The Fruit of Kindness

Kindness (Gk Χρηστότης): expressing genuine concern about the well-being of others; anticipating their needs.

“As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” 1 Peter 4:10

More and more these days we hear of communities and schools celebrating the virtue of kindness and compassion, in a world that far too often seems lacking from it. And yet, this is neither a new concept nor a new problem. In our humanity, mankind periodically goes through cycles of selfishness and divisiveness seeking merely to take care of ourselves rather than the needs of others. This is why the these acts of kindness and compassion stand out, as well as those who most embody them, both living and dead.

“In a world where you could be anything, BE kind”
St. Paul School Hingham, MA 2018-2020

Kindness is noted by St. Paul in Galatians as a fruit of the Spirit, that becomes a visible witness when we respond to God within by actions without.  Which is why for St. Clemens kindness was one of the seven “heavenly virtues” in the epic battle of souls in which our faith is continually tested. In the medieval and renaissance periods kindness was the virtue that stood opposed to the vice of envy. Which perhaps runs counter to our thought that kindness and compassion is to be reserved for those impoverished or simply to physical need. (Zechariah 7:9-10 ) But rather, as St. Isaac the Syrian asserts, is a true reflection of God. For,
“In God, there is no hatred towards anyone, but all-embracing love which does not distinguish between righteous and sinner, between a friend of truth and an enemy of truth, between angel and demon. Every created being is precious in God’s eyes.”

Because of this, the virtue of kindness is more than just a momentary fleeting feeling but an intentional inclined disposition towards choosing the loving, merciful and compassionate way of being. Kindness as a virtue, therefore, must be practiced and incorporated into everything that we do. It is not exhibited solely in magnificent feats but in small innocuous ways that could go unnoticed if not for the divinely inspired purpose behind them.  Seeking only the good in and for all, kindness expects no recompense but its recompense is magnified and witnessed in all the lives it touches.

This season and always, may we seek to live out the virtue of kindness in every part of our lives. 

On Kindness:

“Kindness is my only guiding star.  In its light, I sail a straight route,
I have my motto written on my sail: “To live in love.”– St. Therese of Lisieux

“Father of mercy and God of all consolation, graciously look upon me and impart to me the blessing which flows from this holy Sacrament. Overshadow me with Your loving kindness, and let this divine Mystery bear fruit in me.” – St. Blaise

“Kindness has converted more people than zeal, science, or eloquence.” – St Teresa of Calcutta, No Greater Love.

 And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8

Another person will gladly take alms from his wallet to give to the poor, but refuses to draw kindness from his heart to pardon his enemies. Still another person will pardon easily but refuses to pay his creditors unless compelled to do so by law. All these persons may pass for being “devout” but they are nevertheless not so.” – St. Francis de Sales

“Let us more and more insist on raising funds of love, of kindness, of understanding, of peace. Money will come if we seek first the Kingdom of God – the rest will be given.”
St. Teresa of Calcutta

“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.” – St. Basil

“A single sunbeam is enough to drive out many shadows” – St. Francis of Assisi

“I just remember their kindness and goodness to me, and their peacefulness and their utter simplicity. They inspired real reverence, and I think, in a way, they were certainly saints. And they were saints in that most effective and telling way: sanctified by leading ordinary lives in a completely supernatural manner, sanctified by obscurity, by usual skills, by common tasks, by routine, but skills, tasks, routine which received a supernatural form from grace within.” – Thomas Merton

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From Ordinary to Extraordinary

“When the Jewish leaders saw the boldness of Peter and John and found out that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and realized that they had been with Jesus… God wrought no ordinary miracles by the hands of Paul. ” Acts 4;13; 19:11

Though perhaps missed, ignored or even denied,  everything in life has potential within. From the tiniest seeds to the most enormous creatures, there is a season and purpose for existence. Only mankind has been given the conscious choice to respond or not- to God’s calling into being. So often we look and fail to see what is not be obvious to the eye to make a determination of worth and success. But oh how fortunate we are that God does not take the same cursory glance and standards when he measures potential! Instead he uses the most basic, and sometimes discarded to work the most amazing miracles.

“Although we tend to think about saints as holy and pious, and picture them with halos above their heads and ecstatic gazes, true saints are much more accessible. They are men and women like us, who live ordinary lives and struggle with ordinary problems. What makes them saints is their clear and unwavering focus on God and God’s people.” Henri Nouwen, “Bread For the Journey”.

