Friday, October 26, 2012

The HHS Mandate revisited

Nobody wants to cry "wolf" if it is not necessary. However, throughout the bible there is a rich tradition of prophets calling their people back to God. Time and time again the Israelite people turned to idols and each time it led to their eventual overthrow. Cardinal George of Chicago has been speaking prophetically. In his latest column to the Chicago Archdiocese he said that "the secularizing of American culture is a much larger issues" than political causes or the outcome of the presidential elections. "The world divorced from God who created and redeemed it inevitably comes to a bad end. It's on the wrong side of the only history that finally matters." He notes that the 2012 political campaigns have brought to the surface "anti religious sentiment, much of it explicitly anti-Catholic, that has been growing in this country for several just communism's better scrubbed bedfellow." Perhaps more disturbing is his remark "I am correctly quoted as saying that I expected to die in bed, my succesor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square." He said he was trying to express in "overly dramatic fashion what the complete secularization" of society would bring. Why the alarm? Apparently many Catholics are not aware of the implications of the Affordable Care Act and what it will mean for Catholic institutions. As a refresher, the HHS mandate requires that employers provide insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization abortion-inducing drugs, and related education and counselling. All of these practices are against Catholic teaching. Any employer that does not comply will incur substantial fines that may result in eliminating the employer's ministry. This is an unprecedented attack on religious liberty. The HHS mandate determines whether an employer is religious enough and leads the way toward redefining religious liberty as the freedom to worship. But what about the supposed "Accommodation?" On February 10, 2012, responding to intense opposition to a broad spectrum of religious institutions all over the country, including all 181 Catholic bishops presiding over a diocese, President Obama announed that there would be an "accomodation" for religious institutions opposed to facilitating practices contrary to their moral teachings through their employee health plans. In the so-called accommodation, insurance companies-not the religious employers themselves-would be forced to pay for the abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. However, since any funds the insurance companies would use to make such payments ultimately come from the premiums paid by employers, Obama's "accommodation" is nothing more than a kind of economic shell game. In the final analysis, the so-called "accomodation" still forces religious institutions to provide employees with health plans covering free "services" that violate their religious convictions-or face crippling fines should they refuse. President Obama's HHS Mandate violates freedom of conscience, a right that is guaranteed by the First Amendment and even several federal laws. The right to practice one's religious beliefs is protected by the Bill of Rights. The Obama administation's attempt to force all Americans to buy coverage for sterilization and contraceptives, including drugs that induce abortion, is a radical incursion into freedom of conscience. Never before in US history has the federal government forced citizens to directly purchase a product in contradiction to their moral and religious beliefs. Having fled religious persecution in Europe, America's Founding Father's cherished religious liberty as the most precious of values. In his work "Forged in Faith" Rod Gragg notes: " For the cause of liberty-that uniquely American faith-based freedom-America's founding fathers were willing to sacrifice their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, and would do so with a firm reliance on Divine Providence. More than a few of them would lose their fortunes. Some would lose their lives-but the sacred honor they defended would remain intact. the founding document they risked all to create-the Declaration of Independence-would long endure as an American commitment to the self evident truth 'that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." What are you willing to sacrifice to maintain religious liberty?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

John of Capistrano-An excerpt from the Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living

The following excerpt comes from a book by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak titled "The Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living." Today is the feast of St. John of Capistrano. He is the patron of military chaplains. This is the excerpt from their book. They dub him the patron of Homeland Security: "No, he didn't breed swallows or found a mission in California. The exquisite church that bears his name was given it by his fellow Franciscan Fr Junipero Serra, who founded this mission in 1776 among twenty others that dot the state. San Juan de Capistrano is the oldest building still in use in the state of California. St. John was no swallow, but a tougher bird entirely-more like an imperial eagle. Born in Italy to a family of warriors, he ruled the city of Perugia on behalf of the king of Naples. Captured in a war he was trying to mediate, he discovered a call to religious life and got permission (from his wife as well as the church) to annul his marriage and join St. Francis's order as a priest. He walked up and down the length of Italy, preaching and attracting crowds-one as large as 126,000. We've been to TAFKAP concerts smaller than that. John's preaching made him famous and got him appointed papal nuncio (ambassador) to Austria, where he led a movement against the popular proto-Protestant heresy of Jan Hus. When Turkish forces invaded Serbia (are you seeing a pattern here?), the pope appointed John to preach and lead a crusade to turn them back. At age seventy, he personally led seventy thousand men into battle, defeating the Ottomans outside Belgrade in 1456. He is customarily pictured stomping on a turban-an image that now appears in the official seal of the Department of Homeland Security." I guess his story gives new meaning to the expression "onward Christian soldiers."

Finding God in the mountains II

This was written in August. With Winter Storm Warnings in Squaw Valley I decided to revisit my words. I have a love affair with the mountains. I first climbed Mt Washington in eigth grade with a group from the Science Center in New London. In recent years it has been a semiyearly ritual with some friends to make the climb. Today as I glanced at Mt Granite Chief in Squaw Valley it was as if He were challenging me. Come on....give me the best that you have. I was hesitant, alone, and yet, felt one with the universe. Hawks were circling overhead. Well...if I don't make it at least they will have a meal. I huddled under the remaining tree and said yo myself...this is good enough. Then I got up ....why...only anyone who has faced a challenge can relate. I trudged forward step by step and before I knew it I was there. The feeling is universal-perhaps it is someone going through rehab and intensive physical therapy. Perhaps it is someone fighting cancer. Maybe it is one of our country's great heroes....the soldiers who return without limbs and broken psyches. Whatever it is, we all have our mountains,our crosses to bear. St John of the Cross wrote his most moving and beautiful poetry while in a jail. His own religious order imprisoned hom in Toledo Spain because they did not like his spirituality. He drew a picture of the Ascent of Mount Carmel. The straight path to the summit of God is nada, nada, nada.(nothing,nothing,nothing). All the virtues, all of our good works, all of the external things we rely upon are nothing if we do not rely upon Him. Many people turn to God when everything else fails....a marriage...loss of a on and so on. That is ok, but God wants to be our Abba, our daddy.He knows we will fall but he wants us to trust Him and trust in His love. Today as I approached the summit I realized how exposed and vulnerable I was and still am. "To the heights" Blessed Pier Giorgio said.Our Lord wants to lead us, like Elijah, to Mt Horeb, the mountain of God. This is something that is accesible to everyone. Why? Because one does not need to go to the mountain. All that is necessary is that we wash the feet of others where we are right now. In the book "The Eighty Dollar Champion "Harry de Leyer spent his life looking for a thouroughbred that would make him a winner. The thoroughbred never came, instead it was a work horse with great undeveloped talent that was waiting for him to be the one to make him a champion. If you want to reach the heights of love of God and neighbor...heed the words of St John of the Cross :"where there is no love put love and you will draw out love....and "I went so low, so low, to go so high." Harry de Leyer went low....he cleaned the horses...did the grunt work...spent the time to train, cutivate a horse with tremeondous untapped talent. The result? One of the most successful horse jumpers in American history. "Snowman" was just moments from going to the slaughterhouse. He was so grateful his life became one great hymn of praise. St. Paul has a phrase in his letter to the ephesians-a phrase that should inspire all of us-"For the praise of His glory." That is why you and I exist. Our life is to be a hymn to the "praise of God's glory." This can be done on a mountaintop, or this can be done in cleaning the stall of a work horse. All of us can make of our lives "something beautiful for God."

