Why convert? – secretum meum mihi


-by Br Philip Nolan, OP

“When Blessed John Henry Newman sat down to write a defense of his decision to enter the Catholic Church, he said, “the words, ‘Secretum meum mihi,’ keep ringing in my ears.” “Secretum meum mihi”—“My secret is my own.” Who was he to share the details of his long, confusing, and often painful path to Rome? His account of the quiet prompts, of the reasoning and intuitions that he eventually knew to be God’s work in his life would necessarily fall short of the reality. Thankfully, despite these concerns Newman decided it prudent to publish the defense, though not without a certain trepidation.

“My secret is my own.” The quotation comes from Isaiah 24:16 in the Vulgate and has been repeated by a number of saints. Newman’s patron, St. Philip Neri, according to his early biographer, “constantly repeated to himself the phrase, “my secret is my own, my secret is my own.”  St. Philip “was well aware in himself of the gifts that God had given him, but wanted to keep them hidden from anyone else, for he remembered what St Gregory said, that anyone who carries his treasure about openly in the streets is asking to be robbed.” Those who flaunt spiritual treasures are like the Pharisee praying on the street corner—in most cases they are seeking worldly glory in place of true, heavenly treasure. St. Philip knew at least a portion of what God was sharing with him in his soul. But the saint knew not to attempt to express many of the spiritual delights and trials he received.

Edith Stein repeated the same words. When a friend asked why she converted to Catholicism, the future saint reportedly gave the answer: “Secretum meum mihi.” Reluctant to share her innermost thoughts, she allowed the inexpressible to remain unexpressed.

To say and mean these words, to pray them, we must know two things—that we have a secret, and that it’s ours, uniquely ours. What is the secret? Simply by existing, we fulfill a part of God’s plan that no one else can take. More technically, this is referred to as the incommunicability of the human person. Each person is unique and distinct from everything else that is. God does not make mistakes in creation—each of us has an irreplaceable role in his plan.

For those raised to friendship with God in grace, each of us has a relationship with Him that is unlike anyone else’s friendship with God. While close friends might list attributes that they appreciate in each other, the core of their friendship can only be experienced, not expressed. Their relationship is uniquely theirs.

When we live in grace, rely on the sacraments, and respond to God’s requests that we abandon ourselves to His plans, we receive “grace upon grace.” These graces form us and elevate us to be more like Jesus and bring us into union with God in a way that only we can be. We can each say, “the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name” (Lk. 1:49). This is friendship with God. This friendship—its shape, its contours, its times of joy and trial—is the secret God gives to each of us, and it is uniquely ours. Our secrets are our own, and together we praise the God who shares with us the inexpressible sweetness of his life.”

Love, secretum meum mihi,
Matthew

Trinitarian feasting


-I LOVE SEAFOOD!!!!!

“Eternal God, eternal Trinity, you have made the blood of Christ so precious through His sharing in Your divine nature. You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for You. But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. When You fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light. I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.

I have tasted and seen the depth of your mystery and the beauty of your creation with the light of my understanding. I have clothed myself with Your likeness and have seen what I shall be. Eternal Father, You have given me a share in Your power and the wisdom that Christ claims as His own, and your Holy Spirit has given me the desire to love You. You are my Creator, eternal Trinity, and I am Your creature. You have made of me a new creation in the blood of Your Son, and I know that You are moved with love at the beauty of Your creation, for You have enlightened me.

Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery deep as the sea, You could give me no greater gift than the gift of Yourself. For You are a fire ever burning and never consumed, which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being. Yes, You are a fire that takes away the coldness, illuminates the mind with its light and causes me to know Your truth. By this light, reflected as it were in a mirror, I recognize that You are the highest good, one we can neither comprehend nor fathom. And I know that You are beauty and wisdom itself. The food of angels, You gave Yourself to man in the fire of Your love.

You are the garment which covers our nakedness, and in our hunger You are a satisfying food, for You are sweetness and in You there is no taste of bitterness, O triune God!”

This excerpt on the mystery of the triune God from the dialogue On Divine Providence by Saint Catherine of Siena (Cap 167, Gratiarum actio ad Trinitatem) is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the liturgical memorial of St. Catherine of Siena on April 29.

