Tag Archives: Penance

Lamentation

Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young;
I will set up an everlasting covenant with you,
that you may remember and be covered with confusion,
and that you may be utterly silenced for shame
when I pardon you for all you have done, says the Lord GOD.
—Ezekiel 16:60–63

Matthias_Grünewald_-_Lamentation_of_Christ_(detail)_-_WGA10787
Matthias Grünewald, Lamentation of Christ (detail) / PD-US

This reading from Ezekiel reminds me of a recent video from Fr. Robert Barron, which is definitely worth a watch: Bishop Barron on Ezekiel and the Sex Abuse Crisis. Ezekiel wrote of the corruption within the holy city of Jerusalem and its cleansing through avengers from the North. Today, the “holy city” of the Church has fallen into corruption, and it too needs to be cleansed, to endure the painful siege of repentance. God will not abandon His covenant with us. But if we are to be cleansed, we must allow Him to show us the weight of our sin; we must be willing to feel our shame and sorrow.

It has been sobering to read reports of the horrific abuse that has occurred within the Church and the deep corruption that kept it hidden for years. As American Catholics, we are mourning over these unthinkable crimes and trying to figure out how we can possibly move forward through this mess.

The Gospel reading prior to this spoke of forgiveness, which may seem untimely at the moment. The Gospel asks us to forgive, but often we don’t understand the meaning of true forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean making excuses for the person who wronged you or brushing it under the rug. That’s not forgiveness; it’s denial. True forgiveness must acknowledge the sin and yet refuse to feed it. A person who forgives renounces any claim toward revenge and resists the tendency to harbor resentment. It is a daily decision, and it is not an easy one. But it is the only way that we can stop the cycle of sin and open our hearts to mercy. A truly forgiving heart is not indifferent to injustice; it is all the more deeply hurt by it, since it refuses to dehumanize either the victim or the perpetrator. It sees the tragedy of an innocent life altered irrevocably; it sees those individuals who used their God-given will for evil. And it resolves to do better.

I am reminded of the story of St. Maria Goretti and her murderer/attempted rapist, Alessandro Serenelli. Now, this is not a typical story—we should not go around assuming that all murderers and rapists will be reformed by our prayers and can be later welcomed into our families. But it is in fact what happened in the case of Alessandro Serenelli, incredible though it may seem. Though Alessandro was bitterly unrepentant for the first few years after Maria’s death, he experienced a profound conversion of heart after experiencing a vision of Maria in which she forgave him. He was moved to weep for his sins for the first time, and he began the process of true repentance. Due to Maria’s miraculous intercession (again, possible only through the grace of God and not by human means), he was completely reformed and eventually became an adopted son of Maria’s mother.

While Alessandro clung to his pride and callously denied his guilt, the seeds of sin and evil continued to fester within him. Only when he realized the depth of his sin and entered into a living purgatory of shame and regret was his heart opened to receive God’s mercy. This step was crucial: acknowledgment of wrongdoing, grief over what has been tainted and destroyed, ownership of one’s sinfulness. Unless we confront the realities of our sins and face our deepest wounds, we will never be able to receive healing. And Alessandro’s revelation of guilt—and thus his pathway to forgiveness—was made possible because of Maria’s purity and steadfast prayer.

Alvar_Cawen_Pieta
Alvar Cawén, Pietà / PD-US

As faithful Catholics who are shocked, saddened, and heartbroken over the recent scandals within the heart of our Church, we are called to step up and be the solution, to challenge the Church to rise up to her sacred calling. Now is the time for prayer and fasting. We will expect from the Church a higher standard, and we will start by being saints. The purification of the Church will begin with the purification of our own souls, by a deep desire for holiness and purity throughout every aspect of our lives. Jesus and Mary weep alongside us at these crimes. I’ve been encouraged by the discussion among young, faithful Catholics of the many ways in which we can carry this out, and I’ve compiled a list of resources here.

I stay with the Church because her teachings proclaim the dignity of the human person, even as some of those who represent her have trampled upon human dignity through objectification and abuse. I pray that we allow the light of truth to overcome the darkness, so that everything hidden will be exposed to the light. The truth of our own dignity and worth—and indeed that of our children—must prevail against the shadows.

