Oratory of Divine Love Weekly Reflections Archives -- Weeks 291-300

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 291: Taking Care Not to Scandalize: A Reflection on 1 Corinthians 8: 1-12

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.]

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (1 Corinthians 8: 1-12)

 

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he wrestled with the problem of scandal. Ancient Corinth was a city that abounded with pagan temples--literally hundreds. Animals were sacrificed daily at these pagan temples, and, because there was no refrigeration, the meat of those animals was sold in the market place later that day, with the meat that had been slaughtered for market. There was no way to tell the difference between an animal slaughtered in market, and one that had been sacrificed to a pagan god. So a group of Christians became scandalized when they saw other Christians buying meat at the market place--meat, that may have been offered to a pagan god earlier that day. 

Saint Paul tells them that it makes no difference where the meat in the market came from. We who are Christian know that this meat wasn’t sacrificed to anything but a hunk of stone, or wood. So of course it’s all right to buy and eat meat that is sold in the market.  

But Saint Paul goes on to say, however, that if “my eating meat is going to scandalize and thus cause the downfall of one of my brothers who is weaker in faith, I would never eat meat again for the rest of my life.” 

Why? Wasn’t it their right to eat meat? Yes. But out of love, they should be willing to sacrifice that pleasure so as not to be a stumbling block to other Christians.  

Being a priest there’s always a temptation that, because we take a vow of celibacy, we’re entitled to spoil ourselves in other ways. Doesn’t everyone have the right to have a hobby? Sure. But when we start spending more time and energy on the hobby than the ministry, there’s a problem. Don’t I have the right to buy a flashy car if I save my money to buy it? Sure. But out of love I should refrain, because if my parishioners see me driving a flashy car while they struggle to pay bills, it could cause their faith to be scandalized. I always have to be watching myself. 

And this doesn’t just apply to me. All of us must watch our words and our actions, so as not to scandalize others. Why? Because scandal is always motivated by selfishness. At the root of all scandal is the attitude; ‘I want’ ‘I desire.’ ‘I deserve this.’ We fall into that one a lot. “Hey, I work hard all week. I deserve this!” So let me get this straight. You work hard all week, to get the money you want, to have all your material comforts--therefore you deserve to sin. Only when we can prove that Jesus deserved the cross can we say that we deserve to sin. 

Jesus stressed this, as recorded in the gospels. We should not be motivated by desire; rather we should motivated by love. We should be willing to go the extra mile. We should be willing to turn the other cheek. We should be willing to lend our tunic as well as our cloak. Jesus, in all of these examples, is telling us to love completely, wholly, unreservedly. And Jesus told us to love as he loved, because in so doing, we won’t scandalize anyone. 

So let’s all make a good examination of conscience today. Let’s try to see where the attitude of “I want, I desire, and I deserve” may be damaging the faith of others. Let’s also try to see what good we can do for others so we can be more open to the love of Christ, and share that love with each other. 

And blessed be God forever. Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote from a Saint:

Honor your neighbor, and you have honored God. –St. Ephrem the Syrian

 

Prayer:

Lord, open my eyes to how I may be scandalizing others. Let me see myself through the eyes of my neighbor, and give me the courage to change my actions and words so that I may inspire them rather than harm their faith by being a poor witness to You. Amen.

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Name some ways we scandalize others without thinking. How can each of these be combatted?

  2. Can you think of times that others have scandalized you? What was your response?

  3. Discuss the quote from St. Ephrem.

  4. Have you ever been scandalized by a priest or someone else in the Church? What was the occasion? What was your response? What can your response be now?

  5. Discuss Fr. Sisco’s statement “

  6. How can we share the love of Christ with others?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 292: “Follow Me”: A Reflection on Matthew 9:9

 

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9:9)

 

“He said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.” It has always intrigued me, how the apostles so willingly and quickly leave their lives behind to become disciples of Jesus. When Jesus tells Peter to follow him, he responds immediately, as do Andrew, James and John. The difference between them and Matthew is they were fisherman. They may well have been thinking; ‘Hey, if this rabbi makes us preachers and rabbis, that’s a heck of lot easier than being a fisherman! ‘And if it doesn’t work out, the fish will always be there.’

 

So anyone who wants to try to discredit Jesus or the Gospels can use that argument. The reason why these men followed Jesus is not because of anything miraculous or mystical. They were just trying to escape their poverty, and relentless hard work.

 

But you cannot make that argument with Matthew, because he was wealthy. Matthew is rich because he’s a tax collector for Rome and he can charge whatever commission for his salary that he sees fit. So he’s not only rich, but he’s a cheat as well. As Harry Truman said, “If any public servant is rich, he got it dishonestly.” It was just as true then, as it is now.

 

And if Matthew does leave and follow Jesus and it doesn’t work out, then Matthew is out of a job, his livelihood, and his possessions. He’s poverty stricken. And yet he does risk it all, because he believed that Jesus was sent from God. And that’s why Jesus calls him. Jesus saw that faith under the surface of a man who was a social exile, seen as a traitor by his own kind, and seen as inferior to the Roman occupiers.

 

And I think that’s why Matthew responds to Jesus so readily; he knows he’s a sinner, he knows he’s an outcast, and he knows he’s probably hell bound when he dies. “But if I follow the Jesus guy, if he really is sent from God, then I have a shot at redemption.”

 

And I see the same thing in Peter. When Jesus preforms the miracle of filling Peter’s nets with fish, how does Peter respond? “Depart from me Lord! I am a sinful man!” Peter knows his shortcomings. Peter knows he’s a sinner. Nevertheless, when Jesus answers him, “Follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men,” Peter leaves everything and follows Jesus. Again, I think it’s because Peter is very aware of his faults and he sees Jesus’ invitation as an opportunity at redemption.

 

This is why confession is so necessary, so much so, that I offer confessions twice a week, on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. This is why daily Mass, and prayer, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament are so necessary. These things confront us with our sinfulness. These things confront us with our faults and failings, and unless we’re confronted with them, unless we see ourselves as we really are, we’ll never thirst for God, we’ll never thirst for Grace, and we’ll never lunge at the invitations that Jesus extends to us all the time in our day to day lives.

