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.

Monday, July 18, 2016

St Camillus, an unlikely saint

Saint Camillus de Lellis (May 25, 1550 – July 14, 1614)
Patron: of the sick, doctors, nurses, hospitals, health-care workers
Even as a boy Camillus had a rough character. His mother died when he was twelve, and a few years later became a soldier, fighting alongside his father. They had the vices typical of a soldier’s life at that time, especially gambling. After his father died Camillus became a drifter who survived mainly by gambling. Because of a wound on his leg that wouldn’t heal, Camillus started working in a hospital in Rome. But he got into trouble on account of his bad temper and rough ways. He made some attempts to improve and even thought of becoming a friar. While doing manual labor at a Capuchin monastery his better nature started to show and he eventually made a complete conversion of life. Back at the San Giacomo hospital in Rome, he began in earnest to take care of the sick. Camillus also found a good spiritual director in Saint Philip Neri. Camillus was ordained as a priest when he was thirty-four. Against the advice of Saint Philip, he began a congregation to take care of the sick, known as the Clerics Regular, Ministers of the Sick. The work flourished and with great dedication Camillus and his men nursed the poor victims of the plague. They wore a large red cross on their habit.


As a young man, Camillus certainly seemed like an unlikely candidate for sainthood. Yet the grace of God can do wonders with those who turn themselves over to God. What about me? What part of my life do I need to turn over to God so as to become holy?
Saint Camillus, you like to say, “We want to assist the sick with the same love that a mother has for her only sick child.” Pray for us that we may have the same compassion toward those we are called to serve.

© 2016 Daughters of Saint Paul

Monday, July 11, 2016

St Thomas as a Teacher

Recently I've started to read some of the Scriptural commentaries of Thomas. They're very fascinating. I came across an interesting parallel text between his commentary on the letter to the Hebrews, and q. 36 in the first part of the Summa.

Both works come from his time teaching in Italy from 1265 to 1268. Although the two passages are dealing with different theological questions, when he talks about types of causes he uses the same examples in both of them. Perhaps he was in the habit of using similar examples in his teaching. In this case, the two texts are from about the same time, so it would make sense. Teachers often like to use their favorite comparisons in explaining something. While Thomas did dictate and write, much of his work involved teaching. He was in the classroom all the time, and this developed his theological thought. If we understand him as a teacher, I think we have an important key to his thought. The commentary on Hebrews was given as a lecture and Friar Reginald wrote down the notes.

The two examples involve the bailiff and the king, and the artisan and the hammer. Here are the texts:

From lecture 1, commentary on Hebrews:

“For through Him the Father made the world. But it should be noted that the grammatical object of the preposition ‘by’ or ‘through’ designates the cause of an act: in one way, because it causes a making on the part of the maker. For the making is midway between the maker and the thing made. In this usage the object of ‘by’ can designate the final cause motivating the maker, as an artisan works by gain; or the formal cause, as fire warms by heat; or even the efficient cause, as a bailiff acts through the king. But the Son is not the cause making the Father act through Him in any of these ways any more than He is the cause of His proceeding from the Father. But sometimes the object of ‘by’ designates the cause of the action, taken from the viewpoint of the thing made, as an artisan acts through a hammer; for the hammer is not the cause of the artisan’s action, but it is the cause why an artifact made of iron should proceed from the artisan, i.e., why iron [which the hammer strikes] be worked on by the artisan. This is the way the Son is the cause of things made and the way the Father works through the Son.”

From the Summa, I, q. 36, a. 3

“Whenever one is said to act through another, this preposition "through" points out, in what is covered by it, some cause or principle of that act. But since action is a mean between the agent and the thing done, sometimes that which is covered by the preposition "through" is the cause of the action, as proceeding from the agent; and in that case it is the cause of why the agent acts, whether it be a final cause or a formal cause, whether it be effective or motive. It is a final cause when we say, for instance, that the artisan works through love of gain. It is a formal cause when we say that he works through his art. It is a motive cause when we say that he works through the command of another. Sometimes, however, that which is covered by this preposition "through" is the cause of the action regarded as terminated in the thing done; as, for instance, when we say, the artisan acts through the mallet, for this does not mean that the mallet is the cause why the artisan acts, but that it is the cause why the thing made proceeds from the artisan, and that it has even this effect from the artisan. This is why it is sometimes said that this preposition "through" sometimes denotes direct authority, as when we say, the king works through the bailiff; and sometimes indirect authority, as when we say, the bailiff works through the king.”

Friday, June 03, 2016

What is devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus?

Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque is well known as one of the most ardent promoters of devotion to the Sacred Heart. But it did not originate with her. In fact, we could even say it began with Jesus himself when he invited us to rest in his heart. This invitation to find rest in the merciful heart of Jesus has consoled Christians throughout the centuries.

Many Church writers have spoken about the love of Jesus in reference to his heart.  This devotion developed as the Church meditated on the love of Jesus and gradually came to understand it better. In the Middle Ages, saints like Bernard of Clairvaux and Albert the Great preached and wrote about the heart of Jesus. This text from the Gospel of John in particular gave them much to meditate on:

So the soldiers came and they broke the legs of the first one and then of the other who had been crucified with him, but when they came to Jesus and saw that he had already died they did not break his legs, but, instead, one of the soldiers stabbed him in the side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. And the one who saw it has borne witness and his witness is true, and he knows that he is speaking the truth so you, too, may believe. For these things happened so the Scripture might be fulfilled, “Not a bone of his shall be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on him whom they have pierced” (Jn 19:32–37).