Love,
Matthew

fugit mundi


-Domenico Ghirlandaio (workshop), Temptation of St. Anthony, after Martin Schongauer’s woodcut, c.1490

I read the Biography of St Anthony of the Desert, by St Athanasius in the Avila Institute course “Wisdom of the Saints: from St Athanasius to St Bernard of Clairvaux“. I would recommend. This is a foundational text for the Christian.

As a general disclaimer, general, I would either a) take such a course when reading documents thousands of years old, steeped in the history, context, language, translation, etc., which they inescapably are. Take a good guide. You’ll need them. Or, b) [feeling the theme?  do yourself a favor.  take the hint.  🙂  ] a good guide, exceedingly generous, patient, and interested solely (souly 🙂 in your benefit, and edification, erudition.


-by Br. Bartholomew Calvano, OP

“St. Anthony of the Desert is considered the Father of Monasticism. Not because he was the first monk but because he was the first to venture deep into the wilderness. St. Athanasius reports that although there were monks in Egypt before Anthony, they all remained near their homes. Anthony lived with an old man for a time to learn how to be an ascetic. When he resolved to head into the deep desert, he asked this same old man to join him. The old man, however, “declined on account of his great age, and because as yet there was no such custom.” So Anthony set off into the desert alone.

By his journey into the desert, St. Anthony models the fugit mundi (flight of the world) that characterizes true monastic life. This flight of the world is not the flight of a coward nor the avoidance of hardship or the total abandonment of all people. The monk who flees the world cares deeply for those in the world. In fact, by fleeing the world the monk enters into a spiritual combat for those still in the world.

This spiritual combat was clearly evident in the life of St. Anthony. The three traditional sources of temptation are the world, the flesh, and the devil. By fleeing the world, St. Anthony avoided the first. By disciplining his body through fasting and other mortifications he quieted the second. His main struggle in the desert, then, was with the devil. St. Anthony was frequently visited with the torments of demons. It was for this combat that he fled into the desert.

There then he passed his life, and endured such great wrestlings, ‘Not against flesh and blood’ (Ephesians 6:12), as it is written, but against opposing demons, as we learned from those who visited him. For there they heard tumults, many voices, and, as it were, the clash of arms. At night they saw the mountain become full of wild beasts, and him also fighting as though against visible beings, and praying against them. And those who came to him he encouraged, while kneeling he contended and prayed to the Lord. Surely it was a marvellous thing that a man, alone in such a desert, feared neither the demons who rose up against him, nor the fierceness of the four-footed beasts and creeping things, for all they were so many. But in truth, as it is written, ‘He trusted in the Lord as Mount Sion,’ with a mind unshaken and undisturbed; so that the demons rather fled from him, and the wild beasts, as it is written (Job 5:23), ‘kept peace with him.’

Although he had few worldly cares, St. Anthony had many tribulations from evil spirits. The monk fights more intensely the spiritual battle that all Christians must fight. Indeed, whenever each of us, be we monk or layman, advances in holiness, the demons increase their temptations and hinder us by evil thoughts. However, we need not fear these temptations of the devils since they will fail if we persevere in prayer, fasting, and faith in the Lord. We see that even in the midst of his spiritual struggles, when others would come to visit Anthony, he was able to encourage them. One of the greatest gifts that holy men and women receive through struggling in the spiritual combat is this ability to encourage and strengthen others who come to them for help. It is why so many of the stories of the Desert Fathers show men and women seeking them out in the wilderness and why even today monasteries are excellent places to make a retreat and to receive spiritual direction from holy monks.

One of the helps that St. Anthony recommended in this spiritual combat is to make use of the sign of the cross. He gave this advice: “the demons make their seeming onslaughts against those who are cowardly. Sign yourselves therefore with the cross, and depart boldly, and let these make sport for themselves.” For St. Anthony, the sign of the cross is not simply a habitual action used to begin prayer, but rather a powerful defense that fortifies a Christian to resist the temptations of evil spirits. The sign of the cross invokes both the cross by which Christ overcame the power of the devil and also the name of the Holy Trinity. As St. Anthony says, “Where the sign of the Cross is, magic is weak and witchcraft has no strength.” We, therefore, should not be casual in making the sign of the cross, but recognize the great power present in the sign we make. Furthermore, we should make this sign as frequently as we are tempted and recall the price which Christ paid to redeem us. For then we will have no need to fear temptation since we will boldly advance under the protecting shadow of the cross.”

