Weeks 101-110

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 101: All Poor Sinners: A Reflection on Luke 5:8

 

“And Simon Peter fell to his knees and said, ‘Depart from me, Lord. I am a sinful man.’” (Luke 5:8)

 

You know, throughout the entire New Testament, Peter is the only person who ever admits to Jesus that he is a sinner. Read through the gospels. You will never find anyone who encounters Christ professing the fact that he or she is a sinner. Admitting that he is a sinner is one of Peter’s best qualities, and I would wager to say that this is why the Lord chooses Peter to lead his Church; Peter has a good sense of himself. Peter knows who and what he is, and he never tries to pretend to be anything more than that.

 

This doesn’t stop Peter from sticking his foot in his mouth on more than one occasion. But no one can top Peter when it comes to faith; Peter steps out of the boat and walks on water; Peter professes before anyone that Jesus is the Messiah--these are all examples of Peter’s faith.

 

And no one can top Peter when it comes to self awareness. Peter knows he’s a poor sinner. Peter knows he’s unworthy of the kingdom.

 

And this is something I think we need to look at, because on a whole our Church has lost our sense of repentance. On a whole, Catholicism has lost its sense of sin. We have forgotten that we are poor sinners.

 

Being a poor sinner goes against the grain of society. Our society seems to be very wrapped up in self esteem. For the past thirty years, we’ve been going through this. I grew up in this. You cannot yell at school children to make them behave, because that diminishes their self esteem. In fact, it is not fair that some students do better than others, so instead of trying to help the poor students do better, we’ll lower the academic standards of the whole class, so that everyone can pass. I grew up with this.

 

Parents cannot discipline their children. We do not have housekeepers anymore; we have domestic engineers. We don’t have secretaries anymore; we have executive assistants. We don’t have school teachers anymore; we have educators. We don’t have garbage men anymore; we have sanitation officers. We are all caught up in self esteem.

 

Therefore we cannot tell people that they are poor sinners, because that isn’t pastorally sensitive.

 

So we stopped talking about sin. But then we lost something. Because when we lose the sense that we are sinners, we lose our need for God. And life is a downward spiral from there.

 

Have you noticed that these kids, for whom we work so hard to build their self esteem, need to see school counselors? Have you noticed that the teen suicide rate continues to climb? Have you noticed the rising numbers of people that see psychologists, and psychiatrists, and psycho analysts?

 

Why, if we are so busy building self-esteem, are these things happening?

 

Because we all have guilt. We know in our heart of hearts that we’re poor sinners, but when we don’t admit that, and deal with it in the sacrament of confession, there’s nowhere for that guilt to go! So instead of tossing the guilt out by receiving God’s forgiveness in confession, the guilt turns inward and becomes anxiety!

 

When we admit that we’re poor sinners, we admit that we need God. We admit that we need something larger than ourselves to help us on our way. And that takes a great deal of pressure off us, because we know that we can’t do it alone.

 

This is why the Lord chose Peter, despite all his faults. When Peter admitted his sinfulness, his unworthiness, the Lord said, ‘I can work with this guy. He knows how much he needs me.’

 

It is my prayer for all of us today, that like Peter, we have a good sense of ourselves.

 

And blessed be God forever.

 

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

Almost every sin is committed for the sake of sensual pleasure; and sensual pleasure is overcome by hardship and distress arising either voluntarily from repentance, or else involuntarily as a result of some salutary and providential reversal. "For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged; but when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, so that we should not be condemned with the world." (1 Cor. 11:31-32).'
--St. Maximos the Confessor

 

Prayer:

 

Remit, pardon and forgive, O God,

our sins committed voluntarily and involuntarily, by

word and deed, knowingly and in ignorance, by thought

and purpose, by day and night; forgive all these for

You are gracious and love mankind.—Catholic Byzantine Prayer for Forgiveness

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Do you agree that the Church is no longer preaching a sense of sin? Do you agree with Fr. Sisco’s analysis of why this is so?

  2. How is it possible to build self esteem while admitting that we are sinners?

  3. What is the source of self-esteem? What is the source of sin?

  4. Read the quote from St. Maximos the Confessor. Do you agree that sensual pleasure is the root cause of sin? Relate each of the seven deadly sins to sensual pleasure (anger, lust, gluttony, pride, sloth, greed, envy).

  5. Pray the Byzantine Prayer for Forgiveness. Discuss its thoroughness. Could someone pray this and maintain his or her self-esteem?

  6. Why do you think the world is so insistent on building up self-esteem? Is it possible to build self-esteem while still recognizing that some people are smarter, stronger, prettier, richer, better coordinated, more personable, and so on than others?

  7. How do the gifts and talents God has given us relate to self-esteem?

  8. What is the value of a human life if that person has no gifts or talents? Is it possible for a human being to have no gifts or talents at all? Why do you answer the way that you do?

  9. How does admitting that we are sinners enhance our relationship with God? How is it a basis for our relationship with God?

  10. Should we fear God? Why or why not?

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

Oratory Week 102--Whoever Possesses the Son Possesses Eternal Life: A Reflection on 1 John 5: 1-13

 

Beloved: Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

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. Now the testimony of God is this, that he has testified on behalf of his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has this testimony within himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar by not believing the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever possesses the Son has life; whoever does not possess the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5: 1-13)

 

“Whoever possesses the Son possesses life; whoever does not possess the Son does not possess life. I have written this to you to make you realize that you possess eternal life—you who believe in the name of Jesus.”

 

Possessing the Son. How do we possess the Son?

 

Now this passage from the first letter of Saint John is one of those passages that our evangelical and fundamentalist brothers and sisters pull out of context and say, “You see! John says it right here! All you need for eternal life is to profess your belief in the name of Jesus and you’re saved!” And on the surface, it’s easy to see why someone can come to that conclusion. But there’s more here. Let’s back up to the beginning.

 

John begins this passage by saying, “Who then is the conqueror of the world? The one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” Well, wait one minute. I believe in that Jesus is the Son of God, and I haven’t conquered the world. No one calls me Emperor Sisco, although that does have a nice ring to it!

