Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday of the First Week of Advent: Blessed Ivan Sleziuk

Ivan was born in 1896 in the village of Zhyvachiv (in modern-day Ukraine). He was ordained a priest in 1923.

In April 1945, Bishop Hryhory Khomyshyn, Greek Catholic eparch of Stanislaviv (now Ivano-Frankivsk), ordained Ivan as coadjutor bishop with the right to succeed him in case Bishop Khomyshyn should be arrested or killed by the Communist leadership. However, on June 2, 1945, Ivan was arrested and deported to the labor camps in Vorkuta, Russia. In 1950, he was transferred to labor camps in Mordovia, Russia.


Following his release in 1954, Ivan returned to Stanislaviv. He was arrested again in 1962 and imprisoned for five years in a camp known for its harsh treatment of prisoners. Although he was released on November 30, 1968, he was interrogated by KGB officials every few weeks. The last visit was two weeks before his death, which was on December 2, 1973, in Stanislaviv.

Because of his imprisonment and suffering, Blessed Ivan Sleziuk is honored among the “Martyrs Killed Under Communist Regimes in Eastern Europe” and was beatified in 2001. Beatified with Blessed Ivan was Bishop Hryhory Khomyshyn, the bishop who had ordained him and who died in a Communist prison in Kiev in 1947.  

In today’s First Reading, the Prophet Isaiah envisions a day in which the forces of evil will be vanquished: “But a very little while… the tyrant will be no more and the arrogant will have gone. All who are alert to do evil will be cut off, those whose mere words condemns a man, Who ensnare his defender at the gate, and leave the just man with an empty claim.” Although we still wait in hope for an end to evil and injustice in the world, the saints and martyrs remind us that there is a power at work in the human heart that is greater than any worldly power: the grace of God. It was God’s grace that allowed Blessed Ivan to endure years of torture and abuse, all the while empowering him to remain faithful to his commitment to serve God as a bishop. He was able to boldly proclaim with the Psalmist, “I believe I shall see the bounty of the Lord / in the land of the living. / Wait for the Lord with courage; / be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.”

The long night of Advent is a stark reminder of the darkness of sin and injustice that still exist in the world. And yet, these days call us to watch for the glimmer of dawn as we wait for the Sun of Justice to rise and drive away darkness and despair. Reflect today on how you see the light of heaven piercing the darkness of the world around you. Ask Blessed Ivan to help you persevere in your own search for God’s peace and justice.

Prayer +Almighty and merciful God, who brought your Martyr blessed Ivan to overcome the torments of his passion, grant that we, who celebrate the day of his triumph, may remain invincible under your protection against the snares of the enemy. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.(from The Roman Missal: Common of Martyrs—For One Martyr)

This reflection was originally written for www.aleteia.org and posted on their website on December 2, 2016.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Saint Lucina of the Catacombs of Callistus: Reflecting the Savior’s Kindness and Love


Lucina (or Lucy) was a wealthy Roman woman who, according to ancient legends, was converted to the Christian Faith by Saint Peter. When the persecution of the Emperor Nero began (in the year 64), Lucina showed kindness to the imprisoned Christians, including Saints Martinian and Processus, who had served as Saint Peter’s guards while he was in prison awaiting execution. These two men were converted to the Faith by Peter and were executed a few days after the Apostle.



Saint Lucina is remembered for courageously giving proper burial to the martyrs. She is believed to have suffered martyrdom herself and has been honored as a martyr since the fourth century. She is buried in the Catacomb of Saint Callistus in Rome. Today, the relics of Saints Martinian and Processes are enshrined in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Detail of the Catacomb of Callistus

In today’s Gospel (Thursday of the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time) we hear how Jesus restored a paralyzed man to health. But this healing was also a sign that what was broken within the man—his sins—were forgiven. Jesus didn’t simply come performing miracles. Instead, he came to transform lives by offering God’s healing and transforming grace and forgiveness to everyone in need. The miracles and signs that we find in the Gospel were symbols of the power of God’s love and grace.



The history of our Faith is filled with stories of individuals who have experienced this grace and who have been inspired to reach out to others in service and love. At other times, Christian men, women, and children have shown extraordinary courage in the face of suffering and death. Saint Lucina, whom we honor today, was inspired through her own relationship with Christ to care for the martyrs while they were imprisoned and to practice the work of mercy of burying their remains after they were killed. Her courage and charity weren’t simply expressions of pious charity or an attempt to do the “right thing.” Instead, her works were a reflection of the kindness and love of the Savior at work in her own life.



How have you experienced God’s healing and transformative touch? How have you shared the graces you have received with others who are in need? Ask Saint Lucina to help you be attentive to how you can help relieve the suffering of others.



Prayer +

O God, by whose gift strength is made perfect in weakness, grant to all who honor the glory of blessed Lucina that she, who drew from you the strength to triumph, may likewise always obtain from you the grace of victory for us. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(from The Roman Missal: Common of Martyrs—For a Holy Woman Martyr)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Blessed Francisca de Paula de Jesus Isabel: Learning to Love Our Enemies

Francisca was born in São João del Rei, Minas Gerais, Brazil, in 1810. Born into poverty (with no record of her father), she and her brother were orphaned when their mother died in 1820. Francisca never received any formal education and remained illiterate throughout her life. As she grew into adulthood, she chose to never marry and devoted her life to her faith, particularly her devotion to the Blessed Virgin.  
Blessed Francisca de Paula Jesus Isabel

In time, she won the love of the local people, who came to honor her as Nha Chica—“Aunt Chica.” She eventually settled in the village of Baependi and many came to ask her counsel and prayers. She received everyone with a spirit of true hospitality. In time, she used her meager resources to begin construction of a chapel in honor of the Virgem da Conceição (Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception), next to her small home. This chapel remains a popular place of pilgrimage.

Nha Chica died in Baependi on June 14, 1895, and was beatified 2011. The liturgical commemoration of Blessed Francisca is celebrated on June 14.

In today’s Gospel (Tuesday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time), Jesus reminds us—in no uncertain terms—that we are to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. For the Christian, being guided by the Gospel, there can be no “other.” Everyone we encounter is a neighbor, a brother, and a sister. This was certainly true for Blessed Francisca as she welcomed pilgrims, seekers, the sick, and the poor into her home and chapel. She welcomed everyone who came to her as a sister or brother and everyone was welcome to share what little she had.

