Category Archives: Corporal

Holy Year of Mercy – Works of Mercy: Visit the Sick & Comfort the Afflicted

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I have the distinct privilege of being associated as a Third Order Dominican with other men who make it their practice to visit the sick in hospitals in the Madison area and to be on call 24/7 to be present when someone is dying, regardless of creed or lack thereof, so that no one may have to die alone. Breathtaking.

I also volunteer with a secular divorced fathers group. I don’t do much. I am, as the founders call me, just one more relatively stable presence at the table. We have Chinese buffet once a month. My “official” duty or role is to be a PEO – Positive Emotional Outlet. That means that if anyone needs to primal scream at the top of their lungs, I volunteer to be the one they scream at. It is better than some of the negative behaviors these fathers deprived of their children may be tempted to indulge in. I am happy to offer. 🙂

nicene_guy
-by Nicene Guy

“When we hear of “the sick,” we probably think immediately of those who are in the care of hospitals or hospices. Perhaps we think of our own families while they suffer through cold and flu season, or allergy season. This is, of course, sickness in the conventional sense of the word, and those who suffer it need our assistance and our care.

The elderly infirm also fall into this category, and so visitations to the nursing home also are a way of fulfilling this work of mercy. Since loneliness is often rampant in the nursing homes and retirement centers, the elderly in particular often appreciate visitors.

Saint Thomas Aquinas notes that the sick include both the elderly infirm and those who are permanently disabled:

“The purpose of giving alms is to relieve our neighbor’s need. Now there are many needs of human life other than those mentioned above, for instance, a blind man needs a leader, a lame man needs someone to lean on…

All other needs are reduced to these, for blindness and lameness are kinds of sickness, so that to lead the blind, and to support the lame, come to the same as visiting the sick. On like manner to assist a man against any distress that is due to an extrinsic cause comes to the same as the ransom of captives. And the wealth with which we relieve the poor is sought merely for the purpose of relieving the aforesaid needs [hunger, thirst, clothing, shelter]: hence there was no reason for special mention of this particular need” (ST II-II.Q32.A2. Obj2 and Reply).

Thus, “the sick” is a broad term. It encompasses those who are injured; those who are physically ill (whether temporary, chronic, or acute); those who are elderly infirm; those who are disabled (blind, maimed, lame, paralyzed); those who are mentally ill; and those who are ill from addiction (through substance abuse, for example).

Visiting the sick can be a simple act of kindness, such as sending a “get-well soon” sympathy card; or helping a blind man to cross a busy intersection safely. It can be a little more involved still, as when we prepare a meal or care for the children or property (e.g. pets) for somebody who is near-bedridden (if only temporarily) with sickness. This work can be even more involved to the point of feeling like it is all we are able to do, as any parent who has stayed up all night with throwing-up sick children will attest. And it gets even harder, as anyone who has suffered through the last days of a loved one’s cancer or other slowly fatal illness can attest.

I should add another thing here before considering the spiritual work of mercy which complements visiting the sick. Illnesses have alway been around, but they haven’t always been this safe. “The sick” also included lepers, which were not merely ill but fatally so; and the disease was a scary one, so that lepers were often banned from inhabited areas [1]. Yet, Saint Francis of Assisi ministered to one such leper despite his great fears of the disease, and Saint Damien Molokai eventually died from the leprosy which he contracted ministering to a leper colony on the Hawaiian island whose name he bears. There were many instances of Catholic orders setting up hospitals (as discussed previously), which eventually would care for victims of the plagues (and in particular the Black Death). And Catholic priests and sisters and lay persons have been chaplains, nurses, and doctors to the soldiers in the various wars throughout history, often risking their lives to minister to the wounded (or even to the fearful fit before a battle).

We may not all be called to take such risks in mercy, though of course we can read in the Bible that “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). We may not have to fear leprosy or the bubonic plague (for now), but there are other diseases of both mind and body. AIDS is somewhat prevalent in America, but it is a pandemic in Africa, with as many as one in three people being infected in some countries. It may not be contagious in the way that the plague or leprosy was, but there is always some small risk of coming into contact with infected fluid.  (Ebola)

Nearer to home, there is a different sort of sickness which we might confront. I would call it mental illness, but that is not quite accurate: call it mental imbalance, especially as caused by substance abuse. There are some men whose drug-addled brains leave them unpredictable at best, dangerous at worst. Yet these, too, are “sick,” these too need to be visited, though their visitations may take the form of counseling or admonishing as well as merely visiting and comforting.

Still, to comfort is the first purpose of visiting the sick, and any aide offered to the sick is surely meant in part to do that. This then is the spiritual complement to visiting the sick: comforting the afflicted. This work of mercy is often also referred to as consoling the sorrowful and occasionally as succoring the suffering. It perhaps most directly describes what we intend to do when visiting the sick (in the literal sense of visiting a person who is physically ill).

Or, to return to a previous example, it is even more so what we do for the family of the terminally ill and the surviving next of kin to the recently departed. Anyone who has suffered through the last days of a dying relative knows second-hand the suffering of the relative, but first-hand their own suffering through sympathy and a sense of loss.  (Thy will be done, Thy Kingdom come!)

The person who comes to visit the sick might also do as much to relieve their suffering as to relieve the dying person’s, if the visit is done in a spirit of charity and goodwill. The same might be said of those who engage in the corporal work of burying the dead, as their honoring of the memory of the departed might also offer comfort to the living folks dear to him.

