Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Visitation

The last few weeks have been very busy at the Apostleship of Prayer and they have culminated with today's annual meeting of our board of directors.  Fr. Joseph Koterski, S.J. has served for three consecutive five year terms, which is the limit.  He has seen the Apostleship through a significant time of change and renewal, serving a number of those years as president of the board.  We began our meeting with Mass and in his homily he made a comment that I want to share.

He said that the translation for the beginning of Mary's Magnificat, the great prayer of praise that she spoke in response to her cousin Elizabeth's words upon meeting her at the Visitation, is not a good one.  The current translation, in trying to make Mary's prayer better understood, loses something of the original Greek and the Latin and the English of the older Douhay translation.  In the current translation we have: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; ..."  This is very different from the word which gives us the title of this prayer--Magnificat.  In Latin we have: "Magnificat anima mea Dominum."  Or, as the Douhay translation goes: "My soul magnifies the Lord."

Fr. Koterski thought that the translators were perhaps afraid that "magnifies" would make it sound as if Mary was "making God greater" or adding to God's greatness.  So, he speculated, they chose to have Mary saying that her soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.  I agree with Fr. Koterski that something is lost in this translation.  The something is the great mystery of how humans can cooperate with God and "magnify" his greatness.  When Mary said "yes" to God's will, the greatness of God's love became even greater because through Mary's cooperation God became flesh.  The Son of God shared our human nature.  When Jesus was conceived in Mary's womb, he grew, becoming physically greater.  In a very real sense Mary, always with the help of God's grace, made God greater, just as creation is made greater by the incarnation, the Word of God becoming flesh.

All of us, in our own way, when we say "yes" as Mary did, "magnify" God's greatness.  Perhaps the analogy of a magnifying glass can help.  The sun is powerful and burns, but the power of the sun can be concentrated and magnified through a magnifying glass.  So too the Son of God.  He is all-powerful, but he loves us so much that he invites us to share in his work of redemption.  Our lives, like the life of Mary, magnify God's power, concentrating it in the places where we live and work and recreate.  Like Mary, we give flesh to the Son of God because we are members of his Body.  God is great.  We cannot really add to God's greatness.  But his grace at work in us allows us to become magnifying glasses for his love and power to enter the world.  Like a good parent showing love for his or her children by inviting them to share in the work of cooking or fixing, God shows his love for all his children by inviting us to share in his work.  Though it makes no mathematical sense, his infinite love becomes greater by our magnification which is all the work of his grace.  This is why Mary also said: "the Almighty has done great things for me!"

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Take Courage"

Yesterday was the feast of St. Christopher (or in Spanish Cristobal) Magallanes and Companions, martyrs during the terrible persecution of the Church in Mexico during the 1920's.  The Mass readings of the day fit perfectly into their feast because in the last verse of the Gospel (John 16: 29-33) Jesus proclaimed:  "In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world." 

Why will we have trouble in the world?  Because the upstart prince of this world is Satan who is engaged in a war against Christ and his followers, indeed against the human race whom he hates.  St. Ignatius called Satan "the enemy of our human nature."  He has sought to destroy individuals and our race from the beginning.  Thus it is to be expected that in the world we "will have trouble."

But Jesus tells us to "take courage."  I always like to point out that the root of that word "courage" is "cor" or "heart."  Jesus tells us to take heart, to take his Sacred Heart.  We take and receive his Heart in the Eucharist where he comes to us Body and Blood, soul and divinity, including his Heart.  His Heart transforms our hearts so that no matter what happens to us we can be strong in the knowledge of God's love. 

The 22 priests and 3 laymen were a few of the many who were killed during what is known as the Cristero War of 1926-29.  As the Mexican government forbade priests and religious to wear distinctive garb, limited their numbers, and closed down schools and seminaries, Catholics joined in peaceful protest.  Some rose up in open and violent rebellion.  It's estimated that at least 40 priests were killed.  There are also 13 other martyrs who have been beatified, including a 14 year old boy named Jose Sanchez del Rio. 

