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.

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

Friday, May 27, 2016

St Thomas and the Feast of Corpus Christi

Besides his great theological work, Thomas was a poet and hymn writer. He wrote his most famous hymns for the feast of Corpus Christi, which was first celebrated in 1246 in the diocese of Liège (Belgium). Under the inspiration of a devout group of women headed by St. Julienne of Mont-Cornillon, the bishop Robert of Torote approved their request to establish a feast in honor of the Body and Blood of Christ. It was a local celebration but soon began to spread. The Dominican Hugh of Saint-Cher approved it for use in Germany, where he was the cardinal-legate.
On August 11, 1264, Pope Urban IV established the feast for the whole Church through the publication of the papal bull Transiturus. Before becoming Pope, Urban had been in Liège and knew St. Julienne, so he was well acquainted with the background of the feast. However, in Italy the impetus for the feast originated with the Eucharistic miracle at Bolsena, a small town near Orvieto. A priest who was traveling through the area and who had been experiencing doubts about the Eucharist celebrated Mass in the town. During Mass the sacred host began to bleed, and the doubting priest reaffirmed his faith. The corporal he used is now venerated in the cathedral in Orvieto. This miracle stirred up popular Eucharistic devotion. Pope Urban asked Thomas to write the texts for the Mass and Office of this feast. This includes some of his most famous hymns that are still sung today and cherished by Catholics, such as the Pange lingua, Tantum ergo, and Panis angelicus. Although for a while some scholars had expressed doubts that Thomas was the author of the liturgical texts, more recent studies have concluded without a doubt that he indeed was (see Jean-Pierre Torrell, St Thomas Aquinas, vol. 1, p. 129-132). The theology of the texts is like Thomas’ autograph.
Although the feast was set for the Thursday following the octave of Pentecost, that first year it was celebrated in Orvieto in the late summer of 1264. Pope Urban died shortly after, on October 2. The implementation of the feast was never fully carried out until 1317 under Pope John XXII (who also canonized Thomas).

Tantum ergo Sacramentum
Veneremur cernui:
Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui:
Praestet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui.

Genitori, Genitoque
Laus et jubilatio,
Salus, honor, virtus quoque
Sit et benedictio:
Procedenti ab utroque
Compar sit laudatio. Amen.

Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail,
Lo! o'er ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.

To the everlasting Father,
And the Son Who reigns on high
With the Holy Spirit proceeding
Forth from each eternally,
Be salvation, honor blessing,
Might and endless majesty. Amen.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Novena to the Holy Spirit Day Nine: Self-Control

"The fruit of the Spirit is . . . self-control." Gal 5:22

This is the ninth and final fruit of the Spirit that Paul mentions here in Galatians. He is not speaking of self-control only in the sense of a certain kind of asceticism, though we need that too. For Paul, if we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit himself enables us to live holy lives. We need to do our part, definitely, but it is primarily a matter of grace.
And God always gives that grace in abundance if we pray and ask for it. On Sunday when we celebrate Pentecost, pray for the Spirit to come upon you personally just as it happened on the first Pentecost. The apostles were waiting and praying in the upper room as Jesus had told them (see Acts 1:4, 13-14). When the Holy Spirit came upon them with power, they were transformed and spoke about Jesus with renewed boldness and zeal. The Holy Spirit will transform us too.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts!

In our congregation, today (Saturday May 23) we celebrate the feast of Mary, Queen of the Apostles. Mary was the one most filled with the Holy Spirit. So here is a prayer that brings out that connection.