 

Yes, Jesus is extending invitations to us constantly, the same invitations he extended to them: “Follow me.” Every time we have an opportunity to act virtuously, show mercy or forgiveness, extend ourselves in charity, it is a direct invitation from Jesus: “Follow me.”  

And if we’re not using the sacraments, prayer, devotion, that hold up a mirror to our souls

and let us see how often we sin, and so how desperately we need Jesus in our lives, it’s a good chance that we might miss those opportunities.

 

My brothers and sisters I pray today that we all respond to the invitations of Jesus, as quickly and as completely as Saint Matthew. Saint Matthew, pray for us.

 

--Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

Oh, if everyone were to know how beautiful Jesus is, how amiable He is! They would all die from love. – Saint Gemma Galgani

 

Prayer:

 

Sweet Jesus, is there anything sweeter than you? The memory of you is more delightful than anything else. Your name is joy; it is the true gate of our salvation. What else are you, Jesus, if not our Savior? Be our Redeemer. Give us the virtues of hope and love, just as you have given us faith, our primary joy. May we live and die in them so we can attain you. With your help and through the prayers of your Mother, you who are blessed throughout the ages. Amen. –St. Anthony of Padua

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Discuss the differences between Matthew’s willingness to follow Christ and the motives of James and John.

  2. Discuss how Peter and Matthew may have had the same sense of sin and the same sense of who Jesus was.

  3. Have you ever heard Jesus say to you, in some way, “Follow me”? What were the circumstances? Did you obey the call? What was the result?

  4. How might Jesus be calling you to follow him in your every day life?

  5. Do you see the value of confession? How often do you go to confession? How do you prepare for confession? Do you have a regular confessor? Should you obtain one?

  6. How do we reject Jesus’ call to follow him? Make a list of excuses people commonly use to avoid doing the will of God. If any of these are your excuses, how can you deal with them?

  7. Discuss the quote from St. Gemma Galgani.

  8. How do you suppose Matthew’s friends and family may have reacted to his immediate following of Jesus? What do you think where his motives in obeying so promptly?

  9. Do you have anything to lose or gain in following Jesus more closely? How is Jesus calling you now?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 293: What Advantage has the Worker from his Toil?: A Reflection on Ecclesiastes 3: 1-11


There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for everything under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them; a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away. A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent, and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

What advantage has the worker from his toil? I have considered the task that God has appointed for the sons of men to be busied about. He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts, without man’s ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God has done. (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-11)


This passage from the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes is that passage that the 60’s band The Byrds made famous in their song, “Turn, turn turn.” This is also a favorite passage to be read at weddings and funerals.


But I think many of us tend to overlook the end of this reading. “What advantage has the worker from his toil? I have considered the task that God has appointed for the sons of men to be busied about. He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts, without man’s ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God has done.”


What is the prophet saying in this passage? YES, the beginning of this reading demonstrates that everything in creation has an appropriate time. There is a time to live and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest, etc. But it is ALWAYS in season to be doing the work of the Lord.


What IS the advantage the worker has from his toil? The advantage is that he eventually sees the fruits of his labor. When the farmer is sowing the seeds, he knows what the results will inevitably be. In several months, he’s going to harvest a crop he can then sell to buy what he needs. That’s his advantage. The carpenter’s advantage is that he can see the progress he makes from laying the foundation to building the support beams, to putting up the structure, to tiling the roof. That’s the advantage of the worker. They can see the results of their work.


When we do the work of the Lord though, which we are always called upon to do, we don’t always have that advantage. We don’t always see the results of our labor, because we work for the good of souls--our own soul and the souls of others. We WILL see it someday when we reach eternity, but in the meantime we have to walk by faith and trust  that, by living as God has instructed us to live, results are happening that we can’t see.


That’s why the prophet says, God “has put the timeless in our hearts.” What we are laboring for has results in eternity, as well as here. Why does Jesus ask his disciples, “Who do the people say that I am?” Because if they were doing the works of the Lord, if they were laboring as God had wanted them too, they’d recognize who he is, but they don’t. They’re not completely void because they’re at least on the right track. They think Jesus is a prophet, or John the Baptist back from the dead. So they recognize that Jesus is from God. That’s something anyway. But they fail to recognize that Jesus IS God.


Then he puts the question to them, “But who do YOU say that I am?” And Peter gets it right because Peter, despite his faults, has one great virtue—he isn’t lazy! Peter is always willing to labor for the Lord. Even when he embarrasses himself, even when he fumbles the ball, he fumbles because he made a good effort, and that’s why Jesus can keep forgiving him and building him up despite his faults.


And so it is with us. We are always called to labor for the Lord. It is always in season to be forgiving. There is never a good time NOT to forgive. It is always in season to be charitable, to be merciful, to be kind. It is always seasonable to share our faith, to be a joyful witness, to be a people of peace. This is the job that God has given us, and, yes, we’ll mess up at times. Yes ,we’ll miss the mark. Yes, we may even embarrass ourselves, but that’s OK.


