Faithful to the Name of God

“Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said: ‘Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name, so that they may be one like us.” (John 17:11)

Most names carry a certain meaning (discount strange ones such as naming a child “x” or “y” — those seem almost mathematical in nature). For example, John in Hebrew means “God is gracious”.

However, no one knows the name of God, for to name something is to have a certain degree of control over it.

So how then are we to be kept true to God’s Name if we don’t know it?

How do we be true to the Mystery of God?

Perhaps, the question isn’t “Am I true to the Mystery of God?” but rather, “Am I true to the Mystery of Love?” (A Love Who died for me)

Do I live up to my name? How do I embody the aspect which has been given to me?

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Image: PD-US

Loving Poorly

Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

I love poorly. Every single moment. Especially when I fail to think about God in going about my daily life.

Do I initiate conversation with my parents, with whom I fell out 15 years ago? What if they start harassing me again with the past? I’ve taken so long to heal from the hurts, and what if they hurt me again?

Do I smile at people around me? What if they start to think that it’s an “open invitation” and then they start being creepy and stalk me?

Do I give that poor man some money for a meal? Do I buy him a meal? What if he demands more and more? 

I really like what Henri Nouwen has to say about forgiveness. I have failed my family, the lonely and neglected, and the poor and hungry around me. I need to love better.

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.
Image: PD-US

Remain in Me

Before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was “breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,” and yet today we remember him as a great evangelizer and prolific New Testament writer. What happened? Nothing less than an inbreaking of divine grace.

For the powers of humanity, there are a great many situations that are beyond hope: souls that have been irrevocably corrupted, systems that are beyond repair. But for God, no one is beyond hope. No matter how hardened a person, God can break through any barriers to offer them mercy and an opportunity for transformation. He stopped Paul right in his murderous path, turned him away from Damascus and out into all the world a changed man. He channeled Paul’s zeal toward its natural, rightly ordered purpose: building up the Kingdom of God. In the same way, our own human purpose can only be understood through an encounter with the divine.

Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him (John 6:56).
Jesus has given Himself to us in the Eucharist as an opportunity for encounter with Him, that we too might be transformed by His grace. He instituted this sacrament so that we might share a radical intimacy with Him. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati understood this deeply—he received Communion daily, meeting Jesus every morning and carrying Him throughout the rest of the day. This is the key to his sanctity: not Pier Giorgio’s own goodness, but his openness to divine grace, to deep intimacy with and vulnerability before God.

“I urge you with all the strength of my soul to approach the Eucharist Table as often as possible. Feed on this Bread of the Angels from which you will draw the strength to fight inner struggles.”
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Conversione_di_san_Paolo_September_2015-1aThe great things that Paul achieved after his conversion stemmed from this intense closeness with God and awareness of God’s perfect love. This is what opened Paul’s heart to allow God to work through him rather than imposing his own will. When the scales fell from his eyes and he saw his life with sudden clarity, he fell to his knees in humility before God. Throughout the rest of his life, as he wrote and preached and converted a great many souls, he was ever aware that it was all due to God working in him: It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). Paul knew all too well the cold, cruel man he would be without God, and thus he was able to recognize that any good fruits that flowed from his work were not due to his own power or talent or goodness, but from Jesus Christ working through him.


1. Domenico Morelli, Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US
2. Caravaggio, The Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

Pier Giorgio Frassati’s Life of Grace

By guest writer Lauren Winter.

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

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

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

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

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

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Originally posted on Instagram.

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

Challenging God

James 4:13-17, Psalm 49, Mark 9:38-40

God cannot be an object of our concepts. We are His creatures, not the other way round. St. James writes: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (Jas 4:14). Indeed, we are nothing; and yet — we all have a purpose on earth: to fulfill God’s Divine plan. The meaning of our lives therefore, is to seek out that purpose with all our hearts. That is why St. James goes on to affirm: “If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that” (Jas 4:15).

Yesterday, I had a session with an angry client who kept questioning God. ‘Why did God let this happen to me?’, ‘Why did God allow this evil to happen?’, ‘Why do bad things only happen to me?’. I think I heard a total of about twenty ‘Whys’ in that short 10 minutes of his ranting.

I fully empathize with everyone and anyone who is suffering. We cannot think when we are overwhelmed emotionally; especially while experiencing such irascible emotions like anger, frustration and pain. However, once we are calm and reasonable; we could look into the ‘Whys’, for they are good questions that deserve good answers.

