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Aug 28 – “To praise You is the desire of man…”, Augustine’s ‘Confessions’


-Joos van Wassenhove, 1474, St Augustine, oil on wood, 119 x 62 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris

For my ‘Wisdom of the Saints, Part I of II” class through the Avila Institute, I had to read Augustine’s Confessions; and in a previous life, write an autobiography for the Dominicans and Jesuits. You’ll see.


-by Br Philip Nolan, OP

““Know thyself,” proclaimed the oracle at Delphi.

St Catherine of Siena echoed this teaching with her emphasis on the importance of the “cell of self-knowledge” to the spiritual life. But how can I know myself? This question became especially pertinent when I sat down to write the autobiography required for my application to the Dominican Order. “Know thyself” became “write an accurate autobiography of your life”—a daunting task.

Autobiography as a spiritual exercise takes its highest form in the writings of the saint we celebrate today, St. Augustine. His Confessions reveals an extremely self-reflective person attempting to wrestle with and understand his past decisions and current disposition. But before recounting tales from his own infancy, early education, and on and on until the moment of writing, St. Augustine first begins by declaring that his aim is to praise God—“To praise you is the desire of man.” It seems counterintuitive. In an attempt to praise God, he writes his own life story.

But this approach makes a certain sense. Because lives overlap, we can talk about others and ourselves in the same breath. A best man will tell of experiences he has shared with the groom in order to explain what is admirable and praiseworthy about his friend. And we can tell the story of God’s work in our lives in a similar way. We can recount moments in which we became particularly aware of God’s goodness and providential care. We can name the gifts and talents God has given us and the crosses he has allowed us in order that we may draw closer to him. This is part of what St. Augustine does in the Confessions. Praying, “What are you to me?” he seeks to remember and recount those times when he grew in knowledge of God.

But St. Augustine does not stop there. He continues, “What am I to You that You command me to love You?” He realizes that while we can tell our side of the story—how we became aware of God—the fullest explanation of our lives is God’s side of the story. He acknowledges to God, “I would have no being if I were not in You,” and asks Him, “Lord God, judge of my conscience, is my memory correct?” He asks God, “Have mercy so that I can find words.”

Autobiography for St. Augustine is thus neither self-definition nor simply a timeline. He only undertakes to tell the story of his life because it is a story that he has been given to tell—as St. John puts it, “what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you now” (1 Jn 1:3). God is the author of his life. God first thought of him, brought him to life, fleshed him out and developed his character, and then, in a step beyond the abilities of even the best human author, invited him to share in the understanding and freedom of the divine. With this new knowledge of his place in the world, St. Augustine writes his autobiography as an act of praise to the One Who gave him this life to live.

For Christians, the path to self-knowledge and the path to knowledge of God blur together. Sitting down to write a journal entry or a short autobiography can train our eyes to see more as God sees and to know more as God knows. With St. Augustine we pray, “May I know You, Who know me. May I know as I also am known.”

Love,
Matthew

What is Heaven?

“The famous evangelist Billy Graham once visited a small town to preach at the local church. Before he went to the church he needed to mail a letter back home, so he went looking for the post office. He pulled his car over to the side of the road and asked a boy walking his dog where it was and the boy politely answered.

Mr. Graham then invited the boy to attend the church where he’d be preaching. He said, “You can hear me telling everyone how to get to heaven.” The boy simply replied, “I don’t think I’ll be there. You don’t even know your way to the post office!”

What Is Heaven Like?

“How do I get to heaven?” is one of the most important questions a person can ask. But what do we mean by the word “heaven?”

In some cases, the Bible uses the word “heaven” to refer to the sky, or to the place of the sun, stars, and moon. This is seen in passages like Psalm 19:1, which says, “The heavens are telling the glory of God.” Other times, “heaven” refers to the place where God dwells, as in the Lord’s Prayer, where we address “Our Father who art in heaven” (Matt. 6:9). Finally, “heaven” is used to refer to the eternal dwelling place of those who love God. St. Paul says, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20, NIV).

Many people imagine this heaven to be a place in the clouds where saints and angels play harps for all eternity. But while the Bible does use earthly imagery like wedding feasts to describe heaven, the Catechism says, “This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description” (CCC 1027). Paul, quoting the promises given to the prophet Isaiah, said, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

Our inexact knowledge of heaven does not mean that we are ignorant of heaven in general. According to Pope St. John Paul II, “The ‘heaven’ or ‘happiness’ in which we will find ourselves is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity.” In heaven we won’t be angels; we will be reunited with our bodies and will experience both spiritual and physical joy in the presence of God. The Catechism teaches us, “Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (CCC 1024).”

Love, eager to join you in the Kingdom!! Pray for me!
Matthew

Aug 23 – St Rose of Lima, OP, (1586-1617), mystic, virgin & penitent


-Anonymous, Cusco School (1680 – 1700), Saint Rose of Lima with Child Jesus, oil on canvas, Height: 1,880 mm (74.02 in). Width: 1,250 mm (49.21 in), Museo de Arte de Lima, Peru.

Thinker: The Mystic Rose of Lima

Rose was not an academic and had little in the way of formal education, although she did learn to read. Among her favorite books were biographies of Saint Catherine of Siena and the spiritual guidebooks of another notable Dominican, Venerable Louis of Granada. In fact, his Book of Prayer and Meditation became Saint Rose’s favorite book, as prayer and meditation themselves were to become her favorite activities, forming the core and shaping the periphery of every aspect of her short life.

