Weeks 1-10

 

Week 1: Witnesses to the Real Faith: A Reflection on 1 John 5: 6-9

 

This is the one who came through water and Blood, Jesus Christ,
not by water alone, but by water and Blood.
The Spirit is the one who testifies,
and the Spirit is truth.
So there are three who testify,
the Spirit, the water, and the Blood,
and the three are of one accord.
If we accept human testimony,
the testimony of God is surely greater.

1 John 5: 6-9

 

Whoever has doubts that Christianity is the one true faith really needs to read St. John. Whoever thinks that all religions are created equal needs to read St. John. Saint John has no bones about bluntly pointing out the truth. “Whoever does not believe God has made God a liar by refusing to believe in the testimony he has given us on his Sons own behalf.” That’s pretty blunt.

 

Why should we believe that Jesus is the Christ? (Good question) And that’s a question that St. John takes great pains to answer.

 

Saint Paul, in first Corinthians, had been challenged with that same question. Was resurrection real? Paul calls on witnesses. I saw. Twelve saw. Hundreds saw.

 

John calls on witnesses too, but different kinds of witnesses; supernatural witnesses. John calls on three witnesses to testify that Jesus is the Christ—spirit, water & blood.

 

First, the Spirit. The Spirit testifies that Jesus is the Christ because Jesus couldn’t have done the works he did without the Spirit. For example, Jesus cured a man with leprosy. He couldn’t have done that without the Spirit. The Spirit is what gives Jesus the power to do the things he did. How often in scripture do we read passages like, “Jesus, led by the Spirit…, or “Jesus, speaking in the Spirit…” Jesus performed His miracles through the power of the Spirit, so the Spirit testifies that Jesus is the Christ.

 

The second witness John mentions is the water. What water? Baptism. Sacramental Grace testifies that Jesus is the Christ. How? Because through Sacramental Grace is the power to change. Through Sacramental Grace is the power to exceed human limitations. Here’s where reading the lives of the saints becomes a priceless tool. In the saints we see people whose lives were changed by Sacramental Grace. In the saints we see people who did things beyond human capabilities. You don’t have to go too far. Just look at the guys Jesus starts off with. Look at how different these guys are in the Acts of the Apostles from the Gospels. Big difference. Have you known anyone who has had a conversion? Have you known someone who has had a religious encounter? Have you seen what a life changing experience for a person that can be? That testifies that Jesus is the Christ, because changes like that transcend human experience. The power of the sacraments to change us testifies that God is working through them.

 

Finally John points out the third witness to Jesus’ authenticity, the blood. Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary testifies that he is the Christ. Calvary testifies to Jesus’ authenticity because in that act, Jesus took all of our sin on himself and offered himself as the perfect holocaust to the Father. You will not see this in any other religion. You will not see another religion where God makes himself a sacrifice for us. You will not see another religion where God dies for us. You will not see another religion where God makes atonement for us. That is unique to Christianity. That makes Jesus the Christ because it fulfills the promise made in Genesis that God would send a savior to redeem us and repair what was damaged by Adam and Eve.

 

The Spirit, the water, and the blood; power, Grace, and sacrifice. All of these things point to the singular truth that Jesus was more than just a sage, a teacher, a social reformer, a wonder worker. Jesus was and is the Christ.

 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

“Now what the soul is tot the body of man, the Holy Spirit is in the body of Christ, which is the Church. The Holy Spirit does in the whole Church what the soul does in all the members of a single body.” – Saint Augustine of Hippo

 

Prayer:

 

“O Holy Spirit, who gives grace where you will, come into me and ravish me to Yourself. The nature that You made, change with honeysweet gifts, that my soul, filled with delightful joy, may despise and cast away all the things of this world, that it may receive spiritual gifts, given by You, and going with joyful songs into infinite light may be all melted in holy love.” – Richard Rolle

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

1. What three things does St. John the Evangelist say testify to Jesus? How do each of them testify to Christ?

2. Do you see any of these three things testifying to anything in your own life?

3. Why might God have chosen these three things and not others to testify to Jesus?

4. What else might you say testifies to Who Jesus is?

5. What makes the Christian faith uniquely different from any other faith? What does this unique quality say about God?

6. Why does God love us as much as He does?

7. What can we do to respond to God’s love for us?

 

 

-- Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Week 2: God Communicates His Life to Us: A Reflection on 1 John 2: 13-14

 

“I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young people,
because you have conquered the evil one.
I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young people,
because you are strong
and the word of God abides in you,
and you have overcome the evil one. (1 John 2: 13-14)

 

“I address you children, for you have known the Father. I address you fathers, for you have known him who is from the beginning.”

 

Life is communicated through Fatherhood. How is human life communicated? The male sperm fertilizes the female egg. Man delivers the seed, woman receives the seed, nurtures the seed—so growth happens.

 

We call God Father and not Mother because in Genesis God communicates his life to creation. God speaks creation into existence. God sends forth his word and fertilizes the womb of the earth. Father delivers the seed. Mother receives the seed.

 

And God not only communicates physical life but also spiritual life. Why does God take seven days to bring life and creation into existence? Because covenants were made in seven days.

 

In the Hebrew mind, all body fluids were part of the blood. How is spiritual life communicated? Through the blood. In the Old Covenant it was the blood of animals. In the Exodus, how did God protect his people from the angel of death that he was sending through the land of Egypt? By the blood of a lamb. How is the covenant communicated now? Through the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God.

 

Through the Eucharist the Father continues to communicate his life to us. This is why we have a male priesthood and not priestesses. Life comes from the blood, and the blood is communicated through Fatherhood. This is more than symbolic, because the Eucharist is more than symbolic. If the Eucharist is actually the body and blood of Christ, that life must be communicated by an actual Fatherhood.

 

Grace builds on nature. Grace doesn’t contradict nature. Does this diminish or degrade the feminine? Does this mean there is no role for women? Of course not. What good is a seed that has no nesting place? What good is a seed that is not allowed to grow and be alive?