As we continue to grieve the tragic and senseless loss of life that took place in Orlando this past Sunday, there are some who are trying to politicize these events, encouraging us to place blame on those whom they perceive to be “other.” For us, as Christians, this is never an option and that attitude will never help us realize the justice and peace we all so desperately desire.

Pray today for a sense of openness to those who might be different from you, recognizing that they too are our brothers and sisters, deserving of our love. Pray, too, that God will soften and convert the hearts of those who promote violence, hate, and division. Ask Blessed Nha Chica to help you to love as Jesus wants you to love.


Prayer +
O God, who declare that you abide in hearts that are pure, grant that through the intercession of the Virgin blessed Francisca we may be so fashioned by your grace, that we become a dwelling pleasing to you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal: Common of Virgins—For One Virgin)

Originally written for www.Aleteia.org and published on their site on June 14, 2016.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Feast of Saint Mathias: Called to Go Forth

According to the Acts of the Apostles, Matthias, a witness of the Lord’s ministry and resurrection, was chosen by the apostles to take the place of Judas Iscariot (cf. Acts 1:15-26). Saint Matthias received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and he is said to have preached the Gospel in Judea. Later traditions link him to the churches in Cappadocia and Ethiopia. Honored as a martyr, his relics were translated from Jerusalem to Rome by the Empress Saint Helena.

Saint Matthias from the workshop
of Simone Martini
It is fitting that we celebrate the feast day of an Apostle on this final day before Pentecost. The witness of Saint Matthias and the other Apostles and early Church leaders who left behind home and family to preach and teach about Jesus is an important lesson for us today: Each of us has received the same Holy Spirit that inspired their ministry and service and we too are called to go out from our homes into our parishes and communities to invite others to follow Jesus.

Take time today to reflect on how the Holy Spirit is at work within your heart and soul. How do you feel God calling you to “go forth”? What does it mean for you that you have been chosen by God and entrusted with a unique vocation for the building up of the Kingdom of God?

Prayer +
O God, who assigned Saint Matthias
a place in the college of Apostles,
grant us, through his intercession,
that, rejoicing at how your love has been allotted to us,
we may merit to be numbered among the elect.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)

This reflection was originally written for www.aleteia.org and published on their website on May 14, 2016.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Our Lady of Fatima: Honoring Mary in Prayer

On the 13th day of May, we celebrate the Virgin Mary who appeared to three shepherd children at Fatima, Portugal, six times between May 13 and October 13, 1917. In these encounters, Mary identified herself as “Our Lady of the Rosary” and urged the practice of penance, daily recitation of the Rosary, and devotion to the Immaculate Heart for the conversion of sinners and of Russia. 


On May 13, 2000, Pope Saint John Paul II beatified Jacinta and Francisco Marto, two of the visionaries. The commemoration of Our Lady of Fatima was extended to the Universal Church in 2002.

Although there are many who focus on the signs and wonders associated with the apparitions at Fatima, Mary’s message to the children—and to us—is very simple: Pray! And our commitment to prayer—for the Church, for those entrusted to our care, for the poor and forgotten—are the greatest acts of devotion we can show to the Mother of God.

Take time today to pray the rosary for those who have no one to pray for them or who have drifted away from the practice of their faith. Ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to be a mother for them, guiding them to her Son. Pray, too, that God will abundantly bless Pope Francis and Church and leaders with the gifts of the Holy Spirit as they continue to proclaim the Good News of God’s Mercy in the world today. 

 
Prayer +
O God, who chose the Mother of your Son to be our Mother also,
grant us that, persevering in penance and prayer
for the salvation of the world,
we may further more effectively each day the reign of Christ.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)

This post was originally written for www.Aleteia.org and published on their website on May 13, 2016.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Ascension: Jesus is Lord of All Times and Peoples

As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”—Acts 1:9-11
In her novel Gilead, Marilyn Robinson shares the story of Reverend John Ames who, looking back on a life of pastoral service, love, loss, faith, and hope, tells his young son:
Sometimes the visionary aspect of any particular day comes to you in the memory of it, or it opens to you over time. For example, whenever I take a child into my arms to be baptized, I am, so to speak, comprehended in the experience more fully, having seen more of life, knowing better what it means to affirm the sacredness of the human creature. I believe there are visions that come to us only in memory, in retrospect.
The New Testament is the story of the expanding vision of the early Church and shows us that the process of discovery and discernment didn’t take place in a vacuum — it was within the lived experience of the Church that answers to these fundamental questions began to take shape.


An understanding of Jesus’ return to the Father, of his ascension into heaven, was one of those visions “that come to us only in memory, in retrospect,” just like the experience of Jesus’ resurrection could only be understood after the disciples lived their Easter faith through years of praying, preaching, communion, fidelity, and suffering.

In his book Living Jesus, Luke Timothy Johnson reflected that “the withdrawal of Jesus is not so much an absence as it is a presence in a new and more powerful mode: when Jesus is not among them as another specific body, he is accessible to all as life-giving spirit.” Although, for many believers, the Ascension of Jesus seems to focus on his departure, the truth of the Ascension is that Jesus is still alive in our midst, but in a new way.

The Solemnity of the Ascension is a celebration of two promises. First, Jesus has promised that he will send us the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to guide and sustain the growth of the Church. Beyond this, the Ascension also contains a promise about what is now made possible for us in Christ:
May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call,
What are the riches of glory
in his inheritance among the holy ones,
and what is the surpassing greatness of his power
for us who believe,
in accord with the exercise of his great might (Ephesians 1:18-19).

The challenge for us is to live in this promise.

It is so easy for us to become weighed down by our day-to-day responsibilities and the legion of distractions and diversions that are such a part of our contemporary culture that the hazy promise of some future reality (however glorious) can’t really compete. And yet as Christians, this is who we are: “Why do we on earth not strive to find rest with him in heaven even now, through the faith, hope and love that unites us to him? While in heaven he is also with us; and we while on earth are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power and his love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity, but in him, we can be there by love” (St. Augustine of Hippo in Sermo de Ascensione Domini).

The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord is time to celebrate the certainty of Christ’s presence among us with joy. Jesus disappears from the disciples’ physical sight so that he might become more present to the eyes of their hearts.

We are called to foster the same spirit of discernment that the apostles and the first generations of Christian practiced as they gradually came to understand who Jesus was and could be for them. The vision of the glorified Lord, a promise of future glory, is something to be realized and lived here and now.

What does the Solemnity of the Ascension mean to you? How does it challenge you to expand your understanding of who Jesus is?