So, let me ask you..how many of you want to be a saint one day? As a catechist, I love to pose this question to a sea of questioning faces young and old.  Inevitably some hands hesitantly raise with uncertainty as to what the correct answer is. “Ok”,I say, ” what if I told you that everyone here was created for sainthood? (With my own hand raised) Who would like to join me in answering the call?” To do so, however, means not focusing on what your eyes tell you but on God’s will and vision for you. Trusting, neither the praise or criticisms of others but solely on God’s promise and plan for your life.

This is perhaps the most challenging part. For, how do we ignore the thoughts, words and action of others that seek to shape the outcome of our future? How to we resist its influence on us, and instead listen to a voice that lies in the stillness of our hearts? And if it is truly this difficult…why even try?

“Let us not be content with the scotch tape and the aluminum foil of this world. Be Holy — wherever you are!” Mother Angelica, Guide to Practical Holiness

As Mother Angelica so aptly put it, though created for greatness..many of us are content to simply be scotch tape and aluminum foil. What is wrong with these you ask? They are both useful and easy to acquire. That is just it they are commonly found, and not unique in any way. In fact it is the item inside each that is considered valuable enough to require tape or wrap. Perhaps you may be struggling to hold the outside wrapping together never daring to open or allow others to see the beauty inside. Or instead, seek to preserve what is itself perishable in this world without thinking about the life that awaits.

If you are still wondering if you have unused gifts, or unable to get past your field of vision.. not to worry, we all do at some point in our lives. It is only through spending time in prayerful conversation with God and other would-be-saints on the journey that we are able to leave behind the ordinary to accept the extraordinary.

Father, thank you for your words of reassurance of the greatness that you have placed within me. Help me to trust your voice and not the wisdom and perspective of others. And when I am tempted to settle to be scotch tape or aluminum foil.. let me be unwavering as your love is for me. 

Blessings,

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Worth Revisiting: Saints and Sacrifice

“It is by the apostolic preaching of the Gospel that the people of God is called together and gathered so that all who belong to this people, sanctified as they are by the Holy Spirit, may offer themselves ‘a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God’.”

Vatican II, Presbyterorum ordinis, 2

With Lent, the word sacrifice frequently looms and weighs upon our hearts as something undesired or sought after and yet something we are being asked to pursue. Could it be that we are working with a poor understanding of the rich true meaning of what it is to sacrifice? First as Christ has shown, and St. Paul reiterates, a sacrifice isn’t static or dead. In fact, rather than as an action performed it is more of a state of being. We are to be a ‘living sacrifice’, a testament to the continual love we have come to know as followers of Christ.

So, then we are brought to the heart of the matter. Sacrifice flows out of love. One cannot truly offer sacrifice without having experienced love otherwise it becomes a complaint ridden, shallow and inadequate substitute. It also entails giving of ourselves at a cost- from our need rather than our surplus. Just like the widow’s might, this is what it is to give and witness love.

As a young mom, I remember the countless sleepless nights- of feedings and changings, of fevers and nightmares, as well as, the meager availability of sleep and time. Yet, I cannot imagine making any other choice, than to give all that I am for the life and welfare of this great love entrusted to me. Sacrifice then also carries with it gratitude and responsibility. It is a graced notion of incorporation, for the needs of others can then remarkably become our own.

This Lent, take a moment to think of the profoundly beautiful invitation to sacrifice, to be a living witness to the love of a Father, the gift of the Son and of the Spirit’s renewal of hearts and lives.

Am I seeking to be transformed this Lent?

Is my sacrifice deep and life affirming? If not, what might God be asking me to do differently?

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“Let us remember that love lives through sacrifice and is nourished by giving…Without sacrifice there is no love.” –Maximillian Kolbe

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“True love grows by sacrifice and the more thoroughly the soul rejects natural satisfaction the stronger and more detached its tenderness becomes…”           –Teresa of Avila

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”

― Thérèse de Lisieux

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“Jesus says; ‘My daughter, I want to instruct you on how you are to rescue souls through sacrifice and prayer. You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone. I want to see you as a sacrifice of living love, which only then carries weight before Me… And great will be your power for whomever you intercede. Outwardly, your sacrifice must look like this: silent, hidden, permeated with love, imbued with prayer.”