 

The Body and Blood, the life of the Father, is communicated on the altar and received by Holy Mother Church, who in turn nurtures that seed by meditating on the word of God, and allowing that seed to grow and transform by living example, until that life is communicated by attracting more children into the family. God communicates his life to us so we can be called his children. So we’re more than just servants, the hired help, like the Moslems believe. We are children because, through the Eucharist, God has communicated his life of Grace to us.

 

“I address you children, for you have known the Father,” the Evangelist John wrote. Why do children know their parents? Because children are part of their parents. Now through the Eucharist we become part of God, and God becomes part of us. Now, we can know God.

 

Our Father is always generous with us, our Father is always communicating his life to us, so that we, Mother Church, can beget holy children. Pray with me today that, through the life outpoured to us in the sacraments, holiness may become a reality in all of us, and in the world.

 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

“We ought then, beloved brothers, to remember and to know, that when we call God Father, we ought to act as God’s children. Then, He can take as much pleasure in considering us His sons as we do in thinking of Him as our Father.” – Saint Cyprian of Carthage

 

 

Prayer:

 

“Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.”

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. Why do we call God Father?

2. How do you relate to God as Father?

3. What are our responsibilities as children of God?

4. What does God promise us as His children?

5. How have you seen God acting as Father in your life?

6. God the Father is united with Holy Mother Church. Where does this union put us? How can we be more obedient and loving children of this heavenly union of God and His Church?

 

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

Week 3: How to Be Empowered by the Holy Spirit: A Reflection on Luke 4:14

 

“Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee.” (Luke 4:14) (Oratorians may want to read Luke 3: 21-22 and Luke 4: 1-13 in preparation for this teaching.)

 

Did you notice that? Jesus didn’t just return to Galilee, he returned in “the power of the Spirit,” to Galilee. Well, what does THAT mean? Well, what makes this day so special, that Jesus should be empowered by the Spirit today, as opposed to yesterday?

 

If we were to look back in the Gospel narrative, two things have happened. First, Jesus was baptized in the Jordon River by John the Baptist. Second, Jesus has just returned from the desert after staying there forty days to be tempted by the devil.

 

OK, so what elements do we have then, that led Jesus to be empowered by the Spirit? First, sacramental Grace, namely here, baptism. Second, prayer and fasting. What was Jesus doing in the desert for forty days before the devil came to tempt him? He prayed and he fasted. And finally, he faced temptation and he overcame it. These three things led Jesus to be empowered by the Spirit and these are the same three things that will help us be empowered by the Spirit.

 

But being empowered by the Spirit means not only what we do, but also includes what we don’t do. What does Saint John the Evangelist tell us? “We are to love, because God loved us first. Anyone who says ‘I love God’ while all the time hating his brother is a liar, since a man who does not love the brother he can see, cannot love the God whom he cannot see.”

 

I think this is one we all need to remember, because everyone, EVERYONE, has someone in the world we really, really dislike. And dislike can so easily metastasize into hatred.

 

Hatred. When we want to see someone take a fall. When we want to see someone get theirs for what they did to us. We throw that word ‘hate’ around so casually in our society, perhaps as casually as we throw around the word ‘love.’

 

“I hate that person.” “Oh, I hate them.” “I hate having to visit that side of the family.”

 

This is so very poisonous to our faith journey. This is so contrary to what Jesus has taught us in scripture. And this can have a very direct impact on our outlook in life and our relationship with the Lord.

 

When I was young man, I was very angry. When I was in college, I had a chip on my shoulder. Now I didn’t get into fist fights with other guys, but my anger was there and it took different forms. I was a rebel without a cause. I had a persecution complex. I epitomized the angry young poet. I rebelled against authority. I rebelled against the establishment. I had a tendency to put others down, because, if I could diminish them, I could elevate myself. And it wasn’t until after my call back to the faith after a pilgrimage to Medjugorje in 1988, that I finally started to let go of all the anger. And then my life really started to change in positive ways.

 

Anger, and hatred, and resentment will block what the Holy Spirit is trying to do in our lives. Anger, hatred, and resentment, probably more than anything else, will keep us from being empowered by the Spirit.

 

Ever notice how no one can agree to disagree anymore? Democrats HATE Republicans. Republican’s HATE Democrats. Whether it’s politics, religion, social causes, whatever—whoever isn’t on my side is EVIL! The prevalence of this attitude is why so few people have been empowered by the Spirit.

 

Bishop Sheen used to say that we carry two crosses in life--the one God made for us and the one we make for ourselves. People, drop that extra cross. Take my word for it, the one God gave you is heavy enough. Love, forgive, surrender control, and nothing will be able to rob you of your peace.

 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

The Holy Spirit longs to find the gates of our heart, so that He may enter in and dwell there, and sanctify it; and He goes round about to all the gates to see where He may enter. -- St. Ephraem the Syrian

 

Prayer:

 

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in them the fire of Your Love. Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

1. What does "empowered by the Holy Spirit" mean? Do you know anyone who you feel is empowered by the Holy Spirit? Who? Do you ever feel empowered by the Holy Spirit? If so, when? If not, why do you think you are not empowered by the Holy Spirit?

2. Do you believe that prayer and fasting are necessary preparations for being empowered by the Holy Spirit?

3. What is grace? How does grace come to us? How does grace assist in being empowered by the Holy Spirit?

4. What can impede being empowered by the Holy Spirit? If we have these impediments, how might we eliminate them?

5. Why should we want the Holy Spirit to empower us?

6. If everyone were empowered by the Holy Spirit, what might the world be like?

 

 --Madeline Pecora Nugent

Week 4: Avoiding the Demonic: A Reflection on Hebrews 3: 12-13

 

“Take care my brothers, lest any of you have an evil and unfaithful spirit and fall away from the living God. Encourage one another daily while it is still ‘today’ so that no one grows hardened by the deceit of sin.” (Hebrews 3: 12-13)

A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand,
touched the leper, and said to him,
“I do will it. Be made clean.”
The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. (Mark 1: 40-42)

 

Good words from our passage from the letter to the Hebrews today. But what does the author mean when he says, “lest any of you have an evil and unfaithful spirit”? Is he talking about demonic possession?

