February 28, 2017

Ash Wednesday | 2017

Christ the Bridegroom

March 1, 2017 
"Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return."
On Ash Wednesday, Catholics receive ashes in the shape of a cross traced on the forehead. The rite evokes Saint Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians: "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15: 21 - 22) Adam’s sin condemned man to sin and death. But the instrument of our salvation, the cross, reminds us that in Christ, man is redeemed and the gates of heaven are opened.

The original injunction conferring ashes: "Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return," contrasts with the words of the Nicene Creed concerning the Incarnation: "For us men and for our salvation, he [Jesus] came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man." In becoming man, Christ assumed our iniquities: offering himself as a supreme sacrifice in expiation for man’s sins. The forty days of Lent culminate on Easter Sunday. Christ’s joyous Resurrection fulfills God’s promise to save humanity and reveals our final destiny, if we persevere in love.

Almighty Father, as we begin this Lent, give us the grace to be steadfast in our resolutions, drawing ever closer to you by means of our prayer and sacrifices.

February 27, 2017

Recalling Cardinal Ratzinger's Prophesy on the Future of the Church in Preparation for Lent

Pope Benedict XVI

With Lent just hours away, let us reflect on our lives as disciples of Christ and as members of His mystical body that is the Church on earth. Anyone old enough to remember the election of Pope Saint John Paul II, nearly forty years ago, can recall a Church markedly different from that of today. Growing up in a small New England town, I was blessed to have four native born priests in residence on the alter celebrating Mass each Saturday night. At present, that same parish is administered by a single pastor who is also responsible for the sacramental life of two additional Churches nearby. This is now the norm throughout the diocese.

The future priest shortage predicted in the 1970’s and 80’s has come to pass in many dioceses in the United States. Moreover, the forces of secularization, like attacks on Christianity and individual Christians, increase on a daily basis.

This Lent, we as Catholics must confront a post-Christian America where-in our Faith and beliefs are persecuted, prosecuted, mocked and ridiculed with impunity. Amid this moral turmoil, a spiritual giant of our time has provided a theologically sound, insightful analysis that is part prediction and part prescient observation.

In his book, Faith and the Future, the future Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger refutes those urging the abandonment of orthodoxy: "The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.

She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes… she will lose many of her social privileges… As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members…

It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek… The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain… But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely.  If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret."

Responding to Cardinal Ratzinger’s bleak, yet ultimately hopeful premonition on the future of the Church and God's indomitable plan of salvation, we should become radical disciples. Radical discipleship requires heroic virtue. That is the price of sainthood. As we prepare to celebrate the season of Lent, may we be ever mindful of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord, His Passion and Death upon the cross on our behalf; and how as disciples of Christ, we must live in faith, hope, love, and with boundless courage, to effect His Will, on earth as it is in heaven.

Twenty-Five Ways to Observe Lent

Orthodox icon of the Crucifixion of Christ

Here, for your consideration, is our annual compilation of ways to observe the season of Lent. Lent is a time of enormous grace and spiritual renewal. It is a period of solemnity, reflection and repentance in the weeks leading up to Holy Week and the commemoration of Christ’s Passion and Death. Our prayerful sacrifice is a reminder of the self-sacrifice Jesus made to save us from our sins. During Lent, we are called to pray, fast give alms and study the ways of God.

1.) Read Sacred Scripture.

2.) Read spiritual/religious literature for fifteen minutes.

3.) Spend ten minutes in silence.

4.) Pray the rosary.

5.) Pray the Stations of the Cross.

6.) Say the Divine Mercy Chaplet every Friday during Lent.

7.) Attend Mass daily or go once or twice during the week besides Sunday.

8.) Pray a novena celebrating a Lent related saint or event.

9.) Give up dessert.

10.). Go to Confession.

11.) Give up alcohol.

12.) Give up or cut down on coffee, tea or soda.

13.) Give up bread.

14.) Wake up earlier.

15.) Go to bed earlier.

16.) Give up or spend less time online, especially social networking sites.

17.) Give up or cut down on television, texting, computer time.

18.) At the close of each day, do an examination of conscience.

19.) Cut down on the number of times a day you check email.

20.) Fast on Fridays [one meal or just bread and water].

21.) In addition to sacrificing, add something to your Lenten routine.

22.) Volunteer to serve the poor, addicted or abused.

23.) Remain calm when driving.

24.) Simplify your life: get rid of unused clothes and give them to the needy; each week get rid of books and find a place to give them away.

25.) Begin and end your day in prayer.

Lent 2017: Observing the Disciplines of This Penitential Season | A Faithful Catholic’s Guide


From its earliest days, the Church has urged the baptized and catechumens to observe the threefold discipline of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer as a preparation for the celebration of Easter. Failure to observe individual days of penance is not considered serious, but failure to observe penitential days (Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all Fridays of Lent) must be considered serious.

The penitential season of Lent begins this year on Ash Wednesday, March 1st. The sixth Sunday of Lent, April 9th, marks the beginning of Holy Week and is known as Passion (or Palm) Sunday. Lenten Regulations are summarized as follows:


Abstinence from meat is to be observed on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent by all Catholics 14 years of age and older. It should be noted also that “the Fridays of the year outside of Lent remain days of penance, but each individual may substitute for the traditional abstinence from meat some other practice of voluntary self-denial or personal penance: this may be physical mortification or temperance or acts of religion, charity or Christian witness.”


On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, all Catholics who are 18 years of age but not yet 59 years of age are bound to take only one full meatless meal. Two other meatless meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to each one’s needs; but together they should not equal another full meal. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, therefore, are the only days of both fast and abstinence.

People should seek to do more rather than less; fast and abstinence on the days prescribed; works of religion and charity on the Fridays outside Lent should be considered a minimal response to the Lord’s call to penance and conversion of life. During Lent, the Church encourages attendance at daily Mass, prayer, private visits to the Blessed Sacrament, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, self-imposed times of fasting, and generosity to local, national, and worldwide programs of sharing (almsgiving). May this holy season of Lent, with Christ our Savior as our guide, be a profound opportunity of spiritual growth and grace for our parish.

Suggested Lenten observances

Attending Daily Mass:

The most effective way to confirm and strengthen our union with the Lord has been and continues to be through participation at the holy sacrifice of the Mass. This Eucharistic encounter is the foundation for all our other relationships.

Receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation:

This sacrament of the Church is a visible and real manifestation of the presence of Jesus in our lives. Through the ministry of the priest, Jesus forgives our sins and strengthens us to be able to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11).

Praying the Rosary:

In reciting the Hail Mary of every bead, Mary helps us to meditate upon the very life of Christ which brought about our salvation. In keeping with her revered role, Mary leads us to her Son.

The Stations of the Cross:

This devotion is a very powerful meditation upon Christ’s sufferings, which paved the way for our redemption. As we follow that route to Calvary, we cannot but help to appreciate the tremendous love of Jesus for us, a love so great that no amount of suffering would cause it to falter.

Care for the Poor and the Needy:

In contemplating the sacrificial love of Christ for us during this season, we are reminded that we must be conscious of caring for our brothers and sisters in need. During Lent, the annual collection is taken up for the Catholic Relief Services, which assists so many in desperate situations. Through this endeavor, we experience the universality of the Church, which extends her heart and arms to those so much less fortunate than ourselves. Many parishes use the “Rice Bowl” as a vehicle to nurture support for this collection.