Of course, Jesus never loses. In all instances when He was challenged, Jesus manifests His divinity powerfully by REVERSING the relationship in which his questioners put on Him (Peter Kreeft).

“Shall we stone the adulteress or not?”— “Let him without sin cast the first stone.”

“Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?”—”Give God what is God’s and Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

“Who is my neighbor?”—”Go and be a neighbor, like the good Samaritan.”

Whenever we try to test Jesus, he tests us. He is the teacher and we are the students, not vice versa. Sometimes, we only need to simply look at our wretched and broken lives to find out what went wrong. Have we truly been walking in Faith and obeying the Commandments of God? Do we thank God secretly for blessings but curse Him when bad things happen to us? Do we live hedonistic lifestyles and then complain when things come crashing down? Areas we should all reflect on today!

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Originally posted on Instagram. Image: PD-US

Ubuntu

“Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said: ‘Holy Father, I pray not only for these, but for those also who through their words will believe in me. May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.” (John 17:20-21)

Have you ever heard of the word “ubuntu”? It is an ancient African word meaning “I am what I am because of who we all are”.

In a way, we become who we are because of the company we keep and the values that we learn.

If we keep in the company of God-loving people, we most likely will become God-loving.

If we hang out with those who bring us away from Christ, we will most likely stay away from Christ and probably bring others away too.

In the Gospel, Jesus’ prayer for us is to be one in Him and our Heavenly Father, the question is; do I desire for that same union? Who do I want to become?

What is it you want to change?

In our world today, we believe what we’re told. We’re not skinny enough, not fair enough, not tall or muscular enough.

I’ve fallen into the trap before. I skipped many meals in my teenage years in a bid to look better.
I did get skinnier, but all I got were lustful looks from the opposite gender.

I saw this quote from St. Catherine of Siena and it was a good reminder that we should strive to love ourselves the way God would love us:

What is it you want to change?
Your hair, your face, your body? Why?
For God is in love with all those things
and He might weep when they are gone.

I do not deny that we are our bodies, for that would deny the gift that God to us.

I also am not saying that we swing to the other extreme and say that we are ONLY our bodies — for that would deny the unique soul that God has given us.

Humans are a hylomorphic (body AND soul) composition and we need to acknowledge both.

When eternity is our reference point, everything that happens here is actually very little.

May we keep that in mind and remember that the Lord loves us exactly for who we are (provided we try our best to be the best versions of ourselves!) (but even when we fail to take care of ourselves, He still loves us.)

Prayers for all those struggling with body image issues, I love you.
God loves you.

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Image: PD-US

Grief into Joy

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn,
while the world rejoices;
you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.
When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived;
but when she has given birth to a child,
she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy
that a child has been born into the world.
So you also are now in anguish.
But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice,
and no one will take your joy away from you.
On that day you will not question me about anything.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”
—John 16:20–23

Often we have a tendency to assume—even, sometimes, when we know better—that if we follow Jesus perfectly, we will live a charmed life free of suffering. Thus, when we experience suffering that seems “undeserved,” we become frustrated with God and think that there’s no way we can handle what He’s asking of us.

Christ_in_Gethsemane

But Jesus doesn’t negate the suffering of the Christian life. He acknowledges it fully, saying that if they persecuted Him they will surely persecute us. He tells us we will weep and mourn and grieve while the world rejoices. Yet our pain and suffering are not wasted in His plan of salvation. When we meet Jesus in Heaven, when we see the destination to which He has led us on such a long, winding journey, our hearts will rejoice. We will receive a lasting joy, greater than anything of this world.

We will experience suffering in this life, but through Christ, this suffering becomes a holy calling. We don’t need to put on a happy face and pretend everything is fine—no, this trial is a gift, meant to break and re-form our hearts, making them more like His own. We can embrace our suffering and lean in to it. And we don’t need to spiral into despair, either, for this trial is not the end. A greater joy awaits us, a joy that will eclipse any memory of pain.

piergiorgioOur patron, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, was a joyful, exuberant young man who radiated hope. He loved to have a good time with his friends, sharing inside jokes and enjoying outdoor activities. But at the same time, he did not shy away from suffering. Although he easily could have stayed within the comfortable bubble of wealth provided by his family, he ventured into the poorest parts of his city, undeterred by the noise and smells, to seek those who needed company and support. He saw the beauty in each person he encountered and considered them friends. His passion for the Lord propelled him to serve, and even when he contracted a fatal disease through this service, he embraced this, too, as a gift. His love for Christ emboldened him to face every trial without fear.