 

“Well, thank goodness I don’t have to worry about that,” you think. Don’t be so sure. The author is not talking about demonic possession explicitly, but he IS talking about demonic activity generally.

 

There are three levels of demonic activity--demonic obsession, demonic oppression, and demonic possession.

 

Demonic possession we’re most familiar with, thanks to the publicity it gets from Hollywood, but in reality, demonic possession is extremely rare, and only those who are heavily into occult activity are affected by it. But demonic obsession and demonic oppression, while not nearly as severe, are far more common.

 

Demonic obsession is a preoccupation with darkness, the macabre, evil, etc. I often warn people about seeing too many movies that deal with the demonic, like “The Last Exorcism,” “The Devil,” “Final Destination,” and so on. Even television shows that you see on the SiFi channel, or Discover Channel that are about haunted houses, Ghost hunters, vampires, and the like can feed into people’s obsession with the demonic.

 

Is there anything explicitly sinful about watching such things? No, not explicitly. But you want to take caution about watching things that glorify or are preoccupied with the demonic for a couple of reasons. First, that can lead to an unholy curiosity about the occult, in which we can later be tempted to dabble in it, resulting in a demonic possession. But also secondly, because the more we give our thoughts to the demonic, the more dominion we’re giving to the demonic in our minds which can start to affect other areas of our lives.

 

We know this to be true because every generation of parents is concerned with the music their teenagers are listening to. Why are they concerned? Because the more suggestive things young people listen to in popular music, the more “normal” that suggestive material becomes, and the more apt they will be to succumb to those suggestions and start acting out. In psychology it’s called “subliminal reinforcement.” The same logic follows when people spend too much time with demonic things.

 

Demonic obsession can also lead to demonic oppression. That’s what happens when we’re in bondage to a sin. What’s bondage? Basically it means being addicted to a sin. So someone who’s addicted to alcohol or drug abuse, or pornography, or materialism, or gossip, or any sin, is experiencing a demonic oppression. Now EVERYBODY usually has a weakness toward at least ONE sin. Don’t panic. The good news about demonic obsession and demonic oppression is that we can rid of them with the grace of the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation, and with prayer.

 

And this is what the author of the letter of the Hebrews is warning us about. He’s telling us to take care of these things, because if we leave them untreated we’ll become hardened. That’s what sin does. It hardens us to God’s Grace. So how do we pray against these things?

 

 

 

 

I think our leper today gives us a great method. His leprosy was visible. For people who experience demonic obsession or oppression, the leprosy is invisible.

 

First, the leper approaches Jesus in humility. He falls down on his knees. That’s a gesture of humility. Sin will evoke one of two reactions in us; pride, where we rationalize the sin away; or humility, where our sin makes us realize how desperately we need God’s Grace.

 

Second, in one statement, he presents Jesus with the situation and submits to his will. “If you will it, you can make me clean.” I’ve always marveled at that. He doesn’t actually ASK Jesus to do anything. He’s more stating a fact than making a request. And then he trusts his fate to the mercy of God. In other words, he prays with faith. And I invite all of us to do the same.

 

First, we should all make regular confession to rid ourselves of the sins we’ve become addicted to, our repeat sins, our sins of habit.

 

Secondly we should be receiving the Eucharist to strengthen us against sin.

 

Finally, we should do a little examination of conscience every day, and especially bring to mind our habitual sins, and pray to the Lord, “If you will it, you can make me clean.”

 

And keep doing that, because we don’t want anything to harden us against the Grace of God.

 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

“The Devil’s snare doesn’t catch you unless you are already nibbling on the Devil’s bait.” – Saint Ambrose of Milan

 

Prayer:

 

Lord, we ask You to send Saint Michael and all the host of heaven to battle against the forces of evil and death in our nation. We ask specifically that the moral degradation of our country be reversed and that we will enter a time of moral renewal. We ask that all human beings be respected and their lives protected by law, and that our nation's inhabitants will turn to you in purity, trust, selflessness, love, and faith. With this intention in mind, we offer this prayer:

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. may God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the Divine Power of God, cast into hell satan and all the evil spirits who roam through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.*

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 1. What is demonic possession? Did you ever know anyone who seemed to be or actually was possessed by satan? How did the possession manifest itself? What happened to that person? Do you pray for that person if he or she still seems under demonic possession?

2. What is demonic obsession? How can you avoid this?

3. What is demonic oppression? Do you agree that demonic obsession can lead to demonic oppression? Why or why not?

4. Do you see any evidence of demonic oppression in your own life or in the lives of others? Without naming names, how does this manifest itself? What can you do to help, if anything?

5. What place do prayer, fasting, and the sacraments play in dealing with demonic oppression, possession, and obsession?

6. Do you pray the Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel daily? Why or why not?

 

 

*A Prayer for the Moral Renewal of Our Country. Available on a prayer card from the Confraternity of Penitents, 520 Oliphant Lane, Middletown RI 02842-4600 USA. The prayer has permission to be distributed from the Bishop of the Diocese of Providence RI. The cards are free in any quantity for a donation of your choice.

 

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Week 5: Jesus Always Lives to Make Intercession for Us: A Reflection on Hebrews 7:25

 

“Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he forever lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)

 

That line from the letter to the Hebrews is a good one to always keep in the forefront of our minds. “Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he forever lives to make intercession for them.”

 

Because Jesus did not only have a human nature, but a divine one, his help is eternal. There is no end to what Jesus can do for us.

 

The author of the letter to the Hebrews goes on to explain how Jesus as a high priest is different from any other high priest that existed through the law of Moses.

 

The Mosaic high priest had to offer two sacrifices on Yom Kipper, the Jewish day of atonement, one for his own sins, and one for the sins of the people. But he always had to offer the sacrifice for himself first, because the high priest was also a sinner. The high priest was blemished and imperfect. Because of this the sacrifice was not perfect. You cannot get perfection from imperfection. Therefore, the atonement isn’t perfect.

 

Now if you watch the history channel or the discovery channel or PBS, whenever they do something on Christianity, you usually get at least one historian, or sociologist who says something like “Christianity was the next logical step in the evolution of mythology. . . . So Christians kept many pagan ideas such as animal sacrifices but symbolized those sacrifices in bread and wine, oil and water.”

