Oratory of Divine Love Weekly Bible Study Reflections 

Weeks 381-390

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 381: What Is a Saint?: A Reflection on 1 John 3:13

 
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. -1 John 3:13

On November 1, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints. Why celebrate the saints? Basically, because everyone needs a friend. And that’s what the saints are. They’re our friends. They are our older brothers and sisters who we know have made it to heaven, and by the example of their lives they show us that it is possible to do what God is asking us to do.

It is possible to live holy lives. It is possible to cooperate with Divine Grace so completely in this life that we actually become a living image of Jesus Christ. That’s what a saint is. That’s what makes a saint -- a saint. The saints cooperated with Divine Grace so completely in their lives they became living images of Jesus Christ. So, by their very lives they give us an example. In their lives, they say to us, “If you want to go to heaven, do what we did.”

And you can find a saint for every walk of life on earth. Many saints were priests and nuns, but not all of them. Some were teachers, and philosophers, some were kings and queens. Many others were much simpler things though, like farmers and housewives. There are saints who were doctors and lawyers, writers and soldiers. Some saints traveled to the far reaches of the world, and others never left the town they were born in. Whatever you’re interested in doing with your life, you can find a saint who did it first.

Everyone should have a patron saint. What’s that? A patron saint is a saint that you have a special relationship with. A patron saint is a saint you invite to pray with you, and you ask to pray for you. With all the saints out there, how do you choose?

Many of you were named after saints, either in your first or middle name. My first name is Michael, so Saint Michael the archangel became my first patron saint. Or you can find a saint whose life inspires you. Find a saint who makes you say, ‘I want to be like that,’ and read about that saint, and pray with that saint.

Some people don’t understand why we pray to saints at all. They say, “Well what does God need saints for? Can’t he do the job himself?’ Sure, he can. But God shares everything. Even his power. Jesus did this himself when he took 72 of his disciples and he gave them a portion of his Holy Spirit and told them to go to preach and cast out demons.

Couldn’t Jesus get the job done himself? Of course, he could. But when someone gives us a job to do, and we do it, first it builds our self-esteem, it gives us a sense of accomplishment, and it also invests us in the endeavor of the person employing us. That means a good boss doesn’t act like a boss.

A good boss encourages his or her employees to use their gifts and talents and makes them feel like part of a team, because then they feel good about themselves, they feel good about their job, and they want to do the best job they can do. That's what I always try to do with the people who work for me in the rectory. That’s exactly what God does with us. He shares his power with us to inspire us to want to work to build his kingdom on earth. And in doing that, God teaches us to become more like him, which is a what a saint is, a living image of Jesus Christ.
 
That’s what happens in school. You learn some basics, and you advance to the next grade. When you advance to the next grade, you grow in self-esteem, in confidence, and then you learn more basics that get progressively harder with each grade. With each passing grade, as the work gets harder, you get smarter. As you get smarter, you can do more and more things, and you grow in esteem and confidence. God does the same thing in our prayer. He teaches us things about ourselves and about him, and sometimes those lessons are hard, but every time we pass, we get stronger, and we get wiser. Sometimes we don’t learn everything we’re supposed to, and don’t get to the grade God wants us to before we die, so we got to go to summer school. We call that purgatory. Purgatory is when we learn what we didn’t learn while we were alive. These are things we need to learn before we can enter heaven. We pray for those people in Purgatory. Let’s each adopt a patron saint to pray for us here. Your patron saint is your spiritual friend who inspires you in this life to become a living image of Christ. --Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: Gaze upon Him, consider Him, contemplate Him, as you desire to imitate Him. Show forth in your actions the love which you have within you. -St. Clare of Assisi

Prayer: I love You, O my God, and my only desire is to love You until the last breath of my life. I love You, O my infinitely lovable God, and I would rather die loving You, than live without loving You. I love You, Lord and the only grace I ask is to love You eternally… My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love You, I want my heart to repeat it to You as often as I draw breath. -St. John Vianney of Ars


Questions for Discussion

1. Can you name your patron saint? If so, why do you choose this person? If not, can you think of a saint you admire the most? Do you have others? Why are they your favorites?

2. Saints come from many walks of life: Popes, bishops, priests, nuns, monks, kings, queens, teachers, doctors, lawyers, slaves, fishermen, orphans, illiterate farmers, invalids, and former sinners. What is the common denominator for all these people?

3. Canonized saints, besides having miracles associated with them after death, were known, in life, for heroic virtue. Heroic virtue is a virtue that is demonstrated to a very high degree. Everyone has one or two attributes that characterize them. Some saints took a fault or vice and developed the opposite virtue to such a degree that it could be considered excess. What “virtue” is yours? How could that be elevated to the highest level? What vice is yours? How can you turn it into a virtue?

4. God is pleased with acts of love, no matter how small. St. Therese of Liseaux developed the “little way of love” by doing small, seemingly insignificant things for the love of God. Name two or three simple ways that you can show love.
 
5. Define the word holy. What makes an object holy? Why would we not want to use that object in a profane or worldly way? Do you believe it even matters? Why do you believe that?

6. The Scripture describes the people of God on earth as “holy ones”, or saints. We are considered holy if we are in a state of Sanctifying Grace, that is, baptized Christians not in mortal sin. What makes us holy?

7. Many people feel they are holy because they attend Mass frequently, or pray a lot of prayers, but, the Church teaches that this is not necessarily so. What could keep a person who attends Mass frequently and prays a lot from being holy? How should our behavior change as a result of the above activities?

8. Scripture reveals that Jesus tells us to become “perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect”, indicating that this can be achieved. Canonized saints are considered to have reached perfection in their spiritual lives, and this is why we can and should emulate them. If they could reach this level, why can't everyone? And if everyone can, what do you think may be lacking?

--Lucy Fernandez, CFP

 

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 382: Obeying God: A Reflection on Mark 7:31-37

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mark 7:31-37)

Listening to and obeying the Lord. Whenever we see Jesus, very often he’s trying to get away from people. He’s trying to withdraw. He’s trying to be alone or be alone with the apostles. Why? Because Jesus is always trying to listen to the Father or train his apostles to listen to the Father. When Jesus speaks of his mission, or his purpose, it’s always in terms of two things; teaching the gospel or Calvary. Why?