2 Tim 4:7 – this Scripture passage was carved into the base of the statue of a young, youthful, striving St Paul outside my home parish of St Paul’s, Stone Harbor, NJ.

-Google street view

Love,
Matthew

Moments of Light


-before His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ grants salvation to souls by the Harrowing of Hell. Fresco, by Fra Angelico, c. 1430s


-by Br Nicholas Hartman, OP

“Do you ever have moments when you just know—in a way you did not before—that something you do all the time or a way you think about things is a bit off or wrong? Perhaps you often say things that are not quite true. Perhaps you find yourself in an immoral friendship or harbor an animus against someone unjustifiably. Maybe you fail to do something? Perhaps you rarely give alms or tithe. Maybe you have not frequented Confession in a long time or are not fully on board with the Church’s moral teachings. It could be anything, yet now you see it. Somehow you have never, or not for a long time, questioned what you did or thought. But now it is staring you in the face. Even if it should have been obvious before, now it is as obvious as when something once obscured shines in the light.

And it is disconcerting and destabilizing. Can I really let this thinking in? Am I really lying like this all the time? Am I really the good person I think I am when I am with this friend? If you entertain these thoughts any further, you know you will feel badly about yourself. Perhaps you will not change, but this thinking will spoil what you once enjoyed. Perhaps you will change and give up something you like or endure something you dislike. Perhaps you will endure humiliation or something even worse.

Often these moments of light frighten us. We think we must check them and shoo away the light. Related to these moments is a whole chapter in John’s Gospel where Jesus heals a man born blind. It is worth reading slowly and meditatively.

Once cured, the man born blind is brought to the Pharisees who are confronted with the miracle. The cured man explains, “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” The miracle Jesus performs by divine power should illumine for the Pharisees the reality of His ministry’s divine origin—that ministry they have been working against. In flooding the blind man with light, Jesus also throws light onto the paths of the Pharisees, but they refuse to see and [Ed. willfully, Jn 3:19] remain in darkness about Who Jesus is and how they should receive His ministry.

We need not fear these moments of light. If we refuse them, as the Pharisees did, we shut out the light, and the darkness after is greater than before. Before healing the blind man, Jesus instructs, “We must work the works of Him Who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work.” Moments of light are critical because when it is night, when we cannot see that we need a remedy, we cannot seek one. We are powerless to choose what we do not know. When these moments of light come—even a dim glimmer of light—we must act. Yet if we refuse the light, we return to a darkness we had a hand in making. After the Pharisees panic and cast out the man born blind, they question Jesus if they too are blind. Jesus responds, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” They refuse the light while claiming to see, and thus they are responsible for their blindness.

But what if we choose to see? When the light of Christ shimmers on our paths, we see our error and run to Him to banish our darkness. We could too easily think this light will destroy our happiness. But the contrary is true! We make vulnerable our hearts, dragged this way and that by sin, to One Who loves us tenderly, Who comforts and strengthens us. We bathe our minds in the light that lets us see clearly the truths about ourselves and about God. We let that light pour into our deepest parts, those hidden away even from ourselves. The light rectifies and purifies our perceptions, making them resilient to the tugging and pulling of wayward passions, especially fear and despair. We rest in Christ’s peace, stirred only by a rolling, bouncing joy rumbling from within and pouring out into our lives. A moment of light is not a threat; it is a chance! When the blind man saw physically, he also saw spiritually. Once he was cast out from the presence of the Pharisees, Jesus found him and made Himself known to him.”

Love,
Matthew

The True Vine

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O my Lord and Redeemer, grant that I may understand the deep intimate ties that bind You to us, whom You have redeemed.

