Cardinal Van Thuan and a Difficult Teaching

Perhaps some of the most difficult teachings of Christ concern how we respond to oppression.

In 1975, the communist forces of North Vietnam captured Saigon in the south and united the country under one communist rule. The communist authorities view Catholicism as the influence of a foreign power and are ruthless in their persecution of Catholics. Cardinal Van Thuan, the archbishop of Saigon was arrested and imprisoned for 13 years, nine of which were in solitary confinement.

The cardinal relates his experience in prison.

“In the beginning, the guards did not talk to me. I was terribly sad. I wanted to be kind and polite with them, but it was impossible. They avoided speaking with me.

One night a thought came to me: ‘Francis, you are still very rich. You have the love of Christ in your heart; love them as Jesus has loved you.’

The next day I started to love them even more, to love Jesus in them, smiling and exchanging kind words with them.

I began to tell them stories of my trips abroad, of how people live in America, in Canada, in Japan, in the Philippines… about economics, about freedom, about technology. This stimulated their curiosity and they began asking me many questions.

Little by little we became friends. They wanted to learn foreign languages, French, English… And my guards became my students!”

The Cardinal describes how one guard agreed to let him make a wooden cross for himself even though it was severely forbidden to have any religious signs at all. When the guard at first objected, the Cardinal answered, “I know, but we are friends, and I promise to keep it hidden.”

So the guard walked away and let the Cardinal make his cross. Some time later, at another prison, with another guard he had befriended, Cardinal Van Thuan asked for a piece of wire.

“The guard, frightened, answered: ‘I learned at the Police Academy that when someone asks for electrical wire it means they want to kill themselves!’

‘Catholic priests don’t commit suicide.’

‘But what do you want to do with electrical wire?’

‘I would like to make a chain to carry my cross.’

‘How can you make a chain with electrical wire? It’s impossible.’

‘If you bring me two small pincers, I’ll show you.’

‘It’s too dangerous!’

‘But we’re friends!’”

And so the guard brought the wire and together, communist soldier and Catholic bishop, made a cross to hold the bishop’s pectoral cross.

According to a study by the Italian based Center for Studies on New Religions, Christians continue to be the most persecuted religious group in the world. The study found that in the year 2016, 90,000 Christians were killed for their beliefs while an additional 600 million were prevented from practicing their faith.

There are many places in the world where being a Christian is the most dangerous thing you can be.

How we respond to such persecution, hardship and oppression, says much about us to the world. A convicted murderer once remarked.

“Christians are the only people in the world where you can kill their son, and they make you part of your family.”

Turn the other cheek, do more than is required of you, do good to those who hate you, these passages from scripture are frequently used to bolster the assertion that Christianity is a religion for the weak and the passive. But this is a superficial interpretation.

For the past few weeks Jesus has taught us what it means to follow Him. We learned humility from the beatitudes. We learned the importance of using our minds as well as our hearts to serve God. And we learned to be generous with our time and our abilities. Today Jesus teaches us the virtue of forgiveness.

A backhanded blow across the right cheek is the slap of a superior to a subordinate, giving up your tunic and carrying another’s burden for a mile are dictums of an oppressive law, loving your enemies means to love those who consider you beneath them. It is not about how we respond to violence. It is about how we respond to humiliation and oppression. As followers of Christ we are called to a higher standard than the world expects of us. We answer hatred, oppression and humiliation with love and forgiveness.

Humility, wisdom, generosity and forgiveness, these are not traits of weakness.

We are called to take the high road, to set ourselves apart from those who have rejected God. We are told to not only forgive our enemies but to love them and pray for those who persecute us. Anything else is from the evil one.

Pax vobiscum

The Transcendent Truth In “Frozen”

The 2013 movie “Frozen” was a huge hit for Disney studios. About halfway through the film a character makes an extraordinary statement, “love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.” It really is not more complicated than that.

I say it is an extraordinary statement because it conveys a transcendent truth. It echoes the words of Jesus, “no greater love has a man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends.”

