“Be Not Afraid”

As I walked into Church this morning I almost ran into a tree. You heard that right. I was looking down at my phone (really, to pause the prayer I was listening to, honest!) and next thing I know, I realize that one more step, and a tree will be in my face.

Thank you, distractions. Thank you, tree. This may seem ridiculous to thank my distractions and the tree but bear with me.

crucifixion-salvador-dali.jpgI walked into the narthex, and not only were my glasses fogged up (because of my face mask), but the sun was shining brightly through one of the far windows, blinding me. “Sit where the sun is not in my eyes,” I told myself as I walked into the nave. I could barely see where I was going, but I found a spot to sit down and begin writing in my journal. I invited Jesus into all of me for Mass — all of my thoughts, even the darkest ones.

Does that seem strange, to invite Jesus into the darkness?

Mass began and I stood up. The blinding sunlight was coming through the window, right into my eyes again as I stood. “It will be gone when I sit down for the readings,” I thought.

The first reading was from Ephesians. I love Ephesians. Just a note to the reader, if you read the daily Mass readings everyday we will be going through most of Ephesians for the next two weeks. Today this struck me: “You…were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:13-14). Our being sealed in the Holy Spirit is only the first installment. “There is so much more to come!” I thought. We are His possession, His sons and daughters. Our inheritance is His gentle care, His love, His tenderness.

The psalm verse “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own” fits right into this.

Blessed the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people he has chosen for his own inheritance.
From heaven the Lord looks down;
he sees all mankind (Ps 33:12-13).

God is in charge. We are His people. He gives us everything.

We stood up for the Gospel and I was blinded by the light again. I tried moving to my right. The light was still in my eyes. I decided to just close them and listen to the Word.

“There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one. Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows (Lk 12:2-7).”

I sat down for the homily. “Every cell of our body is known by the Lord,” the priest said. “Bring everything into the light.”

I laughed at myself. “I can’t hide from you, can I, Jesus?” I thought of the bright sunlight through the Church window that seemed to be chasing me and blinding me.

I remembered what I wrote in my journal at the beginning of Mass. “I invite You into all of me, all of my thoughts, even the darkest ones.”

Jesus wants to be there to heal! He wants to be in every part of us. We can think of every cell, but is that all? A cell is a material thing. What about the spiritual “parts” of us? Our memories, our thoughts, our intellectual ponderings.

Our feelings. Even the darkest ones. He wants to be there, too.

His light may feel too bright. It may burn at first, but the burning is purifying.

What do we know about Him?

Look at the crucifix. Do not be afraid. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

While we were still sinners? He chases us down. His light shines in the darkness. He wants to be in everything — in the distractions, in the falls. He is not afraid of our sins, even the darkest ones. He felt all of them in His death, and in the moment of His last breath, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Having been sealed in the Spirit was only the beginning. We now live the redemption and claim our inheritance in and through Christ and His loving sacrifice. There is nothing we can give Him that He cannot make new, even our darkest sins. Because we were created “very good” God can bring good purpose to all! Even the distractions. Even the bumps in the road. Even the trees we may run into! Our inheritance is His gentle care, His love, His tenderness.

Be not afraid.

How are forgiveness and killing a virus related?

The readings for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time are particularly challenging.  If they aren’t, then you are already a saint! (Indeed, there are some of you out there!)  I will leave it to the reader to know them for the purpose of this article (see link), but here are some particular thoughts.

They are about forgiveness.  

Not holding grudges.

The overwhelming mercy of God.

Hard sayings.  

Things like:

“Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven” (Sir 28:2).

“None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom 14:7-8).

Whether we like it or not; whether we know it or not, we belong to our Creator.  He placed His life within us, and gave us FREEDOM to choose the good.  It is choosing that which is not good, namely sin, that leads to slavery and death.  By conquering death, the Lord offered us the opportunity of new life, again by our free choice.  When we are enslaved in our sin we are no longer free.

This is what unforgiveness, grudges, and resentment does to our hearts.  It enslaves us.  The slavery can be so “felt” that we have no idea how to get out. We don’t even feel like we have the capacity to act differently.  But all is not lost.