The afflicted, the sorrowing, the grieving, the miserable: these words all pertain to an interior state more than an exterior one. Certainly, some of these states may be confused with depression, whether from a chemical imbalance (which would make it a more physical sickness) or a metaphysical state. There are correspondingly some forms of affliction which we might attempt to comfort, and some which are left to the “professionals,” by which I mean the ordained priests. I can help alleviate the physical or mental suffering of a friend or family member of spending time with him, or by kind works or kind deeds, or by a thoughtful gift or even a warm embrace.

However, some kinds of affliction are metaphysical, spiritual. We see these everyday, and are to some extent powerless against them. We can offer consolation and comfort, but some afflictions can be removed only by exorcism. This is a job for a trained priest, lest we bring the afflicting spirit upon our own heads. These kinds of affliction fall under a different work of mercy.

In the meantime, comforting the afflicted involves any true act (or words) of true kindness. Unfortunately, all-too-many people mistake comforting the afflicted with enabling the affliction. The man addicted to drugs who suffers withdrawal pains does not need to be given more drugs, but rather needs counseling and rehabilitation. Similarly, many people today are “afflicted” by their sins, and their perceived wronging at the hands of society over those sins. This is true of any addictive sin or sinful temptation, whether drug addiction, kleptomania, viewing pornography, eating disorders (gluttony), gossip [2], or any of a variety of sexual temptations and disorders, etc.

All-too-often the response is to excuse the sin as being the natural satisfaction of a very real (and often physical/physiological) temptation. It is always easier to say, “You were born this way, and there is nothing wrong (disordered) about that temptation or acting upon it” than it is to recognize that to varying extents and degrees we are all born into sin. (…And, God-do-not-forbid, acknowledging free will, God-do-not-forbid, that great gift we all cherish, and take such pride in, another deadly sin, until we are called to accountability for exercising that great gift we all take such pride in.  Until. Gal 6:7.  Thereby, NEVER having to be accountable.  HOW convenient.  How.)  We all suffer the curse of Adam, the concupiscence of our parents; to some extent, we all live in the double darkness of sin and ignorance, and we all struggle with some particular sin or set of sins. We are all afflicted in this way.

It is no comfort to pretend that a sin is not a sin for the sake of gaining physical or psychological satisfaction. It may appear to be comforting the afflicted, and may appear to be treating the “physical symptoms” of the affliction; so would be giving drugs to an addict in withdrawal pains. Doing this may alleviate the physical pains and craving for a time, but in the meantime it places the soul more firmly in the grasp of that temptation, so that the afflictions will return with a vengeance. It trades physical comfort for spiritual affliction. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and to lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

There is another kind of affliction which is spiritual, and which is of the opposite sort than this. If our society inflicts spiritual afflictions in the name of physical comforts and consolation, our consciences might at times inflict spiritual agony in greater proportion that our sins warrant. C.S. Lewis puts this idea into his children’s stories, in particular during an exchange between two characters in his Prince Caspian. Near the end of that book (spoiler!), the title character is crowned King of Narnia, and holds a brief dialogue with Aslan (Narnia’s manifestation of Christ). Aslan explains to Caspian that he is descended from pirates who had blundered into the world of Narnia, eliciting a disappointed remark from Caspian about wishing that he had descended from “more honorable lineage,” to which Aslan responds:

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve..that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

We have a tendency to beat ourselves up over little things, which can then at times cause us to lose focus on the bigger things.  (AMEN!!!!  REMEMBER HIS INFINITE LOVE & MERCY!!!!) Scrupulosity over small sins can lead us to miss bigger ones, which is nearly as great a spiritual danger to us as listening to the world when it tells us to ignore our sins entirely.  (AMEN!!!!  Honesty, the TRUTH, is the HARDEST THING TO DO!!!!  With ourselves, gently & charitably with others, for them, mostly, but also for us, gently & charitably.  The lie is always easier, always.)

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:23-24).  (Now, we haven’t seen this in our own time, have we? 😉  (The Gospel is constantly fulfilled.  IT KEEPS COMING TRUE!!!!  And, so it will be, until the end.)

The problem of the Pharisees, as Jesus explains earlier in the same chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, is that they had failed to comfort the afflicted, and had indeed added to their affliction:  (Lord, have mercy!)

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:2-4).

The Scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses’ Judgment seat—Moses of course was the one to whom God gave the Old Law, the Ten Commandments as it were. Thus the Scribes and Pharisees were correctly interpreting the moral law, but were not correctly applying it. What underlies morality is love, and the “rules” of morality are rules of “right living” (and ultimately, of “right loving”), which have a threefold purpose: inner harmony, social harmony, and harmony between society and God. The first is harmony within one’s soul, that is, right relationship to oneself. The second is harmony with one’s neighbors (and between all members of the human race), right relationship with others. The last is harmony between the soul and God, that is, right relationship to God.

The Pharisees for their part were not being excoriated for insisting on the moral rules, nor even for their interpretations of the moral rules. The moral rules still apply insofar as they were moral rules, as Christ notes:

“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).

The problem is not that the Pharisees were going too far in their moral pronouncements: rather, they were not going far enough. They made the pronouncements, but then did not help others to live up to those pronouncements, and then judged and condemned those others when they failed. We look to Christ as the ultimate comforter of the afflicted, Who says “I do not condemn you for your sins: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11), but also “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). He comforts all the afflicted by taking on the cause of all our afflictions, and with it much of the suffering. herein lies the true difficulty of comforting the afflicted, which is the risk of taking on some of the suffering and some of the affliction ourselves. If we will be true disciples we must, because He did.”

—Footnotes—
[1] According to Old Testament Jewish Law, lepers must be banned from civilized areas and must further warn away any travelers whom they might encounter.

[2] Gossip can be addicting, sort of; if not gossip itself then at least the attention which comes from it.