This is a true story: Barbara and Matt were popular, wealthy, and well-traveled. After they had been married for only one year, Matt was in a horrible car accident. When they got him to the hospital and stabilized his condition, they discovered that he was paralyzed from the neck down.

When the doctors told Barbara, she was devastated. All their wonderful plans were shattered in an instant. When Matt regained consciousness and the doctors told him what had happened, he asked to see his wife.

They each tried to smile through their tears. He told her that he knew she didn’t marry him in order to stay home and take care of a cripple, in order to spend her life celibate and childless. He told her that he knew she would be happier if she left him and found someone else. He told her he would understand.

Barbara went out of the hospital room, sat down, and cried.

A few minutes later, she came back in, knelt beside Matt’s bed, took his hand, and through her tear-stained faced she said: “I will never, never, leave your side.”

God gave us the institution of marriage; the lifelong irrevocable union of one man and one woman. This union was necessary not only so that children may be raised and cared for by a father and a mother, but also because we need each other, as helpmates. It is part of God’s design that we complete each other, draw strength from each other, and contribute to one another’s spiritual growth. From the very beginning, marriage was a sacred union.

But marriage is difficult. It is not easy for two people to live together, day in, day out, year after year, through good times and bad, living with each others faults and failings. It is not easy to help another person grow in holiness in spite of those flaws.

It is not easy to be a parent, suddenly faced with the responsibility of raising a child who depends on you for everything.

If there was ever a state in life that cried out for God’s grace, it is matrimony.

Holy Matrimony is a sacrament of the Church. As a sacrament it conveys God’s grace to those who receive it. As a newly wed couple turns away from the altar, they are spiritually stronger, spiritually more beautiful, than when they came to the altar just a few moments before.

It is God’s grace that strengthens our human weakness and allows us to overcome problems and respond to emergencies associated with marriage.

The unity of a sacramental marriage makes divorce impossible.

This is the fundamental reason why the Church defends marriage so vigorously. The bond created by the sacrament is a bond of great power and mystery that no earthly authority may dissolve. It is an institution, founded by God, between a man and a woman, that binds the three of them together.

But divorce pretends to dissolve that bond. In a divorce each person is no longer putting someone else’s needs before their own, they are putting their own needs first. Divorce is a betrayal of that bond of love.

Our Lord’s teachings on divorce are some of His hardest words; so hard in fact that the Church is often accused of being mean or insensitive when it promotes them.

The Church does not recognize civil divorce because it cannot.

But the Church recognizes that we make mistakes and sometimes enter into marriage for the wrong reasons or with the wrong intentions. In this case the Church investigates the circumstances surrounding a marriage and may grant a decree of annulment. Annulment is a determination that the sacramental bond was never established in the first place.

The Church upholds the teachings of Christ because that is its purpose, even when those teachings are difficult for us to accept. The intent is not to be mean-spirited, the intent is to bring all people back to God by reminding us of what God wants from us. The intent of the teachings of the Church, is love.

Pax vobiscum

Rose Hawthorne and the City on the Hill

Since the time of Jesus, a city on a hill has served as a metaphor for a place that serves as as a beacon, driving back the darkness, calling people to it, and setting an example for others to follow.

One such “city” is set on a hill overlooking the small town of Hawthorne, N.Y.. Rosary Hill is one of the homes run by the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, an order of nuns dedicated to to the care of those with incurable cancer.

The order was founded by Rose Hawthorne, the daughter of the great American novelist, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Rose and her husband converted to Catholicism shortly after their marriage. When her husband passed away she found herself alone and with few financial resources. Seeking some meaning in her life, she leaned of the struggles of the poor who were diagnosed with incurable cancer. At this time, in the 1890’s, cancer was thought to be contagious. There was such a deep fear of contagion from those suffering with this affliction that they were frequently shunned and disregarded by society. Rose soon found her special vocation to this work.

She took a three month nursing home and in the fall of 1896, moved into a three room flat on the impoverished Lower East Side of New York. From there she began to nurse the poor with incurable cancer. In 1898 she was joined in her work by Alice Huber and together they began to attract other women to join them.