Rose’s life of prayer and contemplation started very early from the time of her early childhood when she would find herself drawn to stare at a picture of Christ crowned in thorns. She also had a special devotion to the Child Jesus and to his Blessed Mother. Saints drawn to prayer and contemplation seek to follow Christ’s instruction to “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matt. 6:6). They seek communion with the Father and not the eyes and the praise of others. When circumstances allow it, some go out into the desert, up into the mountains, or within some densely wooded glen. Others, like Saints Catherine and Rose, must seek their sanctuary of prayer, exactly as Christ explained it, from within the confines of their room.

Enclosed in her private hermitage, Rose read books on meditative prayer, especially, as mentioned, those of Venerable Louis of Granada. She devoutly prayed the Rosary and used many other vocal and mental forms of prayer. She would meditate for hours simply on the multitude of graces she had received through God’s mercy.
Christ said of those who pray to the Father in secret that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:6), and Saint Rose was rewarded with many ecstatic visions, including, like Saint Catherine, a divine espousal with Christ.

Doer: The Rose Takes Up Her Cross

Rose was not a doer in the grand sense of a Saint Dominic, who founded an order, or Saint Catherine, who influenced popes, although she was admired by her saintly archbishop. Most of what Rose did was done on a smaller, although most arduous scale. She knew well that Christ has said that those who would follow Him will need to deny themselves daily and take up their cross (Matt. 16:24; Luke 9:23). These are hard words of holy advice that she heeded like few before her or since.

Saint Thomas wrote that the cardinal virtues of temperance, fortitude, justice, and prudence pertain to the active life, but they also prepare us to rein in our passions and focus our intellect and will so that we might rise undisturbed to the heights of contemplation. Saint Rose displayed those cardinal virtues in the most heroic degree, and she is probably best known for her unusual degree of both temperance and fortitude as displayed in the many extreme and most difficult ways she contrived to take up Christ’s cross through her own daily (and nightly) acts of self-denial and self-mortification.

Temperance reins in our sensual desires for bodily pleasures, and few pulled in their reins tighter than young Rose. As for the senses of the palate, she gave up meat as a child, as well as the succulent fruits of Peru. She would often deprive herself of cold water, and of any water at all, and would live on things such as bread crusts and simple bitter herbs. As for the sensual pleasures of the body, although Rose would at times be tormented by visions of temptations toward vanity and toward bodily pleasures, through God’s grace she never consented to such sins and persevered in her vows of chastity and purity.

Fortitude calls forth our “irascible” powers, whereby we hate evil things and fire up our courage to overcome evil obstacles to obtain difficult goods, even if those obstacles should threaten our life and limb. This, of all virtues, but for the love of charity, was perhaps the strongest of all within the sturdy soul of this ostensibly delicate Rose. She hated the thought of any demon, any sensation, any wicked thought or intention that might stir her will against the will of God, and in her personal war against any possible vice or sin, she devised self-mortifications that may well boggle the modern mind, and prompted some of her own confessors to command her to tone some of them down.

Sacrifices: Saint Rose’s Self-Mortification

To provide but a few examples of Saint Rose’s self-imposed penances and mortifications, she so fought against sleep that would deprive her of time for prayer that she devised a bed for herself that was a little wooden box with a mattress stuffed with hard, gnarled pieces of wood and broken pottery chards that allowed for but a few hours of sleep when she was very tired. At times in her garden, she would literally take up a heavy wooden cross, in imitation of Christ’s Passion.

Saint Rose’s mortifications may seem very strange to us today, but they still may hold valuable lessons. In Saint Dominic’s “third way of prayer,” he employed the discipline of striking himself with an iron chain while repeating (translated) from the Latin Vulgate Bible “Your discipline has set me straight towards my goal” (Psalm 17:36).

Some today might wonder if Rose’s self-mortifications were a sign of scrupulosity or mental instability, and this was also considered in her time. Due to the unusual manner of her penitential life, Rose was once questioned by several theologians and a medical doctor of the Inquisition, but these learned men concluded that hers was a life unusually graced by God.

Although we may not be called to such extreme acts of conquering our wills, can we not still learn something from them? Can they inspire us to pamper our own bodies a little less, to mortify our sensual desires a little more, so that our thoughts can rise to higher things? Even the noble pagan philosophers saw the need for self-discipline in order to acquire virtue. The Stoic Epictetus, for example, encouraged those who would love wisdom to discipline their bodies, not by “hugging statues,” an action some Cynics would perform while bare-chested in the winter’s cold — public statues, of course, so that others might see them. In advice prescient in some ways of one of Saint Rose’s little disciplines some fourteen hundred years later, Epictetus suggested instead to fill one’s mouth with water when thirsty, but then to spit it out — when no one is looking. (The Father, of course, knows what we do in secret.)

Justice means rendering to each person his due, and this Rose always rendered, and then some. In the last years of her life, Rose persuaded her mother to allow her to care for the poor, the homeless, the elderly, and the sick in empty rooms of their house, and her actions are considered, along with those of Saint Martin de Porres, among the foundations of social work in Peru.

Prudence is that practical wisdom that finds the right means to get things done, and in this virtue Rose also shined. We see her prudence in the way she was always able to incorporate deeds of the active life while immersed in a life of solitude, prayer, and contemplation, as she prayed while she cleaned, embroidered, gardened, and made and sold flower arrangements. We saw it toward the end of her life when, failing in health and deep in contemplation, she made those practical arrangements to tend to the bodily and spiritual needs of those who needed them the most.”

Love,
Matthew

“Love ye, one another!!!”

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

Presence of God – Give me, O Lord, prompt, attentive charity for the needs of others, a charity which, for the love of You, knows how to make itself all things to all men.