Fasting and Penance:

In realizing the hunger and poverty so present in our world, fasting and penance are time-honored practices which not only develop a disciplined spirit but also help us to concentrate on the essential realities of life and to remove that clutter which interferes with our relationship with God. The less self-indulgent we are, the more we become conscious of the sufferings of others.

In his first Lenten Message in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI, wrote: “In the face of the terrible challenge of poverty afflicting so much of the world’s population, indifference and self-centered isolation stand in stark contrast to the ‘gaze’ of Christ. Fasting and almsgiving, which, together with prayer, the Church proposes in a special way during the Lenten Season, are suitable means to become conformed to this ‘gaze.’”

Deepen Our Understanding of the Catholic Faith through Study:

Reading the holy Scriptures, studying the Catechism of the Church, attending adult-education courses and Bible studies are all ways of enriching our knowledge of what it means to be a Catholic. Inviting our brothers and sisters estranged from the Church to please come home, to rediscover God’s love for them and to renew their relationship with Him in the Church.

February 26, 2017

Reflection on the First Sunday of Lent, Matthew 4:1-11

Crucifixion of Jesus Christ icon
Crucifixion of Jesus icon, Moldovita Monastery, Moldavia, Romania.

The First Sunday of Lent, March 5, 2011

By Father Bernard Bourgeois

Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Psalm 51; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

What are your memories of Lent? Are they of Friday fish sticks, Stations of the Cross, or purple vestments? How about the sacrament of reconciliation? Maybe any or all of these make you think of Lent and its call to holiness. And that’s what Lent really is! It is a call to holiness and a deepening of the unity between the disciple and Jesus. Ultimately the goal of any prayer or liturgical season is unity with Christ, as much as possible while here on earth, and in its fullness in eternal life. Lent is a period of retreat. In it, the faithful are called to walk the path of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

The second reading for this Sunday (see above) reminds the Church of the focus of Lent. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, says the following: “Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned…” This is a discussion on the role of Adam in the economy of salvation. Remember that both the Old and New Testaments begin with trees. There is the tree in the center of Paradise from which Adam and Eve ate the fruit forbidden by God. In the New Testament, there is the tree of the cross on which Jesus was hanged. Paul, in Romans, continues: “In conclusion, just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so, through one righteous act, acquittal and life came to all.” Adam’s sin (from the tree in the center of Paradise) brought condemnation and death. Jesus’ act of dying on the cross forgave Adam’s sin and brought forgiveness and life to all. In Lent, the faithful Christian seeks forgiveness for the sins of his or her life that come through the tree of Adam. Through works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, the person makes a concerted effort to surface that which in his life is sinful.

The path to forgiveness and life in Christ is to carry one’s cross with him over Golgotha. Lent helps the mature Christian realize that without the cross, there is no hope. Sinfulness is much like an addiction, and anyone who has overcome addictions knows the first step toward healing is to admit the problem exists. So it goes with sinfulness. The only way for the person to overcome sinfulness is to realize its power over the person and then to embrace the cross.

Why would anyone embrace the cross? What good will that do? Embracing the cross is not a magic wand that will get waved over one’s head and all sinfulness is gone. If it were only that easy! No, the reason to embrace the cross is to see the resurrection. Yes, the cross is not the final chapter of the story! The resurrection of Jesus, celebrated on Easter, is the ending of the story. The death and resurrection of Jesus form a single event, which became the most important event in all of human history. As sinners, Christians embrace the cross in order to die with Christ, and then rise with him. Christians are now people of hope. They realize that there will be a time when all sin has come to an end, and there will be only a life of peace, joy, and eternal happiness with God. Christ and his cross are our only hope! It is through the death and resurrection of Jesus that forgiveness is possible. That’s how much God loves us!

Walking the path of the cross is the work of Lent. Traditionally the faithful do that in three ways: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent is an intense period of prayer in which each person is called to find ever new ways of prayer. Spend some extra time in Church. Participate in daily Mass and the Stations of the Cross. Read the Scriptures or find some other way to pray more deeply. Each person is called to fast in some way. Put away something that distracts you from Christ. Sacrificing is a great way to see that all one needs is Christ. Finally, find ways of being generous with your time, talent, and treasure. Yes, give until it hurts, as the cliché reminds us. Again, you will see that giving helps you understand the need of Christ in your life. This is the journey of Lent. Pray that when you wake up Easter Sunday morning, you are a person who has embraced the cross of Christ to be a person of hope!

Announcing Flocknote's Daily Lenten Reflections


Flocknote is offering both daily Lenten text messages and daily Lenten emails leading up to Easter this year! Each day you'll either learn something new about Lent or you'll get a tip or challenge that will make your Lent better.

Many readers have benefited from Flocknote's offerings. To sign up go HERE.

O gracious Master, infuse in our hearts the spotless light of Your Divine Wisdom and open the eyes of our mind that we may understand the teachings of Your Gospel. Instill in us also the fear of Your blessed commandments, so that having curbed all carnal desires, we may lead a spiritual life, both thinking and doing everything to please You. For You, O Christ, our God, are the enlightenment of our souls and bodies; and to You we render glory, together with Your eternal Father, and with Your all holy, life-creating Spirit, both now and forever. Amen.

Saint Josemaría Escrivá, "It is Not Enough to Be Good"

Saint Josemaría Escrivá
Today it is not enough for men and women to be good. Moreover, whoever is content to be nearly good, is not good enough. It is necessary to be 'revolutionary'. Faced by hedonism, faced by the pagan and materialistic wares that we are being offered, Christ wants objectors! - rebels of Love!
— St. Josemaria Escriva

O God, through the mediation of Mary our Mother, you granted your priest Saint Josemaría countless graces, choosing him as a most faithful instrument to found Opus Dei, a way of sanctification in daily service and in the fulfillment of the Christian's ordinary duties. Grant that I may learn to turn all the circumstances and events of my life into occasions of loving You and serving the Church, the Pope and all souls with joy and simplicity, lighting up the pathways of this earth with faith, hope and love, and living each moment in imitation of Christ. Amen.

Homily for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 26, 2017, Year A

Christ Reproving the Pharisees
Christ Reproving the Pharisees, James Tissot, c. 1890.

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

When we give someone a gift at Christmas, or at a birthday party or anniversary event, we call it a present. Why? Because you are close to that person, that friend, that loved one. Your presence is contained within your gift, your present.

When you twitter someone with a tweet, or e-mail that person, you are present to them. When you send someone a hand-written letter you are more personally present than you are when you tweet them. I suppose that’s because sending a letter in your own handwriting requires more effort than reaching you friend or loved one with a few electronic bytes. Isn’t a handwritten letter more personal than an electronic note?

Also, there are types of closeness. Think, for instance, of the differences between shaking hands, holding hands, and kissing someone. The qualities of closeness and of presence differ. The more personal the presence the better is our relationship with another. Enjoying the presence of another, enjoying the presence of someone we want to be our friend, or someone we want to love us is one of the greatest treasures of our lives.

But presence involves listening. Do you listen with just your ears or do you listen and hear with your heart? When you are listening to someone with your heart you are paying them deep attention. The quality of your presence is higher when you are more empathetic than simply sympathetic.

Hearts speak to hearts and that is particularly so when it comes to you and God.