– Diary of Saint Faustina

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint. And if you wish to become a great saint, entreat Him yourself to give you much opportunity for suffering; for there is no wood better to kindle the fire of holy love than the wood of the cross, which Christ used for His own great sacrifice of boundless charity.”-St. Ignatius Loyola

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves. The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.”- Mother Teresa

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“Those who are willing to lose their own consolation for their neighbors’ welfare receive and gain me and their neighbors…and so they enjoy the graciousness of my charity at all times. […] Then she must love her neighbors with such affection that she would bear any pain of torment to win them the life of grace, ready to die a thousand deaths, if that were possible, for their salvation. And all her material possessions are at the service of her neighbors’ physical needs.” –Saint Catherine of Sienna

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“If we love each other enough, we will bear with each other’s faults and burdens.
If we love enough, we are going to light a fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.”       –Dorothy Day

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“Once we come to realize how much God has given us, a life of self-sacrifice, of working for him and for others, becomes a privileged way of responding to his great love.”

Pope Francis

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“Love Jesus, love Him very much, but to do this, be ready to love sacrifice more”. –Padre Pio

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Aquinas on Grace

I would venture to say that both the strength and weakness of Aquinas can best be understood in light of how he believes knowledge is acquired about God and his creation, the body and soul, and the part that our grace plays through it all.

For Aquinas, much like Aristotle, much knowledge is gained by observing the world through our senses and compartmentalizing its importance by reason. Nevertheless, while there are subjects that we learn through reason, there are others that we understand only through divine revelation, and still yet concepts that require both.  When we look at the world in God’s creation we are able to see beauty, wisdom, being and goodness.This notion that our bodies are not evil but through our senses we are able to understand God’s creation and, in part, knowledge of the existence of our Creator is a strength for Aquinas. We look at creation and understand the material that comprises it (clay), and in what shape it is in (pot), understand something about the creator who made it (potter), and ultimately the purpose for which it was made.

However, although this allows us to know aspects of God, Aquinas concedes that human reason is still limited in fully comprehending God’s magnificence.  Aquinas noted that “while a philosopher can show that God exists, he doubted that reason can tell us much about God’s nature…only what He is not.” [1]  Aquinas consequently argues that human reason must be met with God’s revelation of himself simply to understand his existence.  Therefore, since they both come from God, reason and revelation do not oppose each other, but supplement each other [2] .

When it comes to understanding mankind, Aquinas makes a further distinction in his causality argument. Aquinas sees the soul as the form for the body, and although they can exist separately it is not humanity’s ultimate purpose. Rather, the ultimate goal would be at “Christ’s second coming and the general resurrection when we will exist as embodied souls”. [3] .This ultimate goal or union with God is not achieved, however, by our own reason or will but as an added salvific grace. “Moreover, the Incarnation holds up to man an ideal of that blessed union whereby the created intellect is joined, in an act of understanding to the uncreated Spirit…returns by a sort of circulatory  movement to his first beginning, being united by the work of the Incarnation to the very principle of all things”. [4]

Foremost, Aquinas saw that grace and nature complemented each other in mankind in an “indwelling of grace that elevates our nature and leads us to pursue happiness” [5]  Further, there are also virtues of faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, temperance, prudence that will bring us closer to God when matured. In cooperating with grace we are able to live moral lives and good works are seen. This is strength for Aquinas, because it helps us understand the search for virtue, meaning and happiness in those who have yet to experience God’s grace in conversion. [6] However ,what if one’s natural pursuit for happiness is more a product of society’s influence than of the moral law of our creator? Aquinas noted, that “ through sin the reason is obscured especially in practical matters, the will hardened to evil, good actions become more difficult, and concupiscence more impetuous”(Summa I-II, 85,3)

Further, Aquinas’ argument that some truths are only known by revelation from God, would also suggest that there are truths which will not be understood by those who do not believe in God. Hence, “the way in which we understand the substance of a thing determines the way in which we know what belongs to it” (Contra Gentiles 3, 3, 3) Those who do not believe in God, therefore will not accept divine truth and will look to society to explain the truths in the world. Thus, a salvific grace is “added to those of nature in such a way that it does not destroy the latter but perfects” [7] . On this idea of grace and the remission of guilt Aquinas notes, “Now the effect of the divine love in us which is taken away by sin, is grace, whereby a man is made worthy of eternal life, from which sin shuts him out. Hence we could not conceive of the remission of guilt without the infusion of grace” (Summa Theologica II, 113, 3). Rather, because of sin, we cannot grow closer to God without the added grace to know and love God.

