Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Angelic Doctor

Today is the feast of the great Dominican theologian St. Thomas Aquinas. He lived a relatively short time, from 1225 to 1274, but wrote extensively and is considered by many to be the greatest theologian of all time. Though he died on March 7 he is honored today because on this day in 1368 his relics were transferred from what is now Italy, where he died, to Toulouse, France.

Almost 300 years later, the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius Loyola, showed his appreciation for the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas by making him required reading.  The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, in a section on the universities which the Jesuits would run for both the formation of its own members and for the education of lay people, state: "In theology there should be lectures on the Old and New Testaments and on the scholastic doctrine of St. Thomas" (#464). 

A book of prayers for Jesuits that Father John Hardon, S.J., edited and which was published by Loyola Press in 1963 contains seven entries for St. Thomas Aquinas.  Here is one of them:

For the Honor of Your Name

Merciful God, grant that I may eagerly desire, carefully search out, truthfully acknowledge, and ever perfectly fulfill all things which are pleasing to You. Order all my life for the glory and honor of Your name alone. Enlighten me to know what You want of me, and help me do it properly and with profit to my salvation. Grant that I may not fail or swerve either in prosperity or adversity; that I be not lifted up by the one, nor cast down by the other. Let me enjoy only what leads to You, and grieve only for what leads away from You; let me neither seek to please, nor fear to displease, any but You alone. May all transitory things grow vile in my eyes, O Lord, and may all that is Yours be dear to me for Your sake, and You, my God, dear above them all. May all joy be irksome to me that is without You, may all labor and toil delight me which is for You, and rest be weariness which is not in You. Amen.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Retreat in Hawaii

A couple weeks ago, during the coldest week (so far) of our Wisconsin winter, I went to Hawaii to
give a retreat to the priests and bishop of the Honolulu Diocese. The view from St. Stephen’s Retreat Center was spectacular and the weather was perfect, though the local TV weather station told people that we would be having a “two blanket night” because the temperatures were going to fall to 60.  I survived.  This photo is from the dining room and in the distance you can see the ocean.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace is the oldest cathedral in continuous use in the United States. It was dedicated in 1843 and St. Damien, the leper priest of Molokai, was ordained there on May 21, 1864. On either side of the sanctuary you will find pictures and relics of both St. Damien and St. Marianne Cope, a Franciscan Sister who cared for lepers, including Fr. Damien during the last year or so of his life.  Today is Mother Marianne’s feast. Here is a saying of hers: “What little good we can do in this world to help and comfort the suffering, we wish to do it quietly and so far as possible unnoticed and unknown.” 

One of the priests who was on the retreat and whose company I enjoyed at meals was Fr. Cletus  Mooya. He was from Zambia and he came to Hawaii with two other Africans who were members of the Oratorians, a group founded by St. Philip Neri in 1575. They were unable to start an Oratory in Hawaii and ended up becoming diocesan priests for Honolulu. A week ago I was shocked to receive a message that Fr. Cletus had suddenly gone into a coma and died. He was only 40. I hope my retreat, with its focus on the deep, enduring love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, helped prepare him to meet the Lord. May Fr. Cletus rest in peace and may his family in Zambia and the friends he made and people he served in Hawaii be consoled. Amen.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Reparation for Abortion

Today is the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision that legalized abortion in the United States. For Catholics it is a Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. The March for Life is being held in Washington, DC and the Apostleship of Prayer’s Youth and Young Adult Director, Jesuit scholastic Santiago Rodriguez, has gone to represent us there. 
Last year Pope Benedict XVI tweeted a message of support to the March, saying that he would “join all those marching for life from afar, and pray that political leaders will protect the unborn and promote a culture of life.”  This year Pope Francis tweeted: “I join the March for Life in Washington with my prayers. May God help us respect all life, especially the most vulnerable.”