All of which leads me to turn our attention now to asking the question: How is God present to you? How do you expect God to be present to you? Do you expect God to be present to you by actually believing that He cares for you, that He loves you and wants to be with you? Do we pray our prayers with our words, or do we pray our prayers personally with our hearts? It’s one thing to recite prayers, it’s quite another to pray with our hearts, to pray in the presence of God while conscious of the fact that He cares.

The big problem you and I face in the world we live in today is that our lives are filled with busyness, things, and clutter amidst a lot of noise. Since that is so, where do you look for God… where do you expect to be aware of His presence with you and His love for you? The world around us does not care very much about God, if at all. In fact there are many voices that tell to keep God out of our lives. Paying attention to God is not in favor these days and yet God is present to the souls He has created even though they don’t realize it.

Today’s scripture passages are all about the proposition that God loves you with a love beyond anything that you can comprehend. He loves you with an everlasting love that knows no limits. He loves you with a love so deep that you will never understand it.

You might ask, “How so we know that?” Take some time to gaze at a crucifix and you will have your answer. Moreover, God is present to you in a Holy Communion that you will never fully comprehend.

Today’s scripture readings provoke another question: What kind of God is God? Who among us has not searched for the answer to that question? What do we expect God to do for us? As revealing as the answer may be, a related question arises: What does God expect of us? More often than not we don’t want to even begin to answer that one. Nevertheless in moments when we do take time to reflect on life’s bigger questions we ought to face it. Where do we place our trust — in God or in material comforts and success? To what or to whom do I give my heart? Jesus who well knows the human heart and He clearly warns us that where our treasure is, there we will know what is in our hearts.

If, however, we wish to have a relationship with God then we must address the fundamental questions in all human relationships: What do we look for in each other and what do we expect of each other?

The danger to our hearts and to our eternal life with God in heaven lies in our ensnarement in the values of this world –power, wealth, fame, pleasures, and the glitter of this world’s treasures, treasures that are by no means safe and secure in our hands. Setting our hearts on them means that we are not setting our hearts on what is truly lasting and of great value. Setting our hearts on them means that we give scant attention to God’s love for us, a love which God expresses in today’s first reading, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even if she should forget, I will never forget you.”

These words were taken from the Old Testament’s book of the prophet Isaiah. He spoke them to his Hebrew people as God delivered them from their captivity in Babylon and they were about to return to their homeland of Israel. They were words of consolation, words speaking of God’s love for His people. He was always close to them; He always loved them. Now He was delivering them from their pain and suffering:
Shout for joy, you heavens; earth, exult! Mountains, break into joyful cries! For Yahweh has consoled his people, is taking pity on his afflicted ones. Zion was saying, ‘Yahweh has abandoned me, the Lord has forgotten me.’ [But] can a woman forget her baby at the breast, feel no pity for the child she has borne? Even if these were to forget, I shall not forget you. (Isaiah 49:13-15)
Similarly the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel account speak of God’s love for us and of His desire to free us from all that holds us captive and keeps us apart from Him. God is always present to us waiting for us to be with Him. How have we in turn been present to Him? There are some clear answers we can have.

We can spend some quality time alone with God reflecting on what has happened in our lives and where we have experienced His love. Times of just being with Him are times of deep, intimate prayer.

Many parishes have Chapels of Adoration, places where we can go and spend quiet time alone with God in the Blessed Sacrament.

Reading sacred scripture is another way of enjoying God’s presence and giving Him your presence in return. I’m not speaking of simply reading bible passages. I’m speaking of absorbing what they inspire within you, absorbing what God’s Word has to say to you.

When we give someone a gift at Christmas, or at a birthday party or anniversary, we call it a present. Why? Because you are close to that person, that friend, or that loved one. Your presence is contained within your present to him or her. Why not give God a present some day soon… quality time alone with Him? After all, hearts speak to hearts.

February 25, 2017

Pray More Online Lenten Retreat 2017


Attention Big C Catholics readers. We recently received from Pray More Novenas, the following announcement which we submit for your consideration. 


The Pray More Lenten Retreat is coming up (Lent starts in one week!), and we wanted to let you know more about it...

The Pray More Lenten Retreat is an online retreat to help you spend more time in prayer this Lent to prepare to commemorate our Lord's Passion, His Death and Resurrection at Easter.

If you sign up for the retreat, you will receive:

+ 20 Video & Audio Presentations with Transcripts, and

+ 20 Reflective Study Guides - one for each talk

We know how busy you are :)

That's why the retreat is self-paced; that means you can watch, listen or read the presentations whenever you have the time to do it.

We hope the Pray More Lenten Retreat will help you intentionally work on your prayer life this Lent — wherever you are, and whenever you have the time.

The talks are focused on prayer, the season of Lent and learning from the lives of the saints.

Here are some of the topics:

+ Pray Like a Saint: Wisdom for Growing Closer to God
+ A Lent Well Spent
+ Spiritual GPS: The 3 Stages of the Spiritual Life
+ Radical Love: Mother Teresa
+ Engaging a Season of Struggle with a Spirit of Joy
+ Redemptive Suffering
+ The Joy of Reconciliation
+ Bleeding Hands, Weeping Stone: Miracles of the Church
+ Mother Mary with a Side of Grace

That's not all! You can see the rest of the topics of each of the talks here:


That's also where you can sign up for the retreat :)

Communication is key in every relationship, and that’s why regular prayer — praying more — is a must, if we hope to have an intimate relationship with Christ.

[ ... ]

All of the materials will be released on Wednesday, March 1st. That's the first day of Lent.

God bless you!

John-Paul & Annie - PrayMoreNovenas.com


Please share this information on social media and alert all interested Catholics. Thank you.

February 24, 2017

The Great Lenten Prayer of Saint Ephraim

St. Ephrem the Syrian

As we look forward to the season of repentance and renewal that is Lent, may we live in full the words Saint Ephraim beautifully expressed in his Lenten prayer.
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faintheartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to your servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sin and not to judge my brother, for You are blessed from all ages to all ages. Amen.
Pour into our hearts O Lord, we pray, the Holy Spirit, at whose prompting the Deacon Saint Ephrem exulted in singing of your mysteries and from whom he received the strength and fortitude to serve you and you alone. We ask this in trustful humility through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Reflection on Ash Wednesday, Matthew 6:51-6, 16-18

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2017

By Father Bernard Bourgeois

Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5:20–6:2; Matthew 6:51-6, 16-18

"Rend your hearts, not your garments, 
and return to the Lord, your God." (Joel 2:13) 

Ash Wednesday is one of the most significant religious holidays of the year. The faithful will come to church in great numbers to receive ashes on their foreheads. “Remember you are from dust and unto dust you shall return.” These will be the words of the priest or minister as ashes are drawn in the form of a cross on each person. In the heart of the cold of winter, these stark words will draw people from the warmth of their beds and homes. Ash Wednesday inspires more people to come to Mass than many other religious holidays.

Why is Ash Wednesday such a draw for so many people? Christians need to hear these words and feel the ashes on their foreheads from time to time. This sacramental is the reminder that each person is in need of redemption. And there are no serious Christians who have deluded themselves into thinking that redemption, though a gift of God through Jesus Christ, should not require some effort on their behalf.

Ash Wednesday ushers in the Paschal Season, which is comprised of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. This entire season celebrates the passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, which is the reason for the coming of Christ altogether. The last few days of Christ form the most important event of human history; the moment salvation came to the human race.

Traditionally, Lent is the season of preparation for these great mysteries. It is a penitential time in which the disciple of Christ takes time to pray, to give alms, and to fast. All three of these practices will help the Christian follow Christ ever more closely. The goal is to shed what is in the way and realize that in the end it is only Christ that matters. Spend time this Lent in prayer.