This is what the Lord does:

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us” (Ps 103:12).

When we invite Jesus in, He brings the healing balm of love and mercy.  He stands in between us and the evil that hurts us.  He separates the evil from our hearts and sends it back to the spiritual nothingness that is the realm of the Evil One.

Now for the fun part!  It is time for an analogy. What Jesus does for us is like what soap does to a virus!  

It is commonly known that oil and water don’t mix.  Most people have observed the phenomenon of oil floating on top of water.  Adding soap is a way to make them mix.  The molecular properties of soap allow it to stand in between the oil and water.  It binds with different parts of the molecules in the oil and the water, bridges the gap between them, and creates a homogenous mixture.  (See adorable video link!)  The reason why soap and water work best for cleaning hands of a virus is because the soap destroys the oily layer of the virus and attaches to the genetic material inside, which is then washed away with excess water.  (See image). During our coronavirus crisis, the idea was put forth that one should say an Our Father while washing hands, in order to give the soap enough time to attach to the virus particles on our hands.

Isn’t it interesting that the prayer that Jesus taught us brings not only the spiritual healing we need, but also the material? By taking the time to pray while washing our hands with soap and water, the destructive material within the cell of the virus is washed away. In doing this we take good care of both our spirits and our bodies.

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  

This phrase of the Our Father should remind us of Sirach 28:2 quoted above.  We must pray and ask for help from the only One who can help.  Just as washing one’s hands without soap is ineffective, so too is forgiveness without Jesus.  We desperately need the go-between.   Furthermore, as Jesus says in the Gospels today, forgiveness is a continuous decision.  “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Mt 18:22).  The number seven in Sacred Scripture is the number for wholeness, for completion.  Jesus makes it clear — complete forgiveness from the heart is necessary.  This is the forgiveness that He showed from the Cross, as He stretched out His hands from East to West, and prayed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

Every moment of every day, not seven times, but seventy-seven times, let us invite Him into our hearts, so that, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.

Baptism, Confession, and Wine Skins

One of the best ways to grow in prayer as a Christian is to pray with the Word everyday.  In the Catholic Church we are given daily Mass readings that take us through the liturgical year in cycles.  Right now we are in “ordinary time.”  We have special choices of readings during the Advent, Lent, and Easter seasons. Currently we are reading First Corinthians and the Gospel of Luke.  The Scriptures always seem to apply to the times that we are in!  I am convinced, that when Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” (Mt 11:15, 13:9, 13:43; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8, Luke 14:35), He was not only echoing the prophets, (Is 6:10, 30:21, 35:5, 43:8; Zech 7:11; Jer 7:24, 35:15), but He was speaking to us.  He does this everyday in the Mass readings, and I will venture to say… 

It is essential for a Christian to read and pray with the Word of God everyday.

This week, in particular, I was struck by Jesus’ parable about the new cloak and the new wineskins.  He says:

“No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one.

Otherwise, he will tear the new

and the piece from it will not match the old cloak.

Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins.

Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins,

and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined.

Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins.

And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new,

for he says, ‘The old is good.’” (Lk 5:36-39).

This reminded me of something I read in my ESV Study Bible (a Protestant Bible) last week, commenting on 1 Cor 1:17, in which Paul said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”  The comment in my ESV Study Bible was, “Hearing and believing in the Gospel, unlike baptism, is essential to salvation.”

My goodness.  If we take the words “unlike baptism” out then this statement is true.  One thing we like to say in the Catholic Church is, “Both/And.”  It is both baptism and hearing and believing in the Gospel!  Baptism is clearly required as the normal means of salvation.  Jesus told His disciples to baptize all in Matthew 28:19.  Baptism was done throughout the Acts of the Apostles so that the Holy Spirit would come upon all who believe.  Does God need Baptism to infuse the Holy Spirit?  No.  But we do, because Jesus told us to do this! God is so loving and powerful that He can and will dwell in His people (Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, the prophets…etc!) for the purpose of drawing all to Himself in love.  We assent to this teaching of Christ and the apostles that we are to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins and we then receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

You may be wondering what this has to do with new/old cloaks and new/old wineskins.