Without this God given grace, mankind could not achieve ultimate union with God which is the ultimate purpose of our creation.  Aquinas notes that through Christ humanity is restored, so that “henceforth men might serve God no longer out of fear of death…but out of love of charity”. The weakness in this concept of an added quantity of salvific grace is, I believe, that it does not adequately address the grace presently working in our continued relationship with God.  Here the ” ‘movement of the soul’ towards God is nothing more than faith”. [8]

It is important to recognize that the saints, much like you and I, were working out just who God is and how we come to know God in their own lives. Each one of us is invited to do the same, which in some ways unique to just who God created us to be. 

Reflect:

Who is God in my life today? What do I find moves my soul closer to God? What place does reconciliation play in my journey with God?

Peace,

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[1] Placher, William. (1983) A History of Christian Theology: An Introduction. (First Edition). Westminster John Knox Press. p.152.
[2] Placher, p.153.
[3] Placher, p.155.
[4]Kerr, Hugh.  (1990) Readings in Christian Thought (Second Edition).  Abingdon Press. p. 119.
[5] Russell, (2012) Christian Doctrine Trinitarian Controversies, [Power point presentation]. Loyola University, Chicago, IL.
[6] Placher, p. 153.
[7] Ibid.
[8]Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. (2010) Holy Spirit and Salvation, Westminster John Knox Press, p.148.

Aquinas: On Grace

I would venture to say that both the strength and weakness of Aquinas can best be understood in light of how he believes knowledge is acquired about God and his creation, the body and soul, and the part that our grace plays through it all.

For Aquinas, much like Aristotle, much knowledge is gained by observing the world through our senses and compartmentalizing its importance by reason. Nevertheless, while there are subjects that we learn through reason, there are others that we understand only through divine revelation, and still yet concepts that require both.  When we look at the world in God’s creation we are able to see beauty, wisdom, being and goodness.This notion that our bodies are not evil but through our senses we are able to understand God’s creation and, in part, knowledge of the existence of our Creator is a strength for Aquinas. We look at creation and understand the material that comprises it (clay), and in what shape it is in (pot), understand something about the creator who made it (potter), and ultimately the purpose for which it was made.

However, although this allows us to know aspects of God, Aquinas concedes that human reason is still limited in fully comprehending God’s magnificence.  Aquinas noted that “while a philosopher can show that God exists, he doubted that reason can tell us much about God’s nature…only what He is not.” [1]  Aquinas consequently argues that human reason must be met with God’s revelation of himself simply to understand his existence.  Therefore, since they both come from God, reason and revelation do not oppose each other, but supplement each other [2] .

When it comes to understanding mankind, Aquinas makes a further distinction in his causality argument. Aquinas sees the soul as the form for the body, and although they can exist separately it is not humanity’s ultimate purpose. Rather, the ultimate goal would be at “Christ’s second coming and the general resurrection when we will exist as embodied souls”. [3] .This ultimate goal or union with God is not achieved, however, by our own reason or will but as an added salvific grace. “Moreover, the Incarnation holds up to man an ideal of that blessed union whereby the created intellect is joined, in an act of understanding to the uncreated Spirit…returns by a sort of circulatory  movement to his first beginning, being united by the work of the Incarnation to the very principle of all things”. [4]

Foremost, Aquinas saw that grace and nature complemented each other in mankind in an “indwelling of grace that elevates our nature and leads us to pursue happiness” [5]  Further, there are also virtues of faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, temperance, prudence that will bring us closer to God when matured. In cooperating with grace we are able to live moral lives and good works are seen. This is strength for Aquinas, because it helps us understand the search for virtue, meaning and happiness in those who have yet to experience God’s grace in conversion. [6] However ,what if one’s natural pursuit for happiness is more a product of society’s influence than of the moral law of our creator? Aquinas noted, that “ through sin the reason is obscured especially in practical matters, the will hardened to evil, good actions become more difficult, and concupiscence more impetuous”(Summa I-II, 85,3)

Further, Aquinas’ argument that some truths are only known by revelation from God, would also suggest that there are truths which will not be understood by those who do not believe in God. Hence, “the way in which we understand the substance of a thing determines the way in which we know what belongs to it” (Contra Gentiles 3, 3, 3) Those who do not believe in God, therefore will not accept divine truth and will look to society to explain the truths in the world. Thus, a salvific grace is “added to those of nature in such a way that it does not destroy the latter but perfects” [7] . On this idea of grace and the remission of guilt Aquinas notes, “Now the effect of the divine love in us which is taken away by sin, is grace, whereby a man is made worthy of eternal life, from which sin shuts him out. Hence we could not conceive of the remission of guilt without the infusion of grace” (Summa Theologica II, 113, 3). Rather, because of sin, we cannot grow closer to God without the added grace to know and love God.