 

John is obviously not talking about conquering in a physical or political manner. Those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God conquer the world by overcoming worldliness. We are not prisoners of the world. So is making a statement of belief in the name of Jesus enough then? What does John say next? “Jesus Christ it is who came through water and blood, not in water only, but in water and blood.” Well, what does that mean?

 

Jesus comes through water. Does that mean I can pour Jesus out of the faucet? Jesus comes through blood. Does that mean I can receive Jesus through a transfusion? Ask an evangelical to explain that. The Catholic Church has the explanation of that. We receive Jesus through sacraments. Jesus comes through the waters of baptism. Now any good evangelical would say “Amen” to that. They stress the need for baptism to be saved. But does John say baptism only? NO. John says not water alone but water and the blood. The blood means the Eucharist.

 

And if that wasn’t enough, he goes on to say, “It is the Spirit who testifies to this, and the Spirit is truth. Thus there are three that testify, the Spirit, the water, and the blood.”So there’s a third witness that testifies to the name of Jesus, the Spirit. John is talking about the Holy Spirit of course, but by which sacrament does the Holy Spirit empower us to testify to the name of Jesus? Confirmation. What do we call baptism, Eucharist, and confirmation? The sacraments of initiation. Why do we call them that? Because these are the sacraments that provide the Grace for us to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and thus conquer the world, by overcoming temptations of worldliness. And so we have references to these three sacraments right in the first letter of John. So there is more than professing on the lips that we believe in Jesus. If you read the New Testament closely, you find that you absolutely cannot separate Christ from the sacraments of the Church.

 

Today I would invite us all to pray for our non Catholic, Christian brothers and sisters, that through their studying and praying about the Word of God in Scripture, which they do faithfully, they may come to a deeper understanding of his presence in the sacraments.

 

Blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

What do you possess if you possess not God?
-Saint Augustine

 

Prayer:

My LORD Jesus Christ, Who because of Your love for men remain night and day in the Blessed Sacrament, full of pity and of love, awaiting, calling and welcoming all who come to visit You, I believe that You are present here on the altar. I adore You, and I thank You for all the graces You have bestowed on me, especially for having given me Yourself in this Sacrament, for having given me Your most holy Mother Mary to plead for me, and for having called me to visit You in this church. – Saint Alphonsus Liguori

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. What are the sacraments of initiation? Why are they called that? How do they work in our lives.

  2. Why do we need grace to witness to Christ?

  3. Read and then discuss the quote from Saint Augustine.

  4. What spiritual truths does St. Alphonsus Liguori state in his prayer.

  5. How do we possess eternal life? Is eternal life possible for those who do not know Jesus? Explain your answer.

  6. How do the sacraments assist us in following our faith?

  7. In your opinion, is it easier to be a Catholic or a non Catholic? Share the reasons for your answer.

  8. How do conquer the world if we have faith in Christ?

  9. Re-read the Scripture from 1 John. It discusses possessing Christ. Do you possess Christ? Why or why not? Should you possess Him?

  10. Is it possible for God to possess us? Is that desirable? Discuss the reasons for your answer.

  11. Is belief in Jesus sufficient for eternal life? Give reasons for your answer.

  12. Can those who die without the faith of Christ go to heaven? Consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church on this topic.   

  13. Can those Catholics who die without the sacraments go to heaven? Consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church before answering.                                                                      

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Oratory of Divine Love—Week 103--Challenging the People: A Reflection on Isaiah 41:14

 

“Fear not O worm Jacob, O maggot Israel; I will help you says the Lord.” (Isaiah 41: 14)

 

That doesn’t sound very pastorally sensitive does it? Why would God speak to his people like this, people whom he so lovingly addresses in other passages? Because sometimes people need a bucket of cold water thrown on them to get them to realize they need to change their lives.

 

John the Baptist lambasted the Pharisees by calling them a “viper’s brood.” We’ve gotten away from challenging people in the name of pastoral sensitivity. These days people have confused pastoral sensitivity with accepting sin. People use pastoral sensitivity as an excuse not to correct or admonish anyone. The truth is they’re hiding their own lack of conviction. Remember that “admonishing the sinner” is one of the spiritual works of mercy. John Paul II had said, “The most pastorally sensitive thing you can do for a person is to tell them the truth.” Truth is one of the four basic hungers of the human heart.

 

We have an instinct to seek truth. We inwardly desire truth. But often people stifle that desire by indulging their passions or refusing to let go of their insecurities, but that desire for truth is always within our souls. People inwardly want the truth, even though they may not be ready to accept it.

 

At one of my previous parish assignments, around the corner was a Congregationalist Church which had a banner hanging on their iron fence. It read, “We don’t say ‘Come Some of Ye Faithful.’ We accept you as you are.” That’s a dig at us Catholics over issues like abortion, homosexual marriages, etc.  This is what I’m talking about. People confuse pastoral sensitivity for license.  AND I KNOW THE PASTOR OVER THERE! He’s one of the Protestant chaplains at a college where I had been the Catholic chaplain. I’m bringing it up the next time I see him. “So Dan, who’s that banner aimed at, those blasted Unitarians again?”

 

The truth of the matter is, we do call all, but we also call all to be faithful. That is faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ. And can anyone honestly say, from what we see of Jesus in the Scriptures, that he wouldn’t have a problem with abortion or homosexual marriages?

 

A few years ago, there were verbal shootouts between Congressman Patrick Kennedy and our own Bishop Tobin. These got national news coverage. In the newspapers and in newscasts, we saw much criticism of our Bishop saying that he should have kept this conversation private between him and the Congressman. I’d first like to set the record straight. He did. The letter Bishop Tobin wrote Congressman Kennedy, who is a Catholic, about his stand on abortion and his reception of communion is two years old. Congressman Kennedy dragged this into the public arena when he criticized the Church for not supporting the draft of a Health Care Bill because it would provide tax money for abortion. This forced the Bishop to respond. Congressman Kennedy dragged the issue into the public again when he said to the press that the Bishop had banned him from communion, and instructed his priests not to give him communion. That was a lie. I never received any such instruction, and neither has any priest I’ve spoken too. Again, the Bishop was forced to respond.