There are several options for the prayers and readings at Mass today and one of them involves wearing the violet vestments that are seen during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. This is also a day of penance and reparation for sins against life. 
Reparation is what Jesus came to do. It means repairing the damage that sin has caused, balancing the evil that has been done with prayer, sacrifice, and works of charity. Jesus suffered and died on the cross and in that way took away the sins of the world. We can join him in that ongoing work as we offer our sacrifices, inconveniences, and hardships.

St. Faustina, the Polish nun and apostle of Divine Mercy, wrote in her diary about making reparation for the sin of abortion.  The following is section 1276:
“September 16, 1937. I wanted very much to make a Holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament today. But God’s will was otherwise. At eight o’clock I was seized with such violent pains that I had to go to bed at once. I was convulsed with pain for three hours; that is, until eleven o’clock at night. No medicine had any effect on me, and whatever I swallowed I threw up. At times, the pains caused me to lose consciousness. Jesus had me realize that in this way I took part in His Agony in the Garden, and that He Himself allowed these sufferings in order to offer reparation to God for the souls murdered in the wombs of wicked mothers. I have gone through these sufferings three times now. They always start at eight o’clock in the evening and last until eleven. No medicine can lessen these sufferings. When eleven o’clock comes, they cease by themselves, and I fall asleep at that moment. The following day, I feel very weak. 

“This happened to me for the first time when I was at the sanatorium. The doctors couldn’t get to the bottom of it, and no injection or medicine helped me at all or did I myself have any idea of what the sufferings were about. I told the doctor that never before in my life had I experienced such sufferings, and he declared he did not know what sort of pains they are. But now I understand the nature of these pains, because the Lord himself has made this known to me. Yet when I think that I may perhaps suffer in this way again, I tremble. But I don’t know whether I’ll ever again suffer in this way; I leave that to God. What it pleases God to send, I will accept with submission and love. If only I could save even one soul from murder by means of these sufferings!”
Several weeks ago, on December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, during my weekly radio show on Radio Maria, I interviewed Peggy Hamill, the director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, who is a regular participant in the monthly All Night Vigil of Prayer and Reparation that is held on First Fridays in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. We talked about the importance of prayer and making reparation for the evil of abortion.  You can hear the interview at the Radio Maria website here.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Name, the Heart, and the Blood

This month’s First Friday falls on the feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.  In 1969 this feast was
removed from the liturgical calendar but was restored in 2002.

A name represents that person, his or her identity.  According to Matthew 1:21, Joseph was directed by an angel to call Mary’s son “Jesus,” a name that means “God saves.” This is Jesus’ identity. He is the Savior of the world. As such His Name is “above every name” and is the name at which “every knee should bend” (Philippians 2:9-10). Moreover, according to a speech that St. Peter gave in front of the Sanhedrin, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (Acts: 4:12).  The Name of Jesus says it all and is all-powerful. It’s a prayer in itself.

As Jesus can be represented by His Name, so He is also represented by His Heart. The heart is the center of person, that person’s deepest interior or identity. Thus devotion to the Name of Jesus goes with devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Jesus fulfilled the Name given to Him when He suffered and died on the cross, when His Heart was pierced so that Blood and Water, the sacramental life of the Church, would flow forth and save the world. 

Devotion to Jesus’ Name and Heart includes devotion to His Precious Blood. These three go together: the Name, the Heart, and the Blood. In fact, Blessed, soon-to-be Saint, John XXIII wrote about this in a June 30, 1960 letter entitled “On Promoting Devotion to the Most Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He wrote:

“We judge it most timely to call our beloved children's attention to the unbreakable bond which must exist between the devotions to the Most Holy Name and Most Sacred Heart of Jesus -- already so widespread among Christians -- and devotion to the incarnate Word's Most Precious Blood, ‘shed for many, to the remission of sins.’
“Suffice it to recall the spiritual favors that our predecessors from the sixteenth century on have attached to practicing devotion to the Most Holy Name of Jesus, which in the previous century St. Bernardine of Siena untiringly spread throughout Italy. No less striking are the benefits the popes have attached to practicing devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, whose rise and spread owe so much to the revelations of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. So highly have all the popes regarded this devotion that again and again in their official acts they have expounded its nature, defended its validity, promoted its practice.  