Soon the movie "For Greater Glory" which tells the story of the Cristero War will be released in the U.S.  For a trailer of the movie, see here

During this time of persecution, the Mexican government blew up a shrine to Christ the King which was located on Cubilete Hill, the geographical center of Mexico.  It was rebuilt in 1944 and Pope Benedict visited it during his recent trip to Mexico.  The statue shows Christ the King with two crowns, one that is royal and the other of thorns.  In his talk there Pope Benedict said the following:

"Dear brothers and sisters, this monument represents Christ the King. But his crowns, one of a sovereign, the other of thorns, indicate that his royal status does not correspond to how it has been or is understood by many. His kingdom does not stand on the power of his armies subduing others through force or violence. It rests on a higher power that wins over hearts: the love of God that he brought into the world with his sacrifice and the truth to which he bore witness. This is his sovereignty which no one can take from him and which no one should forget."

Some have said that what happened in Mexico in the first half of the 20th Century could happen here in the U.S.  In fact, our bishops have called for a "Fortnight for Freedom" to engage Catholics in praying and working to safeguard religious freedom.  The USCCB web site has information about this special time that will run from June 21, the eve of the feast of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More, Martyrs of Conscience and Religious Liberty, until July 4. 

Christ the King has conquered the world as he said when he died and rose from the dead.  He is the victor over Satan and sin and death.  The Mexican Martyrs knew this and it gave them the courage to live and die for the faith.  Recognizing that Christ is the true ruler of this world, let us share in the cry that was on their lips when they died: Viva Cristo Rey!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Pope Benedict's First Communion

Yesterday was the anniversary of my First Communion and three years ago I wrote in this blog about how I remembered various things about the day but not much about the actual experience of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ for the first time.  You can read more about that and also something that Pope Benedict said in 2005 about his First Communion here

Recently, on April 22, as he prayed the Regnia Coeli  in St. Peter's Square, Pope Benedict talked about the need for good preparation before children receive our Lord for the first time.  He said:  "Dear friends, it is usual in the Easter season for the Church to administer First Communion to children. I therefore urge parish priests, parents and catechists to prepare well for this feast of faith with great fervor, but also with moderation." 

What did he mean by "with great fervor, but also with moderation."  The answer can be found, I think, in something he said last year to a group of children with whom he met when he visited Benin, Africa.  He contrasted his own interior experience of his First Holy Communion with the exterior celebrations that often accompany the event and which need moderation lest they overshadow the actual experience of receiving our Lord for the first time.  Here's what he said:

The day of my First Holy Communion was one of the most beautiful days of my life. It is the same for you, isn’t it? And why is that? It’s not only because of our nice clothes or the gifts we receive, nor even because of the parties! It is above all because, that day, we receive Jesus Christ for the first time! When I receive Communion, Jesus comes to live in me. I should welcome him with love and listen closely to him. In the depths of my heart, I can tell him, for example: “Jesus, I know that you love me. Give me your love so that I can love you in return and love others with your love. I give you all my joys, my troubles and my future.”

His words challenge me to strive to make sure that I do not receive Holy Communion casually.  They challenge me to make an offering of myself to the One who has offered himself for me and to me. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

"I Have Called You Friends"

Last Friday and again today, the feast of the Apostle St. Matthias, our Gospel was from John Chapter 15 where Jesus tells his apostles (and us): "I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing.  I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father." 

For the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, to call us his "friends" is a very great thing.  It is not simply a matter of calling us friends.  Through Baptism he actually changes us and raises us to his level, for true friendship demands a certain equality.  Grace makes this possible.  Sanctifying Grace makes us holy as God is holy.  It is, in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "deifying grace" (#1999).  As much as dogs have been called "man's best friend," a dog can never really be a friend because it is incapable of entering into a relationship that requires a certain equality.  We too were incapable of friendship until Jesus came, united himself to our human nature, and transformed us so that we could enter into a true relationship with him. 

One of my favorite books for daily meditation is the revised four volume version of Discalced Carmelite Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen's Divine Intimacy.  It first appeared (and is still available) in the 1950's as a one volume work but has been revised to fit the changes in the liturgical calendar after the Second Vatican Council.  Here is a quote about God's friendship with humanity that appears in the reflection for Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time:

Friendship presupposes a certain equality and community of life, whereas between God and men there is a supreme and limitless distance.  But for the very purpose of making friendship possible between himself and men, God became man and shared his divinity with man.  "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14), so that we might become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4).  The foundation of friendship, of communion was established.  Friendship demands reciprocal love.  God has loved us first; our love can be only a response: "We love, because he first loved us" (1 Jn 4:19).  We return God's love, first of all my accepting it, by opening our heart to him, and letting ourselves be loved.  The very love which God has infused into us becomes the beginning of our response, of our love.  "Love is from God" (ib. 7), it can come only from him, and moreover we cannot love God supernaturally except with God's very love.  If we correspond, there will be perfect friendship, because it will be based on equality of love.  The mystery of the friendship between God and mankind is based entirely upon the nature of charity, which is not human love, but divine love, by which we become capable of loving divinely.