MEDITATION

Jesus is the “one Mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 2:5); however, He did not will to effect the work of our redemption independently of us, but used it as a means of strengthening the bond between Himself and us. This is the wonderful mystery of our incorporation in Christ, the mystery which Our Lord Himself revealed to His apostles the night before His Passion. “I am the true vine; and My Father is the husbandman…. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me” (John 15:1,4).

Jesus strongly affirms that there is no redemption, no supernatural life, no grace-life for one who does not live in Him, who is not grafted onto Him. He points to the vine: the shoots will not live and bear fruit unless they remain attached to the trunk. Jesus wishes to actualize this close connection between Himself and us, a connection which is necessary for our salvation and sanctification. We cannot receive the least degree of grace except through Christ’s mediation, even as the smallest drop of sap cannot reach a branch which is detached from the tree.

Moreover, Jesus declares that, if we abide in Him, we shall not only have supernatural life, but we shall become the recipients of special attention from our heavenly Father, the “Husbandman” of the mystical vine. In fact, our heavenly Father acknowledges us as His adopted children, loves us as such, and takes care of us, precisely to the degree in which He sees in us Christ, His only-begotten, His well-beloved Son. The grace of adoption, then, is wholly dependent upon our union with Christ, a union so close that we form, as it were, a “living part” of Him, as the branch forms a living part of the vine.

COLLOQUY

“O most high and eternal Trinity, Deity, Love, we are trees of death, and You are the tree of Life. O infinite God! How beautiful was Your creature when a pure tree in Your light! O supreme purity, You endowed it with branches, that is, with the faculties of the soul, memory, intellect, and will…. The memory, to recall You; the intellect, to know You; the will, to love You…. But this tree fell, because by disobeying it lost its innocence. Instead of a tree of life, it became a tree of death and brought forth only fruits of death.

This is why, O eternal, most high Trinity, in a sublime transport of love for Your creature, seeing that this tree could produce only fruits of death because it was separated from You, Who are Life, You gave it a remedy with that very same love by which You had created it, grafting Your Deity into the dead tree of our humanity. O sweet, gentle grafting!… Who constrained You to do this, to give back life to it, You who have been offended so many times by Your creature? Love alone, whence by this grafting death is dissolved.

Was Your charity content, having made this union? No, eternal Word, You watered this tree with Your Blood. This Blood, by its warmth makes it grow, if man with his free will grafts himself onto You, and unites and binds his heart and affections to You, tying and binding this graft with the bond of charity and following Your doctrine. Since it is through You, O Life, that we bring forth fruits of life, we wish to be grafted onto You. When we are grafted onto You, then the branches which You have given to our tree bear fruit” (St. Catherine of Siena).

How encouraging it is to think, O Jesus, that my longing to be united to You is not a vain fantasy, but is already a reality! It is a reality because You have willed to graft me onto You as a shoot is grafted onto the vine, so that I live wholly by this union with You. Oh! grant that my soul may become always more closely united to You, and may always be ready to receive the vital sap of grace which You produce in me, Your branch!”

Love,
Matthew

Psalm 28

To you, I call;
you are my Rock,
do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if You remain silent,
I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Hear my cry for mercy
as I call to You for help,
as I lift up my hands
toward Your Most Holy Place.

Do not drag me away with the wicked,
with those who do evil,
who speak cordially with their neighbors
but harbor malice in their hearts.
Repay them for their deeds
and for their evil work;
repay them for what their hands have done
and bring back on them what they deserve.

Because they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord
and what His hands have done,
He will tear them down
and never build them up again.

Praise be to the Lord
for He has heard my cry for mercy.
The is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise Him.

The Lord is the strength of His people,
a fortress of salvation for His anointed one.
Save your people and bless your inheritance;
be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Love,
Matthew

Christian prayer


-by Dr. Anthony L. Lilles, STD, Academic Dean of St John’s Seminary

“Christian prayer is a true conversation with God. This holy dialogue is based on a real relationship between the Giver of all good gifts and the one who offers sacrifice, between the Protector and the one who seeks His will. Both the similarity and difference of the human person to God together create the boundaries for this relationship.