MEDITATION

Everyone has some burden, more or less heavy, to bear: physical or moral weakness, the press of duties and responsibilities, fatigue or other troubles which weigh on his shoulders. Everyone feels the need of a friendly hand to help him carry this weight. This hand should be held out to him in fraternal charity, which for the love of God, knows how to be all things to all men. “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so you shall fulfill the law of Christ” St. Paul exhorts us (Galatians 6:2). A Christian knows that he is not isolated, but is a member of a unique body, the Mystical Body of Christ. “So we being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” (Romans 12:5). This knowledge of his solidarity with the brethren makes a Christian live, not enclosed in the tiny circle of his own interests, but with his heart open to the needs and interests of others. The mystery of our incorporation in Christ is more than an individual fact; by its very nature, it is a social fact. Incorporation in Christ by grace and charity connotes reciprocal incorporation among brethren, like the branches of a vine, which, sprung from the same stock, are so closely united one to another that they live, grow and develop together. Love for Christ is the vital expression of our union with Him; the closer this union becomes, the more our love increases; so too, fraternal charity is the vital expression of our reciprocal union with the brethren in Christ, to such a point that if this charity were not living and operative, we would have to say that our union in Christ and with Christ was very weak or even absolutely null.

If charity and grace unite us to Christ in such intimate and vital relations, it is evident that we must live this union, first with Him Who is our Head, and then with our brethren, who like us have also been engrafted into Christ. Hence there will be a supernatural affection which will bind us to one another and make us one heart and one soul, ready to labor and suffer for one another, to help and sustain one another. “Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep” (Romans 12:15). Thus the Apostle teaches us to share the joys and sorrows, the cares and anxieties of others as if they were our own. They are, in fact, our own, because they are the joys, sorrows, cares, and anxieties of that one Mystical Body of Christ to which we belong and which, therefore, is ours.

COLLOQUY

“O Lord, teach me to love my neighbor with all my heart, not merely as myself, but more than myself, thus obeying Your commandment: ‘Love one another, as I have loved you.’

“Just as You, O Lord, have always preferred us to Yourself, and do so still, making Yourself our Food in the Blessed Sacrament, so You wish us to have such great love for one another that we always prefer our neighbor to ourselves; and as You have done all that You could for us, so You want us to do all we can for one another. Grant, then, O Lord, that, without giving You any offense, my love for my neighbor may be so firm, cordial, and strong, that I will never refuse to do or endure anything for his sake. Teach me to love him with my deeds, obtaining for him all the good I can, both for his soul and for his body, to pray for him, and to serve him lovingly whenever I have the opportunity. If my love were to consist only in pleasant words, it would amount to very little, and I would not be really loving my neighbor as You have loved us. To attain the perfection of love, it is not enough for me to work for my neighbor; I must also do what he wants in the way that pleases him, without showing any displeasure. By doing this, I shall acquire greater merit, because I shall be practicing the highest degree of self-renunciation” (St. Francis de Sales).”

Love,
Matthew

Mormon becomes Catholic

-by Kendra Clark

“My conversion from Mormonism (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or LDS) to Catholicism was a bittersweet experience. I am convinced, though, that the events unfolded beautifully according to God’s will. From beginning to end, the story comes full circle. This story takes me home, to a home where I belong.

I was raised in Southern California, in a loving family that did not particularly stress the importance of religion. My mother converted to Mormonism when I was a small child, and I occasionally attended church with my mother.

At the age of 17, I was accepted to Brigham Young University. It was at BYU that I became truly converted ​to Mormonism — or so I thought. In hindsight, I believe I was attracted more to the conservative nature of the LDS church. I appreciated the fact that families could be “together forever,” in eternal marriage, and found the LDS Plan of Salvation attractive. It was a sugar-coated story with a happy ending, and at the tender age of 21, it all was very enticing.

Upon graduating from BYU in 1989, I was married in the Salt Lake Temple and immediately started my family. We lived in Utah for the majority of our marriage and was highly influenced by the LDS culture there. I seemed to fit the ideal Mormon profile: married in the Temple, four beautiful children, attended the Temple regularly, extremely active in my ward and so on.

Later on, I went to medical school at the University of Utah, and while there, logistically distanced myself somewhat from the church. Engrossed in my studies, training, and raising a family, I had to disengage from my usual activities and church responsibilities. When I graduated from U. of Utah in 2007, I returned to the Mormon church on a regular basis. It was at this time that I was able to see Mormonism from a different perspective. As I returned and began to listen to the teachings, something shifted inside of me. I was no longer seduced or convinced by the LDS doctrine, but rather craved the essentials of Christ, His teachings and His word. The journey began with barely perceived but spiritually significant promptings by the Holy Spirit. Looking back, God knew what I needed and supplied it. The draw to stay in the LDS church is supplied by the pressures of family, friends, community, and culture. The promptings that led to my testimony of the fallibility of the LDS church needed to be small but steady, so as not to threaten my conscience that I was being led away by the Adversary.

The Holy Spirit led me, spoke to me and guided me as I craved the essentials of Christ and Christ alone. For the first time, I became aware of the discrepancies in the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, man-made ideologies, etc. The LDS teachings and lessons are filled with peripheral teachings that are labeled as modern day revelations, when in fact they are orchestrated by man and are not biblical. Some of the main tenets that led to my disillusionment with the Mormon religion were:

1. Mormons believe that there are many gods (polytheism), and through our obedience to the Gospel, we can become gods. Lorenzo Snow summarized this teaching by stating, “As man now is, God once was. As God now is, man may be.”
2. Mormons believe that God was once a man, and God and man are the same species. The belief is that we can create our own planets and become gods.
3. Mormons believe that God is made of flesh and bones.
4. Mormons believe that Jesus Christ was not always divine and that Jesus was once an “intelligence” like us, not always the Son of God.
5. Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is our elder brother, even the brother of Lucifer.
6. Mormons believe the Godhead consists of three distinct beings.