Fear not. As Christians, we always have reason for hope. Inspired by the example of Pier Giorgio, may we face our sufferings with boldness and joy, knowing that all our earthly pain will pass away and that the joy to come is worth it all.

We are an Easter people, and hallelujah is our song.
—Pope Saint John Paul II


1. Heinrich Hofmann, Christ in Gethsemane / PD-US
2. Photograph of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati and friends

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

Oceans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Originally posted on Instagram.
Image: PD-US

Hell

James 5:1-6, Psalm 49, Mark 9:41-50

Hell is not just a theoretical possibility according to the Gospel reading on 24 May and many more passages in scripture.

“The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.” (CCC 1035)

Although Hell is real, prudence must be exercised when we teach others about it. St. John Paul II gives us a helpful reminder to all Christians: “The issue that some will go to hell is decided, but the issue of WHO in particular will go to hell is undecided.”

Sandro Botticelli, Chart of Hell

I particularly despise people who proclaim things like, “You are going to hell if you don’t convert to Christianity!” Such people are arrogant and presumptuous.

It is important for us to know our place. ALL of us will be judged, Christian or not (c.f. Mt 25:31-46). We are not the judge (c.f. Jas 4:12). Claiming with absolute certainty that someone is going to hell is the grave sin of presumption because they assume the role of God.

That is why up till this day, the Catholic Church has never definitively declared who’s in hell — because the truth of the matter is, she doesn’t know! Yes, even non-believers and the worst sinners.

Many today think that this is just a politically-correct answer. To such people, let me ask a simple question: “How would YOU know that even the greatest sinner did not, at the last second of his death, cry out to Jesus to save him?”

This is the essence of the good thief in Luke’s Gospel. The story’s purpose is to show that God’s mercy is limitless.

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Originally posted on Instagram.

Book Review: Rizal Through a Glass Darkly by Fr. Javier de Pedro

Conversion and reversion stories never fail to fascinate. Stories of how and why a person freely decides to embrace the Catholic Faith, or return to the Catholic Faith of his or her childhood after having freely rejected it, are intriguing. Such stories edify Catholics in their Faith, giving them more reasons to love it. For open-minded non-Catholic readers searching for truth, these stories open up more avenues for the search.

Rizal Through a Glass Darkly by Fr. Javier de Pedro tells a unique reversion story. Its subject matter is not a canonized saint or a famous apologist, but Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippine national hero whose writings played a major role in the Philippine struggle for independence from Spain during the 1890s.

Every Filipino learns in school about Rizal’s life and writings. Inevitably, we learn that at one point in his life, he studied in Europe, got exposed to Enlightenment philosophies, became a Freemason, wrote about the abuses committed by the Spanish friars in the Philippines, and was shot by a firing squad on accusations of treason against the Spanish government. His novels, which we also study as part of the basic education curriculum in the Philippines, present the Catholic Church in an unflattering light: lustful, avaricious, cruel, and power-hungry friars; caricatured depictions of superstitious piety of ordinary folk. Most of the heroes of the novels are free-thinkers; in one chapter of the first novel, one of them scoffs at the Catholic doctrine on purgatory and indulgences.

We also learn that before he was executed, Rizal signed a written retraction of his anti-Catholic writings, but historians debate his sincerity in signing it. Rizal’s admirers seem to think that retracting his anti-Catholic writings would reduce his greatness, and surmise that he signed the retraction only out of convenience – an odd position to take about someone whom one is presenting as a hero worthy of emulation (and which, for me, does not make sense because the retraction did not save Rizal from the firing squad).

However, it is documented that before he was shot, Rizal went to sacramental confession four times and contracted a sacramental marriage with Josephine Bracken with whom he had previously been cohabiting. In one of his last recorded conversations before he was shot, he serenely asked the priest accompanying him if he would go to Heaven on the same day if he gained a plenary indulgence.

Rizal Through a Glass Darkly by Fr. Javier de Pedro traces Rizal’s spiritual journey from the piety of his childhood, through his estrangement from the Catholic Faith and his immersion in Enlightenment thought, to his return to the Faith of his childhood before he died.