Without this God given grace, mankind could not achieve ultimate union with God which is the ultimate purpose of our creation.  Aquinas notes that through Christ humanity is restored, so that “henceforth men might serve God no longer out of fear of death…but out of love of charity”. The weakness in this concept of an added quantity of salvific grace is, I believe, that it does not adequately address the grace presently working in our continued relationship with God.  Here the ” ‘movement of the soul’ towards God is nothing more than faith”. [8]

It is important to recognize that the saints, much like you and I, were working out just who God is and how we come to know God in their own lives. Each one of us is invited to do the same, which in some ways unique to just who God created us to be. 

Reflect:

Who is God in my life today? What do I find moves my soul closer to God? What place does reconciliation play in my journey with God?


[1] Placher, William. (1983) A History of Christian Theology: An Introduction. (First Edition). Westminster John Knox Press. p.152.
[2] Placher, p.153.
[3] Placher, p.155.
[4]Kerr, Hugh.  (1990) Readings in Christian Thought (Second Edition).  Abingdon Press. p. 119.
[5] Russell, (2012) Christian Doctrine Trinitarian Controversies, [Power point presentation]. Loyola University, Chicago, IL.
[6] Placher, p. 153.
[7] Ibid.
[8]Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. (2010) Holy Spirit and Salvation, Westminster John Knox Press, p.148.

Worth Revisiting: Doorway Into Our Souls III

Other posts on Teresa of Avila’s, An Interior Castle can be found here: Part 1 and Part 2

Persevering in our journey through the Interior Castle with Teresa of Avila we reflect on the 4th dwelling place..

Finally willing to submit and surrender to God’s working within, we have recognized that the life giving water which suddenly floods our soul is a gratuitous gift. Far greater than we could have imagined, this wellspring of grace inspires, renews and strengthens us to endure with greater patience any trial to come. It is such a gift that we desire to experience this over those things which formerly brought us joy and satisfaction. With the heart we now are drawn toward the shepherd’s voice, a soft gentle whistle that invites us further inward promising peace and love.

The Fifth Dwelling Place

As we progress in our spiritual journey, Teresa observes that we are drawn further inward to a “prayer of union”[1] with God, a ‘cocoon in which we experience a brief dying of self to reemerge reborn in Christ’[2]. In doing so, our transformed soul, like a little butterfly, is “restless” in the things of this world and unable to “recognize itself”. [3] This we see clearly in Teresa’s life experience as she sought to reconcile her contemplative life with the necessary affairs of the world. She describes this experience within the fifth dwelling place as an initial trial or a cross that is carried, when all we desire is to be in union with God again[4] Still, we are humbled when we imagine the smallness of our trials in comparison with the Passion of Christ and His suffering at seeing our offenses. [5] It is here that she also begins to speak of this time in union as courting, or brief glimpses where God grants mercy so that they might get to know the other more, and ultimately desire sole union.[6]

What is it to recognize my soul’s inner transformation in the world? Does my love for God find its intrinsic connection and outer expression with the love of neighbor?

Yet, our desire for union alone is not enough, as we discover a time of still greater trials in preparation for a spiritual engagement in the sixth dwelling place. In this time, Teresa vividly describes pages from her own journey in which she faced disbelief, jealousy, fear, illness, praise and persecution, towards the intimate spiritual favors that she received.  Praise, she notes, is perhaps a greater trial since we know that all good things come from God and our soul, aware of its faults, feels completely undeserving of such favor.[7] Even so, we are given moments of merciful “sunlight” that dispel the trials and awaken us with a resounding “thunderclap” to hear His call again.[8] Thus, when God so desires he pursues further in choosing to silence our outer senses and move our soul into eruptions of ecstasy and intense awakening.[9] Our soul is swept away in the grandeur of God, privy to the mysteries of heaven, and chosen in betrothal as God’s own.[10] This experience is so profound that it leaves a certainty in our soul, deep humility in our hearts, and abundant praise on our lips for the One who has called us into such intimacy.[11] Still, Teresa realized from her own error, that we cannot remain absorbed in anticipation of rapture that we neglect contemplation of Christ and the practice of virtues.[12]

Take a moment: Have there been intense moments of sunlight, rays of mercy in my life when the trials or challenges seemed to be the greatest?   Have I experienced an awakening to God’s intimate presence within- so profoundly that I embrace the encounter, am drawn into wonder and compelled to praise?