Love, and always in need of His mercy,
Matthew

Holy Year of Mercy – Works of Mercy: Shelter the Homeless/Welcome the Stranger & Forgive Wrongs Willingly

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nicene_guy

-by Nicene Guy

“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58).

Harboring the Harborless is sometimes referred to as “welcoming the stranger,” and indeed it is referred to in this way by Christ Himself in his Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. As our communities—even at times parish communities—break down we all become anonymous strangers to each other. The simplest form of harboring the harborless is therefore to welcome a stranger, if not actually befriending him:

We can start in much simpler ways by welcoming the stranger – be he literally homeless or merely “checking out the parish to see if it would be a good Church home.” In my experience, that’s where we lay Catholics can be of huge assistance to the Body of Christ. Homelessness in one’s own parish is an endemic problem in Catholic America. My family attended a parish for three years and, by the time we left, were just as anonymous to our fellow parishioners as when we first came. (Ed. I had a Lutheran roommate when I first moved to Chicago.  His name was Bruce.  We were both new to the area.  He asked if he could come to church with me.  He didn’t feel like running the small Lutheran church gauntlet of interrogation.  He wanted to be anonymous.  I said, “We’re ALL about anonymous!!!!)

The stories of aching loneliness I hear from average Catholics (and just people, in general, Catholic or not.  Soooooo many people, soooo much loneliness.  “Hi!!  My name is Matt.”  Don’t cost nothin’.  ) sitting as strangers in pews all over the United States are painfully familiar and painfully common. (Ed.  Catholic parishes, most, are not universally known for their hospitality.  Do your thing.  Leave.  Sometimes, even downright hostility to the unchurched.  We could do better here.  We could.  And, we should.  If we’re SOOOOO excited about this Jesus fellow, why not?  We are excited, aren’t we?  We’re not just going through the motions, are we?  I mean, eternal life, the forgiveness of my sins, the adoption as a son or daughter of God, that’s not a bad deal, right?  Got a better one?)  “Nobody knows my name. We have no friends here. I come to get my sacrament card punched each Sunday (Ed.  …and my receipt, the parish bulletin, that I attended Mass!  Gotta get your receipt!!!) but I have no living connection to this parish.” These are things heard again and again in parishes around the country. It’s the reason ex-Catholics are ex-Catholics. They don’t leave the Church because they read “Call no man Father” and realized to their horror that priests were called “Father.” That’s the theological excuse that gets layered on later.

The real reason is, “I was desperately lonely and this Evangelical guy invited me to his church, and they welcomed me and gave me a place and knew my name and loved me.”

Of course, harboring the harborless does go beyond welcoming strangers. I have already hinted at providing shelter in discussing clothing the naked. To some extent, this is what harboring the haborless means: housing the homeless. This work of mercy has in some way had the greatest impact on western civilization, because many religious orders took it seriously as a commandment to provide hospitality. The result was that monasteries often provided housing and care for road-weary travelers—many still do today. From these were developed hospitals (note the root) which in addition provided the work of visiting (caring for) the sick.

Others operate more or less as retreat houses, which provide a different kind of shelter: peace and tranquility in the midst of a noisy world. They give a chance to take shelter form the demands of everyday life and to reconnect with God (and for that matter with family). I do not know anybody who has come back from a monastic retreat complaining about the experience.  Ps 46:10.

And, to the extent that we have an extra bed (or couch) or even an extra guest room (or house), we have the opportunity to offer shelter to the shelterless. We might even go a step further by literally providing home space for a homeless person, though this takes a certain amount of trust that we may or may not have (and which may or may not be warranted).  (Ed. Mt 10:16.  Plain English:  DON’T be stupid!!!  Even while well intentioned.  The road to ”    ” is paved with good intentions!!!  I had a friend Lynne, murdered for her good intentions.  I speak from experience.)

Harboring the harborless (or welcoming the stranger) goes beyond “merely” providing a roof over someone’s head, whether for a single cold night or for a longer period while they get their feet under them. It can mean sheltering the refugee (or the immigrant), which might even put one at odds with one’s government [1]. It extends especially to those refugees who come seeking safety and asylum, as those who fled Cuba for Florida or Cambodia for California, or the Jews who fled Germany during the Third Reich. Most recently, it includes aiding those who are fleeing persecution from Mohammedan militant groups like ISIS or Boko Haram.

This brings up another important example of harboring the harborless—and providing asylum, albeit not political asylum. Battered women/children shelters provide a different kind of shelter, that against an abusive domestic situation. And Crisis Maternity Homes provide an especially important work of mercy, harboring a mother experiencing a so-called “crisis pregnancy.” Such women are often unwed teens (or occasionally young twenties) whose families pressure them to murder their unborn children. Some of these young women have been thrown out of their homes by their own parents for choosing life, others have been forced to run away from home to protect their unborn children—whether from abortion-minded parents or abusive live-in boyfriends.  (Ed. or gay teens thrown from their parental homes…etc.)

Again, this work of mercy is sometimes referred to as “welcoming the stranger,” and to some extent it is just that, even in the face of ingratitude from them. To again quote Mr Shea:

‘Just because somebody is a victim doesn’t mean he can’t be a bad person, too. Hitler, after all, was a homeless person. It’s easy, in the flush of excitement over conversion, to leap into a sort of Franciscan zeal for the leper, only to discover that the leper is a major jerk. That homeless guy you want to help may be homeless not because he’s one of the wretched of the earth whom fate dealt a bad hand, but because he’s a violent, unstable parasite who bites the hand that feeds him.  (Ed. …or on drug, or has serious mental illness and really needs professional help, not yours.) Sometimes, the bum suffers not from bum luck but from sitting on his sinful bum. Sometimes, it really is better for professionals to handle things than to assume that your sanctity will melt the heart of the guy who, if you but knew it, is wanted for rape in three states.’