Mary, Transformer of the Apostles

Mary rejoice for the days you were in the Upper Room
with the Apostles and Disciples of your Son, Jesus.
You were teacher, comforter, and mother to all those
gathered in prayer awaiting the promised Holy Spirit,
the Spirit with the sevenfold gifts,
Love of the Father and of the Son;
Transformer of the Apostles.
Through your intercession and prayer obtain for us
the grace to realize the value of every human person
saved by your Son’s fidelity to the Father
to the point of offering his life on the cross.
May the love of Jesus urge us on for the Gospel.
May we feel in our hearts the needs of the unborn, of children,
of youth, of adults, of the elderly.
Grant that the vastness of Africa, the immensity of Asia,
the promise of America, the hopes of Europe, and Oceania
will attract us to share the message of the Gospel
with every person and in every culture.
May the apostolate of witness, prayer, the press,
films, radio, television, the Internet, social media and all media-technology,
draw many apostles to use these effective means
as ways to announce the Kingdom of God.
Mary, Mother of the Church and our Mother,
Queen of the Apostles, our intercessor, pray for us.

Blessed James Alberione, SSP, adapted

Mary and the Holy Spirit

Unless we see Mary in relation to the Holy Spirit, we will never understand her role in the Church.

“The Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell; he so transforms them that they begin to live a completely new kind of life” (St Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John).

The Holy Spirit first came upon Mary at her Immaculate Conception, preserving her from original sin and filling her with grace. She was filled with the Spirit all through her life, but at certain moments received a greater outpouring of the Spirit:  at the Annunciation, on Calvary, and on Pentecost. At each of these moments the Holy Spirit changed Mary. In what way and why did it matter?

The Holy Spirit changed Mary by making her holy and by giving her a new mission. The role of the Spirit is not only to make us holy, but also to give us a mission in the Church. As St John Paul put it, “The Holy Spirit is indeed the principal agent of the whole of the Church’s mission” (Mission of the Redeemer, no. 21). With that in mind let’s dig a little deeper into these three moments in Mary’s life.

The Annunciation

The angel Gabriel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God” (Lk 1:35). At that moment when Mary gave her consent, she became the Mother of God by becoming the mother of Jesus, who is God. That was a huge change for her, unique in the history of the human race. But that shouldn’t make us feel that Mary is distant from us. The mission she received then was not so much for herself but for us. Her mission was to give us Jesus in the flesh, the incarnate Son of God who came to earth to free us from our sins. The mission of Jesus depended on Mary. Without her, we wouldn’t have him. For many Christians, Mary’s mission stops here. But the Gospel leads us deeper.

On Calvary

“Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home” (Jn 19:25-27) What was going on? Certainly Jesus cared about his mother’s welfare and as a loving son wanted to provide for her. But John’s Gospel has layers of meaning, so there’s more to it.
The beloved disciple is never named in the Gospel. Many think that is because he represents the beloved disciples of every age, that is, all of us. Jesus was telling the disciple not just to take care of his mother, but also to accept her into his life of faith. In telling Mary “Here is your son,” Jesus was giving her many spiritual sons and daughters who would follow Jesus throughout the ages. Mary would help the beloved disciple more than he could help her, because of her spiritual motherhood.
With that gesture, Jesus finished his mission on earth and the Gospel tells us “Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (Jn 19:30). Certainly that means that he died. But again, the text has a deeper meaning. Jesus is handing over the Holy Spirit to the Church, represented there by his mother and the beloved disciple (see I Believe in the Holy Spirit, Yves Congar, p. 52). This will become more definitive after Easter, but John is bringing out a connection between Jesus’ death on the cross and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Mary, receiving the Spirit again, is changed and is given the new mission of being the mother of the beloved disciples and indeed all of us.


Finally, on Pentecost we find Mary with the disciples gathered in the Upper Room, and “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). This new outpouring of the Holy Spirit again brought to Mary a new change and a new mission. This has to do with her role in the Church. Vatican II said of Mary that “the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united with the Church: the Mother of God is a figure of the Church in the matter of faith, charity, and perfect union with Christ” (Lumen Gentium, no. 63).
Mary received a new motherhood in the order of grace (see John Paul, Mother of the Redeemer) by which she leads us to a deeper knowledge and love of her son, Jesus. As disciples, the more we ourselves are filled with the Holy Spirit, the more we will be changed to fulfill the mission God gives us. And the more we welcome Mary into our own lives as disciples, the more effective we will be.

Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Novena to the Holy Spirit Day Eight: Gentleness (Fri.)

"The fruit of the Spirit is . . . gentleness" (Gal 5:22)

The word Paul uses for gentleness (prautes) is the same word Matthew uses for the beatitude: Blessed are the meek (or gentle or humble in heart). Jesus spoke of himself in that way, that he is gentle and humble of heart. He invites us to take his yoke on us because he is so gentle he will never "break the bruised reed" (Is 42:3).
Jesus promised he would send us the Spirit. Of course he has already sent the Spirit, but he can do that again and again. As time goes on we can grow in our capacity to receive the Holy Spirit.

Do I turn to Jesus with trust? 

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of life, you who came down upon the apostles in a mighty wind and with fire, who filled the house where they were and gave them the gift of tongues to proclaim the wonders of God, come down now upon me as well.
Fill me with yourself and make of me a temple wherein you dwell. Open my lips to proclaim your praise, to ask your guidance, and to declare your love.
Holy Light, divine Fire, eternal Might, enlighten my mind to know you, inflame my heart to love and, strengthen my will to seek and find you. Be fore me the living and life giving Breath of God, the very air I breathe, and the only sky in which my spirit soars. Amen.

Below is another version of the Taize chant of the Veni Sancte Spiritus.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Novena to the Holy Spirit Day Seven: Faithfulness (Thur.)

"The fruit of the Spirit is . . . faithfulness" (Gal 5:22)

The word Paul uses here (pistis) can be translated as faith or faithfulness. But in the context of Galatians, in which Paul speaks about how faith in Christ justifies us, it can probably be best seen as a trust founded on God's own faithfulness (that's from Matera's commentary.)

This kind of faithfulness leads us to trust that God will always be with us no matter what trials we are going through. This makes me think of an incident from the life of St. Thomas. As a young man he decided he wanted to join a new order called the Dominicans. They were mendicants--traveling preachers who depended on people to help them with food and other necessities.
Thomas was from a noble family in Italy. They wouldn't have minded if he had wanted to become a Benedictine. Since he had studied at the Abbey of Monte Cassino, they thought he could enter there and eventually become the Abbot. But the idea of him going around begging for food horrified them. His mother in particular adamantly opposed Thomas on this.

But Thomas had other ideas. He wanted to follow the poor Christ, without a position of power (in those days abbots sometimes had a good deal of power and influence). So when he entered the Dominicans and they sent him on a journey to Paris, his family intervened. His brothers went after him and took him against his will back to the family castle in Aquino.
There they kept him under a sort of house arrest. They thought he wouldn't last too long and would eventually give in. But he resisted all their pressure to make him change his mind. Finally, after about a year, they realized he wasn't going to follow their plans. Instead, Thomas was faithful to the plans that he believed God had for him. That was faithfulness in action.

Is there some area in my life where I can be more faithful to what God is asking of me right now?

Prayer to the Holy Spirit for the Gift of Courage (public domain):

Come, O Holy Spirit of Courage, uphold my soul in time of trouble and adversity, sustain my efforts after holiness, strengthen my weakness, give me courage in the trials of life, that I may never be overcome and separated from you, my God and greatest Good. Amen.

Below is another version of the Taize chant of the Veni Sancte Spiritus.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Novena to the Holy Spirit: Day Six Goodness (Wed.)

"The fruit of the Spirit is ... goodness." Gal 5:22

 In high school I had a wonderful teacher who was a mentor for me. She would often say, "Be good." Even though it sounds so simple, it sums up the essence of the Christian life. By being good we can act  with goodness toward others. The way we act reveals what is in our hearts. And by good acts, we become better persons. That was the main idea St John Paul wanted to get across in his book Person and Act. The opposite is also true; if we do evil things our heart changes and is drawn more to evil. But the power of good is greater; whatever little good we do can turn our hearts more and more to God, who is Goodness itself.
St. Paul often encouraged his Christians to be good: "I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness..." (Rom 15:14).
The Holy Spirit is the source of our goodness, for the Spirit is Love. When we open ourselves more fully to the Spirit, we can expect to be filled with an abundance of grace and spiritual gifts.

