Oratory Reflection 573: Matters for Prayer: Reflection on Mark 7:24-30
“Jesus went to the district of Tyre. He entered a house and wanted no one to know about it, but he could not escape notice. Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him. She came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.’ She replied and said to him, ‘Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.’ When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.”
Saint Scholastica was the twin sister of Saint Benedict. She was consecrated to God at a very early age but probably continued to live in her parents’ home. It is said that she was as devoted to Jesus as she was to her brother. So when Benedict established his monastery at Monte Cassino, Scholastica founded a convent in nearby Plombariola, about five miles south of Monte Cassino. The convent is said to have been under the direction of Saint Benedict, and so she is regarded as the first Benedictine nun.
The siblings were quite close. According to the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great, Benedict used to visit Scholastica once a year, and they would talk about spiritual matters. On one occasion they had passed the time as usual in prayer and pious conversation until the evening. Scholastica begged her brother to remain until the next day. Out of duty to his monastery, Benedict refused to spend the night. She had recourse to prayer and a furious thunderstorm burst so that Benedict could not safely return home. They spent the night in spiritual conferences.
Just after his return to Monte Cassino, Benedict saw a vision of Scholastica’s soul departing from her body, ascending to heaven in the form of a dove. She died three days after their last meeting. He placed her body in the tomb he had prepared for himself and arranged to be buried next to her after his death. Saint Gregory comments, “so death did not separate the bodies of these two, whose minds had always been united in the Lord.”
There’s a lesson we can learn from the examples of the Greek woman in the Gospel, and Saint Scholastica. Both brought their petitions to the Lord: one for the healing of her daughter, and one simply for the company of her beloved brother. And God responded to both with mercy.
Some people have the idea that we should only ask for God’s help in really important matters. But in the case of Saint Scholastica’s simple request, even then, the Lord responded in kind. On the other hand, we sometimes think our problems too great to bring before God, that we must handle our problems ourselves. But in the Gospel, we see that the opposite is true. A daughter in agony is the driving force behind the mother’s humility, and it is a noble thing for her to come to Jesus in her time of great need.
We forget that God’s love is so great that he wishes to give us every good thing, great and small. He is always ready to hear our prayers, more ready to hear than we are to pray. And that includes all our prayers: praise and thanksgiving, petition, repentance, and intercession. Nothing is too great or too trivial to share with God our Father.
A prayerful person learns that everything we are and have comes from God’s infinite goodness; when we finally learn that lesson, we turn to him with all our hopes, dreams, and needs. Saint Scholastica and the woman in the Gospel are both among those who learned the lesson of their own need for God.
-Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO
Edited by Erica Faunce
Oh, most gentle and gracious Father, I know I have not always taken recourse to thee when I should. Out of forgetfulness, pride, or fear of thy displeasure, I have not asked of thee the favors which thou so longs to bestow upon me. Put in me a trusting and unassuming heart, that I may approach thy Heavenly throne as a little child approaches his loving father. May I bring all of my petitions, for myself and for others, to the foot of thy cross, and allow you to shower down through the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ the innumerable blessings which thou so desires to grant unto me. Amen.
Quote from a Saint:
“We must speak to God as a friend speaks to his friend, servant to his master; now asking some favor, now acknowledging our faults, and communicating to Him all that concerns us, our thoughts, our fears, our projects, our desires, and in all things seeking His counsel.”
-St. Ignatius of Loyola
In the Gospel, why does Jesus at first seem to reply to the Greek woman’s petition with denial? What good comes from it?
How does the relationship between St. Scholastica and St. Benedict reflect the relationship that God intends between men and women of God?
What is the Catholic understanding of humility? How does it differ from the world’s understanding of humility?
What areas of your life do you struggle to bring before God in prayer?
What is it that makes us forget God’s abundant love? How can we instead keep his mercy always before our eyes?
Think of a time you have asked something of God. How did he respond?
God reveals himself to be a loving Father. How can we return his love as we endeavor to be his beloved children?
Oratory Reflection 572: Acceptance and Joy: Reflection on Hebrews 10:5-10
“When Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight. Then I said, “As is written of me in the scroll, behold, I come to do your will, O God.”’ First he says, ‘Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings, you neither desired nor delighted in.’ These are offered according to the law. Then he says, ‘Behold, I come to do your will.’ He takes away the first to establish the second. By this ‘will,’ we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” -Hebrews 10:5-10
The Letter to the Hebrews puts these words into the mouth of Jesus: “Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings, you neither desired nor delighted in.” And these words are contrasted with: “Behold, I come to do your will, O God.”
