Oratory of Divine Love Weekly Bible Study Reflections

Weeks 391-400

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 391: Taking Care of Each Other: A Reflection on Leviticus, Chapters 1-9.

 

When anyone presents a grain-offering to the Lord, the offering shall be of choice flour; the worshipper shall pour oil on it, and put frankincense on it, and bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests. After taking from it a handful of the choice flour and oil, with all its frankincense, the priest shall turn this token portion into smoke on the altar, an offering by fire of pleasing odour to the Lord. And what is left of the grain-offering shall be for Aaron and his sons, a most holy part of the offerings by fire to the Lord.  When you present a grain-offering baked in the oven, it shall be of choice flour: unleavened cakes mixed with oil, or unleavened wafers spread with oil. If your offering is grain prepared on a griddle, it shall be of choice flour mixed with oil, unleavened; break it in pieces, and pour oil on it; it is a grain-offering. If your offering is grain prepared in a pan, it shall be made of choice flour in oil. You shall bring to the Lord the grain-offering that is prepared in any of these ways; and when it is presented to the priest, he shall take it to the altar. The priest shall remove from the grain-offering its token portion and turn this into smoke on the altar, an offering by fire of pleasing odour to the Lord. And what is left of the grain-offering shall be for Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the offerings by fire to the Lord.     

    

 No grain-offering that you bring to the Lord shall be made with leaven, for you must not turn any leaven or honey into smoke as an offering by fire to the Lord. You may bring them to the Lord as an offering of choice products, but they shall not be offered on the altar for a pleasing odour. You shall not omit from your grain-offerings the salt of the covenant with your God; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.

 If you bring a grain-offering of first fruits to the Lord, you shall bring as the grain-offering of your first fruits coarse new grain from fresh ears, parched with fire. You shall add oil to it and lay frankincense on it; it is a grain-offering. And the priest shall turn a token portion of it into smoke—some of the coarse grain and oil with all its frankincense; it is an offering by fire to the Lord.  (Leviticus 2)

 

We aren’t going to reproduce the first nine chapters of Leviticus in this Oratory reflection. We would, however, encourage you to read those chapters, or at least some of them. They deal with the various offerings which God asked of the Israelites, and they give very specific instructions.

 

In the Book of Exodus, the Lord gives Moses all the requirements surrounding the building of the meeting tent. He did that because we need physical, visible reminders of his presence among us. In the book of Leviticus, God tells Moses all the requirements regarding the sacrifices that the people are to make throughout the calendar year. Sort of like “And this is the season you make a grain offering, and this is the month you sacrifice the best of your flocks and herds.”

 

Why? What does God benefit from the sacrifices? Absolutely nothing. God gets nothing from the sacrifices. The sacrifices are for our benefit, not God’s. The whole of the Ten Commandments, as recorded in the book of Exodus, was to communicate to the people that God is going to judge us, based on how we treat one another. The book of Leviticus further fleshes out what was outlined in the Commandments.

 

Some people want to use these passages about sacrificing crops and animals to argue that there was little difference between ancient Judaism and paganism. Both had animal and crop sacrifices. But that misses the point. There is one, glaring, significant difference -- in paganism you sacrificed to the gods because you had to feed the gods. You fed the gods through your sacrifices, and they in turn blessed your fields and flocks so you could prosper, OR your sacrifices held back their wrath. If you suffered personal calamity, it was because you didn’t sacrifice, or your sacrifice wasn’t good enough. If your whole community suffered a calamity like an earthquake, or a flood, it was because the community didn’t sacrifice enough. And all of this was subjective. It was completely arbitrary. In paganism, there was no specification as to what you were to sacrifice or how much. You had to guess! Therefore, when the calamity occurred people always reasoned, “We guessed wrong!”

 

In Judaism, God tells the people what to sacrifice, when to sacrifice it, and how much to sacrifice. Sacrifice for him? No. Then for who? The priests. Why them? God’s original plan was that the eldest male child in every family would be a priest. After the people make and worship the golden calf, that intention gets thrown out the window because all the tribes except one defiled themselves. The only tribe that didn’t bow to the golden calf was the tribe of Levi, so now, only the Levites can be the priests.

 

But, in return, the Levites were not allowed to own any land. If you don’t own land, you can’t sustain yourself. Therefore, the priests had to rely on the sacrifices of the people to provide their physical needs, and the people had to rely on the Levites to supply their spiritual needs. Again, God arranges things this way so the people HAVE to take care of each other. The people HAVE to rely on each other. It also subliminally reinforces to the people the concept that “nothing I have is truly mine. Everything I have comes from the Lord. Therefore, I don’t have the right to keep anything.” Dependence on one another fosters the virtues of charity and humility.

 

This carries over into Christianity. This is why religious take a vow of poverty, and diocesan priests, secular priests are called to make a promise of simplicity. The Church recognizes that parish priests need to own some things to minister effectively, but we’re not supposed to live in opulence. We are not supposed to live a lifestyle above the people we serve.

 

The laity, through their sacrifice in the envelope every week at Mass, provide for the physical needs of the Church and her clergy, and the clergy supply what the laity spiritually need through the sacraments. The whole of Scripture, the Old and New Testaments, is God training us to take care of each other.

 

Blessed be God forever. Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote from a Saint: Remember that the Christian life is one of action; not of speech and daydreams. Let there be few words and many deeds and let them be done well. -- St. Vincent Pallotti

 

Prayer: Keep me, O God, from pettiness; let me be large in thought, in word, in deed. Let me be done with fault-finding and self-seeking. May I put away all pretense and meet everyone face to face without self-pity and without prejudice. May I never be hasty in judgment and always generous. Let me take time for all things. Make me grow calm, serene and gentle. Teach me to put into action my better impulses, straightforward and unafraid. Grant that I may realize it is the little things of life that create differences and that in the big things of life we are one. And, O Lord God, let me not forget to be kind!

