Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Mary, our Advent Model of Faith

Faith is like a ship that carries us through treacherous waters. When storms come to shake our faith, our little ship may bob up and down on the waves that threaten to capsize us. In such times, we can call on Mary, the Star of the Sea, who had an exceptional faith. When St. John Paul II wrote his encyclical on Mary (Mother of the Redeemer), he presented Mary as our model of faith. He said that faith is the key that unlocks the mystery of Mary.
God called her to exercise faith in two moments in particular. The first was when he invited her to be the Mother of his Son. She accepted, not knowing how she would explain this to Joseph. She trusted that God would lead her through any trial that would come. And her greatest moment of faith came on Calvary, when Mary stood at the foot of the cross and saw Jesus die a cruel and bloody death. But even then she did not waver. She trusted that God knew what he was doing, and that good would come from it. She even offered her own sufferings in union with those of Jesus. When the apostles fled and everyone abandoned Jesus, Mary kept the light of her faith burning brightly through the Sabbath day that followed. That is why we especially honor her on Saturdays. And her faith was rewarded when she saw the risen Christ.
St. John Paul explores all this and much more in his Marian encyclical. Pauline Books & Media has published a special edition with commentary by a Marian scholar, Sr. Jean Frisk. The Pope explains Mary’s role in the mystery of Christ and of the Church. This important document is well worth reading anytime, but especially in Advent. Mary goes before us and will help us through whatever difficulties life may throw at us. And when the storms come, we can, as St. Bernard said so beautifully, “Look to the Star! Call on Mary!”

Monday, November 21, 2016

Abortion Can Always Be Forgiven

Update: At the end of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has extended indefinitely the special faculties he extended to all priests about forgiving the sin of abortion. What is that all about? (This post was first published before the Year of Mercy began):

After the pope's statement about forgiving abortion, some media reports have made it sound like the Catholic Church doesn't forgive abortion. People are asking,  “Why can abortion only be forgiven during the Year of Mercy?”

Here’s a few facts to help clear up the confusion:

1. Abortion can always be forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In fact, the Church makes every effort to encourage people involved in it to find healing and forgiveness. A wonderful example is Project Rachel. It is not the case that abortions will only be forgiven in the Year of Mercy.They can and are forgiven at any time when a person repents and confesses this. (That applies not only to women but also to men who pressure women, pay for, promote, aid and abet, or perform abortions, etc.)

2. Abortion is a sin. Because it is a grave matter and the Church hopes to discourage people from them, canon law says that procuring an abortion also incurs the penalty of automatic excommunication.

3. Forgiving the sin is one thing, and remitting the penalty of excommunication is another. Usually the penalty can only be remitted by the bishop. However, in the United States the bishops have given to all priests the faculty to not only forgive the sin when it is confessed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but also to remit the penalty. This is to encourage people to have easier access to forgiveness and healing.

4. Bishops in other countries, however, may have decided to handle it differently. So in brief, the pope is saying that any priest all over the world will be able not only to forgive the sin in confession but also to remit the penalty. While the pope didn’t mention the penalty in his statement, presumably that’s what he meant. Most likely an official text will be issued to clarify the canonical aspects. Pope Francis said:

For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it. May priests fulfill this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.
5. Also, the automatic penalty of excommunication for abortion doesn’t apply if:

a) the person did not know about it (that would probably exclude about 99% of all Catholic women who have had abortions from incurring the penalty)

b) the person was under the age of 17

c) the person acted out of force or fear

d) the person had an imperfect use of reason

(See this for more info on canonical penalties)

Bottom line: when you see headlines about what the pope said, realize that the journalist writing the story probably knows very little about the Catholic faith and is not getting it right. The best thing is to go directly to the source (Vatican website) and read what the pope actually said.