In 1900 they were established a congregation of Religious Sisters. They were given the Dominican habit and called themselves “the Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer.” Their purpose was to provide for the well-being of incurably ill and destitute cancer patients. Rose became known as Mother Mary Alphonsa.

The sisters took in only the most destitute, providing them with the care they needed and doing so without accepting any form of compensation. They do not accept Social Security, Medicare, private health insurance, or even donations from families of their charges. Mother Mary Alphonsa felt that doing so may prejudice them in their treatment of the afflicted.

In 1901 Mother established Rosary Hill in a small hamlet in Westchester County, about twenty miles north of New York City. The community came to be called Hawthorne, in honor of her father. Rosary Hill still serves the poor with incurable cancer along with other homes in Philadelphia and Atlanta.

The daughter of one of their guests was so moved by their work that she continued to follow them, documenting them with photographs, even after her mother passed away. She was struck by their tenderness with the dying, how they painted women’s fingernails and combed their hair, changed them into fresh nightgowns and arranged flowers in their rooms. “This is how dying should be,” she once told a reporter. “It doesn’t feel like a place of death. It feels like a place of living.”

A shining city on a hill serves as an example to us all.

President Ronald Reagan used the metaphor often. In his farewell address to the nation after 8 years as president he said this.

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still,”

The city set on a hill is a beacon for others, it exists for something else.

This is the virtue Jesus calls us to, to devote all that we are to other people. From selflessness all the other virtues follow, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and clothing the naked. This is how we are to be light for the world.

And in return the prophet Isaiah tells us we will receive light in our lives, healing, justification, protection from our enemies and answers to our prayers.

We have been given the light of truth to shine before the world. Not to be praised for ourselves, but to glorify God, the source of all good things.

Not to us Lord, but to your name be the glory.

Pax vobiscum

The Garbage Man and the Virtue of Humility

From Bob Perks comes a wonderful story on the virtue of humility. Bob is an author and inspirational speaker. He once worked for a short time going door to door, taking surveys. He tells this story about one particular home he was invited into. It was an older home, comfortable and welcoming, in a section of town for people with meager incomes. As he began his introduction the young woman interrupted him…

“’Would you like a glass of cold water? You look like you’ve had a rough day.’

‘Why yes!’ I said eagerly.

Just as she returned with the water, a man came walking in the front door. It was her husband.

‘Joe, this man is here to do a survey.’ I stood and politely introduced myself.

Joe was tall and lean. His face was rough and aged looking although I figured he was in his early twenties. His hands were like leather. The kind of hands you get from working hard, not pushing pencils.
She leaned toward him and kissed him gently on the cheek. As they looked at each other you could see the love that held them together. She smiled and titled her head, laying it on his shoulder.

He touched her face with his hands and softly said ‘I love you!’

They may not have had material wealth, but these two were richer than most people I know. They had a powerful love. The kind of love that keeps your head up when things are looking down.’Joe works for the borough.’ she said.

‘What do you do?’ I asked.

She jumped right in not letting him answer. ‘Joe collects garbage. You know I’m so proud of him.’

‘Honey, I’m sure the man doesn’t want to hear this.’ said Joe.

‘No, really I do.’ I said.

‘You see Bob, Joe is the best garbage man in the borough. He can stack more garbage on the truck than anyone else. He gets so much in one truck that they don’t have to make as many runs.,’ she said with such passion.

‘In the long run,’ Joe continues, “I save the borough money. Man hours are down and the cost per truck is less.’
There was silence. I didn’t know what to say. I shook my head searching for the right words. ‘That’s incredible! Most people would gripe about a job like that. It certainly is a difficult one. But your attitude about it is amazing.’ I said.

She walked over to the shelf next to the couch. As she turned she held in her hand a small framed paper.

‘When we had our third child Joe lost his job. We were on unemployment for a time and then eventually welfare. He couldn’t find work any where. Then one day he was sent on an interview here in this community. They offered him the job he now holds. He came home depressed and ashamed. Telling me this was the best he could do. It actually paid less than we got on welfare.’