How can I show goodness to others today?

Prayer for Holiness of Life
 By St. Augustine

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
that I may love only what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
that I may defend all that is holy.
Guard me, O Holy Spirit,
that I always may be holy.

And here is the traditional Come, Holy Ghost:


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Novena to the Holy Spirit: Day Five Kindness (Tuesday)

"The fruit of the Spirit is . . . kindness." (Gal 5:22)

Some years ago when I was dealing with a difficult situation that had lasted a while, I was praying in our chapel one day. A sister who was visiting from Italy -- who knew nothing of the difficulty -- came up to me and expressed genuine appreciation for some of my good qualities. When people do that I tend to disregard it, but in this case it was such perfect timing and so completely affirming that I thought it had to be the Holy Spirit who inspired her. It wasn't flattery but I felt almost like she had a window into my soul. And she didn't say any negative things like I may have feared, but instead she spoke of the good she saw in me. And that makes it easier to live out of those good things. It took me completely by surprise but it was a wonderful act of kindness. To this day whenever I think of that, I still recall how good I felt.

Kindness can make such a big difference to another person, and it often costs us so little. To look at someone and see their good points instead of their flaws is an act of kindness. And only kind people will do that. We reveal who we ourselves are by the way we treat others.

How can I show greater kindness to others today?

 Prayer to the Holy Spirit by St John Paul II

Come, Holy Spirit.  Come.  Enter deep into the hearts of those who belong to you.  May each be given the manifestation of you for the common good.  So that God may be all in all.
Lord, give me a spirit of faith and knowledge.  Give me a spirit of kindness and generosity.  Give me a spirit of love and unity.  The fruit of the spirit is love, patience, and generosity.  It is peace.

 When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people. -- Abraham Joshua Heschel

The Veni Creator Spiritus 

Monday, May 09, 2016

Novena to the Holy Spirit Day Four: Patience (Monday)

"The fruit of the Spirit is . . . patience" (Gal 5:22)

The patience that St Paul refers to here is more like forbearance.
In relation to God, it's the way that God never tires of us, always has patience, and tries to draw us to conversion.
For us, this kind of patience helps us to control our anger, especially in situations when it threatens to overwhelm us. Just about all of us, at one time or another, have gotten angry to the point it was hard to control our thoughts and words. When that happens we usually say something we later regret.

Patience helps us to control ourselves at those moments. It helps us to see things from another's point of view. If we can do that, even if we don't agree with the person, we can at least understand where he or she may be coming from.

The New Testament has two words for patience. One is hupomonē, which refers more to bearing a burden patiently. It's more like long-suffering, holding up under trials. But here in Galatians Paul uses the word makrothumia. It's a compound word and the two parts give us the meaning: makros or "long" and thumia or "passion" or "temper." So it has more of the sense of being long-tempered, able to take a lot of stress without losing one's temper. If we can practice this, we can become more like God who is so patient with us. That's why it's a fruit of the Spirit, since it depends more on grace than our own efforts.

How can I be more patient today in the events of my life and with the people I am with?

This prayer is directed to St. Paul:

For Patience

Glorious Saint Paul, from a persecutor of Christianity you became an ardent apostle and evangelizer. Throughout your life you even suffered imprisonment, scourging, stoning, and shipwreck; you endured persecutions of every kind for the sake of the Gospel. Your sole desire was to make the Savior Jesus Christ known to the farthest bounds of the world, and to that end you shed your blood to the last drop.
Obtain for me the grace to accept the hardships of ill health and the daily struggles of this present life as opportunities to grow in love for Jesus Christ and share in his sufferings. May the unexpected difficulties that come my way help me to be a more patient, compassionate, and loving person who seeks to assist others in their needs. And, amid the pressures and demands of everyday life, grant me enduring strength to be a faithful and fervent follower of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Blessed James Alberione 