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

October is Respect Life month in the Catholic Church. It is also the month of the rosary. In an election year it is helpful to reflect on what our faith teaches about our commitment in society. Our faith is not a purely private faith. It is meant to be lived in community. This is our understanding of God-the Trinity-Father, Son, and Spirit, is a communion of persons. At the core of Catholic social teaching is the "Dignity of the human person." What does this mean? Today is the feast of the North American martyrs, Oct. 19th. St. Isaac Jogues and companions brought the faith to North America and gave their lives for the faith. What would compel someone to do such a thing? Today's gospel gives the answer: " I tell you 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 12:1-7) Fearlessly St. Isaac Jogues and his companions taught the native North Americans about the one true God. They taught them that they were created in His image and that they were and are "Fearfully and wonderfully made" as the Psalmist says. This is what the church means when it speaks about the "dignity of the human person." It is not based on what we do. It is based on who we are, children of God. Cardinal Wuerl of Washington DC has a book titled The Gift of Blessed John Paul II. In this book Cardinal Wuerl notes: "The dignity of the human person does not derive from any achievement, accomplishment, productivity, or external talent or attribute. We are created in the image and likeness of God and are called to a divine destiny, which transcends earthly life. As such, every human from the moment of conception to natural death is to be cherished and considered worthy of reverence and respect. It is for this reason that the Church defends so intensely the dignity of persons against all forms of slavery, exploitation, manipulation, and domination, whether these be inflicted in the field of politics, economics, medicine, science, or from cultural or ideological demands." (p. 160). This is why it is not accurate to call the Catholic pro-life position anti-abortion. At every stage of life from embryonic stem cells to workers in society, to the poorest of the poor, those on death row, and those about to enter eternity-all have an innate dignity which must be respected. Blessed John Paul II spoke about some of the threats to this teaching in modern society in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). If you have never read it, please do. It is an epic work that shows how the teachings of the Catholic church on life are not just "one issue" among many. The church teachings on life are the only teachings that matter. He says quite boldly in the opening paragraph: "The Gospel of Life is at the heart of Jesus' message." Note, he does not say it is one issue among many...he says it is at the heart of the gospel message. The following passage I will quote at length. Pope Benedict XVI in one of his opening addresses as Pope noted that our current age is facing a "dictatorship of relativism." Here are his predecessors words: "Freedom negates and destroys itself, and becomes a factor leading to the destruction of others, when it no longer recognizes and respects its essential link with truth. When freedom, out of a desire to emancipate itself from all forms of tradition and authority, shuts out even the most obvious evidence of an objective and universal truth, which is the foundation of personal and social life, then the person ends up by no longer taking as the sole and indisputable point of reference for his own choices the truth about good and evil, but only his subjective and changeable opinion, or indeed, his selfish interest and whim. This view of freedom leads to a serious distortion of life in society. If the promotion of self is understood in terms of absolute autonomy, people inevitably reach the point of rejecting one another. Everyone else is considered an enemy from whom one has to defend oneself. Thus society becomes a mass of individuals placed side by side, but without any mutual bonds." Don't we see this happening on the evening news every day? People are living in fear of one another. By rejecting objective truth and promoting "freedom of choice" we end up creating a society where everyone is wary of and fearful of their neighbor. Blessed John Paul II cuts through the rhetoric of contemporary politics with the wisdom of a prophet. Listen to these words:" The democratic ideal, which is only truly such when it acknowledges and safeguards the dignity of every human person, is betrayed in its very foundations:'How is it possible to speak of the dignity of every human person when the killing of the weakest and most innocent is permitted? In the name of what justice is the most unjust of discriminations practiced: some individuals are held to be deserving of defense and others are denied that dignity?' When this happens, the process leading to the breakdown of a genuinely human co-existence and the disintegration of the state itself has already begun. To claim the right to abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia, and to recognize that right into law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others. This is the death of true freedom." As long as abortion is legal in the United States we will not be free individuals. Plain and simple. The Pew research forum last week published results of a poll showing that a majority of Americans see themselves as "spiritual" but not "religious." This is consistent with sociological models that have showed a greater distrust of institutions and organized religion among the Generation X'ers and Busters (basically the young people in our society). What was disturbing was the stat that 52% of those feel the Church has no moral authority to speak on the issues of the day. Blessed John Paul II touched upon this in Evangelium Vitae:" But today, in many people's consciences, the perception of its gravity (abortion) has become progressively obscured. The acceptance of abortion in the popular mind, in behavior and even in law itself, is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, even when the fundamental right to life is at stake. Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self deception In this regard the reproach of the prophet is extremely straightforward: 'Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness' (IS 5:20) Especially in the case of abortion there is a widespread use of ambiguous terminology, such as 'interruption of pregnancy,' which tends to hide abortion's true nature and to attenuate its seriousness in public opinion. Perhaps this linguistic phenomenon is itself a symptom of an uneasiness of conscience. But no word has the power to change the reality of things: procured abortion is the direct and deliberate killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth." Strong words. How do we change from a "culture of death" to a "culture of life?" Simple. We need, each and everyone one of us, to stop and thank God for creating us in His image and likeness. We need to first realize that "we are worth more than many sparrows," that God's spirit lives in us. When we realize that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" we will recognize that our neighbor is as well. We will change our language and no longer call an innocent unborn child a "choice." We will have networks of support groups to help women overcome their fears and make the right decisions. "Nothing is impossible with God."

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Year of Faith-the new evangelization

Yesterday, October 11th, 2012, marked the opening of a "year of faith" in the Catholic Church. It has been Fifty years since Blessed John XXIII opened the doors of the church to a renewal in the Spirit. In the words of one of the chief documents, Gaudium et Spes, " At all times the Church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the time and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel, if it is to carry out its task." What are the signs of our time? There is a new Pew research poll that shows a high percentage of Americans view themselves as "spiritual" but "not religious." What accounts for this? Amazingly, Gaudium et Spes, written in 1965, seems to answer this question directly: " A change in attitudes and structures frequently calls accepted values into question. This is true above all of young people who have grown impatient at times and, indeed, rebellious in their distress. Conscious of their own importance in the life of society, they aspire to play their part in it all the sooner. Consequently, it frequently happens that parents and teachers face increasing difficulties in the performance of their tasks. Traditional institutions, laws and modes of thought and emotion do not always appear to be in harmony with today's world. This has given rise to a serious disruption of patterns and even of norms of behavior. As regards religion there is a completely new atmosphere that conditions its practice. On the one hand people are taking a hard look at all magical world views and prevailing superstitions and demanding a more personal and active commitment of faith, so that not a few have achieved a lively sense of divine. On the other hand greater numbers are falling away from the practice of religion. In the past it was the exception to repudiate God and religion to the point of abandoning them, and then only in individual cases; but nowadays it seems a matter of course to reject them as incompatible with scientific progress and a new kind of humanism. In many places it is not only in philosophical terms that such trends are expressed, but there are signs of them in literature, art, the humanities, the interpretation of history and even civil law: all of which is very disturbing to many people." What the Vatican II document says in short is that "secularism" is the enemy of religion. Pope Benedict XVI has spoken about this and you see it rampant in American Society. This is why we need to "re-open" the doors of the church to the world. Addressing students at an outdoor mass St. Josemaria Escriva addresses the dichotomy between the church and the world. He states: " This profound and consoling truth, which theologians call the eschatalogical significance of the Eucharist could however, be misunderstood. And indeed it has been, whenever men have tried to present the Christian way of life as something exclusively spiritual, proper to pure, extraordinary people, who remain aloof from the contemptible things of this world or at most, tolerate them as something necessarily attached to the spirit, while we live on this earth. When things are seen in this way, churches become the setting par excellence of the Christian life. And being a Christian means being taken up in ecclesiastical matters in a kind of segregated world, which is considered to be the ante-chamber of heaven, while the ordinary world follows its own separate path. the doctrine of Christianity and the life of grace would, in this case, brush past the turbulent march of human history without ever really meeting it.......Surely this confirms in your minds, in a tangible and unforgettable way, the fact that everyday life is the true setting for your lives as Christians. Your ordinary contact with God takes place where your fellow men, your yearnings, your work and your affections are. There you have your daily encounter with Christ. It is in the midst of the most material things of the earth that we must sanctify ourselves, serving God and all mankind." Wow! St. Josemaria's words leap off the page and speak right to our generation. To be "religious" in the minds of most Americans is to do Church things. Being "spiritual" however, means you can find God outside of a church. We need to address this! The Catholic church does not disagree. We need to convince those who are not attending church that they can have an encounter with Christ-it is not an either/or proposition, it is both/and. Sadly, I think in many circles of Catholic Christianity we expect the world to come to us. That is not the Gospel message. We must bring Christ to the world! This past weekend it was a great joy to celebrate mass on the banks of the Salmon River in Pulaski, NY. My altar was a downed tree branch and I had a green stole over my waders. With 32 men in attendance we read the readings, the gospel, I preached a homily, and celebrated the prayers of the liturgy of the Eucharist. Where moments before men were arguing with one another over who had which fishing spot, now they were exchanging the sign of peace. After 25 minutes the mass was complete. Heaven had come down to earth and we brought Christ to that part of God's creation. This is what we must do in each and every situation. Let us be missionaries of God's love to a world that does not know Jesus Christ. "They don't want me because they don't know me" Jesus said to Mother Teresa. We must make Jesus Christ known. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI: "May the gospel reawaken in all the baptized the awareness that they are missionaries of Christ, called to prepare the way for him with words and with the witness of their lives."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

funeral homily for Jenna Lee Riley-a message of hope

Everyone wants to be free. Freedom is one of the most cherished ideals in our nation. We live in the land of the free and the brave. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are two of our country's most treasured hallmarks. What about the freedom to be who we were created to be? Well, that is more difficult, and something rarely found. We all conform in one sense or another-dress, attitudes, likes, religion. For many religion is the ultimate conformity-adhere to an ethical code-a set of rules and regulations and you get to heaven. That is not Catholic Christianity and that is definitely not Jenna Lee Riley. I stress the word "is" because our faith tells us that we will live forever with Jesus if we have a personal relationship with him right here and right now. "Come, follow me" Jesus says. Jenna did. Whether it was comforting her friends, taking in a wayward soul, Jenna was living the Gospel. Why? Because the Gospel liberates-Jesus said "The truth will set you free" and if we follow Him we will be free. St. Paul speaks about the "glorious freedom of the children of God." There is great freedom in knowing Jesus Christ. Some of you undoubtedly may be saying "Well if this freedom is so great, how come it hurts so much?" For that question there are no easy answers. In fact, it may seem that the God who we speak about as love just doesn't seem to care or at least is not very interested. It is OK to feel that way. It is OK to feel angry. Someone very special has been taken from you. This is where the 2nd reading and the gospel give us such comfort. St. Paul says in St. Paul to the Romans: "But in all these things we overcome because of him who has loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height not depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." This is also where today's Gospel is so relevant. The friends of Jesus were walking away sad, grief stricken, full of questions, just like many of you. But something very special happens. Jesus himself draws near. At first they do not recognize him ( I like to think he was wearing Groucho Marx glasses, or maybe those goofy glasses Jenna was wearing in the pictures at Spencer Funeral Home) But there is something about him-the tone of his voice....and they invite him in. As they break bread, as they open the scriptures and celebrate the eucharist they see it is really Him! He is still with them! "Stay with us!" they say. "Stay with us, Jenna" Because of Jesus and the power of the resurrection and his promise of everlasting life, she has. Her mom Lisa said that every night she would read from St. Paul's letter to the Phillippians. This epistle is known as the epistle of joy. What is so ironic is that it was written by a man who was in prison chained to a pillar. How could he write a letter of joy? Because of the freedom he found in Jesus Christ. God promised He would not leave us orphaned. He promised to send us the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. the next time you look at a crucifix look into the eyes of your savior. Look into the eyes of the God who sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemani. Behold the scourge marks all over his body. They mocked Him, spit upon Him, placed a crown of thorns on his head-and He endured it all to prove His love for you and for me. My prayer is that each and every person will leave here today full of hope. The world is a better place because Jenna Lee Riley touched the lives of everyone here. As you leave consider the words from the musical Carousel: "When you walk through a storm hold your head up high and don't be afraid of the dark. Walk on , Walk on, with hope in your heart, You'll never walk alone." Because of Jesus Christ none of us walks alone. Today, Jenna is walking with Jesus Christ!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Finding God in the mountains