The new wine is the new covenant.  It is the Gospel!  In order to receive the Gospel we must be cleansed through Baptism.  When we are baptized we are completely cleansed from Original Sin.  We put on the white garment of Christ and receive His light and truth, living in the Holy Spirit. Our old wine skins are made new, so to speak. The salvation that Jesus won for us through His death and Resurrection is ours.  The blessed Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – make their dwelling within us. (see Jn 14:15-17). We belong to the family of God.  We are anointed priest, prophet and king. Living in Christ, we offer our lives to God as priest, (this is the universal priesthood of the faithful that all the baptized share), we live and proclaim the Word as prophet, and in freedom, we direct our lives towards Heaven through our daily choices as king. 

This is our birthright as the baptized faithful.

We cannot receive the fullness of Gospel unless we are baptized.  We cannot receive the truth that Jesus laid down His life for us in freedom and that He forgives us all our sins.  We hide.  We are afraid.  In baptism we are claimed for Christ.  His divine life is poured into us through the symbolic action of water pouring on our heads.  His Cross is on our foreheads (see Rev 7:3).  We never need to fear again.  Jesus’ own baptism is a theophany event in the three Synoptic Gospels (Mt 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22), in which the Father and the Spirit are manifest.  Further, Jesus tells Nicodemus in the Gospel of John, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5).  In the same discourse of Paul that is mentioned above, he says, “For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me” (1 Cor 4:15b-16).  His clear teaching throughout the discourse is that it is Christ who baptizes and sends the Holy Spirit — not the minister — and that he has become their spiritual father, in Christ.  If we are to imitate Paul, are we not, also, to imitate Christ?

One other glorious thing that is our birthright as the baptized faithful — the other Sacraments.  These are the means, instituted by Christ, to continue living in Him.  They strengthen us on our journey.  Every sacrament that we receive is like a “power-up,” if you will.  The power to live in Christ is strengthened and renewed. This now brings me to confession.  After we are baptized, of course we fail, everyday, in living out God’s will.  Proverbs tells us that even the righteous man “falls seven times and rises again” (Prov 24:16), and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the means to “renew our wine skins,” so that the Gospel can continue to renew our hearts.  There are no greater words for a sinner than the words of absolution: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.”

Who absolves?  Christ.  Through the ordained minister, fulfilling the ministry of the Church.

Renew your wine skins!  Receive the Word.  Everyday!

St. Augustine and Early Western Spirituality

Early Western spirituality developed with St. Ambrose who paved the way for the Doctor of Grace, St. Augustine.  A religious cultural challenge of the age was the continued development of heresies in the Church: Arian, Pelagian, Manichean, and Donatist.  Arguably the strict asceticism of the East contributed to these heresies, given that there was not yet a tradition of spiritual guidance. The Churches in both the East and the West were young, and the great tradition of spiritual theory and practice was yet to be formed in history.  For example, St. Jerome, while traveling through Gaul around 366, became acquainted with the practices of Eastern monasticism, and “began his own undertaking of this way of life in various experimental forms”  (Christian Spirituality: An Introduction to the Heritage, Charles Healey, 68, my emphasis).  As the Church developed doctrinally and spiritually, the importance of guidance from others in terms of spiritual fatherhood and motherhood was increasing.  The writings of Ambrose and Jerome, followed by the “mixed life of action and contemplation” (Healey, 77) of Augustine, paved the way for a new monasticism in which pastoral service was connected with the monastic life.  St. Benedict, the “Father of Western Monasticism” (Healey, 89), devised a Rule of Life in which personal sanctification was sought through living the Christian life in a community rather than a hermitage. These are the beginnings of “Contemplation in Action,” that we see in more modern spiritual masters through the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, and Jesuits (just to name a few).