The author, Fr. Javier de Pedro, is a Spanish priest who fell in love with the Philippines, having lived and ministered here for many years.  He has doctorates in Industrial Engineering and Canon law and, according to those who know him, is a Renaissance man like Rizal himself. Thus, he brings to the book a valuable perspective: that of a Spaniard who knows and loves the Philippines and Rizal a lot, who has done extensive research about his subject matter, and who, as an experienced priest in the confessional, frequently encounters the tension between sin and grace in souls.

Indeed, the book is detailed, well-researched, and reveals the author’s thorough familiarity with Rizal’s writings, which the author refers to as “mirrors” of Rizal’s soul.

The book presents not only the life and thoughts of Rizal, but also his historical context, including the intellectual trends in fashion in the Europe where Rizal developed his ideas.  Thus, the book is valuable not only as a source of spiritual edification, but also as a work of history. It avoids the common pitfalls of isolating Rizal from the historical context in which he lived, and of giving the impression that Rizal’s thoughts remained static and did not develop throughout his life.

The pastor’s perspective is another valuable element of the book. The author shares his insights and analysis on what contributed to Rizal’s estrangement from the Catholic Faith as well as what helped him find his way back to it. Thus, the book also serves as a cautionary tale on what may lead a soul away from the Faith, as well as a guide on how to help oneself and others regain the Faith when it has been lost.

I appreciate the author’s affection for Rizal even as the author points out Rizal’s missteps. In the Prologue, the author refers to Rizal as someone “for whose soul I am now raising a prayer, even if I am convinced that he received long ago the welcome of the Father to the house of Heaven.” The author understands Rizal and acknowledges Rizal’s legitimate grievances against certain clergymen that arose from Rizal’s real experiences. The author is careful to base his insights on Rizal’s spiritual journey on verifiable facts and texts, and emphasizes that in the end, Rizal’s spiritual journey is an mysterious interplay between his freedom and God’s grace.

The book is a compelling read. I especially like the narration of the last days of Rizal, where the author describes recounts details such as the parallel Christmas celebrations of Rizal’s family and the Spanish guards of the prison where Rizal was incarcerated (Rizal was executed on December 30, 1896).  That chapter is full of drama and humanity.

Unfortunately, the book is not widely available. As of now, the only place I know where it could be bought is the bookstore of the University of Asia and the Pacific here in the Philippines (inquiries may be made here).  In fact, one reason I reviewed Rizal Through a Glass Darkly was to change this by promoting interest in the book.

Indeed, the story in Rizal through a Glass Darkly deserves to be more widely known. It is of particular interest to Filipinos, but it is of interest, too, to everyone else. It is a touching story of a talented man with great ideals and who is credited for a lot of important things, who was at the same time a flawed human being who committed grave errors but eventually found redemption. Like every other conversion and reversion story, it is fascinating.

The Treasure of Sin?

Some of us (me definitely included) fall into despair sometimes when we believe that we are too damned.

"The confession" by Pietro Longhi, ca. 1750
The Confession, Pietro Longhi, ca. 1750

We detest sin — as we all should! — but we detest sin not because we desire the good, but we detest it out of frustration, out of a belief that God might not forgive us again.

Peter Kreeft in his book Three Philosophies of Life talks about the Treasure of Sin and he has basically given me hope again!

Wait. What?! Sin? A treasure? Yes, read on.

“But we are all philosophers, unless we are animals. Men live not just in the present but also in the future. We live by hope. Our hearts are a beat ahead of our feet. Half of us is already in the future; we meet ourselves coming at us from up ahead. Our lives are like an arc stretching out to us from the future into the present. Our hopes and ideals move our present lives. Animals’ lives are like an arc coming to them out of their past; they are determined by their past. They are pushed; we are pulled. They are forced; we are free. They are only instinct, heredity, and environment; we are more; we are persons.

The determinists, from Marx and Freud to Skinner, who deny this fact, insult us infinitely more than any preacher who shouts sin and damnation at us. It is a great compliment to call a man a sinner. Only a free man can be a sinner. The determinists mean to steal from us the great treasure of sin. They deny us our freedom, and therefore our hope, our ability to live not just from our determined past but also from our undetermined future.”

— Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life, p. 29

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

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