She paused for a moment and walked toward Joe.

‘I have always been proud of him and always will be. You see I don’t think the job makes the man. I believe the man makes the job!’

‘We needed to live in the borough in order to work here. So we rented this home.’ Joe said.

‘When we moved in, this quote was hanging on the wall just inside the front door. It has made all the difference to us, Bob. I knew that Joe was doing the right thing.’ she said as she handed me the frame.

It said: If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep the streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’ – Martin Luther King

‘I love him for who he is. But what he does he does the best. I love my garbage man!’
(Bob Perks Copyright 2001. Used with permission)

If we would be blessed (happy), then it is for us to follow Christ in His humility. This means putting God and the needs of our brothers and sisters ahead of everything else.
Poor in spirit, clean of heart, a peacemaker, merciful and mournful, meek, and a seeker of justice, these are the qualities of a humble person.
Pax vobiscum

Patton and The Mission

In the 1970 movie “Patton,” there is a scene that vividly depicts the faith of the general in the enterprising nature of the human spirit.

It is during World War II and Patton’s forces are pinned down by heavy gunfire and shelling as they are trying to punch through enemy lines. The general drives to the battle-front to determine the problem. He decides the commander tasked with the job is not up to it so he “fires” him on the spot and promotes a junior officer to command. He tells the newly appointed commander that if he doesn’t get through the enemy lines the general will fire him as well.

In 1947 a book was published that collected Patton’s letters and memoirs concerning his experiences in World War II. In the book he is quoted as saying, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

To paraphrase from another movie, “man was made to serve God, cunningly, in the tangles of his mind.”

Every human person has a unique combination of gifts, talents and abilities. When we are assigned a task we all approach it in different ways. I once had an instructor in art school who expressed amazement at the fact that he could give an entire class the exact same assignment and receive entirely different results from each student.

If you have ever been assigned to a group of people tasked with solving a problem, you probably experienced something similar. The variety of solutions proposed is remarkable. Every person has a unique skill set that they bring to bear in accomplishing a task.

Many times there is more than one solution although some may work better than others.

For the Christian, there is only one task to accomplish but an infinite number of ways to do so. There has only ever been one thing to do, one great mission to which we are all called. It is the same mission that John the Baptist answered, to bear witness to Christ. John was completely focused on His mission as the herald of the Messiah. John’s life only made sense in service to another. When that mission was accomplished he was content to give way to the Lamb of God.

But it is not enough for us to merely accomplish the task, we must do so in a way that encourages others to do likewise. As members of Christ’s mystical body we are the physical presence of Jesus to the world. We are each called to be a light to others. Bt encouraging others to use their gifts in the great mission, God’s salvation is made known known to the ends of the earth.

How we do this will be different according to each individual’s unique gifts, talents and ingenuity. We are all called to the same mission but each one of us is called in a unique way that only he or she can fulfill, a way that will never be repeated.

Each of us is called to take part in a great adventure. We have been equipped with the tools and resources we need and we have been given a task to accomplish.

Think of it as climbing a mountain. We begin by determining that God is calling us to climb the mountain, to meet Him at its summit. The actual climb is a time of formation. We learn how to use the gifts God has given us as we overcome obstacles and avoid temptations. This is a time of trial and testing, designed to strengthen us and build our confidence.

Finally, we have that encounter with God. We arrive at the top of the mountain and gain some measure of understanding. We have a better idea of our role and purpose in God’s plan for the salvation of mankind.

Finally we descend the mountain, armed with a greater understanding of our gifts and talents and how to employ them in our great mission. We return to where we started so that we may help others along the same path.

Many of us spend our lives running from God and rejecting His call. But when we embrace His mission and realize our role in God’s great plan, we receive grace upon grace and peace upon peace.

The things we are experiencing right now, good and bad, are all part of God’s plan to save the world. How we respond to those things is up to us.