In the blood and water that flowed from the heart of Jesus, Christian writers saw the symbols of Baptism and the Eucharist. The great gift of the sacraments flowed from Jesus’ heart. Saint John Chrysostom wrote, “Since the sacred mysteries derive their origin from thence, when you draw near to the awe-inspiring chalice, so approach as if you were going to drink from Christ’s own side.” In light of all this, it is clear that devotion to the Sacred Heart is deeply rooted in Scripture and Catholic tradition.

It was through Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647–1690), however, that the devotion went viral, so to speak. She was a cloistered nun from the Visitation convent at Paray-le-Monial, France. Jesus appeared to her several times and revealed to her how much he loved her and all people. He spoke of his desire that people would love him in return, and for this purpose, he wanted Margaret Mary to spread devotion to his Sacred Heart.

In the cloister she had little or no contact with the outside world; how was she to do what Jesus asked? The Lord himself gave her the means through a holy Jesuit, Saint Claude de la Colombière, who was her spiritual director. He realized that Margaret Mary’s charity, humility, and obedience reflected true holiness. Convinced that she was telling the truth, he asked her to write an account of her revelations. He himself began to preach about Jesus’ love for us in his Sacred Heart. 

Through Margaret Mary, Jesus requested that we honor his Sacred Heart by fervently receiving Holy Communion, especially on the First Friday of the month, and offering reparation for sins. Jesus also requested that a special feast day be established to honor his Sacred Heart. In 1765 the feast was officially observed in Poland, and in 1856 Pope Pius IX extended it to the universal Church.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is more than merely a devotion; it is the essence of the Gospel: to take on the heart of Jesus and live in his love and bring it to others. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

Jesus knew and loved us each and all during his life, his agony and his Passion, and gave himself up for each one of us: “The Son of God . . . loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20). He has loved us all with a human heart. For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, (cf. Jn 19:34) “is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that . . . love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings” without exception. (CCC 478, quoting Pope Pius XII, encyclical Haurietis aquas)
From Sacred Heart of Jesus Prayerbook to be published next January,

Copyright © 2016, Daughters of St. Paul

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Mary, Mercy, and the Ark of the Covenant

The Gospel of Luke gives us the beautiful story of the Visitation, when Mary hastened to help her cousin Elizabeth. What does this have to do with mercy? First of all, Mary is doing a work of mercy in helping her older relative with this unexpected pregnancy. But the text has another theme, a bit hidden, that is also connected with mercy. Luke is hinting that Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant. What does this mean?

First, what was the Ark? It’s first mentioned in the book of Exodus and it represented the presence of God with his people Israel. The Ark was a large wooden box gilded with gold that contained three things: 1) some manna 2) Aaron’s rod, which budded, and 3) the tablets with the Ten Commandments.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The gold-plated cover of the box was called the mercy seat (kapporah in Hebrew; hilasterion in Greek). Later when the Temple was built, the ark was placed in the Holy of Holies, where the high priest would go once a year on the Day of Atonment. He would sprinkle blood on it and make an offering to God to atone for the sins of the people. The idea was that God would have mercy on the people and forgive their sins.

So the Ark of the Covenant had this close connection with mercy. We also find that in the New Testament, Jesus himself is the one who offered the perfect atonement for sins by his sacrificial offering of himself on the cross. The Greek word used for the mercy seat, indicating its role as an atoning sacrifice, is used of Jesus, for example, in Romans 3:25 where Paul says, “whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.”

In the Visitation, we can see an important connection between the Ark of the Covenant and Mary. How so? First, consider that the Ark represented God’s presence among the people. As she went on her journey, Mary was already carrying Jesus. And since Jesus is God, Mary is the God-bearer. Here she is bringing Jesus, who is mercy itself and the one who will offer the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Mary was like a tabernacle for Jesus.

Luke’s text indicates this, as we can see by comparing it to 2 Samuel 6:1-19, where the Ark of the Covenant was transferred to a new location.

1) Dancing and joy
“David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the lord with all their might….” (v. 5)

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb” (Lk 1:39)

2) Humility before God’s presence

David said, “How can the ark of the lord come into my care?” (v. 9)

Elizabeth said, “And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” (Lk 1:43).

3) Three months time span:

“The ark of the lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months” (v. 11)

“Mary remained with her about three months” (Lk 1:56)

4) Blessings from God’s presence in the Ark

“And the lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household” (v. 11)

Elizabeth told Mary, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (Lk 1:45)

What about us?
As baptized Christians we too have the presence of God in us through sanctifying grace and the sacraments, especially Communion. Like Mary, we can bring Christ to others through our words and actions.


Mary, you were a tabernacle for Jesus, bringing him to others. Pray for us that like you, we too may recall his presence in us through grace, and always strive to lead others to your Son. Help us realize that everything we do can be a positive witness to the Gospel, so that through our lives others will be brought to Jesus.

© 2016, Daughters of Saint Paul