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Read one of Chapters 1-9 of Leviticus and discuss the regulations. Why are these here? Why are they so specific? Is God micromanaging with these?

  2. How is God trying to show us, through the regulations in Leviticus, that we must depend on one another?

  3. What might other reasons be for the regulations in the chapter you have read?

  4. How are the Ten Commandments a set of regulations? Go through the Ten Commandments one by one and discuss what each one is regulating.

  5. Think about regulations. Suppose you had to write regulations on how people are to dress to come to Mass. What would those regulation be? Discuss each regulation. What is the basis of it? What is that regulation trying to achieve?

  6. What does God get from the sacrifices made by the Jewish people? What do they he needs? According to Scripture, what does God really need?

  7. Discuss the quote from St. Vincent Palloti.

  8. Pray the prayer listed above and discuss it.

  9. Discuss the mutual support between the laity and their priest.

  10. Discuss this: In the Book of Exodus, the Lord gives Moses all the requirements surrounding the building of the meeting tent. He did that because we need physical, visible reminders of his presence among us.

  11. What are the differences between paganism and Judaism? What are the differences between Judaism and Christianity? What are the same about Judaism and Christianity? Does paganism have anything in common with either Christianity or Judaism?

  12. Fr. Sisco says that Diocesan priests take a vow of simplicity. How is simplicity different from chastity. Why are each important for clergy and religious?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 392: To Speak the Word: A Reflection on Acts 18: 5-11

When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus. When they opposed and reviled him, in protest he shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’ Then he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshipper of God; his house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the official of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized. One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.’ He stayed there for a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. (Acts 18: 5-11)

“Do not be afraid. Go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you.”

These words that the Lord speaks to Saint Paul he also says to all of us. Do not be afraid. Why? Because fear is one of the primary motivations why we sin. Often we sin because we’re afraid of something, doing what’s right seems to hard, or requires too much commitment, or may even be dangerous; so we give in to sin.

Go on speaking and do not be silent. Why? Because how are we going to be an example if we keep our mouths shut? That seems to be the mantra of our society today; ‘Well, who am I to tell someone what they’re doing is wrong?’ You’re a disciple of Jesus Christ. That’s who you are. And Jesus Christ had no problem telling people when they were sinning and challenging them to stop.

‘Well, Father, Jesus told us not to judge.’ True enough. But to put that statement in the context Jesus was using it, he was telling us not to assume that people were sinners. Because someone has a disease, or is physically handicapped, or lost all their possessions, or died tragically, don’t assume these things happen because God is punishing them for something. YOU don’t know that.

But he never said we couldn’t call sinful actions wrong or tell people that they’re sinning when we witness them doing wrong. Let’s be honest. The reason we stay silent is because we don’t want to deal with the backlash if we speak. Now we’re back to fear again. We’re afraid of losing our friends. We’re afraid of being labeled a holy roller or Jesus freak. That’s why we stay silent.

"I am with you." God is saying this to Paul. He is saying this to US. Do we really consider the meaning of those words? "I am with you." You want to have your mind blown? Today take some quiet time and just think about those words.

Here’s something else to think about. When we KNOW that God is with us, we have an assurance when we speak or act. That’s from the Holy Spirit. This assurance brings with it calm conviction and a gentle manner. When we KNOW God is with us, we have holy boldness but also holy charity. The Holy Spirit will give us the right words to say so that a sinner we instruct won’t think we are attacking him or her. They will think we are sincerely trying to help him or her. Because that is exactly what we will be doing if we KNOW God is with us and we do not give in to fear.

Because we consume the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist, we’re united to him and to one another. We’re part of Jesus. We’re attached to him. That means every minute of every day he is present to us. Think of that the next time you’re tempted to say or do something you shouldn’t. Jesus is right here by my side? Should I do this? Should I say this? Sinning is the only thing that breaks that connection. God and sin cannot peacefully coexist. We can’t be in the state of both at the same time. When we sin, our connection to Jesus is broken.

The good news is that restoring that connection is only a confession away.

Think of what it’s like to have Jesus present to us all the time, because he is. Take heart my brothers and sisters. None of us will probably ever have it as rough as Saint Paul. But if we take our faith to heart and not be afraid, if we speak up for the Lord and not be silent, we can still share the same heaven with Paul. Blessed be God forever. -- Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: We must all try to be preachers through our deeds. -- Saint Teresa of Ávila

Prayer: Lord, I pray for myself and for all of us. Would you open up doors for us to share your Word this day? Give us the boldness yet gentleness today to proclaim the mystery of Christ. Make clear to us exactly what we should say and how we should say it.

Help us to live before unbelievers with wisdom that doesn’t ruin the opportunity for the gospel. Help us today to seize every opportunity you give. Let our speech always be filled with grace—just like salt on a good meal—that graciously responds to every person about everything and brings your grace into the conversation. Use us, Lord, in ways we have never been used for you! We pray that all people  will be brought to You and You will be seen for the wonderful Savior that you are! Amen.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Do you believe that God is with you when you witness to Him before others?

  2. How can we be stronger witnesses for Jesus?

  3. How can we proclaim the truth without being preachy?

  4. Discuss a quote often attributed to St. Francis: Preach always. If necessary, use words. Relate this quote to that of Saint Teresa of Avila. Relate it to “actions speak louder than words.”

  5. If actions speak louder than words, should we be using words to bring the message of Christ to others or should we work instead on being good Christian witnesses? Or should we do both? Discuss and give reasons for your answer.