This is a small sampling of the discrepancies that I found disturbing after investigating the Bible and its teachings. There are numerous other issues, such as plural marriage in heaven, baptism of the dead, Mormon exclusivity in the Celestial Kingdom, the discrepancies of The Book of Abraham, and the many wives of the early pioneers.

This realization was painful and disconcerting. Church attendance produced conflict in my heart and soul for many months as I researched and scrutinized the various teachings.

I experienced sadness, disappointment, and confusion as I realized the changes I needed to make in my life. I then spent a year and a half living a double life. I would get ready for church with the family, take two Bibles, drop off my children at the LDS church, pretending I was going in as well. Then I would change Bibles, get in the car and drive to the closest local Christian church, where I would worship and praise the Lord, simply and sincerely. I would then rush back to the Mormon church, sit in the pews with my family and live the Mormon dream — with tears in my eyes.

I lived this double life until my oldest son, Austen, was called to the Warsaw, Poland LDS mission. I did not, under any circumstance, want to influence him negatively before his mission, so I kept my double life between my husband and myself. Fortunately, we supported each other in this effort, and my husband eventually decided to join me in distancing himself from the LDS church. Family, friends, neighbors, and people in our ward often wondered why I was becoming less involved in the church and appeared less committed. Mormons are known for their tight-knit, know-everything-about-everybody style. People talked, questioned, wondered about us.

We sent our oldest son to Warsaw, Poland in September of 2009 for a two-year LDS mission. Six months into his mission, we received a heartfelt phone call from him stating that he was experiencing great difficulty teaching the LDS religion to the wonderful, committed, and faithful Catholic people in Poland. He shared with us that he does not believe the things he was teaching, yet in fact, he was quite impressed with the Catholic people and their faithful devotion to Christ. He wanted to return early from his mission, and we supported him fully in this desire. He returned, then, only eight months into his two-year commitment, creating questions, concerns, and judgment from friends, family, and ward members.

Shortly after my son’s return from Poland, my husband received a job promotion which transferred us to Arizona. We were able to start fresh in a new area, worshiping as we wished. Before leaving Utah, we had discussed the changes in our faith with the three younger children. They became very confused and discouraged. It was a difficult transition for them, but since then they have all accepted this decision and are faithful Christians.

The next several years were personally very challenging for me. Shortly after arriving in Arizona, my husband decided to end our 21-year marriage. Within a few months of leaving the church, I moved to a new area, experienced divorce, sent two children off to college, and my mother committed suicide.

I lost my mother, my church, my support system, my friends back home, and I felt utterly alone. But I’ve always been a woman of faith, and I continued to be faithful and committed in my relationship with Jesus Christ and to attend a Christian church regularly.

There were a few significant voids in the non-denominational Christian church I had chosen. I was not comfortable with the informal nature of worship, the rock-’n-roll style of praise, and lack of regular communion or sacrament. I missed the traditional and respectful nature of prayer, and quite honestly, the relationships and fellowship I had enjoyed in the LDS church.

My spiritual journey seemed to have stalled, and I did not know what direction the Lord wanted me to go. However, I knew that He loved me, He would not forsake me, and He wanted to bless me with a full knowledge of truth. There was a period of two years where that full knowledge was not evident to me. I continued to attend church faithfully, worship, pray, read the Bible, all the while offering my heart and soul to Lord, knowing in faith that I would someday be led to His true Church.

It wasn’t easy discerning truth from error after leaving the LDS church. LDS teaching is that, if one leaves the church, he can no longer obtain salvation in the highest Kingdom of Heaven and will forfeit his Eternal Exaltation. After much prayer for strength, clarity and peace, I could eventually see a little more clearly, and for this I was truly thankful.

Three years after this depressing time, I met (my now husband) John. John is a cradle Catholic; however, he was not actively practicing his religion. I also met two wonderful women friends who were Catholic. It seemed that, everywhere I turned, I was meeting Catholics. Maybe I had my Catholic radar active, but it seemed that my closest relationships were with Catholics. I also vaguely recalled being told that I had been baptized Catholic at six weeks of age. I interpreted these “coincidences” as signs from God to pursue the Catholic Faith and approached the opportunity prayerfully.

From that point on, I was increasingly led by the gentle guidance of the Holy Spirit to enter the Catholic Church. My beloved father, who was my rock and my strength, suddenly died in 2013. My father was raised Catholic; however, he had distanced himself from Catholicism for most of his adult life. I believe that, after my father’s death, it was his influence which led me to the Catholic Church. I initially had no intention of becoming Catholic, and in fact had always heard negative things about the Church from my father. My intent was one hundred percent fact-finding and, to be quite honest, I believed that I would eventually disprove the teachings of the Catholic Church, check off the box, and go on to the next denomination in my search for truth. After consulting God in prayer, I decided to sign up for the next RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) session at the local parish, knowing zero about the Catholic Church but carrying a laundry list of questions, child-like curiosity and an eager attitude.

I attended RCIA classes with an outward attitude of openness, humility, and an open mind to what might be forthcoming. I clearly hungered after the authentically revealed word of God and any Catholic teaching I could get my hands on. I decided to put my heart and soul into studying and learning about the Church, its doctrine and history. For every doctrine that was taught, I understandably compared it to LDS teachings, and as much as I humbly inquired on the outside, I critiqued thoroughly, and somewhat skeptically, on the inside. I now realize that I was critiquing the doctrine in my head to prove to myself that Catholic doctrine was not correct. Yet with each doctrine taught, I prayed, researched, and prayed some more. The more I studied, researched, and prayed, the more I was drawn toward the Church rather than away from it. The more I questioned the tenets of the Catholic Church, the closer I felt oriented to my True North. This was not at all expected; however, I did not fight it. I embraced the truth as I knew it and had faith that God (and my late father) were leading me home.