 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Christianity wasn’t the next logical progression in pagan religion. Christianity was a radical departure from paganism. One clear example we see this is in the mentality of faith between the Christians and the pagans.

 

I was reminded of this when I saw the recent remake of the movie “Clash of the Titans.” At one point in the movie, Zeus is saying of human beings, “I created them. They are my children and I love them.” This mentality is NO WHERE in pagan mythology. That’s a Christian concept. In the pagan religions you sacrificed animals because the gods needed to eat. So the gods NEEDED us. And you sacrificed animals to placate them, to keep the gods on Olympus. You didn’t want the gods coming down to earth, because whenever the gods intermingled with people it usually ended badly for the people involved.

 

In Christianity, we don’t sacrifice animals. Rather we partake in the one sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God, precisely to bring God down to earth, so we can be united with him here and be prepared to be united with him perfectly in heaven.

 

Because Jesus is himself God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, he is also the perfect Lamb of God, the sacrifice without blemish that satisfies the Father’s perfect justice. And being the perfect sacrifice makes him the perfect high priest who offers that sacrifice of himself. Therefore the atonement is perfect.

 

Now you may think, “Well Father, you offer the Mass everyday, which is supposed to be the perfect sacrifice, and you’re not perfect.” You’re right. I’m not. But I’m not the High Priest. Only Jesus is the High Priest. The only reason I have a priesthood is because I’ve been allowed to share in Jesus’ High Priesthood. It is all part of the mystery of God’s holiness.

 

Because God is eternal holiness, God is eternal charity. And because God is eternal charity, God is always trying to bring us to holiness, because to bring us to holiness, is to bring us to himself.

 

“Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he forever lives to make intercession for them.” Since we are not perfect, since we are not unblemished, we could not approach God on our own. So God in his perfect charity comes to us, to atone for all sins for all time, and to establish the priesthood, to give us the sacraments we need so we might become holy.

 

Sin cannot exist where perfect holiness is present, because sin by its definition--sin by its nature--is imperfection. What happens whenever Jesus comes into the presence of someone who’s possessed by a demon? The demon reacts violently. All the accounts in the gospels record demons shrieking, or cursing, or throwing the person they’ve possessed into convulsions. Sin cannot be in the presence of perfect holiness.

 

And that’s why Jesus gave us the sacraments. The sacraments are the continued presence of Jesus among us. In the sacraments we have perfect holiness, because the perfect High Priest instituted them, and the perfect Lamb of God exists within them. So in the sacraments perfect holiness becomes part of us—perfect holiness dwells within us, to drive sin and temptation away from us, so we may also become perfectly holy. Mind boggling, isn't it?

 

Let’s pray today for the priesthood, that all ordained ministers of God may be worthy of our calling. And let’s also pray today that we use the sacraments to become the holy people all of us are all called to be.

 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

Spoken by Saint Macra, virgin martyr of Rheims in 287, when placed on the rack to be tortured for her faith: Know, tyrant, that you cannot pluck my faith from my heart! Jesus Christ is my all-in-all, He is my treasure, my life, my bliss, my capitol, my temple, my altar, and nothing can separate me from Him!

 

 

Prayer:

 

You are Christ, my Holy Father, my Tender God, my Great King, my Good Shepherd, my Only Master, my Best Helper, my Most Beautiful and my Beloved, my Living Bread, my Priest Forever, my Leader to my Country, my True Light, my Holy Sweetness, my Straight Way, my Excellent Wisdom, my Pure Simplicity, my Peaceful Harmony, my Entire Protection, my Good Portion, my Everlasting Salvation.



Christ Jesus, Sweet Lord, why have I ever loved, why in my whole life have I ever desired anything except You, Jesus my God? Where was I when I was not in spirit with You? Now, from this time forth, do you, all my desires, grow hot, and flow out upon the Lord Jesus: run . . . you have been tardy until now; hasten where you are going; seek Whom you are seeking. O, Jesus may he who loves You not be an anathema; may he who loves You not be filled with bitterness.



O, Sweet Jesus, may every good feeling that is fitted for Your praise, love You, delight in You, adore You! God of my heart, and my Portion, Christ Jesus, may my heart faint away in spirit, and may You be my Life within me! May the live coal of Your Love grow hot within my spirit and break forth into a perfect fire; may it burn incessantly on the altar of my heart; may it glow in my innermost being; may it blaze in hidden recesses of my soul; and in the days of my consummation may I be found consummated with You! Amen. --St. Augustine of Hippo

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

1. What were the duties of the Jewish high priest?

2. Why is Jesus THE High Priest of all humanity?

3. Why was the atonement of the Old Testament imperfect? Why is the atonement of Jesus perfect?

4. Does Jesus have any limitations on whom He can save?

5. What should be our views on imperfect priests?

6. How does Father Sisco define the sacraments? Viewed this way, how can the sacraments keep us from sin? We know that we receive the sacraments and still sin. How can we explain this in light of Father Sisco's definition of the sacraments?

7. In what does the world place its hope? Explain how this quote from Hebrews 7:25 can offer real hope to the world.

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Week 6: Christ Opened a Way for Us through the Veil, His Flesh: A Reflection on Hebrews 10: 19-22

 

Brothers and sisters:
Since through the Blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and since we have “a great priest over the house of God,” let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. (Hebrews 10: 19-22)

 

“Brothers, since the blood of Jesus assures our entrance into the sanctuary by the new and living path he has opened up for us through the veil (the veil meaning his flesh)…”

The Letter to the Hebrews is such a great letter, because it has so many juicy theological tidbits that we can just lose ourselves in. If you ever want to really meditate upon the mystery of the Mass or the mystery of the priesthood, I highly encourage you to meditate upon this letter in your spiritual reading.

 

 “The veil meaning his flesh.” What does that mean?

 

 

 

 

In the temple of Jerusalem, the presence of God was found in the Ark of the Covenant. And the Ark contained three things.

 

1. The stone fragments of the original tablets of the Ten Commandments that Moses received from God. The Word of God.

2. Some manna from the desert that the Lord fed his people with while they

wandered for forty years. The bread of God.