Originally published at Frassati Reflections.

Walking on My Knees with Mother Mary

By guest writer Ann Tran.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

Original post at PAPA Foundation.

Romantic Thoughts for Ash Wednesday

Terminate torment

Of love unsatisfied

The greater torment

Of love satisfied.”

— T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday

Can Catholics celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, considering that Ash Wednesday this year falls on the same date? Is the feast of love compatible with the beginning of Lent? When the obligation to do penance conflicts with the convention of romance, which of the two should give way?

Because of our natural aversion to self-inflicted suffering and the contemporary view of love that equates it with pleasure, many of us may have initially reacted that no, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday do not mix; that the Church’s regulations on fasting and abstinence would spoil this year’s Valentine’s Day; that this year, we must choose one or the other. Some have proposed, as a practical solution, that Valentine’s Day be celebrated the day before – on what is traditionally known as Mardi Gras – or the day after.

But must it be this way?

It is an age-old tactic of the devil to exaggerate the hardship entailed by our obligations towards God. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent twisted God’s command not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and asked Eve if God prohibited them from eating of any tree in the garden. The devil continues using this tactic to today; thus, for example, we rebel against reasonable guidelines against wearing short skirts and low necklines in church because we perceive these guidelines as requiring us to wrap ourselves in sheets.

The same goes true with the mandatory fasting and abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday, and warnings against celebrating Valentine’s Day in a sinful fashion. With regard to the former, it is difficult, to be sure, as I can attest from my struggle to practice portion control on ordinary days. But we tend to exaggerate the hardship it entails. We forget that 1) nothing prohibits us from making the allowed full meal for the day a special one, and 2) non-meat dishes can be delicious.

As for the latter, why must we equate celebrating Valentine’s Day with sinful activities?  Why must we assume that certain prohibited activities are the only ways we can celebrate our love – especially our romantic love – on Valentine’s Day?

We forget that Valentine’s Day was – and still is – a Catholic feast; that love – including romantic love – is something of God.  It is true that this year, liturgically speaking, Ash Wednesday takes precedence over the feast of St. Valentine. There’s nothing wrong, too, with scheduling a Valentine’s Day celebration the day before or the day after Ash Wednesday this year. But neither is there any reason we cannot, within the limits imposed by the mandatory forms of penance, celebrate our love on Valentine’s Day this year.

In fact, this year is a good opportunity for us Catholics to reclaim Valentine’s Day, to use it as an occasion to remind the world what love really is. As we take our allowed full one meal on that day in special seafood grills or sushi bars with our dates, perhaps after going to the church together to have ashes imposed on our foreheads or after having spent time together in a wholesome yet no less wonderful way (which we are supposed to do anyway on any other time of the year), we are showing to the world what we have always known and which the world has forgotten: love is all about joyful sacrifice. As we enter the Lenten season together with our dates, we remind ourselves and others that suffering is the touchstone of love, that the point of penance is not to perform arduous feats of self-denial but to love God and others better, and that with love, suffering is turned into joy.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, and Lent culminates in the commemoration of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. History tells us that in the year AD 136, the Roman emperor Hadrian — in efforts to obliterate Christianity — built a temple to Venus, the pagan goddess of love, on the site of the crucifixion of Christ. It took great efforts two centuries later to uncover the True Cross beneath the ruins of the temple to Venus.

This Valentine’s Day, and hopefully on every Valentine’s Day after, we can bear witness to the true meaning of love after its supplanting for centuries by a perverted understanding of it. Let us show by our example of joyful sacrifice that we know how to truly love.

____

Image: PD-US

I’m Dreaming of a Contemplative Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Degrees of Sin — Separation from God

Sin is not wanting too much, but settling for too little. It’s settling for self-gratification rather than self-fulfillment.
— Scott Hahn, First Comes Love: Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity

It should have been better that all the stars should have fallen from Heaven than that one soul should have ever committed a single venial sin.
— Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman

Recently, some friends and I were discussing an interview with Milo Yiannopoulos, in which he said:

“Sins of the flesh, let us remember, are at the bottom of the scale. The Church says self-righteousness is at the top. Therefore, I’m in a lot better shape than some of my feminist and establishment Republican enemies.”