Yet, all that said, we are still commanded to harbor the harborless. And there are ways to do it – even ways to do it via personal involvement and not merely by writing a check. For instance, some 20 years ago, a small non-denominational church in the north end of Seattle took it upon itself to start sponsoring refugees into the United States. I remember it well because it happened to be my church. Our pastor, working with a relief agency in the area, arranged to bring a refugee and his two children from Vietnam. They had walked through Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and the children had seen bodies stacked like cord wood. They came here in the early 1980s and subsequently brought their mother and sibling here when they got established. We also sponsored two men from Ceaucescu’s Romania (and then their families) and a family from Communist Poland.

This means that harboring the harborless does in fact tie into some of the spiritual works of mercy: bearing wrongs patiently, which I have already discussed, and forgiving offenses willingly. Whereas bearing wrongs patiently means to tolerate offenses committed against us for the sake of the other person, to forgive those wrongs means to not hold them against that other person. This we are implicitly commanded to do; that is, we specifically pray that we will do this every time we utter the prayer taught us by the LORD: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The converse of this prayer would simply be, “Do not forgive us our trespasses as we fail to forgive others theirs against us.” The Lord makes this even more explicit when He tells us that if we forgive others, then God will also forgive us (Matthew 6:14). Moreover, “For our sake, He made Him to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is a momentous thing, that Christ took on human flesh and human nature (…in ALL things, but sin) in order to conquer sin and death—and that by so doing, He freed us from them. This freedom is such that we could be forgiven by God, but also by each other; in other words, because we are free from the final effects of sin, we can therefore also forgive (…and free) one another, and this forgiveness becomes more than a dead and empty gesture.

One distinction can be made here. We can extend forgiveness, but it must be accepted, too. Forgiving another’s trespasses against us heals us of the need to hold on to these offenses, but the other person must accept that forgiveness to move on himself. He must repent of his sins to be truly released from them, otherwise they will retain their grip on his soul.  (…for all eternity.  Recall, you Dickensonians, Jacob Marley, and his chains and coffers!!!)

We are not our sins. (There is a saying:  “The Devil knows our name, but calls us by our sins.  The Lord knows our sins, but calls us by name.)  The Catholic convert from atheism Leah Libresco writes that:

‘To forgive someone is not to sanction or endorse the previous transgression. And it’s not a prerequisite that the person forgiven have acted in good faith or in the service of some competing good. The pope could just as easily forgive an assassin (as, indeed, he did), but his act of charity wouldn’t leave us saying that the whole attempted assassination was morally negligible.’

Otherwise, we’re selling forgiveness short. We’re saying it can only be extended to the people who aren’t really bad at all; it’s more like the perfunctory “Sorry!” “’Sokay” when you bump into someone on the subway…

When we forgive someone, we acknowledge sin as sin without essentializing it. The forgiveness the pope would offer would be removing the Homeric epithet of “the oathbreaker Cardinal” or “the assassin Mehmet Ali Aǧca” and restoring us as “the child of God, who broke an oath.”

Sin is something we do, not something we should give up and say we are. (God don’t make no junk!)  Seeking forgiveness begins when we recognize and detest our sins (…and THAT is NOT always easy to do!!!!!  I LOVE my sin!!!!!!!  I really do!!!!  What?  I’m sinful, not insane!!!!  Where’s the attraction, the temptation, if not?  I have to pray and pray and pray and pray and pray and study and read and read and reread the Church’s teaching on the matter to see my actions for what they truly are, I do, ALL the time! I am VERY keen to deceive myself.  The truth HURTS!!!!  But, that is not an excuse from the truth!!!!  Ask any Jesuit.  They can smell it, sense it, Jesuit mystique, on me before I enter the room.  And, then come out the spiritual dental tools!!!!  YUCK!!!!  Damn!  Damn!  Damn!  Damn!  Praise Him!!!!  I believe in grace!!!  And, the power of grace!!!  THANK YOU, Jesuit Fathers, for NOT allowing me to shirk the TRUTH!!!!  THANK YOU!!!! Keep up the good, holy work!!!!  The world, and I, NEED YOU desperately!!!!  THANK YOU!!!!  Did you ever try to bargain or negotiate morality with Jesuit????!!!!  NOT an ez sell!!!!  NOT ez!!!!  Can’t blame a sinner for trying???!!!  YES, YOU CAN.), and is extended when a friend agrees with us, and shows us that it’s possible to loathe them (our sins) and love us.

Thus, an essential part of forgiving sins, the part which makes it truly an act of mercy (and of sacrifice) is that we recognize the person as distinct from his sins. The sins we must hate, for they are hateful in God’s sight, but the sinners who commit them are fellow men like us: these we must love, because as men we too are sinners. Then all sins can be forgiven (if repented), or at least borne with when not.

—Footnotes—
[1] As Mark Shea notes, the Church and the government are not necessarily always called to do the same thing. The Church must harbor the harborless, even as the government must at times set immigration policy which leads to the deportation of those same “harborless.” I would add that the Church should then co-operate in this deportation process even while otherwise harboring an illegal, unless there is a very good reason to not cooperate (meaning the person risks persecution or death or unjust imprisonment etc. if deported; in short, if deportation means destroying a family or if the refugee has legitimate claims to asylum).

