Tag Archives: Mass

My Vocation Story: Father Jason Smith, LC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

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

The Fig Tree: Our call to bear light to the world.

The gospel reading about Jesus cursing the fig tree befuddles me at best, leaves me disoriented at worst.

WHY DID JESUS CURSE THE FIG TREE?!?
“Poor tree”, we chime in.

But let’s not look at this too literally. Mark was careful to mention that the tree was alive (healthy) but not bearing fruit. But really… who can blame it? It wasn’t the season for figs!

However, look carefully: the before-and-after of the fig tree serves as bookends to the cleansing of the Temple in Mark’s gospel. This juxtaposition is a clue.

Could it be that the fig tree is a representation of Israel — a chosen people called to be a light to the world?
In the eyes of God, Israel MUST produce fruit, in season and out of season — only because of the extraordinary grace that was given to them!

Cleansing of the Temple, El Greco (1591)
Cleansing of the Temple, El Greco (1591)

Shortly after Jesus cursed this fruitless fig tree, He went in to clean out the Temple. A real BOSS Jesus was, for it was not the job of a nobody to chase people out of the Temple; that was the High Priest’s job!

Similarly, we called to be healthy trees and produce fruit regardless of our circumstance. But are we (Temples of the H.S.) plagued with sin just like how the Temple was a messy marketplace that made no room for worshiping God?
Do we know what is holding us back from producing fruit all year round?
Do we blame our circumstances (the season of life) that we are in and say: “It’s a really rough time in my life, how can I possibly bear fruit?”

In many ways, we’ve been given the grace to bear fruit all year round. We have access to the sacraments and the sacramental grace that the Eucharist provides us every day!

When was the last time you allowed Jesus — the real boss! — into your holy temple (your soul and body!) to clean you out?
When was the last time you went for Confession?
Or Communion?

Let us remember that God wants to be with us, and that when we cooperate with His graces, we too can bear fruit and be a light for others even in our sufferings, because God is the source of all things good.

He will use us even when we’re “out-of-season”; all we’ve to do is to let Jesus IN to clean us OUT so that we can bear fruit!

___

Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.
Images: PD-US

The Eucharist

The Eucharist is the summit of Christian life and worship.

When I was 11, I heard a priest telling me this:

“You are what you eat, and the more you partake of the Blessed Sacrament, the more you grow in God’s goodness.”

Of course I never understood it back then, but I used to get all excited because there would be fun, games and food every time the Feast of Corpus Christi drew near — my parish had her feast day on Corpus Christi because it’s called the Church of the Blessed Sacrament. The excitement I had as a kid growing up towards this feast day was merely for superficial reasons.

But if I come to think about it, for some strange reason I was always drawn to the Mass as a kid and would always sit down in front of the Blessed Sacrament in adoration whenever I had time. I don’t even remember why, but I just did. For a period of time, I did leave the Church (I wasn’t always faithful) but even when I left the Church, it was the Eucharist that drew me back.

I don’t think these are mere coincidences, and everyone’s got something that REALLY connects them with the faith. For some it’s a special devotion to Mother Mary, for some it’s a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. For me it has to be the Eucharist.

I am simply grateful.

A priest once said in his homily, and I will never forget this for the rest of my life:

“The greatest love story ever told lies in a white piece of consecrated bread.”*

God is love. And by taking on humanity, dying for us and asking us to participate in His Being by His presence in the Eucharist, it is God saying: “Be with Me; commune with Me. I would rather die than spend an eternity without you.”

___

Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

* paraphrased from Abp. Fulton Sheen.

The Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

By guest writer Victor R. Claveau, MJ.

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

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

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

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

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

From then on, we had a worthwhile dialogue.

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

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

Who created the universe?” I asked.

“God”, she answered.

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

“He spoke,” she answered.

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

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

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

“There was light”, she answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” she agreed.

I went on.

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

“Yes,” she said.

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

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

“Yes,” she said.

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

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

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

Then I went on to further explain:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Himself” She answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

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

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

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“.

Kneeling at My First Mass

By guest writer Tasman Westbury.

In the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. – Philippians 2:10

I was raised in the Uniting Church, but never truly grasped any of its teachings, and spent several years as an atheist before a series of events and signs led me to conclude that there was a higher, spiritual power, which I eventually came to accept as God. This Easter Vigil, thanks to Divine Providence, I was received into the Catholic Church.

When I first walked into a Mass, what really struck me was when everyone knelt for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. What encouraged me to kneel when everyone else was kneeling was that it is written in the Bible, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you.” (1 Peter 5:6)

When you feel something inside, you should be able to express that in a gesture, and that gesture should be a clear and concise representation of your belief. Humility is not expressed in big, loud gestures. Humility is quiet and small in physical appearance. It’s not seeking attention or approval, but rather the renouncement of yourself in a moment, for the sake of the good of another.

Kneeling is a gesture of making oneself quiet and small in the face of the presence of God, allowing ourselves to feel small in the presence of God, so that we recognize that we are like grass, which is here one day and gone the next (cf. Psalm 103:15-16; 1 Peter 1:24). Objectively, we can humbly say, without feeling that we are diminishing our worth, “we are absolutely nothing.” But at the same time, we are so special and of great value to God, Who has created us in His image and likeness, Who has suffered and died for each one of us, so that we may share in His divine life of Love.

Kneeling does not come from any culture — it comes from the Bible and its knowledge of God. The central importance of kneeling in the Bible can be seen in a very concrete way. The word proskynein alone occurs fifty-nine times in the New Testament, twenty-four of which are in the Apocalypse, the book of the heavenly Liturgy, which is presented to the Church as the standard for her own Liturgy.
— Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy

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Image: Joy-Sorrow

Tasman Westbury is a new Catholic who is currently exploring the Church’s treasure trove, which is found within prayer life.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was prefigured in the sacrifices of the Old Testament, which had polyvalent significance. Animal and plant sacrifices were used to atone for sins, offer thanksgiving and worship to God, and seal covenants, entering into communion with the Almighty.1 The Mass, as the true sacrifice of Calvary, is the fulfillment and perfection of all the sacrifices offered before, which could not infinitely merit as Christ did.