That part made me wonder about his grasp of Holy Scripture and the Catechism, not to mention Our Lady of Fatima’s sobering warning:

More souls go to Hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason.

A friend of mine chimed in: “Sins of the flesh rank lowest in Dante’s Inferno and also Bishop Barron agrees in his CD Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Lively Virtues.”

Sandro Botticelli, Chart of Hell

I replied: “Indeed, lust of all the sins is most akin to love, Dante notes. But when you really love someone, offending them in any way is just downright bad. And no matter what degree of Hell someone is in, it’s all really bad ‘cos it’s eternal separation from Love. So on one hand it may be technically right to say one sin is not as bad as another… On the other hand, they’re all terrible and we ought to scram from every one!

Sometimes when we are in a state of sin, it is tempting to compare ourselves to other sinners, thinking, “At least we’re not as bad as they are!” But isn’t that really the pinnacle of self-righteousness? Isn’t it akin to the attitude of the Pharisee who thought himself better than the publican? (Luke 18:11)

It’s like a sick person comparing himself with others in hospital: “At least I’m not as poorly as that man!” or worse, “What’s the point in getting well, we’re all going to fall sick and die in the end anyway.” He’s still stuck in hospital, and comparing himself to another patient just creates a false sense of consolation. Instead, it would be better to focus on his recovery, comparing his current condition with the healthful one he hopes to be in.

When in sin, therefore, let us take the example of Christ and the saints as our standard, and lean ever more on God for the strength to strive for holiness: confessing our sins, performing penance, and amending our lives.

For all have sinned, and do need the glory of God. Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption, that is in Christ Jesus…
Romans 3:23-24

To confess your sins to God is not to tell Him anything He doesn’t already know. Until you confess them, however, they are the abyss between you. When you confess them, they become the bridge.
— Frederick Buechner

God does not judge Christians because they sinned, but because they do not repent.
— St. Niphon of Constantia

To say that God turns away from the sinful is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.
— St. Anthony the Great, Cap. 150

Be ashamed when you sin, not when you repent.
There are two things: sin and repentance.
Sin is the wound, repentance is the medicine.
Sin is followed by shame; repentance is followed by boldness.
Satan has overturned this order and given boldness to sin and shame to repentance.
— St. John Chrysostom

Image: PD-US

Temptation and Lenten Penance

During the Lenten season, we seek to turn back from sin and to God. Each of the practices of Lent—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—helps us to do this. While Lent is not a season of merriment in the Church, it should nevertheless be a season of hope, and one of joy.

The Great White Fleet

Sin is a turning away from God. It is disobedience to His will for us, and it is the preference of something—anything!—else to God. Indeed, because God is not composed of parts [1], these three statements are in fact one and the same statement. In his Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis gives an analogy of a good life and a good society to the sailing of a fleet of ships. To reach the fleet’s destination, the ships must be well-sailed; they must be well-coordinated so as to not interfere with each other; and they must have a clear destination and route to reach that destination. Sin in this analogy takes on three forms—the individual ships may be badly handled; or the ships are collectively poorly coordinated, so that they stray apart (or crash together) regardless of handling; or they have the wrong destination in mind, so that they do not end where they ought [2].

These three conditions for a good fleet correspond to three conditions found in a good life and a good society:

  1. The well-run ship is akin to person’s own self-mastery.
  2. The well-coordinated fleet is like the harmony between members of a society.
  3. The proper destination for the fleet is an analog to both the individual’s and the society’s being “ordered” to the good.

The first condition means that each man has developed the virtues so that his intellect (captain) governs his will (bosun or boatswain [3]) which directs his passions (crew) and can overcome his desires or appetites (fears, obstacles). The second means locally that men will help each other to increase in virtue, that they will work together towards common (and sometimes individual) goals; and on a larger scale that laws will be just, that they will enable each person to do what is right and inhibit his ability to do what is wrong. The third condition is the defining principle or “final cause” of a good society and a good life. It means that both man and society must seek (and be guided by) the highest good, which ultimately means to discern and pursue God’s will for each individual and for society as a whole.