3. And Aaron’s staff, which budded and flowered in the wilderness. The priesthood.

 

So the Ark contained three symbols of the Church to be established later in Jesus. What the Ark symbolized becomes reality with Jesus’ death and resurrection.

 

And so in the Ark was the presence of God. The Ark was kept in a cubical room called the Holy of Holies. And the Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the temple by a veil, forty feet long, by twenty feet wide. Mark records in his Gospel that the moment Jesus died on the cross the veil in the temple was split in two from top to bottom.

 

What is the significance of the veil? Two things.

 

First. The veil separates the human from the divine, so when Jesus dies on the cross the veil is split in two, because what separated us from God has been opened.

 

Also, the veil is ripped from top to bottom. What’s the significance of that? If the veil is forty feet long by twenty feet wide, if a human being were to rip it, it would be from bottom to top. The fact that it’s torn from top to bottom indicates that this is a divine action.

 

Secondly, life is a sacred gift that comes from God, so what gives life is veiled. If you notice when we open the tabernacle, there is a split veil, which the Eucharist must pass through to get to us. Some priests, like us at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, use a chalice veil. It is recommended but not required. We veil the instruments by which the Divine presence, along with the life he brings, comes to us. We veil the altar for the same reason. When we do Benediction, in which the congregation is blessed by the Sacred Host in the monstrance, the priest holds the monstrance with a veil. And this is also the same symbolic significance, why a bride’s face was traditionally veiled during a wedding ceremony. A woman is a tabernacle of life. Only God can create life, but through marriage God permits a man and a woman to share in that sacred creation. So when a woman is ready to be a mother, to remind her future husband and the congregation that her body is a sacred vessel of God by which He will bring new life to the world, she is veiled. We only veil sacred things.

 

Well, why keep the Blessed Sacrament reserved in tabernacles anyway? Once we consume the Eucharist, God is present in the congregation, right? So what’s the point of the tabernacle and adoration? There is a strong movement in the Church to do away with tabernacles. There is a strong movement to do away with adoration, to attempt to secularize the sacred and make the Church a purely human institution. Because if you take God out of the Church, instead of being re-created in His image, we can re-create the Church in our image. Don’t fool yourselves. That’s the real agenda behind all that.

 

The letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus’ flesh is now the veil that we pass through to reach the Father, and the Father’s Grace passes through to reach us. This is why we should kneel during consecration, pray before the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the monstrance, and genuflect to the tabernacle. When we see the Eucharist we are seeing the Body and Blood of Jesus, the portal, the door, the opening in the veil that allows us to pass to God. Behind the veil of bread and wine, is a powerful instrument of Divine Grace that empowers all who partake in it with the ability to become like God. That deserves to be respected. That deserves to be reverenced.

 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

"I throw myself at the foot of the Tabernacle like a dog at the foot of his Master." - St. John Vianney

 

Prayer:

 

Act of Adoration

I adore Thee, O Jesus, true God and true Man, here present in the Holy Eucharist, humbly kneeling before Thee and united in spirit with all the faithful on earth and all the blessed in heaven. In deepest gratitude for so great a blessing, I love Thee, my Jesus, with my whole heart, for Thou art all perfect and all worthy of love.

Give me grace nevermore in any way to offend Thee, and grant that I, being refreshed by Thy Eucharistic presence here on earth, may be found worthy to come to the enjoyment with Mary of Thine eternal and ever blessed presence in heaven. Amen.

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

1. What three things were in the Ark of the Covenant? What does each signify? How does each relate to Jesus?

2. What was the significance of the veil in the Old Testament? What was the significance of the rending of the veil when Jesus died? What is the significance of the veil in the Catholic tabernacle?

3. Why is a bridal veil traditional? How does the symbolism of the bridal veil relate to the veiling of the tabernacle?

4. Why should we kneel at Adoration? What is the purpose of Adoration? What can you do to promote Eucharistic Adoration?

5. What can you do to promote belief in and respect for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist?

6. Father Sisco writes, "Behind the veil of bread and wine, is a powerful instrument of Divine Grace that empowers all who partake in it with the ability to become like God." What does he mean by that? Can we really become like God? How?

7. What is the purpose of the tabernacle? What would a Church be without a Tabernacle or the Real Presence of Christ?

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Week 7: Do Not Surrender Your Confidence: A Reflection on Hebrews 10: 32-39

 

 

Remember the days past when, after you had been enlightened,
you endured a great contest of suffering.
At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and affliction;
at other times you associated yourselves with those so treated.
You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison
and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property,
knowing that you had a better and lasting possession.
Therefore, do not throw away your confidence;
it will have great recompense.
You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised.

 

For, after just a brief moment,
he who is to come shall come;
he shall not delay.
But my just one shall live by faith,
and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him.

 

 

 

We are not among those who draw back and perish,
but among those who have faith and will possess life. (Hebrews 10: 32-39)

 

In this part of the Letter to the Hebrews, the author is encouraging and consoling the Christian community for all of the suffering and persecution and sacrifices they’ve had to make for their faith.

 

Listen to what he writes; “At times you were publicly exposed to insult and trial; at other times you associated yourselves with those who were being so dealt with. You even joined in the sufferings of those who were in prison and joyfully assented to the confiscation of your goods, knowing you had better and more permanent possessions. Do not then, surrender your confidence.”

 

 

 

Do not then surrender your confidence.

 

Look at what the first century Christian community living in Jerusalem, had to endure, just from the reference here. Public insults and trials. Being associated with rabble and trouble makers. Imprisonment and the confiscation of their property and goods. And the author commends them because they endured all of this joyfully.

 

 

 

It really puts us modern day Catholics living in New England to shame, because we get discouraged in our faith by such little things.

 

We don’t like our priest or what he preaches. I’ve gotten more than a couple letters like that in the past, thank heavens not in my current parish. “I’m becoming a Protestant because of you!” Yeah? OK.

 

 

 

Or we lose our faith because God isn’t answering our prayers fast enough for us.