Above the horizon of creation, the Creator draws His work to Himself. The Trinity, Who is a multiplicity of eternal relations in unity, draws into unity the multiplicity of temporal relations in creation. The closer the Word draws creation to the Father, the more complete and beautiful it becomes.

Awe over passing wonders disposes the heart to awe over wonders that do not pass. The Word of the Father raises up into divine harmony things that are visible in this world below: duration, extension, light, mass, and all kinds of mysterious forces like gravity, magnetism, atomic, electricity are bound together in tensions both primordial and eschatological, completed and not yet, present but not fully so. Over all this visible, observable, measurable cosmos, something invisible constantly draws it into existence and propels it to something beyond its own finitude – so that its own visible beauty is a fleeting sign of a spiritual beauty.

The more creation resonates with the eternal harmony of this Word, the more the Father rejoices in the Holy Spirit that His work is different, totally other than Himself. The Father contemplates in creation’s very otherness the inexhaustible fullness of the unity of the Holy Spirit through, with and in His only Begotten Son. In other words, He sees that His work is good, so very good that He blesses creation with His Divine Presence. Thus, His work of creation is where God discloses Himself and where His blessing is received.

Over all His work, the human person, each individual man and woman, is the particular object of the Holy Trinity’s inexhaustible love. The Father’s love draws all people together into the mysterious boundary where humanity and divinity touch. It is a garden enclosed by painful differences and delicate similarities fashioned together in the very person of His only begotten Son. This boundary, the Creator permits to exist between Himself and creation, is the spiritual space in which those sons and daughters, adopted into Christ’s Sonship, can dare to approach His Heavenly Father.

What is this spiritual space where Creatures participate in the unending and superabundant circumcession of filial and paternal love? Although more difficult to discern in some contemporary liturgical Christian prayerenvironments, ancient and medieval Church architecture celebrate this paradise, this enclosed garden, this sanctuary. Carved in wood and stone, adorned with columns and arches and stained glass, the whole spiritual drama of the Trinity’s love for humanity (and for each soul) unfolds as one approaches the altar, the very heart of these churches, the symbol of Christ in the Universe and in the soul.

One enters such a place of worship more by prayer than by physical awareness of art and architecture. Only within that holy sanctuary, enclosed by the tender horizons in the heart, does humanity find the freedom to enter into a true relation with God, the integrity of a frail creature being protected before the absolute transcendence of the One who made Him.

In the heart at prayer, there are boundaries placed, not as obstacles, but instead for a holy relationship with One whom we are not worthy to approach but who has called us all the same. Thus, we remember our sinfulness and plead for the Father’s mercy, trusting more in divine mercy than in our frailty. Such a soul who knows this gift of holy fear can come to discern the divine whisper that calls,

“Come, thou blessed of my Father.”

Grace, the gift of participating in the Trinity’s life of love and truth, is the source of likeness and communion. To be raised into and enjoy a graced relation with the eternal relations of the Holy Trinity, this is the greatness of the human vocation. This mysticism of relationship and communion is not merely a future idea to which we aspire. It is a mysticism of relation we can already know in this present moment through the blood of Christ poured out for us.

This mysticism of relationship does not confuse or co-mingle a creature’s identity with the Creator, but deepens and makes each individual personality a more unique and un-repeatable expression of divine image and likeness. This is why the divine conversation that Christians enter into does not involve the surmounting, suppressing or overcoming of frail humanity. Instead, the prayer of faith is a source of healing, a restoration of personal integrity, a purification from all that mars and weighs down humanity, a freedom from self-occupation and self-deception, a radical self-emptying in humility, an elevation above the evils that try to define one’s existence, a participation in that higher, supernatural life in love and truth that is the source and summit of all creation.”

Love, pray for me,
Matthew

Oct 1 – St Therese of Lisieux, OCD, (1873-1897), “The Little Flower”, of the Child Jesus & the Holy Face, Doctor of the Church – Religious

“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” – St. Thérèse of Lisieux

St. Thérèse was born in France on January 2, 1873. She was raised in a family of great faith, and when Thérèse was nine years old, her older sister, Pauline, entered the Carmelite monastery of Lisieux. Thérèse idolized her older sister, and became determined, as well, to become a Carmelite nun for Jesus’ sake. While still of a young age, St. Thérèse made her plans formally known but was informed by the authorities that she would need to wait until age 21 to join Carmel. Even so, she was also informed that she could always ask the Bishop for special permission to enter the monastery at an earlier age. Being the determined girl she was, St. Thérèse did just that.