On Monday I will be leaving for Squaw Valley, CA. Squaw Valley is a ski area that hosted the 1960 winter olympics and overlooks beautiful Lake Tahoe. Mountains figure prominently in the life of Jesus. He was transfigured on Mt. Tabor, we know about his sermon on the Mount, and we know he often retired to the mountains to spend the night in prayer. Most recently, Pope John Paul II was also known to be a great lover of mountains. He would escape to ski in the Italian Alps and when a polish priest, used to take young people up into the mountains. Mountains figure prominently in the spiritual life. St. John of the Cross used the analogy of climbing a mountain to describe the spiritual life (the ascent of mount carmel). Mountains can be obstacles, or they can be majestic peaks that remind us of the grandeur of God. When one climbs a mountain there needs to be proper preparation for severe weather changes. Here in New England the place known with the worst weather in the world is Mt Washington. Every summer thousands of hikers will climb the mountain. As one gets into the higher elevations the protective layers disappear. One of the amazing things about Mt. Washington is the dramatic ascent above the tree line. Artic fauna becomes the norm. The hiker is exposed to the elements. So it is as we get close to God. Those things we use to hide from Him-addictions, bad habits, sin-all get exposed as one climbs higher. When it comes to the highest peaks in the world, it is always a team that makes the ascent (Mt Everest, k-2). None of us is an island. Not even God is a perfect solitude. He was never alone-He was always Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We need community, we need to work out our salvation with brothers and sisters who are "teammates". Mountains also afford another perpective. One of my favorite hikes is Cannon mountain, NH. As you stand over what once was the "old man on the mountain" you look down on I-93. You see how small the cars are. Those problems, those things that seem to keep troubling you, look quite small when seen from the heights. " To the heights" was the motto of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassatti. Blessed Pier Giorgio loved the mountains outside his home of Turin, Italy. He loved to hike. Mountains are the setting of some of the world's most famous monastaries. Saint Bruno founded the Carthusian order in the mountains of France. I spent some time at Monte Corona, an ancient Camaldolese monastery west of Assisi in Italy. Psalm 121 says so beautifully: "I raise my eyes toward the mountains. From where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth." Psalm 95 says "Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord; cry out to the rock of our salvation. Let us greet him with a song of praise, joyfully sing out our psalms. For the Lord is the great God, the great king over all gods, whose hand holds the depths of the earth; who owns the tops of the mountains. The sea and dry land belong to God, who made them, formed them by hand." In 1 Kings 19 there is the famous passage of the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel: "There he came to a cave, where he took shelter. But the word of the Lord came to him, 'Why are you here, Elijah?' He answered: 'I have been most zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they seek to take my life.' The the Lord said, 'Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord: the Lord will be passing by.' A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord-but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake-but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire-but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him 'Elijah why are you here?' He replied, 'I have been most zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. But the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they seek to take my life.' 'Go, take the road back to the desert near Damascus' the Lord said to him.' When you arrive, you shall aniont Hazael as king of Aram. Then you shall anoint Jehu, son of Nimshi, as king of Israel, and Elisha, son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah, as prophet to succeed you.'" Looking for your marching orders? Want to realign yourself with God's purpose in your life? Go to the mountains. It is what Jesus did. If you cannot go to the mountains then find some quiet place in nature where you can hear the "Still, small voice." Be persistent and do not let the silence of God frighten you. He is waiting.

Christian Themes in "Carousel"

Last night I had the great privilege of watching Rogers & Hammerstein's classic musical "Carousel." The setting was the Goodspeed Opera House on the CT river in Haddam Ct. What a beautiful spot and what a beautiful theater. For such a small stage the play really brought out some dramatic performances. The singing was wonderful and the chorearaphy/dancing was outstanding. From the sound of many tears I could tell the play impacted many in the theater deeply. One of the key Christian themes is redemption. Billy Bigelow takes his life and comes through the "back gate" of what appears to be heaven. He is asked if he has any unfinished business. Mind you, his friend Jigger, who got him into the predicament in the first place, warns him-he will not get to go before the Supreme Judge. Jigger tells him the best the two can hope for is a local magistrate. Only the rich get to go before the Supreme Judge. This is a reversal of how Christians understand God. Because of Jesus it is the poor who have a special place in the heart of the "supreme judge." In the dramatic scene in the gospel of Matthew we are told that we will be judged on how we cared for the "least in our midst." Are we goats or sheep? The answer appears to have eternal consequences. What is interesting is that Billy Bigelow appears to receive a second chance. In life Jesus gives us more than a second chance-he gives us many chances-his mercy endures forever. St Peter, the leader of the church, experiences this first hand. That same mercy was extended to Judas, but he ended in despair. The problem of a second chance after one dies is problematic. The Catholic church understands purgatory to be a place of final purification. It is not "plan b" as some see it, or even a second chance, but rather a place where one has been saved but there is still some attachment to sin, or purification that needs to take place. In the words of Curtis Martin, author of "Catholic for a reason": "The second objection against purgatory is that it is a manufactured second chance. If you don't really want to follow Christ, you can still get to heaven through 'the back door.' This offends against Christ, who called us to stand with Him or against Him. Scripture is clear that mediocrity is unacceptable: 'I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! Wo, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot or cold, I will spew you out of my mouth.'(Rev 3: 15-16) Jesus calls for complete commitment. He is either Lord of all, or He isn't Lord at all. There is no second chance; we are either for Christ or against Him (Lk 11:23). The doctrine of purgatory seems to be an end-run. But Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.(Jn 14:6)." Aware of the traditional scripture "proof" passages for purgatory ( 2 Macc 12:45-It was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin), Curtis Martin still remained skeptical about the Catholic teaching on purgatory. He was a born again evangelical and "faith alone" and "sola scriptura" were the two pillars of his faith. Listen to his words on how he began to see that the Catholic teaching may be true after all: " I began to search the Gospels to see if Jesus gave any teachings concerning judgement or purification at the end of our earthly life. I began to see that several of Our Lord's teachings, far from disproving purgatory, seemed to point to the possibility that there might be some debt of justice that would be paid after our earthly life. As Christ teaches about the importance of forgiveness, He gives the example of a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. He brought in a man who owed a great deal of money and forgave him the debt. The forgiven man in turn went our and met one of his fellow slaves, who owed him but a fraction of the amount, and demanded repayment. The just king summoned his slave back and said,'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should you not have mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt (Mt 18:32-34) What was Jesus talking about? Scripture clearly attests 'There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1). And yet Our Lord Himself gives the example of a man who had been forgiven, afterward acted unjustly, and finally was handed over to repay all that he owed. Again in St. Luke's Gospel, Our Lord challenges His followers to make peace with one another, so that they will not be handed over to the magistrate who should throw them into prison: 'I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last penny (Lk 12:59; Mt 5:26). Christ calls the believer, who has passed out of condemnation-the sentence of hell-to live a life of justice which will be exacted to the last cent. If this is not the case, then the teachings of Jesus make no sense. The Catholic teaching about purgatory is that if, at the end of our earthly life, this debt of justice was not satisfied, we shall be purified in purgatory before entering heaven. The teachings of Christ do not contradict this." Aside from purgatory, there is also the Catholic theme of the intercession of the saints. We believe that saints are alive, part of the body of Christ, our brothers and sisters, and people upon whom we can call for assistance. As is the case with Billy Bigelow, we see he is able to go back and be very close to his daughter. He even trips Enoch who insults her. We believe that the canonized saints and our dearly departed loved ones are very close to us as well. We also believe that healing with deceased individuals can help with prayer. For instance mothers who abort children find great healing when naming the child and knowing the child has forgiven them. People who experience sudden loss of a loved one may have some unresolved issues-these, too can be worked out in prayer. What about suicide? Isn't that a mortal sin and doesn't that condemn someone to hell? No. There are three necessary conditions for a mortal sin: grave matter, sufficient relection, and full consent of the will. Depression severly impairs the consent of the will and a person who may be inebriated or on drugs is not capable of making a fully rational decision. In this area the church focuses on mercy. Through it all the Christian can "confidently walk through the storms of life with a head held high" because Jesus has promised that he will walk with us every step of the way. Carousel is a wonderful musical that highlights human love, sin, redemption, mercy and forgiveness-all Christian themes-in a powerful way. As Psalm 23 tells us: "You guide me along the right path for the sake of your name. Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage." What a comforting thought....none of us walks alone.....Jesus is at our side!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Is it possible to be pure in an impure age?