As long as we are like Peter and we don’t get lazy about laboring for the Lord, he’ll pull us through those times, and he’ll continue to build us up, despite our faults. For all temporal things there is an appropriate time. My prayer today is that our nation and our world realizes that it is always time to practice virtue. Blessed be God forever. – Father Michael Anthony Sisco


Quote: We must rise up and value every instant of time that passes and is in our power. --St. Pio of Pietrelcina


Prayer: Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil, and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to seek reward, except that of knowing that I do your will. --St. Ignatius of Loyola


Questions for Discussion
1.    Scripture is full of metaphorical and allegorical imagery. What do you think God is referring to when He speaks about sowing and reaping? What do you think He means by sowing seed? What is the seed? What would be the crop?
2.    Why do you think the Lord chose to be a carpenter? Since we are to imitate Him, what do you think we are to be building in our lives?
3.    Do you think God allows some of fruits of our labor to be enjoyed in this life? If so, can you think of some instances where you saw positive results of something good that you have done?
4.    In everything that you do, what end result do you think should be sought?
5.    Sometimes an action or achievement can seem good but, in the end, not be ordered to the glory of God. What criteria can help you decide if the Will of God has been fulfilled?
6.    Both the image of a house and a garden are used frequently in Scripture,  especially by Jesus. What do you think He is referring to when he talks about a house? About a garden?
7.    Today, when many people have ample leisure time, do you think it is important to God how this extra time is used? What do you think Jesus means when He says we will give an account of our lives? Do you think that we will be judged by how we spend our free time? Do you believe certain types of recreational activities are better than others?
8.    Name a few activities that you or others spend time on. Are these constructive, wasteful, or corrupt?  Discuss your insights.
9.    God expects us to manage our time wisely, and not spend inordinate amounts of time in idle play. Name one activity you can change to become more productive, or one habit you can change that would bring about a positive result in your life.
--Lucy Fernandez, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 294: Two Obscure Apostles: Saints Simon and Jude: A Reflection on Matthew 10: 2-4


These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. (Matthew 10: 2-4)


The Church celebrates on one day the feast of two apostles; Saint Simon and Saint Jude, two apostles that fall into obscurity. We don’t know much about them. They don’t say much in the Gospels.


We know Simon more by his political association than anything he says or does. He is called, the zealot. Basically, Simon was a political terrorist. The zealots were a splinter group from the mainline Jewish culture that felt the Herodians, those citizens who were loyal to king Herod, had failed them, in that they were collaborators with the Roman army. So the zealots were trying to rally up the twelve tribes of Israel themselves to form an army and fight the Romans, by waging a terrorist war against the Roman army. In Scripture, the only thing we time we ever hear Simon speak is when Jesus is ascending into heaven. As Saint Matthew tells the story at the end of his Gospel, Simon asks the question, “Lord, now will you reunite Israel and restore her glory?” So even at the Ascension Simon is still waiting for a military messiah to liberate Israel from the Roman empire.


Saint Jude is equally obscure. We know that Saint Jude was the first cousin of Jesus. There is a short letter written by him in the Bible. From sacred Tradition we know that he died a martyr, being clubbed to death. Like Simon he doesn’t have many lines in Scripture. Yet, he is the patron saint of hopeless cases, which is how I became affiliated with him.


I was in Religion Class at about twelve or thirteen years old, when our teacher handed out Holy Cards to the class. I got Saint Jude, because my teacher said I was a hopeless case. I guess Saint Jude and I showed her! And I must say I developed I strong devotion to Saint Jude from then on, and for years after that. Saint Jude got me out of some tight spots in my wilder days.


My point is twofold. First, like Simon the zealot, even saints have to struggle to know and understand the Lord. Even saints have to constantly struggle to understand, and to convert themselves.


Mother Theresa of Calcutta used to get up everyday at 4:30 in the morning to pray before the Blessed Sacrament for an hour. Once she was talking with Father Benedict Groschel, and she said to Father Benedict, “You know, you would get so much more done in your day if you made a holy hour in front of the tabernacle.”


Father Benedict replied, “Mother Theresa, I’m not trying to get more done, I’m trying to get less done! I’m doing too much already.”


Mother Theresa said, “You’re not trying to do more?”


He said, “No.”


She said, “That’s the problem.”


Cool comfort from Mother Theresa!


These are people who struggle to know the Lord.


The Holy Father goes to confession everyday! What this man does, that he feels he needs to go to confession everyday, is beyond me! Here is a man who struggles to know the Lord.


My second point is that, like Simon and Jude, many saints live in obscurity. Many saints go unrecognized. The Church conceded centuries ago that the population in heaven is far greater than the canon of saints. There are more saints we don’t know about, than the ones we do know about. Saints made up of factory workers and house wives. People who live lives of exemplary holiness with no recognition or fanfare.


So, if we ever get discouraged, if we are ever tempted to think that a life of holiness, that a life of sanctity, is beyond our reach, if we ever think that striving toward the Lord isn’t doing us any good, we would do well to call to mind saints Simon and Jude and ask their intersession. Saint Simon and Saint Jude, pray for us.


And blessed be God forever. Father Michael Anthony Sisco


Quote from a Saint:

Sanctity does not consist in being odd, but it does consist in being rare. – St. Francis de Sales


Prayer:

Dear Jesus, in the Sacrament of the Altar, be forever thanked and praised. Love, worthy of all celestial and terrestrial love, Who, out of infinite love for me, ungrateful sinner, did assume our human nature, did shed Your most Precious Blood in the cruel scourging, and did expire on a shameful Cross for our eternal welfare! Now illumined with lively faith, with the outpouring of my whole soul and the fervor of my heart,


I humbly beseech You, through the infinite merits of Your painful sufferings, give me strength and courage to destroy every evil passion which sways my heart, to bless You by the exact fulfillment of my duties, supremely to hate all sin, and thus to become a Saint.


Questions for Reflection:
1.    How important is it for sanctity to be recognized?
2.    Who do you know, who has died, who you feel was a saint? Why do you feel this way?
3.    Do you aspire to sanctity? If so, what are you doing to make your desire a reality? What more can  you do?
4.    Discuss the quote from St. Francis de Sales.
5.    Discuss the anecdote concerning Father Groeschel and Mother Teresa.
6.    Various traditions discuss the martyrdom of St. Simon the Zealot. He was either crucified or sawn in half, according to these traditions. What may have made him turn from his terrorist ways to willingness to be martyred for his faith?
7.    Saint Jude was clubbed to death and his head shattered with a broadax. How might we pray to him for strength in our faith?
8.    Saint Jude is called the patron saint of hopeless cases, the saint of last resort, because some great miracles for the hopeless were attributed to him. Have you ever prayed to St. Jude or known someone who did? What was the result? Why do you think this was the result?
9.    Is there any way to encourage your pastor to speak about how to be holy?
10.    How can we inspire youth to strive for holiness? How can we make holiness attractive?
--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 295: Saints Peter & Paul -- Good Qualities into Virtues: A Reflection on Galatians 1:18

Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him for fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:18) 

I think what I find most comforting about Saints Peter and Paul is that both of them make their faith journey from very different beginnings but end in the same place.  