Again, these are the two things that empower us to listen to and respond to the Father. So why does Jesus heal people? Because being God, Jesus can’t not heal people. Things like suffering and pain are a result of sin in the world, because Adam and Eve didn’t obey God even though they heard Him clearly. Therefore, things like suffering, pain, disease, are spiritually disordered; they’re defects in creation caused by the presence of sin in creation. With God all things are ordered. With God there are no defects. Therefore, when Jesus comes upon sick people, even though this is NOT his primary mission, he’s compelled to heal because of his mercy. He’s compelled to repair the damage, the disorder, that sin has done in creation. But in his words and actions, he’s always trying to make it clear this is not why he came.

Jesus didn’t come to repair the damage done to individuals; rather he came to repair the damage done to creation and everyone in it. This is why Jesus goes through the little ritual shared in this Gospel passage of putting his fingers in the man's ears and spitting on his tongue. In another passage when he heals a blind man, his spits in the dust and makes mud and smears it on his eyes. Why do these things? Why not just say, “be healed,” and be done with it? Because these were the things doctors of the day were doing to heal people. And as always, Jesus doesn’t want people confusing why he came, so he always downplays his healing miracles. Why do that? 

Observe what happens here, and every time Jesus heals someone. He says, “Don’t tell anyone.” What do they do? They tell everyone. They don’t obey! That’s the problem with miracles. Miracles appeal to the flesh, and that tends to stifle the spirit.

Look at Medjugorie. Many people have made pilgrimages to and have been devotees of Medugorie, without doubt, a place of remarkable supernatural occurrences. What do people often say when they get back? Look! My rosaries turned to gold. Look at this miraculous photo I took there. I saw the sun spin. But how many of those people follow the instruction of Medjugorie? Praying the complete 20 decades of the rosary everyday. Fast on bread and water every Wednesday and Friday. Pray and fast, to really convert their lives to the Lord? That’s the double edged sword with miracles; they’re great for getting people’s attention, but all too often we remember the miracle and forget the message.

What was Jesus’ mission? Ultimately to get people to listen to God. To preach the gospel and to die on Calvary. Scripture and sacraments. That’s the starting point. Reading the scriptures trains our ears to hear God. Partaking in the sacraments conditions our heart to receive God’s word. These two things are the foundation of all Christian spirituality. My prayer today is that all Catholics begin to use these two tools to listen to and obey the Lord.

 

--Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint

“The power of obedience! The lake of Gennesareth had denied its fishes to Peter’s nets. A whole night in vain. Then, obedient, he lowered his net again to the water and they caught ‘a huge number of fish.’ Believe me: the miracle is repeated each day.” –-St. Josemaria Escriva

Prayer:

 

Holy Spirit of light and love, you are the substantial love of the Father and the Son; hear my prayer. Bounteous bestower of most precious gifts, grant me a strong and living faith which makes me accept all revealed truths and shape my conduct in accord with them. Give me a most confident hope in all divine promises which prompts me to abandon myself unreservedly to you and your guidance. Infuse into me a love of perfect goodwill, and act according to God's least desires. Make me love not only my friends but my enemies as well, in imitation of Jesus Christ who through you offered himself on the Cross for all people. Holy Spirit, animate, inspire, and guide me, and help me to be always a true follower of you. Amen.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Have you been to Medjugorge, Fatima, Lourdes, or another apparition site? What was the message to the seer at that site? Have you paid attention to it or did you go on pilgrimage just to see the site? Are you following the seer’s message, as given by the Blessed Mother? Why or why not?

  2. Discuss the quote by St. Josemaria Escriva.

  3. Do you pray to the Holy Spirit to be obedient to God’s Will?

  4. How can you listen to the voice of God?

  5. Have you ever received a directive that you knew was from God? How did this come to you?

  6. How does God get us to listen to Him? List a few ways.

  7. What is the difference between listening to God’s message and obeying it?

  8. Have you ever had the experience of knowing that God wanted you to do something and you did not obey? What was your excuse for not obeying? Is this a customary excuse with you? If you often know what you should do but don’t do it, how canyou overcome this flaw?

  9. Discuss Fr. Sisco’s theory that miracles get our attention but often distract us from obeying God. Father mentions the healing miracles of Christ as examples of this. Can you name some other miracles in Scripture or in your own experience that caused people to discuss the miracle without changing their lives in the way the miracle would imply.

  10. Can you name any miracles which caused people to change their lives for the good?

  11. Discuss this statement: “Jesus didn’t come to repair the damage done to individuals; rather he came to repair the damage done to creation and everyone in it.”

  12. Discuss this statement in light of the Gospels and in light of your own experience: “Being God, Jesus can’t not heal people.” How can you explain the many “unanswered” prayers for healing that people offer to God? Fr. Sisco explained why Jesus healed people. Why doesn’t he heal people?

  13. What is the danger of seeing Jesus as the miracle worker instead of the Savior?

  14. Discuss this: When Jesus speaks of his mission, or his purpose, it’s always in terms of two things; teaching the gospel or Calvary. Why? Again, these are the two things that empower us to listen to and respond to the Father. How does the teaching the Gospel do this? How does Calvary do this?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 383: Worshiping the Creature: A Reflection on Wisdom 13:1-9
 

“All men were by nature foolish who were ignorant of God, and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing him who is, and from studying the works did not discern the artisan; but either fire, or wind, or the swift air, or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water, or the luminaries of heaven, the governors of the world considered gods. Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods, let them know how much more excellent is the Lord than these. Or if they were struck by their might and energy, let them realize from these things how much more powerful is the one who made them. For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen. But yet, for these the blame is less; for they have gone astray perhaps, though they seek God and wish to find him. For they search busily among his works, but are distracted by what they see, because the things seen are fair. But again, not even these are pardonable. For if they so far succeeded in knowledge that they could speculate about the world, how did they not more quickly find its Lord?” (Wisdom 13:1-9)

So, what is the author of the book of wisdom saying in this lengthy passage I quoted? The author is saying because ancient man was ignorant of God, they deified earthly things like fire, wind, stars, the sea and sky, because man is naturally attracted to beauty and power. And he goes on to say that if all these things are beautiful and powerful, just imagine how much more so is the God who created all these things.

And what the author says here is true. This IS at the heart of paganism. When we appreciate the beauty and power of something without appreciating the beauty and power of its creator, we eventually worship or deify the object instead of the God who created it. That was the source of paganism then, and that is the source of paganism now. Paganism is a misplaced appreciation of beauty and power.