Today is the feast of St. Maria Goretti. She is a virgin martyr who died at the age of twelve. She speaks to our age because she is of our age. Born on October 16, 1890 in Corinaldo, a small town in Central Italy, Maria was the third child of farm worker Luigi Goretti and his wife Assunta. Maria never learned to read or write, as her family was too poor to spare her for school. The following I borrow from Dawn Eden's book "My Peace I give you: healing sexual wounds with the help of the saints." Dawn notes: "when Maria was eight, her father, seeking to save his family from desperate poverty, accepted an offer to work as a tenant farmer outside the coastal town of Nettuno. Because he lacked the funds to do it on his own, he entered into the tenancy jointly with a widower names Giovanni Serenelli. The Goretti's lived on one side of the upper floor of a barn, while Serenelli and his fifteen year old son Allesandro lived on the other; both families shared a central kitchen and stairs. It was an uneasy arrangement, as the Serenelli's had a very different lifestyle from the devout Goretti's. Giovanni drank and brought home lurid magazines; Allesandro, a moody sociopath, used pornographic pictures from the magazines to decorate his room. In late April of 1900, Luigi fell ill with malaria. The disease took several days to complete its fatal course. As he lay dying, fearing what might happen to his wife and children if they continued to live with the Serenelli's, Luigi urged Assunta to move the family back to Corinaldo. He was 41 when he passed on, leaving his wife with five children and a sixth on the way........nine year old Maria, although devestated by the loss of her father, stayed strong for her mother's sake. She told her mother not to worry: she herself would take over household duties so Assunta could work in the fields....The fact that Maria now had neither father nor mother at home to protect her did not go unnoticed by Allesandro, now eighteen. Aware that she was concerned to preserve her purity, he set about confronting her with dirty jokes and stories while she was doing household chores. How she responded to Allesandro's abuse brings us to one of the ways popular piety has unwittingly obscured the real Maria Goretti. Although the holy card image of her as a gentle maiden bearing white lillies is symbolically accurate, it fails to capture her fierceness. She embodied the saying of G K Chesterton that the whiteness of purity should not be imagined as something antiseptic, like hospital walls: rather, 'it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc.' And so, when she could not escape his sex talk, she hit Allesandro with whatever was at hand-a broom, an overturned bucket of water, anything to make him stop the flood of filth...." Maria began to long to receive holy communion. She pressed her mother to receive at age eleven. Her mother relented after some resistance and on May 29, 1902, the feast of Corpus Christi, she received her first holy communion. The date is significant for me because that is my ordination date (May 29, 1999). Dawn Eden draws upon some interesting historic parallels. She notes: "On the eve of her First Communion, Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical on the Holy Eucharist that happens to both encapsulate the nature of Maria's holiness and presage her martyrdom. 'At the present day,' he wrote'an insatiable appetite rages (for bodily pleasures), infecting all classes as with an infectious disease, even from tender years.' He could have been describing Alessandro Serenelli. 'Yet' the pope went one, 'even for so terrible an evil there is a remedy close at hand in the divine Eucharist.' He gave two reasons for this. The first was spiritual-'it puts a check on lust by increasing charity'-but the second touched on the mystery of the Incarnation:'The most chaste flesh of Jesus keeps down the rebellion of our flesh.' We do not merely east the Eucharist, we become the Eucharist. 'St Augustine makes Christ himself say: You shall not change Me into yourself as you do the food of your body, but you shall be changed into Me.'" Young Maria was soon to become a living Eucharist. On July 5 yelling "No! No! It is a sin!" Maria bravely tried to fight off Allesandro's attempts to rape her. Undeterred by her resistance he began to stab her repeatedly. She did not die at first. She was brought to a hospital and died the next day. Remarkably, she forgave Allesandro and went to be with the Lord. Allesandro was sentenced to thirty years in prison. In his 27th year he had a dream of Maria standing in a garden holding out a flower and telling him she forgave him. Allesandro became a changed man, was released from prison three years early and was present at the Canonization ceremony of the young girl he had attacked. There are many lessons to be learned from this story. Some people say that pornography is harmless. There are no victims. Wrong. The woman, man, or child that is depicted in pornography is the victim. The good news is that even though there is so much readily accesible porn on the internet and computers, there are equally as many organizations and groups ready and willing to help people who struggle with porn addictions. Why is it important that the Christian strive to live a life of purity? For one, Jesus and scripture speak about it. St. Paul writes in First Thessalonians: "This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from unchastity, that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathens who do not know God." (1 Th 4:3-5) The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks about "Training in the school of self-mastery." One great resource on the web is the Chastity Project: go to for more info. Two cd's that may be of great help are Jason Evert's talk "Finding love in a world of lust." Another talk worth listening to is Matt Fradd: "Taking down Goliath: Five strategies to get porn out of your life." In his general audience on July 23, 1980, Blessed Pope John Paul II states: "The heart has become a battlefield between love and lust. The more lust dominates the heart, the less the heart experiences the nuptial meaning of the body. It becomes less sensitive to the gift of the person, which expresses that meaning in the mutual relations of man and woman....Does this mean that it is our duty to distrust the human heart? No! It only means that we must keep it under control." The Catholic Church has always taught that sex and sexuality are wonderful gifts from God.It has always speaken out vigorously against certain philosophies or worldviews that look to diminish the sacred gift of sexuality. We can learn from the story of St. Maria Goretti that pornography is not innocent. Lust does have consequences, but purity is possible. Frequent recourse to the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation along with a life of prayer and fasting should enable one to live in a chaste manner. Are we speaking chastity for chastity's sake as if someone were to win a medal in the chastity Olympics? NO. The issue is charity. The purer our hearts, the freer we will be to love our neighbor. Conversely, the more we struggle to live purity of heart, the more love we will have in our heart for the poor, the sick, and the lonely. The two go hand in hand. Some try to pass off the church teaching on social justice and sexuality as if they were mutually exclusive. They are not. Guaranteed. Someone who is striving to live purity of heart will do more for the poor than someone who is not.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pastoral Planning-a response to CNN's religion blog which states: "Catholics-dissent or leave"

The religion blog of CNN has an interesting title: Catholics-dissent or leave. The blog chooses to focus on a number of statistics that seem to indicate going dissatisfaction among those who have left the church. According to statistics the present Catholics now occupy 24% of the population in the United States. This is still the largest denomination but the numbers are down significantly from 35% a number of years ago. A large influx of immigrant catholics have helped bolster Catholic number according to blog editor Jim Spellman. The sources of discontent? Some cite the Clergy Sex abuse scandal but others seem to say " I'm not being fed." Although it is probably fair to say that the sex abuse scandals have dealt a blow to the church and the trust of the lay faithful, most Catholics realize the problem of sexual abuse is systemic in our society and is certainly no more common in the Roman Catholic priesthood than any other demographic. What then about the phrase "I'm not being fed?" This is a phrase I have heard a lot. Whether it is the preaching (or lack thereof) of priests or catechesis (or lack thereof), something is missing in our presentation of the faith. If we believe (as we say) that we are people of the Word and of the altar, should not our focus be on breaking God's Word for the people so they can better understand and appreciate the Eucharist? To give a 3-5 minute homily and then expect people to be "fed" or "sustained" is not enough. Then there is the other issue: Why do people leave under the premise of "not being fed" when they have the "Bread of Life?", the "Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ?" The mass is heaven on earth, it is, as Scott Hahn brought out so beautifully in his bood Lamb's Supper, the Book of Revelation-it is all there! The question for us is not one of gimmocks. There have been too many worldly-focused means used to attract people. What people are yearning for and hungering for is what Pope John Paul II wrote about in his apostolic letter NOVO MILLENIO INEUNTE. People are not being fed because they are not experiencing holiness. St. Josemaria Escriva used to say: " The world's crises are crises of saints." St. Paul in 1 Thess 4:3 says "This is the will of God, your sanctification." Here at St. Patrick Church in East Hampton, CT we are going through a process called pastoral planning. Pastoral Planning is an effort to combine resources with other parishes to build more vibrant faith communities. With an aging priesthood and a shortage of newer priests it is becoming increasingly evident that parishes will need to cooperate and collaborate resources. What Pope John Paul II does, however, is put the emphasis where it should be. While you and I immediately think in practical terms of programs or schedules. Pope John Paul II speaks a different language: holiness. Here are his words: "In fact, to place pastoral planning under the heading of holiness is a choice filled with consequences. It implies the conviction that, since Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity. To ask catechumens: 'Do you wish to receive Baptism?' means at the same time to ask them: 'Do you wish to become holy?' It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: 'Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.' (By the way the word perfect does not exist in Hebrew....the closest English equivalent would be completeness/wholeness) As the Council itself explained, this ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few 'uncommon heroes' of holiness. The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. I thank the Lord that in these years he has enabled me to beatify and canonize a large number of Christians, and among them many lay people who attained holiness in the most ordinary circumstances of life. The time has come to re-propose the high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction. It is also clear, however, that the paths of holiness are personal and call for a genuine 'training in holiness', adapted to people's needs. This training must integrate the resources offered to everyone with both the traditional forms of individual and group assistance, as well as the more recent forms of support offered in associations, and movements recognized by the Church." Still "not being fed?" Visit a soup kitchen and see Jesus disguised as the beggar. Visit a nursing home and touch the lonely and hurting Jesus. Make a visit to a church and spend time in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament and marvel that the God of the universe has made Himself so small, so vulnerable so as to be with, and speak to , you. Read Scripture. Get to know the story of God's great interventions in human history. Read about Elijah calling down fire from heaven. Read about Moses and the burning bush, or Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Read about Jesus and see how he multiplies the loaves and the fish, prefiguring the Eucharist. See him at the last supper where he says "Take and eat, This is my Body which is given up for you." Imagine you are in the crowd and you here him say "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you do not have life within you." Question yourself...what does this mean. Then remember that over 2,000 there has been the "great cloud of witnesses" who have given their lives for Christ and are interceding with Jesus right now on your behalf. Recall St. Francis de Sales who valiantly went into the Chablais region of France and singlehandedly brought back over 60,000 souls to the Catholic Church through his writings, his kindness, his holiness. Still "not being fed?" Surround yourself with Godly people who are seeking wholeheartedly to do the will of God in their life and you want have to try to be holy. It will just happen. What is the best pastoral plan of all? A plan of holiness. How are we to respond to those who are critical of the church and say they are "not being fed?" Come and see. Come and See the splendor and beauty of Jesus and the Catholic church.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Catholic argument for the Eucharist