These two phrases can represent the two different types of offerings we make to God each day. On the one hand, there are the things we choose ourselves. For instance, we can choose to say the rosary, to pass up dessert at dinner, to send a card to a shut-in. Then there are the things God chooses for us: illness, bodily aches and pains, a disruption of our plans, a person who rubs us the wrong way. Quite often, we have a natural inclination for the things we choose to offer to God, whereas we usually try to resist the things he chooses for us. He sees the areas in us where there is still room for growth.
The first group of offerings are not bad, and are certainly to be encouraged. In the Old Testament, sacrifices, holocausts, and sin offerings were a good thing. Done with the proper disposition, they were true acts of piety. However, God says he neither desires them nor delights in them, because there is something even greater. Jesus came to be the supreme example of, “I come to do your will, O God.”
Luisa Piccarreta, a spiritual writer and Servant of God, emphasized living in the Divine Will, embracing life’s circumstances as they unfold each day and seeing God’s hand in them. Her spirituality can lead us to a new perspective: This turn of events is certainly not something I would have chosen on my own, but I’m going to view it as the will of God and go with his plan rather than mine. I will offer it to him as a most pleasing prayer, and turn something negative into something positive. I can turn a set-back into a leap forward.
To varying degrees based on our state in life, we have a lot of regulations in our everyday lives: responsibilities, rules, and customs. There is always the inclination to take shortcuts on the parts of that package that we find inconvenient or chafing. But God’s will can be found in the details. It would be silly to take on extra practices that we choose for ourselves and then neglect things that are required. When Jesus took up his cross and walked to Calvary, he didn’t try to exchange it for a cross of a lighter material, or negotiate how far he’d be carrying it. He accepted it with all its hideousness, with all its revulsion. At the time, he felt like he was being abandoned by his Father. But he kept reminding himself, “I come to do your will, O God.”
As for these two kinds of offerings, it’s not a matter of either/or, but both/and. The things we choose to offer to God on our own are pleasing to him and condition us to take on the more difficult offerings he chooses for us. There is a place for both in our lives. But the second is better than the first. The first can contribute to our pride and our spiritual complacency. We can hear ourselves in the words of the Pharisee when he was comparing himself with the tax collector: “I fast twice a week. I pay tithes on all I possess.” But the difficult circumstances that God allows us to face foster humility rather than pride.
Those things chosen for us could be the ordinary, mundane things of everyday life: dealing with a flat tire, preparing a meal, cleaning the floor. We can do them in a brain-dead state of malcontent, or we can whisper to ourselves, “Behold, I come to do your will, O God.” In this way, we give eternal value to everything. All the parts of our day have meaning and can be a source of joy and satisfaction.
For most of us, the crosses we encounter are fairly light. But for some chosen souls, the cross they have to bear is crushing. At times, it feels like God is stretching them way beyond all conceivable limits. As St. Thérèse of Lisieux said toward the end of her life, “I never would have believed it was possible to suffer so much.” But God uses suffering to further his plan of saving souls. St. Thérèse led a seemingly insignificant life, and yet after her death, she has touched so many lives.
A lesson we can take away is this: embrace the things we do not choose as God’s will, and offer them to him as a prayer and a demonstration of our love.
-Fr. Stephen Muller, OCSO, Genesee Abbey
Edited by Erica Faunce
Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures - I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul: I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father. Amen.
-St. Charles de Foucauld
“This is the most holy thing, the greatest and the noblest, so full of Majesty and purity: wanting what God wants. Nobody else can reach such a sublime height, such an infinite value: wanting what God wants. God is holy, God is pure, God is order and goodness; by wanting what God wants, the creature wants what is holy, pure and good. In the fullness of His order, she feels reborn in God, and does what He does. God does everything, embraces all, moves in everybody, and she concurs in all God does; there is no higher good she could do.”
What keeps us from accepting the difficulties of life? Why are human beings apt to shrink from difficulty?
If we are made for the perfection of Heaven, why does God allow us to experience imperfection on earth?