Peter, the rough and tumble, loud-mouthed fisherman. Peter the Galilean. The people of Galilee were considered the dregs of the Israelite society. And yet Peter’s one great quality is his faith. His faith pushes him to go out on limbs. His faith beckons him to take chances. His faith gives him courage. When Jesus put the question to them, “Who do you say that I am?” everyone was thinking ‘Messiah.’ That’s what they were hoping for. That’s why they were hanging around with Jesus in the first place. But only Peter has the courage to say it. Peter has faith.  

Faith gives us courage. Peter’s problem is that his faith isn’t strong enough. His faith is sometimes misdirected. Peter’s faith gives him the courage to walk on water, but it’s not strong enough to keep him from sinking. Peter’s faith gives him the courage to strike the high priest’s servant with a sword. But that faith is misdirected because good cannot come from an evil act. Peter’s faith gives him the courage to identify Jesus as the Messiah, when the others were too afraid to say it. This leads Jesus to place Peter above the other apostles. But in the very next scene in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus calls Peter a satan, because Peter tries to prevent Jesus from going to his crucifixion in Jerusalem. Peter’s faith gives him courage to identify Jesus as the Messiah, but it’s too weak to give him the courage to face Calvary.  

Paul’s background is very different from Peter’s. Paul came from Tarsus. The people of Tarsus were the great educators of the ancient world. They were so impressive that the empire gave the people of Tarsus honorary Roman citizenship if they would educate the children of Rome. Tarsus was the great Mecca of learning and education, so Paul was no dummy. And being a citizen of Rome, Paul had freedom to move throughout the empire. Before his conversion, Paul was a Pharisee. That meant Paul was not only educated, but he was also wealthy. That meant he had status and importance. 

Paul’s great virtue was his zeal. And his zeal gives him passion, conviction and strength. Again though, like Peter’s faith, Paul’s zeal was misdirected. Paul’s zeal as a Pharisee led him to persecute the early Church. Paul’s zeal antagonized the martyring of Saint Stephen. Paul’s zeal was leading him to Damascus to arrest more Christians and lead them back to Jerusalem for execution, and it’s there that the Lord intervenes. Peter came into a gradual understanding of who Jesus was. Paul gets it at once. And the Lord redirects Paul’s zeal to become one the Church’s greatest apostles and evangelists.  

That’s why Paul can say to Timothy in his letter; “I am already being poured out like a libation.” A libation was a blood sacrifice. He’s saying, “I’m poured out. I’ve given everything I can give to the Lord. I have run the race. I have fought the good fight, and that is why I am confident of my salvation.” Paul’s zeal spread the faith to every major city in the ancient world. That’s quite an accomplishment!  

You see, we all possess good qualities in some degree or another. But what transforms good qualities into virtues is when we surrender them to God. When we give ourselves to God, he amplifies our good qualities to do virtuous things.

God amplified Peter’s faith, so he not only doesn’t fear crucifixion anymore; he also embraces it at the end of his life, so much so that he adds to his own torment by requesting to be crucified up-side-down, because he felt that he wasn’t worthy to die in the same manner his Lord died.  

God amplified Paul’s zeal, that had been so determined to extinguish this new religion, that Paul ends up spreading that religion throughout the Roman Empire.  

Transformation! That’s what we need grace for! That’s what we need the sacraments for! So God can transform us from good people to virtuous people! Because good people build communities, but virtuous people build the kingdom of God. And that’s what we are here to do. 

Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.

--Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: The only true riches are those that make us rich in virtue. Therefore, if you want to be rich, beloved, love true riches. If you aspire to the heights of real honor, strive to reach the kingdom of Heaven. If you value rank and renown, hasten to be enrolled in the heavenly court of the Angels. -- Pope St. Gregory the Great

Prayer: Prayer for the New Evangelization

Heavenly Father, pour forth your Holy Spirit to inspire me with these words from Holy Scripture. Stir in my soul the desire to renew my faith and deepen my relationship with your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ so that I might truly believe in and live the Good News. Open my heart to hear the Gospel and grant me the confidence to proclaim the Good News to others. Pour out your Spirit, so that I might be strengthened to go forth and witness to the Gospel in my everyday life through my words and actions. In moments of hesitation, remind me: If not me, then who will proclaim the Gospel? If not now, then when will the Gospel be proclaimed? If not the truth of the Gospel, then what shall I proclaim?

God, our Father, I pray that through the Holy Spirit I might hear the call of the New Evangelization to deepen my faith, grow in confidence to proclaim the Gospel and boldly witness to the saving grace of your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What are your strong qualities? What are good and bad about them? How can you use them to advance the Kingdom of God?

  2. Name some people who are personality opposites but who are working for the Lord.

  3. What is your response if you “flub up”? Can you think of a time when Jesus used your flubs?

  4. The Church calls us all to be evangelists. How are you evangelizing? What more can you do?

  5. How do your particular background and experiences prepare you for ministry?

  6. What is your mission field? How can you expand it? How can you prepare for that?-- Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 296: The Earth is a Battlefield: A Reflection on Ephesians 6:10-18

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:10-18)

“Brothers and sisters; draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the Devil.” Saint Paul in several of his letters makes it very clear that we are not at war with any human forces. We don’t have to worry about temporal powers and earthly kings. The war we are engaged in is against the devil himself. The forces of good and evil are at war with one another, this world is the battlefield, and we are the prize.

And to be victorious, we have to keep this reality in the forefront of our minds all the time; because when we forget we are at war with the devil, when we forget that this world is a spiritual battlefield, when we forget that every choice we make, good, or bad, has eternal ramifications; when we forget these things it becomes easy for us to make concessions with evil.