How does the apostles’ ongoing discernment and search for the Lord inspire you to see Christ at work in the world today?

How does this celebration strengthen your hope and trust in God’s presence and action in your life?

Words of Wisdom: “Jesus frees himself from the limits of space and time to become present to the people of every time and place, and to offer everyone the gift of salvation.”—Pope St. John Paul II, Homily of May 23, 1998

This post was originally written for Aleteia.org and published on their website on May 7, 2016.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Saint François Laval: Bringing the Gift of Unfathomable Love

François Laval was born in 1623 into one of the most distinguished families in France. He received the tonsure at age twelve (a symbol of his status as a cleric) and, later, he became a canon of the cathedral of Evreux. Following his ordination in 1647, he was named archdeacon of Evreux. At the age of thirty he was appointed Vicar Apostolic of present-day Vietnam, but he was unable to take up residence there because of the wars that plagued the country during that period; he resigned from that office one year later.

In 1658, François was appointed Vicar Apostolic of New France. He arrived in Canada in May 1659, and reached Quebec one month later. During the next thirty years of his life he founded parishes, fought against the exploitation of the Native Americans, and opposed the Gallicanism of the civil authorities. He founded the first seminary in New France in 1662 and in 1674 he was appointed as first bishop of Quebec. François died in 1708 at the age of eighty-five.

Saint François Laval, “Father of the Church in Canada,” was canonized in 2014.

In his homily at the Mass of Thanksgiving for the canonization of Saint François and Saint Marie of the Incarnation, Pope Francis reflected: “The Church’s mission of evangelization is essentially a proclamation of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness, revealed to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Missionaries have served the Church’s mission by breaking the bread of God’s Word for the poor and those far off, and by bringing to all the gift of the unfathomable love welling up from the heart of the Savior.” Saint François certainly embodied this ideal in his ministry as a missionary and bishop.

Pray today for the missionaries who serve the Church, both at home and abroad. Pray that God will sustain them in their difficult service and that he will call many others to join them in their work. Ask Saint François to pray for the Church in Canada and for pastors everywhere.

Prayer +
O God, who gave increase to your Church through the zeal for religion and apostolic labors of blessed François, grant, through his intercession, that she may always receive new growth in faith and in holiness. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal: Common of Pastors—For Missionaries)

This reflection was originally written for www.Aletiea.org and published on their site on May 6, 2016.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Saint Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm was born of noble parents in Piedmont (Italy) around the year 1033. At the age of twenty-seven he entered the English Benedictine abbey of Bec, where he became abbot in 1078. As abbot, he gained renown for his preaching and reforming spirit. In 1093, he succeeded his former teacher, Blessed Lanfranc, as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Anselm soon found himself at odds with King William Rufus, whose unjust policies compelled
Anselm to leave England. After traveling to Cluny and Rome, the Anselm returned to England only after he had received word of the king’s death. Conflicts with the new king caused him to flee to Rome where Pope Paschal II defended Anselm’s claim to authority over the English church. In 1106, he returned to Canterbury, where he died on April 21, 1109.

Known as a man of recollection and erudition, Anselm’s writings have had a profound impact on Catholic thought and he has been called the “Father of Scholasticism.” Especially remembered for his Prosologion, the treatise Cur deus homo, and his ontological argument for the existence of God, Anselm of Canterbury was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1720.

The fifty days of the Easter Season are a time for us to not only celebrate the mystery of the Lord’s Resurrection, but also a time to enter more deeply into what this great work of God means in our lives today. Saint Anselm was one of the great lights of the Church who dedicated his life to exploring the truths of God in a way that left an indelible mark on the Church’s beliefs and prayer, up to our own time.

Take time today to read the Gospel for today’s Mass and reflect on who you believe Jesus to be and what that means for your life. Ask Saint Anselm to help you use these holy days to enter more fully into the Easter mysteries, allowing them to bring light and life into your heart and soul.

Prayer +
O God, who led the Bishop Saint Anselm
to seek out and teach the depths of your wisdom,
grant, we pray,
that our faith in your may so aid our understanding,
that what we believe by your command
may give delight to our hearts.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)

This reflection was originally written for www.Aletiea.org and published on their site on April 21, 2016.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Knowing the Good Shepherd

Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”
—John 10:27-28
                                                         
In his message for the 50th World Day of Prayer for Vocations (which is celebrated each year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter) Pope Benedict XVI observed, “Hope is the expectation of something positive in the future, yet at the same time it must sustain our present existence, which is often marked by dissatisfaction and failures… To have hope, therefore, is the equivalent of trusting in God who is faithful, who keeps the promises of the covenant.”

This sense of hope is at the heart of this Sunday’s Gospel which places before us one of the greatest biblical images of God’s faithful care and mercy: the Good Shepherd. The Evangelist John uses the image of the Good Shepherd (cf. chapter 10) to illustrate the intimate way Christ knows each of us—the flock entrusted to his care—and how, like a faithful shepherd, he constantly watches over us and lifts us up.

Fresco of the Good Shepherd
from the Catacomb of Priscilla
The most important point of this Sunday’s Gospel is that eternal life is the Good Shepherd’s gift. Jesus is the source of life and because he has given his life for “his flock,” we have an abundance of life. It seems so simple, but this fundamental Christian belief is one that we can often take for granted. And that is unfortunate, because this Gospel also includes an unspoken invitation for us: we have to be attentive and receptive to this gift of life and accepting that gift means that we listen to and follow the direction of our Shepherd. We see this lived out in the ministry of Barnabas and Paul who, through their preaching, came to understand that they were being called to a new mission field, seeking out new disciples who would listen to the voice of the Shepherd speaking through them (cf. the First Reading: Acts 13:45-47).

And so, on this Sunday when we pause to pray that God will gift the Church with an increase in men and women dedicated to the Kingdom as priests, deacons, and religious brothers and sisters, the Readings remind us that each of us (and not only our pastors) is called follow the example of the Shepherd and listen to his commands by building up the Church as we promote what Henri Nouwen has called the “three spiritual qualities of the resurrected life”: unity, intimacy, and integrity. “We are called to break through the boundaries of nationality, race, sexual orientation, age, and mental capacities and create a unity of love that allows the weakest among us to live well” (from The Road to Daybreak).

While we can (and should) take comfort in the Shepherd’s provident care and protection—and the gift of eternal life that he offers us—we can only say we truly know this Good Shepherd if we are willing to listen to his voice and follow his commands in our daily lives. In this Fourth Week of the Easter Season, we would do well to remember the words of Saint Cyril of Alexandria: “The mark of Christ’s sheep is their willingness to hear and obey… People who hear God’s voice are known by him.”