  6. Do you feel that you are knowledgeable enough to witness for Jesus? If not, how can you increase your knowledge of the faith and of Scripture?

  7. Pray the prayer above. What are the key words that determine the prayer’s petitions? Can you think of other petitions to pray when you are praying to be a good witness for Jesus?

  8. Do we really believe that God is with us all the time? How can we be sure?

  9. If we truly believed that God is with us, how would that impact our witness? How would it impact our evangelization?

  10. What is the difference between witness and evangelization? What do each have in common with the other? Is one better than the other? Why or why not?

  11. Father Sisco notes that we sin because we are afraid. What are some things that scare us that cause us to sin?

  12. Make a list of 5 sins. What is the fear cause (or causes) behind each? How can you deal with fear if you are enticed into committing one of these sins? How can you help a friend or relative who is enticed with one of these sins?

  13. Saint John says that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Discuss this.

  14. How do we know if we have perfect love? Can we have perfect love? Why or why not?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 393: Lord, Teach Us to Pray: A Reflection on Luke 11:1

“Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his apostles…” (Luke 11:1)

There is a fundamental need for us to communicate with God. We were created BY God, and FOR God, and so it is natural we should have this inward desire to speak with God, and to be confident that we are being heard by God. That’s why Jesus came in the first place, to make that possible. Jesus came so that  we can have an intimate relationship with God.

So, in response the apostles’ request, Jesus teaches them a prayer, the Lord’s Prayer which we still recite during Mass and in all of our private devotions. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus also gives them a formula for how to pray. You may have heard that formula, but you can also figure it out. Did you know that there are many additional formulas and techniques on how to pray effectively? I stumbled across one this week.

In the rectory, we have a chapel on the 2nd floor porch with a tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament reserved, primarily so that I can have quick access to the Eucharist when someone calls for Last Rites, but it’s also our prayer room. There are two chairs, one for me and one for Deacon Joe. Well, when I went in to do my prayer time earlier this week, I found this little plastic card on my chair entitled, “The Prayer Process.” It was obviously left there by Deacon Joe. Deacon Joe is always trying to save my soul. Joe is a good deacon! He’s very concerned about the salvation of his pastor! Meanwhile, I’m always trying to put a few dents in his halo!

This is a good little formula for daily prayer, so I thought I would share this with you. The first step of effective prayer is GRATITUDE. Prayer should begin by thanking God in a personal dialogue for whatever you are most grateful for that day.

The next step is AWARENESS. Awareness is revisiting the past twenty-four hours in our thoughts and recalling when we were not the best version of ourselves that we could be. Then we need to take that to the Lord and try to see what lessons we can derive from our mistakes and shortcomings.  This stage can also be called RERENTANCE.

The third stage they call SIGNIFICANT MOMENTS. That is identifying something you experienced in the last twenty-four hours where God might be speaking to you. It can be another person or an event where God might be trying to tell you something. I personally think this is the most important stage because God is constantly trying to communicate with us.

The next stage is PEACE. How do we make ourselves peaceful? We do this by asking God to forgive any wrong we have committed against Him, ourselves, or others, because ultimately sin is what robs us of peace. Then, after we have asked God’s forgiveness, we ask him to fill us with his deep and abiding peace so that we can avoid sinning again.

After peace, the next stage listed is called FREEDOM. FREEDOM is speaking with God about how he is inviting you to change your life. God loves us just as we are, but he loves us too much to let us stay as we are. God is always inviting us and challenging us to change so that we can experience true freedom -- freedom from sin, freedom from stress, freedom from sadness, freedom from darkness -- so we can truly be the best persons we can be.

And, finally, the last stage is called OTHERS. This stage can also be called INTERCESSION. Here is where we lift up the needs of anyone else who has asked us to pray for them, or anyone we feel called to pray for. We always have to be careful that we never get selfish in our prayers and pray only for me. The Lord loves a generous heart. The Lord responds to charity. That includes our prayers.

This is a nice little formula for daily prayer. Always wrap it up by praying the perfect prayer Jesus himself taught us, the Lord’s Prayer.

And blessed be God forever. –Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint:

It is an old custom of the saints of God to have some little prayers ready and to be frequently darting them up to heaven during the day, lifting their minds to God out of the mire of this world. He who adopts this plan will obtain great fruits with little pains. -- St. Philip Neri

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. Pray the Lord’s Prayer slowly and reflectively, thinking about each petition. Did the Holy Spirit give you a new insight while praying this way? If so, what was it?

  2. Fr. Sisco admonishes us not to be selfish in our prayers. How can we be selfish in our prayers? How can we be unselfish in our prayers?

  3. The prayer formula which Father Sisco shares begins with Gratitude, then proceeds to Awareness, Significant Moments, Peace, Freedom, and ends with Others. Discuss each of these stages and why each is important in the prayer process.

  4. Discuss the order of the stages. Why do you think each stage is in the order given? How might the prayer process be different if the order were switched?

  5. Why can Awareness be called Repentance in this prayer process?

  6. Why can Others also be called Intercession in this prayer process?

  7. Father Sisco mentions some reasons why it is necessary for us to pray. What other reasons can you think of?

  8. What would you say to someone who says that they don’t pray? What excuses do people give for not praying?

  9. What response do you give to someone who says that God does not answer their prayers?

  10. Write your own prayer formula.

  11. Create a prayer of gratitude.

  12. Create a prayer for others.

  13. Create a prayer of adoration.

  14. Does prayer bring peace to you? Can it bring peace to the world?

  15. Discuss the Rosary as a prayer

  16. Discuss the Mass as a prayer.

  17. A novena is a series of prayers said for nine days. Have you ever prayed a novena? Which one? Can you make up your own novena? Why would people pray a novena? Can you find any popular novenas and share them?

-- Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 394: Judgment Day: A Reflection on Luke 19: 11-27

As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. So he said, ‘A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, “Do business with these until I come back.” But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, “We do not want this man to rule over us.” When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, “Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.” He said to him, “Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.” Then the second came, saying, “Lord, your pound has made five pounds.” He said to him, “And you, rule over five cities.” Then the other came, saying, “Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.” He said to him, “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.” He said to the bystanders, “Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.” (And they said to him, “Lord, he has ten pounds!”) “I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.” ’(Luke 19: 11-27)

Creation is NOT eternal. Creation will someday end. Our lives on this earth will someday end, and, when that happens, we will hopefully be given a new life in the next world that will extend into eternity. This is all part of what Saint John describes in the Book of Revelation.

The Book of Revelation deals with Christ’s judgement upon creation at the end of time. The Book of Revelation deals with crises in the early Church that John was dealing with while he was in exile on the island of Patmos. And the Book of Revelation reveals the heavenly community and all that are included in it, the faithful.

In the parable of the three servants, Jesus told about who actually goes to heaven. He tells a parable of a nobleman who goes off to be crowned king. There are two groups of people left behind: his servants and the people who don’t want him to become king. The nobleman gives ten of his servants a gold coin to trade with until his return. We’ve all been given gifts from God, and God expects us to use those gifts to help build up his kingdom.

Saint Matthew records this parable a little differently, OR Jesus told it differently himself on another occasion; we don’t know. But in Matthew’s Gospel, the master gives three servants, three different amounts of money, based upon their abilities. THAT means not all of us have the same gifts. We are all not expected to produce the same results. In Luke’s Gospel, all the servants get the same amount, meaning, God doesn’t show favoritism. We all have been given an equal opportunity to produce something for God.

The nobleman leaves and comes back a king. He then summons his servants. The first makes ten coins. The king responds, “Well done, good servant. Take over ten cities.” The servant produces, and he is rewarded. The second makes five coins. Note the King does NOT say “Well done, good servant.” He simply says, “You take over five cities.” It’s not like a great job, but not a bad job. That indicates there are different levels of rewards in heaven based on how much we have invested ourselves in the kingdom here! This is verified by various saints and mystics who have had visions of heaven and described it as having different levels, each more beautiful than the last. This is verified by Jesus’ own words at the Last Supper. These words are always mistranslated, because, translated literally, they are confusing.

The common translation is this: Jesus tells the apostles, “In my Father’s house there are many ROOMS.” However, literally translated, he says, “In my Father’s house there are many steps.” There are many levels, there are many plateaus in heaven. So, we want to invest ourselves in our spiritual life, we want to produce for the Lord, because we not ONLY want to go to heaven, but we want the best spot we can get!

Now what happens to the servant who buries the coin, and produces nothing? Does he go to hell or not? In the version of this parable in Matthew’s Gospel, yes. The master orders the servant’s hands and feet tied and he be cast out in the darkness. Certainly, this is an allusion to hell, but in Luke’s gospel it’s unclear. He has his reward taken away from him. He doesn’t use his gift, so he loses it. But does he go to hell? Let’s wait on that a moment.

Who most certainly DOES go to hell? “Now bring me those enemies of mine, those who did not want me to be king, and slay them in my presence.” THEY go to hell! Those who by their words or actions deny that Jesus is king.

So what happens to the lazy servant? I would submit that he goes to Purgatory. That is the penalty for not using the gifts that God has given us to build His kingdom. Whatever that servant’s fate, don’t be like him. Use the gifts and talents God has given you to bring others to him. How do you do that? Stick to the Corporal and Spiritual works of mercy and you can’t go wrong.

 

– Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: Sinners shall weep at the sign of the cross; for, as St. John Chrysostom says, the nails will complain of them; the wounds and the cross of Jesus Christ will speak against them.' (St. Alphonsus Maria di Liguori)

Prayer: My God, I turn to you, I call upon you, I trust in you; to your infinite goodness I commit the entire reckoning of my life. I have sinned greatly, O Lord: enter not into judgment with your servant, who surrenders to you and confesses his guilt. Of myself I cannot make satisfaction to you for my countless sins: I do not have the means to pay you for my infinite debt. But your Son has shed his Blood for me, and greater than all mine sins is your mercy. Have mercy on me, O God. Amen.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Discuss the idea that heaven has levels and our faith and works determine which we will be on.

  2. Read the parable in both Luke and Matthew and discuss the differences and similarities. What is the important point of each parable?

  3. Are you comfortable with the idea of heaven being a reward depending upon our behavior and faith on earth? Why or why not is this comforting to you?

  4. Discuss the quote by St. Alphonsus di Liguori.

  5. Would you prefer to die suddenly, or would you prefer a lingering death from a chronic or terminal illness? Why?

  6. Father Sisco recommends using the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy as way to do good on earth. Write down the seven Spiritual and seven Corporal Works of Mercy Which ones are you doing? Which would you like to do? Which are you able to do? Which need to be done the most?

  7. List all of the teachings that can be gleaned from the parable of the talents. Which teachings do you think are of paramount and which of secondary importance?

  8. What is the difference between Purgatory and hell?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 395: Keeping Perspective: A Reflection on John 5:28-9

"[T]he hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation." (John 5:28-9)

The Church yearly celebrates All Saints' Day followed by All Souls' Day to direct our focus to eternal realities. The saints are our brothers and sisters who have entered their eternal reward. All Souls' Day remembers and prays for all the souls in purgatory because those souls still wait to enter into heaven but have some unrepented venial sins, or unholy attachments to a mortal sin that must be purged away from them before they can enter heaven. These are all healthy reminders for us, because, as human beings, we can be incredibly short sighted. We think only in earthly terms and earthly rewards.