"Have patience with all things but first with yourself." --St Francis de Sales

Below is another version of the Taize chant of the Veni Sancte Spiritus.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Novena to the Holy Spirit Day Three (Sun.) Peace

"The fruit of the Spirit is . . . peace" (Gal 5:22)

Nine years ago I had the opportunity to make an Ignatian 30-day retreat at a retreat house in Gloucester. I loved walking along the water to pray and reflect. The retreat is structured so that the person first meditates and prays about God's great love for us, and only after that come the meditations on sin. We can't truly confront our sin without a secure knowledge of God's love, knowing that no matter what we've done, God's mercy is greater. At that point I made my confession. Afterward, walking along the water, the words of Micah 7:19 came to mind, "You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins." It left me with an incredible feeling of peace.

Before the retreat I had invited people to leave their prayer intentions that I took with me. When I got back, I found a message: "Sister, the prayer I left with you was answered, and today I was able to receive Communion for the first time in more than twenty years." I still treasure that message and it's so beautiful to think of how God answers our prayers for each other. I don't know who that person was, but I'm sure that he or she had a deep experience of this fruit of the Spirit: peace.

Above all else, peace comes first in our relationship with God. When that is set aright, we can more easily live at peace with others. When we allow the Holy Spirit into our hearts, the grace we receive enables us to look at others in a new way. Then it is easier to love them too.

"Let nothing perturb you, nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves everything.”--St Teresa of Avila

 Prayer for Peace by St. John Paul II (slightly adapted)

Holy Spirit, hear my voice, for it is the voice of the victims of all wars and violence among individuals and nations.

Holy Spirit, hear my voice, for it is the voice of all children who suffer and will suffer when people put their faith in weapons and war.

Holy Spirit, hear my voice when I beg You to instill into the hearts of all human beings the wisdom of peace, the strength of justice, and the joy of fellowship.

Holy Spirit, hear my voice, for I speak for the multitudes in every country and in every period of history who do not want war and are ready to walk the road of peace.

Holy Spirit, hear my voice and grant insight and strength so that we may always respond to hatred with love, to injustice with total dedication to justice, to need with the sharing of self, to war with peace.

Holy Spirit, hear my voice and grant unto the world Your everlasting peace.

This is the beautiful Taize chant.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Novena to the Holy Spirit: Day Two (Sat.) Joy


Joy is the second fruit of the Spirit mentioned by St. Paul in Galatians.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, we can't help but be joyful. St. Paul himself gave an example of this kind of joy. When he and Silas were preaching the Word of God in Philippi, some people in the town opposed them and stirred up opposition. The apostles were dragged before the town magistrates, who punished them. They were severely beaten with rods and locked up in the town jail (see Acts 16: 19ff.)

But Paul and Silas didn't get discouraged. Instead, they talked to the other prisoners and praised God with prayers and hymns. They were joyful even while undergoing such trials. Shortly after, an earthquake struck the prison and Paul and Silas were freed from their chains. But instead of escaping they talked to the jailer and converted him and his family, who were then baptized. Acts says of them: "He and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God." The Good News that Paul preached brought joy to those who heard it.

In the New Testament, joy isn't primarily just a happy feeling. Instead, it refers to the intense, deep-seated realization that God wants to bring us to salvation through Jesus Christ. This kind of joy can even exist in times of suffering. In fact, sometimes trials themselves can bring a spiritual joy in the sense that we know God is at work through them to bring us closer to him.

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:4-7).

Today how can I radiate the joy of the Holy Spirit to those I meet?

Prayer for Holiness of Life

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
that I may love only what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
that I may defend all that is holy.
Guard me, O Holy Spirit,
that I always may be holy.
St. Augustine

"A heart filled with joy is more easily made perfect than one that is sad."  -- St. Philip Neri

Optional Scripture reading:
Philippians chapter 2, the epistle of joy