Why can’t people see the creator behind the created anymore? The same reasons. On a whole, we’ve become too self-absorbed. We’ve become too obsessed with what I want, instead of what’s best for everyone. I’ve said before, Christianity turns the heart outward to love our neighbor. Paganism or idolatry turns the heart inward to serve the self. That’s why I don’t believe most of the people who claim to be atheists really ARE atheists. If they were truly atheists, they wouldn’t care what other people worship. They wouldn’t waste time and energy trying to disprove what we worship. If you don’t believe in something, you simply ignore it. You don’t construct arguments as to WHY you don’t believe it.

I don’t believe there is a giant snarling spaghetti monster in the sacristy of the Church ready to devour me after Mass. I’m not going to waste time explaining to you WHY I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it! I ignore it! It’s not worth my time explaining! So, I don’t believe many of these atheists are REALLY atheists. Rather, they are people trying to justify ignoring God and his laws because they are primarily obsessed with sex, which is a misplaced appreciation of beauty, and our existence keeps pricking their consciences.

My friend Father Perri and I had lunch together recently, and, in our conversation, he was telling me about a man who commented to him, “If Francis were Pope when I was younger I’d still be going to Church today.” And Father Perri responded, “He’s Pope now, so what’s your excuse for not coming back?” And that’s all it is. Excuses. Just excuses.

And the other reason people have stopped worshiping the creator is that man, in his arrogance, likes to believe he is all powerful. Man is the ultimate force on earth. Give us a problem, we’ll solve it. Give us a disease, we’ll cure it. Give us an obstacle, we’ll overcome it. In time, many people believe, man’s intellect, with the development of science, will be able to do anything. However, whenever there is a natural disaster or a catastrophe of some kind, the churches fill up for a time again, because suddenly man’s belief in his own power is shaken. Suddenly man is confronted with the truth that he can’t do all things, at least not yet. But as soon as that fear abates, the churches empty out again.

The heart of paganism is a misplaced appreciation of beauty and power. It is appreciating beauty and power while ignoring the source of all beauty and power. And in our culture right now we have a whole lot of misplaced appreciation going on. I tell you this because being aware of the problem is the first step to solving it.

--Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint:

Creation is a great book. Look above you; look below you! Note it; read it! God . . . didn’t write that book with ink. Instead, He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that? Why, heaven and earth cry out to you, “God made me!” -- St. Augustine of Hippo

Prayer:

Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights above.  Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts.  Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars.  Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies." (Psalm 148:1-4 )

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. How is paganism today different from paganism when the Bible was written? How is it similar?

  2. What do pagans worship today?

  3. Politeness requires that we not use the word “pagan” in reference to non-Christians or even non-believers in any god. What words other than “atheist” do we use to indicate people who don’t believe in a Supreme Being?

  4. What are the dangers of seeing humans as the Supreme Beings?

  5. Discuss this quote by Fr. Frank Pavone: “Everyone has to learn two things in life. One: There is a God. Two: It’s not me.”

  6. Today people do not deify created things, but we do tend to deify other things. What do people deify today? Discuss the following in terms of deification: Self, Control, Knowledge, Intelligence, Science, Beauty, Power, Talents. What else can you think of that some people tend to treat as godlike?

  7. Discuss this from Fr. Sisco: Paganism is a misplaced appreciation of beauty and power.

  8. Father Sisco believes that the cause of paganism is self-absorption. When we look outside of ourselves to caring for others, we find God there. Do you believe this is true? Or is this too simplistic an analysis? What do you think the cause of paganism in the modern world is?

  9. Does Father Sisco’s observation that you don’t try to disprove what you don’t believe in make sense regarding whether or not there are many true atheists when so many of them try to prove why there is no God?

  10. Do you know anyone who claims to be an atheist? Have they told you why they have come to this lack of faith?

  11. Is it possible to minister to atheists in some way to help them understand better the Christian faith? How might that be done?

  12. Write your own praise psalm to God to thank Him for His creation.

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 384: The Invisible Coming of the Kingdom of God: A Reflection on Luke 17: 20-25

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed;1nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’

Then he said to the disciples, ‘The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. They will say to you, “Look there!” or “Look here!” Do not go, do not set off in pursuit. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation. (Luke 17:20-25)

Jesus said, “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed,” which begs the question, WHY can’t it be observed?

I think the answer is that we cannot observe the coming the kingdom of God in the future because we don’t bother looking for the kingdom of God all around us right now. We’re either too busy, or too distracted, or too obsessed with worldly things to try seeing the kingdom of God in the here and now, so of course it will catch us all by surprise when Jesus arrives in glory on some future day.

A few years ago, Starbucks announced that it wasn’t going to print Christmas symbols on their coffee cups any more. Instead they were going with a generic red cup. Many Christians had an immediate, knee jerk reaction: “Those snobbish, coffee sipping, commie sympathizing jerks!!” So those people of good moral fiber kicked off a campaign to boycott Starbucks!

REALLY!? This is an issue? We REALLY care that Starbucks isn’t printing pictures of frosty the snowman, kids on sleds, and pretty snowflakes on their coffee cups SOOOOOOO much, people are actually boycotting them? I never drank Starbucks anyway just because I didn’t like the way their coffee tastes, and I always thought it was grossly overpriced. I’m a Dunkin’ Donuts man myself. In addition, Starbucks has taken a few political stands that, in my opinion, make them worthy of boycotting, but not this. This is just silly.

WELL, we’ve got to keep Christ in Christmas!! Amen! Yes, we do! Keep Christ in Christmas by feeding the hungry. Cloth the naked, shelter the homeless, take care of the sick and the elderly. Visit the imprisoned. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s the best way to keep Christ in Christmas. In my opinion, that’s the ONLY way to keep Christ in Christmas, because that is the kingdom of God in the here and now. That’s the kingdom of God around us.

I think this era will go down in history as the era in which we got offended at everything. Everybody is offended at something. Everybody is afraid of standing up for what’s morally right because we might offend someone else. It’s like the whole nation is just itching to pick with a fight with someone over something. And we wonder why we can’t observe the coming of the kingdom of God! How can we possibly observe the coming of the kingdom of God with attitudes like that?

If we want to be able to observe the coming of the kingdom, we have to change our attitude. How do we do that? Admonish the sinner, instruct the uninformed, bear wrongs patiently. Pray for the living and the dead, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowing. Forgive offenses willingly. Do these things, and you’ll begin to see the kingdom of God around you.

Then look for ways that you can help build the kingdom. Take joy in the fact that God has chosen YOU to help build his kingdom. And then the day that the kingdom of God appears in glory won’t catch you off guard. On the contrary, you’ll actually rejoice in its arrival.