The job of the Church is to help us keep things in perspective. The job of the Church is to remind us to look at the big picture. The job of the Church is to make sure we don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees. Our lives here will someday end. When that happens, we will be judged by God. What will be judged, is the behavior and attitudes we had in this life, which will determine where we will spend eternity; in heaven or in hell. This whole creation will someday also end. Whether creation is destroyed completely, or simply recreated and restored to the innocence and beauty it had before the fall of man is unclear. Theologians always kick that one back and forth. What IS clear is that Jesus WILL come back someday to judge all of creation.

Perspective…big picture. And we need these reminders, because some people just reject the Church outright, but most people play this game of hide and seek with God. I’ll keep THESE teachings of the Church but ignore THOSE. I’ll keep one foot in the world and one foot in the spirit. The simple truth is my brothers and sisters, you cannot be free of demons whose company you enjoy. The problem with playing this game of spiritual hide and seek, is that someday Jesus will say, “ready or not, here I come.” Don’t be short sighted. Don’t lose sight of the forest because of the trees.

OK Father, how do I do that?

I found this prayer online by Saint Thomas Aquinas, who was called the angelic doctor. “Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you…Amen.” That’s a great prayer. And Saint Thomas Aquinas, as he often did, nailed it right on the head. In this short prayer, is a nice, tight, perfect formula for salvation.

“Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you.” How do get our minds to know God? Reading scripture. Scripture is where God has revealed himself to us. So we raise our minds to God by reading and reflecting on scripture.

“…a heart to seek you…” How do we get our hearts to seek God? Charitable deeds. God is always a giver. God gave us creation, he gave us his covenant, he gave us his Word in scripture, he gave us himself; God himself left his place in heaven to become one of us in the poorest of circumstances; he gave us the sacraments, he gave us his flesh and blood in the Eucharist, he gave us his life on the cross, and then he gave us his Holy Spirit, so he could give us the possibility of eternal life. God is always a giver, so when we give for the good of another, whenever we act in charity, we’re forming our hearts to His heart.

“…wisdom to find you…” How do we find God? Meditative prayer. Not SAYING prayers. Not talking AT God. Meditative prayer. Meditative prayer enables us to see God in places we have difficulty seeing him; in trying circumstances; like when someone we love dies; or we’re faced with other trials in life; sickness, unemployment. Meditative prayer enables us to see God in the faces of the poor, and in the teachings of the Church. So how do we meditate? I’ve quoted Rev. Rick Warren’s explanation many times. “Worrying is thinking about a problem over and over again. Meditating is thinking about God, or an aspect of God, or a line of scripture over and over again. So if you know how to worry, you already know how to meditate. Just shift the focus!”

“…conduct pleasing to you.” Act virtuously. Avoid sin, and when you DO sin, repent! From the amount of confessions I hear every week I either have a parish full of saints, or a parish full of people who have no concept of sin. I hope it’s the former, but no offense, I doubt it.

“…faithful perseverance in waiting for you…” That means, your plan God, not mine. This is what I want, but what I want MOST God, is what YOU want for me. So I’m putting it all here before you. You do what you know is best. And I will patiently wait for you, until YOU decide the time is right.

“…and a hope of finally embracing you.” I’m consenting to do all of the above, because it’s my desire to be united with you in heaven forever, because that’s where life really begins. All of this is just a warm up, a prelude to the symphony.

“Grant me O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you…Amen.”

There it is my brothers and sisters; everything you need to know for salvation is contained in that short prayer. I pray today that we all say it often, but even more important, I pray we live this prayer in principle, because living this prayer will help us keep this life and eternity in perspective.

 

-- Blessed be God forever. Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint and Prayer: Reread and pray St. Thomas Aquinas’ prayer.

 

This prayer is available inexpensively as a prayer card from the CFP Holy Angels Gift Shop at cfpholyangels.com

Questions for Reflection:

1.       Take each of the sections of the prayer as enumerated by Fr. Sisco and discuss his suggestions. Make some suggestions of your own to go with each part. Which one of these sections seems most important or do they all have the same importance? Why do you feel as you do?

2.       What can you do to encourage confession? How often do you confess? Is it enough?

3.       What can we do to encourage others to give thought to eternal realities?

4.       Is the Church in existence just to help us think of eternal realities? What other functions does the Church serve? Which do you think is most important?

5.       Discuss this saying: you cannot be free of demons whose company you enjoy. Fr. Sisco applies this to disregarding parts of God’s law. Discuss this. What other applications can you think of for this saying? Do you think the saying is true? Why or why not?

6.       Who goes to Purgatory? What is the function of that spiritual location?

7.       Is there any way to tell if you or someone you know is a saint? What are God’s criteria?

8.       Compose your own prayer to sum up the way to salvation.

--  Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 396: Rejoice in the Lord Always: A Reflection on Philippians 4:4-7

 

Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:4-7

 

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!” Advent, like Lent is a season of penance. It’s a season of quiet preparation. It’s a season of expectation. And yet in the 3rd Sunday of Advent we get a break. We get this Sunday as a reminder that the waiting is almost over. Christmas is almost upon us. We’ve heard the expression, “all good things must come to an end.” This Sunday reminds us when we experience difficulties in our lives, that all bad things come to an end, too. Even in our darkest time, when all seems lost, the Lord is still with us.