By the time of Augustine around 384, St. Ambrose’s writings had transmitted much of Greek thought to the West (Healey, 66).  Ambrose was preoccupied with the Arian heresy, (that Jesus was not both human and divine), and through his method of preaching he kindled a passion for philosophy in Augustine that eventually led to his rejection of Manichæism (that evil is a created entity), and his baptism by Ambrose in 387.  It was a coming to God through reason that kindled the fire in Augustine’s heart.  He not only discerned who God was through reason, but His essence of goodness.  “For in no way can corruption affect our God, neither by will, nor by necessity, nor by chance, since He Himself is God and what He wills is good, and He himself is goodness; but to be corrupted is not good.”  It was an agony for Augustine to determine the origin of evil.  Once he came upon the truth that evil is a corrupted good he realized that he himself was created good and that it was his corruption that kept him from knowing the true good, Who is God.   Augustine, with the light of truth and the eyes of faith was able to see how God was his helper, and through the “secret hand of [God’s] healing,” Augustine’s darkened intellect “gained strength by the stinging ointment of wholesome sorrow”.  Augustine also realized that seeing truth and the power to see truth were a grace that he had received from this “Beauty so ancient and so new,” his poetic term for God.

Truly, reading Augustine leaves me breathless.  I, too, am held by, in his words, the “iron bondage of my own will.”  Indeed, I am a slave to bad habits as he was.  As Augustine says, “I was still tied down to earth and refused to accept service in your army.  I was as much afraid of being freed from what hindered my going to you as I should have feared whatever might hinder this.”  I, too, hear the muttering of vanities, when the Spirit says to me, as Continence told Augustine, “Cast yourself upon Him, do not be afraid; He will not withdraw and let you fall; cast yourself fearlessly upon Him.” 

I pray for fortitude and I continue to “work out my salvation with fear and trembling” (cf. Phil 2:12) with the help of prayer, Scripture, and the Sacraments.

In a similar way to Augustine, I believe that helping people to come to the truth about the one true God through reason is necessary.  In the dualism of our culture it seems that either there is nothing spiritual at all, or the spiritual is viewed some kind of “energy” flowing through the world and our bodies that is not attached to the one true God.  It is important to come to an agreement about first principles dealing with God’s essence.  If one believes in God, he may believe Him to be someone who “does things” or “doesn’t do things,” rather than who He is — His essence of Goodness, Truth, Beauty, and Love.  This error trickles down to how one thinks about the human person.  It is important to begin with the truth of God – that He exists, that He is all good, that He is love, and that we are created in His image and likeness.

(Nota bene, this article is a modified version of something I wrote for a spirituality class about five years ago. I urge all readers to read The Confessions of St. Augustine. You won’t be sorry)!

Baptism is about Belonging

Baptism is not just a magical formula. It is not about words that mean different things to different people. Especially today we fight about particular words and their meaning: fatherhood, motherhood, marriage…are just a few. Getting their meaning right is important for communication. I mean, who would tell you that black is white?

Since the time of Christ, since the time when He actually spoke the words written in Matthew 28:19-20 [“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”] and John 14, the words of Baptism have been So Important.

(I paraphrase): “Go out and unleash the Good News of what God has done for you! Go to all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. You are my disciples. You now speak for me. You will do greater things than I have done! I and the Father are One. I will send the Holy Spirit, and we will dwell in you. Through the Holy Spirit, you are in ME and I in YOU, and we will dwell together, in LOVE, for eternity.

Jesus didn’t use these exact words. I have condensed two Gospel passages.

But the above is what I believe that He meant. And this meaning is exactly why Baptism, as the Rite of Initiation into the family of God, is so important. Jesus gave us the words. Peter elaborates in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Again, Jesus gave us the words, and now Peter gives us the person, in Whose name, they are spoken. To do anything in Jesus’ name is to make that thing happen.

Once we are baptized, we belong to God, and the words Jesus spoke to His disciples in John 14 are realized.

These words, among others, are spoken in the Catholic Rite of Baptism:

“[Name of person], the Christian community welcomes you with great joy. In its name I claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of his cross. I now trace the cross on your forehead, and invite your parents (and godparents) to do the same. (Priest, parents, Godparents mark a cross on child’s forehead).

“[Name of person], I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” (Priest thrice pours water over person’s head).