Last evening in East Hampton, CT there was a beautiful rainbow. The rainbow is significant in scripture because Our Lord promised to Noah with a Rainbow in the sky that never again would he punish the earth. This became a sign of the covenant. For Catholics the sign of the New Covenant is the Eucharist-the real presence of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ in a tiny piece of bread. It is an act of faith. It is an important act of faith because Jesus says in John 6:53: "Jesus said to them, 'amen,amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks y blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me." Sadly, a teaching that was intended to unite and to bring life has become a source of division in Christianity. Catholics will sometimes say "I am not being fed " and leave the Catholic Church for a bible church that offers better fellowship, but no Eucharist. They do not know what they are leaving. Perhaps they were not taught. Perhaps they did not understand it. Perhaps the scandal of Catholics not believing caused them to leave. Regardless, if Catholics truly believed that God became present at every mass they would be walking across broken glass on hand and knee to make it to mass. There is the wonderful story that Fulton Sheen likes to share. A mass is being held in secret in China. The communists come in, arrest the priest and the congregants. For the next nine days the priest is able to watch a young teenage girl who survived the raid. Each day she would pick up a host thrown on the floor with her tongue and spend an hour in quiet adoration. The priest, under house arrest next door, was able to watch through a window. He knew there were nine hosts left on the floor. On the ninth day the young lady came in, as was her custom, knelt down and consumed the host on her tongue and prayed for an hour. As soon as the hour was over, the authorities came in and shot her on the spot. The young lady was a martyr for the Eucharist! Do we have that kind of faith? Sr. Briege McKenna tells the story of giving a retreat in Thailand. She is a nun (poor Clare) with the gift of healing. Sr Briege had her own miraculous healing in front of the exposed Blessed Sacrament. She was instantly healed of crippling rheumatoid arthritis. Wheel chair bound at the time she now travels the world ministering to priests and sharing her gift of healing. At this particular conference there was a loud commotion of Buddhist monks in the back of the chapel. As the priest held the Monstrance aloft Our Lord revealed Himself to the monks and they were on their knees shouting Jesus is Lord! Jesus is Lord! Fr. Dwight Longenecker is a convert to Catholicism from the Evangelical world. He has a great love and passion for C. S. Lewis and has written a book titled More Christianity. In a chapter titled "The Real Presence" he notes: "The Protestant theologians at the Reformation violently refuted the doctrine of the Eucharist. In different ways they all denied that the consecrated bread and sine were really and truly the Body and Blood of Christ. Yet this is the understanding of the Eucharist from the earliest days of the Church. The earliest writings are unanimous that the bread and wine of the Communion service become just what Jesus said it is-his Body and Blood. Before the year 108 Ignatius of Antioch says, 'Take great care to keep one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup that unites us with his blood.' He says heretics deny that the Communion bread is really the Body of Christ. 'The Docetists stay away from the Eucharist and prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins.' The early Christian writings fervently insist that the bread and wine of commuion are supernatural gifts. Through them the flesh and blood of Jesus is with us in a real way. Justin Martyr, who died in the year 165, notes: 'We do not receive these gifts as ordinary food or ordinary drink. Buat as Jesus Christ our savior was made flesh through the Word of God and took flesh for our salvation, in the same way the food over which thanksgiving has been offered through the word of prayer that we have from him-the food by which our blood and flesh are nourished through its transformation-is, as we are taught, the flesh and blood of Jesus who was made flesh.'" The Catholic teaching on the Eucharist is not, as some claim, a "teaching of men." It is the teaching of Jesus Christ and has been the constant teaching of the church from its earliest days. Praised be Jesus Christ the God man, who humbles Himself to feed us with His own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Smile, Say less, Listen More

I wish I could take credit for those words. The words are from our Lord to a young man named Matthew Kelly. Matthew was a typical teenager in Australia when he began to hear a voice inside. He has since discerned that that voice was God the Father. Matthew went on to attend Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio and has travelled the world as a motivational speaker. He is now married and has a son named Walter-great choice of names. One phrase that touched him most deeply was the phrase "smile, say less, listen more." In his words, "there is one short verse that lives with me every day. This line echoes in my head like music....Smile, say less and listen more, pray and trust in Me, your Heavenly Father." Sounds so simple, right? I will never forget the story of a smile. I was attending a talk at St. Mary's church in Ridgefield, CT. The speaker was one of the friars from Medjugorje, Croatia. Frankly, it was one of the most boring talks I had ever attended. I think he said something about praying! Anyway, I happened to be at the St. John Fisher seminary residence at the time and was there with some friends. Afterwards this older gentleman came up to me and my friend motioning wildly. I thought, oh know, another religious fanatic! He called my friend Franco over and said "Don't ever forget to have a beautiful smile!" Franco did and does have a wonderful smile. He came from a devout Italian American family that owns several Italian restaurants in Fairfield County. The older gentleman then proceeded to tell us an amazing story. It seems he was in a concentration camp in World War II. A prisoner had escaped and the Nazi's wanted one of the prisoners to pay the price. They called him forward. His only worldly possesion was a crumpled picture of the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Czestachova (sp?) Upon looking at her image the man burst into laughter-the guards thinking he was crazy, also began to laugh, before you knew it everyone was laughing-one of those gut busting laughs that you just can't contain. At this point the soldiers forgot why they had called him forward and they let him go! Our Lady worked a miracle! I will never forget that talk-the talk was irrelevant. I was there that evening to hear about the importance of a smile. Kelly shares a similarly powerful story in his book, A Call to Joy: " One day a priest found himself walking through the Bowery in New York City, a place were many hmeless people can be found. The priest was with three friends, and all were on their way to take a ferry ride. As they walked along, they came upon a man dressed in rags and sitting on the pavement. He was very dirty and looked depressed. When he met the priest's eyes, he beckoned to him to come over. Touched, the priest moved toward him. But his friends quickly spoke up::'Come on, you don't want to go near that bum.' The priest ignored their warning and moved still closer while his friends watched in amazement. The priest said a few words to the man. Then he smiled and moved on to catch the ferry. As they were waiting to board, the same man came running up to the priest, sobbing like a child: he pulled out a gun and said, 'Father, just before you walked along this morning I was about to go down the alley and blow my brains out. When you came along I waved to you and you responded to my call, my cry, my plea. Then you spoke to me as you would speak to someone you loved, but it wasn't any of this that stopped me from doing what I had planned. As you started to leave, you looked deep into my eyes and smiled. It was the first sign of human affection that I have been shown in seven years, and I just wanted you to know that today your smile has given me life.' The two spoke for a while, and the priest discovered that this man had once been a doctor practicing at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The the priest gave him his blessing and went on his way. Later, the priest went to the hospital to find out what he could about this man. He brought the man's name up to various doctors and nurses and was told that he had in fact been a doctor there, but he was having some troubles so he left. No one knew where the priest could find him now. Three years later the phone rang and the priest was greeted by a well-spoken voice saying, 'Hello, I'm Dr. Lawson. Remember me? From the Bowery? I'm back at the hospital now. I just wanted you to know a smile can make a difference-sometimes all the difference.'" We sometimes get caught up on theology-wars have been fought over Jesus. People have died believing they were in the right (Protestant Reformation). What is interesting is the simple advice out Lord gave to Matthew: "Build a friendship with My son Jesus." In Kelly's words: " This is what he said to me. He never told me how to pray to Jesus. He merely suggested that Jesus had all the answers and that Jesus was my greatest friend." Wouldn't it make sense for all of us to get to know this Jesus? If we do maybe we will "Smile, Say less, and Listen More."