The easiest example is abortion. Abortion is a moral evil, because the taking of innocent life can NEVER be morally justified. But what happens when we forget we are at war with the devil? What happens when we forget that every human being is a sacred child of God? I have heard PRACTICING Catholics say, “Well I’m opposed to abortion, except in cases of rape or incest.” Now don’t get me wrong. Rape and incest are also moral atrocities. There is also NEVER a moral justification for rape or incest. But since when do two wrongs make a right? Do the circumstances in which this child was conceived, make that child any less sacred? It’s not the child’s fault it was conceived. Why should the child have to suffer the death penalty for it?

When we forget we are war with the devil, it becomes easier, and easier, and easier to rationalize sin.

A friend of mine from Westerly, Father Frank Fanchese, just made a pastor this past July in Providence was in the news because he fired his parish music minister. The media was in an uproar because the musician was homosexual. In the middle of his homily the next Sunday some twenty members of the congregation got up and started singing “All Are Welcome.” But it was a total distortion. The issue was not that the man was homosexual, but that he got married to his partner. In doing so he made a public statement against the presence of Christ in the sacraments.

So whether it’s a gay marriage, or a divorced person marrying without an annulment, or someone who gets married before a Justice of the Peace because they don’t want to bother with a Church wedding; it would have resulted in the same thing. You can’t deny the presence of Christ in the sacraments of the Church and call yourself Catholic. The fact that the man in question was homosexual was incidental. But once we forget we are at war with the devil, it becomes easy for us to get distracted and forget that the primary purpose of marriage is procreation, NOT pleasure.

Most recently we’ve been in the news again because of cremation. The headlines all say, “Catholic Church comes out with new rules on cremation.” There are no new rules. These are the same regulations that were in place when the Church started allowing cremation almost twenty years ago. The Bishops came out with the document because everyone is ignoring the rules. What are the rules? Ashes can’t be scattered. They have to be put in a container and buried in a cemetery. Or if buried at sea, again the ashes have to be in a sealed container. The ashes can’t be divided up among relatives, or put on the mantle or a shelf.

I first saw the story on Facebook and I was reading vicious, ignorant comments from people; ‘This is just another Church money making scam. ‘Well, it’s MY mother. Who is the Church to say I can’t keep her?’ First, before she was YOUR mother, she was God’s daughter, and, being so, she is sacred. That’s why we don’t scatter ashes like rubbish, or put them on a shelf like an ornament, or divide them up like a possession. These people are sacred. Your body is the first blessed object that was given to you in baptism. What do you do with blessed objects when you can’t use them anymore? You bury them. You return them to the earth from which all things came. But if you forget we’re at war with the devil, it’s easy to forget our bodies are sacred vessels, and if we don’t treat our bodies as sacred vessels in life, why should we in death?

Never forget my brothers and sisters. Never forget. We are at war. This earth is the battlefield, and you are the prize.

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote from a Saint: “Modern times are dominated by satan and will be more so in the future.” – Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe

 

Prayer: Saint Michael 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 power of God, cast into hell satan and all the evil spirits who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Discuss the quote from St. Maximilian Kolbe. How are our times perhaps more evil than his own?

  2. Do you pray the prayer to St. Michael? Why or why not?

  3. Discuss abortion. How is this evil that masquerades as good?

  4. Discuss homosexual marriage. How is this an evil that masquerades as good?

  5. What is the Church’s stance on people with homosexual orientation? What is its stance on homosexual practice?

  6. Discuss cremation. Once the Church opposed cremation because atheists were using cremation to protest against what they felt was a mistaken belief in the resurrection. How are ashes to be treated and why?

  7. What other evils can you think of that masquerade as good? Explain why you selected these.

  8. So as not to honor satan, some people don’t capitalize his name. What are your thoughts on this?

  9. Do you agree with Fr. Sisco’s assessment that the world is a battlefield and we are the prize? Why do you answer as you do?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 297: Spiritual but not Religious: A Reflection on Luke 13:23-30

Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us”, then in reply he will say to you, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.”But he will say, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!” There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.’ (Luke 13:23-30)

During my 20 years of priesthood I’ve seen a decline in the Catholic Church, at least in Rhode Island. I’ve watched daily and Sunday Mass attendance slowly dwindle. I’ve experienced the numbers of confessions drop significantly in the 5 years I’ve been pastor of this parish. I’ve watched the numbers of Church weddings drop off, and now even the numbers of funerals, are starting to decline, not because people have stopped dying, but rather because people have stopped having a funeral Mass for their deceased relatives. (Just a tip, if you want a funeral Mass, be sure to specify that in WRITING! Don’t just assume your children are going to give you a funeral Mass.)

Deacon Joe, in a recent homily, touched on the problem. He said people these days say they’re “spiritual,” but not “religious.” These people REALLY need to take a long, hard, look at this Gospel passage from Luke. In this passage, someone asks Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus, very uncharacteristically, gives a straight answer. He doesn’t cloak his meaning. He doesn’t break into a parable. Jesus answers, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for MANY, I tell you, will attempt to enter, but will not be strong enough.”

Many will attempt to enter, but will not be strong enough. So the answer to this person’s question is YES! Only a few people will be saved. Because if MANY cannot enter, that means only a few will.

And please note, being “spiritual but not religious” won’t cut it in Jesus’ own words. “I do not know you.” “Aw come on! You remember me! You taught in our streets!” SPIRITUAL but not RELIGIOUS! “I know what the teachings are, but I’ll decide for myself which of those teachings I’ll follow.” That is always, always, always, what “spiritual but not religious” boils down to.

“I do not know you.” “But we ate and drank with you!” Who are those people?

“Oh, I don’t need to go to church. I have a personal relationship with Jesus!” “Jesus is my personal Lord and savior! I read the Bible! I pray every day!” That isn’t enough either. Why not? Note Jesus’ rebuke. “I do not KNOW you.” Now, we can take that at its literal meaning, “Hey, you’re a stranger to me,” and that’s a perfectly valid interpretation, but could Jesus have meant more than that?