When the priest says “I baptize you;” when anyone says “I baptize you,” with proper Trinitarian form and matter (water), the person is baptized. The newly baptized belongs to the the family of God. The Holy Spirit dwells within the person, and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (the life of the eternal God) are infused. All sins are forgiven, including Original Sin. The virtues, a free gift from God through this rite of baptism, will carry this person through earthly life to earthly death, and to eternal life with the Father.

This is the eternal now. Once it happens it is done for eternity. Persons are claimed for Christ. They belong.

Because God is so good, because God is so loving…He can and does work outside this Sacrament. He doesn’t need it. But we do, so that we know.

Baptism gives us the right to say, “Lord, I claim you as my FATHER.”

Baptism gives us the right to say, “Jesus, I claim you as my SAVIOR.”

We Belong!

The Spirit of Truth actually lives within us, and propels us back to Abba, no matter what we have done!  Who can forget the story of the Prodigal Son?  We often do not even consider the Father’s love; we concentrate on the son or his brother.  The Father’s love was so unconditional, the son knew he belonged, and he returned. The faith of our parents, the faith of our friends -whoever brings us to baptism – has been enough to bring us, too, into the bosom of the Father for eternity.  Who can forget the story of the paralytic, whose four friends brought him to Jesus? “And when he saw their faith, he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you’” (Luke 5:20, my emphasis).

Again, because God is so good, so loving, He still calls us in our hearts back to him. Even when we haven’t been baptized, or even if the words weren’t right, He is still calling us to himself, through Baptism. He calls us to take the plunge!

This is why we Christians remind ourselves of our Baptism with Holy Water. “I claim you for Christ” now becomes our own, “Father, I claim you as my daddy!”

Many who are reading this understand that I am writing in response to the pastoral crisis in the Archdiocese of Detroit that has come about because the correct formula was not used for Baptism for many, many people. There are parents who are devastated at this news. Many have sons and daughters who now do not go to Church. For such a time is this… let us go to St. Monica and to St. Augustine to intercede for us — for all of the sons and daughters affected by this; all of the mothers and fathers — Lord, bring us back to YOU. Call us by name in our hearts. Give us the grace to return to YOU.

Amen

Please see the links for St. Monica and St. Augustine — Their feast days are Thursday and Friday of this week — August 27 and 28.

The Eternal Now

Does the title seem to be a contradiction?  A paradox?  It is actually one of the truest statements one can contemplate.

What is Contemplation?

We as human beings recognize our spiritual capabilities.  We can even think about and analyze what we are thinking about.  (You know it’s true!). In the busyness of life, though, we forget to actually consider what it is that we think about and care about, and whether we are growing in this spiritual capacity of our rational soul.  

Oftentimes one of my sweet daughters will look at our beloved dog, Lily, and say, “I wonder what she is thinking about?”

“Nothing, really,” I reply.

It’s not all bad.  Lily is a creature of instinct and habit.  She is pre-programmed to do many things, most especially to be our beloved companion.  She has learned the ropes of living in our home, and she brings joy to us because she belongs and she knows it.  It is part of her programming to respond to us and to please us.  And in a similar way to humans, she has grown attachments to particular people in our home.  She “knows” who takes her for walks, who feeds her, which one of us is ok with face kisses, and who’s the boss.  She doesn’t think about or ponder things, however.  All of her actions are a result of instinct and training; she doesn’t make true choices.

Something the pandemic is doing, I believe, is helping us to learn the value of rest and communion.  As I use the word communion, I mean, in particular, community; but it goes much deeper than that.  Communion is more that being “part of the pack,” which is what Lily knows.  It is the spiritual knowledge of being a part of something, or Someone, greater than ourselves.  This capacity of the human person is not a result of training or millions of years of evolution.  There is only one Source of this ability — our Creator.

I believe that we are being drawn to God through these trials — through any trials, for that matter.  But this pandemic is a worldwide calling by our Creator to live in the eternal now.  We do this in restful silence, recalling the power within ourselves, the gift that has been freely given, the Gift that is the Spirit of God that has been breathed into us by our Creator.  This gift is the life-force that propels us to act, to love, and to live in communion with our neighbor.