Finally,  God is so merciful. Jesus said, "No one who comes to me will I ever reject." (Jn 6) His heart is overflowing with love and mercy, that heart pierced on the cross from which blood and water flowed out, the source of sacramental life in the Church.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

St Albert the Great

Saint Albert the Great (c. 1193/1206-November 15, 1280)

Feast: November 15

Patron: students, teachers, philosophers, scientists, World Youth Day

Albert was the type of person to whom people would go whenever a question came up. He knew almost everything there was to know in the medieval world. An outstanding philosopher and theologian, he also studied the natural sciences. He painstakingly observed and recorded facts about insects, birds, astronomy, and many other fields.
Born in Germany, Albert entered the recently-founded order of Dominicans. His talents made him an important asset, and he became a professor in Paris and Cologne. At that time the works of Aristotle were getting better known in Europe, and Albert took part in the important movement to use the philosopher’s thought in better understanding Christian doctrine. In this Albert influenced his student, Thomas Aquinas, who went on to develop that field even more. Albert became the provincial of the Dominicans, and was appointed bishop of Regensburg in 1260. But being a bishop didn’t suit him, and he resigned after three years. He returned to scholarly work and preaching, mainly in Germany. In 1931 Pope Pius XI canonized him and named him a Doctor of the Church.


Throughout his life Albert thirsted for knowledge of both human and divine things. He knew how to see the natural world in the light of God. Albert also knew himself. He realized that he was not well suited for the pastoral ministry of a bishop, and resigned from that office. All the saints showed a passion for doing the will of God. But sometimes doing the will of God can mean turning down an offer rather than accepting it. How do we know the difference? Only by prayer and careful discernment.


Saint Albert the Great, pray for us that we may grow in knowledge of God and of ourselves, so as to serve God in the best way we can.

© 2014 Daughters of Saint Paul

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Jesus, our Divine Master, and the Holy Spirit

Today in the Pauline Family we celebrate the feast of Jesus, our Divine Master, our Way, Truth, and Life. Here is a reflection on how this devotion can only be lived in union with the Holy Spirit.

Toward the end of his life Yves Congar, OP, wrote:  “If I were to draw but one conclusion from the whole of my work on the Holy Spirit, I would express it in these words: no Christology without pneumatology, and no pneumatology without Christology” (Word and Spirit, p. 1).

Our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, gave the Pauline Family a strong devotion to Jesus our Divine Master. Jesus defines himself as our Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:6). Congar’s idea made me realize that I needed to think more about how the Holy Spirit acts in relation to these three aspects of Jesus Master. This is so important because it is only through the Holy Spirit that we can live out our devotion to Jesus Master. But how?

Jesus, our Way

Jesus is our Way to the Father. Jesus came to earth not only to open the way, to show us that way, but also to be that way. He showed us how to live and established the New Law of the Gospel.
But what is that New Law? St Thomas responds to that question by saying, “The New Law is chiefly the grace itself of the Holy Spirit, which is given to those who believe in Christ.”  (Summa, I-II, q. 106, a. 1).

The New Law Christ gave us, the Way to the Father, is the grace of the Holy Spirit. But what about everything written in the Gospels? Isn’t all that part of the New Law too? Yes, but in a secondary way. In fact, St Thomas goes on to make an astounding statement: “Even the letter of the Gospel kills unless the healing grace of faith is present within.” (q. 106, a. 3). What does Thomas mean? How could the letter of the Gospel kill? They’re the words of Jesus!

It comes down to the “healing grace of faith” that is present within us—through the Holy Spirit. By ourselves, on our own strength, we can’t live the Gospel teaching because it is above mere human ability. But we can live it, by the healing grace of faith that the Holy Spirit gives us. We can only follow Jesus Way if we are strengthened by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, our Truth

As the Word, Jesus is Truth itself. He gave us a most sublime teaching. But to understand it we need the enlightenment that we receive from the Holy Spirit. At the Last Supper Jesus said, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (Jn 16:12-13).