 

Or we lose our faith because we experience the cross. So when we endure problems, and stress, and trials, this becomes GOD’S fault. God hates me. God is getting me back!

 

 

In a previous assignment I had a monthly Communion call to a certain gentleman. He had some physical problems, but not real major problems, but he was always complaining. Also, he was too sick to come to Church but not to sick to go the casino or the Cape once a month. Hmm. Nevertheless, I’d still go to house in the hopes of getting him back to Church. And after about six months he told me to stop bringing him Communion. He didn’t want to bother with God anymore. He was mad at God for letting him be sick. A couple years later when I visited the hospital, I was surprised to see his name, and so I stopped to visit him. When I saw him, he began updating me on how he had been in and out of the hospital constantly that past year. And he said to me, “I think God is giving me a wake up call.” And I said, “I think you’re right.” Then he said, “I think I need to start coming back to Church.” I said, “I think that’s a good idea.” But he never came back.

 

 

We have it so easy here in New England because we’re so insulated. We’re surrounded by other Catholics. In other places, this isn’t the case. In some countries, it’s illegal to be Catholic. And in some of these places, to be caught at Mass is punishable by death. And even Catholics in other parts of our own country; in southern states, and Midwestern states, where the Catholics make up only two or three percent of the population, have to endure persecution for their faith. Catholics living in the Bible Belt have to endure enormous pressure to convert. While there isn’t outright persecution in most cases, many Catholics are ostracized by their neighbors. Where I went to seminary in Emmetsburg, Maryland, the Ku-Klux-Klan used to have rallies at the pub a mile down the street from us. The Klan has never been known to be tolerant of Catholics, among others.

 

 

All in all, we have it pretty easy to live out our faith here, so why do we let our faith get so easily discouraged? I think we have forgotten what kept the first Christians going, and that was the knowledge that everything they suffered brought them closer to God. And that empowered them not just to endure, but to suffer with joy. And if we want to keep from getting discouraged we need to do the same, and keep our eye fixed on the goal of eternity, where life really begins.

 

Crosses are inevitable, but how we carry them, with bitterness and resentment, or with confidence and joy, is the test of faith we profess to believe.

 

 

 

And blessed be God forever. 

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

"Nothing is more to be feared than too long a peace. You are deceived if you think that a Christian can live without persecution. He suffers the greatest persecution of all who lives under none. A storm puts a man on his guard and obliges him to exert his utmost effort to avoid shipwreck." -- St. Jerome

 

 

Prayer:

 

 

 

Psalm 79 (80)

Lord, tend your vine

Shepherd of Israel, listen –
you who take Joseph as your flock.
Shine out before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh –
you who are enthroned upon the cherubim.
Awaken your power and come to us,
come to us and save us.

Bring us back, O God:
let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.

Lord God of hosts –
how long will your anger endure
against the prayers of your people?
You have given us tears for our bread,
abundance of tears for us to drink.
You have made us a mockery among our neighbours,
and our enemies laugh at us.

Bring us back, O God of hosts:
let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.

You brought a vine out of Egypt;
planted it, and drove out the nations.
You cleared the ground all about it,
made firm its roots; and it filled the land.
Its shade covered mountains,
its boughs shaded the cedars of God;
its leaves spread as far as the sea,
its shoots as far as the River.

So why did you destroy its wall,
so that anyone could pluck its fruit,
whoever was passing by?
The wild boar of the forest broke it,
every wild beast could graze off it.

Turn back, O God of hosts,
look down from heaven and tend this vine.

Protect the vine, for your right hand planted it;
and the son of man, whom you made strong.
The vine is burnt and dug up;
and they too will perish when they see you rebuke them.
Stretch out your hand over your chosen one
over the son of man, whom you made strong –
and we will not forsake you, and you will give us life;
and we will call on your name.

Bring us back, Lord God of hosts:
let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.
Amen.

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

1. Have you ever experienced persecution for your Catholic faith? What did you experience? Do you have any idea why others reacted as they did toward you?

2. Father Sisco mentioned people complaining about a priest's homilies. Could homilies be a legitimate source of concern?

3. Father said that those who live with an abundance of Catholics have it "too easy." How might that be true?

4. What benefits come from persecution?

5. How should we respond to persecution? What can be done to prevent it?

6. We often hear the word "solidarity" in the Church. The word generally means identification with and support of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. What can we do to foster solidarity with those who are being persecuted for their faith?

7. How does the Psalm, read in the Liturgy of the Hours, reflect the situation of the Catholic Church in the modern world?

8. Father Sisco mentions the fallen away Catholic who was given a "wake up" call. Have you or anyone you know experienced a "wake up" call? What was the result?

 

-- Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Week 8: Lessons from Saint Blaise: A Reflection on Matthew 10: 17-22

 

Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10: 17-22)

 

 

 

Saint Blaise has been a popular saint of the Church since the Middle Ages. Most people don’t know anything about Saint Blaise, but they might remember that they have their throats blessed on his feast day which is February 3. The truth is – we don’t know very much about Saint Blaise. And much that we do “know” is legend. It cannot be confirmed. So what can Blaise teach us if we don’t know much about him? 

 

What do we know of him? We know he was the third Bishop of Sebaste, which is a province in Armenia. We know he was executed by order of Governor Agricolaus of Cappadocia during the persecution of emperor Licinius, around the year 316. Blaise was tortured and beheaded. That’s all we know of Blaise that is confirmed.

 

 

What do we learn from this?

 

 

We learn that Blaise was a man of profound faith, that he willingly suffered for the Gospel, because if he had renounced his faith, his life would have been spared. We also know he was a man of courage, education, and leadership in that he was made a Bishop.

 

 

How much do we seek to grow in our faith? Is our faith something we do, or something we are? Do we seek to always learn more about our faith, and share our faith with others?

 

 

According to legend, Blaise was the child of wealthy and devout Christian parents, who wished their son to enter the service of God. What do we learn from this? Children get their faith from their parents. It was the devout parents of Blaise who passed that faith onto their son. It was the parents of Blaise who encouraged their son to enter the clergy at a time when that was considered a very high risk occupation.