In his Commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, St. Thomas Aquinas describes three sources of temptation. These are the flesh, the world, and the devil. While these three temptations a can strike at any level, they correlate most directly to each of the three conditions of the good life and the good society:

  1. Temptations of the flesh strike at us directly attempting to ensnare us through the will, or indeed through the passions or the appetites. Saint Thomas Aquinas says that the flesh tempts us by seeking “its own pleasures, namely, carnal pleasures, in which often is sin. He who indulges in carnal pleasures neglects spiritual things.” These temptations put us in internal discord. Several of the deadly sins strike us here—in particular, lust and gluttony, and to some extent sloth.
  2. Worldly temptations are temptations towards a good which may not be ours to possess. According to St. Thomas, the word tempts us with “excessive and intemperate desire for the goods of this life,” and also with “the fears engendered by persecutors and tyrants.” These temptations put us at odds with our neighbors, with society as a whole, and even with the Church as a community. The deadly sins of avarice and envy are principally provoked by temptations of the world, and wrath may be our response to our neighbors when so tempted.
  3. The devil is the subtlest tempter, as St. Thomas notes.
    “The devil proceeds most cunningly in tempting us. He operates like a skillful general when about to attack a fortified city. He looks for the weak places in the object of his assault, and in that part where a man is most weak, he tempts him. He tempts man in those sins to which, after subduing his flesh, he is most inclined… he does not at once appear to suggest something that appears to us as evil, but something that has the semblance of good. Thereby he would, at least in the beginning, turn a man from his chief purpose, and then afterwards it would be easier to induce him to sin, once he has been turned away ever so little.”
    These temptations lead most directly to discord with God and his Church as Magister. The principal deadly sins which are associated with these temptations are pride and wrath, and to a lesser extent acedia.

Three more things should be said here regarding these three types of temptations. The first is, all three can tempt us to do evil or to avoid good. Both are forms of sin, which is why our confession asks for forgiveness both for what we have done, and what we have failed to do. The second is that all three temptations can work together [4]. The third is that any of the deadly sins may strike through any of these temptations or combination of temptations, even if some temptations lend themselves more closely to certain deadly sins.

Three Lenten practices

Just as there are three sources of temptation—the flesh, the world, and the devil—so there are three Lenten practices which combat these temptations. These are the aforementioned practices of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. Each of these practices helps us to better resist temptation in general, but we can also see that each one is especially good at strengthening us against a particular type of temptation:

  1. Fasting helps us to gain mastery over our desires, and fights temptations of the flesh. Note that fasting here need not mean only “eating little” or even “eating less,” though this is the literal translation. It can mean giving up any thing which gives us pleasure, be it eating chocolate or spending time on facebook or reading dime comics and penny dreadfuls, etc. This is the reason behind the tradition of “giving something up for Lent.” This is also why giving up something innocuous is still beneficial to us.
  2. Almsgiving helps to order ourselves as members of a good society and fight temptations of the world. By freely giving away from what we have, we learn detachment from our worldly belongings, and are reminded that all we have—time, talent, treasure—are so many gifts from God. We become less covetous of that which we will give away.
  3. Prayer helps us to discern the will of God for us, and it also helps to fight temptations of the devil. In prayer we turn back to God, we praise Him for his goodness, we thank Him for His blessings, we ask Him for His grace, and we request His guidance in our lives. Indeed, we pray that He will “lead us not into temptation,” which is different from asking that we will not be tempted. We are here asking that God will not withdraw His graces from us, because it is when He does this that we are most apt to actually consent to the temptation rather than resisting it.

I think that there are two things which are left to be said in this brief essay. The first is that we should, when undertaking penances, bear in mind the difference between self-discipline and self-punishment; between mortification and torture. The second is related to this, which is that we should therefore approach the Lenten practices and penances with some sense of Joy. Venerable Fulton J. Sheen writes in his reflection on the Seven Last Words that

The Christian fasts not for the sake of the body, but for the sake of the soul… The Christian does not fast because he believes the body is wicked, but in order to make it pliable in the hands of the soul, like a tool in the hands of a skilled workman….