How is the Good Shepherd calling you to share in his work of caring for the “flock” of the Church?

What do you do to promote vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and religious life?

As we continue to celebrate this Easter Season, how are you living “the resurrected life”?

Words of Wisdom: “Our work and the only work of religion is to create unity wherever you go. If you are not creating unity, you are part of the problem and you are certainly not one of the children of God. You can come to Mass as much as you want and come to communion as often as you can. But you are not in communion. Our job is to live in radical communion and not just to ritualize it on Sunday”—Deacon Jim Knipper in Hungry and You Fed Me

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Saint Martin I: The Last Martyr-Pope

An Italian by birth, Martin became Pope in 649. Immediately after his election he convoked a council in Rome to condemn both the Monothelite Heresy (which denied that Jesus had a human will and freedom), and the involvement of Emperor Constans II in Church affairs. In response, the outraged emperor had Pope Martin kidnapped and imprisoned in Constantinople. Saved from execution only through the intervention of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Martin was exiled to Kherson, in the Crimea, where he eventually died as a result of starvation and abuse in 655. He is the last of the Bishops of Rome to be honored as a martyr.



The feast of Pope Martin I is celebrated in both the Eastern and Western Churches.

Today’s First Reading tells us of a dark time in the life of the Early Church, as the first Christians faced severe persecution and exile following the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, the Church’s first martyr. The experience of this early Christians—and other saints, including Pope Martin—remind us of the suffering of so many Christians today. However, today’s Reading also teaches us that “those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” Rather than give in to external pressure, those Christians used their experience of suffering as an opportunity for evangelization, helping us recognize how light of the Risen Christ can shine out even in the midst of darkness and death.

Pray today for those Christians who are refugees and for those organizations and faith communities who are providing care for them. As you ask Pope Saint Martin I to intercede for them, consider how you can show your care and concern for them through concrete acts of mercy.

Prayer +
Grant, almighty God,
that we may withstand the trials of this world
with the invincible firmness of purpose,
just as you did not allow your Martyr Pope Saint Martin the First
to be daunted by threats or broken by suffering.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
(from The Roman Missal)

Originally published by Aleteia.org and posted on their site on April 13, 2016.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Saint Julie Billiart: Finding Inspiration to Serve

Marie Rose Julie Billiart was born in Picardy in 1751. An intelligent and devout child, she was forced to perform heavy manual labor to support her impoverished family. After making a private vow of chastity when she was fourteen, she worked among the poor children within her parish, teaching catechism and visiting the sick.

In 1773, she witnessed the attempted murder of her father, and as a result she developed a nervous paralysis that gradually prevented her from walking and caused her severe pain. She was an invalid by the age of thirty, but from her bed she carried on an apostolate of prayer and spiritual counsel to the many men and women who sought her advice and direction.

During the French Revolution she was accused of harboring priests, but she was saved from the authorities by friends who helped her escape to Compiègne. Her illness continued to worsen, and for several months she was unable to speak. Following the end of the Revolution, Julie resumed her teaching and, gathering together a small group of women, she established the Congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, dedicated to teaching the children of the poor.

In 1804, Julie was cured of her illness after one of her religious sisters made a novena in honor of the Sacred Heart. As she regained her strength she was able to more effectively govern her congregation and assist the work of the “Fathers of the Faith,” a group standing in for the suppressed Society of Jesus. From 1804 until her death on April 8, 1816, Julie was constantly traveling, supervising the construction of nineteen schools in France and Belgium. Remembered as being kind and warm-hearted, and for her complete reliance on Providence, Saint Julie Billiart was canonized in 1960.

Saint Julie Billiart both experienced great psychological and physical anguish herself and she also saw firsthand the suffering that war and civil unrest can cause. Rather than turn in on herself, however, she allowed these experiences to inspire her to help alleviate the suffering of others, especially by providing quality educations and opportunities for the poor. In this way, she continued the saving mission of Jesus.

Pray today for all those women and men religious who have dedicated their lives to teaching and forming young people and to serving the poor. Ask that God will bless the Church with many new religious to continue this mission.

How are you supporting those religious communities and civic organizations that help the poor?

Prayer +
O God,
You willed that through blessed Julia's invincible love of Your Cross
she should enrich Your Church
by the establishment of a new congregation
dedicated to the teaching of poor children.
May her intercession help us to endure suffering courageously,
so that we may attain to the happiness of eternal life.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal [1962])

This reflection was originally written for www.Aletiea.org and published on their site on April 8, 2016.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

April 2: Saint Francis of Paola

Francis was born around the year 1416, at Paola, a small city in Calabria. Educated by the Franciscans, he lived as a solitary about a half mile from Paola. He was eventually joined by two companions, and he built three cells and a chapel, in which the local priest would say Mass for them. This is regarded as the foundation for the Order of Friars Minims. In 1454, Francis constructed the new community’s first monastery, and their Rule of Life was approved by Pope SixtusIV in 1474. Francis soon established monasteries in Germany, France, and Spain. 

Following the example of his patron, Saint Francis of Assisi, Francis was never ordained a priest and he was credited with a number of miracles, even during his life. Although none of his own words have survived, we know that he was completely devoted to solitude and self-denial, and that he had a special devotion to the Passion of Christ and the Mother of God.  In 1506, he wrote a Rule for nuns and accepted lay people as Third Order members. 

Saint Francis of Paola died on Good Friday, April 2, 1507. Regarded as one of the greatest miracle-workers of his day, he was canonized in 1519. 

The mission that Jesus entrusted to the Apostles in today’s Gospel is the same mission that has been entrusted to every member of the Church: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” Those whom we honor as saints—including Saint Francis of Paola—allowed this mission to be the focus of their lives and labors.

Pray today for the grace to be an “apostle” in your family and community. Ask Saint Francis of Paola to help you discern how to best fulfill this mission in your life.