Love, and always in need of His mercy,
Matthew

Holy Year of Mercy – Works of Mercy: Feeding the Hungry & Counseling the Doubtful

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I have the privilege of volunteering at the St Vincent de Paul food pantry here in Madison. I enjoy working with our clients to help them shop according to their allocated needs. A first lesson in obedience was accepting my assignment to St John’s Social Service Center in Cincinnatti when I was a Dominican novice. I thought the prison was much cooler!!! A good lesson. Appears, I now have a “thing” for food pantries, in all their diversity. 🙂

nicene_guy
-by Nicene Guy

“Hunger is one of the greatest causes of sorrow in this world, though not the greatest. And the hungry are everywhere, and in all times: there seldom need to seek them out to find them. “The poor you will always have,” we are promised (Mark 14:7). We should pity their plight, whether it’s merely economic or whether the problem goes deeper.

Alleviating hunger is a simple task, but it is not easier for being this. Moral problems seldom are. We need not get caught up in idle speculation as to why any given person is in his situation (and with the economy being as bad as it is, there are surely more people who honestly can’t find work than are merely “lazy”). They are our sisters and brothers in need, parts of our human family who are “down on their luck.”

To feed them is an act of mercy.

On the other hand, it is also an act of justice. It is justice towards them, as it recognizes their dignity as human being. Still more is is justice towards God, obedience to the Old Law. We read in Leviticus that “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not be so thorough that you reap the field to its very edge, nor shall you glean the stray ears of your grain. These things you shall leave for the poor and the alien. I, the LORD, am your God” (Leviticus 23:22). In Deuteronomy, we read even more instructions of this sort:

“When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf there, you shall not go back to get it; let it be for the alien, the orphan or the widow, that the LORD, your God, may bless you in all your undertakings. When you knock down the fruit of your olive trees, you shall not go over the branches a second time; let what remains be for the alien, the orphan and the widow. When you pick your grapes, you shall not go over the vineyard a second time; let what remains be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. For remember that you were once slaves in Egypt; that is why I command you to observe this rule” (Deuteronomy 24:19-22).

If this is not explicitly a commandment to actively go forth and feed the hungry—poor, orphan, widow, and foreigner—as in the Discourse on the Judgment of the Nations, it is at the least a commandment to leave them the means to feed themselves.

Moreover, it is a commandment tied to the remembrance of who the Israelites are: you were once slaves in Egypt. And before that, they were foreigners in Egypt (this during a time of famine). In bringing this to mind with the commandment, God reminds the Israelites that they were once poor and hungry, and that this was so until He rescued them from their slavery.

That these commandments were given during the 40 years wandering in the desert, then the the message becomes clearer still. Only by God’s provenance would the Israelites survive; He would provide their daily food, and so they must depend on Him for it. The same of course is true after they entered and claimed the Promised Land, and for that matter the same is true for us now, in a time of advanced farming techniques which yield immense crops.

And the hungry we still have.

Hunger is not only for food, however. I mentioned before that physical hunger is among the worst forms of suffering which is common in the world, but there are worse. After His baptism, Christ entered the desert, where He was tempted by the devil: the first temptation was against His hunger after forty days’ fasting:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:1-4)

Our spiritual hunger is for “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” and above all for the Word which comes forth from God: Jesus Christ, God the Son. This is so much so that He told us that we must “gnaw” His flesh and “guzzle” His blood (John 6:53) to have life within us, a moment which foreshadowed the institution of the Eucharist and presaged the Passion.

We know (or “see”) these things through the eyes of faith, and so faith is what helps feed the “spiritual” hunger. But faith is undermined by doubt: thus, counseling the doubtful is spiritually akin to feeding the physically hungry. For its own part, counsel is on of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:1-2), and is sometimes called “right judgment.” With the gift of counsel, we know what is right and what is wrong, and choose to do what is right.

At a glance, this may seem to fit with others of the spiritual works of mercy—admonishing sinners, instructing the ignorant—which are indeed related to counseling the doubtful [1]. On the other hand, venerable bishop Fulton Sheen once stated that “Atheism, nine times out of ten, is born from the womb of a bad conscience. Disbelief is born of sin, not of reason.” In short, many a man who does says “I do not believe in God” means “I am sleeping with my neighbor’s wife.”

To return to the connection between physical and spiritual hunger, and the feeding of both, we would notice that there is often a second (seeming) reason for the loss of faith, that is, for “hunger.” It is a variation on the problem of evil: “Many Christians are bad people, therefore Christianity is false.” These days the argument is sometimes recast as, “Priest sex abuse scandal. Therefore, Catholicism is false.” From a strictly intellectual standpoint, both versions of the argument are laughable. That some Christians behave badly, and that some subset of those are priests, does not prove or disprove the veracity of the creeds.

People do not, however, operate on a purely intellectual plane, and so these sins become the cause of doubts [2]. In a sense, we all “hunger for righteousness,” and many turn elsewhere when they perceive that they have not found it in religion. The problem is that righteousness is not found merely in religion, but specifically in God; we look for righteousness in men and catch glimpses of it, while missing it in God where it is perfected.

To counsel the doubtful then requires that we return them to God, from Whom comes faith, from whose mouth (and side) comes our spiritual nourishment, our “daily bread.” Thus, while we may counsel directly and physically, we might also apply to God by prayers for counsel—whether for ourselves or for another.”                 -AMEN!!!  AMEN!!! AMEN!!!  Save me, Lord!!!  SAVE ME!!!! -MPM

—Footnotes—
[1] Indeed, counseling and instructing are both related to the intellect: the former to the “practical” intellect, the latter to the “speculative” intellect.

[2] Doubts? Perhaps. On the other hand, these “doubts” often take the original form, again modified: “I am mad that priests have abused children” often and easily becomes cover for “Therefore, why shouldn’t I be allowed to commit my (supposedly minor) sin of choice?””