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Worth Revisiting: Work Harder, Pray More

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In light of upcoming elections, many of us have spent time considering our options, weighing the consequences and praying that not only our nation survives but can address necessary issues. As difficult as this election year has been, I am reminded that my faith, though resting solely in Christ, cannot remain isolated from the reality that it is practiced in a world that often runs counter to that faith. Noted Lutheran theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, stressed three elements of “costly discipleship”: (1) prayer, (2) community, and (3) an engagement with surrounding political realities.

At this time in my life, I  seek to have an active life of prayer, a discipleship in community, and in small everyday ways to be engaged with the political realities in the world around me. Yet, in my youth, I was undoubtedly more political- even devoting my undergrad entrance essay to the the apathetic attitude of Americans towards voting and working towards change. In the last 10 years, admittedly I have become somewhat disillusioned in the leadership to protect and preserve  life, and determination to truly accomplish transformative change. However, the mission of  working towards the kingdom of God  is calling us forth as a church, as the body of Christ, to respond. And before we ask, “What can I do?”, we need only look to the efforts of those individuals who have taken that step to make a difference and the power of a “Yes!”

“Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring.”

St. Catherine of Siena knew the intimate connection between contemplation and action, between our baptism the living out of our discipleship. Renowned for her care for the poor, diseased, and the conversion of sinners, she used her insight, and conviction to influence both pope and city state leaders alike in a call for peace and unity of the church.

“Ora et labora”

For St. Benedict, prayer and work were the basis of monastic life directed towards the commitment to  further“seek after peace and pursue it.”

“Praying with my feet”

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel first gave this response when asked why he, a renowned Hebrew scholar, chose to march with Martin Luther King in Selma. For when prayer is centered on God, there is an invitation both to piety and praise, as well as to commit our actions towards that love of God. Whether or not you feel represented, led or inspired by either candidate in this election, the majority of us can agree that there remain many steps to be taken ahead.

“May prayer and action always be deeply united. A prayer that does not lead you to practical action for your brother.. is a sterile and incomplete prayer. But, in the same way, when ecclesial service is attentive only to doing, things gain in importance, functions, structures, and we forget the centrality of Christ.” Pope Francis, Angelus 7/21/13

Pope Francis is setting a beautiful model that we can all emulate in calling us to reach out as a community to meet those who are suffering and in need…to embrace, heal, provide reconciliation and be a means of hope. He articulates the necessity to be aware of the intimate presence of God within, to seek moments of contemplation in our everyday world, work for the common good, and encourage others to do the same. It is here that I see my place currently within the community of faith in working towards these initial steps, and in enacting my faith albeit locally towards new paths. Each step is a prayer, and a hopeful course of action. Each life encountered, an opportunity to see and meet Christ in one another.

Reflect: What shape does “costly discipleship” take in my own life today and in the years ahead? Am I engaged in active discipleship and willing to “pray with my feet”?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Our Call to Become Saints

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Last year at this time, to my heart’s delight, my son Peter was confirmed in the Catholic Church as Paul. In this moment I was reminded both of the importance of this sacrament and of the journey ahead. These were my words to him..

“Welcome to the school of the Spirit, the sacrament of Confirmation…for those who want to be holy, to be saints, to be warriors of God, men and women of Spirit”

– from Rites of Justice by Megan McKenna

Perhaps, you haven’t thought about this sacrament in this light and thought of it as a conclusion to your learning in the Catholic faith. If so, let’s look again at what happens in this sacrament and what it truly symbolizes and signifies.

First, confirmation is not considered a sacrament of conclusion but of initiation into a more active participation into the life of the church. Once celebrated with baptism and the Eucharist, it highlights the reception of the Holy Spirit to empower the candidate to walk the sometimes difficult path as a follower of Christ. The sacrament is marked by a laying on of hands, anointing with chrism oil with the words, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit”, and a sending forth by God and the community to serve as “true witnesses of Christ”.