Prayer +
O God, exaltation of the lowly,
who raised Saint Francis of Paola to the glory of your Saints,
grant, we pray, that by his merits and example
we may happily attain the rewards promised to the humble.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(from The Roman Missal)

This post was originally written for www.aletiea.org and published on their site on April 2, 2016.
 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Thursday of the Octave of Easter: Discerning God's Handiwork

Shortly after he arrived at a compound for patients of Hansen’s Disease (a leper colony) in India, Doctor Paul Brand, a specialist in hands and tendons, quietly slipped into a community meeting, sitting on a mat behind the group in the courtyard. All around were smells of disease and decay, of cooking spices, and medical ointments. His eyes were drawn to the patients’ hands, most of which had missing or deformed fingers that were turned in—hands that were often called “lepers’ claws.” Some of the patients were sitting on their hands or trying to keep them hidden.

When the patients realized Doctor Brand was there, they asked him to speak. So, moving to the center of the group, he began by saying, “I am a hand surgeon. So, when I meet people, I can’t help but look at their hands. [Palm readers claim] that they can look at your future by looking at your hands. I can tell your past. For instance, I can tell what your trade has been by the position of the callouses and the condition of the nails. I can tell a lot about your character. I love hands.”

His talk then took a slight turn: “How I would love to have had the chance to meet Christ, “he said, “and look at his hands. But knowing what he was like, I can almost picture them, feel them.”

He talked about the hands of Christ, beginning with infancy when his hands were small and helpless. Then came the hands of the boy Jesus, holding a stylus as he learned to write his letters. Then the hands of Christ the carpenter—rough, gnarled, with broken fingernails, and bruises from working with a saw and a hammer.
 
 
But there were also the hands of Chris the Healer. Compassion and sensitivity radiated from them and when he touched people, they could feel the Divine Spirit coming through.

“Then,” Doctor Brand continued, “there were the crucified hands. It hurts me to think of a nail being driven through the center of the hand, because I know what goes on there…the tendons and nerves and muscles… The thought of those healing hands being crippled reminds me what Christ was prepared to endure. In that act,” he said, “he identified himself with all of the deformed and crippled human beings in the world. Not only was he able to endure poverty with the poor, weariness with the tired, but—clawed hands with the crippled.”

The people were blown away by this idea: Jesus—a cripple, with claw-hands like theirs?

“And then there were his resurrected hands,” Doctor Brand concluded. “One of the things that I find most astounding is that, though we think of the future life as something perfected, when Christ appeared to his disciples he said, 'Come, look at my hands'… He carried the marks of suffering so he could continue to understand the needs of the suffering. He wanted to be forever one with us.”

As he finished, Doctor Brand looked around and saw the patients’ hands now lifted palm to palm in the Indian gesture of respect, namaste. The hands were the same stumps, the same missing fingers and crooked claws. But the people weren’t hiding them anymore. They were held high, close to their faces, in respect for Brand, but also with a new pride and dignity…
 
I think we know the Resurrection stories so well that we can sometimes to take the details they contain for granted. We’ve become so focused on formation, ministry and mission, so fixated on what’s happening right now and worrying about what’s going to happen, that we forget to look back to see how God is already at work—and has been at work—in our lives and in the Church and the world.

Think about your own life. Haven’t there been times of transition or when things seem to have been falling apart—a job loss, an illness or injury, the end of a relationship, discerning a vocation—when God might have seemed far away in the moment but, when you look back, you see God’s fingerprints as he was guiding and shaping new possibilities and a future that you most likely hadn’t imagined?

That’s what today’s Gospel is about. That’s why it’s so important that Jesus wanted the Apostles to see and touch his hands and feet. Jesus is inviting the Apostles to look back not only at their journeying together, but into their past as God’s Chosen People—thinking about the words of the prophets and psalms—to see how all of the events up to that moment in that room were being shaped and guided by God. It was the only way his death—those wounds—could make sense.

When we look back at Holy Week and that first Easter day, keeping the past in mind, we can see how all God’s Providence and love was compressed, coming together for all history in the wounds of Jesus, in those hands that had healed and blessed and feet that symbolized Jesus’ mission and apostolic journeys still to come.

And so, today, we’re being invited to take a broader view of faith and we’re being asked to trust that the Resurrection life that we celebrate is a continuation of what the Apostles experienced in that room that first Easter. We’re being invited to reflect and discern how God continues to be at work, transforming our own brokenness and wounds, still shaping a future and possibilities that we can only begin to imagine.

This reflection was given during the Mass for the Salvatorian Community of Holy Apostles Formation House on March 31, 2016. The story of Doctor Paul Brand is adapted from Where Is God When It Hurts by Philip Yancy (Zondervan Press, 1977).

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Value of a Life: Reflection for Wednesday of Holy Week

“What will you give me if I had him over to you?” “What’s that man’s life worth to you?” “How much is your power, your agenda, your comfort, your security worth to you?”
 
We’ve heard the story and we know the answer: 30 pieces of silver.
 
It’s a very specific amount. In Exodus we read that 30 pieces of silver was the value of a slave. Later in the Old Testament, the Prophet Zechariah received 30 pieces of silver as payment for his work as a shepherd. Saint Matthew wants us to make those connections. And we could, of course, spend time reflecting on the theological or symbolic value of those pieces of silver, and perhaps you can do that on your own today.
 
But as I reflected on the Readings of this “Traitor Wednesday,” I found myself coming back to the Lenten series on morality and the Ten Commandments that led at Saint Pius X Church [in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin] these past six weeks. And, one of the basic ideas of morality that we explored in the series is our belief in the common good, that sense of seeing another person as an extension of myself, knowing that what I recognize I need for health, happiness—and those things I need to be fully alive—are also the things they need to be a healthy, happy, fully alive human person. To say that we are committed to the common good means that we recognize our shared dignity and children of God and that we work to make sure that every person has what they need to truly live.
 
 
But to be committed to the common good means that we also forfeit the right to use the language of “us” and “them.” We no longer get to talk about or think about “those people”… whomever “those people” might be. I can only imagine how different the world would be if this is how we Christians lived.  
 
But we all have our Judas moments. We all have those times when we fail to see those around us extensions of ourselves and we reduce others to being a “them,” different from us, distinct from us. And in those moments we make judgments about their worth. Are they worth our time? Are they worth our energy? Are they worth a kind word? Are they worth the truth? Are they worth the risk?
 
I think that today, as we reflect on what Jesus was worth—30 pieces of silver in exchange for the security and power of the religious establishment—we might ask ourselves how we value the lives of others in this community, in our places of ministry, and around the world. If we simply go by what we hear in the news or in political debates, we might be led to believe that life is cheap—especially the lives of “those people”—but is that how Jesus lived? Is that how God sees it?
 
We know the answer to that because we know how much the love the Father has for the Son and how much that love cost. After all, that’s we’re celebrating in this Holy Week.
 