Blessed be God forever. Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: “Thy kingdom come.” . . . Christ Himself, dearest brothers, is the kingdom of God, whom we day by day desire to come, whose advent we crave to be quickly manifested to us. For since He Himself is the Resurrection, because in Him we rise again, so also the kingdom of God may be understood to be Himself, because in Him we shall reign. -- St. Cyprian of Carthage

Prayer: Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Why do we pray for the kingdom of God to come if Jesus told us we could not see it?

  2. What is the kingdom of God? How can we hasten its coming? How can we impede its coming?

  3. What moral issues should concern us? Why?

  4. Father Sisco asks us to look for ways to help build the kingdom. Name at least five different ways, not mentioned by Father Sisco, in which we can help build the kingdom of God.

  5. Who inhabits the kingdom of God? What role do these people play in the kingdom of God?

  6. What is the difference between the appearance of the kingdom of God and the appearance in glory of the kingdom of God?

  7. Father Sisco mentioned specific ways to help build the kingdom of God. These are the spiritual and corporal Works of Mercy. Go through the specific ways mentioned by Father Sisco and give a concrete example of each one of those ways and how it can be used to build the kingdom of God.

  8. Jesus said that the kingdom of God was among us. How can we recognize this kingdom?

  9. Father Sisco mentioned the boycott of Starbucks. If people want to keep Christ in Christmas, name a few positive ways, other than those mentioned by Father Sisco, that people can keep the focus on Christ during the Christmas season.

  10. How can we keep the focus on Christ during other seasons of the year?

  11. Discuss the quote from St. Cyprian of Carthage.

  12. Pray the Our Father. Pay attention to the petition “Thy Kingdom come.” Do you realize that you are praying for the coming of the kingdom every time you pray the Our Father? Why do you think this is in here when Jesus said, in another place, “The kingdom of God is among you.”

  13. Name five things that can distract people from seeking the kingdom of God.

  14. Name five things that would encourage people to seek the kingdom of God.

  15. Discuss how teaching about the kingdom of God can fit into any evangelization program.

  16. Do you agree that the Starbucks Christmas concern is a frivolous issue? Why or why not? Do you know of any other frivolous issues which stir people up and which deflect their attention from serious moral problems?

-- Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 385: Losing Faith: A Reflection on Luke 7:18-23

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” ’ Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’ (Luke 7: 18-23)

Now it seems odd that John the Baptist, of all people, should be sending messengers to Jesus to ask the question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another,” meaning, “Are you the Messiah or not?”

It’s an odd question because John the Baptist was the one who was proclaiming Jesus the Messiah from his mother Elizabeth’s womb. It was John the Baptist who pointed to Jesus on the banks of Jordon River and said, “Behold the lamb of God.” It was John the Baptist who said, when his disciples were complaining that Jesus was getting a larger following than him, “He must increase while I decrease.” Why would John start to waver now, so late in Jesus’ ministry? Remember, John the Baptist sent messengers to Jesus instead of going himself because he’s in prison at the time, awaiting his execution.

It is a natural tendency that, when people face their end, they want to know that their life’s work counted for something. Is that all John wanted from Jesus? Is this just John the Baptist needing an affirmation, an ‘at-a-boy’ from Jesus?

No. I think John the Baptist was experiencing what Saint John of the Cross would later describe as the ‘dark night of the soul.’ People who live very spiritual lives experience this. It’s when one can no longer ‘feel’ (for lack of a better word) the presence of God. When the individual feels completely alone. The dark night of the soul is not to be confused with depression. This is not a psychological state. Nor is it a crisis of faith, although it is sometimes confused with depression or a crisis of faith by the secular world.

When Mother Theresa of Calcutta’s diaries were made public, the news media reported that Mother Teresa no longer believed in God at the end of her life. Others reported that Mother Teresa suffered from depression. If Mother Theresa had lost her faith, why on earth was she begging her sisters on her deathbed not to assume she had gone straight to heaven but charged them to have Masses said for her soul? Equally ridiculous is the claim of depression. Mother Teresa was experiencing the absence of the presence of God.

Why does God do this to exceptionally holy people? It’s the last spiritual gift. To experience what Jesus experienced on the cross right before he died when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” The Father has to turn his face away to allow the Son to die. Jesus cannot die as long as the Father continues to gaze on him. But when the Father turns his face away, for the first time in his life, Jesus couldn’t feel the presence of the Father around him. I think that’s what John the Baptist was also experiencing.

Many of us will not experience the dark night of the soul. We’ll never get to that level of spirituality. But we do experience “little dark nights.” Maybe not dark nights, but dark dusks, or dark eclipses, where we experience this temporarily. What do we do in those times? What did Jesus tell John?

Look around, and see all the evidence that I am here, even if you don’t have the warm fuzzies! The blind see, the deaf hear, lepers are cleansed! All of us can share a story where we felt the presence of God in a profound way even once in our lives. All of us have at least one miracle story. God lets us experience those things so we have something to hang onto during the dark times. Remember those miracle moments and share them with others! And let other people share their miracle moments with you. If we share, with one another, what God has done for us, we’ll never get discouraged, we’ll never give up, no matter how dark the night may be.

 

-- Blessed be God forever. Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint:

 

Songs of the Soul

On a dark night,
Inflamed by love-longing -
O exquisite risk! -
Undetected I slipped away.
My house, at last, grown still.
Secure in the darkness,
I climbed the secret ladder in disguise -
O exquisite risk! -
Concealed by the darkness.
My house, at last, grown still.

That sweet night: a secret.
Nobody saw me;
I did not see a thing.
No other light, no other guide
Than the one burning in my heart.

This light led the way
More clearly than the risen sun
To where he was waiting for me

- The one I knew so intimately -
In a place where no one could find us.

O night, that guided me!
O night, sweeter than sunrise!
O night, that joined lover with Beloved!
Lover transformed in Beloved!
Upon my blossoming breast,
Which I cultivated just for him,
He drifted into sleep,
And while I caressed him,
A cedar breeze touched the air.

Wind blew down from the tower,
Parting the locks of his hair.
With his gentle hand
He wounded my neck
And all my senses were suspended.

I lost myself. Forgot myself.
I lay my face against the Beloved's face.
Everything fell away and I left myself behind,
Abandoning my cares
Among the lilies, forgotten.”
― Saint John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul

 

Prayer: Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me, or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit. Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning, for in you I put my trust. Teach me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. (Psalm 143:7-8)

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Have you or anyone you know experienced the dark night of the soul? Describe the experience.