We are to mortify bodily hunger and thirst, not because the flesh is wicked, but because the soul must ever exercise mastery over it, lest it become a tyrant…. When such surrenders of the superfluous food and drink are made for the soul’s sake, let it all be done in a spirit of joy. ‘And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face; that though appear not to men to fast, by to thy Father who is in secret; and thy Father who seeth in secret, will repay thee” [Matthew 6:16-18].

We are, in addition, to cultivate a spiritual hunger and thirst. Mortification of the bodily appetites is only a means, not an end. The end is union with God, the soul’s desire.

Far from being a gloomy rejection of our pleasures, the penances of Lent are a joyful movement towards God. Part of this is becoming masters of ourselves, including of our bodies, and another part is in becoming a good society. We are undergoing a sort of spiritual growth, and with this comes some growth pains. We will expect some struggles in this, and it takes discipline. We will fail, perhaps often: but we will also draw ever nearer to our heavenly home, which is cause for joy.

As for our failures, our sins: they may be many, they may be grievous, but God’s mercy is more abundant. As John Henry Cardinal Newman notes in his Meditations and Devotions,

“Lord, our sins are more in number than the hairs of our head; yet even the hairs of our head are all numbered by you. You count our sins, and, as You count, so can You forgive; for that reckoning…comes to an end; but Your mercies fail not, and Your Son’s merits are infinite.”

 

—-Footnotes—-

[0] Featured image is a photo of Ein Gedi, Israel, by Rob Bye, posted on Unsplash. I have cropped it slightly.

[1] That God is absolutely simple—and thus not composed of parts—is a doctrine of classical philosophy which has been adopted and expanded upon by the Church (see Catechism of the Catholic Church 43). The Fourth Lateran Council’s Confession of Faith begins, “We firmly believe and simply confess that there is only one true God, eternal and immeasurable, almighty, unchangeable, incomprehensible and ineffable, Father, Son and holy Spirit, three persons but one absolutely simple essence, substance or nature.”

[2] To this might be added another situation, that they know where they want to go but do not know where they are. Discernment means learning not only the desired final state or outcome, but the “initial conditions,” and indeed the correct path to get from the latter to the former.

[3] I suppose to extend the analogy further, when the individual goes bad, the will becomes like the quartermaster of a pirate ship, complete with veto power of the captain (intellect) on behalf of the crew (passions etc.)

[4] In his science fiction short story, “The Feeders,” Michael Flynn has this brief dialogue between two characters (Heinrich, the main character, and his former seminarian comrade, Georg) on temptation:

“What are they,” he [Heinrich] whispered.
“What are what?”
He had not realized he had spoken aloud. “The three sources of sin,” he said, casting the first random thought into his mouth.
“Oh.” They walked a few paces further. “The world is one,” Georg said. “It provides opportunity. A pretty girl. An unwatched billfold. A careless enemy. Then, the flesh provides weakness. We call that Original Sin. It makes us prey to the temptations of the world. Then, finally: the Devil.”
“And what does the Devil do?”
“Why, as we stand there weakening before temptation, the little pumper-nickle creeps up behind us and gives us a push.”

If this is a sightly different synthesis of the three sources of temptation from what is offered above (and by St. Thomas in his Commentary on the Lord’s Prayer), it is one which compliments rather than contradicts what has been said above.