Rodolfo Amoedo, “Abel’s Offering” / PD-US

The first pleasing sacrifice recorded in the Old Testament is that of Abel, who was a shepherd.2 He “offered a holocaust of the firstlings of his flock to the Lord his God with true devotion and as a recognition of his subjection to the Divine Majesty,”3 in faith and integrity.4 God, Who “looks at the heart”5 and knows the interior dispositions of men, accepted his offering but rejected Cain’s. Cain, who was already a wicked sinner,6 became envious of his brother Abel and killed him.7 Thus, the first recorded sacrifice was linked with the spilling of innocent blood, the first murder in human history. Similarly, Christ the Good Shepherd humbly,8 faithfully, lovingly, and obediently9 offered Himself as the perfect unblemished Lamb of God and the firstborn of creation,10 the best He could offer to the Father, and was killed unjustly by sinners.

In the Mass, both Abel’s and Cain’s offerings are apparent, symbolizing the taking up of all creation and human history into the Divine Sacrifice which renews the earth, overcomes sin and gives us new, eternal life. Cain’s offering from the fruits of his garden is a prototype of Jewish and Catholic offerings of bread and wine, through which “we offer to God His own creation, (acknowledging) our total dependence on the Creator, (praising) His generosity and the goodness of His gifts.”11 Like Cain’s offering, which was obtained through farming the land with the sweat of his brow,12 ours is procured through the concerted work of human civilization.13 Abel’s worthy offering is discernible in what the offerings of us unworthy sinners, the offerings which cannot merit salvation by themselves, are transformed into—the perfect sacrifice of Christ the Paschal Lamb, Who is both the Divine Gardener and the Good Shepherd of souls.

James Tissot, “Sacrifice of Noah” / PD-US

The second significant sacrifice was that of Noah. His family and representatives of each animal species were saved by the shelter of the Ark he built. After surviving the cataclysmic inundation which washed the world clean of sin, he built an altar upon reaching dry land and offered holocausts to God.14 Holocausts are sacrifices “in which the whole victim was consumed by fire upon God’s altar, and no part was reserved for the use of priest or people.”15 God was pleased with Noah’s offering and made a covenant promising never again to eliminate humanity with a flood, and commanded his family to “increase and multiply, and fill the earth.”16 Similarly, upon Jesus’ resurrection from the dead after immolating Himself to the last drop of His Precious Blood which purifies mankind of sin, He offered Mass as a todah or Jewish thanksgiving sacrifice for His conquest of death as well the deliverance of His people from drowning in sin.17 A todah “begins by recalling some mortal threat and then celebrates man’s divine deliverance from that threat.”18 Before breaking the bread at Emmaus, Jesus explained how the Scriptures pertained to His Passion.19 “Both the todah and the Eucharist present their worship through word and meal. Moreover, the todah, like the Mass, includes an unbloody offering of unleavened bread and wine.”20 Rabbis prophesied that at the coming of the Messiah, all sacrifices would cease except the todah, which would continue eternally.21 At the end of each Mass we are commanded to go forth and spread the Good News, so that all nations may be baptized and the children of God multiplied,22 and saved in the Ark of the Barque of Peter.

God is infinitely pleased with Jesus’ wholehearted sacrifice, which established a New Covenant saving mankind from the eternal effects of sin.23 St Anselm wrote that “Christ could have redeemed us by spilling a single drop of His precious blood. Divine justice could have been appeased, man’s fall and all our subsequent sins—from Cain’s slaughter of Abel to the mass murder of Europe’s Jews—could have been blotted out by the blood Jesus shed… at His circumcision.”24 However, “it may be that Jesus so emptied Himself to show the immensity of His charity, to give us a tantalizing peek at the secret love that fuels the Trinity… Christ would undertake no minimal intervention, no frugal-but-fair exchange of a drop of the God-Man’s blood for the billion petty squalors we pile up every day. Instead, He overwhelms us, explodes our sensibilities, and offers us in the Cross an appalling spectacle that thousands of years of contemplation can never exhaust.”25

Rembrandt, “Sacrifice of Isaac” / PD-US

Thirdly, the sacrifice which Abraham was called upon to make of his only son Isaac is a prototype of the sacrifice of God’s only Son. Abraham is depicted as a faithful servant of God, obeying His call to leave his family and homeland for a foreign country where God promised to make of him a great nation;26 God said: “In thee shall all the kindred of the earth be blessed.”27 Abraham frequently offered animal sacrifices to God, building altars in various places,28 and made a covenant with God in this manner.29 Finally, God tested his fidelity by commanding him to offer his beloved Isaac as a holocaust on Mount Moriah.30 Although Abraham had waited many years for God to fulfill His promise of giving him progeny so this was a very confusing and heartbreaking command, he placed God first and obeyed Him unquestioningly: “And he took the wood for the holocaust, and laid it upon Isaac his son.”31 In so doing, he became an enduring example of utmost fidelity, and God blessed him for his obedience, renewing His promise. Furthermore, Abraham’s words to Isaac, “God will provide Himself a victim for a holocaust, my son,”32 became prophetic of Jesus’ sacrifice.33 Jesus was completely obedient to the Father’s will,34 entering into the family of mankind and establishing a holy people for God through His ministry and death upon the wood of the Cross. “In fact, the site where Jesus died, Calvary, was one of the hillocks on Moriah’s range.”35 In the Mass, the People of God proclaim Christ’s death,36 remembering God’s everlasting fidelity and pledging their faithfulness in return. In the sacrificial meal, “the consumption of what belongs to God, the sitting at the table of God, is the sign of friendship and communion with God.”37

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, “Sacrifice of Melchizedek” / PD-US

Fourthly, the Eucharist (literally, “thanksgiving”) takes after the thanksgiving sacrifice of bread and wine offered by the priest-king Melchizedek of Salem (a toponym meaning “peace”) upon Abraham’s victory in battle.38 Christ the Prince of Peace, King of the Heavenly Jerusalem,39 likewise offers bread and wine as His body and blood, a thanksgiving sacrifice for His triumph over sin and death. The scriptures identify Christ as “a priest forever in the Order of Melchizedek,”40 contrasting His unbloody sacrifice of bread and wine with the animal sacrifices of the Levites, which ended with the destruction of the Temple.41 As St Paul wrote: “If then perfection was by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? … There is indeed a setting aside of the former commandment, because of the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.”42 Unlike the sacrifices of the Levites, “the sacrifice of Melchizedek was a universal priesthood, not the privilege of a particular caste.”43 Christ’s sacrifice as the Paschal Lamb was foreshadowed by the daily Levitical sacrifices of lambs,44 but far surpassed them, wholly accomplishing what they only did in part: atonement for the sins of all mankind. He continues to offer His sacrifice through priests of every nation.