I delivered this reflection on Wednesday, March 23, 2016, at the Salvatorian community Mass in the chapel of Holy Apostles Formation House.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday in Passiontide: Remembering the Compassion of Mary

Today--the Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent--is a day traditionally set aside to honor to Seven Sorrows of Mary. Although the reforms of the Church's Calendar after Vatican II elimitated this duplicate celebration of the Mary's "Dolours," opting to focus on the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15, the liturgy does include an optional collect (opening prayer) for today's Mass which reminds us of the special role Mary played in the Passion.

And so, today, we remember Mary as the Woman of Compassion.

Madonna in Sorrow
by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato

In our culture, compassion is often equated with kindness or even with mercy, but there is a much more dynamic meaning to this word. It comes to us from two Latin words (cum=with and passio=to suffer) and literally means "to suffer with." And so, to be a person of compassion means that we literally share in the sufferings of another person. This isn't simple empathy, either. Compassion means that we see the other as an extension of ourself and so, if they are suffering, we, too, feel experience their pain.

The Gospel of John tells us that Mary stood by the Cross of Jesus as a witness to everything that was happening to her Son. She heard his cries and she saw the wounds that had been inflicted upon him. Simeon had prophesied years before that a "sword of sorrow" would pierce her heart and that prophecy had been proven true. And so, we contemplate Mary standing by her Son, sharing in everything he experienced, loving him as only a mother can.

Today, on this Friday of "Passiontide," we stand with Mary and sharing her sorrows as we contemplate the self-gift of her Son offered for our sakes. I think that today marks a fitting prelude to the liturgies and devotions of Holy Week.

The devotion of this day also reminds us that we are also called to compassion, to sharing in the suffering of those other Christs who experience the pain of rejection, abuse, and neglect in so many parts of the world, including in our own communities and families.

Thank you to all of you who took part in the novena honoring Our Lady of Sorrows I had shared last week. May God bless you as we enter into Holy Week and continue our journey to the Cross and the Empty Tomb.


A Prayer for Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent +
O God, who in this season
give your Church the grace
to imitate devoutly the Blessed Virgin Mary
in contemplating the Passion of Christ,
grant, we pray, through her intercession,
that we may cling more firmly each day
to your Only Begotten Son
and come at last to the fullness of his grace.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
- from The Roman Missal
Alternate Collect for Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Blesseds John Amias and Robert Dalby: Standing Tall Before Idols

John Amias and Robert Dalby were Yorkshire men who studied for the priesthood at the English College in Douai, France.

John, a widower, was ordained in 1581 and traveled to England with Blessed Edmund Sykes that same year. He successfully ministered for seven or eight years before being arrested. Robert, who had formerly been a Protestant minister, was arrested as he landed in England in 1588. The two priests were tried and condemned together.

Showing great joy and a spirit of prayerful resignation at their execution, Blessed John Amias and Robert Dalby were hanged, drawn, and quartered on March 16, 1589, and beatified in 1929.

In today’s First Reading we hear about the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, young men who refused to worship a false God set up by King Nebuchadnezzar. The king’s golden calf was a symbol of his own authority and by forcing the enslaved Jewish community to worship this idol, he was undermining their identity as God’s Chosen People. Blesseds Robert and John were faced with the same choice and challenge as those three young men: fall on their knees before secular power and deny who they were as men of faith.


A contemporary icon of Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego
by Father Richard Cannuli, O.S.A.
In these days of political turmoil, we are being faced with the same challenge. Will we deny the fundamentals of our Christian Faith in favor of the religion of politics? Do our political affiliations and preferences take precedence over our commitment to discipleship?

Pray today for our nation as we continue to look toward the coming elections. Ask Blessed Robert and Blessed John help you to discern how to discern the best way to express your faith within the public sphere, working toward the common good.

Prayer +
Grant a joyful outcome to our prayers, O Lord,
so that we, who each year devoutly honor the day
of the passion of the holy Martyrs John and Richard,
may also imitate the constancy of their faith.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal: Common of Martyrs—For Several Martyrs)

This post was originally written for Aletiea.org and posted on their site on March 16, 2016.



Sunday, March 13, 2016

Go and Sin No More: The Fifth Sunday of Lent

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
 
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” …
 
Jesus [said to the woman], “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.”
 
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
John 8:1-7, 10-11

Blessed Charles de Foucauld (d. 1916), a soldier and explorer, monk and priest, missionary and martyr, once wrote, “We are all children of the Most High. All of us: the poorest, the most outcast, a newborn child, a decrepit old person, the least intelligent human being, the most abject, an idiot, a fool, a sometimes sinner, the greatest sinner, the most ignorant, the last of the last, the one most physically and morally repugnant — all children of God and sons and daughters of the Most High. … We should love all humankind, for they are all children of God.”

Our dignity and worth as people is simply based on the reality that we are all daughters and sons of God. All the good that is within us — our hope, our faith, our love — are gifts from our Creator.


The story of the woman caught in adultery that we hear in this Sunday’s Gospel reminds us that sin — turning away from God and acting against our own dignity and worth — is not an ending. Because God’s love and mercy are unlimited, the gift of a renewed, ever-deepening life in Christ is available to each one of us. The cultural and religious leaders of Jesus’ time, however, were enraged by the woman’s actions and no longer saw a child of God standing in front of them. Instead, they stripped away the woman’s humanity and reduced her to her sin — a sin to be punished. But Jesus recognized her for who she was, forgave her and restored her relationship with God: “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

However we might have sinned or separated ourselves from God’s merciful love in the past, conversion and forgiveness are always possible. Our hope is founded on the new life offered to each one of us by the risen Christ.

The invitation for us this Sunday, then, is to continue to grow in our relationship with Christ by sharing in the Cross. This is the only way we can really discover the power of the Resurrection. This means that we are being called to forget what lies behind us and move forward, as pilgrims journeying together “in pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling in Christ Jesus” (cf. the Second Reading, Philippians 3:12-14). Then, and only then, can we find forgiveness and claim our true dignity and identity as daughters and sons of God.

How quick are you to throw stones at others when they have fallen? What would it mean for you to replace judgment with compassion?

What realities in your life — relationships, status, pride, etc. — have kept you trapped in the past? How has God’s mercy set you free in the past?

How are you being invited to share the Cross of Jesus as we journey together toward Easter? Are you being asked to help another person carry their cross as Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus in the Way of the Cross?

