and you may end up snapping or burning out.

Secondly, it is important to set boundaries. People are not omniscient and they probably don’t know of all the other things on your plate. Sometimes it is also good for them to be declined, so they can actually stop fretting and do something constructive about their problems, or take them in prayer to God Himself.

Thirdly, it really helps to be able to put on the mind of Christ, even though it can be very difficult, and to see the other person as an occasion of grace, not as a pest. It can be extremely hard if they have a mental health issue and contact you every day, but that too is an opportunity to exercise patience and charity, while learning how not to compromise your own daily duties and much-needed rest.

These are also opportunities to lift others up to God in prayer. As Christians, we are our brothers’ keepers. When they get too much for us, one can ask for community help to shoulder the burden, and one should always turn to God in times of dismay. This allows Him to transform us and those whom we meet.

A deep prayer life enables us to be reservoirs of grace, overflowing with the peace of Christ, which can be hard to attain in this busy, distracted world of ours. By being reservoirs, we can face any trouble calmly with ease, knowing that God is present and works everything to good.

_____

Image: PD-US

Walking on My Knees with Mother Mary

By guest writer Ann Tran.

Last year in August, I went on a pilgrimage to Portugal for the Centennial Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima. Often, I struggle to pray with the distractions of daily worries of family, friends and making ends meet, so in going on a pilgrimage I hoped I would be able to leave those worries behind and focus on my spirituality.

In Fatima at the shrine where Mother Mary appeared, there is a long pathway to the shrine where many people pray while walking on their knees. They prayed so fervently and made it look so effortless, so I thought I would give it a go.

One day, before the break of dawn to avoid the crowds, I joined Father Michael and some of the pilgrims to pray walking on our knees. As I observed Father and the pilgrims moving forward, I got on my knees and started praying. They moved swiftly and got further and further away; as for me, I kept lagging behind, and walking on my knees became more and more excruciating, so I had to crawl. Like a snail I kept crawling forward with my head bowed down in shame as I realized I had overestimated myself.

As I continue to claw my way towards the shrine, my body got heavier and heavier. Then I noticed somebody walking beside me on my right-hand side. There was no sound, even though it was still dark I was able to see the tip of a pair of beautiful feet and the bottom of a white, elegant yet simple dress walking silently and subtly next to me. I didn’t dare look up as I felt undeserving, I just couldn’t. At that moment, my whole life flashed in front of my eyes like a montage of all the trials, tribulations, struggles and dark times from childhood to present. In each scene, I was able to see vividly where Mother Mary was standing.

One scene that resonated with me related to a time years ago when I was in my apartment alone heart-broken, curled up in a ball on the floor and crying unceasingly. After that I felt consoled but didn’t recognized what it was back then (I don’t recall ever being hugged by my own mother, so I wouldn’t be able to recognize that feeling of being comforted with a mother’s touch). This time, with the flashback, I could vividly see Mother Mary embracing me at that moment and all the other times when life got burdensome. After the montage was complete, I couldn’t see anybody walking beside me anymore but for the rest of the path, walking on my knees was like walking on clouds all the way to the Chapel where Mass started.

Although I am undeserving, God has been very generous to me and He has answered my prayers throughout my life in His own creative way at just the right time. He answered my prayers by giving me Mother Mary through Jesus’ dying breath on the cross — He said: “Behold, your mother” (John 19:26-27). As I continue living my daily life and especially in times when I needed a mother’s tender touch and love, I turn to praying the rosary and with the “Hail Mary”, her blessings pour out upon me.

How do I know? The feeling of anxiety gets taken from me and is replaced with peace. That is when I know that I’ve had a good heart-to-heart conversation with Mother Mary.  So, when living gets tough, praying the Fatima rosary and singing “Ave, Ave, Ave, Maria”, I can always teleport myself back to the moment when I was walking on my knees with Mother Mary walking beside me silently and subtly, leading me closer to her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

___

Original post at PAPA Foundation.

A Lesson for a Chaotic Soul

Recently I learned a hard lesson. It was a concept that I knew was coming, as people close to me had informed me of the changes I needed to make. But because I am basically an infant in the spiritual realm, it took me awhile to really get it. It was worth it though because it could basically change my whole life… hopefully, when I learn to unite with God’s will!