Priests for the New Evangelization

Priests for the New Evangelization

Monday, June 4, 2012

Life is Beautiful-Trinity Sunday Homily

An elderly woman is walking into church and she is greeted by a friendly usher. "May i assist you?" he asks. "By all means" she responds. "Where would you like to sit?" he asks. "The front row" she responds. "Oh, you don't want to sit in the first row" he states, "the pastor is boring." "Do you know who I am," the woman asks indignantly. "No" the usher replies. "I am the pastor's mother." "Do you know who I am?" the usher asks. "No" she replies. "Good." The user responds. Meister Eckhart says that you and I were created out of the laughter of the Trinity. Proverbs 8:30-31 says "Then was I beside him as his craftsman, and I was his delight day by day, playing before him all the while, playing on the surface of the earth; and I found delight in the sons of men." Did You and I hear that....the earth is God's playground...St Josemaria Escriva once counselled people who would come to him complaining that they feel no devotion. His answer? God is playing with you. Imagine that the God of the universe-infinite love-wants to play with us! The prophet Zephaniah says "Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, He will sing joyfully because of you as one sings at festivals." (zeph 3:17-18). Let me share with you an example of how this plays out. Did you ever see the movie "Life is Beautiful?" The movie came out in 1997 and won some Academy Awards. The first part of the movie is lighthearted-it involves the courtship of a Jewish man, Guido, who marries and aristocratic woman, Dora. At first her family is opposed to the mixed marriage but eventually they relent. Eventually a son, Giuse, is born. When Giuse turns 4 and 1/2 the movie becomes more serious. It is world war II and the Nazi's are invading Italy. Guido and his son are taken to a concentration camp. Dora, in solidarity with her husband and son, goes with them. While in the camp the father does everything possible to keep his son's spirits up. He steals food. He uses humor. He convinces his son that he is actually in a game. The objective of the game is to win a tank. Whoever gets 1,000 points first wins. The boy wants to know why the officers are so mean. His father tells him it is because they are in the game and they want to win the tank as well. The other children are also competing. Because the father is so convincing and the boy's heart is so pure, he believes every word of his father. If the boy complains and expresses a desire to go home to his mother he loses points. If he is quiet and stays away from the guards he wins points. The movie comes to a dramatic ending as the Allied forces are entering the camp. The boy thinks he has won the game. Tragically, however, his father does not live to see the liberation. He is shot by a Nazi guard while escaping to see his wife. The boy, however, survives by hiding in a box and is eventually reunited with his mother. Why the title "Life is Beautiful?" The movie demonstrates the tremendous sacrificial love of the Father for his son-the playful love of the Father-just as scripture attests. What the movie dramatically depicts is that we have a Father that does the same for us! He wants us to see that everything that we experience is a gift! As St. Paul says: "For those that love God all things work for the good!" Even tears (the character played by the Holy Spirit in the Shack collects tears), emotions like anger can be seen as a gift as seen from the right perspective. This Sunday we celebrate Trinity Sunday-one God, three persons. The Father pours Himself into the Son, the Son pours Himself back into the father, and another person is born: the Holy Spirit. We can see this in our human life. The mutual love of a husband and wife produces a child. In friendship the mutual love of two people produces Intimacy-we might call that another person. Theologians like to speak about Trinity ad-intra (in itself) or ad extra (outside of itself, in creation). I think we can better understand the Trinity when we think in terms of relationships. We all know that sometimes three can be a crowd and no one likes to be the third. This is because in the Trinity there is complete oppenness. In human relationships there are always a variety of dynamics and varying degrees of openness. Take for instance a story Steven Covey relates. Steve Covey is author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and gives conferences around the world. Once a young man approached him and said " Steve, my wife and I no longer love each other, should we stay together? We don't have the same feelings that we used to have." Steve looked at him and reminded him that love is not a feeling it is a choice. He encouraged the young man to go back and sacrifice himself for his wife, and if the feelings do not change, continue to sacrifice. That is true love. I was able to witness this at home. Without any fanfare or blowing of trumpets I surprised my parents when I walked into the kitchen and my father was washing the feet and cutting the toenails of my mother. Nothing extravagant, but love in action. This is what happens on a regular basis in the Trinity-each person washes one another's feet. Yes, "Life is Beautiful". You and I have a genetic code that will never be repeated. We all have unique talents and gifts. As Tony Melendez sings "you are his miracle." Scripture also reminds us that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made."All the crosses, disappointments, sufferings, when seen from the perspective of eternity will be like a grain of sand on a beach. We have been created in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity, and we should rejoice that we have a Father who wants to play with us, shower us with gifts. Yes, "Life is Beautiful!"

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Men in Black 3-what is a priest?

This weekend Men in Black 3 topped the charts as the nations #1 movie. Today is the 13th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. I wear black. I may not take on aliens as they do in the movie but black is my color. Yesterday I wish I could have worn white-the sun was hot at East Hampton's Memorial Day parade. A friend of mine has a t-shirt that says "real men wear black." Who is the man who wears black? What is a priest? The catechism of the catholic church notes that (1536) "Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate." The Catechism then asks:"Why is this sacrament called Orders?"...."The word order in Roman antiquity designated an established civil body, especially a governing body. Ordinatio means incorporation into an ordo. In the Church there are established bodies which Tradition, not without a basis in Sacred Scripture, has since ancient times called taxeis (Greek) or ordines. And so the liturgy speaks of the ordo episcoporum, the ordo presbyterorum, the ordo diaonorum. Other groups also receive the name of ordo: catechumens, virgins, spouses, widows...Integration into one of these bodies in the Church was accomplished by a rite called ordinatio, a religious and liturgical act which was a consecration, a blessing or a sacrament. Today the word ordination is reserved for the sacramental act which integrates a man into the order of bishops, presbyters, or deacons, and goes beyond a simple election, designation, delegation, or institution by the community, for it confers a gift of the Holy spirit that permits the exercise of a 'sacred power' which can only come from Christ himself through his Church. Ordination is also called consecratio, for it is a setting apart and an investiture by Christ himself for his church. They laying on of hands by the bishop, with the consecratory prayer, constitutes the visible sign of this ordination." A lot of heavy language. I like the simple words of Vatican II: "The ministerial priesthood has the task not only of representing Christ-Head of the Church-before the assembly of the faithful, bu also of acting in the name of the whole Church when presenting to God the prayer of the Church, and above all when offering the Eucharistic sacrifice." (Lumen Gentium 10)Indeed, I feel most priestly when celebrating the Eucharist-mass. It is the highlight of my day. Whether it is just the Lord and myself, or there is a full church, or I am standing on the infield of Yankee Stadium before 60,000 (as I did at the mass with Pope Benedict XVI)-it is one and the same mystery. It is calvary. Do I understand it? No Do I believe it with all my heart, mind, and soul? yes. I will never forget a Mass I was celebrating at St. Joseph in Willimantic CT. I was not particularly recollected and I felt myself racing through the prayers. All of a sudden, as if someone else were taking over, I felt a complete change. The tone of my voice changed, I began to read more slowly and reverently, it was then that I realized someone else was in charge. We believe that someone else to be Christ. It is fairly common when concelebrating with other priests to feel a surge like an electric current, run through my heart and hands as I say the words of consecration. To be present at the death of someone is a special grace. I will never forget another moment in Willimantic where I was called to St. Joseph Living Center to annoint someone. I did not go willingly or with a smile. In fact I was grumbling that it wasn't even a parishoner. I had been called out late the night before and was feeling sorry for myself. Little did I know that one of the greatest graces of my priesthood was awaiting me. I went in, anointed the woman and said the prayers for the anointing of the sick. I was preparing to leave when a little voice inside said, "stay". I stayed and prayed the prayers of commendation for the dying. We Went through the Litany of the Saints. I read scripture and as I said the final prayer something very special happened. Just as I finished saying "may you meet the living Lord Jesus, your savior, face to face in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," she took her last breath. She was waiting! I felt that all the angels and saints were there. It was very touching. I went into the chapel and all I could do was weep. Christ was using me, a useless instrument, to do His work. I still marvel at how God works. People today say "what is wrong with the priesthood?" There is nothing wrong with the priesthood. God is still working in His Church. Pray that I may be a worthy servant and that I will always treasure the awesome gift of the priesthood. I remember each and everyone of you when I daily approach the altar. Peace!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Venerable Conchita on priests