The Eyewitnesses of Fatima

With 2017 comes the 100th Anniversary of the Fatima event which is an extraordinary part in the Church’s rich history and so, as with most historic moments, it will be tremendous to celebrate its centennial. However, it is also richly significant to note that this October 13th will be the 99th year since the Miracle of the Sun in Fatima, Portugal, an event witnessed by tens of thousands. Why is 99 significant? Maybe it is simply unusual, but I find it amazing because 99 is the product of 33 x 3. So we have the number of years that Christ lived with the number of Persons in the Blessed Trinity. Is this related at all to the Year of Mercy? I don’t know, maybe I read too much into it, but what I do know is this:

“As the sun danced at midday in Fatima” is the translation of the article printed in the anti-Catholic Lisbon newspaper, O Seculo, reporting on the events that occurred in Cova da Iria, a field where the shepherd children of the apparitions pastured their sheep, in Fatima, Portugal on October 17, 1917. The miracle of the Sun, as it has come to be known, was witnessed by an estimated 70,000 people and the voice of one of those eye-witnesses belonged to the chief editor of O Seculo, Avelino de Almeida.

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-7-23-52-pm
The crowd gathers in Cova da Iria on October 17, 1917.

Almeida was present for the claimed apparition of Mary in hopes to embarrass the Church and report a story opposite of what he did write. What he did publish was a detailed account of a miraculous event.

“From the road, where the carriages were crowded together and where hundreds of persons had stayed for want of sufficient courage to advance across the muddy ground, we saw the huge crowd turn towards the sun which appeared at its zenith, clear of the clouds. It resembled a flat plate of silver, and it was possible to stare at it without the least discomfort. It did not burn the eyes. It did not blind. We would say that it produced an eclipse. Then a tremendous cry rang out, and the crowd nearest us were heard to shout: ‘Miracle! Miracle! Marvel! Marvel! Before the dazzled eyes of the people, whose attitude transported us to biblical times, and who, dumb-founded, heads uncovered, contemplated the blue of the sky, the sun trembled, it made strange and abrupt movements, outside of all cosmic laws, ‘the sun danced’, according to the typical expression of the peasants …”

Dr. Jose Maria de Almeida Garrett, professor at the Faculty of Sciences of Coimbra, Portugal, reported something similar,

 “During the solar phenomenon, which I have just described, there were also changes of colour in the atmosphere. Looking at the sun, I noticed that everything was becoming darkened. I looked first at the nearest objects and then extended my glance further afield as far as the horizon. I saw everything had assumed an amethyst color. Objects around me, the sky and the atmosphere, were of the same color. Everything both near and far had changed, taking on the color of old yellow damask. People looked as if they were suffering from jaundice and I recall a sensation of amusement at seeing them look so ugly and unattractive. My own hand was the same color.”

“Then, suddenly, one heard a clamour, a cry of anguish breaking from all the people. The sun, whirling wildly, seemed all at once to loosen itself from the firmament and, blood red, advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge and fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was truly terrible.”

This is a supernatural event reported by an atheist reporter trying to discredit the Church, a Science professor at a University, and a crowd 70,000. Of course, claims are made that the whole event was merely a case of psychological experience in which many wanted badly to see a miracle, they were tired, wet, and excited by the crowd and so all collectively, besides an apparent few who reported nothing or others reported slight variances of the miracle, experienced a hallucination of some sort. Basically, the anti-claim is that the miracle is a product of mass hysteria.

However, what about the two reports earlier mentioned? One was definitely hoping not to see a miracle, the other was well versed with science enough to be a university professor. Can we truly discredit the whole event with this amount of information, simply because a few people say, “no way”?

I recently had a chance encounter when I was at a friend’s house: I personally met the daughter of a man who was present in the field of Fatima on October 13 to witness the Miracle of the Sun. I was told that everything handed down to us about the event is absolutely true. “It’s exactly as they say”, said her husband in a classic Portuguese accent. Moreover, he shared with me that there was such a great number of people in the usually small populated Fatima due to the fact that the O Seculo paper had reported that the children said that The Lady promised that there would be a miracle on October 13, 1917.

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My wife and me with Maria Gomes, daughter of the eyewitness of the Miracle of the Sun, and her husband, Louis.

This promise was made during the month or so that the children were kept in an adult jail. They had already been interviewed by their parents, priests, and the Bishop. Now the police placed them in a holding cell, threatened them that they were to be boiled alive if they did not tell “the truth”. However,their story never changed.

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The three shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta, and Francesco, of the Fatima Apparitions.