Huybrecht Beuckeleer, “The first Passover feast” / PD-US

Finally, the Passover sacrifice and meal is the prime archetype, the Jewish tradition which Christ transformed into the Eucharistic celebration.45 “Just as God, on the eve of the liberation of the people of Israel from the slavery of Egypt, instituted the Passover as a memorial of His wondrous deeds in the Exodus, so Jesus gave us a memorial to this wondrous event on the eve of the sacrifice of His life. This established a new unbreakable covenant relation between God and man, a relationship of love, friendship, and remission of sin… What the Lord does here… is to engage in prophetic action. In anticipation Christ prefigures what will happen on the Cross, namely, the one and perfect sacrifice where He will offer Himself for the salvation of many.” 46 Moreover, “the apostles have to be involved in this sacrificial meal, since it took place for their sake… They have to consume these gift offerings.”47 The Passover is not a mere memorial of the Exodus, but “the foundation event of the Jewish nation” is “made present and actual in a very real sense in the course of the liturgy.”48 It is “a living memorial, one filled with the reality of that which it commemorates.”49 Likewise, in the Mass, we “recall and relive” Christ’s “‘exodus,’ His passing over from this world to the Father, the foundation events of the New Israel.”50

Christ is the new Passover Lamb, Whose blood saves His people from death. “For that innocent lamb without spot was a figure betokening our Savior Christ, the very innocent Lamb of whom Saint John the Baptist witnessed: ‘Ecce agnus Dei qui tollit peccata mundi’ (Lo, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world),51 by whose immolation and sacrifice on the cross, and by His holy body received into ours as that lamb was into theirs, His faithful folk should be delivered out of thralldom of the devil’s dominion.”52 “According to the Gospels, Jesus did not finish the Last Supper. At least, He did not finish it in the Upper Room.”53 He finished it by His death.

Mankind’s sins—original sin and personal sin—separate us from God, rendering us incapable of offering right worship.54 “Burdened by our sins, we cannot approach God and live.”55 God, being an infinite Being and infinitely Good, Holy and Just, is infinitely offended by sin. Only Christ the God-Man was and is able to offer a pure sacrifice which infinitely and eternally atones for the sins of men.56 The sacrifices of the Old Testament could not make infinite satisfaction for sinful humanity; Christ alone is the ultimate scapegoat.57 The Sacrifice of the Mass may be described as a reversal of the Old Testament sacrifices, because “here the sacrifice is no longer brought by mankind to God, as in the Old Testament and in non-Christian religions; it is rather God Himself who ‘offers Himself up’ in the person of His Son to mankind.”58 Christ is both Priest and Victim, offering an eternal sacrifice.

The sacrifice of Christ is continued in the sacrifice of the Mass because it “keeps its memory alive and applies its fruits,”59 enabling the faithful who live after the time of Christ’s earthly ministry to participate in His eternal sacrifice and receive the graces which flow from it.60 In the Mass the historical events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are made present to us and “transform our very being much beyond what psychological remembrance is capable of.”61 Furthermore, the Mass is more than the commemoration and re-presentation of the Passion: “In the Eucharistic celebration the whole Pasch of Christ is present, that is, His incarnation, passion, death and His resurrection, glorification and the descent of the Spirit”—the whole “mystery of salvation.”62 Moreover, the Mass is eschatological, a taste of future glory as we share Christ’s life and participate “in the eternal life of the Triune God,”63 the endpoint of salvation. “The Eucharist continues the Incarnation… To say that in the Eucharist the bread and wine remain what they are but acquire a new signification would contradict the logic of the Incarnation. Christ was not simply a prophet who pointed out the way to the Father; He was the way to the Father. He did not just communicate the truth about God, He was the Word of God. The believer comes to the Father, not by the way and the truth that are signified by Christ, but through Christ Himself, Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.”64 The Mass is a foretaste of Heaven,65 and the highest form of prayer conforming us to Christ, allowing us to participate in His saving work.

The sacrifices of the Old Testament all point toward the Sacrifice of Christ, the cause of mankind’s salvation. In the Mass, the sacrifices of Abel, Abraham and Melchizedek are explicitly mentioned in the Roman Canon,66 and the Passover Lamb is evoked by the Agnus Dei. “If… Holy Scripture tells us that these offerings were a sweet odor before God, the reason was because they were types of the sacrifice of Christ the Lord.”67 The Mass enables all generations of Catholics to participate in the one Sacrifice of Christ, and applies His saving merits to individual souls.

___

Also see: Meditations on the Traditional Latin Mass by Saint Francis de Sales

1 “Burnt Offering,” Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906. [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3847-burnt-offering] (accessed 9 May 2014).

2 Genesis 4:2,4.

3 Rev. Martinus von Cochem OSF, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass Explained. BAC Australia Pty Ltd (Sydney, 1996), p. 39.

4 Hebrews 11:4; Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing (Michigan, 1987), p. 455.

5 1 Samuel 16:7.

6 1 John 3:12.

7 Genesis 4:8.

8 Philippians 2:6.

9 Philippians 2:8.

10 Colossians 1:15.

11 Roch Kereszty, “A theological meditation on the liturgy of the Eucharist.” Communio 23 (Fall 1996), p. 537.

12 Genesis 3:19.

13 Kereszty, op. cit., p. 538.

14 Genesis 8:20.

15 Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible Online commentary [http://www.drbo.org/chapter/01008.htm] (accessed 9 May 2014).

16 Genesis 8:21-22, 9:8-17.

17 Shane Kapler, “The Meal at Emmaus – Jesus’ Todah.” Catholic Exchange. 21 April 2014. [http://catholicexchange.com/meal-emmaus-jesuss-todah]. (accessed 21 April 2014).

18 Scott Hahn, The Lamb’s Supper. The Cromwell Press (London, 2007), p. 32.

19 Luke 24:27-31.

20 Hahn, op. cit., p. 33.

21 Ibid., cf. Pesikta Rabbati, I, p. 159.

22 Matthew 28:19.

23 Matthew 26:28.

24 John Zmirak, “No Morphine on the Cross,” Crisis Magazine. 31 March 2010. [http://www.crisismagazine.com/2010/no-morphine-on-the-cross] (accessed 9 May 2014).

25 Ibid.

26 Genesis 12:1-2.

27 Genesis 12:3.

28 Genesis 12:7-8, 13:18.

29 Genesis 15.

30 Genesis 22:1:1-2, cf. C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed: “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t.”