“Likewise the devotion to the Most Precious Blood, which owes its marvelous diffusion to the 19th-century Roman priest, St. Gaspar del Bufalo, has rightly merited the approval and backing of this Apostolic See.

“Amid today's most serious and pressing spiritual needs, may this latest exercise of that ‘care for all the churches’ proper to our sovereign office awaken in Christian hearts a firm conviction about the supreme abiding effectiveness of these three devotions.”

Jesus—the Name, the Heart, and the Blood that flowed from it to save the world—all represent the Person. May the Name of Jesus be reverenced and honored at all times and places world without end. Amen.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Mary, Mother of Peace

Today we honor Mary, the Holy Mother of God.   She made it all possible.  What does “it” refer to?  Christmas.  Our salvation.  Our union with God.  It all happened through her.
Now the blessing from the Book of Numbers 6:22-27 is fully realized.  God’s face shines forth  in the flesh.  God’s face shines upon us through the face of a baby.  Through Mary, God has given us peace, for Jesus has reconciled us with God after humanity’s rebellion and has made it possible for us to live at peace with one another.

Ultimately peace, like faith, is a gift from God.  Human efforts alone won’t bring it about.  Peace comes from the awareness that we are truly children of God. 
Since the Son of God united His divine nature to our human nature, He has made us all children of God. Moreover, since we are made in the image and likeness of God, you could say that we are all “spittin’ images” of God our Father. We are God’s children and the human family is one.

But even more, for Christians, according St. Paul in Galatians 4:4-7, there is a deeper reality to our identity as God’s children.  We are “adopted,” not in the way humans adopt children. Parents can give many things and much love to their adopted children but they cannot share with them their genetic make-up, their blood, their DNA.  When God adopts children through the sacrament of baptism a real transformation occurs. It is as though God changes our deepest interior, making us His children in reality.
This is the source of peace.

Since the 1960’s, the first day of the calendar year is the World Day of Peace.  Every pope has written a special message for this day and Pope Francis is no exception.  His is entitled “Fraternity: The Foundation and Pathway to Peace.” 
Referring to Matthew 23:8-9, he writes: “The basis of fraternity is found in God’s fatherhood. We are not speaking of a generic fatherhood, indistinct and historically ineffectual, but rather of the specific and extraordinarily concrete personal love of God for each man and woman.”  And, since Jesus shed his Precious Blood in order to save everyone, each person is precious to God.  Now we must see others as precious. As Pope Francis says, “there are no ‘disposable lives.’” 

Since God is Father of all, we are all brothers and sisters. This includes our enemies.  Addressing those who are in conflict with one another, Pope Francis writes: “in the person you today see simply as an enemy to be beaten, discover rather your brother or sister, and hold back your hand! Give up the way of arms and go out to meet the other in dialogue, pardon and reconciliation, in order to rebuild justice, trust, and hope around you!”
Pope Francis concluded his message with a prayer to Mary: “May Mary, the Mother of Jesus, help us to understand and live every day the fraternity that springs up from the heart of her Son, so as to bring peace to each person on this our beloved earth.”

Mary is the Mother of Jesus who is our peace. She shows us that peace is born and nurtured in the heart.  Mary first received the Word of God into her pure and Immaculate Heart and then she conceived Him in her womb.  In her Heart there were no obstacles to God’s will. There was no anxiety or worries, no resentments or anger, no jealousy or competition. Her Heart was totally open to Jesus who is our peace.

This is the scene we have in Luke 2:16-21 where Mary gazes upon the face of the Son of God and her Son, and treasures in her Heart all her moments with Him. 

With Mary as our Mother, we too focus our gaze on Jesus and treasure in our hearts our moments of encounter with Him. We open our hearts to Him and let His peace fill them. If we do this, then the peace that Christ alone can give will overflow into our families, our communities, the world. 
As the Russian Orthodox saint, Seraphim of Sarov, who has been called another St. Francis of Assisi, once said: “Maintain a spirit of peace and you will save a thousand souls.”