And so we have a supernatural event given to the world to call us to pay attention to what was spoken by the Heavenly Visitor over the course of the 6 months in which Mary appeared to the shepherd children of Fatima. This can be likened to the miraculous deeds of Christ that He brought about to affirm His own Teaching.

So what then was the message that Our Lord wanted us to hear through these appearances of His Mother? Simply stated, we are instructed to pray the Rosary, offer sacrifices for the reparation of our sins and the sins of the whole world, and practice devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Furthermore, on the same day as the Miracle of the Sun, she tells us that we all need to strive to live well as she states,  “People must amend their lives and ask pardon for their sins. They must not offend Our Lord any more for He is already too much offended.”

So let us remember Our Lady’s message as we continue on in this valley of tears. In it she gives us a gameplan to live in peace. Not peace that is freedom from struggle, but true peace that transcends our struggles, lifting us ever higher to the Source of Peace, Jesus Christ.

 

Anointing His Feet

If you do not forgive others, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive you.  Jesus could have said this to the scribes and Pharisees accusing the woman caught in adultery.  Take the plank out of your own eye before you try to take the speck out of your brother’s.  This quip would work for them as well.  But instead he writes in the sand with his finger.  The Church fathers say he is writing each of their sins.  Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.  The only one who could condemn her is the perfect Man, Jesus, but he forgives her.  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  But this forgiveness is purchased at the precious price of his blood.  In respect for this sacrifice, the woman goes and sins no more.

In the garden Satan acts both as tempter and accuser.  He seduces Adam and Eve into sin and then hurls their deeds back at them in the trial scene.  But the accuser of our brethren has been brought down.  Christ the Judge acts as pardoner.  Saint Ambrose prayed, “I would fear to draw near to you as my judge, but I seek you out as my Savior.”  We would perish in the fire of God’s justice, but he infuses us with grace.  The law brings death, but the spirit gives life.  We are not under the law but under grace.  But unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees you will by no means enter eternal life.  If you hate your brother, you have murdered him in your heart.  Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.

Mankind is under the universal call to holiness, purgatory, sanctification.  At his baptism the Christian is told, “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ.  See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity.  With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.”  The baptismal robe is the wedding garment.  Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Such are the consequences of sullying the wedding garment.  This imperative to become holy drives home the importance of confession:  of patience, penance, prayer.

The woman caught in adultery is often identified with Mary Magdalene.  She is the only one called “The Penitent” in the Church’s liturgy.  Others receive the titles of “Apostle,” “Virgin,” “Confessor,” “Martyr,” “Bishop,” or “Doctor.”  Mary Magdalene is the patroness of the Dominicans, the Order of Preachers, because she is the first to see Jesus after His Resurrection and to proclaim the good news.  Tradition says she even tried to convert the emperor.  She thought if she could only go to him, she could tell him what she saw.  He mocked the Christians for worshiping a dead man.  He called their religion as ridiculous as the egg sitting in front of Mary at the table turning red before his eyes.  The egg turned red, and Mary held it up.  From this tradition we derive Easter eggs.

Mary Magdalene is depicted in iconography not only with a red egg but also with an alabaster jar.  Pope Saint Gregory the Great remarks that she puts the very things she used for prostitution to the service of Christ.  The eyes she used to lure men become a fountain of tears.  The hair she used for seduction becomes a rag for His feet.  The lips she used to kiss her lovers now shower His holy feet with love.  The oil she used to anoint her customers now prepares Him for His burial.  She puts her gifts to the service of the body of Christ.  Rather than using her body as a weapon for the enemy, Satan, she gives beauty back to God, beauty’s Self and beauty’s Giver.

A Catholic Approach to No-Shave November

No-Shave November is a growing campaign to promote awareness in the fight against cancer. It began in 2009 and has since gained momentum from year to year. Another similar campaign is the Movember campaign which promotes awareness of men’s health issues by encouraging men to sport mustaches. No-Shave November predominantly promotes awareness through facial hair as well, although they also encourage more than the pogonotrophic arts. If you lack the capacity for the wild-and-free, virile tuft of mandibular fur, you could always cease shaving other areas for the cause.