Pax vobiscum

The Battle of Crete and A Light in the Darkness

One of the more significant battles of the second world war was the Battle of Crete. The small mediterranean island made a critical staging point for the German army and in May of 1941 the Germans launched the first ever major assault carried out by airborne paratroopers.

The assault centered around the Maleme airstrip on the northwest coast of the island. Once the airstrip was secured, allowing planes to resupply the invaders, the Germans were able to defeat the Greek and Allied forces, driving them off the island or into hiding.

But the victory came at a tremendous cost. The battle resulted in over 4000 allied dead and nearly 2000 among the Axis troops. The local inhabitants of the island fought alongside the Allies using whatever weapons they could find, including, knives, scythes, and pitchforks. This was the first time the Germans encountered such significant resistance from local civilians. In retaliation, German troops executed over 500 Greek civilians living on the island.

Above the Maleme airstrip there now sits an institute dedicated to human peace and understanding, particularly between the people of the island of Crete and the people of Germany, given the history, this would seem to be an impossible task.

The institute is the fruit of the work of Alexander Papaderos. Papaderos was just six years old when the war started. His home village was destroyed and he was imprisoned in a concentration camp. At the end of the war, Papaderos came to believe that the Germans and Cretans had much to give one another, much to learn from one another. He felt they had to set an example, for if they could forgive one another, then any people could. To help the process, he founded his institute at this place that embodied the horrors and hatreds unleashed by the war. One day, while taking questions at the end of a lecture, Papaderos was asked, “What’s the meaning of life?” There was nervous laughter in the room. It was such a weighty question. But Papaderos answered it.

He opened his wallet, took out a small, round mirror and held it up for everyone to see. During the war he was just a small boy when he came across a motorcycle wreck. The motorcycle had belonged to German soldiers. Alexander saw pieces of broken mirrors from the motorcycle lying on the ground. He tried to put them together but couldn’t, so he took the largest piece and scratched it against a stone until its edges were smooth and it was round. He used it as a toy, fascinated by the way he could use it to shine light into holes and crevices.

He kept that mirror with him as he grew up, and over time it came to symbolize something very important. It became a metaphor for what he might do with his life.

“I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world–into the black places in the hearts of men–and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.”

The triumph of light over darkness is part of our story; it is built into the human race. We were not made for the darkness we were made for the light. But somewhere back along our history we turned away from God and the light and fell into darkness and forgetfulness.

But God did not abandon us. The light of His truth shown dimly, calling us back to Him. This was the age of the prophets and the great cultural storytellers. The prophets continually sought to remind us of our beginnings and our true home. but we could no longer comprehend the light, we could only dimly perceive the Hand of God reaching out to us, inviting us home.

Then everything changed. No longer content to wait for us to come to Him, God became one of us and came to live among us. Our salvation rested on the faith of a young virgin who reflected the light of God’s Truth into our darkness.

May we all have the courage and love to abandon the futile works of darkness and answer the Lord when he invites us to come after Him. And when we have done so, let us remember those who still sit in the darkness and go to them reflecting the light.

Pax vobiscum

Katyn and the Virtue of Humility

In 1942 a horrifying discovery was made in the Polish forest of Katyn. Workers uncovered a mass grave containing the remains of over 20,000 Polish citizens, military and civilians, who were seen as a threat to the Soviet regime. Each victim was found with their hands tied behind their back and a single gunshot wound to the back of the head. The massacre was carried out by the secret police under the orders of Joseph Stalin.

Joseph Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union in the first half of the twentieth century. The legacy he left behind is that of a brutal dictator. He climbed through the ranks of the Soviet government by lying, double crossing, and murdering anyone who stood in his way. Once he gained the position General Secretary, making him the head of the government, he systematically eliminated all potential rivals.

Soon, that list of potential rivals included everyone he knew. He sent his best friends to concentration camps deep in Siberia. He became so suspicious of plots against his life that he slept in a different corner of his house every night.

He died fearful, miserable, and half-crazed.