Journeying to Rome, along with her father, Thérèse visited Bishop Hugonin of Bayeux to seek early permission to join the Carmelite order. The Bishop was surprised at St. Therese’s determination and also by her father’s support. But the Bishop said he needed time to think further about her request. Undaunted, St. Thérèse immediately appealed to a higher authority: the Pope himself. St. Thérèse and her father actually secured an audience with the Pope and while the Pope was impressed by her determination, advised her, nonetheless, to listen to her superiors, assuring her that if God, indeed, willed it, she would certainly enter Carmel as a nun. Ultimately, St. Thérèse did just that, taking the Carmelite habit at Lisieux at 16 years of age.

In her autobiography, Story of a Soul, St. Thérèse writes about a book she loved called, The End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life by Father Charles Arminjon.

“All the great truths of religion, the mysteries of eternity, plunged my soul into a state of joy not of this earth. I experienced already what God reserved for those who love Him (not with the eyes, but with the heart); and seeing the eternal rewards had no proportion to life’s small sacrifices, I wanted to love, to love Jesus with a passion. … I copied out several passages on perfect love, on the reception God will give His elect at the moment He becomes their reward, great and eternal, and I repeated over and over the words of love burning in my heart.”

St. Thérèse, though gifted with a determined will, also felt led to “craft” for herself a simple, childlike and joyful spirituality which she called her “Little Way.” In this Little Way, she obediently and graciously served others no matter where she was or what she was doing. We can, as many people of faith have already experienced—find much consolation in the Little Way of St. Thérèse—as we seek to model our lives after her extraordinary simple yet deep spirituality, in its love and generosity towards others wherever we (or they) are in life.”

Love,
Matthew

Betrayed with a kiss -Lk 22:48

Mohandas Gandhi was known to read the New Testament every day. A British reporter asked him if he intended to become a Christian. Gandhi replied, “Your Jesus I like. If I ever meet a Christian, I will become one.”

-by Don Steiger, pastor of Dakota Ridge Assembly, Littleton, Colorado

“It has been said that there are two reasons why people do not go to church: They do not know a Christian, or they do know a Christian. Several times through the years I have heard people say they are no longer serving God because someone in the church let them down. Our maturity as Christians is put to the test when people disappoint us. No one has gone through life without such experiences.

Several years after I came to Colorado Springs to pastor Radiant Church a fellowship of pastors decided it would be a good thing to bring our churches together for a united worship service. We secured the city auditorium and invited our congregations to gather for a Sunday night service. The response was terrific and the building was packed when we started the worship. The evening went well up to the conclusion of the service. To my surprise, the pastor responsible for the closing prayer departed from the planned order of service and asked all the pastors to come to the front and face the audience. He then said, “If anyone has a grievance against a pastor come forward and work it out.” Billy Graham would have been envious of the response to this altar call. People got out of their seats and moved toward me and my fellow pastors in what looked like a tidal wave of disgruntled parishioners. A line formed in front of me and one by one I listened to their complaints and responded as best I could. This process probably took an hour or two, but it seemed more like an eternity. After it was all over my wife Loretta said, “Don, I don’t know if you realize it, but you had the longest line.” This distinction was not one I wanted when I entered the ministry. I must admit I left that service wounded by the people I had worked so hard to serve.

The apostle Paul also experienced his share of troubling relationships. In his last recorded words Paul includes a listing of several people who played important roles in his life. Some were positive in their influence and some were negative. His response is instructive as we make our way through the variety of relationships life presents to us.

In 2 Timothy 4:9–22, Paul mentions several people by name as he concludes his last epistle. He is writing from a Roman prison cell facing the possibility of martyrdom. Among the names mentioned is a representation of some of the critical relationships we experience in our Christian walk.