Now I normally don’t like to share my spiritual or life lessons that I encounter because I am very young (23 years old), and I am basically still in the process of learning to walk down the paths that I feel God has set for me. So I always feel that I have little credibility in the words that I write. Even so, I feel that what I have realized is very important for every person, no matter who you are.

In recent years, my life has been pretty hectic. I knowingly chose for things to be this way, but I never anticipated the amount of adjusting that I would have to do. Within the past 20 months, I quit school, got engaged, got married, was blessed with my first child. I’ve adjusted to being far away from any family or friends, and I’ve adjusted to my spouse’s crazy medical school life. I’ve adjusted to being a mother and I’ve taken on all of the changes required for the title. I’ve also adjusted to being in a new and intimate relationship with my husband.

That being said, I may have adjusted but I have not responded to my situations in the holiest way. The way I’ve reacted to my environments and relationships have caused me more anxiety and despondency than I thought possible. It caused me to resent my spouse, have a negative outlook on my life, and worse, it drove a wedge between God and myself. I found myself being overly fearful of the future and I didn’t even want to be open to God’s will. Then I started to be ashamed of myself in front of God, knowing that I was avoiding His gaze. What if God asks me to do something difficult? My spiritual director tells me that her priest says that we can’t reach Jesus unless we climb the cross. Well, the cross freaks me out!

When my husband and I would have a conflict, I would panic, shut down, and tell myself that I couldn’t handle his shortcomings. I would use up so much energy trying to change his perspective and then end up angry when I didn’t succeed. In reality, God was teaching us both a lesson in being patient and more aware of each other on our journey through marriage.

When we needed to consider big life decisions, I immediately assumed the worst and panicked. I scrambled to figure out how I could travel down the path of least resistance, even though we really didn’t know what was going to happen yet. In reality, God was probably giving me the opportunity to trust Him.

See a pattern? I was relying on myself and my will because I felt in control. I was also relying on my husband to be perfect and I expected him to respond exactly how I needed him to when in reality, he was learning as much as I was. And who was I not relying on? God the Almighty Father, who basically has the perfect plan for my life.

Here is my main point: If we do not involve God internally, our external reactions will reflect the chaos of our souls.

So how are we supposed to gain internal peace? That may look slightly different for each of us. For me, it entails the need to heal past wounds so that I am okay with myself as God created me. It also will require that I recognize in His infinite and perfect love for me. I have to be able to trust in His ultimate plan, no matter how hard the lessons of the cross will be.

When this happens for each of us, we will be able to carry the crosses and shortcomings of those we love without losing internal peace. No matter what happens, our souls will remain in an undisturbed state while God helps us to grow interiorly and draw into a deeper union with Him.

The Blind Man & the Child

By Ann Tran as told to Jean Seah.

Some years ago in Adelaide, I was struggling with my faith and with attending Mass.

One day in the Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier, I was kneeling in prayer when I felt a tap on my leg, a sign that someone had entered the pew. I moved over, but felt another tap, so I moved again. Finally after moving all the way to the end of the pew, I looked up and realized that there was a blind gentleman tapping me with his cane. He hadn’t figured out that he was tapping a person, not part of the pew.

He was a very handsome and tall man with the most beatific smile. At the Sign of Peace, he nodded at everyone around him, and you wouldn’t have known that he was blind except for his walking stick.

I thought to myself, “If this blind man can travel all the way through the city to come to Mass, so can I.”

At the next Mass I attended, a little child, perhaps 11 years old, sat near me by herself. She looked as if she had come after school. She sang each hymn with a reverent joy that pierced my soul.

“Ok, God, I get the message,” I said interiorly to Him. “If this child can come to Mass by herself, so can I!”

Although I was a regular parishioner at the cathedral, I never saw either of them again.

The encounter with the blind man got me thinking, and the encounter with the girl was affirmation.

God speaks to us in mysterious and subtle ways — it may be in the tapping of a blind man and the singing of a child.

___

Also see: “Crawling to Mass“.

Fr. Douglas Bazi: Praying the Rosary in ISIS Captivity

Fr. Douglas Bazi (a.k.a Abouna Douglas Joseph Shimshon Al-Bazi) recently spoke at the 2017 Spirit in the City conference in Brisbane. He spoke of how his people, our Christian brothers and sisters, have been systematically killed or driven out of their homeland since the 2003 Iraq War destabilized his country. He told us how his church in Baghdad was bombed while he received a gunshot to the leg; he carries the bullet in his leg today.