Participate in Mass more often, possibly even daily. Make time in your schedule to pray the rosary, to read and pray the words of Scripture, to make the Way of the Cross, or to pray in whatever your form of prayer is. The point here is that you will be making time for the Lord in your busy schedule, not so much the actual words you say or read. Ultimately, prayer is the gift of time. As you visit relatives and friends, you give them time. It is your most precious gift. Give time to the Lord this Lent. Rearrange your life to give him “prime time,” not time when you are sleepy or caught in traffic. Get to know Jesus better by reading the Gospels and deepen your relationship with God by praying over the Psalms. Give to the Lord the gift of your time.

The second focus of Lent is to be generous, or give alms. As in prayer you give the gift of time, in giving alms you give of what you have. Finding new ways of being generous is not hard to do. If you have little to give, you can always give time to help those in need.

Fasting is another important focus of Lent. Here Christians traditionally “give things up” for Lent and do not eat meat on the Fridays of Lent. Most would agree that not eating meat on Fridays is not the same sacrifice it once was, as meatless meals are common in these days of healthy eating. So the follower of Christ is called to fulfill this rule but also to go beyond it. How can you fast during Lent? All fasting is to lead you closer to Christ, otherwise it is pointless. Might you fast from TV, or from the Internet, or from some other pleasurable activity? If you fast from these things, spend the time in prayer or in spiritual reading.

The Gospel chosen for Ash Wednesday reminds the follower of Christ “to be on guard against performing religious acts for people to see.” Our fasting, praying, and almsgiving are not about what others see or getting our names on plaques. The point of all of these activities is to stir up within the person a tremendous love for the Lord. Praying, fasting, and almsgiving are ultimately about time and space; it is in their practice that the disciple will find time and space for Christ. The first reading from Joel reminds the Israelites and all who follow God “to rend your hearts, not your garments….” The journey of Lent is an interior journey in which the person seeks to find Christ. It is not about what others see. Spend this Lent in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and open your hearts and minds to his loving presence. In doing this you will walk with him to Golgotha and find yourself at the empty tomb of Easter, filled with joy and hope.

February’s Blog of Note: Catholic Preaching

Catholic Preaching, Father Roger J. Landry

February’s Catholic blog of note is Catholic Preaching. Its information and insights emanate from the mind of Father Roger J. Landry, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations. Father's priestly formation is detailed on the "About" page:

"After receiving a biology degree from Harvard College, he studied for the priesthood in Maryland, Toronto and for several years in Rome. After being ordained a Catholic priest of the Diocese of Fall River by Bishop Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap. on June 26, 1999, he returned to Rome to complete graduate work in Moral Theology and Bioethics at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family. Fr. Landry writes for many Catholic publications, including The National Catholic Register and The Anchor, the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Fall River, for which he was the executive editor and editorial writer from 2005-2012."

Visitors to Catholic Preaching will read the site's manifesto: "I warmly welcome you to this website, put together at the insistence and with the assistance of friends. During my diaconal ordination, Cardinal Edmund Szoka gave me the following instruction from the Ordination Rite as together we gripped the Book of the Gospels: 'Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. Practice what you teach.' Those words have never lost their resonance. Since that day, October 8, 1998, I have tried to live up to that commission to be a 'herald of the Gospel,' by striving to teach what the Church believes, to practice what I preach to others, and to spread with joy and enthusiasm the truth Christ has entrusted to His church -- in and out of season, in and out of the pulpit. This website is a chronicle of those attempts."

Catholic Preaching features Fr. Landry's excellent homilies, articles and teaching. We have linked to Father's videos presenting the Theology of the Body previously. Consider making Catholic Preaching a regular part of your daily internet itinerary.

February 23, 2017

Pope Benedict XVI on the Measure of True Humanism

Pope Benedict XVI

"Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be 'tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine', seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An 'adult' faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth."

From the homily of Card. Joseph Ratzinger at the Mass for the Election of the Roman Pontiff (Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice), April 18, 2005.

February 22, 2017

The Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp

The Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp

"When the pyre was ready, Polycarp took off all his clothes and loosened his under-garment. He made an effort also to remove his shoes, though he had been unaccustomed to this, for the faithful always vied with each other in their haste to touch his body. Even before his martyrdom he had received every mark of honor in tribute to his holiness of life.

There and then he was surrounded by the material for the pyre. When they tried to fasten him also with nails, he said: 'Leave me as I am. The one who gives me strength to endure the fire will also give me strength to stay quite still on the pyre, even without the precaution of your nails.' So they did not fix him to the pyre with nails but only fastened him instead. Bound as he was, with hands behind his back, he stood like a mighty ram, chosen out for sacrifice from a great flock, a worthy victim made ready to be offered to God.

Looking up to heaven, he said: 'Lord, almighty God, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have come to the knowledge of yourself, God of angels, of powers, of all creation, of all the race of saints who live in your sight, I bless you for judging me worthy of this day, this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ, your anointed one, and so rise again to eternal life in soul and body, immortal through the power of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among the martyrs in your presence today as a rich and pleasing sacrifice. God of truth, stranger to falsehood, you have prepared this and revealed it to me and now you have fulfilled your promise.

'I praise you for all things, I bless you, I glorify you through the eternal priest of heaven, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. Through him be glory to you, together with him and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.'

When he had said 'Amen' and finished the prayer, the officials at the pyre lit it. But, when a great flame burst out, those of us privileged to see it witnessed a strange and wonderful thing. Indeed, we have been spared in order to tell the story to others. Like a ship’s sail swelling in the wind, the flame became as it were a dome encircling the martyr’s body. Surrounded by the fire, his body was like bread that is baked, or gold and silver white-hot in a furnace, not like flesh that has been burnt. So sweet a fragrance came to us that it was like that of burning incense or some other costly and sweet-smelling gum."

Excerpt from the Divine Office of Readings for the Feast of Saint Polycarp, February 23, "The martyrdom of Saint Polycarp by the Church of Smyrna".

Saint Polycarp of Smyrna, Bishop and Martyr

Saint Polycarp of Smyrna
February 23th, the Church celebrates the optional memorial of Saint Polycarp (69 – 155 AD), the 1st century bishop, martyr and renowned Apostolic Father. Polycarp was widely venerated largely through the accounts of his heroic martyrdom as recorded by the Church in Smyrna. Tradition holds he was born a pagan before being befriended by Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist who catechized Polycarp in the Faith. As Bishop of Smyrna, (a city in Turkey) Polycarp defended orthodoxy and was a staunch opponent of heresy, most notably the Gnostic sects of Marcionism and Valentinianism.

He is honored in both the Eastern and Western Church as one of the three chief Apostolic Fathers (together with Saint Clement of Rome and Saint Ignatius of Antioch). His pupil Saint Irenaeus of Lyons praised his personal holiness and great devotion to God. Some scholars contend that Polycarp may have been responsible for compiling, editing and publishing the New Testament. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that his influence on the development of the early Church was unrivalled and profound.