We’ve all heard that expression, “Oh they KNOW each other, in the Biblical sense.” What does that mean? They’re having sex! They’re being physically intimate. So when the Archangel Gabriel announces to Mary that God has chosen her to be the mother of the Messiah, her response in the original Greek text is, “How can this be, since I have KNOWN no man?” In modern texts that’s always translated, “How can that be since I’m a virgin?” Could this be what Jesus means? That we cannot be saved without having physical intimacy with him? But how is that possible?

The Eucharist! Because in the Eucharist, God’s body and our body, are made one for a brief moment! And isn’t that what sex is--the merging of two bodies into one flesh? That’s how we experience intimacy with God, that how we become KNOWN to God in the Biblical sense, that is why the Church and her priesthood are so necessary, and THAT is what you need to tell all the “spiritual but not religious” people. That’s what you need to tell the people who don’t need Church because they have a “personal relationship with God.” YOU have to tell them. Because they’re your friends, your relatives, your co-workers. They won’t talk to me. Invite them to come to church with you.

Then there’s the other side of this, those people who DO come to Church and receive the Eucharist, but never allow that intimate contact with God change them into better people. That’s our challenge, to let God change us for the better, so we can enter through the narrow gate, and lead as many others there as we can, because we do not have the power to enter on our own.

May God give us all the Grace through the Eucharist to know him, and let that knowledge change us into the children he longs for us to be. Amen.

Blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote: Just as if someone were to twist two pieces of wax together and melt them with a fire, so that the two were made one, so too through participation in the Body of Christ and His precious Blood, He is united to us and we to Him. In no other way can our corruptible nature be made alive except by being united to the Body of Him who is, by His very nature, Life: that is, the Only-Begotten. – St. Cyril of Alexandria

 

Prayer: Godhead here in hiding whom I do adore, masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more; See, Lord, at they service low here lies a heart lost, all lost in wonder at the God Thou art. – St. Thomas Aquinas

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Have you ever heard anyone say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” What do they mean by that?

  2. Discuss Fr. Sisco’s thoughts on Jesus’ saying, “I never knew you.”

  3. What are the differences between knowing about Jesus, meeting Jesus, following Jesus, intimacy with Jesus, obeying Jesus, knowing Jesus?

  4. What excuses have you heard from people regarding their not attending Sunday Mass? What can you do and say to educate these people on the importance of Mass attendance?

  5. Discuss all the ramifications of receiving the Eucharist.

  6. Have you see decline in church attendance at your parish? Is anyone doing anything about this? What outreach is needed to your community to bring people back to Mass?

  7. What are the spiritual dangers of not attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation?

  8. How might people’s idea of God influence their going or not going to Mass?

  9. Discuss the quote from St. Cyril of Alexandria.

  10. Discuss the prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas

  11. Compose your own prayer to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 298: A Thankful Heart: A Reflection on 1 Corinthians 1: 4-5

“I continually thank my God for you because of the favor he bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, in whom you have been richly endowed with every gift of speech and knowledge.” (1 Corinthians 1: 4-5) 

‘I continually thank God.’ Brothers and sisters, I think we need to examine ourselves and discover how much of our prayer time is devoted to thanking God. 

Thanksgiving is one of the fundamental aspects of good prayer. The others are praise, petition, intercession, and repentance. Many people confine their prayers to petition, what we ask for ourselves, and intercession, what we ask for others. Some people may throw in a repentant line or two; “Lord forgive me for all my sins,” but that’s usually the extent of it. And praise and thanksgiving tend to fall by the wayside. 

Praise, in a nutshell, acknowledges God’s greatness. Anything that acknowledges the greatness of God is praising him. Thanksgiving is acknowledging what God has done for me personally. And this is why thanksgiving is so fundamental to the spiritual life, because it takes God out of the abstract and brings him into the concrete. It’s the aspect of prayer that most personalizes the relationship.  

Think of our own human relationships. When we do something for someone we expect them to acknowledge that, don’t we? I mean we don’t expect them to fall all over us, but an expression of gratitude is in order. And when we do something for someone else, and it’s acknowledged, or someone does something for us, and we acknowledge it, isn’t the personal bond between us strengthened? 

Likewise, when goodness is not acknowledged, don’t we feel a bit slighted? Don’t we think, “Man, I went above and beyond for this guy and he doesn’t even say thank you.” And as a result,  the bond of friendship is weakened.  

So, brothers and sisters, do not neglect to make thanksgiving part of your daily prayer. What do we thank God for? EVERYTHING! Take nothing for granted.  

Recently another priest and I were talking about one of our favorite subjects; eating. And we were both just amazed at how God has blessed this nation with an abundance of food. Do you realize how many nations don’t have that? THANK GOD for it!  

Remember the old adage, “I used to cry that had no shoes until I met someone with no feet.” THANK GOD you’ve got feet! 

Dr. Leo Buscaglia tells a story of how, when he was a boy, all he had to wear was a pink coat. And he hated that pink winter coat. The kids used to make fun of him for wearing a girl’s coat, and he just wanted to die. Finally, he told his grandmother, “I hate that coat.” And his grandmother said, “Thank God you have a coat. If you didn’t have this one, you wouldn’t have any.”

So thank God for everything, and yes, even thank him for your sufferings. A little detail in the Acts of the Apostles is often overlooked. Paul writes, “Paul, called by God’s will to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and Sosthenes our brother....” (1 Corinthians 1:1) Who in the world is Sosthenes? We have another reference to him in scripture. When the Jews drag Paul before the Roman Procurator Gallo, and when Gallo refuses to pass judgment on the case because it involves religious matters, the Acts of the Apostles say, “The crowd then seized upon a man named Sosthenes and beat him in full view of the bench.” So Sosthenes was an innocent bystander, and the crowd, in an attempt to provoke Gallo into taking some kind of action, assault this innocent man. But it’s from there that Sosthenes meets Paul, becomes a disciple of Paul, and a Christian, and later becomes a first century bishop. God brought good out of suffering. God brought good out of an injustice. So thank God even for the misfortunes and pain in your life, because God can use those to bring good things later. 