 

Secondly, I find that many people, who say that the Church should “stay out of politics” are the same people who criticize the Church for not speaking out strongly enough against Hitler and the Nazi regime, and who praise Pope John Paul II for speaking out against President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. And this applies to both parties.  It was Republicans telling the Church to stay out of politics when we reminded the nation of its humanitarian responsibility when dealing with illegal aliens, and what is morally acceptable treatment and what is not.

 

So it seems that the only time people want the Church out of politics is when it’s an issue they disagree with the Church on. I detect a note of hypocrisy. And when we see that, we have a responsibility to speak and point it out. The Church will stay out of politics when politics stays out of morality. So just as the prophets had to challenge the people strongly when they turned away from morality, the Church now has the same role.

 

Now with that said, when challenging people, I wouldn’t call them “worms”, “maggots”, and “vipers’ brood.” The prophets used that language. Unless God has told you that you’re a prophet, don’t call people names. But with facts, logic, and charity of tone, we all have a responsibility to point out the truth, and remind people that forgiveness is always available.  People will never be motivated to change their lives unless they are shaken from their complacency and challenged to think. My prayer for us today is that all of us seek the truth, live the truth, and are never afraid to speak the truth.

 

And blessed be God forever,

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote from a Saint:  “The most pastorally sensitive thing you can do for a person is to tell them the truth.” – Blessed Pope John Paul II

 

Prayer of a Saint:

To Avoid Grieving The Spirit

May [the] Counselor—the “Spirit of truth”—be with us through His holy gifts! May there be with us wisdom and understanding, knowledge and counsel, fortitude, piety, and the holy fear of God, so that we may always know how to discern what comes from You and to distinguish what comes from the “spirit of the world,” or even from the “ruler of this world.” Save us from “grieving Your Spirit”: by our lack of faith and lack of readiness to witness to Your  Gospel "in deed and in truth", --by secularism and by wishing at all costs to conform to the mentality  of this world; --by a lack of that love which is "patient and kind," which "is not  boastful" and which "does not insist on its own way," which "bears all  things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" – that  love which "rejoices in the right" and only in the right. Save us from grieving Your Spirit: --by everything that brings inward sadness and is an obstacle for the  soul; --by whatever causes…divisions; --by whatever makes us a fertile soil for all temptations. [L’Osservatore Romano, 4-5,12-82,3]—Blessed Pope John Paul II

 

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What is pastoral sensitivity? Why is it important? Can it be misinterpreted or misused? Why or why not?

  2. According to current standards of pastoral sensitivity, would you classify Jesus as being pastorally sensitive? Would you classify God, as portrayed in Scripture, as being pastorally sensitive?

  3. Would you classify your pastor as being pastorally sensitive? How can you help a pastor to become more pastorally sensitive? If your pastor avoids controversial issues of faith and morals, how can you help him address them more often?

  4. What obligations do we have, as parishioners, to help our pastors know how to instruct the congregation?

  5. Have you ever praised your pastor for a homily? Have you ever criticized him for one? What was the result in each case?

  6. Father Sisco says that people sometimes need a bucket of cold water thrown on them to help them face the issues. Do you agree? Why or why not?

  7. Father Sisco mentions that, if we point out the truth, we have to point out that forgiveness is always available. What conditions are needed for forgiveness? How can we use this idea in discussing morally divisive issues? Or should we even discuss them? State the reasons for your answer.

  8. Discuss the quote from Blessed John Paul II.

  9. How does Blessed John Paul II’s prayer relate to pastoral sensitivity?

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 104: Being an Evangelist: A Reflection on Revelation 10: 11

 

 

“Then someone said to me, ‘You must prophesy again for many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.’” (Revelation 10:11)

 

 

The message of Pope John Paul II, in his twentieth Papal anniversary Mass was, “It is my duty to proclaim the word of God to all the ends of the earth.” Think of the man behind that message: a man who took over a world Church that was in theological chaos, a man who had been shot, and was left a wound that caused him a great deal of pain and discomfort the rest of his life. This is a man who has traveled to every continent, with the exception of Antarctica, and has visited most every country in the world. This is a man who was instrumental in causing the downfall of communism. Because of this man, numbers of Catholics increased steadily around the world. The Church in Africa, which was all but destroyed by the Muslims in the Middle Ages, has now become the heartbeat of Catholicism. Seminarians around the world are on the rise. This man as a pastor and a teacher wrote more encyclicals, pastoral letters, and theological documents then any of his predecessors.

 

 

He was a man well reputed to be a living saint, and it is said that there are four Popes in our history that have been given the title “the Great,” John Paul was being called “the Great,” even before he died. And yet there were many who opposed this man, some outside the Church, many within the Church. This man was hated, and ridiculed, and mocked. Looking at John Paul, one can easily understand that passage in Revelation in which the scroll tasted sweet in the Evangelist John’s mouth but soured in his stomach. Preaching the word of God is bitter-sweet, with its own trials and rewards.

 

 

Pope John Paul was a model for us all, because preaching the word of God is not the job of the clergy alone, but is the duty of every confirmed Catholic. We are all called to be evangelists. This doesn’t mean getting your own radio show, or television show, or going door to door handing out literature. Those are admirable things and worthy methods of evangelization. The Legion of Mary make it their custom to go door to door, reaching out to Catholics who have been inactive for years. I love the Legionaries. I think everyone should be a member, but evangelization can be much simpler. To be an evangelist means all of us should be willing to share our faith with others. Share your faith because it comes from the word of God.

 

 

Being an evangelist means we should do a little scripture reading every day. Doesn’t have to be a lot. Look at the readings we hear in Mass--short bullet paragraphs. That’s all you need. Maybe you can accompany your scripture by reading a commentary like “THE WORD AMONG US,” or “MAGNIFICAT,” a marvelous publication.

 

 

Being an evangelist simply means being in touch with the word of God. You cannot share what you do not know. You cannot take someone where you have not been. Being an evangelist means being a sharer. It means being an inviter. Maybe you know someone, a family member or a friend who hasn’t been to Church in years. Invite them to come with you. “Why do you go to church?” “Because it’s wonderful! I love hearing the word of God! I love hearing the word of God preached! I love to receive the Eucharist! It makes me feel good to go to Church.” That’s an evangelist.