Polycarp wrote several epistles to various Christian communities in his capacity as bishop. The only surviving letter, his letter to the Philippians, he reminded that Church not to submit their faith to the "gnostic" preachers whose claim was to present a more intellectually sophisticated gospel. Polycarp wrote, citing St. John:
For every one who shall not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is antichrist, and whosoever shall not confess the testimony of the Cross, is of the devil; and whosoever shall pervert the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts and say that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, that man is the firstborn of Satan. Let us therefore, without ceasing, hold fast by our hope and by the pledge of our righteousness.... Jesus Christ, who took up our sins in His own body upon the cross, for our sakes, endured all things – so that we might live in Him.
At the age of 86, in the seventieth year of his episcopate, Polycarp was revered as a holy and wise man. During a wave of Christian persecution the future saint gave his courageous final testimony. The Martyrology recounts the events thusly:

"At Smyrna, the death of St. Polycarp. He was a disciple of the holy apostle John, who consecrated him bishop of that city; and there he acted as the primate of all Asia Minor. Later, under Marcus Antoninus and Lucius Aurelius Commodus, he was brought before the tribunal of the proconsul; and when all the people in the amphitheater cried out against him, he was handed over to be burned to death. But since the fire caused him no harm, he was put to death by the sword. Thus he gained the crown of martyrdom. With him, twelve other Christians, who came from Philadelphia, met death by martyrdom in the same city."

Saint Polycarp could have saved his life, but he refused to renounces his faith in Christ. May we have the courage to live lives of heroic virtue, whether in times of societal persecution, in the face of intimidation or when fighting our own personal weakness. Loving God of all creation, who were pleased to give the Bishop Saint Polycarp a place in the company of the Martyrs, grant, through his intercession, that sharing with him in the chalice of Christ, we may rise through the Holy Spirit to eternal life. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Homily for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 26, 2017, Year A

The Sermon on the Mount
Detail, The Sermon on the Mount, William Brassey Hole, c. 1900.

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

Today’s scripture readings provoke the question: What kind of God is God? Who among us has not pondered the answer to that question? What do we expect God to do for us? As revealing as the answer may be, a further question arises: What does God expect of us? More often than not we don’t want to even begin to answer that one. Nevertheless in moments when we do take time to reflect on life’s bigger questions we ought to face it. Where do we place our trust — in God or in material comforts and success? To what or to whom do I give my heart? Jesus who well knows the human heart clearly warns us that where our treasure is, there we will know what is in our hearts.

The danger to our hearts and to our eternal life with God in heaven lies in our ensnarement in the values of this world –power, wealth, fame, and the glitter of this world’s treasures, treasures that are by no means safe and secure in our hands. Setting our hearts on them means that we are not setting our hearts to what is truly lasting and of great value. Setting our hearts on them means that we give scant attention to God’s love for us, a love which God expresses in today’s first reading: Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even if she should forget, I will never forget you.

I am frequently puzzled by preachers who project God as vengeful, full of anger, wrath, and ever ready to punish us at any opportunity. I have come to recognize that we can find whatever version of God that we want to find in the Bible. Moreover I realize that much of the vengeance that can be found in those preachments is the result of human manipulation for political and selfish purposes. Look around you, watch the news, read the newspapers, pay attention to advertising– you need little more confirmation of my observation than this. The result is that all kinds of people use God as an excuse for doing the very things that Jesus taught us we should not do. But the sad fact remains that the average person is more motivated by fear than by love. Ask yourself this question: “How many bad decisions have I made because they were grounded in fear and not in love?”

God is a God of justice and justice requires a certain restoration in which we suffer the consequences of our actions. Crimes ought not to go unpunished. But restorative justice is not vengeful. Usually sins bring with them their own punishment. But vengeance? I am reminded of one occasion when Jesus, on His way to Jerusalem and was rejected by the citizens of a Samaritan town. St. Luke reports it as follows:
When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him; but the people would not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. (Luke 9: 51-55)
When you stop and consider it, the punishment of those Samaritans was that they denied themselves of the healing and loving presence of God in Christ. While His disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven upon them, Jesus would have none of it. Their punishment did not have vengeance on top of it. Our Blessed Lord did not come down from heaven to reveal a vengeful God.

We need to see that God’s chastisements are designed to bring us to repentance and a return to union with Him. An eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth is an expression that was found in cultures surrounding the Jews. Retribution is not in God’s thinking. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is clearly not found in the heart of Jesus. He is interested, very interested, in finding that we treasure His love in our hearts and that we are willing to forego the attractions of this world in order to secure that “pearl of great price.” Repentance and reconciliation are many times necessary for us in order to return to union with God in our hearts and souls. When it comes to repenting we need not fear. His heart calls to our heart. Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I, God declares, will never forget you.

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” Jesus tells us. This teaching ought to give us pause and prompt us to do some serious reflecting. If our hearts are filled with worldly visions and values we put our souls, our inner selves, into mortal danger, the danger of ignoring what God offers us, namely eternal life with Him in heaven. God brought us into being, into a life that has purpose. We are purpose-made to live in happiness with God forever in heaven. Whether or not we will live in heaven with God in eternal happiness depends on the choices we make here in this life. It is of the greatest importance, then, to see that God is not a wrathful and vengeful God; rather we need to see and understand that God is friendly, and wants us to be happy. He did not make us for His wrath, He made us for His love.

We have choices to make, choices that bring with them enormous and everlasting consequences. Satan is busily at work trying to convince us that we are unworthy and that in our unworthiness a God of vengeance is going to strike us down, so why bother with God at all? We face problems, sometimes problems that seem to be unbearable. Satan busily tries to convince us that God simply doesn’t care, that He’s not a friendly God, that He’s a punishing God, and that religion is therefore useless nonsense.

I do not believe that God intended for us to live in fear. Jesus taught us over and over to allow love and compassion to guide our every move. This fundamental message from the Bible is reinforced by the beauty in the world and in the universe around us. I believe that God intends for us to live hope-filled lives of joy, and to share that hope and joy with as many people as possible.

There are moments when we all experience God’s goodness in His creation, in the heavens above, in the great and majestic mountains, in beautiful lakes, on rivers, and in forests. There are moments when we experience the glories of nature crying out and pointing to the glorious and beautiful goodness of God. Jesus calls us to see that when He cries out: Behold the lilies of the field, how they grow without doing any work, and without running around in circles, yet I tell you that even King Solomon in all of his glory was never dressed as beautifully as these flowers.” 

In few weeks from now we will be surrounded by Easter Lilies in celebrating Christ’s resurrection from the dead. How appropriate that we should remember to stop worrying! These beautiful flowers, along with all of the budding, blooming creation of spring, are evidence that God is friendly and he wants us to be happy. So be happy. Repent, convert, turn away from the miseries of sin, and set yourself on the path to real happiness.

There are treasures in heaven, treasures beyond anything we can imagine or value. How foolish to live life here without ensuring that we will die in God’s good graces and in His loving embrace. The attraction of things here below ought not so capture our souls that we give no attention or thought to what awaits us in the next life. The worldly are wrong because all their decisions are based on what pleases us only in this life. They are wrong because they sell short the reason we have life in the first place, and the goal we have in living as God would have us live. Their vision is totally focused on the things here below, things that are quickly passing. Their vision blinds us to the things that await us if we respond to God’s invitation to live in love with Him now so what we can be happy forever living with Him in heaven.

No man can devote himself to two masters. We must not love the things of this world to the exclusion of the love of God. St. Augustine observed that we are, each one of us, filled with longings, yearnings, and a deep-seated hunger. Said he: “O God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.”

So, then, in your heart of hearts, what are you seeking?

February 21, 2017

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter

Cathedra Petri
The Cathedra Petri (Chair of Peter) in the apse of Saint Peter's Basilica.