What I have described above can be known naturally by any human person.  Anyone.  The Buddhists know it.  The folks at the AA meetings know it.  The Athenians to whom St. Paul preached knew of it (Acts 17:22-31). When he proclaimed that their “unknown god” was Jesus Christ, the God-man who became one of us, Who forgave all of our sins, and brought us eternal, supernatural life through His death and Resurrection, they were given the Truth and the choice to believe.

The truth of what we know by nature, (the truth of a power greater than ourselves), has been revealed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  He is the Eternal Now.  He lives within us.  He is our capacity to love.  He is our peace.

The seed of contemplation of this truth is planted within every human person.  It grows with our recognition, our attunement, our Yes; our decision to sit in silence, patiently, and wait for God to reveal His truth of His unending love for us. When we combine this with His revelation in Sacred Scripture, the Truth can be known in our hearts.

Start with 10 minutes in the morning, contemplating the Eternal Now.  Jesus.

Novena to Blessed Solanus Casey-Day 9

Day 9 — Feast of Blessed Solanus — The Potter and the Clay

Throughout this Novena we have learned about the lives of the many saints whose feasts led up to this day, as well as the faith and holiness of Fr. Solanus Casey.  Today let us consider these themes together in the light of the first reading.  The themes from the past 8 days:

  • Recognizing Jesus in others;
  • The blessings of marriage and family-life;
  • Conversion of heart leading to unity, peace, and joy;
  • Suffering well with Jesus; giving our trials in every moment;
  • Living in gratitude and thanking God ahead of time;
  • Noticing little blessings that grow our lives in Christ;
  • Simple faith that encourages others;
  • Giving hospitality to others and listening to Jesus in them.

All of these themes were manifest in the life of Blessed Solanus.  He was like the potter in the first reading today, and he allowed the grace of Jesus Christ to flow through his actions and words into other people. 

“This word came to Jeremiah from the LORD: Rise up, be off to the potter’s house; there I will give you my message. I went down to the potter’s house and there he was, working at the wheel. Whenever the object of clay which he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making of the clay another object of whatever sort he pleased. Then the word of the LORD came to me: Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done? says the LORD. Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel” (Jer 18:1-6).

Fr. Solanus did the work of God day-by-day, greeting people, feeding them, listening to them, and interceding for them.  Were all his prayers answered right away?  No, but God, the true Potter, continued to work the clay to form it according to His will.  This is how prayer works.  Saint Paul says “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). God will take every part of our lives and make it into something good. There is nothing that He cannot use for our good.

We are the clay, but we can also be the potter!  The families that we grow up in are the trinitarian image of God’s love that continually form us, pick us up when things are going badly, and start anew.  The saints we meet in our everyday lives are God’s forming hands that encourage us and pray for us.  (Blessed are we to have even one of these saints of God in our lives!).  Just as God showed Jeremiah what He can do through the example of a potter, God shows us what He can do through everyday saints like Blessed Solanus.  We are called to be imitators!

Today, on his feast day, let us ask Blessed Solanus to intercede for our Church, that we will be the image of the most loving and merciful Jesus to our families and to our world.  Let us pray that as the potter, in the image of the divine Potter, we will be patient and gentle;  and that as the clay we will receive with joy and gratitude the blessings the Potter gives.  Amen.  Alleluia!

Prayer for the Canonization of Father Solanus Casey

O God, I adore You.  I give myself to You.

May I be the person You want me to be,

and may Your will be done in my life today.

I thank You for the gifts You gave Father Solanus.

If it is Your will, bless us with the Canonization of

Father Solanus so that others may imitate

and carry on his love for all the poor and suffering of our world.

As he joyfully accepted Your divine plans,

I ask You, according to Your will,

to hear my prayer for…(your intention)

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

“Blessed be God in all His designs.”

Novena to Blessed Solanus Casey-Day 8

Day 8 — Saint Martha, patroness of Christian hospitality, invites us to open the doors of our hearts to a life of warm and gracious hospitality, especially in times that can be too self-centered, exaggerating the need for privacy.

“Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.” (Lk 10:38-39).

The passage from Luke is the optional Gospel for today’s feast of Saint Martha; it is fitting for the petition for today.  The Scriptures do not say if Jesus knew Martha and Mary yet, but it was clear that He was not only welcomed by a woman, but sat at table in the home of the two sisters.  Something radical is going on: in this instance openness to Jesus requires letting go of social norms.  In fact, openness to Jesus will require letting go of something.  In return, Jesus gives Himself, life-giving water through His words.  There is a communion established when we listen to Jesus. There is a continuous giving and receiving through our listening and hearing. Martha welcomed and provided the food to eat.  Jesus spoke. Mary listened.

This form of gracious hospitality was not foreign to Blessed Solanus.  As the Porter of the Capuchin Monastery, he welcomed, fed, and listened to all who knocked on the door.  He saw Jesus in everyone and treated them as Martha and Mary treated Jesus in the Gospel.  There are two stories that illustrate his hospitality charism, as well as his extraordinary faith.  One day during the Great Depression the soup kitchen had run out of bread.  Fr. Solanus was greeting the 200 souls still in line.  He prayed an Our Father, and soon a baker’s truck pulled up to deliver bread and all were fed.  In another story, Fr. Solanus was suffering from a cold, yet he continued his ministry of listening and counseling. Fr. Solanus said (and I paraphrase), “Jesus stopped to comfort the weeping women while carrying His cross; this is the least I can do.”

Indeed, today it is difficult for us to practice this kind of radical hospitality.  Let us pray today for the grace to see Jesus in everyone we meet, to listen to His (their) stories, and to give them what they need.

Prayer for the Canonization of Father Solanus Casey

O God, I adore You.  I give myself to You.

May I be the person You want me to be,

and may Your will be done in my life today.

I thank You for the gifts You gave Father Solanus.

If it is Your will, bless us with the Canonization of

Father Solanus so that others may imitate

and carry on his love for all the poor and suffering of our world.

As he joyfully accepted Your divine plans,

I ask You, according to Your will,

to hear my prayer for…(your intention)

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

“Blessed be God in all His designs.”

Just for fun, listen to the Queen of Soul tell the story of Jesus, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus!

Aretha Franklin sings the story of the Rising of Lazarus (Mary, Don’t You Weep; Martha, Don’t You Moan)

Novena to Blessed Solanus Casey-Day 7

Day 7 — Blessed Maria Teresa Kowalska, Capuchin Poor Clare martyred by Nazis in Polish (see comment) a concentration camp in German-occupied Poland, 1941: we are invited to open wide the doors of our hearts to welcome in and appreciate brothers/sisters of different races, religions, cultures.

“We wait for peace, to no avail; for a time of healing, but terror comes instead. We recognize, O LORD, our wickedness, the guilt of our fathers; that we have sinned against you. For your name’s sake spurn us not, disgrace not the throne of your glory; remember your covenant with us, and break it not” (Jer 14:19c-21).

Today we receive a harsh-sounding word from the prophet Jeremiah.  It is spoken as calamity comes upon Judah.  Jeremiah had warned them that the consequences of their injustice, their false worship, and their indifference to the blessings of God would be very grave.  Seeing this in the light of the Gospel for today: the seeds that God had sown in Judah had not been cared for, and the weeds were taking over.  Jeremiah was living in the midst of this tribulation and he offered, on behalf of his people, a prayer of repentance; a prayer for mercy.

Blessed Maria Teresa Kowalska (b. 1902) did the same as she suffered and died from sickness in a Nazi concentration camp in Dzialdowo, Poland.  She endured the calamity of the Nazi invasion of Poland with grace. As a young girl she lived a “pious and exemplary life,” receiving full initiation into the Catholic faith at the age of eighteen.  On the contrary, her father was a devout atheist.  Moved by his socialist ideals, he decided to emigrate with the family to the Soviet Union in 1922. Maria Teresa, on the other hand, entered a Poor Clare Monastery in Poland.  Her diary tells stories of her choosing “the difficult, enclosed life of the Capuchin Poor Clares in order to serve God and to offer herself in expiation for the sins of her family that had allied itself with communism.” After many years in the monastery, on 2 April 1941, she and 35 nuns were take to Dzialdowo. She died there on 25 July 1941. Sister Maria Teresa Kowalska offered her life for the sins of her family, and for the grace of release for her Sisters in the concentration camp.  God heard her prayers.  The Sisters were released on 7 August, 1941.