In The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom tells a wonderful story about her father. Once when traveling on a train with him, she as a little girl asked him a question about adult matters. Her father asked her to try and lift a heavy case he had. She tried but couldn’t, for it was too heavy for her. He told her that he would be a poor father if he tried to make her carry things too hard for her to bear just then.
The apostles were like Corrie as a child; they couldn’t bear the things Jesus was telling them. Only later, when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, did they begin to understand and were filled with light. The Holy Spirit also enlightens us, so that we can begin to understand what Jesus Truth has taught us. We can’t think that we automatically understand it. We don’t. How often have we heard a Gospel passage read that we’ve heard countless times before, but are suddenly struck by a powerful insight? That’s the Holy Spirit who teaches us the truth.

Jesus, our Life

As our Life, Jesus pours grace into us and brings us into a deeper and deeper union with him. But again, this only happens with the grace of the Holy Spirit.
The Eucharist is the source of grace par excellence. In his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, St John Paul wrote about the connection between the Eucharist and the Holy Spirit:

Through our communion in his body and blood, Christ also grants us his Spirit. Saint Ephrem writes: “He called the bread his living body and he filled it with himself and his Spirit. . . . He who eats it with faith, eats Fire and Spirit. . . . Take and eat this, all of you, and eat with it the Holy Spirit. For it is truly my body and whoever eats it will have eternal life.” The Church implores this divine Gift, the source of every other gift, in the Eucharistic epiclesis. In the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, for example, we find the prayer: “We beseech, implore and beg you: send your Holy Spirit upon us all and upon these gifts... that those who partake of them may be purified in soul, receive the forgiveness of their sins, and share in the Holy Spirit.” And in the Roman Missal the celebrant prays: “grant that we who are nourished by his body and blood may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ.” Thus by the gift of his body and blood Christ increases within us the gift of his Spirit, already poured out in Baptism and bestowed as a “seal” in the sacrament of Confirmation.

Much more could be said about this very rich topic. The above are only indications of how it could be developed. This prayer of Blessed James Alberione sums it up very well: “Jesus, live in us through the outpouring of your Holy Spirit.”

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Blaming God: the essence of original sin

 When God spoke to Adam after he had eaten the forbidden fruit, Adam said, "the woman whom you gave me, gave me the fruit...."Adam was blaming God. Yes, he was also blaming Eve, but first he was telling God that it was all his fault. If God had just left well enough alone and never created that pesky woman in the first place, everything would have been just fine.
When Adam had first seen Eve, he was filled with awe and exclaimed, "At last, this one is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh." But now, after the calamitous fall from grace, Adam no longer saw the woman as a gift, but a liability.

Blaming God. It's so easy to do, and we all do it. This is the essence of original sin, not just the offense they committed but shifting the blame to someone else, especially to God. In the text of Genesis, Adam and Eve never express any real repentance for their sin. They just blame each other and shrug off any responsibility. I wonder: was that the real test? Was the test not just disobeying God's command, but refusing to take responsibility? What if they had truly repented after disobeying God--would that have meant they passed the test?
I don't know. But today when we see so much blame going around--especially in our political culture but all over, really--isn't this what ails our society? The refusal to take responsibility for one's own life?

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Our Lady of Sorrows

September 15 is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the day after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It commemorates Mary's sharing in the passion of Jesus.
In Catholic tradition, seven sorrows are noted to highlight the major times of suffering in Mary's life. The first sorrow is the prophecy of Simeon when Jesus was presented at the Temple for his circumcision. Simeon said to Mary: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Lk 2:34-35).

The sword that would pierce Mary's heart was not a physical one, but a sword of anguish. The word Luke uses for sword--rhomphaia--does not mean an ordinary sword but a very large one. It's almost like a javelin thrust through Mary's heart. We can only imagine how she suffered at seeing Jesus being put to death. 