On February 22nd, the Church celebrates the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter during which we remember the papacy and Saint Peter as the first bishop of Rome. This feast recalls Christ giving Peter the special mission of teacher and pastor, an office that has continued across time to the present Pope, Francis. We acknowledge the unity of the Church, founded upon the Apostle Peter, and renew our faithfulness to the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, extended both to truths defined ex cathedra, and to all the decrees of the ordinary Magisterium.

In Caesarea Philippi, following Peter's profession of faith that Jesus was the Messiah, [Matthew 16: 13-20] Christ declares to Peter:
[Y]ou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Upon our Lord's solemn words, since early times, the Roman Church has held a special commemoration of the primatial authority of St. Peter. As witness one of the most renowned of the Apostolic Fathers, the Roman See has always held a peculiar place in the affection and obedience of orthodox believers because of its "presiding in love" and abiding fidelity and service over all the Churches of God.

"We shall find in the Gospel that Jesus Christ, willing to begin the mystery of unity in His Church, among all His disciples chose twelve; but that, willing to consummate the mystery of unity in the same Church, among the twelve He chose one. He called His disciples, said the Gospel; here are all; and among them He chose twelve. Here is the first separation, and the Apostles chosen. And these are the names of the twelve Apostles: the first, Simon, who is called Peter. [Mt. 10, 1-2] Here, in a second separation, St. Peter is set at the head, and called for that reason by the name of Peter, 'which Jesus Christ,' says St. Mark, 'had given him,' in order to prepare, as you will see, the work which He was proposing to raise all His building on that stone" (Jacques Bossuet, The See of St. Peter).

Pope Benedict explains the spiritual significance of the feast for the Church.
This is a very ancient tradition, proven to have existed in Rome since the fourth century. On it we give thanks to God for the mission he entrusted to the Apostle Peter and his Successors.
"Cathedra" literally means the established seat of the Bishop, placed in the mother church of a diocese which for this reason is known as a "cathedral"; it is the symbol of the Bishop's authority and in particular, of his "magisterium", that is, the evangelical teaching which, as a successor of the Apostles, he is called to safeguard and to transmit to the Christian Community ....

The See of Rome, after St Peter's travels, thus came to be recognized as the See of the Successor of Peter, and its Bishop's "cathedra" represented the mission entrusted to him by Christ to tend his entire flock ...
(Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, Feb. 22, 2006).
Today's first reading (1 Peter 5:1–4) is from Peter himself. He enjoins both the Church's ordained ministers, and us, to: "Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock." May we tend God's flock in imitation of Christ and in union with the Holy Father and our brothers and sisters in the Church on earth. Grant, we pray, almighty God, that no tempests may disturb us, for you have set us fast on the rock of the Apostle Peter's confession of faith. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Saint Peter Damian — His Wisdom in 12 Quotations

Saint Peter Damian

Saint Peter Damian was an 11th century reformer Benedictine monk, cardinal and scholar who advised Pope Leo IX. He was prayerfully pious and strident in his defense of orthodoxy. He observed that "when you spurn this life and its wisdom, you may deserve by happy exchange to be filled with the divine Spirit, who will urge you on to eternal glory." Here is a selection of his wisdom in 12 quotes.

Through a woman [Eve] a curse fell upon the earth; through a woman [Mary] as well there returned to the earth a blessing.
I scourge both flesh and spirit because I know that I have offended in both flesh and spirit.
And what more should I say since it expels the whole host of the virtues from the chamber of the human heart and introduces every barbarous vice as if the bolts of the doors were pulled out.
Truly, this vice is never to be compared with any other vice because it surpasses the enormity of all vices.... It defiles everything, stains everything, pollutes everything. And as for itself, it permits nothing pure, nothing clean, nothing other than filth...
For the wisdom of the flesh brings death, but that of the spirit brings life and peace, since the wisdom of the flesh is the enemy of God; it is not subject to God's law, nor can it be. And since the wisdom of the flesh is unable to bear the yoke of God's law, it cannot look upon it either, for its eyes are clouded with the smoke of pride.
We hold our tongues in check because if they are undisciplined they empty the soul of the strength of heavenly grace, and weaken its healthful vigour.
The best penance is to have patience with the sorrows God permits. A very good penance is to dedicate oneself to fulfill the duties of everyday with exactitude and to study and work with all our strength.
He pours light into our minds, arouses our desire and gives us strength... As the soul is the life of the body, so the Holy Spirit is the life of our souls.
Do not be depressed. Do not let your weakness make you impatient. Instead, let the serenity of your spirit shine through your face. Let the joy of your mind burst forth from your lips.
Nobody can fight properly and boldly for the faith if he clings to a fear of being stripped of earthly possessions.
By what right or by what law can one bind or loose the other when he is constrained by the bonds of evil deeds common to them both?
It is not sinners, but the wicked who should despair; it is not the magnitude of one’s crime, but contempt of God that dashes one’s hopes.
Saint Peter Damian, Holy Bishop and Doctor of the Church, pray for us!

The Holy Father's Prayer Intentions for March 2017

Pope Francis' coat of arms Please remember the Holy Father Pope Francis' intentions in prayer throughout the month of March:

Support for Persecuted Christians.

That persecuted Christians may be supported by the prayers and material help of the whole Church.

Urgent Intention 

For the Pope: “I ask, please, for your prayers for me and my collaborators, who until Friday (3/10) will be on retreat.” -Pope Francis

Beginning in 2017, the Pope will present one monthly intention, rather than two. Should an urgent need arise, an additional intention may be added.

February 20, 2017

St. Peter Damian Concerning True Happiness & Wisdom

Saint Peter Damian

The following commentary is excerpted from The Fifty-Eighth Treatise of Saint Peter Damian entitled: Concerning True Happiness and Wisdom, Chapter 6.

"And so, beloved, if you cannot yet be content with the life of the spirit alone as your only bride, but are held bound by the evil caresses and allurements of life in the world, at least let the love of everlasting life hold first place in the household of your heart, as befits the first-born; and let concern for earthly things be in a place of subjection, as an inferior to be kept in check. In the Song of Songs [Chapter 2:6] it is said: 'His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me.' Now the left hand is said to be under the head when this life is scorned and despised by the mind, which is the head and source of our thoughts.

He is held in the embrace of the right hand who at all times takes pleasure in longing for eternal life alone. And because Solomon also says: 'Give a portion to seven and also to eight', [Ecclesiastes, Chapter 11:2] hasten forward in this life, which is signified by the number seven, in suchwise that you may now strive with all your powers to abide in the love of life everlasting, which through the number eight signifies the glory of the Resurrection. Show only a careless and fleeting concern for this world; fix your unwavering and enduring purpose of unfailing love on the world to come, which is everlasting.

Moreover, I would like to remind you that what I have said of this mortal life applies also to the wisdom of the world, so that in your soul mortal life and earthly wisdom may yield, trodden down, as it were by the heel of the mind. But may the love of eternal life and zeal for spiritual wisdom surpass all other things, set on the highest pinnacle of your heart, so that when you spurn this life and its wisdom, you may deserve by happy exchange to be filled with the divine Spirit, who will urge you on to eternal glory. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Pope Pius XI on Eucharistic Adoration

Pope Pius XI

An earlier post included this quote from Pope Pius XI in part. Below are the Holy Father's words in their entirety. As Pius XI notes, the Eucharist abounds in grace.