 

 

And you will find, by following the example of John Paul II, that you will be loved by some and hated by many. You will be mocked. You will be ridiculed. The Word of God that tastes sweet as honey in your mouth will sour in your stomach. But you will also find that the rich rewards of being an evangelist far outweigh the negatives. Look at the world around us. We must prophesy again for many peoples, nations, languages, and kings, because it is the duty of us all to proclaim the kingdom of God to the ends of the world.

 

 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

To convert somebody go and take them by the hand and guide them. – St. Thomas Aquinas

 

 

Prayer:

O Holy Spirit, our Advocate and guide, help us open doors to Christ's saving power,
which alone is the source of hope for humanity and the renewal of society. Fill us with courage to respond boldly to the call of John Paul to evangelize the culture. Enable us by Your grace to live our faith in the public square, so that we may promote a civilization of love and a culture of life, and may secure justice for every human person at every stage and condition of life. We ask this through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Blessed John Paul the Great. Amen.

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

  1. Have you ever knowingly evangelized someone? How did that go?

  2. Have you ever unknowingly evangelized someone? How did that happen?

  3. How is being a witness to the faith at type of evangelization? How is living the faith a type of evangelization?

  4. List all the ways you can think of to evangelize.

  5. Discuss the quote by St. Thomas Aquinas.

  6. Do you pray for the evangelization of our culture? How might we participate in that evangelization?

  7. What traits of Pope John Paul II made him a great evangelizer? What fruits do you see coming from his efforts?

  8. What are the joys of evangelizing others? What are the sorrows? What difficulties can we expect if we try to evangelize? Are the problems worth the effort? Why or why not?

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

 

Oratory of Divine Love Weekly Reflection 105: Never Give Up on Anyone: A Reflection on Acts 22: 3-16

 

Paul addressed the people in these words: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city. At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated strictly in our ancestral law and was zealous for God, just as all of you are today. I persecuted this Way to death, binding both men and women and delivering them to prison. Even the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify on my behalf. For from them I even received letters to the brothers and set out for Damascus to bring back to Jerusalem in chains for punishment those there as well.

“On that journey as I drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I replied, ‘Who are you, sir?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.’ My companions saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me. I asked, ‘What shall I do, sir?’ The Lord answered me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told about everything appointed for you to do.’ Since I could see nothing because of the brightness of that light, I was led by hand by my companions and entered Damascus.

“A certain Ananias, a devout observer of the law, and highly spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me and stood there and said, ‘Saul, my brother, regain your sight.’ And at that very moment I regained my sight and saw him. Then he said, ‘The God of our ancestors designated you to know his will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of his voice; for you will be his witness before all to what you have seen and heard. Now, why delay? Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away, calling upon his name.’” (Acts 22: 3-16)

 

If the conversion of Saint Paul should teach us anything; it’s that we should never give up on people. We should never write anyone off as lost, or damned, or beyond hope. Because Paul was lost. Paul it seemed was out of reach. And yet the Lord moved him powerfully. But why?

 

After the persecution and martyring of Saint Stephen, which Paul antagonized, and after Paul gets documents of permission to persecute the Church in Damascus, what is the Christian community doing? The Christian community was praying and making supplications for deliverance. And how did the Lord deliver them? By taking the very man who was persecuting them, and making him their most powerful ally. See what prayer and fasting can do? I just wonder, what would have happened if every Catholic in the world had prayed and fasted for the conversion of Osama Bin Laden? I will bet you dollars to donuts that he not only would have converted to Catholicism, he probably would have become a Bishop and been martyred for the faith.

 

Did it stop with prayer and fasting? No. What happened next? The Lord spoke to Ananias, and told him to seek out this Saul of Tarsus and bring him in, and Ananias initially protests. He says, “I’ve heard about this guy, Lord, and he’s not a nice person.” But the Lord insists and Ananias is obedient. What does this say? Two things. First, charity. OK. Even if no one took Saul in and helped him understand what happened to him on the road to Damascus, because he was blinded, the persecution against the Christians would have stopped. But because of that charity on Ananias’ part, Saul is not only stopped, he’s converted, and because he’s converted he can now serve the Church with the same zeal that he formerly had persecuted it. Also, Ananias had to be open to the Lord, listen for the Lord, and be obedient to the Lord. What if Ananias had said, “You know, Lord, I just don’t think I’m ready for this. I’m just not sure I trust you enough yet. Check with me next time something like this comes up?” What would have happened then? Opportunity lost.

 

My brothers and sisters, when the Lord is convicting you of something, don’t put him on hold. Prayer, fasting, and charity my brothers and sisters. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. With prayer, fasting, and charity we can change hearts, we can change minds, and we can change the world. The conversion of Paul is living proof of that. We need to get more Catholics motivated, and we need to get them mobilized, because there is much in the world that needs to be changed.

 

Blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

“Today Jesus said to me, I desire that you know more profoundly the love that burns in My Heart for souls, and you will understand this when you meditate upon My Passion. Call upon My mercy on behalf of sinners; I desire their salvation. When you say this prayer, with a contrite heart and with faith on behalf of some sinner, I will give him the grace of conversion. This is the prayer:“O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You.” (Saint Faustina Kowalska, Diary 186, 187)

 

Prayer:

 

Lord Jesus Christ, most merciful Savior of the world, we humbly beseech You, by Your most Sacred Heart, that all the sheep who stray out of Your fold may one day be converted to You, the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls, who lives and reigns with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Reread the conversion of St. Paul as he himself tells it. Make a list of all the ways that Paul persecuted the church. Make a list of mortal (deadly) sins which Paul seems to be committing.

  2. Fr. Sisco says that Paul antagonized the stoning of St. Stephen. Here is the account of that:

54 When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died. (Acts 7: 54-60) How could Paul (then named Saul) have antagonized this mob violence against Stephen? Note that Stephen, in praying for all his accusers, was also praying for Saul (Paul). Relate his prayer to the theme of this Oratory reflection.

  1. Fr. Sisco names three ways to bring about conversion of sinners. What are they? How might these work? Why are these effective? How do they effect the person praying.