Concepcion Cabrera de Armida is a saint for our time. She was declared venerable by Pope John Paul II in the Jubilee year 2000. It is said that her writings are almost as voluminous as those of St. Thomas Aquinas, the great doctor of the Church. She died on March 3, 1937 at the age of 75. As a mother she has a special role in the lives of priests and I do feel is very active in interceeding for them in heaven. Here are some difficult words that she shares from Our Lord regarding priests and priestly spirituality: " If souls lag along the road and their interior life is extinguished, it's the priest's fault. The gates of divine communication opened up for the mystical life, are closed. Why? Through apathy in My service, through dissipation of their lives, through their lack of mortification, through their lack of study in this domain, through absence of close and consciencious rapport with souls, through want of the spirit of sacrifice, because they do not love enough. Here are the motives, here the cause or rather the many causes which bring about and maintain these results: lack of prayer, of the interior life, or purity of soul, of intimate relations with Me; absence of love and devotion to the Holy Spirit, of union with God. The world opens at this moment a large breach in the hearts of priests and you know the number of vices which accompany this redoubtable enemy: an excessive contact with creatures chills their fervor, the neglect of external and interior recollection brings tepidity. Thence, where the world enters, thence the Holy Spirit departs. When the Holy Spirit leaves the heart of a priest, he is ruined, for if anyone has not only the need but the most imperious obligation to live and breathe the Holy Spirit, it is the priest. To the measure he departs, materialism penetrates. Woe to the priest who founders himself in matter, he can consider himself lost. This is so easy in a dissipated soul, in a heart which does not pray and is not mortified. Out of his infernal hatred for My Church, in a matter of such capital importance for so many souls and for the priest himself, Satan aims at her, his most poisonous arrows. He makes every effort to find the opening through which the world will enter into the priest's heart under any form whatsoever. After that, this unfortunate sould smoothly glides down the slopes toward sin." (Diary, Feb. 14, 1907) Conchita later shares some more challenging words for priests. They are words that should challenge the lay faithful as well: challenge them to pray and make sacrifices for priests and challenge them to promote priestly vocations by themselves living lives of holiness. Here Conchita shares the words of Jesus: " I want love in My priests. I want interior life. I want these consecrated souls to live most closely to Me. I want to banish apathy from their hearts and make them burn with zeal for My glory. I want to activate the divine life of so many souls who belong to me and who are failing. I want to destroy the indifference which paralyzes God's action and which deprives priests of My graces. The fire must be rekindled and this will be done only by the Holy Spirit, bu the divine medium of the Word, offering Him to the Father and asking for mercy." (Diary Sept 23, 1927). She continues the words of Our Lord: " I want a living, palpitating, clear and powerful reaction of the clergy through the Holy Spirit. A priest no longer belongs to himself. He is another Me and he must be all to all, but first of all by sanctifying himself, for no one can give what he does not have and only the Sanctifier can sanctify. So then, if he wants to be holy-as it is imperious he must-he must be possessed, impregnated by the Holy Spirit, since if the Holy Spirit is indispensible for the life of any soul whatsoever, for the soul of priests He must be their breath and very life. If priests are Jesus, should they not have the spirit of Jesus? And this Spirit, is He not the Holy Spirit? (Diary Oct 9, 1927) The Lord challenges priests to remember the words of the Bishop on the day of their ordination: "Let your life be modelled on the Lord's cross." The cross is the way of holiness for all...lay, consecrated religious, or priests. Here Jesus speaks to His priests through Conchita: "What is wanting to many of My priests is the spirit of mortification, love of the Cross, knowledge of the riches found in suffering. Many preach the cross but do not practice it (ouch-my words, Fr Nagle). They advise abnegation and self-renunciation and they do not even dream of practicing these virtues so necessary for priests, for sacrifice is one of the culminating points and is the base for transformation into Me who was a Victim from the very moment of My Incarnation to My death. To be acceptable to My Father, a victim must be pure and sacrificed. My entire life is reduced to this beautiful work which synthesizes the essence of the Christian and even more that of the priest....immolation! I was voluntarily immolated on earth and I continue this life of immolation on the altars. I came into the world to sanctify suffering and to take away its bitterness. I came to bring about the love of the Cross, and the most perfect transformation into Me must be brought about by loveing suffering, by painful love. Thus then, a priest who wants to assimilate himself to Me as is his obligation, must love sacrifice, must aspire to voluntary immolation, bu devoting himself, by renouncing his own self and sacrificing himself constantly on behalf of souls. Priest means one who offers himself and offers, who immolates himself and immolates. Priests must love the cross and be in love with Me crucified. I am their model." ( Diary, Jan 1, 1928) On this Pentecost Sunday 2012, we will leave with the words of Jesus to Conchita. Words for all priests to live by: " The Holy Spirit alone sanctifies priests. This divine Spirit alone raises them from the terretrial to the divine. He alone is capable of urging on, by His breath, priestly souls toward heroism, toward the sublimity of their vocation. He is the delicate and most pure link which eternally unites the Trinity. He is also the link, the sweet and loving chain, which must sweetly unite as all this His, priests with Me, to carry out the desire of My Father, Unity in Trinity, by the Holy Spirit. How much I desire the perfect reign of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those who are Mine! This interior reign in the soul of My priests, must be His throne and nest. If they are other Christs, My priests must have My same Spirit, the Holy Spirit." Conchita, pray for all priests! Pray for this priest, and pray to the Mother of Priests!

Some thoughts on "Conchita" and the spirituality of the Work of the Cross

Concepcion Cabrera de Armida ("Conchita") was a housewife, mother of nine, and a mystic. Although she lived from 1862-1937 in Mexico, her spirituality speaks to us today. God is outside of space and time and so are his saints. The information I will share with you below can be found in a book published by Alba House titled Conchita: A Mother's spiritual Diary. It is edited by M.M. Philipon, O.P. and was published in 1978. Conchita has a very special connection to priests. Her life was dedicated to praying for them and making sacrifices for them. She even had the great joy of seeing one of her own sons become a Jesuit priest. What was the stirring of this unique vocation? This is how she describes it. The year was 1889 and Conchita was twenty-seven, married, the mother of a family, a house mistress with an exacting and somewhat jealous husband. Nevertheless she made a retreat with Father Antonio Plancarte y Labastida. She says: "One day when I was getting ready with all my soul for all the Lord would ask of me, at a certain moment I clearly heard in the depths of my soul, without any doubt at all, these words which astonished me. He told me 'Your mission will be to save souls.' I did not understand how I would do this. It seemed strange and impossible. I thought there was question simply of sacrificing myselg for my husband an, my children and our servants. I made very practical resolutions, filled with fervor, redoubling my desire to love Him who is my love beyond measure. My heart had found its refuge and peace in solitude and prayer. But now I had to return to the world and my duties, having to pass through fire without burning myself, while at the same time this flame glowed more and more in my heart. The zeal to share with others the joy of what I had learned, devoured me and ardently increased." Saints do not always have the prudence that you and I may have. St. Francis of Assisi was known to throw himself in a thornbush when experiencing temptations against purity. Conchita received permission from her spiritual director to engrave the initials J.H.S. on her bosom on Jan 14, 1894. In her words:" No sooner had I done this than I felt a supernatural force which threw me, face down, on the floor, my eyes filled with tears and a burning flame within my heart. Vehemently and zealously I then asked the Lord for the salvation of souls: Jesus, saviour of souls, save them! save them! I remember nothing more: souls, souls for Jesus! That was all I desired...the ardor of my soul far surpassed the burning sensation of my body and I experienced an ineffable joy on feeling I belonged wholly to Jesus, just as a branded animal to its owner. Yes indeed, I belonged wholly to Jesus; to my Jesus who will save so many poor souls called to bring Him glory. Enraptured, I spent the rest of the day with an ardent desire of solitude and prayer but awaiting a visit I was to receive." What an expression of love. Jesus still needs people to work with Him in the work of saving souls. Are you willing to be His Apostle? Are you willing to unite yourself to the cross, surrender your will and let Him use you as He wishes? By virtue of our baptism all Catholic Christians are called to be saints. So many hear the call but out of fear or lack of encouragement come to the threshold of holiness and then draw back. Conchita did not draw back. What she shares next is extraordinary: Some time after the monogram, while Conchita was praying in the Jesuit church at San Luis Potosi, her native town, there suddenly appeared to her the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Love, illumining and enkindling from on high all the Works of the Cross. " I was meditating devoutly on God, when all of a sudden I saw a vast tableau of very vivid light, growing brighter and brighter at its center. A white light! And most surprising, above this ocean, this abyss of light with its thousand rays of gold and fire, I saw a dove, an all white dove, its wings spread, covering, I know not how, this whole torrent of light. I understood that there was here a vision most elevated and impenetrable, profound and divine. It left me with an impression of suavity, of peace, of love, of purity and of humility. How can the unexpressible be expressed? Two or three days after this vision-an inexplicable thing-I saw, one afternoon, in the same Jesuit church-a happy afternoon-I saw again a white dove in a large hearth whence flared brilliang and sparkling rays of light. The Dove, once again with its wings outspread, was perched at the center, and beneath it, at the bottom of this immensity of light was a large Cross, a very large one with a heart at the center (Aut 1, 211-213). The Cross seemed to float in a twilight of clouds of fire from within. From below the Cross there flared myriads of rays of light, which could be clearly distinguished from the white light of the Dove, and the fire of the clouds. They were like three different grades of light, how beautiful! The heart was alive, beating, human, but glorified, surrounded by a material fire which seemed to glow, and sparkle as in a hearth. Above it there flared other different flames, like tongues of fire of a higher quality or grade, I shall say. The heart was surrounded by luminous rays, longer at first and then becoming smaller, distinguishable from the flames which were below, and from the dim light and the most brilliant disc which encircled it. The flames which blazed up from the hearth ascended rapidly as if dispatched with great force, covering and revealing the tiny crosses fastened within the heart. The thorns which encircled the heart hurt us on seeing them as if they pressed against this so delicate and tender heart. I was able to describe all this because, many a time, day and night, this bery beautiful Cross was presented to me, though without the Dove. What does this mean? This is what I asked myself. What does the Lord wish? I rendered an account to my director. At first he told me to disregard this, then, inspired by God, I think he wrote me a letter for my soul in which he said: 'You will save many a soul through the apostolate of the Cross.' He never thought that this formula could designate the name of the Works of the Cross. As far as I was concerned, on reading this, I only know what I felt: this name must characterize the Work which the Lord began and of which I was now speaking." The Lord chose this young woman, married and the mother of a family, a simple lay person, to make us be mindful of the mystery of the salvation of the world by the Cross. "The Lord told me: 'The world is buried in sensuality, no longer is sacrifice loved and no longer is its sweetness known. I wish the Cross to reign. Today it is presented to the world with my heart, so that it may bring souls to make sacrifices. No true love is without sacrifice. It is only in My crucified Heart, that the ineffable sweetness of my Heart can be tasted. Seen from the outside, the Cross is bitter and harsh, but as soon as tasted, penetrating and savoring it, there is no greater pleasure. Therein is the repose of the soul, the soul inebriated by love, there its delights, its life.'"..." I was praying, when, all at once, there was presented to my interior view, a lengthy procession of nuns, bearing a great red cross...They passed along two by two, looking at me often on going by. Some days later the Lord told me: 'There will also be a Congregation of Men, after this foundation for women, but I will speak to you of this laterr, at a more opportune time.'" There are now (as of 1978) some four hundred nuns in Mexico, in Guatemala and in Spain. In a letter to Father Jose Alzoa, Jesuit provincial, Conchita has some amazing revelations: " The Apostolate of the Cross is the work which continues and completes that of My Heart which was revealed to Blessed Margaret Mary. I tell you that this does not mean only My external Cross as a divine instrument of Redemption. This Cross is presented to the world to bring souls toward My Heart, pierced on that Cross. The essence of this Work consists in making known the interior sufferings of My Heart which are ignored, and which constitute for Me a more painful Passion than that which My Body underwent on Calvary, on account of its intensity and its duration, mystically perpetuated in the Eucharist. I tell you, up to this day, the world has known the love of My heart manifested to Margaret Mary, but it was reserved for present times to make known its suffering, the symbols of which I had shown simply and in an external way. I say again, there must be a penetration into the Interior of this boundless ocean of bitterness and an extension of knowledge of it throughout the world for bringing about the union of the suffering of the faithful with the immensity of the sufferings of My Heart, for their suffering is mostly wasted. I wish for them to profit from it by way of the Apostolate of the Cross for the benefit of souls and for the consolation of My Heart." This Pentecost, let the Holy Spirit remind us of the sufferings of Christ. The sufferings of the heart who could only love. The Lord's own words to Conchita regarding the Holy Spirit should inspire one and all: "It is time that the Holy Spirit reign....and not a remote reign as something very sublime, even though it be so and there is nothing greater than He since He is God united and consubtantial with the Father and the Word. But it is necessary that he reign, here, right close, in each soul and in each heart, in all the structures of My Church. The day on which there will flow in each pastor, in each priest, like an inner blood, the Holy Spirit, then will be renewed the theological virtues, now languishing, even in the ministers of My Church, due to the absence of the Holy Spirit. Then the world will change, for all the evils deplored today have their cause in the remoteness of the Holy Spirit, the sole remedy. Let the ministers of My Church react, through the medium of the Holy Spirit, and the whole world of souls will be divinized." A big Amen to that! Happy Pentecost!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Conchita, Pentecost, and the Mexican Martyrs