Love and always in need of His mercy,
Matthew

Death: God’s Greatest Gift

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-by Br Bonaventure Chapman, OP (Prior to joining the Order, Br Bonaventure received an M.Th. in Applied Theology from Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, where he studied for the Anglican priesthood.)

“There is no point in being a Christian unless we regard death as God’s greatest gift to us.”

— Fr. Edward T. Oakes, SJ (1948 – 2013)

What did he say? Death is a gift, even God’s greatest? Death is no stranger to superlatives, but they usually come in the negative form: death is the most terrible reality; death is the final enemy; death is the worst defeat. Because of this, death avoidance becomes a wellspring of activity in modern society: nursing homes and hospitals keep it at a safe distance from the home, and euphemisms are commonly deployed in its description. Is not the euthanasia movement an extreme form of this avoidance in its attempt to master death through free choice? If death must happen, I will decide exactly when and how it happens! Of course the avoidance of death is not limited to the modern condition. In his famous study, The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker writes of its universal quality:

“The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity – activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man.”

Surely Fr. Oakes must be morbidly misinformed or manifestly mistaken, mustn’t he?

Well no, actually, although a distinction is desirable. It is not any old death that is the greatest gift, but a Christian death, a death given by God, which is the greatest gift. Why? Because in a Christian death one does not die alone; one dies with Christ. The Catechism puts it succinctly: “To rise with Christ, we must die with Christ” (1005). To be united with Christ fully, one must be united with Him in His death, and therefore in our own deaths. Death has a new dimension, a new character, thanks to Christ’s death. The Catechism goes on to quote St. Paul in this new definition of death:

“Because of Christ, Christian death has a positive meaning: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).“The saying is sure: if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him” (2 Tm 2:11). What is essentially new about Christian death is this: through Baptism, the Christian has already “died with Christ” sacramentally, in order to live a new life; and if we die in Christ’s grace, physical death completes this “dying with Christ” and so completes our incorporation into Him in his redeeming act. (1010)”

This Summer I have had the privilege of spending a month with the Dominican Sisters at Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne, NY. The sisters here, part of a congregation founded by Rose Hawthorne (Mother Mary Alphonsa), the daughter of American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, work day and night to assist cancer patients in just such a “dying with Christ.” Unlike many hospices that offer a kind of palliative care that involves the refusal of suffering and the denial of death, the sisters here offer truly passionate care: the suffering-with of compassion and the acceptance of death with Christ through his passion.

Death is not covered up or ignored at Hawthorne; patients are here to die well, to die with and in Christ. It is an incredible grace and truly a gift to die with the sisters; I can attest to this because of my experiences with both patients and their families. As one family member said: “This place is the closest thing to heaven on earth.” Those gifted enough to come to Rosary Hill are taught to die well, to die with Christ, to die with love and grace. Truly what a gift!

Unfortunately, not everyone can die in the care of the Hawthorne Dominicans (Young ladies, you can change this: vocations). And yet we all face death, the final enemy and proper punishment for our sins. Thankfully, like the patients at Rosary Hill, the Church has not left us alone in this serious task of dying well; she gives us daily numerous ways of preparing well. One way is to ask for a holy death every time we see a crucifix in our house (You don’t have one? Why not?) or Church. There are also excellent works dedicated to living well by thinking about dying well, both traditional (Dominican and Jesuit) as well as contemporary (written by a friend of mine). And of course we pray for such a holy death, through the intercession of Mary, at least fifty times a day in the rosary (You don’t pray the rosary every day? Really?). The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of death (CCC 1114). After all, if this life is to be a sequela Christi, a following of Christ, one must follow Him to death and through death. Christ’s call to each disciple “to deny himself and take up his cross daily” (Lk 9:23) finds new meaning and resonance in this daily reflection and preparation for death.

To die with Christ is truly a gift, a gift that may be the greatest because it is the way to unite ourselves with Christ. Christ offers us the gift of His death and we offer ourselves united to Him through our own deaths as our final thanksgiving for all He has done. While not all of us will have the gift of dying with the Hawthorne Dominicans, we can all experience a hint of their charism with the help of the Church. And of course our death is not the final word, for the gift of death contains also the gift of the Resurrection.”

Good St Joseph!!  Patron of a Good Death, pray for us!!  Take us by the hand at that final moment and guide us to thy Divine Foster-Son!!  That we may rejoice with the Blessed forever!!!

Love,
Matthew

Feb 1 – St Henry Morse, SJ, (1595-1645) – Priest & Martyr

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Henry Morse, born in Brome, Suffolk, England, in 1595, was raised a Protestant. He enrolled as a law student in London’s Inns of Court. While there, however, he became increasingly dissatisfied with the established religion and more convinced of the truth of the Catholic faith.

Crossing the English Channel, he went to Douai, France, which was then an English Catholic center. Once received into the Church, he decided to study for the priesthood, and made his studies first at Douai, then at the English College in Rome, as Douai had too many students. Although ordained in Rome as a secular priest, he secured permission from the Father General of the Jesuits to be admitted to the Society of Jesus once he got back to England.

Father Morse had scarcely landed in Britain and been accepted as a Jesuit candidate when he was arrested and imprisoned in York Castle.   Upon arrival at a port in England, he was asked by the English port authorities to take the oath of allegiance acknowledging the king’s supremacy in religious matters. The recent convert resolutely refused and was arrested and imprisoned for four years and was released in 1618 when the king decided to get rid of hundreds of religious dissenters by banishing them to France.  He was ordained in 1623.

He had not yet had time to make the novitiate required of those who aspired to Jesuit vows. Providentially, however, he found another Jesuit imprisoned in York Castle. This Father Robinson supervised his novitiate in prison! Therefore, when his three-year term was up, he emerged a full-fledged junior member of the Society.