He said, “I am going to tell you my story, of how I was captured by ISIS. It is not easy for me to tell.”

In November 2006, Fr. Bazi was kidnapped by ISIS militants (“Maybe because I look like Robert De Niro”, he joked). They bound him in chains, blindfolded and gagged him. In a room where the Quran was broadcast on television all day long, they broke his nose, tortured him with cigarettes, and smashed his face, knees and back with a hammer. He was deprived of water for four days.

Yet, like St. Paul, Fr. Bazi continued his priestly ministry in his chains. One of the terrorists came to the bound and gagged priest for advice about his wife, who kept sending him multiple messages a day. The blindfolded Fr. Bazi calmly advised the terrorist to be more loving and attentive to his wife.

Fr. Bazi realized that the chains binding his hands had exactly ten links. He admitted that under normal circumstances, he sometimes found the rosary tedious, but as he lay aching in the darkness, the scriptural prayers of the rosary illuminated his imprisonment, bringing comfort and sustenance amidst the uncertainty and pain. He was prepared to die.

Using a chain he had bought upon arrival from New Zealand, Fr. Bazi demonstrated to us how he had prayed the rosary, kissing the lock that kept him at the mercy of his kidnappers.

He also showed us his bloodstained shirt.

After nine interminable days, Fr. Bazi was released.

He said to us, “You must be our voice. You must tell our story. Our children go to school, and we don’t know if they will come back. We go to church, not knowing if that is the day we will die.”

Here in comfortable Australia, it was sobering to think of our Middle Eastern brethren living from day to day in fear of death or the loss of their family members, or their homes.

Fr. Bazi has started Project 52, aimed at bringing 52 disabled Iraqi children to New Zealand. With our donations and prayers, we can help make his dream a reality.

I’m Dreaming of a Contemplative Christmas

Together with “exciting” and “joyful”, “stressful” is a word that is associated with the days leading up to Christmas and with the Christmas season itself. Increased rush hour traffic, shopping lists and parties to squeeze into tight budgets and schedules, tasks lists in the preparation of the Christmas dinner, caroling rehearsals, and year-end work to wrap up in the office all pile up at this time of the year. One is tempted to ask, “Is Christmas worth it?”

The antidote to all this stress of the season is to readjust one’s idea of a perfect Christmas, and to aspire for a contemplative one: one spent lovingly gazing at the Holy Family in Bethlehem, and reflecting on what must have been the sentiments of Mary, Joseph, and the adoring shepherds and Wise Men.

Given that the frenzied holiday environment is not conducive to contemplation, a contemplative Christmas does not just happen. It must be deliberately pursued. Here are some suggestions to achieve a contemplative Christmas:

1. Do not skip Advent. The point of this penitential, yet hopeful, season is to prepare for Christmas through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The Sacrament of Penance is a great way to spiritually prepare oneself for Christmas during the Advent season.

2. Schedule pious practices scattered throughout the day: spiritual reading, praying the rosary, fifteen- or thirty-minute periods of silent prayer, daily Mass if possible, and other pious practices one likes.

3. Convert Christmas preparations into prayer. For example, while choosing, buying, and wrapping Christmas gifts, one can pray for the recipients. The same thing can be done while writing Christmas cards, shopping for and cooking the Christmas dinner, or taking the family out to see the city Christmas light displays.

4. Offer up the inconveniences of the holiday season. There will always be reasons, big or small, to complain about the holiday season. Perhaps it is the first Christmas after the loss of a loved one, or perhaps the holiday season aggravates certain family issues, or one is suffering from seasonal affective disorder. Perhaps on some days, the increased rush hour traffic just gets to one’s nerves. Perhaps one is an introvert for whom the thought of attending just one more party is a trial. Fortunately, all these inconveniences borne with a smile can be pleasing gifts to the Christ Child.

5. In relation to the previous suggestion, think of what the Holy Family had to go through. Thinking about Mary and Joseph having had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem with the available roads and transportation at that time, and with Mary about to deliver a baby, helps one to put on a serene smile as one endures rush hour traffic from work to that obligatory party with one’s relatives.

These suggestions will not eliminate holiday stress. But they are tried and true ways to convert the holiday frenzy into true, meaningful, joy that comes from contemplating the Holy Family at Bethlehem. Regardless of what one must endure during the holiday season, a contemplative Christmas is always a happy Christmas.