This remarkable passage clearly links Mary with the future sufferings of Jesus. What do Simeon's words mean, "that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed?" I've often pondered this, which is one of the most enigmatic statements in the Gospel. It must be linked to the previous statement that Jesus will be a sign of contradiction, linked to the falling and rising of  many in Israel. When they come face to face with Jesus and his teaching, people don't stay neutral. They either accept him or they reject him. Jesus made astounding claims that call for a deep commitment if people truly accept him.
Mary's sorrow will have to do not only with the sufferings Jesus endured, but the suffering for those people who reject him. This is a pain that many parents have felt when their own children leave the Church and sometimes fall into a lifestyle far from God. Mary already felt that suffering in her heart, and she can suffers with all those who have it. She has deep compassion for them. 

Our Lady of Sorrows, you too participated in the sufferings of Jesus. How did you feel when you saw him on Calvary? I can only imagine how terribly you grieved for him. You also grieved for those who would walk away from Jesus. Pray for us, especially for those who have lost their faith, that they might be restored to it and come to know the fullness of joy in eternal life. Amen.

Stabat mater here

Monday, August 15, 2016

Mary’s Assumption and Divine Mercy

Today's Gospel recounts Mary's visit of Elizabeth. Scripture scholars point out that various elements in this text can make us think of Mary Mary as being like the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was  made of acacia wood (see Ex 25:5), which was so strong it was basically indestructible. It wouldn’t decay. That detail can give us an insight into another aspect of Mary: her Assumption. This dogma of the Church, formally declared by Pope Pius XII, means that at the end of her earthly life Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven. Her body didn’t decay in the grave, but Jesus brought Mary into heaven in a fully human way, her soul united to her body.
The Church has always venerated the tombs of its saints, but there is no tomb of Mary. Interestingly, the Ark of the Covenant disappeared from history. It was lost at a certain point in Israel’s history and has never been found. While this is not a proof of the dogma, still it can hint at Mary’s Assumption.
What is the point of the Assumption? It was part of God’s mercy toward Mary, a gift given to her to bring to fulfillment the role God had asked her to play. Having faithfully followed Jesus on earth, she is already united to him in heavenly glory. This anticipates what we too hope to receive at the final time of fulfillment when Christ comes again in glory. We too will rise with him to new life, and experience what we profess in the Creed: “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”
Death is the great shadow that hangs over us. All of us experience the death of loved ones, and we know that our turn will come in due time. But Jesus has assured us that death is the gateway to new life, and that by his own resurrection he will bring us to eternal life with him. This is the greatest mercy of all, the gift of eternal salvation.
As the Mother of Mercy, Mary is always ready to help us with her loving, tender intercession. She looks at us with love, just as she looked so tenderly at St. Juan Diego and asked him, “Do you need anything else?” Mary’s intercession is honored in the Church’s liturgy by the feast of her queenship celebrated August 22, one week after the Assumption. These two feasts are linked also in the rosary, being the fourth and the fifth glorious mysteries. When Mary was assumed into heaven, she wanted to keep on helping the members of the Church on earth. It’s similar to what St. Thérèse of Lisieux said, that she wanted to spend her heaven doing good on earth.
This intercessory role of Mary and the saints is not separated from Jesus, as if the saints help us apart from him. They pray for us as members of the whole body of Christ, just as we can pray for each other on earth. Once we get to heaven, this continues in an even more intense way. Mary’s intercession for us has a special character, in that it is a maternal mediation. St. John Paul stressed this in his encyclical Mother of the Redeemer. Mary is certainly subordinate to Jesus and everything she does draws its power from him. Still, because she is his mother, she has a unique role given to no one else.
At the wedding in Cana, Jesus worked his first miracle at the request of his mother, Mary. He changed water into wine, and abundantly so. Even though he seemed to rebuff her request, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” (Jn 2:4), he did it anyway. In some mysterious way, even now Jesus is always ready to grant the requests his mother makes of him. What would I like to ask?


Mary my mother, I come to you with confidence and trust. I know that you are my spiritual mother and that you are very attentive to the needs of all your children. Please help me in my moment of need, (mention request), and ask Jesus to sustain me with his grace. Pray also for all those in the world who are in situations of special need. Cast your eyes of mercy on them as well.