So, there is a reception of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us, but also an invitation to respond to the suffering, and injustice in the world with the very witness of our lives. Therefore, this sacrament is not an end, but a challenge to go forth and to be a visible sign of Christ in the world. God confirms you as a member of the body of Christ, but then the response and the choice is yours. It is a call to a higher standard to strive for love, mercy and peace not only within the doors of the church but as saints in the world.

In answering this call..

we can look at the examples of Christian faith set by the apostles Peter and Paul. Peter, originally named Simon, was a fisherman by trade who heard the call to “come after me” and become “fishers of men”. Although Peter’s boldness put him in the wrong at times it is because of his faith that Jesus called him “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”.  In the life of Peter we learn of a man who lost courage in walking on water to Jesus, and who was taught humility of service- in being asked not once but 3 times if he loved Christ and in having his own feet washed by Jesus. Even after having denied Jesus, Peter was one of the few disciples chosen to witness the resurrected Christ. Peter lived that witness with his life, in preaching and leading the early Christian churches, and in facing a martyr’s death. Paul, who we know was previously a persecutor of Christians, encountered a vision of Christ that transformed his life forever. From then on he is known as a passionate teacher for Christ, traveling far to the east and west, establishing early Christian communities, and suffering martyrdom as well for the faith.

Likewise, there are later saints like Catherine of Siena, born in 1347, known for her care for the poor, diseased, and for the conversion of sinners, who used her “insight, passion and determination to tell the truth in the chambers and cathedrals in the larger church”. Another beautiful example, of one who courageously walked the lifelong path of discipleship is Teresa of Avila. Born in 1515, Teresa joined the Carmelite order at age 20, but realized that even in the monastery the Christian life “demands much more”- a deeper friendship with God and other Christians that aren’t always encouraged in society. Led by visions from God, Teresa was very aware of God’s presence in prayer and championed active reform of the monasteries and in the “lives of all of the people she touched- a woman who inspired and gave life”.

Looking within the past century, we are given numerous contemporary saints like Maria Faustina, and Pope John Paul II. St. Faustina, born in Poland before WWII, joined the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in 1925, and soon thereafter began to receive revelations on the Passion of Christ. In these meditative experiences, Christ urged Faustina to tell others about His enduring Divine mercy and forgiveness for the sins of the whole world. . Beatified on Divine Mercy Sunday, John Paul II is considered one of the most beloved popes in the history of the Church. Instrumental in the continued work of Vatican II, John Paul II worked tirelessly to encourage communication and interfaith initiatives between Catholics and other Christians, and between Christians and other religions of the world. He is both the longest serving pope and the most traveled pope having visited 127 countries.

Yet, if we should begin to think that saints are a thing of the past..

we only need to look around us to find the saints among us. In each of these stories we are witness to the “gracious work of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ” in taking our natural gifts and talents and adding grace so that so that Christ’s mission in the world may be visible to all. There is no “distinction on the basis of gender, social status, or ethnicity”and each one of us is given gifts “simply by being members of the body of Christ”.

As you can see, there are many ways God could be challenging and calling you to be a saint in the world today. And while you may not know yet what that is to be, you need only to be ready and willing to do God’s will. If you put God first, then the path is clearer.  It is now that I ask of you, what will you do today with your gifts as a confirmed member of the body of Christ?

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This hopeful saint in the making,

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Work Harder, Pray More

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In light of the upcoming elections, many of us have spent time considering our options, weighing the consequences and praying that not only our nation survives but can address necessary issues. As difficult as this election year has been, I am reminded that my faith, though resting solely in Christ, cannot remain isolated from the reality that it is practiced in a world that often runs counter to that faith. Noted Lutheran theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, stressed three elements of “costly discipleship”: (1) prayer, (2) community, and (3) an engagement with surrounding political realities.

At this time in my life, I  seek to have an active life of prayer, a discipleship in community, and in small everyday ways to be engaged with the political realities in the world around me. Yet, in my youth, I was undoubtedly more political- even devoting my undergrad entrance essay to the the apathetic attitude of Americans towards voting and working towards change. In the last 10 years, admittedly I have become somewhat disillusioned in the leadership to protect and preserve  life, and determination to truly accomplish transformative change. However, the mission of  working towards the kingdom of God  is calling us forth as a church, as the body of Christ, to respond. And before we ask, “What can I do?”, we need only look to the efforts of those individuals who have taken that step to make a difference and the power of a “Yes!”

“Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring.”

St. Catherine of Siena knew the intimate connection between contemplation and action, between our baptism the living out of our discipleship. Renowned for her care for the poor, diseased, and the conversion of sinners, she used her insight, and conviction to influence both pope and city state leaders alike in a call for peace and unity of the church.

“Ora et labora”

For St. Benedict, prayer and work were the basis of monastic life directed towards the commitment to  further“seek after peace and pursue it.”

“Praying with my feet”

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel first gave this response when asked why he, a renowned Hebrew scholar, chose to march with Martin Luther King in Selma. For when prayer is centered on God, there is an invitation both to piety and praise, as well as to commit our actions towards that love of God. Whether or not you feel represented, led or inspired by either candidate in this election, the majority of us can agree that there remain many steps to be taken ahead.

“May prayer and action always be deeply united. A prayer that does not lead you to practical action for your brother.. is a sterile and incomplete prayer. But, in the same way, when ecclesial service is attentive only to doing, things gain in importance, functions, structures, and we forget the centrality of Christ.” Pope Francis, Angelus 7/21/13

Pope Francis is setting a beautiful model that we can all emulate in calling us to reach out as a community to meet those who are suffering and in need…to embrace, heal, provide reconciliation and be a means of hope. He articulates the necessity to be aware of the intimate presence of God within, to seek moments of contemplation in our everyday world, work for the common good, and encourage others to do the same. It is here that I see my place currently within the community of faith in working towards these initial steps, and in enacting my faith albeit locally towards new paths. Each step is a prayer, and a hopeful course of action. Each life encountered, an opportunity to see and meet Christ in one another.

Reflect: What shape does “costly discipleship” take in my own life today and in the years ahead? Am I engaged in active discipleship and willing to “pray with my feet”?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Praying with Teresa of Avila Part II

In continuation of our journey through the Interior Castle with Teresa of Avila we may find ourselves approaching the third dwelling place.

Through an initial curiosity and muddling in prayer we have heard God calling us. Rather than waiting at the door we have entered to discover the One who knows us better than we know ourselves. And in coming to know God, we begin to see ourselves both as we are as well as who we are intended to be. Desiring to know how we can ever repay the love and mercy shown to us in the course of our lives, and while failing or falling short immeasurably at times we feel beckoned to trust.

Upon entering the third dwelling, we are reminded that while we are perhaps living lives free of mortal sin and practicing acts of prayer and penance, that humility and praise remain essential. In this state, we are in need of humility to guard against both satisfaction and self-criticism, and to free ourselves from attachments to material gains of this earth.[1] While the focus still seems to be on us rather than on God, this time of reflection is needed to shed that which does not bring us true happiness.

What is it that holds me back from true freedom…from following God’s will in my life?

Can I recognize the spiritual gifts that God has given to aid me in persevering?

Souls here will find it helpful to consult a mentor or spiritual director that has passed through this room previously. Teresa had several advisors and confessors, like Diego de Cetina and Francis Borgia, that provided reassurance and guidance to keep focused on the humanity of Christ and his passion.[2] This provides a greater awareness of God’s consolations, and leads us to praise that still more is being asked of us in working towards His loving desires of peace and justice.[3]

In seeking God’s will, we are then guided to the fourth dwelling place where we discover how to rely less on the intellect in prayer, to achieve the spiritual delights that Christ has for us. Up to this point, we have perhaps enjoyed consolations which begin with our determined prayerful meditation and end in God’s love.[4] Yet, in spiritual delights we begin with a desire “not to think much but to love much…. to please God in everything, and in striving, insofar as possible, not to offend him”.[5] Thus, the source of spiritual delights begins and ends in God’s love, as an abundant stream “deep within us” that “swells and expands our whole interior being producing ineffable blessings”.[6] While aware and attentive now to this experience of being in the wake of God’s love, we cannot choose when or how it occurs.[7] We therefore, should not seek these delights but rather humbly surrender our intellect to God’s voice within, to accept these gifts as God sees fit to bestow them.[8]

Am I open today to being surprised by God’s love and consolations?

Peace,

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[1] Avila, p. 60-61
[2] New Catholic Encyclopedia, pp. 827-828
[3] Avila, pp. 64-65.
[4] Ibid., p. 69.
[5] Ibid., p. 70.
[6] Ibid., p. 75.
[7] Ibid. p. 79.
[8] Ibid., pp. 78, 81.