Now that’s easy to say, but it’s hard to do. Why is that? I mean I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. So why is it when the dark times are upon us, we so easily get discouraged? My sister and I now take care of our aging parents. Generally, my sister takes care of the house, and I take care of the yard. My parents have a big yard; it takes a lot of maintenance. And occasionally, taking care of the yard, requires me to push myself physically, more than I’m used to. Then I wake up the next day, and every muscle and bone in my body hurts. Why? I’m out of shape. When I was younger, I went to the gym, and worked out a few times a week, and I could toss things around my parent’s yard like nothing. I don’t go to the gym anymore. I’m now in the fitness protection program. I hide from exercise. As a result, I’m older, fatter, and weaker. But the same thing can happen to us spiritually.

The reason why we get discouraged when the tough times hit us, the reason why we doubt God cares, or maybe even we let ourselves think that God doesn’t exist when we encounter those times, is that we’re spiritually flabby. We’re spiritually out of shape. So how do we hit the Holy Spirit gym? Paul gives us some suggestions today in his letter to the Philippians.

“Your kindness should be known to all.” That’s a good spiritual workout in and of itself. How many of us can make this claim? How many of us can say that our kindness is known to ALL? We all have our own little circle of friends that our kindness is known in, but what do people think of us that are outside that circle? What impression do you make on people? Is your kindness perceived? And sometimes that’s as easy to achieve as training yourself to smile. You may be a very kind person, but if you walk around with a frown on your face, people who don’t know you will perceive you as unfriendly. Did you know it takes less muscles in your face to smile, then it does to frown? You know what that means? God made us to smile. Smiling comes naturally to us. Frowning takes work. So, practice kindness often, and be happy about it.

“The Lord is near.” That’s the next thing Paul says, and that’s something we need to remind ourselves of often. The Lord is near. Yes, God is in heaven, far, far, away, but God is also here. The whole reason for Christmas, the whole reason for the incarnation, was so God could bridge the gap between him and us and remain with us through the sacraments. So, indeed, the Lord is near to us, always. When I was in seminary, we had a priest who would always begin class by saying, “Let us remember we are in the presence of the Lord.” Every class. Because we’re always in the presence of the Lord, not just in Church, but because of the Sacraments, Christ now dwells in each of us, so when you encounter another person, YOU’RE IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD! And you need to behave toward them, like you’re in the presence of the Lord.

 

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” Have no anxiety at all. I’ve spoken many times about fear, and how fear is a root cause of many of our sins, because fear is ultimately a lack of faith in God. Worrying is obsessing about things you cannot change. Prayer is giving those things to the one person who CAN change them. So, stop worrying. Worrying is useless. Pray. I had to remind myself of this recently. When we give our worries to God our prayer becomes petition. That’s what a petition is, when we’re asking God to intercede for us for something. We’re generally pretty good at petition. Very few people have a problem asking God for stuff. Where I think we’re lacking though, is thanksgiving. How many of us remember to THANK God after we’re received what we asked for? Paul includes thanksgiving here. We tend to limit thanksgiving to a holiday in November. But as Christians we should be in a constant state of thanksgiving, because in so many ways we don’t even realize, God is constantly giving to us.         

Paul concludes, “THEN the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your HEARTS and MINDS in Christ Jesus.” This is the formula to having peace in our hearts and minds. This is the spiritual workout that will strengthen us, so when we face difficult times our faith will carry us through. This is the way to keep spiritual joy burning in our hearts during the good times and the bad times. Blessed be God forever.

 

--Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: “We are not saints yet, but we, too, should beware. Uprightness and virtue do have their rewards, in self-respect and in respect from others, and it is easy to find ourselves aiming for the result rather than the cause. Let us aim for joy, rather than respectability. Let us make fools of ourselves from time to time, and thus see ourselves, for a moment, as the all-wise God sees us.” — St. Philip Neri

Prayer: Prayer to Receive Christ With Joy -- God of power and mercy, open our hearts in welcome. Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy, so that we may share his wisdom and become one with him when he comes in glory, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. AMEN

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What one suggestion can you take from this reflection to help you maintain your spiritual joy? Why did you select that suggestion? How does smiling fit into this suggestion?

  2. Paul ends with “THEN the peace of God . . . will guard your hearts and minds.” What are the steps he enumerates to get to this spiritual place where God’s peace guards us?

  3. Do you engage more in petition or thanksgiving? How can you increase the type of prayer that comes less naturally to you?

  4. How do you keep from being overwhelmed by the bad times?

  5. Rate yourself on the worry scale. Are your worries low or high? What are the reasons for your answer? If you tend to worry too much, how can you conquer this habit?

  6. Discuss the quote from St. Philip Neri.

  7. Have you heard the prayer before? Where? What hinders you from feeling joy? The prayer asks God to remove those things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy. How might He do that in your case? How can you help Him do that in your case?

  8. Is it possible to have no anxiety at all? Give reasons for your answer.

  9. What can we do to remember that God is always present? How can you work at seeing God in others?

-- Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 397: Cross Avoidance: A Reflection on Isaiah 68: 17-19

 

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the Lord your God, who teaches you for your own good, who leads you in the way you should go.  O that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your prosperity would have been like a river, and your success like the waves of the sea; your offspring would have been like the sand, and your descendants like its grains; their name would never be cut off or destroyed from before me. (Isaiah 48: 17-10)

 

It is passages of Scripture like this from the prophet Isaiah that evangelists like Joel Olsteen use to justify their gospel of prosperity. Do everything that God is telling you to do and you will prosper economically, personally, and spiritually. But if that’s the case, why do bad things happen to good people? I don’t know how Joel Olsteen and the other televangelists reconcile that. And if we follow the Lord just so we can prosper economically from it, where’s the faith in that?It’s easy to follow God when things are going well. It’s far more challenging to follow the Lord when times are tough!