In many ways the story of King Herod is much the same. He was not of the line of David, which made him an illegitimate king. He was a puppet of the Romans. Herod spent his life trying to keep everything under control. He became pathologically suspicious of nearly everyone around him. He murdered his own wife and three of his sons because he thought they were plotting against him. His whole life was marked by a series of violent, terrible crimes.

His unreasonable fear of losing control made him hated by everyone, including his closest advisors. As he lay dying, he ordered a thousand of his best servants and ministers to be led to the stadium and slaughtered. He did this to ensure that there would be mourning and sadness in his kingdom upon his death.

Joseph Stalin and King Herod represent lives lived without humility. Humility is perhaps the one virtue that divides society. Saint Augustine, in his book “the City of God,” described our divided society this way.

“What we see, then, is that two societies have issued from two kinds of love. Worldly Society has flowered from a selfish love which dared to despise even God, whereas the Communion of Saints is rooted in a love of God that is ready to trample on self. In a word, this latter relies on the Lord, whereas the other boasts that it can get along by itself. The city of man seeks the praise of men, whereas the height of glory for the other is to hear God in the witness of conscience.” [City of God XIV.28]

We see the difference between “Worldly Society” and the “Communion of Saints” clearly played out in the reactions of Herod and the magi to the birth of the new king. Herod has ruled through extortion and murder, acknowledging no authority other than his own. He is greatly troubled at the news of the Savior’s birth, the true, legitimate King of the Jews.

The magi on the other hand rejoice and bring gifts, generously offering what they have to honor the new king.

Herod responds with violence, killing any child who might possibly be a threat to his rule. The magi bring gifts. Not just any gifts, they bring to Christ their talents in the form of gold, their prayers represented by frankincense, and their pain and suffering symbolized by myrrh.

In ancient times, the Feast of the Three Kings, Epiphany, was the time to give gifts, in memory of the three wise men who brought gifts to a newborn babe. Christmas has become a season for gift giving. What gifts do we bring in humility to lay at the feet of the King?

We are not meant to control everything in our lives. We are meant to trust in divine providence. We are not God, God is God. Our purpose is to humbly follow Christ, to trust Him, to kneel before Him, and to offer Him our gifts. We are here to make of our lives the fulfillment of the words, “Father… not my will, but thine be done.”

There are really only two choices, to accept God or reject Him, to live in the City of Men or the City of God. It is a choice we make not once but every second of every day

Pax vobiscum

Mary the Still Pool

Mother of God, icon

Have you ever thrown a rock into still pool of water? I am sure most of us have. Imagine yourself walking through a quiet wood. The sunlight is filtering through the trees, the air is cool on your face, and if you hear anything at all it is just the echo the breeze makes in your ears as it blows softly by. All of these things serve to add to the serenity of a simple, quiet walk, in the woods.

You come to a small stream and follow it to a still pond. The surface of the pond is as smooth as glass and perfectly reflects its surroundings, the trees of the forest, the blue of the sky with a few wisps of clouds, and perhaps even a distant mountain.

You pick up a small stone at your feet and toss it into the water. The sound of its “plunk” seems thunderous in the still air. The disturbance causes ripples on the surface of the pond. They start out strong but as they move further away from the source of the disturbance they weaken. Soon the ripples have vanished altogether and the pond is once again as still as it ever was, all clarity and light.

The heart of Mary, the mother of Jesus, must have been like that. She had a busy life, full of taking care of her son and her husband. But she kept a calmness of heart that allowed her to hear the many gentle messages that God sent her through the events of her life. We are told that she “kept all these things and reflected on them in her heart.”

Her heart was like the smooth surface of a deep pond: clear and quiet, and able to reflect perfectly the trees, the sky, and the distant mountains. When a rock was thrown into it, she absorbed it through deep refection. The ripples caused by the disturbance smoothed out and vanished back into the pond. And she was back to clarity and light.

The heart of Mary was well ordered and uncluttered, in order to receive the word of God and respond to His call. This is the type of active silence we should all strive to attain.

It is part of our human nature that children take after their parents. Parents teach their children how to be human, how to navigate in the busy, noisy world we are all part of.