Banished to the Continent on his release, Father Morse spent some time as a chaplain to English soldiers who served the King of Spain in the Low Countries. Then in 1633 he returned to England secretly, using the name “Cuthbert Claxton,” and he spent the next four years ministering in London.

Now, in 1636-1637 the dread “Black Plague” again became epidemic in London. Morse was kept doubly busy taking care of bodies as well as souls. He made up a list of 400 infected families, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, whom he regularly visited. He himself caught the disease three times, but each time he recovered. His zeal and thoughtfulness were deeply appreciated and nearly 100 families on his list eventually asked to be reconciled to the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately, the police also learned about Morse’s activities, and arrested him on February 27, 1636. The charges were that he was a priest and that he had “perverted” several hundred of “His Majesty’s Protestant subjects.” Put on trial, he was acquitted of the second charge but not of the first. However, he was bailed out through the intervention of Charles I’s Catholic wife, Queen Henrietta Maria. Then, in 1641, the king was forced to decree the exile of all Catholic priests. Father Henry, unwilling to embarrass his bail bondsmen, returned to Flanders and resumed his work as chaplain of the English soldiers there.

In 1643 Father Morse’s Jesuit superiors sent him back to the mission, this time in northern England, where he was less known.  He accidentally walked into a group of soldiers late one night who suspected he was a priest.  He was arrested and held overnight in the home of a local official.  He escaped with the aid of the Catholic wife of one of his captors.  He enjoyed freedom for 6 weeks but one day he and his guide lost their way in the countryside and innocently knocked on the door of a house to ask for directions. The man who answered was one of the soldiers who had recently apprehended him and remembered him well and there would be no fifth escape.  Tried once more, he was sentenced to death in accord with the law that forbade exiled priests to return to Britain.  He was visited in prison by the ambassadors of other Catholic countries.

On the day of his execution, February 1, 1645, Father Morse was able to celebrate Mass. Then four horses were harnessed to the wicker hurdle on which he was dragged to the gallows that stood on Tyburn Hill. As usual, there was a crowd of the curious on hand to see the show. But also in attendance, to pay their respects, were the French ambassador and his suite, the Spanish and Portuguese ambassadors, and the Flemish Count of Egmont.

As was customary, the condemned priest was allowed to make some final remarks. “I am come hither to die for my religion……I have a secret which highly concerns His Majesty and Parliament to know. The kingdom of England will never be truly blessed until it returns to the Catholic faith and its subjects are all united in one belief under the Bishop of Rome.” He ended by saying: “I pray that my death may be some kind of atonement for the sins of this kingdom.” Then he said his prayers and asked that the cap be pulled over his eyes; beat his breast 3 times, giving the signal to a priest in the crowd to impart absolution. He then said: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.” After he was dead his body was torn open, his heart removed, his entrails burned and body quartered. In accordance with the custom that followed executions, his head was exposed on London Bridge and his quartered body was mounted on the city’s four gates.

Egmont and the French ambassador had their retainers dip handkerchiefs in the martyr’s blood. Later on, these relics were the occasion of cures.

San Enrique Morse

St. Henry Morse, pray that we may be as resilient and resolute in our duty to serve the King of the Universe as you were while you were here on earth, and beset by the injustices of your day and age. Pray that our priests will serve Our King as you have done. Pray that we too will serve the King, and our brethren, with such charity, tenacity, and fortitude, as labor in spreading the Good News while we wait in joyful hope for the coming of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Jan 23 – St Marianne Cope, OSF, (1838-1918), “He paulele ho’i ‘oe”, = “Faithful to God’s Loving Plan”

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-1883, Sister Marianne Cope, just before her departure from Germany to Hawaii.

In one of the most beautiful, colorful, loveliest, Eden-like places on earth, the cross of a horrific disease had turned everything grey; taken the taste out of life.  It took the Gospel and a nun –  in love with God and color –  to bring joy back, for beauty to return to people’s lives:

Interview with Mother Marianne’s Nurse, Sister Magdalene, in 1941:

Utica Reporter:  “Do the books and stories about Mother Marianne exaggerate her qualities?”

Nurse: “No, Mother Marianne was the gentlest, the cheeriest and the most dignified person you could imagine, and a disciplinarian, too.”

“She revolutionized life on Molokai, brought cleanliness, pride and fun to the colony. People on Molokai laugh now—like other people in the world, laugh at the same things, the same dilemmas and jokes.”

“It was Mother Marianne who bought the girls hair ribbons and pretty things to wear, dresses and scarves. Women keep their cottages and their rooms in the big communal houses neatly, pride fully. There are snowy bedspreads, pictures on the walls. They set their tables at meal time with taste, Mother Marianne brought that about.”

“She interested the women in color harmony. Sit in services at the back of the church in Molokai and observe the lovely arrangements of color of the women. When Mother Marianne went to the island, people there had no thought for the graces of life. ‘We are lepers,’ they told her. ‘What does it matter?’ Well, she changed all that. Doctors have said that her psychology was 50 years ahead of her time.”

Sister Magdalene was one of the nuns who attended Mother Marianne during her last illness, an old woman, but still valiant.

“She knew that the end was near but on that last day she insisted on joining the nuns at mealtimes. ‘No tears,’ she said. ‘Of course, I am coming to table. Why not?’ That night she died while we were at her bedside, August 9, 1918.”

On January 23, 1838, a daughter was born to Peter and Barbara Cope of Hessen-Darmstadt, Germany. The girl was named after her mother. Two years later the Cope family immigrated to the United States and settled in Utica, New York. Young Barbara worked in a factory until August 1862, when she went to the Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis in Syracuse, New York. After solemn profession of her religious vows, having taken the religious name Marianne, in November of the next year she began teaching at Assumption parish school.