Jesus calls us friends and then transforms us to make us capable to being real friends, not just in name, the way a dog is "man's best friend." 

Friends spend time together.  They enjoy one another's company and miss each other when they are separated.  So it is with the friendship between Jesus and us.  Prayer is the way in which we spend time with him and prayer can fill our entire day when we offer that day to the Lord and try to remember to renew our offering frequently during the day.  Only sin separates us from him and when we find ourselves away and wandering, the memory of his love draws us back to re-establish our friendship in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Friends also share common interests and concerns.  Or, as Father Gabriel puts it:

The fellowship required by friendship calls for a communion of affections, of desires, and of the will.  A friend desires that which his friend desires.  We are God's friends if we will and do what God wills: if we keep his commandments, if in every thing we seek not our own will, but God's will.

This is what Jesus said right before calling his apostles "friends."  He said: "You are my friends if you do what I command you."  As the friends of Jesus, we share his desire for the salvation of every person.  This is God's will, as St. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2: 3-4: "God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."  Jesus acted on his desire to save everyone by suffering, dying, and rising.  We share his desire and act upon it by offering ourselves one day at a time for the salvation of souls.  Jesus saved every soul ever created. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#605), quoting the 9th Century Council of Quiercy, states: "There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer." Not everyone has accepted Christ's act of love and the salvation he won for humanity.  Our daily offering now plays a very important part in the ongoing work of salvation by allowing God's will to be done in our lives, thus claiming more and more parts of his creation for him.  As friends of Jesus who do what he commands--"love one another as I love you"--we desire and offer ourselves with him now for the salvation of all.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Peace of Christ

In yesterday's Gospel (John 14: 27-31a), Jesus, in the context of his farewell address during the Last Supper, says: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give it to you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid."  With this Gospel in mind, the focus for Relevant Radio's "Inner Life" show, for which I was the guest spiritual director, was on "Attaining Peace in our Lives." 

We often think of peace as a feeling or as the absence of conflict and stress.  This isn't the kind of peace Jesus promised.  Recall the other words of Jesus: "Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division" (Luke 12: 51). 

The Hebrew word for peace--"Shalom"--can help us understand what appear to be two contradictory statements.  According to scholars, "Shalom" is a term that is difficult to translate with just one English word.  It is much richer than simply "peace."  It has to do with the harmony that comes from right relationships.  It has to do with order. 

When our relationship with God is rightly ordered and in harmony, then, no matter what else is going on, we can find peace.  Peace is not so much "out there" but "in here," "within."  Being in harmony with God will lead to rejection and conflict in the world which, according to Jesus, has Satan as its ruler (see John 12: 31; 14: 30; 16: 11).  Jesus promised at the Last Supper that here in the world there will always be trouble, but peace can be found in him: "I have told you this so that you might have peace in me.  In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world" (John 16: 33). 

No matter what is going on around us, we need to strive for inner peace.  Satan hates this peace and will do everything to take it away, for when we are not at peace within ourselves, we are more vulnerable to his other temptations.  The following quotes from Fr. Jacques Philippe's little book "Searching for and Maintaining Peace" make this clear.

"The devil does his utmost to banish peace from one's heart, because he knows that God abides in peace and it is in peace that He accomplishes great things." [Dom Lorenzo Scupoli's "The Spiritual Combat"]

"None of the thoughts that render us anxious and agitated in spirit in any way come from God, Who is the Prince of Peace.  These are the temptations of the enemy and consequently one must reject them and not take them into account." [St. Francis de Sales' "Letter to the Abbess de Puy d'Orbe"]

"Peace is order, it is harmony in each one of us, it is a continual joy that is born in witnessing a clear conscience, it is the holy joy of a heart wherein God reigns.  Peace is the way to perfection, or, even better, in peace dwells perfection.  And the devil, who knows all this very well, does everything possible to cause us to lose our peace." [St. Padre Pio]