  2. Why did John the Baptist experience the dark night? Do you think he died in the dark night?

  3. How does the dark night differ from atheism? How does it differ from depression?

  4. Discuss the poem by St. John of the Cross.

  5. Name 5 life experiences that can plunge someone into the dark night of the soul.

  6. St. Ignatius of Loyola called the dark night “desolation” and the “warm fuzzies” consolation. Why does God cause us to experience each of these states in the spiritual life?

  7. If we are in the dark night, or a spiritual dusk, as Fr. Sisco says, how can we cope with it?

  8. What encouragement could you give to someone who is experiencing the dark night?

  9. Night is dark isn’t it? So why is this called the dark night? Is that redundant or not?

  • Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 386: God’s Covenant: A Reflection on Isaiah 49:8-15

Thus says the LORD: In a time of favor I answer you, on the day of salvation I help you; and I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to restore the land and allot the desolate heritages, saying to the prisoners: Come out! to those in darkness: Show yourselves! Along the ways they shall find pasture, on every bare height shall their pastures be. They shall not hunger or thirst, nor shall the scorching wind or the sun strike them; For he who pities them leads them and guides them beside springs of water. I will cut a road through all my mountains and make my highways level. See, some shall come from afar, others from the north and the west, and some from the land of Syene. Sing out, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth, break forth into song, you mountains. For the LORD comforts his people
and shows mercy to his afflicted.

But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me." Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. (Isaiah 49:8-15)

 

“…I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to restore the land and allot the desolate heritages, saying to the prisoners come out! To those in darkness, show yourselves! Along the way they shall find pasture, on every bare height shall their pasture be. They shall not hunger or thirst, nor shall the scorching wind or the sun strike them.”

 

I have said many times before that God wants a living relationship with us. That’s what covenant is. Covenant is a living relationship. Covenant is an intimate relationship. God doesn’t want servants. God doesn’t want pets. God wants children. Today the prophet Isaiah is trying to explain the benefits of that living relationship. Why should we want to have this living relationship with God?

 

What’s the first thing Isaiah says here in this passage for those who are in covenant with God? I will restore the land. Now always in prophecy, there is an immediate application, and a future application. God will restore the land from who? From the foreign invaders that have conquered it. On a physical level here, God is saying to the Jews, turn back to me, and I’ll give you back the land of Israel which has been taken from you.

 

What does it say to us? The whole world is our home. In whatever country you go to, the Catholic Church has a presence there. We may not be the majority. We may be persecuted. But we are there. And wherever the Catholic Church is, other Catholics find refuge and acceptance.

 

“…saying to the prisoners come out!” In a living relationship with God there is freedom. Isaiah was making reference to freedom for those unjustly imprisoned. To us, a living relationship with God means freedom from slavery to sin. When we’re in a living relationship with God sin should not control us. Sin should not dictate our actions. It also means freedom from fear, anxiety. Those also imprison us. But a living relationship with God means that we can be free from fear and anxiety because we know that even when bad things befall us, they work for the salvation of our souls.

 

“To those in darkness, show yourselves!” In a living relationship with the Lord there is no hiding. Those who are sinners will have to answer for their actions someday, if not in this life, in eternity. Those who have wronged us, those who have persecuted us will face their day of justice. But it also means WE can’t hide in the dark either. We cannot live secretly in a living relationship with the Lord. Being in a living relationship with the Lord means we have to speak up for what’s right. We have a responsibility to be public about our faith, because if we truly love others we don’t want to see them do anything that can harm their souls.

 

“Along the way they shall find pasture, on every bare height shall their pasture be.” God will provide for those who are in a living relationship with him. We’re not going to live high on the hog. We’ll never be rolling in dough. But God will give us what we need to accomplish what we have to do. And sometimes that means sacrifice. Sometimes that means tightening our belt a bit. Why does sacrifice always have to worm its way in here somewhere? Because in order to have a living relationship with God we have to trust him. And if God connected all the dots for us that wouldn’t require any trust.

 

“…nor shall the scorching wind or the sun strike them.” We will be opposed. We will be disliked. Sometimes it will feel like the very forces of nature are working against us, but God will protect us. These are the benefits, the perks, of being in a living relationship with God.

 

Blessed be God forever! Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote from a Saint: Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. (St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews 10:23)

 

Prayer: Dear God, We thank you that no situation is too far out of your control to provide. You are the God who provides. We thank you that you own it all and hold everything in your hands. We thank you that you know our needs before we even ask, before we even come to you. You’re aware of all that concerns us, and you have a plan. You hold the provision, you have the solution. You alone can move mountains to make a way for your children. We ask for your answer, in your timing, in your plan, to be given for every need that weighs our hearts down. Forgive us for doubting you, for worrying, and for trying so hard to work everything out on our own. Help us to trust you more, help us in our unbelief. We choose to recognize and to believe that you are able to accomplish far more, to do far greater, than we even thought possible. We thank you in advance for your miracles, for paving out pathways, for your provision for those who love you. Thank you for the abundance of blessing and goodness you have already stored up. We trust you this day, and every day, and are so grateful for your Power and joy that fills our lives. Thank you for teaching us to be content in all circumstances, we love you Lord, we’re leaning on you. Amen

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. What is a covenant? How does it differ from a promise? How is it like a commitment? How does it differ from a commitment?

  2. Fr. Sisco says that God wants children. Discuss our relationship as children to God the Father. What is appealing about this relationship? What about it would be offensive to some people?

  3. What can imprison us? How can we be free from these prisons?

  4. What can plunge us into darkness? How can we combat spiritual darkness?

  5. Have you ever found pasture on bare heights? What symbolic aspects of your life might be called the bare heights? What type of pastor might you find there? Why would God want to lead us to pasture, and especially on the bare heights?

  6. Father likens scorching wind and sun to opposition. Have you ever been opposed or disliked? If so did it feel like a scorching wind or a burning sun? Or would you like and it more to I deep-freeze? Why would you say that?

  7. Discuss the quote from St. Paul. What promise would God always keep?

  8. Pray the prayer. What does his prey have to do with covenant?

  9. What is the biggest block to your having a covenant relationship with God?

  • Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 387: Avoiding Hard Heartedness: A Reflection on John 5:33-47

 

Jesus said, “You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.

 ‘You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?’ (John 5:33-47)

Immediately following this is the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand by multiplying five barley loaves and two fish shared with him by a child. The faith and willingness of the child is contrasted to the lack of faith and unwillingness to believe of the scribes and Pharisees.

The tensions between Jesus and the Pharisees are coming to a head in this reading from John’s Gospel. They are continually grasping at straws to try to discredit Jesus. They are constantly demanding that Jesus produce signs to prove he’s authentic. In this Gospel, Jesus has had enough.