First, there was an adversarial relationship—“Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm” (verse 14, NIV). It may be that this person is the Alexander mentioned in Acts 19:33. The idol makers of Ephesus were losing business because of the influence of the church, and incited the city residents against the Christians and their most visible leader, Paul. Consequently, the Jewish community, for fear of being associated with the church, chose Alexander to speak on their behalf. There is also an Alexander mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:19,20. This man’s faith was shipwrecked and Paul delivered him over to Satan that he may be taught not to blaspheme. It is tough enough when unbelievers oppose us, but when a professing Christian does so it is most disheartening. We do not know much about Alexander or the details of his activity, but Paul said he “did me a great deal of harm … because he strongly opposed our message” (verse 14,15).

Responding to an adversarial relationship requires wisdom and prayer. Loving his enemy, and yet guarding himself against Alexander’s attacks, was a skill Paul had acquired in his walk with God. He taught us “Do not repay evil for evil. … Do not take revenge. … ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17–21, NIV). So in response to Alexander’s opposition Paul said, “The Lord will repay him for what he has done” (verse 14, NIV). He rejected a life of resentment and retribution, and gave his hurt to God. Adopting this perspective will prevent the pollution of our spirit when we are tempted to retaliate. Furthermore, Paul protected himself from unnecessary injury by Alexander. He said, “You too should be on your guard against him” (verse 15). Paul was on guard against Alexander, and he advised Timothy to do the same. Loving our enemies does not mean we allow ourselves to be unnecessarily victimized by them.

Second, there was a broken relationship—“for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica” (verse 10, NIV). Demas was mentioned by Paul in his letters to Philemon and the Colossians as a fellow laborer. Demas’ action at this time was not a matter of opposition; it was a matter of failure. Demas deserted Paul in one of the most difficult moments of Paul’s life, and chose to pursue the things of the world rather than Christ. His timing could not have been worse for Paul. At this point some would throw up their hands and say, “It’s not worth it.” But Paul remained steadfast in his commitment to Christ and healthy in his attitude. The reality is there will be broken relationships resulting from the sins of others. Some times we are unable to repair the damage and are left with the heartache of a friend who chooses to persist in rebellion against God.

Samuel experienced this kind of pain in his relationship with Saul. He did everything he could to help Saul be the man and king God wanted him to be. Unfortunately, Saul repeatedly disobeyed God, and finally the Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel?” (1 Samuel 16:1, NIV). The Lord then sent him to the household of Jesse to anoint David as the next King of Israel. To endure in our Christian faith and service we must be willing to give to God those who have deeply disappointed us and move on.

Third, there was a reconciled relationship—“Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (verse 11). Mark had disappointed Paul on this first missionary journey. Mark was part of the team, and in Acts 13:13 it states that John (Mark) left them. This departure was early on in the journey and was regarded by Paul as a desertion. When Paul and Barnabas discussed plans for their second missionary trip (Acts 15:36–41) Barnabas suggested taking Mark again. Paul refused and they were unable to agree, so Barnabas took Mark and set out on their own missionary effort. Paul then chose Silas to accompany him on his missionary journey. No doubt it brought great joy to Barnabas and Paul when Mark proved himself to be a reliable coworker in the kingdom of God. It must have been a poignant moment when Paul and Mark reconciled. Clearly they forged a trusted friendship as the years went by, so much so that Paul wanted Mark to be present during his time of suffering.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13,14, NIV). Developing a forgiving spirit and a heart for restoration will prevent us from imposing a burden of perfection upon others that neither they nor we can fulfill.

Fourth, there was a faithful human relationship—“Only Luke is with me” (verse 11). For everyone who had let Paul down, several had not. Paul taught us to think on good things. In this text he enumerates some who had brought him heartache, but he also lists the names of others who had consistently strengthened him. In fact, he names more in this category than in the other. He mentions Crescens, Titus, Luke, Tychicus, Priscilla, Aquila, Onesiphorus and his household, Erastus, Trophimas, Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, and Claudia. For each one who fails us there are many who have not. We tend to respond to the failures of a few by concluding that no one is trustworthy.