Words of Wisdom: “See what a mystery this is, and see the goodness of Christ! While the woman is being accused, Christ bends down; when her accusers go out he looks up. If you want to know the meaning of the words, ‘Go, and sin no more,’ let me tell you. Christ has set you free. Let grace now set right in you what punishment has been unable to correct.”—St. Ambrose of Milan

This reflection was originally written for Aleteia.org and posted on their website on March 12, 2016.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Honoring the Sorrows of Mary: An Invitation

This Lent, I have been especially mindful of the Seven Sorrows of Mary. Although this isn't a specifically Lenten devotionbringing together as it does events drawn from the entire life of Jesusit nonetheless invites us to reflect on the role Mary played in the full story of salvation, particularly in those times of sadness and fear that are an essential part of the Gospel story.

A strong tie of faith binds Mary’s sorrows to those we experience throughout life. Her faith, resilience, courage, and (especially) hope allowed her to find the hand of God at work, even in the most devastating events of her life.

The Seven Sorrows of Mary are:
1. The Prophecy of Simeon (cf. Luke 2:34-35)
2. The Flight into Egypt (cf. Matthew 2:13-14)
3. The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple (cf. Luke 2:43-45)
4. Meeting Jesus As He Carries the Cross (cf. Luke 23:27)
5. The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus (cf. John 19:18, 25-27)
6. Jesus Is Taken Down From the Cross (cf. Mark 15:43-46)
7. The Burial of Jesus (cf. John 19:41-42)

Traditionally, the Church has remembered Mary, the Mother of Sorrows, during the liturgy on the Friday of Passiontide (the Fifth Week of Lent). This year (2016) this commemoration falls on March 18.



As an act of devotion in these final days of the Lenten Season, I would like to invite you to join me in making a novena in honor of Our Lady of Sorrows beginning on Thursday, March 10, and ending with Mass and/or Stations of the Cross on Friday, March 18.

Here are two possible prayers for use during your novena:

1. A Traditional Novena Prayer in Honor of Our Lady of Sorrows +
Most holy and afflicted Virgin, Mother of Sorrows and Queen of Martyrs! You stood motionless at the foot of the Cross beneath your dying Son. Through the sword of grief which pierced you then, through the unceasing suffering of your life of sorrow, and the bliss which now fully repays you for your past trials and afflictions, look upon me with a mother's tenderness and have pity on me, as I [pray before your image to] venerate your sorrows, and place my request with childlike confidence in the sanctuary of your wounded Heart.

I beg of you to present to Jesus Christ, in union with the infinite merits of His Passion and Death, your sufferings at the foot of the Cross and through the power of both, to grant my request: (Mention your request here).

To whom shall I turn in my needs and miseries, if not to you, Mother of mercy? You drank so deeply of the chalice of your Son that you can sympathize with the sufferings of those who are still in this valley of tears.

Offer to our Divine Savior the sufferings he bore on the Cross that the memory of them may draw His mercy upon me, a sinner. Refuge of sinners and hope of all humankind, accept my petition and grant it, if it be according to the Will of God.

Lord Jesus Christ, I offer you the merits of Mary, Your Mother and ours, as she stood beneath the Cross, in order that by her loving intercession I may obtain the happy fruits of Your Passion and Death. Amen.
- Taken from A Treasury of Novenas
(Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1986)

2. A Prayer In Honor of the Sorrows of Mary +
O God, who in this season
give your Church the grace
to imitate devoutly the Blessed Virgin Mary
in contemplating the Passion of Christ,
grant, we pray, through her intercession,
that we may cling more firmly each day
to your Only Begotten Son
and come at last to the fullness of his grace.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
- from The Roman Missal
Alternate Collect for Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
 


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Jacques Fesch: The Story of a Prodigal Son

While the young son was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.”

But his father ordered his servants, “Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.”
—Luke 15:20-24

On October 1, 1950, a 27-year-old man was executed in Paris for murdering a police officer during a botched robbery. Jacques Fesch, the murderer, was a victim of neglect by his parents and the isolation and boredom that can accompany a life of privilege. He was a rake. He lived an restless life, wandering from relationship to relationship, job to job, eventually finding himself the father of an unwanted child in an unhappy marriage. However, like the “Prodigal Son” in this Sunday’s Gospel, Jacques also came to know the joy and peace of those who receive forgiveness and unmerited, unconditional love.
A photo of Jacques Fesch
taken during his trial

The three years that Jacques spent in solitary confinement, awaiting execution, was a time of conversion and transformation. He learned what it meant to love his young daughter and his mother. He found a friend and support in the prison chaplain. His cold indifference to his fate and the world around him — as well as his hostile feelings toward God — gave way to a profound sense of sorrow for his crime and serenity rooted in prayer and faith. An unlikely mystic, his prison journals reveal a man whose life was transformed by God’s reconciling and healing love. Today, Jacques Fesch is being considered as a candidate for canonization.

The story of the Prodigal Son reminds us that any one of us can wander away from God’s love, restlessly seeking our own path. It doesn’t mean we’re bad or that we are sinners. It’s simply a matter of choice. In The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen reflected, “Leaving home means ignoring the truth that God has ‘fashioned me in secret, molded me in the depths of the earth and knitted me together in my mother’s womb’ (Psalm 139:13). Leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home and must look far and wide to find one.” And yet even as we attempt to “leave home,” setting off on our own to assert our independence, God remains at our side.

The lesson that Jacques Fesch learned during his years of imprisonment is the same as that learned by the younger son in the parable: we come to know ourselves through loss, and it is then that we can become free to see who we really are and what we’re really made of. This gift of self-knowledge is, above all else, a lesson in humility — a simple and unimpeded view of ourselves as we are before God. Humility empowers us to leave behind the illusion of our self-sufficiency and self-love so that we can return home to the Father when we have wandered away.

The lesson for us this Sunday is that God is ever-patient and always willing to welcome us home, regardless of what we might have done or of how far we have strayed. This is the reason for our joy on this Laetare Sunday.

When have you “left home” like the Prodigal Son?

What or who helped you rediscover the joy of God’s love and mercy?

How does the story of Jacques Fesch challenge your ideas of justice and mercy? Do you believe there are those beyond God’s forgiveness?

What is the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” inviting you to do in these final weeks of Lent?