31 Genesis 22:6.

32 Genesis 22:8.

33 Roy Schoeman. “Notes on the Relationship between Christ and Passover.” Salvation is from the Jews. [http://www.salvationisfromthejews.com/justarticles.html#Passover] (accessed 10 May 2014).

34 John 5:30.

35 Hahn, op. cit., p. 17-18.

36 1 Corinthians 11:26.

37 G.T.H. Liesting, “The Inviting Gesture of Christ’s Action,” in The Sacrament of the Eucharist. Newman Press (1968), op. cit., p. 50.

38 Von Cochem, op. cit., p. 41; Genesis 14:18-20.

39 Hahn, op. cit., p. 17.

40 Hebrews 5:6, 5:10, 6:20, 7:17; cf. Psalms 109:4.

41 Von Cochem, op. cit., p. 41.

42 Hebrews 7:11,18.

43 Jean Danielou SJ, The Bible and the Liturgy. Darton, Longman & Todd (London, 1956), p. 146.

44 Von Cochem, op. cit., p. 41.

45 Raymond Maloney SJ, Our Splendid Eucharist: Reflections on Mass and Sacrament. Veritas (Dublin, 2003), p. 70.

46 Liesting, op. cit., pp. 55-56.

47 Ibid.

48 Maloney, op. cit., pp. 74-75.

49 Ibid.

50 Ibid.

51 John 1:29.

52 Thomas More, Treatise on the Passion, of The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, ed. Garry E. Haupt. Yale University Press (Yale, 1976), Volume 13, p. 62.

53 Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. Doubleday (New York 2011), p. 148.

54 Kereszty, op. cit., p. 539.

55 Ibid.

56 Ibid.

57 Von Cochem, op. cit., pp. 127-128.

58 Peter Henrici, “‘Do this in remembrance of Me’: The Sacrifice of Christ and the Sacrifice of the Faithful.” Communio 12 (Summer 1985), p. 148.

59 Liesting, op. cit., p. 52.

60 Nicholas Gihr. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: Dogmatically, Liturgically and Ascetically Explained. B. Herder Book Co. (London, 1946), p. 175.

61 Kereszty, op. cit., p. 530.

62 Liesting, op. cit., p. 58.

63 Kereszty, op. cit., p. 530.

64 Robert Sokolowski, “The Eucharist and Transubstantiation,” Communio 24 (Winter 1997), p. 875.

65 Hahn, op. cit., p. 9.

66 Von Cochem, op. cit., pp. 41-42.

67 Ibid., p. 124.

What’s Cooler Than Getting Ashes on Your Forehead?

Ash Wednesday is a fairly busy day in many places. People cram into churches and receive ashes in the form of a cross (or a big blob, depending on who is distributing them) on their foreheads. Many churches offer small midday services with readings from Scripture and a distribution of ashes for people who cannot attend Mass that day. Also, as controversial they may be, some places offer “drive-thru” ashes so that people don’t even have to leave their cars to receive ashes!

Photo Credit: “Ash Cross” by Myriams-Fotos via Pixabay (2017) CCO Public Domain

I find it admirable that so many people begin Lent by receiving this outward sign of our sinfulness and need for God’s mercy. Yet, I think it is important that we place our enthusiasm in the right places. I have heard a variety of stories in which Catholics focus more on getting ashes than receiving the Eucharist, and these stories make me a little sad. Then, I think about the times in my own life when the main motivation to get myself to Mass on Ash Wednesday was that afterwards, I would be able to compare foreheads with my friends—and I realize that I do not appreciate the gift of the Eucharist.

Many of us get enthusiastic to receive ashes each year as Lent begins, but we pay no attention to the fact that we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ each week—or several times a week. Should we be proud of this fact?

Personally, I am ashamed of myself. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with taking Ash Wednesday selfies or comparing foreheads with others, but if I’m placing more of my focus on this external marking than on our Eucharistic Lord, I think there is a problem. I cannot count how many times that I have focused more on ashes or some other external aspect of Mass than the gift of the Eucharist!

Ash Wednesday is long gone, and we won’t receive ashes again for many months (that’ll be a nice Valentine’s Day present in 2018!). Yet, while we won’t receive trendy crosses on our foreheads for quite some time, we have the opportunity to receive Jesus Christ. Will we open ourselves up to the graces that He wants to pour out on us? Will we let ourselves be changed as we eat His flesh and drink His blood? The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that:

“Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ increases the communicant’s union with the Lord, forgives his venial sins, and preserves him from grave sins. Since receiving this sacrament strengthens the bonds of charity between the communicant and Christ, it also reinforces the unity of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.” (#1416)

Isn’t this amazing?

Receiving ashes on our foreheads is cool, but consuming Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is infinitely better.

A Journey Home

By guest writer Louis Felix Figueroa.

My body was strung out on the couch and pain filled every part of me. This was the changing point of my life. I had thoroughly been a product of modern society, relativistic, an adherent to indifferentism, a modernist in many respects. Many until this point had regarded me as a very understanding guy, compassionate, knowledgeable of the world. In reality, I knew nothing. I was arrogant, filled with pride, and though I had love it was incomplete. I had to be completely humbled to realize my true identity and see the greatness of God who created me.

As a child, I learned like most Catholics through Sunday school. I had been baptized at birth, received First Communion, but I wasn’t instructed much beyond that. I can remember having a deep love for God, but I wasn’t taken to Church very often and I was exposed to the occult. My parents practised Santería, a practise as a child that I abhorred, but this would be my entrance into the world of the occult and my confusion about religion. As I grew up, my parents left Santería; however, my father avoided church like the plague and my mother, fearful of saints from her exposure to Santería, rejected Catholicism for what would seem like ages. I still had a love for God and would walk into the neighborhood Church on weekdays on my way home from school and pray, but I never attended Mass on Sunday. I never went to confession; in fact, I began to know less and less of my professed religion.

At the age of 13, I left home and attended school in a town in Connecticut. It was a big change from my hometown of Bronx, New York. I still felt some connection with God and prayed quite often, but wandered further and further from Him, as I had no real foundation. I took what I had learned in school and constantly applied it to my life. I was fortunate enough to have a host family with whom I stayed with on occasion and they would include me in their church-going activities. It was marvelously wonderful to be exposed to the Bible, but I had no clear or definitive understanding of it. I became ambiguous about homosexuality, premarital sex, masturbation, and many other sensitive topics. I also saw God as a method to obtain things and no longer my close friend whom I had known in my childhood. Times were becoming darker.