When hard things happen in our lives, how can we turn our attitude from one of grumbling into one of thanksgiving?
What kind of voluntary offerings can we make on a daily basis that help to prepare us to offer up the things that are out of our control?
What kinds of crosses do you personally tend to shrink away from?
How can we help each other to accept the crosses that the Lord gives us?
What would the world look like if each of us accepted our suffering with joy?
Oratory Reflection 571: Baptismal Promise: Reflection on Isaiah 42:1-7
“Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased. Upon him I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry out, nor shout, nor make his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench. He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow dim or be bruised until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching. Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and its produce, who gives breath to its people and spirit to those who walk on it: I, the Lord, have called you for justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.” -Isaiah 42:1-7
In the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus would have often heard this passage from Isaiah. Advancing in wisdom, age, and grace, He heard the scriptures more personally, because they resonated in Him as in no one else. He heard an intimacy, a closeness like no one else: “I, the Lord, called you. I grasped you by the hand. I formed you as a covenant of the people, a light to the nations to heal, to free, to save.” These words of power and anointing lived in His heart and filled His soul more intensely than we can imagine, deeply rooted within Him.
And one day, moved by the Spirit of His Father, He approached John to be baptized. Jesus, the Incarnate Word, having no need of repentance, in His Sacred Humanity “stood in line with sinful humanity” (Pope Benedict XVI). He willingly identiﬁed with the people, and at the same time was the living Good News to them.
The aftermath of Christ’s baptism was astonishing and fearsome to those who witnessed it. Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit in bodily form like a dove, they heard a voice from heaven: “You are my beloved Son, with You I am well pleased.” Jesus, in His Sacred Humanity is embraced, affirmed, and loved. He then carried this with Him not just as a beautiful memory, but as a present reality. It was for Him always here and now because God is the “I AM”–the One always present, always here and now.
As we contemplate the Baptism of the Lord, what message can we take for our own lives? Even before Jesus had proclaimed any word, before He had performed any miracle, God the Father and the Holy Spirit revealed their love for Him without any word or public action on Jesus' part. The voice of the Father proclaims for all to hear, “You are my beloved Son, with You I am well pleased” –pleased simply because You are who You are: My Beloved!
In our own Baptism, there is the ritual of water, oil, white robe, candle, prayer: what one sees and hears. And there is the divine action one does not see, yet receives: the gift of the Holy Spirit, the acceptance of us as the Father’s beloved, in whom He is well pleased simply because we are His beloved.
All our days, we bear the Spirit; we are the Father’s beloved. His love, His pleasure, His favor is upon us because we are His sons and daughters. Once we are baptized, it is our reality. We can refuse His love, ignore it, and sin against it, but it remains. In the letter to the Romans, St. Paul put it this way: “For I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future…neither height nor depth nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8) Such is our Baptism into Christ: a sacrament we receive in time, yet it remains for all time.
In being baptized, Jesus, as God and Man, identiﬁed Himself with us totally and will never deny us. He is the One who ate with sinners, prostitutes, outcasts, who came to the defense of a woman taken in adultery, who forgave a cruciﬁed thief. He hated the sin and loved the sinner better than anyone else on earth. His love received them and blessed them as He does us.
As we welcome brothers and sisters into the Church this Easter season, and renew our own Baptismal vows, let us praise and thank Our Lord for His solidarity, His humility, and His constant love. Let us pray for the conviction, the grace, and the courage to live with Him all our days.
-Fr. John Denburger, OCSO, Genesee Abbey
V. Do you reject Satan?
R. I do.
V. And all his works?
R. I do.
V. And all his empty promises?
R. I do.
V. Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?
R. I do.
V. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
R. I do.
V. Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
R. I do.
V. God, the all-powerful Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and forgiven all our sins. May he also keep us faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ for ever and ever.
“The faith required of Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop.”
What does Jesus demonstrate to us by receiving baptism before He began His ministry?
In what ways can we show our gratitude for Christ’s humility in His Baptism?
Why do we renew our Baptismal Vows at Easter?
What is it like to be a “child of God”? How is it different from life outside the Church?
How does baptism lead us to “die to sin” and “rise with Christ”?
Why does God give us the Church as our Mother in baptism if He is already the perfect Father?
How can we support each other in pursuing the growth of our faith?