 

Now in this passage the Lord DOES promise Israel economic prosperity in return for their obedience. There’s no getting around that. So the Lord is bribing his people? Yup! But why? At this time in history Israel was a divided nation. There was the kingdom of Israel in the North and Judah in the South. Israel in the North had already succumbed to the temptation of idolatry and all the debauchery that goes hand in hand with idolatry. Judah is beginning to succumb to idolatry in the south. The Assyrian Empire is poised to invade and conquer the North of Israel. And here the Lord is promising to restore everything Israel and Judah have lost if they will just turn back to him. God is not above bribery. Sometimes he gives us what we need, by wrapping it up in what we want.

 

But, contrary to what Joel Olsteen and many evangelists preach, that does NOT mean that the Lord is going to shower us with material wealth, if we stay good boys and girls, and pray like we ought. Job did exactly that, and it didn’t stop disaster from striking him.

 

There is a parishioner who called me to anoint her son in the hospital over the weekend. He was struck down with a rare form of leukemia, and the initial prognosis was not hopeful at all. So I went to him, heard his confession, and anointed him. His mother who is a very devout, charitable, caring woman, asked me the question I get so often in these situations --why is this happening? I don’t know. What I do know is that God’s goal is to get us all into heaven, so he calls us when we have the best opportunity to get into heaven, but we’re going to pray for a miracle, nonetheless. She contacted me yesterday and today to tell me he’s already shown signs of dramatic improvement. Is it a miracle? I hope so. Maybe God used this to pull this young man back to church because he had been away for a long time. Maybe this will strengthen the faith of the family. Maybe this young man will use this story to witness to others about the power of prayer. Maybe he won’t end up beating this disease, and it will take his life, but this suffering he endures will get him to heaven. I cannot say.

 

What I can say, is that there is no true Christianity without the cross, so if someone is separating the cross from Christianity, that person is preaching a false gospel. I was at a children's Christmas concert, and the children sang “We Three Kings,” but always, always, always, the third king, the one with myrrh, gets eliminated. Why? Because his gift was the one that foretold the cross. Ever so subtly, we do it. We try to dodge the cross. Don’t do that, and don’t fear it. Don’t give into the temptation of the prosperity gospel, because it’s through the cross that God perfects us, and gets us into heaven.

 

Blessed be God forever! Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote from a Saint: By nothing else except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ has death been brought low: The sin of our first parent destroyed, hell plundered, resurrection bestowed, the power given us to despise the things of this world, even death itself, the road back to the former blessedness made smooth, the gates of paradise opened, our nature seated at the right hand of God and we made children and heirs of God. By the cross all these things have been set aright…It is a seal that the destroyer may not strike us, a raising up of those who lie fallen, a support for those who stand, a staff for the infirm, a crook for the shepherded, a guide for the wandering, a perfecting of the advanced, salvation for soul and body, a deflector of all evils, a cause of all goods, a destruction of sin, a plant of resurrection, and a tree of eternal life. – St. John Damascene

 

Prayer: Prayer for Those Who Carry Their Cross

O my God, I thank you for this cross you have allowed me to carry. Please give me the strength and faith to persevere so that I may bring glory to your name while withstanding the burden of its weight. Thank you for offering me a share in your suffering. I know that you have always been, are now, and ever will be, at my side every step of the way. Thank you also for every "Simon" that you have sent to help me bear this cross.

I have prayed so often that this thorn in my flesh would be removed, but I trust that your grace is sufficient. Change my heart's troubled cry of --"How long, O Lord", into words of trust: "However long, O Lord". May I seek only to do your will and to unite my sufferings with your passion. Help me to not get lost in my own self concerns, but may I find in these trials a way to greater virtue, a call to prayer and a path to trust in you alone. Permit me not to waste my pain, but to make of these struggles a sacrificial offering for others.

Lord, when I am weary and I fall, exhausted under the weight of this cross, please give me the courage to press on as you did. Lord Jesus, I embrace with love my cross, as a share in your own. By your grace, may I carry it all the way to the vision of your glory. I abandon myself totally to your will. Christ Jesus, I trust in you. Amen

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Why does modern man avoid talking about the cross?

  2. What does “carry your cross” mean to you?

  3. How are our crosses redemptive to us? How does this reflect Christ’s passion and death?

  4. Father Sisco mentions some reasons why bad things happen to good people. Can you name additional reasons?

  5. If we believe that all things happen for the good to those who love God (Romans 8:28), then do any bad things really happen? In other words, if the difficulties are for our good, are they really bad? Explain your answer.

  6. Discuss the quote by St. John Damascene.

  7. Pray the prayer. What in it speaks most powerfully to you?

  8. Do you believe that we always have a cross to bear? Even when very young? How does the cross change as we age? What can we learn from bearing our crosses?

  9. List some crosses people bear. Then list the positive fruits that come from bearing them well.

  10. Can you share a time when you felt you were really bearing a heavy cross? Did anything good and unexpected come from that? If so, what was it and how did it change your life? If you feel that nothing good came of that cross, discuss why you feel that way. Is it possible you are overlooking a good or did not recognize it?

  11. How can we be like Simeon and help others bear their crosses?

  12. Could some crosses be given so that others can help bear them?

  13. How would you explain the cross to a non-Christian.

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 398: At War with the Devil: A Reflection on Ephesians 6:10-12

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can make 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 world's darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:10-12)

“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? Because 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, 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.

The Church has been in the news 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.

Blessed be God forever. --Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: The vigor with which you resist the enemy will be the measure of the reward which will follow the combat. - St. Ignatius of Loyola

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. Father Sisco mentions three hot topics that show that we are in a battle with spiritual forces of evil. What other areas can you think of that show evidence of a spiritual battleground?