The same is true of our spiritual life. In baptism, we are reborn in water and Spirit. Baptism is our spiritual birth. Through baptism we become brothers and sisters in Christ, children of God.

In this spiritual rebirth the Spirit of God comes to dwell within our souls. Our spiritual life consists in allowing the Spirit to grow within us, transforming us into creatures of clarity and light. The work of the Spirit is to transform each one of us into mature, wise, and fruitful followers of Jesus Christ.

As spiritual brothers and sisters of Christ we are also spiritual children of Mary, His mother. Recall that as He hung on the cross He gave us His mother as our own.

Mary was the mother of Jesus in the flesh, she is our mother in grace. And just as we learn from our mothers how to be human, we learn from Mary how to become divine, we learn how to be mature Christians, strong in our faith. She is the living school from whom we learn every virtue that leads to happiness and holiness.

Mary teaches us the virtue of wisdom. In her heart she reflected on the workings of God in her life. Just as her womb was open to receive the living word of God at the moment of the incarnation, so her heart was constantly open to receive God’s ongoing words and messages as He continued to speak through the events of her life.

The capacity and habit to reflect in our heart on God’s action in our lives, like ripples across a quiet pond, is a sign and a source of wisdom. It is a habit we desperately need to cultivate.

The world is full of distractions, shiny things that demand our attention and unimportant things that loom large in our imagination.

Through prayer and reflection we let the light of Christ shine into the dark corners of our lives and allow His grace to smooth the ripples and waves caused by the busy world we live in.

Pax Vobiscum

The Story

You have heard the story as a child, but I would like to invite you to hear it with new ears. You must understand what happened at the beginning or nothing that happened after will make any sense.

In the beginning God created all things. He made the world in all its beauty and glory as a way to teach mankind about Himself. He created a special place in the world, a Garden, where He could walk with man side by side and speak to him as a Father speaks to His children.

God created the human race with all the grace necessary to live with Him in the Garden forever. He gave them all the earth to cultivate and satisfy their needs, and asked only one thing from them in return. In the middle of the Garden there were two trees, a Tree of Knowledge, and a Tree of Life. The man and the woman could eat the fruit of all the trees except the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, for they were not yet ready to receive it.

One day a spirit entered the Garden, a spirit fallen through the sin of pride and vanity. And through the subtlety of a serpent, the spirit tested the faith of our first parents. From the very beginning the father of lies twisted the words that God had spoken to the man and woman. It offered them a lie. The serpent told them that they would be like God. But they were already like God for they were created in His own image and likeness. Still the words of the serpent persuaded them and in the end they trusted in their own will rather than the will of their Creator. They trusted the words of the serpent who had given them nothing, and turned away from the Father who had given them everything.

This turning away caused the loss of the grace God gave them at their creation. It changed their very nature, their life in the Spirit died away and they became a fallen people, fallen from grace. This loss of grace would be the source of all the pain and suffering that was to come upon them and their descendants. Some say this left a “God – shaped” hole in the heart of man. But it is also fair to say that it left a “man – shaped” hole in the heart of God. He longs to be with us just as much as we long to be with Him.

Mercifully, God put the man and the woman out of the garden before they could eat the fruit from the Tree of Life and live forever in their fallen state. God then made them a promise that one day He would send a savior who would restore to them their life in the Spirit and offer to mankind the opportunity to reclaim their birthright, the grace of God.

And then man waited. For thousands of years he waited, for to God, a thousand years are as a day. And for all those thousands of years, as the faith of men ebbed and flowed like the tide, the prophets reminded the people of God’s promise. They reminded the people that God promised He would send a savior, one anointed with the Spirit of God, who would save them from the darkness and death caused by sin.

Finally the last prophet, a voice crying out in the wilderness, announced His coming, the one who would lift us from our fallen state. The savior came; not as a conquering king with a host of angels to drive out the wickedness in the world. Rather, He came as an infant, pouring Himself into our human nature, in order to save us. From this lowly state He would topple thrones and conquer empires.