Just like Catholics in Lent, No-Shave November forgoes one ‘good’ for some higher good. The money that you save from not shaving is given as quasi-alms to help those in need. While in your razor-fast the perpetual reminder to pray for the poor souls that battle with this unfortunate disease is right under your nose. Haven’t sported facial hair before? The constant itch of a mid-length growth and the order of that garlic sauce stuck in your flavor-saver from lunch is penance enough, as if the end to displays of affection public and otherwise from your significant other wasn’t enough.

If you feel you still need some encouragement to sport your sprouts, here’s a wonderful quote from St. Augustine:  “The beard signifies the courageous; the beard distinguishes the grown men, the earnest, the active, the vigorous. So that when we describe such, we say, he is a bearded man” (Exposition of Psalm 133. 6).

Whether its the full beard, the chops, the handlebar, the goatee, van dyke, or even leg warmers (from the ladies), you have the opportunity to do some good while having fun at the same time.

Please leave a description of the fanciful fuzz you’re displaying in the comments below.

Series on the Sacraments Part 4 – Penance

 Confession is one of the greatest proofs of God’s love for us. Even though we crucified Him, denied Him, and didn’t follow His laws, He still waits for us every day in the confessional box, waiting for us to repent in order to show us His mercy. He takes into great penanceconsideration the fact that we are so weak, and is always willing to bestow mercy upon us. How truly kind Our Lord is to forgive us so many times, even when we willingly fall into sin. I heard one story that will make a good comparison of this: There was a young man who had committed many many crimes, and was put on trial. His father was the judge, and he was proven guilty. The father said to the son, “Out of justice you have been sentenced to death, but because I love you so much, I will take your place and die for your crimes.” So also has Our Blessed Lord taken upon Himself the sins of the world in order that we may be saved and one day enter into the Eternal Kingdom. Let’s see what the saints have to say about this wonderful sacrament:


“The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.”
–St. Augustine

“Go to your confessor; open your heart to him; display to him all the recesses of your soul; take the advice that he will give you with the utmost humility and simplicity. For God, Who has an infinite love for obedience, frequently renders profitable the counsels we take from others, but especially from those who are the guides of our souls.”
–St. Francis de Sales

“In failing to confess, Lord, I would only hide You from myself, not myself from You.”
–Saint Augustine

“Confession is like a bridle that keeps the soul which reflects on it from committing sin, but anything left unconfessed we continue to do without fear as if in the dark.”
–Saint John Climacus

“To do penance is to bewail the evil we have done, and to do no evil to bewail.”
–Pope St. Gregory the Great

“In the life of the body a man is sometimes sick, and unless he takes medicine, he will die. Even so in the spiritual life a man is sick on account of sin. For that reason he needs medicine so that he may be restored to health; and this grace is bestowed in the Sacrament of Penance.”
–St. Thomas Aquinas

“Three conditions are necessary for Penance: contrition, which is sorrow for sin, together with a purpose of amendment; confession of sins without any omission; and satisfaction by means of good works.”
–St. Thomas Aquinas

“Confession heals, confession justifies, confession grants pardon of sin, all hope consists in confession; in confession there is a chance for mercy.”
–St. Isidore of Seville

“Our Lord Himself I saw in this venerable Sacrament  . . . I felt as if my chains fell, as those of St. Peter at the touch of the Divine messenger. My God, what new scenes for my soul!”
–St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

“A humble confession displeases Satan and, if he could, he would make you omit Holy Communion.”
–Imitation of Christ

 

There are also five effects to this sacrament:

 

a. The restoration or increase of sanctifying grace;

b. The forgiveness of sins;

c. The remission of the eternal punishment, if necessary, and also of part, at least, of the temporal punishment, due to our sins;

d. The help to avoid sin in the future;

e. The restoration of the merits of our good works if they have been lost by mortal sin.

 

 Not only do we receive sanctifying grace back, have our sins forgiven, and receive remission of hell, but God is so kind as to give us the strength not to sin again and give us back all the merits of our good works before our sin! How truly good God is to us! Let us then frequently go to confession, stay away from all sin, grow in virtue, and become great saints! God bless!