I was very involved in my RCIA group. We met for two to three hours every Sunday following Mass, and it was a peaceful and wonderful experience for me.

After prayerful reflection, I decided to be confirmed in the Catholic Church. At the Easter Vigil in April 2014, I was confirmed as a member of the Catholic Faith at St. Patrick’s Parish in Scottsdale, Arizona.

During my RCIA process, I had discussed with my husband the importance of us attending church together on a regular basis as a couple. He agreed and has been very supportive and faithful in his effort and continued spiritual growth.

Before I was confirmed, I decided to file for an annulment of my previous marriage. Because I had been baptized Catholic as an infant and married in the Mormon Temple, an annulment was granted on the basis of lack of form. (The Catholic Church recognizes only those marriages solemnized under Catholic auspices for those who have been baptized Catholic.) My annulment was granted in two weeks’ time, and John and I were sacramentally married in October of 2014.

Interestingly enough, I also found out that the parish in California where I was baptized is also named St. Patrick’s. Patrick is a popular name in our family lineage. My father’s middle name is Patrick, my brother’s middle name is Patrick, my son’s middle name is Patrick, my baptism and confirmation was performed in parishes named after St. Patrick.

Following my father’s passing, I was comforted by the hope that, as a baptized Catholic, he now has the fullness of truth and is with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I also believe that, now that he has the fullness of truth, he has been guiding me from above in my journey to Catholicism.

As I look back on my spiritual journey, I can see how everything has come about according to God’s will. As a young girl, I can recall believing in God the Father and in Jesus Christ, my Savior. Although I was not raised in a particular religion, I was always a spiritually minded young lady, continually seeking Him and wanting a relationship with Him.

After my conversion to Catholicism, I now feel a sense of completeness such as I had never felt before. I now understand that I don’t have to be perfect to be accepted by my Savior and Redeemer. I now believe that my “worthiness” does not define His love and acceptance of me, but rather it is by His mercy and grace that we are called to be in His presence once again, both here on earth and, afterwards, in heaven.

As a Catholic, I am more tolerant of myself and others, knowing that we are all in this thing called “life” together, and I no longer have an exclusive claim on heaven because of my religion. As followers of Christ, our claim rests in the fact that we have a Savior Who sacrificed His life for us so we can inherit the fullness of salvation.

What I love about being Catholic is the fact that I have saints and angels accompanying me throughout life. What I love about being Catholic is that I have Mother Mary by my side, praying with me, and I am most thankful for her presence in my life. What I love about being Catholic is that we have a worldwide community of believers who strive to be more like our Savior, more charitable and more loving, and when we combine the over one billion Catholics across the world, this is a powerful force for greatness. What I love about being Catholic Church is the sacred gift of Communion. The fact that we can honor our Lord by partaking of His Body and Blood is a blessing beyond measure. What I love about being Catholic is the power of its rich history and tradition. What I love about being Catholic is the fact that we worship an almighty God, Who sent His beloved Son Jesus Christ as the beacon of perfection and truth. Because of this eternal gift, we can once again appear confidently in His presence.

I was alone in my conversion to Catholicism; however, I am never really alone. My children have chosen other faith systems; however, I am at peace knowing that Catholicism is my True North, and perhaps someday, in His infinite wisdom and understanding, they too will receive those same barely perceptible but deeply significant promptings to “come home.”

I have “come home” to the truth offered to me from God. I feel at peace with my decision and want to share it with the world. I am committed to serving others — particularly those leaving the LDS church — in their journey toward spiritual growth.”

Love,
Matthew

Christian failure

“St. Francis Xavier, SJ died on a small island six miles off the coast of China, his ultimate destination in sight. Not having reached his goal, Xavier felt himself something of a failure. Here is Walter Burghardt, in his book Saints and Sanctity, reflecting on times of failure even after we have worked hard:

“This is dreadfully difficult for a human being to accept— even for a Xavier. Just because I am trying to do God’s work with every ounce of my being is no guarantee that my plans will prosper. There is no guarantee that an effective Christian apostle will not be cut down in his prime. . . . There is no guarantee that because you have given yourself to a Christian marriage, your oneness will be lasting . . . that because you love God deeply, you will not lose your job, your home, your family, your health. . . . There is no guarantee that because you believe, you will not doubt; because you hope, you will not despond; because you love, your love will not grow cold. There is no guarantee that a Xavier will reach China. In this sense there is a Christian frustration, a Christian failure. . . . You do your Christian task as God gives you to see it; the rest, the increase, is in His hands. God still uses what the world calls foolish to shame the wise, still uses what the world calls weak to shame its strength, still uses what the world calls low and insignificant and unreal to nullify its realities. . . . In this sense, there is no Christian frustration and no Christian failure.

-Martin, James, SJ. The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life (Kindle Locations 6236-6247). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/07/opinion/pope-francis-catholic-church-sexual-abuse.html

-Rm 6:23

Love,
Matthew

Mary?

“A few months before I was received into the Catholic Church, my family experienced a crisis. I was in high school when my mother told me she had been diagnosed with a large tumor in her abdomen. She didn’t know how much longer she had to live, and my dad wasn’t in the best position to take care of me and my siblings.

I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders, so I told my mom, “I need to just go to Church to process all of this.” She had the left the Church a long time before, but understood it was important to me, so she nodded in approval. I gave her a hug, told her I loved her, and started walking to the church.

As I knelt in that dark, empty church, my hands were clasped tight and my eyes watched the candles by the altar flicker. I just kept asking God for everything to be okay. Then I saw a statue of Mary. I took a deep breath and prayed:

“Hail Mary Full of grace the Lord is with you, blessed are you among woman and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

Devotion to Mary was the last hurdle I faced coming into the Catholic Church. At first, I feared that Catholics went overboard when it came to Mary and turned her into a rival goddess who took away glory from Christ. But the more I read Scripture the more I saw that Mary didn’t take people away from Christ, she led people to him.