  2. Do you know anyone who seemed lost or damned and who came back to Christ? Share your story. How do you think this conversion happened?

  3. What role did Ananias play in St. Paul’s conversion? Have you ever been asked to minister charity to a sinner whom you feared? Did you do it? What was the outcome?

  4. Do you pray, fast, and perform acts of charity for the conversion of sinners? If not, should you begin? How can you begin to do this?

  5. What objections do you raise when God asks you to do something that is against your will or that seems to make no sense? Might God have a plan He’s not revealing to you?

  6. Discuss the virtue of obedience to God.

  7. Imagine the Church without the conversion of St. Paul. What might it be like?

  8. End this reflection time by praying the Blood and Water prayer of St. Faustina and Prayer for the Conversion of Sinners, listed above.

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

 

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 106: Seek, Persevere, Find—But Be Sure You’re Seeking the Truth (A Reflection on Galatians 1: 6-9)

 

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! 9As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed! (Galatians 1: 6-9)

 

7 ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7: 7-8)

 

In our first reading, Paul seems more than just a little harsh to the Christians of Galatia. And the reason for this is that the Galatians had begun to backslide into old ways, particularly the Jewish converts to the faith in the observance of the law. This is somewhat understandable. If you have lived a certain way your entire life, you can imagine that, as an adult, it’s difficult to change. If you were raised speaking Portuguese or Italian, and as an adult moved here and had to speak English, you can understand what I’m talking about. It can be done, but with great difficulty, and it’s always more comfortable doing what we’ve become accustomed to rather than something new.

 

Also, I sure many of you can relate to this who were alive during the Vatican II transition when the Mass went from Latin to English. Even though now we can see what a good move it was, it was very difficult for many people making that transition.

 

This would all be completely understandable if not for one more added element. The Jewish Christians living in Galatia did not just retain elements of the old Mosaic law for themselves; they began imposing the law on the pagan converts to Christianity. Now the problem becomes more severe, because this was discouraging people from converting to Christianity because they didn’t want to undergo the burden of circumcision and the dietary laws. So we can understand Paul’s reasons for being stern. Being a bit backward is one thing, but leading others into error is more serious. And this is why Paul keeps echoing over and over throughout his letters (because this problem is not just unique to Galatia), “Do not divert from the teaching that we gave you, but persevere in the truth.”

 

Jesus echoes the same message in Matthew 7. Don’t grow lax in your seeking of the truth. Persevere. Keep seeking. Keep knocking. Keep asking. So our message today is twofold. Jesus tells us to keep persisting in our relationship with God. But what we learn from our first reading is that we have to be careful. Our perseverance had better be directed at the true teachings of Christ, because there are many counterfeits out there.

 

This is just as true today as it was in Paul’s day. There are just as many imposters out there who claim to have the true teaching of God but don’t. Several years ago I received a letter criticizing me for a baptism homily I’d been giving for years. This woman was upset because I dared to suggest that the Catholic Church was correct in her teaching. And while she claimed I was criticizing other religions, I say I was doing no such thing, but what I did do was point out the different beliefs of the other world religions and explained why they’re not part of our theology. And in the letter she included these Xeroxed pages from a book that pulls quotes from all the sacred texts of the different world religions that shows similarities to Christianity. Granted, similar terminology is used in many sacred texts, but in concept, the meanings of those words are sometimes worlds apart.

 

 We also have to be careful within the Church of people who are teaching their own brand of Catholicism, liberal and conservative. Conservatives can be just as guilty as liberals. One publishing company once published a book, I believe the name was “This Is Our Faith.” Looking at the advertising flyer, I got really excited because it looked like the most complete text on the faith I had seen. I was going to use it as my new RCIA text and keep a copy as a reference. And even though they advertised it as updated with the New Catechism, when I actually saw the book, I was so disappointed because it had not been totally updated at all.

 

Deceptions are everywhere. So by all means persevere in your faith. But make sure it’s the right faith you’re persevering in, the faith that was given to us by the apostles and proclaimed in the teachings of the Church.

 

And Blessed Be God forever! 

 

--Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

“It is not the actual physical exertion that counts towards a one’s progress, nor the nature of the task, but by the spirit of faith with which it is undertaken.” St. Francis Xavier

 

Prayer:

 

O my God, I firmly believe that you are one God in three Divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; I believe that your Divine Son became man, and died for our sins, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths the Holy Catholic Church teaches because You have revealed them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. (Act of Faith)

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1.        Sum up your faith belief in one sentence.

  2.        What wrong teachings about the faith have you encountered? Who was purposing them? What, if anything, did you do about it?

  3.        How can we know what the Church actually teaches?

  4.        How do you deal with the comment, “Scripture teaches this but your Church says that?” Is there a discrepancy between what Scripture teaches and the Church teaches?

  5.        Fr. Sisco mentions that errors regarding the faith can result in both a liberal and a conservative direction. Can you think of one error in each of these categories?

  6.        Why is it difficult to adjust to doing things a new way? Are the changes in the Mass new teachings or new techniques? How can a new technique bring about a change of faith? How can a new technique enhance the same faith?

  7.        Discuss the quote from St. Francis Xavier, in light of this reflection.

  8.        The Act of Faith is a traditional prayer of our Faith. Do you believe all it says?

  9.        Why is Paul so harsh in the reading? Why is it important to keep our faith pure and true?

  10.     God never changes, but times change. How can we relate to God in modern times? How does this compare with how people related to God in past times?

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Oratory of  Divine Love Reflection 107: Conformity to Christ: A Reflection on Hebrews 13: 1-8

 

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honour by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper;    I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13: 1-8)

 

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  (Based on Heb 13:1-8)

 

In my last assignment, aside from being the assistant pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, I was also the Catholic chaplain at Roger Williams University, and I sometimes got comments from the college students to the effect of, ‘When is the Catholic Church going to update some of its teachings?’ 

 

Now I knew what they were getting at, but I always played dumb. “Why, whatever do you mean?  What teachings need to be updated? That we need to take care of the poor?  That we need to defend the defenseless? That we should respect all people as children of God, and treat them as we would want to be treated?”  ‘Well, no.  Not those teachings.’