Brothers and sisters, it is my prayer today that, like Paul, we all develop the habit of continually thanking God. 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote from a Saint: We must take to heart, brothers, from what stuff we were created, who we were and what kind of creatures we were when we entered the world, as if from a tomb and from utter darkness. Having prepared for us bountifully before we were born, He who fashioned us and created us and brought us into His world. Since, then, we owe all this to Him, we ought to give Him thanks for everything. – Pope St. Clement I

 

Prayer: God of all blessings, source of all life, giver of all grace: We thank you for the gift of life: for the breath that sustains life, for the food of this earth that nurtures life, for the love of family and friends without which there would be no life. We thank you for the mystery of creation: for the beauty that the eye can see, for the joy that the ear may hear, for the unknown that we cannot behold filling the universe with wonder, for the expanse of space that draws us beyond the definitions of our selves. We thank you for setting us in communities: for families who nurture our becoming, for friends who love us by choice, for companions at work, who share our burdens and daily tasks, for strangers who welcome us into their midst, for people from other lands who call us to grow in understanding, for children who lighten our moments with delight, for the unborn, who offer us hope for the future. We thank you for this day: for life and one more day to love, for opportunity and one more day to work for justice and peace, for neighbors and one more person to love and by whom be loved, for your grace and one more experience of your presence, for your promise: to be with us, to be our God, and to give salvation. For these, and all blessings, we give you thanks, eternal, loving God, through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen. (Vienna Cobb Anderson)

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. What are you thankful for? What should you be thankful for? Why?

  2. How often do you thank God? Daily? Weekly at Sunday Mass? When?

  3. How do you thank God? How do you thank others?

  4. Discus the quote from Pope St. Clement I. Pay attention to this section “fashioned us and created us and brought us into His world.” Do we think of the world as belonging to God in the sense that it is His possession and, had He not brought us here, we would be trespassing?

  5. Discuss the four types of prayer Fr. Sisco mentions. Which type seems to get the most use? Which the least?

  6. What is the difference between petition and intercession? Between praise and thanksgiving?

  7. Several countries observe a Thanksgiving Day when the nation gives thanks for its blessings. If you had to select a Thanksgiving Day for yourself, what day would it be? Why?

  8. If you had to select a Thanksgiving Day for your family, what day would it be? Why?

  9. Discuss the examples of Thanksgiving that Fr. Sisco shares. What does each teach us?

  10. Take 5 minutes and write down all the things you can think of that you are thankful for. Share this with your Oratory group, if you have one. What does this exercise show you?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 299: Hatred vs. Love: A Reflection on 1 John 4: 19-21

Beloved, we love God because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4: 19-21)

“If anyone says, ‘My love is fixed on God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. One who has no love for the brother he has seen cannot love the God he has not seen.” 

This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture from the 1st letter of Saint John. John’s first statement--we cannot say we love God while hating our neighbor. Now hating someone and disliking someone are two different things, and we often confuse them, because we throw around words like “hate” so casually. Disliking someone is not a sin, because like and dislike are emotional reactions. Our will doesn’t dictate our emotions. Our will doesn’t control how we feel. And since sin is only determined by what we choose and not by what we feel, disliking someone is not sinful. In a strict sense, it is not really a person we dislike; rather it’s an aspect of a person that we dislike. There’s something about the person we dislike. They have habits or traits that irritate us. They talk too much. They are too loud. They are rude, for example. 

Hating someone goes a lot farther than that. Hating someone is wanting to see them destroyed and rejoicing in their suffering. In other words, hating is vengeful. That’s hate, and that’s sinful, because hate sets itself in direct opposition to love. Love wants what’s best for the other person; hate wants what’s worst for another person. So, we can dislike someone, yet still love them at the same time. We can say, “I don’t hang out with this person because (whatever the reason is), but I still pray that God gives them every good thing in life.” 

But can someone embrace the love of God while hating another? Impossible. Because God is love by his very nature. God wants what’s best for all of us, so if we hate we must reject love. In hating we reject God, because God loves the person we hate no matter what they’ve done. God always desires the best for everyone. 

We are all one body; we are all one family, both spiritually and biologically. Spiritually we are all one family because God is the Father of all life and we are his children. Biologically we are one family. DNA research now suggests that all human life came from one set of parents. That means we’re all distant cousins. We’re related. We’re family. That’s how God sees us, and that is how we must start seeing each other. But note, my brothers and sisters, John doesn’t stop at just, "you can’t love God while hating another." John goes one step further in his next line. “Whoever loves God, must also love his brother.” So, it’s not enough just not to hate; we must commit ourselves to love. We must commit ourselves to will, seek, and do good for others. Because love always wills, seeks, and acts for the good of others. 

And when we start doing this with one another, then we’ll truly start to love God. And loving God means that we should seek and will God’s good also. How do we seek good for God? What do you get the God who has everything? We seek the good of God by desiring that his name be glorified in our lives. We seek the good of God by desiring that his kingdom spread all over the world. We seek the good of God by desiring that his praise be on every tongue. That’s how we seek the good of God, and that’s also how we demonstrate our love for him. 

In all my parish assignments, I met young people with potential vocations. And yet often, even when the individuals were open to that call, often I would get static from the parents. A woman from my first parish assignment actually said these exact words, “I don’t want my son to throw his life away being a priest.” She said it right to my face, to me, a priest! And these were active parishioners! “I want my son to be a doctor, or a lawyer." "I want my daughter to get married. “I want grandchildren.” I want, I want, I want..

What about what God wants?  

Parents, I hate to break it to you, but really, they’re not your children. They’re God’s children. He’s only letting you borrow them for a while. And if your child is considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life and you discourage it, you’re demonstrating that you don’t love God. Because to love God desires to see him glorified, especially in the lives of your children. My prayer for all of us today is that we truly love God and one another.