Words of Wisdom: “May your love draw down upon you the mercy of the Lord, and may he let you see that within your soul a saint is sleeping. I shall ask him to make you so open and supple that you will be able to under­stand and do what he wants you to do. Your life is nothing; it is not even your own. Each time you say, ‘I’d like to do this or that,’ you wound Christ, robbing him of what is his. You have to put to death every­thing within you except the desire to love God. This is not at all hard to do. It is enough to have confi­dence and to thank the little Jesus for all the poten­tialities he has placed within you. You are called to holiness, like me, like everyone, don’t forget.”—Jacques Fesch (in a letter to his mother)

This reflection was originally written for Aleteia.org and published on their website on March 5, 2016.

To learn more about Jacques Fesch, consider reading: Light Over the Scaffold and Cell 18: The Prison Letters of Jacques Fesch.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Saint Katharine Drexel and a Kingdom Divided

The daughter of one of the wealthiest men in America, Katherine Drexel was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1858. While visiting Europe, Katherine worked to recruit priests and religious to minister to Native Americans, and it was during this trip that Pope Leo XIII suggested that Katherine herself become a missionary. The following year, she established schools in the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana, California, Oregon, and New Mexico.

In 1889, Katharine entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy, and in 1891 she professed her vows as the first member of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People. Opening a novitiate in Philadelphia, she received twenty-one new sisters in the first year. The new community’s first mission was in New Mexico. Following the death of her father in 1901, Katherine and her sister each received an inheritance amounting to one thousand dollars a day. Other missions and schools soon followed, including Xavier University in New Orleans. Pope Saint Pius X approved the Rule of the Congregation in 1907, and Katherine used her tremendous inheritance to subsidize the works of her community.


Following a heart attack in 1935, Mother Drexel was forced to return to the motherhouse, where she dedicated the remainder of her life to prayer and contemplation. Katherine Drexel died on March 3, 1955, and was canonized in the year 2000.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that “every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house.” As a young woman, Katharine Drexel saw the divisions that existed between the different ethnic groups and cultures within the United States. She saw that too many women, men, and children, were living without those things that we all need to live full and healthy lives: food and water, education, adequate shelter and clothing, meaningful work, and opportunities to celebrate our faith. She dedicated her life to serving those on the margins of American society, making the corporal and spiritual works of mercy the touchstones of her life of ministry and prayer.

Take time today to consider how you are living a spirituality of the Eucharist—a sense of giving all that you have and are for the sake of others, just as Jesus gives all of himself to and for us in the gift of the Eucharist. Ask Saint Katharine Drexel to help you be more aware of the needs of those on the margins, especially those who suffer racial, gender, educational, and economic discrimination. Resolve to make these final days of Lent a time for you to promote true justice for all.
.

Prayer +
God of love,
you called Saint Katharine Drexel
to teach the message of the Gospel
and to bring the life of the Eucharist
to the Native American and African American peoples;
by her prayers and example,
enable us to work for justice
among the poor and the oppressed,
and keep us undivided in love
in the eucharistic community of your Church.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)

This article was originally written for Aleteia.org and posted on their website on March 3, 2016.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Finding Strength for What Lies Ahead: The Second Sunday of Lent

Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
—Luke 9:28-31

In her Revelations of Divine Love, the medieval mystic Blessed Julian of Norwich wrote:
     I saw him and still sought him,
        For we are now so blind and so unwise that we never seek God
        until he of his goodness shows himself to us;
     and when we see anything of him by grace, then are we moved by
        the same grace to try with great desire to see him more perfectly.

     And thus I saw him and I sought him,
        and I possessed him and I lacked him.
     And this is, and should be, our ordinary behavior in life.

Unlike Dame Julian and other mystics who experience the reality of God’s presence in a unique way, we are often very quick to try to note the distinctions — the boundaries — between the human and the divine. Even our ways of talking about God can make the divine realities seem far-removed from our daily lives. The Church’s greatest minds and grace-filled mystics have understood that our limited human perspectives, especially our words, fail us when we are allowed even the slightest glimpse of the glory of God.

It’s easy to imagine the evangelists, including St. Luke, struggling with the limits of language as they recalled what happened on the mountain that day as Jesus made his way to Jerusalem. Although we often think of the transfiguration of Jesus — the wonderful way in which the divine glory of Jesus was revealed to Peter, James and John — as having been for the benefit of the disciples, we can also understand that the transfiguration, like his baptism by John in the River Jordan years before, was a pivotal moment in the life of Jesus.

In his gospel, Luke places the transfiguration during a time of prayer, immediately before Jesus begins to make his way to Jerusalem where he will take up the cross and give up his life in “the exodus that he was to accomplish.” Focusing on this detail, Sister Barbara Reid, OP, reflects:
In this profound encounter with God, Jesus receives surety about the next steps, and this “aha” experience is visible on his face. Notably Luke does not say that Jesus was transfigured; rather, that “his face changed appearance.” Like Moses, whose face was radiant after being with God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:29), and Hannah, whose face was lifted up when her prayer was heard (1 Samuel 1:18), so Jesus’ encounter with God is written on his face. He comes to understand that, indeed, he is to go to Jerusalem and that he will be put to death there, but his death will not be the end of his life and mission.”
A cloud, a sign of God’s presence, overshadowed Jesus and Moses and Elijah (representing the law of the Old Covenant and the preaching of the prophets) encourage him to continue his journey. And so, in the transfiguration, Jesus is empowered to continue his journey and mission, knowing that regardless of what lies ahead his Father remains with him, guiding his steps and making his mission bear fruit.


In the end, as we reflect on the mystery of the transfiguration on this Second Sunday of Lent, we are reminded that the death of Jesus was not an accident of fate or some expression of divine wrath, but an act of love, freely accepted and offered for the sake of those who are “least” in the kingdom of heaven — for you and for me.

When have you been called to make sacrifices for the sake of another person? How was this a moment of “transfiguration” for you?

When you have a special experience of the presence and power of God, do you want to “build a tent” and remain on the mountain or do you feel called to share the gift you have received with others?

How does the notion that Jesus had to come to terms with both his own vocation and the prospect of suffering and death challenge you? How does it inspire you to see God at work in the little crosses that you take up each day?  

Words of Wisdom: “Jesus wants us to see his glory, so that we can cling to that experience. … When we are attentive to the light within us and around us, we will gradually see more and more of that light and even become a light for others. We have to trust that the transfiguration experience is closer to us that we might think. Trusting that, we may also be able to live our Gethsemane experience without losing our faith.”—Henri Nouwen in Sabbatical Journey

This reflection was originally written for Aleteia.org and posted on their site on February 20, 2016.