As I went through my high school years, I became more deeply involved in the occult, though there was always a voice trying to keep me away. I remember, looking back now, something telling me that this was all wrong. I was stubborn to say the least. I wasn’t a malevolent fellow and wished no one any evil, as best as I could remember I was just horribly confused. I practiced tarot cards, and I guess you could say that there were things which were around which gave me answers to the questions I wanted answered. That is putting it simply.

I eventually joined the United States armed forces. The branch is not important. It was here that I became more familiar with aspects of Wicca and Satanism. There were actually servicemen and women who practiced both, and no, I was not a Satanist. However, I had become vastly interested in Wicca. At the same time, I was becoming an excellent soldier. I excelled in many aspect of war fighting and leading. Slowly, but surely, I began to develop a sort of hubris about me. I felt there was a power that controlled something, but I became further from it. Years had passed and I began to look at myself and I didn’t like what I had become. I was kind at times, but I could flip a coin and become utterly ruthless. What I found more disturbing was that I longed to cause damage. I had less and less peace in my life and a voice could be heard very faintly. This voice told me to turn to God, but I was too powerful or so I thought.

My life began to slowly unravel and I sought respite. I didn’t trust Christianity, yet! I began to read works by the Dalai Lama and about different aspects of Buddhism, but something deep down told me that I wasn’t supposed to give up Christ. I know it doesn’t quite make sense, but this was how things were happening. I began to hang out with Protestant friends and attended services with them, but I wasn’t convinced or moved. I felt like it was more acting than anything. They were kind to have shared their faith with me, but it would have impressed me more if they had been living it. I had some Catholic friends whom I associated with and they brought me to Mass. As I went to the Mass, I was distressed. I said to myself: “I am Catholic? I know nothing of my religion!” Still, I hadn’t been motivated enough to do anything solid, except read the Bible on occasion.

It was toward the end of my military service that I said to myself, I have to change. I have to find God. I have to go back to the Catholic Church. The voice in me was yelling now; it was no longer a whisper. Yet, I was still obstinate. I came home from service and was contemplating entering Special Forces and in the midst of this I was struck ill. In my illness, my mind was made clear. It was like an intimate conversation with God. I knew then that I could not return to what had help make me what I was, but had to become something new. I started to read and read and read. Every book that read was inexplicably linked to the next without my intention and before I knew it, I was reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law. I was digesting the Bible and swallowing books on the saints and I just could not stop. I was like starving child eating a long overdue meal. Then the moment of truth came, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Over 18 years of sins upon my chest to offer to my Lord with sincere contrition. It wasn’t too long after this that I considered the priesthood, but one step had to be completed first. I was finally confirmed at the age of 24. However, I did not become a priest. I found my vocation was to be a husband, but this was not a decision that was taken lightly; rather I fought with myself for almost 3 years. Nevertheless, I now strive to serve in any way that I can.

I can honestly say that my life finally has light in it. The world makes sense and my place is understood, as is the infinite mercy of my Lord. Many who knew me as a soldier and know me now would say that they don’t know me. I am not the same person.  I was still the guy they had known who would listen to the multitude of their problems for hours on end, but my approach toward helping them resolve their problems had changed. I looked deeper than the superficial considerations that I had previously focused upon. I now understood that there was more to the world, and what I had once held to be true held partial to no validity. They could see that I loved, but my love extends further now. They don’t understand my view of the world and why I reject so much of what modern society holds true now. My only reason is that Divine Truth demands it, and once you see it you can never go back to darkness.

I went down to the lowest parts of the mountains: the bars of the earth have shut me up for ever: and Thou wilt bring up my life from corruption, O Lord, my God. When my soul was in distress within me, I remembered the Lord: that my prayer may come to Thee, unto the holy temple. They that in vain observe vanities, forsake their own mercy. But I with the voice of praise will sacrifice to Thee: I will pay whatsoever I have vowed for my salvation to the Lord.
(Jonah 2:7-10)

I live each day now and I am grateful. There is much more to my life than what I have shared, but sometimes we must endure that ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ and it is through the humbling of ourselves that we truly begin that conversation with God. My ignorance, my arrogance, me… I kept myself from God. I thank God for all I have been through, much of which I will probably never pen, but I am most grateful for God humbling Himself so much as to talk to me. It has been partly through this that I have begun to ponder how great His love really is.

Deo Gratias.

____

Louis Figueroa is a father and a husband. He sees everything in life as pointing to something greater than himself. He is a cancer survivor, and suffers from a rare neurological illness, but sees that all things are opportunities to live our faith.

The Archived Life: On Scrapbooking, Catholic Liturgy, and Transitional Justice

By guest writer Melvyn Foo.

On all my holidays this year, my routine when I return to our accommodation is the same. I transfer the photos from my camera’s SD card to my laptop, I edit and select them, and then I upload them to Bonjournal1 and complete my travel log.

In the course of this most recent trip, I have come to call this routine ‘reaping the harvest’. By corollary, then, the day’s experiences are the seeds sown, the harvest of which are the memories that I immortalise in the web.

I have been asked repeatedly why I am so obsessive about archiving my life. I sometimes reply, “The unarchived life is not worth living.”

Remove the double negatives, rearrange, and you get something less tongue-in-cheek and more defensible: life is worth archiving.

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Scrapbooking is the epitome of archiving memories. You choose the happy snapshots, you write nice words, and you frame everything in a pretty page – exactly how you would like to remember those moments.

I am not good at scrapbooking. I took a course years ago, and since then, I have concluded that I have no natural talent for it. I take hours to do what the artsy girls can do in minutes (e.g. choosing paper). I work laboriously (e.g. take exact dimensions) to do what they do by sheer guesstimation. I use science (e.g. rule of thirds, triangulation) to do what they do by feel. (I have since learnt that you can’t really plan every detail out, so you just have to make decisions and improvise along the way. This works sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t. After all, just like jazz, improvisation requires talent, which I lack.)

It does not help that I have color disorder.

Despite my difficulties, I am still drawn to scrapbooking. I have a drawer full of materials, I have a Paper Market membership card (which may have expired), and I scrapbook a cover page for each year’s journal (which comprises largely of blogposts that I compile and print out).

Why? Why is the past – not just knowing what actually happened but remembering what happened – so important?

cover-pages


An answer may be found in an unlikeliest of places: Catholic liturgy.