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint:

In the long run, there will be two kinds of men: those who love God and those who love something else. – St. Augustine of Hippo

Prayer:

 

“Where there is hatred, let me sow love.” – Song of Saint Francis (attributed to the saint)

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Fr. Sisco says, “Parent, I hate to break it to you, but, really, they’re not your children. Their God’s children. He’s only letting you borrow them for a while.” Discuss this and the implications it has for raising children. If you are a parent, can you honestly say that you embrace this concept. How should we raise our children? How should we release them into adulthood?

  2. What is the difference between hatred and dislike?

  3. What is an enemy? Who are your enemies? How is it possible to love our enemies? What behaviors would we exhibit if we loved our enemies? Do you act like this toward your enemies? If not, how can you begin to change?

  4. Why is it impossible to love God we hate anyone?

  5. Why is love so important?

  6. What can we give a God who has everything?

  7. How do attachments to any person or any thing or any attitude impede our love of God and of neighbor?

  8. Discuss the quote by St. Augustine.

  9. The Song of Saint Francis says to sow love where there is hatred. How do we do that?

  10. How do people deceive themselves into thinking that they love God when actually they are holding grudges against their neighbors or are refusing God a specific person or part of their lives?

  11. Is there anything coming between you and your love of God and neighbor? If so, how can you eliminate this obstacle?

---Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 300: Faith, Hope, and Love: All Other Virtues Flow from These: A Reflection on 1 Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

 

But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.  (1 Corinthians 13) 

Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians names three virtues which we have since named the “theological virtues.” And these three primary virtues he identifies as faith, hope, and love. What sets these three apart is this--if we don’t acquire these virtues, we won’t get any others. All other virtues stem from faith, hope, or love. 

The prophet Jeremiah says, “Thus says the Lord, cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in his flesh, whose heart is turned away from the Lord.” Well, what is that if not a lack of faith? When we trust in human beings, when we trust in military might, or economic might, or political might and not in the Lord, we’re sinning against faith. And sinning against faith in essence leads to, ‘I make myself my own God. I decide what’s right and wrong, what’s fair and foul.’ 

Jeremiah goes on to say, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord.”  Why? “He is like a tree planted beside the water, that stretches out its roots to the stream: it fears not the heat when it comes.” The man who trusts in the Lord is blessed. Military might can be defeated. Economic might and political might can fail. But by having faith, which means letting God be God and submitting our lives to His Will, we can be assured that, no matter what happens to us in this life, we’re assured of eternal life.  Having faith increases our hope. 

Jesus told a parable about a rich man who refused to help the poor beggar Lazarus who sat at the rich man’s gate. The rich man sins against love.  He refuses to help his brother in need. And notice how sinning against love has the same effect as sinning against faith. Lazarus is there outside his gate, and there’s never an indication that the rich man even notices him, or knows he’s there. Just as sinning against faith turns us in on ourselves, so that we trust in our own power, so sinning against love has the same effect. It turns us in on ourselves so that we don’t notice the needs of others. Even while this rich man is in hell, he still doesn’t understand. He asks Abraham to tell Lazarus to dip his finger in the water and come to cool his tongue. As he’s in hell and Lazarus is in heaven, he still doesn’t see Lazarus as a brother, but as something servile, something beneath him. 

Sinning against hope has the same effect, also. When we sin against hope, when we despair, we turn inward to ourselves so all that we are aware of is our own pain. And in doing that, we become oblivious to the pain of others. So instead of being in a position where we can use even what little we have to help others, we become useless to everyone, because we can’t get past ourselves. 

Brothers and sisters, we must try to grow in virtue. May I recommend that we focus on those three -- faith, hope, and love. Because from these three, all the others will flow.

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote from a Saint: True virtue has no limits. (St. Francis de Sales)

 

Prayer: “O God, all-powerful and all-knowing, without beginning and without end, You Who are the source, the sustainer, and the rewarder of all virtues, Grant that we may abide on the firm ground of faith, be sheltered by an impregnable shield of hope, and be adorned in the bridal garment of charity. Grant that we may through justice be subject to You, through prudence avoid the beguilements of the devil, through temperance exercise restraint, and through fortitude endure adversity with patience. Grant that whatever good things we have, we may share generously with those who have not and that whatever good things we do not have, we may request humbly from those who do. Grant that we may judge rightly the evil of the wrongs we have done and bear calmly the punishments we have brought upon ourselves, and that we may never envy our neighbor’s possessions and ever give thanks for Your good things. Grant that we may always observe modesty in the way we dress, the way we walk, and the gestures we use, restrain our tongues from frivolous talk, prevent our feet from leading us astray, keep our eyes from wandering glances, shelter our ears from rumors, lower our gaze in humility, lift our minds to thoughts of heaven, contemn all that will pass away, and love You only. Grant that we may subdue our flesh and cleanse our conscience, honor the saints and praise You worthily, advance in goodness, and end a life of good works with a holy death. Plant deep in us, Lord, all the virtues, that we might be devout in divine matters, discerning in human affairs, and burdensome to no one in fulfilling our own bodily needs. Grant to us, Lord, fervent contrition, pure confession, and complete reparation. Order us inwardly through a good life, that we might do what is right and what will be meritorious for us and a good example for others. Grant that we may never crave to do things impulsively, nor disdain to do what is burdensome, lest we begin things before we should or abandon them before finishing.” Amen (St. Thomas Aquinas)

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Discuss the quote by St. Francis de Sales.

  2. Compose your own prayer for acquiring virtues.

  3. Name some examples of sinning against faith. Against hope. Against love.

  4. How can one grow in the virtue of faith? Of hope? Of love?

  5. Which of these three virtues do you find most difficult? Why?

  6. What spiritual pitfalls does St. Paul speak of in 1 Corinthians 13? How can we avoid these?

  7. Do you honestly want to acquire all the virtues? Why or why not?

  8. Paul mentions love as the most important virtue. What would be the least important? Why?

  9. Do you pray to acquire more virtue? If not, should you?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

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