 

“Oh, you mean that we should go to Mass to receive the Eucharist, and confess our sins, and try to become living images of Jesus Christ through the sacraments?”  ‘No, not those teachings either.’  “Well, what other teachings are there?”

               

When I press them, the teachings they have a problem with always revolve around sex, abortion, gay marriage, and women priests. This line of scripture from Hebrews is usually the one I lead off with; “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” So if you accept that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, that means you also accept that Jesus Christ transcends human traditions and cultural norms. So when we say we can’t ordain women priests because Jesus didn’t ordain women priests at the Last Supper, you can’t respond, “Well, Jesus wouldn’t have ordained women because that would have been socially unacceptable in his time,” because to argue that Jesus was subject to the norms and traditions of his culture, says that Jesus Christ was not God, because he didn’t have the foresight to see how culture would change.

               

Likewise, Jesus constantly flew in the face of his cultural norms and traditions, which is precisely why the Pharisees wanted him dead, yet he still didn’t ordain women. So if we accept that Jesus is God, all his teachings must be true and applicable to all times.  For a case in point, let’s see what Hebrews goes on to say.

 

“Love your fellow Christians always.  Do not neglect to show hospitality.”  Show fellowship toward our brothers and sisters in faith, and charity to all. “Be as mindful of prisoners as if you were sharing their imprisonment, and of the ill-treated as yourselves.”  This is social justice: the requirement of our faith to look after those less fortunate than us. Immigrants, whether they’re here legally or not, still have to be treated with human dignity.  Christianity demands that.

               

“Let marriage be honored in every way, and the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.”  This is sexual ethics. The sanctity of the body is to be used for giving life and not selfish self-gratification as would be the case with co-habitation, gay marriage, abortion and pornography.

 

“Do not love money, but be content with what you have.”  This would be business ethics. Give a just salary for a fair day’s work.  Corporate greed cannot be allowed to exploit the poor in our own country or in others.  Corrupt CEO’S cannot be allowed to run corporations into bankruptcy while they walk away with multi-million dollar golden parachutes. Consider war.  Nations do not have the right to violate the sovereignty of others because they want to steal their natural resources.

 

All of these points, which the author to the letter of the Hebrews makes, are at the foundation of Catholic Church teaching. And all these issues are as current as the six o’clock news.

               

Need we update our teachings?  No.  The teachings are fine. It is not that the Church has to update its teaching to please the passing whims of the culture. Rather the culture needs to conform to the will of God, Who is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

 

Blessed Be God Forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote From a Saint: “Our wish, our object, our chief preoccupation must be to form Jesus in ourselves, to make his spirit, his devotion, his affections, his desire, and his disposition live and reign there.” -Saint John Eudes

 

Prayer By a Saint: “Jesus Christ, Lord of all things! You see my heart; you know my desires. Possess all that I am - you alone. I am your sheep; make me worthy to overcome the devil.” -Saint Agatha

 

Questions for Reflection:

1. Are there teachings of the Church that you believe can and should be updated?  If so, which ones?

 

2. What do you see as the most significant differences in culture between Jesus’ time and ours?

 

3. Give examples of when Jesus flew in the face of his cultural norms and traditions.

 

4. If Jesus lived in our own day and age, what cultural norms and traditions would you expect to see him break? Why?

 

5. The Church being the Body of Christ in our day and age, how do you see her fighting or breaking current cultural norms and traditions? 

 

6. Can you identify additional issues the Church should address?

 

7. How might the Church influence modern cultural norms to better conform society to the Will of God? 

 

8. As a member of the Body of Christ, how might you influence this change?

 

9. Following Saint John Eudes, how might you adjust your own chief preoccupation to better conform yourself to Jesus’ spirit, devotion, affections, desire, and disposition?

 

By Susan Boudreau

Oratory 108: The Chair of Saint Peter: A Reflection on Matthew 16: 13-19

 

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16: 13-19)

 

On February 22, the Church celebrates the Feast of the chair of Saint Peter. It seems strange we should celebrate the feast of a chair. The chair of Peter is greatly misunderstood by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Many people believe that this feast is about the physical chair of Peter in Rome. Fundamentalists accuse us of believing that, when the Pope sits in the physical chair of Peter, he is somehow magically, mystically plugged into the Holy Spirit! We do not believe that at all. In fact, the actual chair was not made until around 500 A.D.

 

So what are we celebrating when we celebrated the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter? The chair is the symbol of the Pope’s divine office, just as the miter and crosier are the symbol of Bishop’s divine office. The miter is the symbol of the bishop’s divine authority. The crosier is a symbol of the bishop’s ministry as shepherd of souls. The Pope has a miter and crosier because the Pope is also a Bishop.

 

But the Pope has also the chair as the symbol of his authority. What is so symbolic about a chair? The chair symbolizes teaching authority. In ancient universities students sat on the floor, but the professor would sit on a chair, thus elevated above the students in the class. It was a symbol that the teacher had higher knowledge. This was the custom until very recently in history. If you go into old school buildings you see that the teacher’s desk was on a slight stage or elevation above the class. (Not much, maybe 6 inches). One of our area’s high schools, in the early 1950’s in its old wing still had some classrooms like that. The teacher had higher knowledge, so the teacher sat above the class.

 

The same symbolism is true of the Church. If you ever go to an ordination or a confirmation, you notice that when the Bishop gives the instruction to the faithful, he does so sitting from a chair in front of the altar. That’s because, when a Bishop is giving instruction in the sacred liturgy, he is exercising his role as an apostle, a teacher of the faith. That’s what the chair of Peter symbolizes.

 

Does the Pope have higher knowledge, and understanding, and education? He might. And he might not. But he does have grace. Look at St. Peter himself. In the Gospel reading, why does Jesus call Peter blessed? It’s not because he’s better, or smarter, or even stronger than the others. Jesus calls Peter blessed because God had given Peter the grace to understand something that the human mind could not have concluded on its own. “Blessed are you Simon bar Jonah, for no mere mortal has revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.”And because Peter has been given this grace, and used it, he is also given the authority that goes along with this understanding-- the authority to teach. “Whatever you hold bound on earth will be held bound in heaven. Whatever you hold loosed on earth will be held loosed in heaven.”