 

Jesus tells them, “John the Baptist, whom YOU sent emissaries to, testified to me, and you didn’t believe him. The scriptures testify to me, but you don’t believe them. Moses, whom you hang your hopes on, testified to me. And besides all this, the works I’ve done testify to me too. But because you’re so hard hearted, you don’t believe any of this, so I can’t do anything with you. The only people you listen to is one another, and you never challenge each other; you just flatter and praise one another, so even if I do produce ANOTHER sign, like the miraculous healings aren’t enough, driving out demons isn’t enough, multiplying a few loaves and a couple of fish to feed a crowd of thousands isn’t enough, raising Lazarus from the dead isn’t enough, even IF I preformed ONE more miracle, you still won’t believe it!”

 

And as always, what Jesus suffered then, his Church suffers now. Nothing has changed.

 

I gave up Facebook for Lent one year. I needed to give myself a break. And I am sorely tempted to leave it for good, but I won’t. Many of my Facebook friends from childhood have left the faith, or abandoned faith, or disregarded the moral teaching of the Church even though they still call themselves Catholic; and I want to know what they’re saying. I want to know what their issues are; first, to challenge myself to think, ”Do they have a valid point?” and second, if they don’t, I can formulate some kind of answer. And finally, it is my hope that something I say to them can lure some of them back, but it does get frustrating.

 

For example, one friend posted a meme that said something to the effect of, “pro-life people aren’t really pro-life; they’re anti-abortion, because they never do anything to help the poor.” And I responded, “This is simply not true. Every pro-lifer I know (and I know lots of them!) are VERY generous to the poor”, and I listed some of the things we do in this parish alone. I went back later to see the reaction. My comment was deleted! That’s right. Don’t bother me with facts if it means I have to change my position.

 

That’s exactly the issue Jesus had with the Pharisees today when he criticized them on not listening to anyone outside their circle.

 

Some people still say, “Why doesn’t God work miracles anymore?” My answer to that is, “He does!” It just depends on who you ask.

 

People come up to me all the time to tell me their miracle stories. “Father you prayed over me, and now they say I don’t need the operation that they thought I needed! It’s a miracle!” “Father, my aunt was on her deathbed in the hospital and the chaplain anointed her and now she’s coming home! It’s a miracle!” “Father I haven’t been to confession or church in twenty years, and I don’t know why I’m doing this now, but I just have to do it.” That’s a miracle too. People with faith see the signs of God’s presence. People without faith can’t.

 

How do you keep from getting hard hearted? Jesus criticized the Pharisee’s for being hard hearted. They heard human testimony supporting Jesus’ authenticity, and that didn’t help. They knew the scriptures backwards and forwards, and THAT didn’t help.

 

So how do we protect ourselves from getting hard hearted? Look at what God has done for you in this life. Look back at the little miracles that have happened to you. Think of when something or someone had you dead to rights, and yet somehow, inexplicably, you came through it. That’s your miracle. Hang on to it. Thank him for it. And use it to remind yourself, he is always present to you. --Blessed be God forever. Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote from a Saint: Those who crucified our Lord supposed when He was dead that His signs had died with Him. But His signs manifestly continued to live through His disciples, so that the murderers might know that the Lord of the signs was living. -- St. Ephraem the Syrian

 

Prayer: Father, I come to you today with faith so small I cannot see a way. I want to believe you are able to do more than I ever imagine. I want to walk by faith and not by sight. God, please bring a miracle into my life. I know that you can do the impossible in my life and I am trusting in your promises. Thank you for being a God who sees and hears my every need. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. What would be your response if someone asked you, “Why doesn’t God work miracles anymore?” Has God worked any miracles in your life? How do you know they are miracles? What were they? Have you shared them with others? What miracles have others shared with you? Why is it good to share these miracle stories with one another?

  2. Is it possible to overlook or discount a miracle because of a hard heart? Explain your answer.

  3. How is hard heartedness manifested today?

  4. Father Sisco mentioned the incident of his pro-life comment and testimony being deleted on Facebook. Name some other incidents that point to the attitude “My mind is made up; don’t bother me with the facts.”

  5. Why were the Pharisees so opposed to Jesus? Why did they refuse to consider the individuals and miracles that testified to his being more than a mere human prophet?

  6. Could God be doing something in your life right now that you are missing as a miracle? How do we prepare our minds and hearts to be open to the miracles happening around us?

  7. Could anything Jesus have done change the mind of the Pharisees about him? Explain your response.

-- Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 388: Greatest in the Kingdom of God: A Reflection on Matthew 5: 19-20

Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19-20)

When I was in seminary at Mount Saint Mary’s, in Emmitsburg, Maryland, our academic Dean, Father Daniel Mindling, used to joke that this was his favorite passage of Scripture – “whoever does them and teacher them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” He liked that passage, he said, because here we have Jesus praising moral theologians, and he was one! Moral theology was Father Mindling’s discipline.

Well, no disrespect intended to my former Dean and spiritual director, but I don’t think we need to interpret this verse of Scripture that narrowly. Jesus wasn’t talking about only moral theologians. You don’t need to be a priest or nun or theologian for this passage to apply to you, but I think many Catholics believe contrary.

I think many Catholics believe that teaching the faith is strictly the job of priests and religious. Not so. Jesus intends this challenge for all the faithful. Indeed, the Vatican II documents reiterated that evangelizing is just as much the responsibility of the laity as it is the clergy.

The theme of Jesus’ claim in this passage is reiterated in other passages of the New Testament. Saint Peter says in his epistle, that anyone who turns a sinner back from his ways will cancel…CANCEL out a multitude of his own sins. That should be a powerful motivator for us, to not just be admitted in the kingdom of God, but to be called GREAT in the kingdom of God; to not just be forgiven for our sins, but to have a multitude of our sins CANCELLED.

So why are so many Catholics gun shy about evangelizing? Who doesn’t want to be thought of as great? Who doesn’t want a multitude of their sins cancelled?

I think, first of all, that many Catholics equate evangelization with preaching. You hear people say, “Well, you know public speaking isn’t my thing”. Or “I don’t know the faith well enough to talk about it.”

The second reason is that Catholics are afraid if they do speak up for the faith, they’re going to be labeled fanatics or hypocrites. Speaking up for the faith can make you unpopular, and who wants to be unpopular?

First of all, you don’t have to preach to evangelize. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words. The first and foremost way to spread the Christian faith is by being a good Christian yourself. THAT takes time. THAT takes work. And THAT is how you keep from being a hypocrite.