Mater Dei:  The Mother of God

The most important title the Church gives to Mary is also the one that explains why Mary matters so much to Catholics—theotokos. This Greek word means “God-bearer,” but it is usually translated into English as “the Mother of God.” Mary is praised above all of God’s other creatures because she has the most intimate relationship with God. She gave birth to God, nursed God, taught him about life, followed him throughout his ministry, and was at the foot of the cross when Jesus, the God-man, died.

At this point some people might say, “Mary didn’t give birth to God, she gave birth to Jesus.” Yes, but is Jesus God? Calling Mary the Mother of God doesn’t mean that she created the Trinity or that Mary existed before God existed. Being a mother means conceiving and giving birth to a person. God is a Trinity of three divine persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One of those persons, the Son, became man and had a mother (Gal. 4:4). It logically follows that this woman, or Mary, is the Mother of God.

Mothers don’t give birth to “natures” or “humanity,” they give birth to persons. The person Mary gave birth to was the divine second person of the Trinity, God the Son, Whom she and Joseph named Jesus. Even Protestants understand that Mary should be praised in this way. Timothy George says, “Evangelicals can and should join the church catholic in celebrating the Virgin Mary as the mother of God, the God-bearer.” Martin Luther eloquently said, “Men have crowded all her glory into a single word, calling her the Mother of God.”

Immaculate Conception and Bodily Assumption

The Immaculate Conception does not refer to Jesus’ miraculous virginal conception in Mary’s womb.

Instead, the term means that Mary herself was conceived without the stain of original sin.

The normal means to be freed from original sin is through baptism, but God is free to give His grace to whomever He chooses. He knew from all eternity that Mary would say yes to being the mother of His Son, so when she was conceived, God gave Mary an abundant gift of grace. In Luke 1:28, the angel Gabriel says to Mary “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” The Greek word that is translated “full of grace” refers to having grace as an enduring, complete quality of a person.

But doesn’t the Bible say all people have sinned (Rom 3:10)? If that’s true, then how could Mary have been immaculately conceived?

First, that passage refers to the truth that both Jews and non-Jews are sinners and need Christ. In Romans 9:11, Paul says that before Isaac and Esau were born they had done neither good nor bad. Millions of human beings die in infancy, long before they reach the age of moral accountability, and thus have never committed a personal sin.

But aren’t all humans born with original sin? No, because Jesus was human and he was born without original sin. If we say that Jesus is the exception because He is God, or the new Adam Whose obedience undid the crime of the first Adam, then we have room for another exception: Mary, the Mother of God and the “new Eve,” whose obedience to God undid the curse brought about by the old Eve. In the second century, St. Irenaeus said, “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith”

Finally, God demonstrated His surpassing love for His mother by taking her body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life. In the Old Testament, God assumed, or took, the prophet Elijah’s body and soul into heaven before he died (2 Kings 2:11). The Church teaches that Mary was also assumed into heaven, and Revelation 12:1 describes a woman in heaven clothed with the sun who gives birth to the Messiah. She appears right after a vision of the Ark of the Covenant, which carried God’s word written on stone tablets. It would be fitting if this woman were Mary, for she is the Ark of the New Covenant, who carried within her body the word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ.

“All Generations Will Call Me Blessed”

As I knelt in that darkened church and prayed the Hail Mary over and over again, I more clearly saw that Catholics weren’t turning Mary into a God. The reason Mary is “full of grace,” “blessed,” “Holy,” and the “Mother of God” is because her son is Jesus Christ. (It’s amazing that, for the rest of time, God the Son will not only have a human face and body, but will bear a physical resemblance to a human woman who lived around 2,000 years ago.) The only thing Catholics were “guilty of” was recognizing the awesome role Mary played in the history of humanity. In Luke 1:48, Mary herself says “all generations will call me blessed; for the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is His name.”

Speaking of awesome mothers, a few weeks after my mom told me about her diagnosis she was released from the hospital. I was nervous until she gave me the news: the tumor was benign. It ended up being the size of a basketball, but it was benign. I prayed to God, “Thank you for letting me have my mom for a little longer,” and to His mother I prayed, “Please lead me and my whole family closer to your son, Jesus Christ.””

Love,
Matthew

Soli Deo gloria


-by Br Isaiah Beiter, OP

“Goodness is praised as beauty,” wrote a man long honored by the Church, East and West, though nobody is exactly sure who he is.

“Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,” wrote the apostle John.

“Soli Deo gloria”—“Glory to God alone,” cried the Reformers. And they were right, or sort of. In their desire to exalt the glory of God above all else, they were right. In their yearning to defend God’s glory from all dilution or fracture, they were right. But they were not right to forbid God from sharing His glory with His creation. Of course, I do not mean to say that this is exactly what they intended to do. But in understanding this last of the five Solae we should ask a broader question: “what is glory, and where do we find it?”

*

Let’s build the image from the ground up. When someone is good, then that person is worthy of praise. For him or her to receive praise, however, someone has to know this goodness and recognize it as good. For instance, before I praise the bravery of a soldier and the patience of a mother, I have to see them in action or at least hear about them. And if these people are especially good, beyond common experience, then probably a great many people will hear about them, and probably a great many people will see how good they are, and hopefully these people will say so. Imagine a news story about a local hero or praising a great teacher, for instance.

That loudness that belongs especially to good things, the splendor and renown that belongs to something praiseworthy, is called glory. The greater the good, the louder it is, and the louder it is, the more praiseworthy. The greater the good, the more glorious it is. This is how the Church has thought about glory. This is how the Scriptures speak, though with the nuances and poetry appropriate to each place.