 

Before any of us does anything in life, we need to go to a teacher. That’s true of the greatest minds in society to the simplest children. We all need to be taught before we can do. If we don’t go to a teacher first, all we do is keep reinventing the wheel. The Bible can teach, but the Bible itself does not have the authority TO teach. The Bible, like any text, needs to be interpreted. Jesus knew that his words needed to be interpreted. That’s why he gave Peter this authority to do it!

 

Dr. Scott Hahn recounts a debate that he had with a Presbyterian Minister about the title Mother Church. The minister was questioning the title “Mother Church.” Scott asked the minister, “What do you call a man who fathers children through many mothers?” We might have different names for such a character. Rogue. Scoundrel. Bigamist. Gigolo. Can we say that God fathers that way? No. God fathers through one Mother. God begets children through one Mother. That Mother is the Church.

 

Many well meaning but misled people throughout history claimed to have personal revelations from God and started their own churches. They stand on their own testimony, but Jesus only said these words to Peter. “You are Peter and on THIS rock I will build MY Church.” We, the Catholic Church, are the only Church that can trace our succession back to Peter. And the gates of hell have not prevailed against the chair of Peter, and the gates of hell never will.

 

Blessed be God forever,

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote from a Saint: "Before His suffering the Lord Jesus Christ, as you know, chose His disciples, whom He called Apostles. Among these Apostles almost everywhere Peter alone merited to represent the whole Church. For the sake of his representing the whole Church, which he alone could do, he merited to hear, I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven (Matt 16:19)."—Saint Augustine

 

Prayer: O God, the Shepherd and Ruler of all Your faithful people, mercifully look upon Your servant [name of Pope], whom You have chosen as the chief Shepherd to preside over Your Church. We beg You to help him edify, both by word and example, those over whom he has charge, that he may reach everlasting life together with the flock entrusted to him. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. What do you see as the primary function of the Pope? Why?

  2. Why is the Pope THE Church’s teaching authority?

  3. How did Jesus’ establishment of the Church with Peter at the head differ from the Jewish faith? What did it have in common with the Jewish faith? How would you say that the Pope compares to the High Priest in the Jewish temple?

  4. Suppose a Catholic disagrees with the Pope. What should be his or her response?

  5. What qualities did Jesus see in Peter to select him as the head of the Church? Why were these qualities essential?

  6. What response can be given to those who bring up examples of “bad” popes?

  7. Do you pray for the Pope daily? If not, should you begin? How can you remember to pray for him? Why does he need our prayers?

  8. Discuss what our Church might be like if we had no Pope.

  9. St. Augustine says that Peter alone merited to represent the whole Church. What qualities of St. Peter would cause Augustine to make this judgment?

  10. Who do YOU say that Jesus is?

  11. Is the term Mother appropriate for the Church? Give reasons for your answer.

 

--By Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

 

Oratory 109: The Object of Sacrifice: A Reflection on Isaiah 58: 1-14

 

Cry out full-throated and unsparingly, lift up your voice like a trumpet blast; Tell my people their wickedness, and the house of Jacob their sins. They seek me day after day, and desire to know my ways, Like a nation that has done what is just and not abandoned the law of their God; They ask me to declare what is due them, pleased to gain access to God. "Why do we fast, and you do not see it? afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?" Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers. Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw. Would that today you might fast so as to make your voice heard on high! Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?

 

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

 

Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am! If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday; Then the LORD will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land. He will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails. The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake, and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up; "Repairer of the breach," they shall call you, "Restorer of ruined homesteads." If you hold back your foot on the sabbath from following your own pursuits on my holy day; If you call the sabbath a delight, and the LORD'S holy day honorable; If you honor it by not following your ways, seeking your own interests, or speaking with malice--Then you shall delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will nourish you with the heritage of Jacob, your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 58: 1-14)

 

Today’s reading reiterates a message: it is not so much what we sacrifice that matters, but how we sacrifice it. Our attitude toward sacrifice carries a lot more weight than what we’re sacrificing, because our spiritual sacrifices are supposed to be shaping us. Sacrificing hurts. It’s painful because it goes against our human nature. Our human nature always wants to put me first. Human nature always wants to succumb to whatever craving we’re feeling at any particular moment. Sacrificing though, denies human cravings. Sacrificing seeks to curb carvings, not through surrender, but through discipline. So sacrifice is painful, or at the least uncomfortable. I cannot have that snack when I am hungry. I must spend more time praying when I’d rather be watching TV. I give money to charity that I could spend on myself.

 

Think of sacrifice like a sculptor’s chisel. It is always there chipping away our rough edges and useless parts to form us into the image the artist desires. And that image is none other than the artist himself. Every living person is God’s attempt at a self portrait. That deserves repeating. EVERY living person is GOD’S ATTEMPT at a SELF-PORTRAIT. Genesis tells us that we were made in God’s image and likeness. So we are set apart from the rest of creation in that we somehow, on some level, resemble God.

 

Through the sacraments we are given a share in God’s life. We become part of God. The sacraments are a stepping stone, a means to another end. Using the grace in the sacraments, God attempts to remake us so that we don’t just RESEMBLE His image as in Genesis but rather that we become a REFLECTION of His image.

 

This is what sacrificing does. This is what sacrificing is for. To make us REFLECT God’s image.     That is why the Lord says through Isaiah, “This rather is the fasting I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, … Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke, sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.” In a word, our sacrificing should be making us more virtuous.             And to be virtuous is to reflect the image of God. If we’re not allowing our sacrifices to change us, they are nothing but empty gestures.

 

You know, I have many times from this pulpit criticized fundamentalist and evangelical theology and their rejection of the sacraments, except baptism.   But I know many evangelicals personally, who live very moral, virtuous lives. And many of them put the average Catholic to shame in this area. Now let’s acknowledge our brokenness in that area. We need to fix it, not only for our own salvation, but for our credibility as Christians. Brothers and sisters, we CAN fix this. We can become more virtuous people. Sacrificing will help us get there. Pray with me that we may all be people of virtue.

 

And blessed be God forever.

Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of  Penitents

 

Quote from a Saint: “I began to understand that the love of the Sacred Heart without a spirit of sacrifice is but empty illusion.” – Blessed Maria Droste zu Vischering

 

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, make of us good and fertile soil, for the reception of the seed of your grace, and make it yield worthy fruits of penance, so that with your help we may merit to live eternally in your glory, who are blessed throughout all ages. Amen. – St. Anthony of Padua

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. How do you feel about sacrifice?

  2. What, for you, would be the three biggest sacrifices you could make?

  3. What sacrifices do you make regularly? Are there any you should be making?

  4. What is the object of sacrifice? Do you think Fr. Sisco’s concept of sacrifice’s goal is correct? Why or why not?

  5. How do you feel about your being God’s attempt at a self portrait? Be honest. What sort of portrait of Himself is reflected in you? How can you improve that portrait?

  6. Do you want to be a reflection of God? Why or why not? Do you think you can be? Why or why not?

  7. Discuss the quote from Blessed Maria Droste.

  8. St. Anthony’s prayer asked that we yield “worthy fruits of penance.” What might some of those be?

  9. What is penance? How does it differ, if it does, from mortification? How does it differ from sacrifice? How do each of these relate to personal conversion?

  10. Discuss some non-Catholics whom you know who are living reflections of God. Why is that? What in them can you imitate?

  11. Is there any time in your life when you feel you have been God’s living reflection? Share that time with others. What was the fruit of this experience in your life and in the lives of others?

 

--By Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Oratory of Divine Love 110: How’s Your Crop?: A Reflection on Matthew 21: 33-46

 

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey. When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”

They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.”

Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the corner stone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes?’ Therefore, I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was speaking about them. And although they were attempting to arrest him, they feared the crowds, for they regarded him as a prophet. (Mt. 21: 33-43)

This parable of Jesus is a reminder that the Lord expects something from us. Jesus, in telling his parables, always uses images that his audience could easily relate to, in this case a vineyard and tenant farmers. That was a common enough situation in Jesus’ day. Now this is a parable we’ve all heard a million times if we’ve heard it once. But note some of the details of this parable.

How did this vineyard come into existence? The landowner. It’s the landowner who planted the vineyard, and if you’ve ever planted grape vines, you know it’s tedious and meticulous work. Grape vines need a lot of tender loving care or the grapes won’t grow. The landowner puts a hedge around the vineyard to protect it. The landowner is the one who digs the vat. The landowner builds a tower. The landowner has done all the preparation work. This project is something the landowner has invested himself in, both financially, and in terms of time and sweat. And yet this vineyard is more than just a financial investment. This vineyard is special to the landowner. Creation is special to God. We are more than just an investment, or an experiment. Creation was a labor of love from God, and he cares about it. Then the landowner puts the care of his vineyard in the hands of tenant farmers. The tenant farmers haven’t invested themselves in this project like the landowner has. They didn’t do any of the preparation work, the backbreaking work. All they have to do is maintain and continue what the landowner has begun. God has given us everything we need to continue his work on earth. God has done all the backbreaking work already. He’s given us his word in scripture. He’s given us his sacraments in the Church. He died on the cross to give us the strength to overcome sin. Everything we need has been supplied to us.

 

Finally, when harvest time comes, the landowner sends servants and even eventually his own son, to collect his share of the crop. And please note that the landowner doesn’t anticipate any trouble from the tenants. In fact, any audience listening to this parable would have been thinking of the tenants, ‘Are these guys crazy?! What do they think they’re going to get away with? Under the Mosaic Law they can be severely punished for what they’re doing, and no judge on earth would side with them!’

 

Also note, in the ancient world, to own land was to be wealthy. To be a tenant farmer, meant you had no land. You had to work someone else’s land. You were poor. You had nothing. So for these tenants to be this brazen against a landowner is just plain stupid. Today it would be like one of us trying to take on Donald Trump, or Bill Gates, or the Kennedy’s, knowing we didn’t have a legal leg to stand on. They’d eat us for breakfast! It’s dumb! Well that’s how Jesus says we’re acting toward the Father.

 

Jesus is saying the Pharisees are the tenants in this parable, because their ancestors killed the prophets, and now they want to kill him, stupidly thinking the Father will let them get away with it.

 

But this parable is also applicable to us. As I said, God has given us everything we need to be holy; the Church, the sacraments, the scriptures, etc. Have you checked on your harvest lately? Have you checked your grapes? Because the harvest he’s looking for is holiness. Are you growing in virtue? Are there vices attached to you? This is what Lent is for. It’s a time set aside to remind us to check on our crop. Because it’s very easy to get complacent like these tenants, and then start to think, “I don’t owe the landlord a thing! This is MY land! This is MY money. This is MY body! This is MY life! This is MY freedom!” Wrong. Everything we have is on loan. Everything we have has been given to us by the landlord, and he expects a return on his investment.

 

So how’s your crop?

 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote from a Saint: “Let us imitate what we shall one day be.” – St. Cyprian of Carthage

 

Prayer: 'O Lord, keep Thy hand this day over Philip; if Thou do not, Philip will betray Thee.' –St. Philip Neri

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Discuss the parable of the vineyard. Who would you be in the parable?

  2. Why did the tenants act the way they did? Who would be the tenants today?

  3. Why is the world the Lord’s vineyard?

  4. Do you see yourself as bearing spiritual fruit for God? What assistance do you have in bearing this fruit? Are you lacking any assistance? Where might you find that?

  5. Discuss the quote from St. Cyprian. What does it mean? How would you bear more spiritual fruit if you followed the saint’s advice.

  6. Discuss St. Philip Neri’s prayer. Might you want to make it your own?

  7. How do we betray God?

  8. How do we reject God’s gifts and messengers?

  9. How do we appropriate to ourselves what God has done and is doing?

  10. What happens to a world whose inhabitants overlook the landlord or actively work against Him?

  11. What can you do to cultivate the vineyard of the Lord?

  12. What do you think Jesus meant by this statement: The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.

  13. What is God seeking in us?

  14. Father Sisco asks, “So how’s your crop?” Do you ever perform a spiritual checkup to see? How could you answer this question?

 

--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