The United States awaits the opening of For Greater Glory next Friday, June 1. It promises to be a very informative movie and a timely one as well. The story revolves around the persecution of the Catholic Church in Mexico and has a top notch crew of actors and actresses. Did you ever wonder what sort of a person runs into a burning building? Remember the firefighters and emergency personnel who were running up the stairs of the Word Trade Center on 9/11? Remember the soldiers who went into enemy territory to capture and kill Osama Bin Laden? What type of a person does such a thing? A person of great heroism and a person of great passion. This is what the church needs from Catholics right now. It is time to live the life of faith of the martyrs. Listen to the story of one priest who arrived in Vera Cruz Mexico on August 14, 1914. Father Felix Rigiuer was the confessor and spiritual director of a mystic named Concepcion Cabrera de Armida ("Conchita"). Conchita was the eneducated mother of nine who would go on to write some incredible doctrinal works-all dictated to her by Our Lord. The preface to the book Conchita by M.M. Philipon, O.P. notes: " The laity in particular is called today to witness before the whole world to an outstanding holiness. Does not God give us an example of this in this mother of nine children on her way to the altars? Conchita lived on earth, simple and joyous among her own, wholly given over to God in the secret recesses of her soul in which dwelt the Holy Spirit, living in an intense apostolic splendor radiating from the horizons of the church, creatrix of a new style of holiness accessible to all." Which brings us back to Fr Felix. Conchita had shared with him her dreams of four new religious communities in 1904. Fr Felix was sent back to France and now, in the midst of a terrible persecution of the church, he is returning. Listen to Fr. Philllipon's, O.P, words: "God had placed close to Conchita a saint. When not having seen her for ten years, Father Felix was to see her again, his first words were simply: 'I have not changed my opinion about the works of the Cross.' On his return to Mexico, at the very moment of his disembarking at Vera Cruz August 14, 1914, he met some Mexican bishops who (driven out by the persecution) were going to leave on the same ship. They knew him and loved him. They did not hide their amazement upon seeing him disembark, but Father courageously responded: 'The Lord wants me to found His work during the agony of the nation.'" Listen to the heroic first hand accounts of this saintly woman. They serve as a historical backdrop for the movie For Greater Glory: "August 15. A day of anguish. They intend to requisition la Casa de la Cruz (the convent of the contemplatives), to be used as general quarters and as a lodging for officers. Today some twenty thousand Carranzistas arrived. Some three or four times more are to come. I felt in my soul a mortal sadness, as if Satan had entered Mexico. It was a terrible oppression. It is the scourge of God. The war unleashed against the Church , is accentuated. My spiritual director had to go into hiding. A persecution, a frightful one, draws near. God has put nearby us some neighbors, members of the government, who love the sisters and offer to save them....August 17 Things get worse every day. Horrible blasphemies, outrages, deaths, rapes and pillaging of homes occur. Gunfire is heard throughout the day. We are afraid to go out. A holocaust of priests exists. Religious have been expelled. The goods of the church are going to be confiscated. There are forced loans and a thousand other pitiful things.'" Needless to say, these are pretty dramatic accounts. Here are more of her words: "Today we begin another month of a thousand anxieties. Puebla has been overtaken by the anti-clericals. They have profaned this Cathedral so dear to my heart! They expelled the canons and burned the confessionals. They have taken over the Episcopal palace and committed thousands of vexations against the priests. Outrages and horrors are everywhere! When I complained to the Lord about what was happening to Peubla, He told me: 'The trial will pass.'" On May 26, 1927 Conchita wrote to a friend: "We already have a great number of martyrs in Mexico who are granting us favors. God be blessed! He knows how many there are. We must adore his designs. For God, everyone is a means which he uses and how often it pleases Him to accomplish things counter to all human means in order to make His glory shine out all the more. It is the hour of suffering and of prayer but we must also adore His delays, accept with love his designs, and hope against all hope for the triumph and peace that He, without any doubt at all, will bring us. Mexico will not lose the faith as long as it remains devoted to Mary." In the midst of these trials the Lord spoke to her firmly: "Offer yourself as a victim for my priests. Unite yourself to My sacrifice for gaining them graces. It is necessary that in union with the Eternal Father, you accomplish your priestly role, offering Me to My Father for obtaining from Him grace and mercy for the Church and her members. Recall how often I have asked you to offer yourself as a victim, in union with the Victim, for my beloved Church? Do you not see that you are all Hers? Precisely on account of this special union which binds you to my church, you have the right to share in Her anguish and the sacred duty to console her be sacrificing yourself for Her priests." What an immense gift! In the midst of tremendous persecution of the Church God sends a woman who offers shelter and protection for priests. Even more amazingly, her priest confessor, Fr. Felix returns to start the Work of the Cross and the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit! His life always in danger, Fr. Felix celebrates mass in the home and offers spiritual conferences and guidance to people who are suffering. What a model for priests today! I will conclude with the words of Our Lord to Conchita regarding the Holy Spirit. This Pentecost, let His words penetrate our hearts for an outpouring on the Spirit in the United States: "It is time that the Holy Spirit reign. And not a remote reign as something very sublime, even though it be so and there is nothing greater than he since He is God united and consubstantial with the Father and the Word. But it is necessary that He reign, here, right close, in each soul and in each heart, in all the structures of My church. The day on which there will flow in each pastor, in each priest, like an inner blood, the Holy Spirit, then will be renewed the theological virtues,now languishing, even in the ministers of My church, due to the absence of the Holy Spirit. Then the world will change, for all the evils deplored today have their cause in the remoteness of the Holy Spirit, the sole remedy. Let the ministers of My Church react, through the medium of the Holy Spirit, and the whole world of souls will be divinized. he is the axis around which revolve the virtues. There is no virtue without the Holy Spirit. The decisive impulse for raising up My church from the state of prostration in which she lies, consists in reviving the cult of the Holy Spirit. Let His place be given Him, that is, the first in intellects and wills! No one will be lacking anything with this heavenly wealth. The Father and I, the Wor, We desire an ardent and vitalizing renewal of His reign in the Church." Amen Conchita is now a Servant of God and her cause for beatification is proceeding. Fr Felix is not venerable and passed away on January 10, 1938. Conchita died in 1937. Although war and terror waged around them both, the cross proved to be the fertile soil for a new pentecost. M. M. Philipon, O.P. concludes his book Conchita with these words: " Yes, Conchita's prophetic mission is that of recalling to the modern and materialistic world, avid for liberty, that it will be saved only by a NEW PENTECOST and by the GOSPEL OF THE CROSS. This new pentecost, this sanctifying action of the Spirit, must begin with the priests and extend itself to the entire People of God, as on the first Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and on the whole community assembled in the Cenacle. 'I want to come back to the world in my Priests. I want to renew the world of souls on manifesting Myself in My priests. I want a powerful impulse in My Church on infusing upon Her the Holy Spirit as on a new pentecost.' (Diary, Jan 5, 1928)But the Holy Spirit cannot descend on the world save by Christ's Cross since both missions, that of the Spirit and of the Son, are inseparable. 'The Holy Spirit will reign the day when My sacrifice of suffering will also reign; the Cross in hearts. In so far as the Cross will not reign in souls, the Holy Spirit, He too will not reign.' (Diary, May 26, 1901) May Mary, the Mother of Jesus and Mother of the Church, intercede that this progidy of Pentecost be renewed, and that the Church, this 'people brought together by virtue of the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit' carry out the design of love which springs from the Father: may She truly be the Holy Church!" Conchita, pray for us! All you Mexican martyrs, pray for us! May the Holy Spirit reign in every heart that reads these words!