So there are different kinds of glory just as there are different kinds of good. This is what the Reformers forgot in their zeal. In wanting to single out God for worship, we should never forget God’s love in sharing his goodness. God is infinite in His goodness. Creatures have a limited share. God is infinite in His glory. Creatures have a limited share in that, too. The Holy Trinity is glorified by worship and adoration, and long before the Protestant Reformation, the Church gave this worship the name latria. God can never be given too much glory. The highest of created persons, Mary and all the other saints, are glorified with a lesser honor, which the Church has named dulia. And traditionally, some saints are seen to be higher than others. Mary, the Mother of God, is the very highest. After her come the apostles, who were sent forth by Christ as the seeds of the Church.

These saints are honored, or given glory, because of a good that they have, the great good of grace, which is a share in God Himself! And lesser, simply human goods, like a great leader, can be glorious in their own small ways. All these goods, however small, are shares in God’s goodness. And all these goods, from the bottom to the top, are given by God. Jesus says to the Father, “The glory which Thou hast given me I have given to them” (John 17:22). Paul encourages us to seek this glory, speaking of God’s judgment: “to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life” (Rom 2:6-7). So what is the vision of the world that we are left with?

*

The world is filled with the glory of God! This is because He chose to fill the world with His goodness. All of it is traced back to God, the source and the giver, as the finite is compared to the infinite. Glory belongs to God alone, but He chooses to share it with us. To declare that only God has glory, or to understand those three Latin words (Soli Deo gloria) in this way, is to make God more separate from His creatures than God Himself wishes to be.

How beautiful is the sun, how splendorous, how good! It is too bright even to look upon. But it does not keep its light to itself. The sun shares its light with the moon. It is imitated by every twinkle of the stars. And the sun gives life to all below it. From the bottom to the top, the heavens and the earth shine with the light of the sun: truly, though not equally.  [Ed.  How much more the Divine?]

“There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory,” wrote the apostle Paul (1 Cor 15:41).”

Praise Him!!!  Give Him GLORY!!!!!  Clap your hands!!!  Shout for joy!!!!  Let the seas and all within it thunder praise!!!

Love,
Matthew

Sola Fide & false idols


-by Br Ephrem Reese, OP

“When people speak of “faith alone,” it’s often taken for granted that faith is opposed to works. But the Council of Trent has dealt with this false dichotomy:

“Faith, unless hope and charity be added to it, neither unites man perfectly with Christ nor makes him a living member of His body. For which reason it is most truly said that faith without works is dead and of no profit, and in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but faith that worketh by charity. (From the Decree concerning Justification, chapter VII).”

So that opposition, faith versus works, is false. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:21-22).

How about a new conception of sola fide? Think, instead, this way: faith is opposed to idolatry. If we want to speak about “faith alone,” I suggest that we look to Abraham, the “father of faith.” While not directly addressing the “traditional” dispute about faith versus works, I think this may in fact reveal a deeper understanding in Scripture and the tradition.

Abraham’s father Terah, says a Jewish commentary on Genesis, made idols for a living. Sometimes he had to leave the boy Abraham in charge of the shop. Abraham would embarrass old men who came in to buy idols: “You are fifty years old and worship a one-day-old statue!”

Even better, though: when a woman came in to make an offering to the idols, Abraham took a club and smashed all of the idols but the biggest one, then put the club in its hands. He told Terah that they were fighting over who would eat the offering, and that the biggest one destroyed the rest. The real point, the rabbinic telling implies, is that Terah would have to admit that the idols were stupid and powerless, if he wanted to blame the iconoclasm on Abraham.

Idolatry is not just a Jewish concern—in the New Testament, “idol” and related words occur at least 33 times. Although this continues the Old Testament tradition, some new aspects appear. For example, idolatry is not just foolish and immoral, it also conceals demonic powers. This helps to explain some of the sexual immorality that was very clearly connected with, even institutionalized in, traditional cults.

Faithlessness in the invisible God leads directly to worship of what is more available, what is right in front of us, even if it’s a powerless piece of wood. Falling for the one who is there, rather than the One we truly love—you can see why the Bible compares idolatry to adultery (see Wisdom 14:12).

We believe in, even testify to, a God we do not see. It is necessary to turn away from what we see all around us (ahem, screens). “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God”—this is the basic description of conversion of which St. Paul reminds the Thessalonians (1 Thess 1:9). When Paul went to Athens, the great scientific seedbed of geometry, philosophy, and democracy, “he was distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). His speech to the Athenians puts him squarely in the prophetic tradition of Israel: God made everything, and left His traces; He wants you to seek Him; do not be distracted by the shiny things that people put before you. Finally, there will be a judgment for those who live not by faith in what is unseen but by settling for what is “made by human design and skill” (cf. 17:24-31).

The great literary critic Northrop Frye noticed that the Jewish and Christian idea of revelation as something heard but not seen has a destructive dynamic. It crushes the tyranny of the visible. “The Word not only causes all images of gods to shrivel into nothingness, but continues to operate in society as an iconoclastic force…demolishing everything to which man is tempted to offer false homage.” Abraham knew about that. As Jesus says mysteriously, Abraham saw His(Jesus’) day, and rejoiced (Jn 8:56).

We don’t see many actual idols now. But if we look around, it’s not hard to see that people are sunk, bowed down, brought to their knees, in worship of what is seen. Abraham, dutiful son, was considerate enough to discreetly destroy the local idols. Faith cast out of him any fear of the powers of this world. For his faith, God made a promise to Abraham, freeing him “to worship Him without fear all the days of his life” (Luke 1:73-75).”