Marianne held the post of superior in several places and was twice the novice mistress of her congregation. A natural leader, three different times she was superior of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, where she learned much that would be useful during her years in Hawaii.

Elected provincial in 1877, Mother Marianne was unanimously re-elected in 1881. Two years later the Hawaiian government was searching for someone to run the Kakaako Receiving Station for people suspected of having leprosy. More than 50 religious communities in the United States and Canada were asked. None accepted. When the request was put to the Syracuse sisters, 35 of them volunteered immediately. On October 22, 1883, Mother Marianne and six other sisters left for Hawaii where they took charge of the Kakaako Receiving Station outside Honolulu; on the island of Maui they also opened a hospital and a school for girls.

In 1888, Mother Marianne and two sisters went to Molokai to open a home for “unprotected women and girls” there. The Hawaiian government was quite hesitant to send women for this difficult assignment; they need not have worried about Mother Marianne! On Molokai she took charge of the home that Blessed Damien DeVeuster (d. 1889) had established for men and boys. Mother Marianne changed life on Molokai by introducing cleanliness, pride and fun to the colony. Bright scarves and pretty dresses for the women were part of her approach.

Awarded the Royal Order of Kapiolani by the Hawaiian government and celebrated in a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, Mother Marianne continued her work faithfully. Her sisters have attracted vocations among the Hawaiian people and still work on Molokai.

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-1886, The Sisters of St. Francis, at the Kakaʻako Branch Hospital.  Left to right: Sr. M. Rosalia McLaughlin, Sr. M Martha Kaiser, Sr M. Leopoldina Burns, Sr. M Charles Hoffmann, Sr. M. Crescentia Eilers, and Mother Marianne Cope. At center, rear: Walter Murray Gibson.

To the Reverend Sister Marianne
Matron of the Bishop Home, Kalaupapa

To see the infinite pity of this place,
The mangled limb, the devastated face,
The innocent sufferers smiling at the rod,
A fool were tempted to deny his God.

He sees, and shrinks; but if he look again,
Lo, beauty springing from the breast of pain!—
He marks the sisters on the painful shores,
And even a fool is silent and adores.

-poem by Robert Louis Stevenson
Kalawao, May 22, 1889

Mother Marianne Cope was beatified on May 14, 2005.  Over one hundred faithful followers from Hawai‘i attended the beatification ceremony Rome. Three hundred followers from the Blessed Mother’s religious order in Syracuse were also in attendance. During the ceremony the Hawaiian song Makalapua was sung. The song was a favorite of Mother Marianne Cope.

Makalapua –  The Opening Flower (Hawaiian traditional)

`O makalapua ulu mähiehie
`O ka lei o Kamaka`eha
No Kamaka`eha ka lei nä Li`a wähine
Nä wähine kïhene pua

Hui:
E lei ho`i, e Lili`ulani e
E lei ho`i, e Lili`ulani e

Ha`iha`i pua kamani (pauku) pua ki
I lei (ho`owehi) wehi no ka wahine
E walea ai ka wao kele
I ka liko io Maunahele

Lei Ka`ala i ka ua o ka naulu
Ho`olu`e iho la i lalo o Hale`au`au
Ka ua lei koko `ula i ke pili
I pilia ka mau`u nene me ke kupukupu

Lei aku la i ka hala o Kekele
Na hala moe ipo o Malailua
Ua maewa wale i ke oho o ke kawelu
Na lei Kamakahala o ka ua Wa`ahila

—-

The sweetest and most fragrant flowers of the garden
For the lei of Kamaka`eha
The goddesses of the forest weave a lei for Kamaka`eha
The ladies with baskets of flowers

Chorus:
Here is your lei, o Lili`ulani
Here is your lei. o Lili`ulani

Kamani leaves entwined with ti flowers
A lei to beautify the fair Lili`u
One who loves the beauteous and fragrant uplands
Where bud the flowers at Maunahele

Ka`ala wears a lei of rain and showers
Pouring down on Hale’au’au
Rainbow mist that is a lei on pili grass
Where nene grass grows close to kupukupu ferns

Wearing a lei of hala fruit of Kekele
Hala of Malailua that lovers dream of
Swaying freely amid kawelu grasses
Kamakahala flower leis of Wa`ahila rain

This song incorporates both names of the Queen Lili’uokalani, Hawaii’s last monarch: Lili`u (smarting) and Kamaka`eha (sore eyes) a name given to her at birth by Kina`u, her grand aunt who was suffering from sore eyes at that time. It was a Hawaiian custom to name a child for an important event at the time of their birth. Maunahele was the name of the gardens in the shadow of the pali on the windward side. These gardens were sacred to Lia, the mountain goddess of flowers. The Kamani tree (calaphyllum inophyllum) native of Hawaii has edible nuts and fragrant flowers. The ti or ki (cordyline ternminalis) an indigenious plant has leaves that are used for cooking, thatching houses and making hula skirts. The fibrous roots when cooked make a sweet candy and when fermented, produce an intoxicating beverage.

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-April 15, 1889, Mother Marianne with funeral bier of Fr Damien of Molokai.

“The charity of the good knows no creed and is confined to no one place.”  (1870’s)

“I do not think of reward; I am working for God, and do so cheerfully.”  (1902)

“I am hungry for the work…  I am not afraid of any disease, hence it would be my greatest delight even to minister the abandoned ‘lepers.'”

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-Mother Marianne Cope, a few days before she died, with sisters and patients, 1918.

Love,
Matthew