"When Christ manifested Himself to Margaret Mary, and declared to her the infinitude of His love, at the same time, in the manner of a mourner, He complained that so many and such great injuries were done to Him by ungrateful men — and we would that these words in which He made this complaint were fixed in the minds of the faithful, and were never blotted out by oblivion: 'Behold this Heart' — He said — 'which has loved men so much and has loaded them with all benefits, and for this boundless love has had no return but neglect, and contumely, and this often from those who were bound by a debt and duty of more special love.' In order that these faults might be washed away, He then recommended several things to be done, and in particular the following as most pleasing to Himself, namely that men should approach the Altar with this purpose of expiating sin, making what is called a Communion of Reparation — and that they should likewise make expiatory supplications and prayers, prolonged for a whole hour — which is rightly called the 'Holy Hour.' These pious exercises have been approved by the Church and have also been enriched with copious indulgences."

— Pope Pius XI 

Optional Memorial of Saint Peter Damian, Reformer

St. Peter Damian
On February 21st, the Church celebrates the optional memorial of Saint Peter Damian (1007-72), the reforming bishop and cardinal who lived as an ascetic hermit, scholar and advisor to popes. Although the austerities that St. Peter Damian undertook during his life in the 11th century may seem extreme to us in the 21st, they nonetheless prepared him to be one of the great reformers of the Church in an era when it took great holiness and strength of character to prevail against the status quo.

He was born in the city of Ravenna, Italy, in the year 1007, and lost both his parents while still a young boy. He was brought in by an older brother who, unfortunately, treated him more like a slave in his household than a member of the family. Fortunately, Peter's brother, the arch-priest of Ravenna, took pity on him and took him into his own household. There, he made sure his younger sibling attended good schools, and Peter, who proved to be an apt student, would became a professor of tremendous renown.

But he realized that this was not the life he was created for. Even as a young man, he began to practice severe austerities, wearing a hair shirt while fasting and praying almost constantly. After meeting two Benedictines of the reform of St. Romuald at Fonte Avellana, Peter left teaching and went to live with the brothers in a hermitage. There, he overdid his asceticism to the point where he suffered greatly from insomnia, which he overcame with difficulty. After that, he became more prudent in caring for his health and physical well-being.

By the 1040s, Peter (who had taken his second brother’s name, Damian, as his surname) was gaining renown in the Church as both a leader and a great reformer. He was so respected by the brothers he lived with that they decided by acclaim that he should become abbot upon the death of their present spiritual leader. Always one who preferred a life of solitude and prayer, Peter refused until the abbot himself made it a matter of obedience. Thus, in 1043, Peter succeeded to the leadership of his community and went on to found five other hermitages in Italy. In all of them, he urged the brothers to a life of solitude and prayer.

But such solitude was to elude Peter himself. The Holy See often called upon him to mediate conflicts between religious and religious communities and, in 1057, Pope Stephen IX appointed him cardinal-bishop of Ostia, an area southwest of Rome. Peter accepted the post with great reluctance, but used it to continue and intensify his mission of reform. He targeted specifically the practice of simony, in which clergy would charge money in return for spiritual services. He also insisted on the practice of clerical celibacy, and urged diocesan priests to live together in order to promote a deeper prayer life and religious observance. It was his desire to "restore a primitive discipline" that was lacking in the priests of his time. Known for the vehemence of his teaching, it was said of him that "his genius was to exhort and impel to the heroic, to praise striking achievements and to record edifying examples... an extraordinary force burns in all that he wrote."

And yet, Peter’s desire was always to live the life of a simple monk, a wish that was finally granted by Pope Alexander II who nevertheless reserved the right to call on him from time to time to settle disputes for the Holy See. It was while returning from one of these missions in 1072 in the city of Ravenna that he contracted the fever that would kill him eight days later, surrounded by monks praying the Divine Office.

Saint Peter Damian was pronounced a Doctor of the Church in 1828 by Pope Leo XII. In his poem, the Divine Comedy, Dante places Damian in the "Seventh Heaven," the place where the holiest saints contemplate God. All-powerful God, help us to follow the teachings and example of Peter Damian. By making Christ and the service of His Church the first love of our lives, may we come to the joys of eternal light. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

February 19, 2017

Feast of Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto

Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto

February 20th, dioceses in Portugal celebrate the feast of Blesseds Francisco, 11, and Jacinta, 10, the youngest non-martyrs to be beatified in the Church's history. The brother and sister, who tended their families’ sheep herds together with their cousin Lucia Santo in Fatima, Portugal, witnessed apparitions of Mary, known as Our Lady of Fatima. Our Lady urged man to pray the rosary and to return to God.

Between May 13 and October 13, 1917, three children, Portuguese shepherds from Aljustrel, received apparitions of Our Lady at Cova da Iria, near Fatima, a city 110 miles north of Lisbon. At that time, Europe was involved in an extremely bloody war. Portugal itself was in political turmoil, having overthrown its monarchy in 1910; the government disbanded religious organizations soon after.

At the first appearance, Mary asked the children to return to that spot on the thirteenth of each month for the next six months. She also asked them to learn to read and write and to pray the rosary “to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war.” They were to pray for sinners and for the conversion of Russia, which had recently overthrown Czar Nicholas II and was soon to fall under communism. 90,000 people gathered for the final apparition, October 13, 1917.

Less than two years later, Francisco died of influenza in his family home. He was buried in the parish cemetery and then re-buried in the Fatima basilica in 1952. Jacinta died of influenza in Lisbon, offering her suffering for the conversion of sinners, peace in the world and the Holy Father. She was re-buried in the Fatima basilica in 1951. Their cousin, Lucia dos Santos, became a Carmelite nun and was still living when Jacinta and Francisco were beatified in 2000. Sr. Lucia died in 2005. The shrine of Our Lady of Fatima is visited by 20 million people a year.

O God who granted these two shepherd children the grace to become little burning bushes on fire with love for the Holy Father and for sinners, and burning with love for Our Lady and the “hidden” Jesus, grant that we, too, may be like Francisco and Jacinta, so that we, too, may burn with the same love and, with them, all meet together again in Heaven around Our Lady in adoration of the Blessed Trinity. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen.

Adapted from Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons and Feasts, Leonard Foley, O.F.M.

Popes of the Twentieth Century on the Real Presence

Pope Pius XI, Pope Paul VI, Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. Pius X
Clockwise from L to R: Pope Pius XI, Pope Paul VI,
Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. Pius X.

The Eucharist is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. If not for the Incarnation, there could be no Eucharist. In the words of Servant of God Father John Hardon: "We are to believe that the Eucharist is Jesus Christ - simply, without qualification. It is God become man in the fullness of His divine nature, in the fullness of His human nature, in the fullness of His body and soul, in the fullness of everything that makes Jesus Jesus. He is in the Eucharist with His human mind and will united with the Divinity… That is what our Catholic Faith demands of us… If we believe this, we are Catholic. If we do not, we are not, no matter what people may think we are." Below are quotes on the Most Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of our Faith, from 20th century pontiffs.