Luke stands out as one of Paul’s closest and most trusted friends. Some even speculate that Paul’s statement, “Only Luke is with me,” indicates that Luke made himself a legal slave to Paul so he could enter the prison and minister to him. This seems possible given the record of Luke’s loyal friendship with Paul.

Even the best friendship, however, is flawed by our humanity. Notice what Paul said in verse 16, “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me.” When Paul was taken into a Roman courtroom there was not a single Christian present to support him. Even Luke was not there. Paul felt deserted in his greatest hour of need. What will he do— how will he respond? He could have been overcome with disappointment or anger, but amazingly he was not. He concluded verse 16 by saying, “May it not be held against them.”

Even the most mature saint will sometimes disappoint others. It may not be by grievous sin, but by not meeting their expectations. Being human we sometimes grow weary and cannot do any more in a given situation, or we misjudge what our involvement should be, or the offended party misunderstands us. These human episodes teach us mercy. When we feel disappointed in someone else we should remember that others have been disappointed in us. Hopefully we can respond with the gracious prayer “May it not be held against them.” Jesus gave us the example when on the cross He prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NIV).

Last, there was a faithful divine relationship—“But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth” (verse 17). The faithfulness of God is absolute. I think sometimes He allows circumstances to arise in which we feel disappointed in people to test our dependence on Him. Without question, He has designed the body of Christ to be a sustaining influence for every believer, but our dependence on people can reach unhealthy proportions. Jesus Christ is the author and perfecter of our faith and when we can look beyond the failures of men and remain faithful to God, we have reached an important level of maturity in Christ that contributes strength to the rest of the Body. How we relate to people should be the result of our relationship with Christ. When our relationship with Christ depends on the performance of people, our faith is in peril.

The moment when Paul felt all had deserted him was a critical moment in his walk with God. It was also a critical moment in his service to Jesus Christ. By not giving in to the disappointment, he experienced the empowering presence of Christ and was able to fully accomplish the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles in a hostile Roman courtroom. If he had given in, his heart would have been deeply wounded and an important opportunity lost.

“God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’ ” (Hebrews 13:5,6).”

Love,
Matthew

Piety & the Body

Saint Paul declared that the will of God is that each Christian knows “how to keep his own body with holiness and reverence.” 212 More than abstinence or self-restraint, piety is a deep reverence for all things sacred, including the body. If sin dulls our understanding of the meaning of the body and the value of sexuality, piety heightens our sensitivity to the dignity that the body possesses. 213 It is the crowning of chastity, and according to John Paul, “turns out to be the most essential power for keeping the body ‘with holiness.’” 214 It is the Holy Spirit Who empowers each person to view his or her body— and the bodies of others— with such reverence.

Saint Paul also explained why Christians should have such reverence for their bodies when he asked, “Do you not know your body is a temple?” 215 The Holy Spirit dwells in man and in his body as in a temple, and this Gift is what makes every human being holy. 216 Many Christians have heard so often that their body is a temple of the Holy Spirit that the phrase has become almost meaningless. Yet if one pauses to consider the reality of his or her body being a dwelling place of the Blessed Trinity, a newfound appreciation of the body can develop. This deep appreciation of the value of the body and sexuality is the only foundation upon which true purity can be built.

Through the gift of piety, one realizes that lustful indulgence or prudish repression aren’t the only two options when temptations arise. One can recognize the goodness of the body, and instead of merely restraining one’s urges, raise them toward heaven. One begins to practice the habit of quickly affirming the value of the person when concupiscence inclines us to value only the body. This may begin out of a desire to avoid offending God, but with time it blooms into a desire to glorify God in one’s body. Because of sin, this habit requires effort and does not come naturally. However, John Paul declared, “Yet, this meaning was to remain as a task given to man . . . inscribed in the depth of the human heart as a distant echo, as it were, of original innocence.” 217

-Evert, Jason. Theology of the Body In One Hour (Kindle Locations 1067-1090). Totus Tuus Press. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

212 1 Thess. 4: 4; Cf. TOB 54: 5.
213 Cf. TOB 57: 2, 101: 5.
214 TOB 54: 4.
215 1 Cor 6: 19 (RSVCE).
216 Cf. TOB 56: 4.
217 TOB 19: 2.

Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