The great faith and confidence in the Lord of Blessed Solanus also won countless answers to prayer.  While Maria Teresa’s personal suffering reaped the graces of freedom for her sisters, the mission of Blessed Solanus was to accompany others in their suffering, truly living the exhortation of St. Paul to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:8). Fr. Solanus would accompany people in their darkest situations. His prayers bore the fruit of radical conversions, miraculous healings, and countless favors from God. Through his charism of intercessory prayer and his expectant faith that would always “thank God ahead of time,” God planted new seeds of faith into His suffering faithful.

Today let us pray for the charisms of intercessory prayer and encouragement, that through simple faith we as individuals and communities can open the doors of our hearts to the suffering of others, especially those who are from different races and cultures.

Prayer for the Canonization of Father Solanus Casey

O God, I adore You.  I give myself to You.

May I be the person You want me to be,

and may Your will be done in my life today.

I thank You for the gifts You gave Father Solanus.

If it is Your will, bless us with the Canonization of

Father Solanus so that others may imitate

and carry on his love for all the poor and suffering of our world.

As he joyfully accepted Your divine plans,

I ask You, according to Your will,

to hear my prayer for…(your intention)

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

“Blessed be God in all His designs.”

Novena to Blessed Solanus Casey-Day 6

Day 6 —  July 27, 2020 — Blessed Mary Magdalene Martinengo (Capuchin Poor Clare) She invites us to open the door of our heart to discover God’s presence in the midst of our ordinary, unspectacular lives.

Jesus proposed a parable to the crowds. “The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches’” (Mt 13:31-32).

It may seem like the thoughts we think or the things we do at any particular moment don’t mean very much.  Jesus tells us differently.  The smallest of the seeds grows into a giant bush and supports the livelihood of the birds of the sky.  The Lord said to us in the Sunday readings not so long ago, that the word “that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is 55:11).  The seeds of the Word of God within us will bloom into holy lives that love and nurture our neighbor, building His Kingdom through us.

Blessed Mary Magdalene Martinengo was an example of this phenomenon of God’s simple Word bearing fruit one hundred fold.  She was a Capuchin nun with great mystical gifts founded in her total availability to the will of God in serving others.  One scholar claimed that she “became dish-washer, kitchen hand, porter, gardener, baker, sweeper, wardrobe keeper, laundress, wool weaver, shoe maker, cellarer, seamstress, chancellor or secretary, embroiderer, sacristy assistant, and without ever having the task of nurse, she nevertheless spontaneously undertook the lowliest and most burdensome of services.”  What may seem like a monotonous life bloomed into beatification by Pope Leo XIII in 1900.

Blessed Solanus Casey lived with a similar simplicity.  He struggled with his studies and was ordained as a “priest simplex,” and therefore did not have the faculties to hear confessions or to preach.  His humble response to this disappointment was to give one of the greatest gifts to others that one can give — a listening ear.  His ministry of mercy was nourished by a deep love for Jesus, which he shared with everyone he met, and in every moment.

Today let us pray to notice the little blessings and to be grateful for them, knowing that they are building our lives in Christ.

Prayer for the Canonization of Father Solanus Casey

O God, I adore You.  I give myself to You.

May I be the person You want me to be,

and may Your will be done in my life today.

I thank You for the gifts You gave Father Solanus.

If it is Your will, bless us with the Canonization of

Father Solanus so that others may imitate

and carry on his love for all the poor and suffering of our world.

As he joyfully accepted Your divine plans,

I ask You, according to Your will,

to hear my prayer for…(your intention)

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

“Blessed be God in all His designs.”