The faith of the Church is this: That one and identical is the Word of God and the Son of Mary Who suffered on the Cross, Who is present in the Eucharist, and Who rules in Heaven.
— Pope Pius XII
From the Eucharist comes strength to live the Christian life and zeal to share that life with others.
— Pope St. John Paul II
Once for all beloved children, the surest, easiest, shortest way is by the Eucharist. It is so easy to approach the holy table, and there we taste the joys of Paradise.
— Pope St. Pius X
The surest, easiest, shortest way [to heaven] is the Eucharist.
— Pope St. Pius X
The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.
— Pope St. John Paul II
Just as the divine Redeemer, dying on the Cross, offered Himself as Head of the whole human race to the eternal Father, so also in this "clean oblation" (Mal 1:2), He, as Head of the Church, offers not only Himself but, in Himself, all His mystical members.
In this manner [Eucharistic adoration] the faithful testify to and solemnly make evident the Faith of the Church according to which the Word of God and the Son of the Virgin Mary who suffered on the Cross, who lies present hidden in the Eucharist, and who reigns in heaven are believed to be identical.
— Pope Pius XII
Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the Living Heart of each of our parishes.
— Pope Paul VI
To keep me from sin and straying from Him, God has used devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. My life vows destined to be spent in the light irradiating from the tabernacle, and it is to the Heart of Jesus that I dare go for the solution of all my problems.
— Pope St. John XXIII
The Eucharist is source and pledge of blessedness and glory, not for the soul alone, but for the body also.... In the frail and perishable body that divine Host, which is the immortal body of Christ, implants a principle of resurrection, a seed of immortality, which one day must germinate,"
— Pope Leo XIII
When Christ manifested Himself to Margaret Mary, and declared to her the infinitude of His love, at the same time, in the manner of a mourner, He complained that so many and such great injuries were done to Him by ungrateful men — and we would that these words in which He made this complaint were fixed in the minds of the faithful, and were never blotted out by oblivion: "Behold this Heart" — He said — "which has loved men so much and has loaded them with all benefits, and for this boundless love has had no return but neglect, and contumely, and this often from those who were bound by a debt and duty of more special love." 
— Pope Pius XI

Reflection on Matthew 6:24-34, "You cannot serve God and mammon…"

Jesus preaching

The Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 26, 2017

By Father Bernard Bourgeois

Leviticus 19:1, 2, 17, 18; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 6:24-34

"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and
all these things will be given you besides." (Mt 6:33)

Originally published, February 2011

As I sit to write this column, it is New Year’s Day. What will this year bring? Like everyone who is reading this column, I am a natural worrier. I spend a lot of time and energy worrying about things over which I have little if any control. As a Catholic high school principal, I worry about budgets, enrollment, staffing, strategic planning, and a host of other issues that at times overwhelm me. You who are reading this column can make your own list of issues that worry you. I am sure that primary among your concerns would be employment, the economy, your children and their needs and decisions, and whatever else. Before reading further, it might be helpful to take a moment and write a list of the things that worry you the most.

In the Gospel for this Sunday (Mt 6:24-34), Jesus teaches the following: “You cannot serve God and mammon… . Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you wear… . Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” Wow! What an extraordinary statement! Jesus does not want his followers to worry about tomorrow’s needs, or what they will eat or wear in the future. Jesus makes this a condition of discipleship. Why? The first statement of the quote from Matthew says it all: “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” “Mammon” is an Aramaic word meaning wealth or property, and signifies a choice that is not of God, but one driven by greed and avarice.

Jesus knows human nature so well. He knows that the human person can only concentrate on one thing at once. I do not think Jesus would have agreed with the modern notion that multitasking is a virtue! Jesus wants his people to concentrate on what matters most. Look beyond the day-to-day concerns of food and clothing and see the bigger picture, says Jesus in the Gospels. He advises his followers to focus their attention on God, the creator and sustainer of all that is. Food and clothing pale in comparison to the love of God shown through Jesus Christ.

Fully concentrating on day-to-day living issues can lead one away from God. If food, clothing, and shelter become the priority, the person will never have enough or be satisfied with what he or she has right now. In the consumer society in which we live today, there is always the temptation for bigger, more expensive, the latest fashion or technology, and the most popular. Any of these whims could change tomorrow, and the cycle begins anew. This is why Jesus says the person cannot serve both God and mammon! Serving mammon will take one’s full undivided attention and all of one’s resources.

Instead, Jesus wants his followers to focus on God and his call to a life based in him and his teachings. These are the things that are permanent! Food, clothing, and shelter are all perishable in the end. What is not perishable is one’s relationship with God. It takes a certain maturity in faith to look beyond the perishable and concentrate solely on God. For the person who does, life takes on new meaning. The latest whims of the market take on less priority. Learning to live with what one has becomes easier and one has the ability to live well with less.

It is only in prayer that this attitude toward worldly things can be achieved. Food, clothing, and shelter take on less importance in the face of prayer and of being in the presence of God. One realizes rather quickly that those things don’t matter as much, and more importantly, if one makes a conscious decision to spend more time with God, the rest takes care of itself. At the realization that all things come from God, the person becomes very satisfied with what is, and does not look to the latest fashion or whim. The list of worries begins to shrink because the disciple believes the list is in God’s hands, and that in his time all concerns and issues will be remedied. It is the goal of every follower of Jesus Christ to set his or her sights on him alone, and allow him to direct, guide, and supply his followers with all they need in this life and, most importantly, with life eternal.

Saint John Paul II on the Sanctity of Life

St. John Paul II
The legalization of the termination of pregnancy is none other than the authorization given to an adult, with the approval of an established law, to take the lives of children yet unborn and thus incapable of defending themselves. It is difficult to imagine a more unjust situation, and it is very difficult to speak of obsession in a matter such as this, where we are dealing with a fundamental imperative of every good conscience — the defense of the right to life of an innocent and defenseless human being.
— St. John Paul II

Prayer to God the Father of all Life

Eternal God, You have revealed Yourself as the Father of all Life. We praise You for the Fatherly care which You extend to all creation, and especially to us, made in Your image and likeness. Father, extend Your hand of protection to all those threatened by abortion, and save them from its destructive power. Strengthen all fathers so that they never give in to the fears that may tempt them to facilitate abortions. Bless our families and bless our country, that we may always welcome and nurture the life of which You are the source and the Eternal Father. Amen.

Homily for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 19, 2017, Year A

Sermon on the Mount

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

The Gospel has always been counter-cultural, from the time of Jesus to our own day. In no place is this more obvious than today’s Gospel text. Turn the other cheek? Never, no way, no how.

The same applies to giving up more than your adversary demands, or doubling troublesome obligations.

And yet, Jesus tell us that this is the way to be perfect! The first reading uses the term “holy,” but somehow the meaning seems to be the same.

So, if that’s what it takes, do we really want to be perfect, do we really want to be holy?

And even if we could bring ourselves to do these things, how could we avoid resentment at the humiliation and loss of face? How would we be able to deal with it?

There is plenty of resentment out there, around us and within us. There is plenty of frustration and anger behind it. These affect almost every sphere of life: political, personal, family, authority issues, justice, etc.

Think of the greatest source of anger and frustration in your life. Think of the persons or groups that you see as the cause. Now, stop and say a prayer for them.

Really? Yes, really! You might well feel resistance to doing so. Resentment is such a powerful force. It is part of our natural defensive instinct. It has a preventive side as well, when we are on our guard not to be hurt or taken advantage of.

St. Paul offers a great clue to overcoming this resistance. We are a temple, the Holy Spirit’s dwelling.

What if we had a special bulletin board in our church where people could say every nasty thing about the people they hate? Would that be in any way appropriate? Neither is it appropriate in our heart and soul, God’s temple. There would be a kind of defilement in both cases.

And remember: “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”