In every Mass, Catholics take Jesus’ words literally to “do this,” – i.e. to eat His body and drink His blood – “in remembrance of [Him].”2 This is not just symbolic. The Church holds that the Mass re-presents Jesus’ sacrifice on Golgotha.3 Father Jude had thus alluded in a talk on how there is only one Mass and “one single sacrifice”4 – the one on Golgotha – that we remember and re-present in all our Masses.

This remembrance and re-presentation is called anamnesis, which comprises the heart of the Eucharist.5 The word, sharing a similar etymology with ‘amnesia’, means “a calling to mind, remembrance”.

This word is also used in philosophy and in medicine. In philosophy, it is a Platonic concept which conceives of learning as a rediscovery of knowledge within us from past incarnations. In medicine, it refers to a patient’s medical history which a physician needs to know in order to diagnose and care for that patient.

Regardless of context, the point is the same: when we recall the past, we affect our present and our future. This is the power and the importance of memory.

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Transitional justice is an emerging field which increasingly recognizes the critical importance of memory (alongside the four traditional elements of truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence). This field studies the various processes by which a community recovers from large-scale human rights abuses. With the hindsight from Rwanda, Timor Leste, the former Yugoslavia, et al., it is now incontrovertible that criminal prosecutions alone, while necessary, are far from sufficient. More is required.

Memorialisation is one such process.

Professor Ariel Dulitzky thus wrote that “[c]ertain standards of the United Nations insist on the duty of remembering, educating about the past and rejecting negations of atrocities. They also highlight the role that archives play in the search of truth and justice, and they are also essential for recovering and building memory.”6

This is not just pure sentimentality. Professor Dulitzky quotes the UN Rapporteur on Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-recurrence, who says that “[it] does not suffice to acknowledge the suffering and strength of the victims,” and concludes that “ultimately, the challenge for a policy of memory is not building memorials or installing sleepy statues, but creating more fair, egalitarian and democratic societies.”7

Again, the point here is: remembering the past determines the present and charts the course for the future.

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And yet, if all that is required is to recollect objective historical facts, it is surprising that judicial rulings are insufficient. After all, the trial is democracy’s most potent fact-finding procedure. Why is more – in the likes of film, theatre, museums, etc – required?

In 2001, my family and another family got into a bad accident in South Africa. Both families were traveling together in a single vehicle. The tyre burst, the vehicle ran off the road, hit into barbed wire, and flipped a couple of times. We later learnt that the other family’s dad had been thrown out of the vehicle, and the vehicle had crushed his lungs, killing him instantly.

Two years later, they sued my dad, who had been driving the vehicle at the time of the accident. The judgment arising from the suit is reported as Loh Luan Choo Betsy (alias Loh Baby) (administratrix of the estate of Lim Him Long) and others v Foo Wah Jek [2004] SGHC 230; [2005] 1 SLR(R) 64. It is 18 pages long, and it goes through the evidence in detail. It mentions so much.

And yet it mentions so little. It does not mention the red-stained t-shirt that my mum had used to soak up the blood that had welled out when she performed CPR on their dad, which I had included in an essay based on this accident that I wrote in Secondary 4. It also does not mention a detail that I always talk about when I shared about this accident, that is, how fine the sand was, and how it got into my fingernails when I knelt down and clutched at it, praying to the patron saint of hopeless cases St Jude to make this all a dream.

And it does not even ask that most pressing of questions – where was God in all this? The answer becomes more layered as the years pass.

Examining the different processes of truth-finding, history-telling, and formation of collective memory, Professor Chrisje Brants and Professor Katrien Klep conclude: “The legal truth, laid down in the rulings of an international criminal court is, by definition, not open-ended. The verdict of a court is definite and authoritative; in this context, closure, not continued debate about what it has established as the truth, is its one and only purpose – indeed, on this its legitimacy depends. But then, also by definition, its contribution to history-telling, collective memory, and justice for victims is limited indeed.”8

In this regard, the learned writers also point out that “[h]istory and memory change as time goes on, and are never ‘finished.’”9

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Remembering the past, then, is not just a scientific and once-and-for-all endeavor of ascertaining the 5Ws+1H. It is also an art of attributing meaning and finding a narrative in the events that have happened.

Beyond the context of transitional justice, there is a word for this art of dwelling on the past: klexos. And of this artform, the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows echoes: “Maybe we should think of memory itself as a work of art—and a work of art is never finished, only abandoned.”

There are therefore two key elements in klexos: accuracy and meaning.

To speak of accuracy in recording the past is trite. Dates, names, sequence of events – these matter. Research on the fallibility of eye-witness memory highlights the grave consequences when we remember wrongly.

But to think of memory merely as a recording device is misconceived. In Elizabeth Loftus’ TEDtalk on the reliability of memory, she confirms that when we remember, we are not so much playing back what our senses have recorded. Instead, we reconstruct the past.

Beyond the factual data set of what actually happened, we make sense out of our past experiences, we connect the dots, we construct and reconstruct narrative arcs. We infuse an objective timeline with subjective meaning.

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The forms that the archives of our lives can take have evolved with the rise of social media. At the most extreme, Snapchat and Stories inveigh against the very idea of permanence, since the pictures and videos (allegedly) vanish forever after some time. Instagram heralded the prioritization of pictures over words. Twitter limited any expression of thought to 140 characters.

Perhaps it is inaccurate to conceive of these social media initiatives as archival tools, since they seek more to share and to capture the moment rather than to reflect on the past. All through a screen, of course. As one article puts it, “For Generation Z, there is no struggle to make sense of things. There is only the impulse to share.”

But there seems to be a counter-movement arising. Amidst the FLFC-culture of our times, slow journalism is gaining ground. A New Yorker staff writer opined: “We binge on instant knowledge, but we are learning the hazards, and readers are warier than they used to be of nanosecond-interpretations of Supreme Court decisions.” In 2015, The Huffington Post launched Highline,10 a magazine dedicated to running only cover stories based on months of investigations. Even our local newpspaper Today now has a section called the ‘Big Read’,11 which publishes longer and more thoughtful pieces.

While speed, brevity, and the power to grab attention will still remain foremost news values, slow journalism recognizes that readers also hunger for insight, for immersion, and for analysis. And the Web is taking notice.

But prose is not the only or even the best medium to archive, to reflect on, or to just make sense of life.

As a blogger, I am naturally a proponent of longform journaling. But as my Gen Z friend (who studies linguistics) counter-proposes, “Just cuz there r fewer words doesn’t mean we think less.”