Love, faith, & hope,
Matthew

Sola Scriptura


-by Br Peter Gautsch, OP

“There’s a friar I’ve known for some time now who prays frequently for the unity of the Church, a matter which is clearly very close to his heart. I’ve often been moved by this. After all, St. Augustine says in his Rule that we are to be “of one heart and one mind, in God.” He was speaking about peaceableness among religious, but it’s also true in the broader realm of faith: our many hearts and minds, in all their happy diversity, should be as one in God, one in faith.

Which brings us to sola Scriptura.

What is it? In its strictest form, it’s the Protestant doctrine that Scripture is the only source and norm of Christian faith: “Scripture alone” has authority in matters of faith. In another form, both less fideistic and less true to its name, it’s the doctrine that Scripture is the final source and norm of Christian faith: there are other valid authorities, sure, but Scripture, and nothing else, tests and judges them.

But sola Scriptura has many problems, to put it mildly. One of them is that at least one of its inescapable consequences is directly opposed to what Scripture—and in this case, Jesus himself—exhorts: “that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be perfectly one” (Jn 17:22–23).

This prayer of our Lord, of course, has little to do with revelation itself and still less with where authority in matters of faith comes from. But it’s important to consider, because ultimately the doctrine of sola Scriptura necessarily excludes this unity that our Lord prayed for. This is because Scripture often doesn’t tell us how it ought to be interpreted, and, human nature being what it is, different people tend to arrive at incompatible interpretations which can’t all be true. The first form of sola Scriptura I mentioned above doesn’t appear to have anything like an adequate answer for this problem of multiple, personal interpretations. And the second form says that when there’s a conflict, we can consult other authorities, so long as Scripture has the final word. But even this only goes so far: some persons may accept the guidance of certain authorities, but other persons may reject them “on scriptural grounds.” So the problem persists, and sola Scriptura offers no real solution.

Now Sacred Scripture is the word of God in written form—on this all Christians agree. But as Catholics, we have a yet broader notion of revelation: in addition to revealing himself in the inspired books of Scripture, God also revealed Himself in his word of truth entrusted to the apostles and handed on by them to their successors throughout history, even to the present day—this is what we call Tradition (which is itself described in Scripture: e.g., Mt 28:18–20, Mk 3:13–19, Mk 16:15, Acts 2:42, Acts 10:34–43, 1 Cor 15:1–11, 2 Thess 2:15, 2 Tim 2:1–2, 2 Pt 1:19–21). Hence we always read Sacred Scripture in light of Tradition, and we read Tradition in light of Scripture. Scripture and Tradition, together, are the supreme rule of the Church’s faith—not just Scripture alone, in isolation—because they’re two modes of the one sacred deposit of the word of God that has been entrusted to the Church. Not only that, but Scripture and Tradition both show us that Christ, in instituting the apostles as the foundation stones of the Church (Eph 2:19–20, Rev 21:14) and giving them authority to teach in His name, instituted an authoritative interpreter of divine revelation. This is what we call the Magisterium, the living teaching office of the Church.

So what about that problem of interpretation? How do we deal with incompatible individual interpretations of Scripture? If it’s true that “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), then sola Scriptura can’t be true, because it doesn’t give us the tools to arrive—together, in unity—at that knowledge of the truth. Simply put, the Catholic Church’s more robust doctrine of divine revelation is the only way. Sometimes the full meaning of a passage of Sacred Scripture just isn’t apparent to us. Thankfully, God reveals Himself also in Tradition and has given the Magisterium authority to authentically interpret divine revelation, whether in written form (Scripture) or handed on verbally (Tradition). Of course, the idea here isn’t that we should approach the Bible like automatons, mindlessly complying with arbitrary directives from a distant, unseen authority—we should read Scripture and interpret it and hear God speaking to us through it! But we don’t have to go it alone: instead, keeping in mind the unity and coherence of the whole of Scripture and the unity and coherence of the truths of the faith, we look to Tradition (e.g., what the Fathers of the Church or the liturgy teach us about a passage of Scripture) and to the Magisterium (e.g., whether the Church has given an authoritative, authentic interpretation of a passage of Scripture), and we shape our reading accordingly. We can know what Scripture means because God Himself tells us—but He tells us not only in Scripture itself but also in Tradition and through the Magisterium. Each of the three needs the other two.

But sola Scriptura protests. When Tradition and the Magisterium are invited to the discussion to help our understanding, sola Scriptura stands in the door, blocking their entrance. As a result, individual interpretation carries the day. And individual interpreters, with no authoritative guide other than Scripture itself, remain at odds with one another. And unity of belief is still not realized.

Ecumenical dialogue often points out the important affirmations of faith that Catholics and Protestants share, and rightly so: we should rejoice that we believe together that Jesus Christ truly is the Lord, the incarnate Son of God; that by baptism we truly do become adopted children of God; that Sacred Scripture truly is the inspired word of God, set down in writing for the sake of our salvation; and so on. But we simply must recognize the disunity in our beliefs as well, because unless we recognize our disunity, we can’t pray for the unity that Christ Himself prayed for.

This real disunity that sadly exists between Catholics and our Protestant brothers and sisters (not to mention the disunity that exists between the various Protestant denominations) is in large part the fruit of sola Scriptura. We simply can’t be of one heart and one mind in God, truly, if we don’t believe the same things about God and His revelation of Himself to us. In revealing Himself and His plan for our salvation, “the invisible God out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends and lives among them, so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself” (Dei Verbum 2). Christ’s prayer that we may be perfectly one shows us that He also wants us to have fellowship, unity, with one another—one heart and one mind, in God—as Scripture elsewhere instructs: “all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind” (1 Pt 3:8).”

Love & unity,
Matthew