If you’re striving to live the faith yourself, it’s not hypocritical to challenge others to do the same, even though they’ll still try to stick that label of hypocrite on you. And if they do, don’t let that discourage you, because they did they exact same thing to Christ: “He casts out demons by the power of the prince of demons.”

You know, living the faith; kind words, charitable deeds, patience, goodness, modesty, joy--these things can have a profound impact on those around us. I was saying recently to a married couple I’m friends with, that their example of Christian parenting inspires me to want to be a better priest. Then wife responded by thanking me for showing them how to have fun at being Christian. I thought it was one of the nicest compliments I ever received.

All of those virtues I mentioned are interior – charity, goodness, modesty, patience, joy. We achieve  these fruits of the Holy Spirit through prayer, and spiritual formation; spiritual reading and the like. This  is something we all can do, no matter what our education level may be. That’s teaching by example, and that can also make us great in the kingdom of God. That kind of teaching by example can change hearts, and turn others back to the Lord. Teaching by good example can cancel out a multitude of our own sins.

 

-- Blessed be God forever. Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint:

 

"Good example is the most efficacious apostolate. You must be as lighted lanterns and shine like brilliant chandeliers among men. By your good example and your words, animate others to know and love God." – St. Mary Joseph Rossello

"Think well. Speak well. Do well. These three things, through the mercy of God, will make a man go to Heaven." -- St. Camillus de Lellis

Prayer: PRAYER FOR THE GRACE OF GOOD EXAMPLE

Holy Spirit, Teacher and Guide, show us how to live in imitation of Jesus. Whatever our age, inspire us to cultivate lives of Christian virtue and holiness, that by good example we can be recognized as authentic disciples of Jesus.Deliver us from the constant temptation to conform to the standards of our times. May our everyday choices and behavior speak with integrity of our friendship with Christ. Use us as your chosen instruments, that as we put our faith into action we may be a positive influence in shaping the world around us.  Spirit of God, transform us. Help us benefit from the good example of one another that with mutual support and at all cost we may render together a powerful witness to the Gospel.  Amen.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Why do actions speak louder than words?

  2. Is it possible to be a great evangelizer and never say much about your faith? Why or why not?

  3. Who do you know who is a good example of faith in action? How has this person influenced your life and the lives of others?

  4. How can you be a good example to others? What are you doing well? What can you do better?

  5. Saint Mary Joseph Rossello calls example “the most efficacious apostolate.” Discuss this.

  6. Discuss the quote from St. Camillus de Lellis.

  7. Father Sisco mentions seven ways to give good example: living the faith; kind words, charitable deeds, patience, goodness, modesty, joy. What other ways can you think of?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 389: The Church’s Teaching Authority: A Reflection on Acts 15: 1-29]

Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.’

 The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, ‘My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.’

 The whole assembly kept silence and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, ‘My brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first looked favourably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written, “After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen;   from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, so that all other peoples may seek the Lord—  even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called. Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago.” Therefore, I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.’

Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers, with the following letter: ‘The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.’ (Acts 35:1-29)

This passage from the Book of Acts discusses the first council ever held in our Church history; the Council of Jerusalem which arose from the question of whether or not Gentile converts had to undergo circumcision and observe the Mosaic Law before becoming Christian. The reading demonstrates the Apostolic succession and the Church’s teaching authority. Note the wording in this letter that Judas and Silas are sent to deliver to Antioch. “We have heard that some of our number, without any instruction from us, have upset you with their discussions and disturbed your peace of mind….It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and ours too, not to lay on you any burden which is not strictly necessary...”

Those two statements communicate the Church’s authority. The first statement, “We have heard that some of our number without any instruction from us…” What does that imply? That before anyone could be qualified to teach the faith, they had to first go to the apostles, the first Bishops of the Church, for instruction. Even Paul, an apostle, a witness to the risen Christ himself, had to do this. When Saint Paul is telling his own conversion story, he says that after the experience he has of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, he stayed with the Christian community in Damascus for a time, but then traveled to Jerusalem to seek out Peter and James, with whom he spent a couple years. Why? Obviously to be taught.

Many theologians would like us to believe that in the early Church, everything from liturgy, to the canonization of saints, the election of Bishops, and even the teaching of the Church herself, was subjective to individual whims. But the evidence we find right in the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Saint Paul strongly contradicts this belief.

The second statement, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and ours, too.” This is anything but a subjective opinion. The early Church firmly believed that the Holy Spirit was guiding them. We see other evidence to verify that belief. When the Apostles choose Saint Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot, a tongue of fire descended on Matthias just as it had the others at Pentecost. Saint Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Even if an angel comes preaching a gospel contradictory to the one we gave you, let him be cursed!” The apostles knew that their teaching was coming from the Spirit of God.

People who dislike a Church teaching like to say, “Well, Jesus never explicitly said anything about this.” Doesn’t matter. “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and ours, too…” Jesus never said whether Gentile converts should be circumcised or not, but Jesus gave the authority to Peter and the apostles, our first Pope and Bishops to govern the Church in such matters in the name of the Lord through the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

Socially, politically, the Church has blundered terribly throughout the centuries, but no Pope has ever had to recant a teaching that had been established earlier in history. Even during the millennium, the year 2000, when John Paul apologized to every group of people the Church had ever wronged, he never apologized for a single teaching; rather he apologized for the times in our history when we had not lived what we taught. He apologized for when we have failed to love one another, as God has loved us.  

My brothers and sisters, there are many people outside the Church who are trying to distort Church teaching, and there are many people inside the Church who are trying to present their own brand of Catholicism. It’s important to know what the Church teaches. There is little about our faith that is subjective. In the teaching, handed down from the apostles through the authority of the Church, you will find truth.

 

– Blessed be God forever, Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me. -- Saint Augustine

Prayer: "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Why does the Church have the college of Bishops? Why not just have the Pope?

  2. Do you believe that the Holy Spirit is active in the Church today? Why or why not?

  3. Name five people in the Church who you feel are guided by the Holy Spirit. Why did you select those people? What evidence do you see that the Holy Spirit is guiding them?

  4. Do you pray to be guided by the Holy Spirit? Have you ever felt so guided?

  5. Who is the Holy Spirit? How does the function of the Holy Spirit differ from that of God the Father and God the Son? How is the function similar?