Indeed, many of the Gen Z Instagram accounts that I follow are often filled with musings – be it through photos or captions or something in-between like typography – about life. One 20-year-old I know even has a third account (two is common among Gen Z – one ‘main’ account as a curated public persona and one ‘spam’ account for closer friends to follow) dedicated to more introspective posts.

While sheer wit and conviction certainly drive much of the content that Generation Z produces, not everything is simply “big, colorful, and hysterical”. There is depth and maturity too.

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Be it blogging, scrapbooking, or instagramming, a question persists: are we being merely self-indulgent? Archiving the great events or the lives people that have shaped history is uncontroversial. But what of the grain of our own lives, so lost and so insignificant in the sands of time?

Vanity is undoubtedly a temptation, against which the easiest way of resisting is to keep our archives private.

But as Brené Brown says (and the Gen Z instagrammer above quotes), “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”

These words resound with those of us who share regularly: we are honest with ourselves, we share with others, not necessarily in that order. To the extent, therefore, that the sharing of our lives intertwine with our pursuit of authenticity, perhaps we should be willing to endure some pretentiousness as the price of knowing ourselves.

For myself, blogging is many things. It is a way to make myself available to others. When people ask me a question about my life, the lazy (though admittedly lesser) alternative to sharing with them in person is to send them a link. It is also a way to make myself available to myself. It is amazingly convenient to have a compendium of my life to refer to at any time, to frame a more articulate sharing, to recall a personal story for a session, or just to remember what I went through before.

Perhaps, most importantly, it is a way for me to make sense of my world. To echo Gaiman, “All too often I write to find out what I think about a subject, not because I already know.”12

When my dad and I got into another bad accident in August 2014, I wrote about how I had lost faith in miracles. In September, I wrote about how I had to content with finding God in the ordinary, if I could not find Him in the extraordinary. In July 2015, I wrote again, but this time about how the accident formed part of a period of desolation, which was in turn, part of a larger narrative arc of learning to trust God.

The archive of my life thus becomes a lens through which I see the world. And if we can see the world in our grain of sand, we can move from klexos to sonder, to the humility of realizing that every person’s grain of life is as rich and as varied as our own.

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Moving beyond the individual, the wisdom of transitional justice underscores that klexos is not only relevant to individual lives, but to communities as well.

Just three weeks ago, I was surfing through our community’s spiritual bucket list, and I realized that some of us have already checked items off the list. To some extent, 1Cor12’s narrative has been captured in Mere Community. BASIC will be celebrating their 10th anniversary soon, and their ten years of journeying together will be digitally engraved into the blogs and Instagram accounts of their members.

Other memories are worth preserving. Consider, for example, OWL’s formation, journey, and eventual dissolution. There are precious shards here that I would love to see pieced together into a panel of stained glass.

Stained glass, after all, is a common sight in the Church.

In the final analysis, perhaps stained glass should be the ideal that all our archives aspire to. Because all our lives are broken and fragmented, and will remain so, regardless of how we curate or scrapbook our memories. It is only when we let Christ’s light shine through our past, into our present, and to guide our future, does beauty emerge.

Perhaps, then, it is not so much the unarchived, or even the unexamined life, but the un-examen-ed life, that is not worth living.

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1. Bonjournal is a minimalist travel logging app. It has a clean interface and limits the number of pictures per post to three. I have been using it since 2014, and will probably continue to do so.
2. Lk 22:19.
3. See CCC 1366.
4. CCC 1367.
5. See CCC 1106.
6. Ariel Dulitzky, “Memory, an essential element of transitional justice”, 20 April 2014. He was a member of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in 2014.
7. Ibid.
8. Chrisje Brants and Katrien Klep, “Transitional Justice: History-Telling, Collective Memory, and the Victim-Witness”, International Journal of Conflict and Violence Vol. 7(1) 2013, pp.36-49.
9. Ibid.
10. See e.g. “Mothers of ISIS“, a paradigm-shifting angle on ISIS recruitment.
11. See e.g. this article covering the glut of lawyers, providing probably the most comprehensive and insightful analysis on the situation. 
12. Neil Gaiman, “Some Reflections on Myth (with Several Digressions onto Gardening, Comics and Fairy Tales”, in A View from the Cheap Seats.

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This article was originally blogged at Mel.

Melvyn Foo is a Singaporean ex-lawyer. He is supposed to be a young adult, but he is really a lot more young than adult. He committed to God while sitting alone before a small and unadorned tabernacle. Since then, everything has pretty much fallen into place. You can visit his blog at http://melvynfoo.wordpress.com/

Purgatory: The Antechamber of Heaven

Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy’? Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.’ ‘It may hurt, you know” — ‘Even so, sir.’”
C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer

Indeed, the most terrible thing for the soul is the inner tear produced by a love that, because of these still not completely annihilated impediments, sees his perfect possession of God delayed…
Purgatory is a crescendo of love and pain that leads to heaven, the perfect happiness. The souls in purgatory do experience great joy, similar to that of the Heavens, and also experience an immense pain, similar to that of Hell; and one does not remove the other.”
St. Catherine of Genoa1

My sister, if you desire God’s justice, you will have God’s justice. The soul receives exactly what she looks for from God… You do a great injury to God in believing you’re going to go to Purgatory. When we love, we can’t go there.”
St. Thérèse of Lisieux2

Purgatory, as the name suggests, is a state of purgation, a purification of the soul.3 From the earliest days of the Catholic Church, Christians prayed for the dead – we know this from inscriptions in the catacombs of Rome.4 There is no need to pray for those in Heaven, and there is no point in praying for those in Hell. The belief in a state of purification after death comes from the Jewish tradition: 2 Maccabees 12:46 says: “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.”5

Sometimes people have the misconception that Purgatory is equidistant between Heaven and Hell. Hell is the state of eternal separation from God, the source of all life and love. Those in Purgatory are united to Christ, as the Church Suffering – that’s why they are the Holy Souls. They are infinitely closer to Heaven and the Church Triumphant than those in Hell could ever be; they rejoice, for they have been saved. Their pain is like the pain of being almost with the person you love more than anything in the world; it is the pain of deep longing for perfect bliss.6

Souls in Purgatory rely on our loving prayers to enter into the presence of God. The Museum of Purgatory in Rome houses artifacts of purgatorial visitors pleading for the intercession of the Church Militant;7 the booklet Read Me or Rue It by Fr Paul O’Sullivan records similar visitations.