Today we celebrate the fulfillment of the promise God made to our first parents so many ages ago. Today, Heaven and Earth meet in Bethlehem. God becomes one of us, to lead us back to Him. Today we celebrate the birth of a child whose very name tells us that “God saves.”

It is popular in these days to believe that all religions are the same, that they are all just different paths to the same end. But Christianity is unique. In all other religions man reaches out to God, seeking to climb his way back to heaven. But only in Christianity, does God climb down and reach back.

Pax Vobiscum
Merry Christmas

The Terror of Demons

Do you need prayers to help you against the temptations and snares of the demons? Ask Saint Joseph for help.

In the latter part of the 19th century, seeds were sown that would bear fruit over the next hundred years. The Church saw in these seeds an attack on the dignity of husbands as workers and fathers. In response, The Church looked to Saint Joseph as a model for Christian men.

In 1909 Pope Pius X approved The Litany of Saint Joseph for public and private use. A litany is a prayer of supplication, it is a prayer that asks for prayers. There are only six litanies approved by the Church, three are directed to Our Lord, Jesus, one to the Blessed Virgin Mary, one to all the saints, and one to Saint Joseph.

The litany of Saint Joseph has twenty five invocations expressing the virtues and dignities of the beloved spouse. One of the most intriguing is “terror of demons.”

We know very little about this righteous man, but we do know some things. We know he was tempted.

Many of us have nativity scenes in our homes at this time of year. We have a vision of a peaceful manger, surrounded by adoring shepherds, common folk, and maybe a few sheep, a donkey and an ox. The entire scene is lit by the divine light of the Christ child. But this vision is very different from the oldest imagery we have of the Nativity of the Lord.

In the earliest pictures Mary does not look lovingly at her son, she looks away toward Joseph who is removed some distance from the scene. Joseph is usually in the lower corner of the icon, depicted as somewhat despondent. Nearby an old man whispers into his ear. The old man is the devil, a demon in disguise, seeking to tempt Joseph into disbelief, whispering to him, “this is not the son of God, your wife has betrayed you.”

One of the things we know with absolute certainty is that Joseph was a righteous man. That means that Joseph walked in the ways of God, he trusted God implicitly in every aspect of his life.

According to ancient Jewish custom, to be betrothed, was to essentially be married. The ceremony was a formality. When Joseph became aware of Mary’s pregnancy, he had several options. He could have brought her before the village court but he was unwilling to expose her to shame. He considered divorcing her quietly to avoid humiliating her in public. His third option, accepting the child as his own and bringing Mary into his house seemed to be out of the question. This was Joseph’s crisis of faith and the demons of temptation were hard at work.

But consider the type of man he must have been. To him was entrusted the Mother of God and the Son of God. Twice the Lord speaks to him in a dream and upon waking he does not hesitate to comply.

Joseph is the model of the pure man, pure of heart and pure of spirit. To him God has entrusted the safety of the pinnacle of all creation. Faced with such holiness how could the demons hope to tempt him to doubt?

The world we live in is very much like the one Joseph of Nazareth lived in. The predominant culture is a pagan one. It is motivated by power and materialism, the pursuit of pleasure, and self indulgence. It is a culture that has lost its connection to the divine and so has lost its way, spiraling downward into fear and despair.

In such a world filled with chaos, Joseph was called to protect the dignity of his wife in a society that could not understand why he would not simply abandon her to the law.

But as a righteous man Joseph would have been aware of the history of his people, a cycle of cleaving to, and falling away from, God. His faithfulness to God’s covenant brought him an interior peace in the midst of a world that was constantly awash in storm.

All fathers know the feeling of holding their child in their arms for the first time. The entire world changes in a tiny heartbeat. In Joseph’s case, the demons never had a chance.

The Church, born of the water and blood that flowed from the side of Jesus, and nourished by the prayers and love of Our Lady, seeks comfort and protection from the snares of the devil, in the arms of Saint Joseph, the Terror of Demons.

Pax vobiscum