  6. What does the “teaching authority” of the Church mean? How do you see it demonstrated and used?

  7. Discuss what our Church would be like if belief were a “free for all.”

  8. Why do you think the early Christians questioned whether or not non-Jewish converts had to be circumcised before becoming Christian? Can you name some equally divisive issues in the Church today? Why are these divisive? What I the Church teaching on each issue you mention?

  9. What convinced the apostles that circumcision was not necessary? Read what Peter said. Discuss Peter’s role in this decision. Reflect on his words, “Therefore, I have reached the decision that. . . “

Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 390: Why the Meeting Tent? A Reflection on Exodus 27 and 28

You shall make the court of the tabernacle. On the south side the court shall have hangings of fine twisted linen one hundred cubits long for that side; its twenty pillars and their twenty bases shall be of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their bands shall be of silver. Likewise, for its length on the north side there shall be hangings one hundred cubits long, their pillars twenty and their bases twenty, of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their bands shall be of silver. For the width of the court on the west side there shall be fifty cubits of hangings, with ten pillars and ten bases. The width of the court on the front to the east shall be fifty cubits. There shall be fifteen cubits of hangings on one side, with three pillars and three bases. There shall be fifteen cubits of hangings on the other side, with three pillars and three bases. For the gate of the court there shall be a screen twenty cubits long, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen, embroidered with needlework; it shall have four pillars and with them four bases. All the pillars around the court shall be banded with silver; their hooks shall be of silver, and their bases of bronze. The length of the court shall be one hundred cubits, the width fifty, and the height five cubits, with hangings of fine twisted linen and bases of bronze. All the utensils of the tabernacle for every use, and all its pegs and all the pegs of the court, shall be of bronze. (Exodus 27:9-19)

Then bring near to you your brother Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the Israelites, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. You shall make sacred vestments for the glorious adornment of your brother Aaron. And you shall speak to all who have ability, whom I have endowed with skill, that they make Aaron’s vestments to consecrate him for my priesthood. These are the vestments that they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a chequered tunic, a turban, and a sash. When they make these sacred vestments for your brother Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests, they shall use gold, blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine linen. (Exodus 28:1-5)

You know, when I read about how Moses constructed the meeting tent, I’m reminded of how humble, and how loving God really is. The meeting tent houses the Ark of the Covenant, and is, as the name implies, the spot where Moses goes to consult with the Lord, and Aaron, Moses’ brother and the High Priest, goes to offer sacrifice before the Lord. But why? Why do they have to go through this project of constructing this tent which has to be specific proportions. Why do they need a small tent within the large tent to house the Ark of the Covenant? Why does Aaron have to undergo this long purification ritual before approaching the Ark? Why go through all this? What does God get out of this? The answer is nothing. God gets absolutely nothing by these rituals and trappings. Why do it then?

All of the rituals and trappings are for our sake. Instead of going through all of THIS, why doesn’t God just tell Moses what to do? He tried that; from Moses’ first encounter with God in the burning bush, all through the Exodus and leading the people to freedom. And what happened as soon as Moses disappears on Mount Horeb for forty days to receive the terms of the covenant? The people make a golden calf! Moses is the visible reminder to the people of their responsibility to God. But as soon as Moses is out of sight for a while, they revert to paganism. So God has to establish visible reminders of his presence that will continue after Moses dies.

WE need the tent. WE need the Ark. WE need the rituals and the trappings. WE need things that appeal to our senses, we need to see, touch, hear, smell. Why? Because we are not beings of spirit only, we are beings of spirit and flesh. Stimulating the senses reminds us of what our minds have learned, and what our hearts are called to embrace. If we don’t appease the senses, we forget. If we don’t fast occasionally, and let ourselves FEEL hungry, we run the risk of losing our empathy for the poor and the needy. If we don’t SEE the Church building we run the risk of forgetting we need to keep the Sabbath Day holy, or we may forget our need to pray daily. That was also the reason for ringing the Church bells at different times of the day. If we don’t HEAR the readings we may forget our moral responsibility. If we don’t SEE the statues and icons we may forget that the saints lived out this Christian calling successfully; therefore so can I.

Now some people will use this passage to actually argue against Church buildings. They will point out that God wanted a tent, not these grand, costly, buildings. If I hear once more, “The church should sell all its property and use it to feed the poor,” I swear I’m going to lose it. They actually calculated it out. If the Church sold all its property, we could feed all the poor in the world for 6-8 months. More than a third of the population of the planet lives in poverty. I point this out to people and then I can’t resist adding, “Then what? You gonna sell your house so we can keep it going after that?"

The fact that God would physically dwell among us at all is a demonstration of his humility and love. But the reason why God dwells in a tent is not because of humility, but rather they CAN’T build a permanent structure because this is happening during the forty years the people are wandering like nomads out in the desert. Once they return to the Promised Land, and first Joshua then the Judges, then the Kings reconquer the Promised Land, THEN they build God a permanent temple. Why the temple? Because we all need physical reminders that God is here, he dwells among us, and we are his.

 

–Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter. Saint Joan of Arc 

Prayer: Father in Heaven, ever-living source of all that is good, keep me faithful in serving You. Help me to drink of Christ's Truth, and fill my heart with His Love so that I may serve You in faith and love and reach eternal life. In the Sacrament of the Eucharist give me the joy of sharing Your Life. Keep me in Your presence. Let me never be separated from You and help me to do Your Will.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Do you agree that we need a visible church to keep our faith on track? Why or why not?

  2. Have you ever experienced the closing or demolition of a church? If so, what was your intellectual response? What was your emotional response? How should we act when a church closes and is sold or demolished?

  3. Discuss the quote by Saint Joan of Arc.

  4. Compose a prayer, asking God that you be faithful to Him. Use the prayer above as a starting point to express and foster your own prayer.

  5. This reflection gives only a portion of God’s instructions to Moses. Read all of Chapters 27 through 30 in Exodus in order to get the “big picture” of how God instructed that the temple be furnished. Did God have to be that specific? Could not his purpose been achieved with less detail? Why do you think the instructions were so to the point and exact?

  6. What explanation can you give when people tell us that you can worship anywhere. You don’t need a church building.

  7. Have you ever attended an outdoor church service. What was that like compared to Mass inside? How does the setting contribute to the solemnity and prayerfulness of the Mass.

  8. Research church buildings today in developed and underdeveloped nations. What is similar? What different? How is culture incorporated into the church structure? Into the Mass?

  9. What makes a church beautiful, in your opinion? What is the most beautiful church you’ve seen? Why do you say it’s beautiful?

  10. What other things did God do to remind the people that he’s with them always? What does God do today to reminder us of the same thing?

--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