“Halloween” is short for “All Hallows’ Eve”, the night before All Saints Day. It was an old English custom that people would beg from door to door for a “soul cake” and in return, pray for the family’s dearly departed – the origin of today’s “Trick or Treat” (and possibly donuts). Today, faithful Catholics continue the beautiful tradition of a novena for the souls in Purgatory, praying in cemeteries during the month of November, which is dedicated to the Holy Souls. By this, we may gain indulgences for them. We also cultivate the habit of praying the short Eternal Rest prayer each time we pass a cemetery.8

One may even perform the Heroic Act of Charity and dedicate everything to the Holy Souls.

In the communion of saints, “a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.” (CCC 1475)

In a vision, St. Gertrude the Great was told by Our Lord that reciting the following prayer with love and devotion will release 1,000 souls from Purgatory:

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus,

in union with the Masses said throughout the world today,

for all the holy souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere,

for sinners in the Universal Church,

those in my own home and within my family. Amen.

Holy Mass

Now, many Catholics think that we have to go through Purgatory, but St. Thérèse, a Doctor of the Church, said that it is not mandatory.

Do not be afraid of going to purgatory because of its pain, but rather long not to go there because this pleases God who imposes this expiation so regretfully. From the moment that you try to please Him in all things, if you have the unshakable confidence that He will purify you at every instant in His love and will leave in you no trace of sin, be very sure that you will not go to purgatory.”
St. Thérèse of Lisieux

God is purifying us throughout our lives by the crosses He gives us,9 the crosses which divest us of self-love, attachment to worldly goods, or sin – the crosses which open us to receive His salvific grace, the gift of Himself. Of course, it is very difficult to die in a state of perfection unless you are martyred, but as the saying goes: if you aim for the moon, you’ll land among the stars. Don’t aim for Purgatory – aim for Heaven!10 For Heaven is perfect union with God.

Purgatory, of course, is not someplace any of us are supposed to end up. God calls each of us to purify our lives of every sin while we are still alive here on earth. Indeed, we are called not only to purify our lives of every sin, but to purify the universe of every consequence of every sin we may have committed.
— Steve Kellmeyer, “Nailing Christ to the Cross: Explaining Purgatory and Indulgences

Purgatory was rejected by our Reformers, as undermining the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement; for it was taken to be the serving of a sentence by which the guilt of Christians was in some way worked off.
Such an objection has no force against the teaching, that we have a pain to pass through, in being reconciled to truth and love. And we may as well call this pain purgatorial, having no other name to call it. It seems strange, indeed, that so practical and pressing a truth as that of purgatory should be dismissed… Nor is it that ultimate fire is scriptural, while remedial fire is not. Remedial fire was taught plainly enough by St. Paul to his Corinthians.
Austin Farrer, Saving Belief (1964)

Purgatory is not… some kind of supra-worldly concentration camp where one is forced to undergo punishments in a more or less arbitrary fashion. Rather it is the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God [i.e., capable of full unity with Christ and God] and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints. Simply to look at people with any degree of realism at all is to grasp the necessity of such a process. …What actually saves is the full assent of faith. But in most of us, that basic option is buried under a great deal of wood, hay and straw. Only with difficulty can it peer out from behind the latticework of an egoism we are powerless to pull down with our own hands. Man is the recipient of the divine mercy, yet this does not exonerate him from the need to be transformed. Encounter with the Lord is this transformation. It is the fire that burns away our dross and re-forms us to be vessels of eternal joy.
— Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (1988)

All Souls Day is unique among our liturgical feasts, because while all others celebrate members of the Church Triumphant, this one day of the year is dedicated to the members of the Church Suffering. It is also known as Soulmas, just as we have Christmas, Marymas, Roodmas, Michaelmas, Childermas, Candlemas, Hallowmas… it just wouldn’t be a feast without the Mass, the Heavenly Banquet where we receive the Bread of Life and the Chalice of Salvation. Remember to have Masses offered for your dearly departed! There is no greater gift on Earth or in Heaven, for this is God’s gift of Himself, His supreme act of love gathering us all into one family and one Body. Each and every Mass is a foretaste of Heaven, a cosmic outpouring of the purifying fire of Love.

Christ revealed to St. Gertrude that a single Mass offered for oneself during life may be worth more than a thousand celebrated for the same intention after death. After your death, you cannot change the conduct of your life on which your particular judgment is based (Matthew 25). You can only submit to the cleansing power of God’s love, the application of Christ’s sacrifice to your soul. That is why the dead depend on us for prayers for we as the living members of Christ’s body have been entrusted with the solemn duty of caring for our brothers, in life and in death; we have been granted the grace to participate in bringing God’s kingdom to birth throughout all Creation, visible and invisible. Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.

Of all prayers, the most meritorious, the most acceptable to God are prayers for the dead, because they imply all the works of charity, both corporal and spiritual.
— St. Thomas Aquinas

When we do ourselves up in costumes and tromp through the streets on Halloween, we are marching in a kind of Veterans’ Day Parade in honor of the sinners who went before us, not yet into glory but into the painful, therapeutic shadow it casts outside its doors.
John Zmirak, “My High Holy Day“, CatholiCity

We have loved them in life, let us not forget them in death.
St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787)

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Image: Signum-Crucis.

1 Daniel Esparza, “3 Little-known details about Purgatory”, Aleteia; cf. Fr. Stefan, “Heaven is Hotter than Hell: A Reflection on Purgatory”, Let the Fire Fall.

2 Connie Rossini, Trusting God with St. Therese.

3 Nick Rabiipour, “What Do Catholics Really Believe About Purgatory?”, The Catholic Company.

4 Hugh MacDonald, “Purgatory”, Catholic Bridge.

5 cf. Andres Ortiz, “Where is Purgatory in the Bible?”, About Catholics; Tim Staples, “Is Purgatory in the Bible?”, Catholic Answers; John Salza, “Purgatory”, Scripture Catholic; John Martignoni, “4 Biblical Principles That Show the Reality of Purgatory”, National Catholic Register; “Purgatory”, Catholic Bible 101; S. Bonney, “Abridging the Bible – Masoretic or Septuagint?

7 Diane Montagna, “Purgatory? There’s Actually a Museum for That!”, Aleteia.

8 Gretchen Filz, “20 Ways to Pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory”, The Catholic Company.

9 Gary Ludlam, “The Devil, Purgatory, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and Embracing the Cross”, Little Way of the Family.

10 Candida Kirkpatrick, OCDS, “St. Therese’s Teaching on Purgatory”, Carmel in the Desert.