 

 

How much do we pass on our faith to our children and grandchildren? How much do we encourage them to stand up for their faith? Do we encourage them to consider the priesthood and religious life, because the Church is under persecution again and needs more priests and religious? Or do we encourage vocations only for someone else’s kid because I have plans of financial success for my kid?

 

 

It became very clear, very early on, that my sister had no intentions of marrying. My sister is married to her work. She was always very driven that way. And I noticed that when I go home, my Mom is always telling stories about her best friend’s grandchildren. She’s always buying presents & clothes for them and so on. And I always just thought that my Mom’s really generous, and she is, but I was telling a friend this one day and she asked me, “Does your Mom have grandkids?” And I said, “No.” And she said, “That’s why.” And that struck me.

 

 

I always hear about what Michael had to sacrifice to be a priest, (ah yes) but it never occurred to me what my parents had to sacrifice for my vocation. My father’s line ends with me. At least this branch of the Sisco family will end with my death. My mother has no grandkids to spoil, so she spoils others. And my parents have never complained. They never did anything but support me in my vocation. Can you have the faith to do that with your kids, with your grandkids?

 

 

Also, according to legend, we bless throats on the feast of Saint Blaise because of an incident where he prayed over a boy choking on a fish bone, and the bone was dislodged and the boy was saved.

 

 

Do we believe, really believe, in the power of prayer? Do we take the time to pray for the sick and the suffering? Do we pray as if we the world depended on our prayers? Do we pray as if we can change the world with our prayers? Do we pray with that kind of trust and confidence?

 

 

And finally, the two candles. According to legend, after Blaise was imprisoned, the mother of the boy whose life he saved visited him, and gave him the only thing she had to offer; two candles.

 

 

Do we give to the Church sacrificially? Do we show charity to the poor, the sick and imprisoned? Do we show proper reverence and gratitude to the clergy, for their service to us?

 

 

Apparently we can learn a lot from a man we know so little about. Saint Blaise, pray for us.

 

 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

 “Be devoted to God and do not fear, for no wounds can come to those who follow Christ. Even if they take away the life of your body, Christ is still with you.” – St. Ambrose of Milan

 

Prayer:

 

“Through the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from ailments of the throat and from every other evil. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Blessing of St. Blaise).

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

Father Sisco asked several pointed questions, all of which are excellent for reflection. With your Oratory group, select which questions from the above reflection you would like to discuss.

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

Week 9: Saint Scholastica: A Reflection on 1 John 4: 7-21

 

 

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

 

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4: 7-21)

 

Saint Scholastica was the twin sister of Saint Benedict, who was the great reformer of the monastic movement. And I love the story of Scholastica and Benedict, as told by Saint Gregory the Great.

 

When Benedict founded his monastery on top at Monte Casino, Scholastica lived in a small cottage at the base of the mountain. Every year on their birthday, Benedict, with two of his brother monks, would go down from Monte Casino to Scholastica’s cottage, and they would spend the day together visiting and discussing theology and the spiritual life.

 

As they were finishing their visit one year, and evening was coming on, Benedict announced that it was time to leave. But Scholastica pressed him to stay so that the four of them could continue talking about the wonders of the mysteries of God throughout the night.

 

And Benedict said to her, “Sister! What is this that you are suggesting? I simply cannot spend the night outside of my cell!”

 

Scholastica than bowed her head and prayed. As Benedict and his two brothers made for the door, a clap of thunder was heard so loud it shook the room, and a torrent of rain began to fall so forcefully, that none of the men could even pass the threshold.

 

Benedict looked sternly at Scholastica. “Sister! What have you done?”

 

And Scholastica answered, “Well I asked you and you wouldn’t listen, so I asked my God and He did! So now leave for your monastery if you can.”

 

And so Benedict and his brothers reluctantly sat back down at table and continued their visit with Scholastica until dawn.

 

Three days later, Benedict was looking out the monastery window toward Scholastica’s cottage and he saw his sister’s soul ascending into heaven in the form of a dove. He then sent some of his brothers to retrieve her body from the cottage and bring it up to Monte Casino for burial.

 

Benedict and Scholastica are buried together under the main altar at Monte Casino, and the inscription on the tomb reads, “They who could not be separated in life, are now joined in death.”

 

I had the pleasure of visiting Monte Casino when I was on Sabbatical. Rome is a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. Too chaotic for me. But there are three places in Italy where I wouldn’t mind living: Sienna, Assisi, and Monte Casino.

 

The present day monastery is an exact replica of the original monastery which was destroyed during WWII when it was bombed by the Allies, who believed that the Germans were using it as a fortification and observation post. The monks were warned to get out of the monastery the day before the bombing and the American government paid to have the monastery reconstructed after the war.

 

When you see pictures of the monastery after the bombing, the whole building was rubble, EXCEPT one spot, the main altar and the tomb of Benedict and Scholastica underneath. They were left without a scratch. An unexploded bomb was resting next to the altar, and when demolition teams came in to diffuse it, they found that the bomb didn’t explode because there was no powder in it. That one bomb was an empty shell.

 

The unexploded bomb is on display in the monastery museum to this day. It is considered by the monks to be a miracle of Benedict and Scholastica.

 

Also, in a field near the monastery is a cemetery of Polish soldiers, who were the first regiment to retake the hill. The monks now look after them. The inscription on the cross above the cemetery reads, “We gave our hearts to Poland. We gave our lives to Italy, and now we give our souls to God.”

 

May Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica look after all of our souls and lead them to God as well.

 

Saint Scholastica, pray for us.

 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

“It is not surprising that she (Scholastica) was more effective than he (Benedict); since, as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more.” (Saint Gregory the Great commenting on God answering Saint Scholastica’s prayer to have Benedict stay to continue speaking with her.)

 

Prayer:

 

“God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me.” (Opening prayer for the Divine Office).

 

Questions for reflection:

 

1. Re-read 1 John 4: 7-21, then reflect on Father Sisco’s teaching. How did Scholastica embody love of God? How did Benedict embody love of God? How did the Allies embody love of God? How did the Polish soldiers embody love of God? How did God honor those who love Him?

2. How can a good Christian balance love of God with love of neighbor? Can there ever be a conflict between the two, as Saint Benedict seemed to think when he did not want to spend more time with his sister?

3. Do you think Saint Scholastica might have had a premonition that she would be dying soon and so wanted her brother to stay longer to bolster her spirit for the final passage? Do you know anyone who seemed to have a premonition of death? How can we help others prepare for death? Have you ever been part of this preparation and how did it affect your spiritual life?

4. Father Sisco relates a miracle regarding the preservation of Saint Benedict’s and Saint Scholastica’s remains during World War II. Have you experienced what you would deem a miracle? Share what you have experienced with your Oratory group.

5. Saint Gregory the Great says that Scholastica’s prayer was effective because she loved more. Jesus exalted the value of love in His teachings. How should love (charity) set Christians apart from others?

6. Is it possible to love without a faith in God?

7. What is love? Can we learn how to love? Who is the best teacher? What does it cost to learn to love?

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Week 10: Bending God to Our Way of Thinking: A Reflection on Mark 8: 27-33

 

 Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”

 

 They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.”

And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”

 

 Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Christ.” Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.

 

 He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Mark 8: 27-33)

 

 “I’m spiritual…I’m just not religious.”

 

 “I believe in God…I just don’t believe in Church.”

 

These are statements I often hear from people, especially college students. And most always these statements come from former Catholics, or lapsed Catholics.

 

 “I’m spiritual in my own way.”

 

When I challenge people to go deeper with that statement and define what “being spiritual” really is, it means saying a prayer or two before bed, IF that. That’s not spirituality. That’s taking Mark Twain’s approach to religion. In his list of things to do everyday, Mark Twain once quipped, “and I always say a few prayers before going to sleep…just in case there is a God.”

People want spirituality. People want God, but on MY terms, not His. So if my priest says something I don’t like, if my priest challenges me to live in a way I don’t want, I’ll change parishes, or I’ll change religions, or I’ll dump religion all together. That’s the result of spirituality without sacrifice.

 

 When we separate sacrifice from spirituality, we ultimately fall into idolatry. When we separate sacrifice from spirituality, we will ultimately recreate God in our image instead of allowing ourselves to be recreated in His.

 

 This is what has happened to Peter in our reading for today. When Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah, he has an image in HIS mind of what Messiah should be. And so when Jesus starts talking about the suffering He would have to endure at Calvary, when Jesus started talking about His sacrifice, Peter becomes scandalized at this and protests.

 

And what does Jesus call Peter? Satan.

 

Satan? The prince of darkness?

 

In our society of cut throat politics and late night comedians, we get so used to people calling one another names that this response of Jesus gets lost on us. But in Jesus’ day, calling someone the devil was the strongest reprimand one human being could level on another!

 

Why did Jesus do this? Because Peter wanted spirituality on HIS terms. Peter wanted spirituality without sacrifice. Peter was falling into idolatry, of which satan is the master. The reason why the devil is the devil, and no longer an angel of light, is because he tried to set himself up as God. That’s what idolatry does. It sets us up as our own gods. Ultimately we end up “praying” to ourselves.

 

There is no more clear an example of this than the gay marriage controversy that’s raging right now, or as it’s being called the “Marriage Equality Act.” Now why is the Church so opposed to this?

 

Every good has a natural end for which it was designed. Eating is a good whose natural end is to supply nutrition to the body. When someone eats a perfectly healthy meal and then vomits it up intentionally, we call that an eating disorder. Why is it disordered? Because the natural end of supplying nutrition is being frustrated, and the act of eating is reduced to pleasure only.

 

Likewise when we separate sex from its natural end, procreation, it’s disordered. Marriage is more than a physical union; it’s a spiritual union also. Once we separate the spirituality of sex from the sacrifice of begetting children (and I’m sure all of you parents will agree with me that children are a sacrifice), we reduce sex to pleasure only, and thus remake sex into an idol. And I have everyone arguing this with me. I have high school kids arguing this with me!

 

The most dangerous threat to the faith these days are Catholics who evaluate the faith through the prism of their politics, instead of evaluating their politics through the prism of the faith that Christ has handed on to us. And both liberals and conservatives are guilty of it.

 

Brothers and sisters pray with me today that the world embraces life on God’s terms, instead of trying to bend God to ours.

 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

“The first natural tie of human society is man and wife.” – Saint Augustine of Hippo

 

 

Prayer:

 

“Let us therefore pray to our Lord Jesus Christ that he give us the grace to seek his Kingdom and to build within ourselves a moral Jerusalem. By doing this, we will be able to merit our place in the heavenly Jerusalem to sing Alleluia in its streets with all the saints and angels. But the One whose Kingdom is eternal for all ages must help us to do so.” – Saint Anthony of Padua

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. What do people mean when they say that they are “spiritual but not religious?” Is it possible to be spiritual without being religious? Can spirituality exist apart from religion?

2. Father Sisco talks about the dangers of being spiritual without being religious. Can people be religious without being spiritual? What dangers could come from that?

3. How should we respond if we meet people who claim to be spiritual without being religious?

4. Why did Jesus call Peter “satan?” What shift in perception did Peter have to undergo before becoming the first Pope?

5. Discuss St. Augustine’s quote on marriage in light of the current controversy on gay marriage. Why is the Catholic Church opposed to gay marriage? How can we share the reasonableness of this position with a culture in which “anything goes”?

6. Saint Anthony prayed that we may build a “moral Jerusalem.” Why did he use the word “Jerusalem” to mean a holy city on earth? What can Oratorians do to help build a moral Jerusalem on this earth? How does this prayer fit in with this Oratory reflection?

7. Father Sisco says that “The most dangerous threat to the faith these days are Catholics who evaluate the faith through the prism of their politics, instead of evaluating their politics through the prism of the faith.” Think of all the dangers to our faith these days. Do you think Father Sisco is right? Why or why not?

 

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Oratory of Divine Love Weekly Bible Study, c/o Confraternity of Penitents, 1702 Lumbard Street, Fort Wayne IN 46803 USA  OratoryDivineLove@gmail.com   260-739-6882