  2. Discuss abortion. How is it made to look like a good? Why is it really an evil?

  3. Discuss cremation. Why is the Church insistent that cremains be treated with dignity? Why is this more than just a pious notion?

  4. Discuss homosexual “marriage” and the common mantra that no one is hurting anyone and people just want to be happy.

  5. Have you ever had a personal experience with evil? What was it like? How did you know it was evil?

  6. St. Paul tells us to be strong in the Lord and in His power. How can we do that?

  7. What is the full armor of God?

  8. What are some schemes of the devil? How can you tell if something is from satan or just someone’s idea? Could anything just be someone’s idea?

  9. What in the modern world makes it evident that we are in a spiritual battle?

  10. Discuss this: We are at war. The earth is the battlefield, and you are the prize. Whose prize?

  11. Discuss the quote from St. Ignatius.

  12. Many bishops have asked their priests to pray the prayer to St. Michael either before or after every Mass. Pray this prayer now. Then look at each phrase and the ramifications of it.

  13. Do you think that evil spirits prowl about the world, seeking someone to devour? How can you avoid being caught?

  14. How can you deal with someone who you feel is being influenced by evil?

  15. What can parents do to keep their children from evil influences?

  16. How would you dialog with a Catholic who has embraced some of the deceptions which Fr. Sisco noted?

  17. How can we keep from being influenced by evil? How can we recognize evil? How can we keep spiritually healthy and strong?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 399: Gain Rather Than Loss: A Reflection on Philemon 1:10-18

I urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment, who was once useless to you but is now useful to [both] you and me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I should have liked to retain him for myself, so that he might serve me on your behalf in my imprisonment for the gospel, but I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary. Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord. So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me. And if he has done you any injustice or owes you anything, charge it to me. (Philemon 1:10-18)

"Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord.” (Philemon 1:15)

I’ve explained before, that Paul is writing this letter to Philemon, a prominent Christian, on behalf of Onesimus, his slave, who had run away and fled to Paul, who is in prison, awaiting his trial and execution. And Paul is encouraging Philemon to do two things; first, not to punish Onesimus for running away, and secondly, to welcome Onesimus back, not as his slave, but as his brother in Christ; in other words, to give Onesimus his freedom.

And we know Philemon did this because Onesimus became a priest, then a bishop. And we know THAT because we have a letter written by Onesimus as a bishop, which appears in the Office of Readings in the Divine Office, that the clergy are required to pray every day.

Another thing I’ve explained before in a different context, is the theological term Sensus Pleniar. This is a term applied to the prophets, when they were writing something about themselves, about a present situation, or some circumstance they were enduring, but they were unwittingly prophesizing about the coming Messiah. For example, when the prophet Isaiah is writing his passage about the suffering servant; “I gave my cheek to those who slap me, my face to those who spit upon me. They laugh at me, they pluck my beard, they toss their heads and say, ‘Let the Lord rescue him if he is his friend.’” Isaiah is writing this about himself. He’s describing the persecution he has had to endure for being a prophet of God. But unknowingly, he’s ALSO describing what Jesus would endure at Calvary.

I think that same concept can be applied to what Saint Paul says to Philemon in this passage. “Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord.” While Paul is writing this to Philemon in regards to Onesimus, it can also apply to all of us who have had those we love dearly die before us. “Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you may have him back forever.” Doesn’t that describe what’s waiting for us in heaven? Isn’t that the perfect image for when we’re reunited with those we have loved and lost for all eternity? “No longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a brother.” We’ll not only be reunited with those we have loved but, through the love of Christ, joined in perfection, with none of our human weaknesses or frailties. We’ll be able to enjoy each other’s company in perfect harmony.

Of all the aspects of heaven, of all the things that are waiting for us, I think THIS is what I personally, look forward to the most--seeing my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins again. In the early days of my reversion back to faith in my early twenties, there was a man in our prayer group named Peter Nenia. He was a great guy. His spiritually was very simple, yet very profound. He spoke with a lot of wisdom. Peter died very young. He was only in his 40’s when he had a heart attack. And I think of Peter now and again, and I just look forward to the day when I can have another spiritual conversation with him. That’s what I look forward to. So when you’re grieving the loss of someone you love, it might do you some good to read this passage of Paul’s letter to Philemon and reflect not on what you’ve lost, but on what you’re going to gain.

--Blessed be God forever. Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: Beside all this, a more wonderful grace is bestowed upon the Saints in heaven: for they know not only them with whom they were acquainted in this world, but also those whom before they never saw, and converse with them in such familiar sort as though in times past they had seen and known one another: and therefore when they shall see the ancient fathers in that place of perpetual bliss, they shall then know them by sight, whom always they knew in their lives and conversation. For seeing they do in that place with unspeakable brightness, common to all, behold God, what is there that they know not, that know him who knoweth all things? (Pope Saint Gregory the Great)

Prayer: Prayer for Heaven

My God, I adore You and I love You! Through the hands of the Madonna, with Your grace and help I accept from You, O Lord, at the unexpected hour any kind of death as it will please You to send me, and I ask of You the grace not to have fear of death. Please forgive all of my sins.

I accept my death in union with the Sacrifice that You, O Jesus, High and Eternal Priest, Yourself made on the Cross and that now You renew on many Altars. I intend to offer to You my death in the spirit of the Holy Masses which at that moment will be celebrated and I offer You Your infinite merits to pay for my sins and the penalty of Purgatory.

Saved by Your Blood, through Your merits and those of Your Mother I ask You the same mercy granted to the Good Thief, namely the grace to enter immediately with You into Paradise and to have immediately the perfect Beatific Vision of God. Amen. I thank You, my Jesus!

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What is your most recent experience of death? How did it effect you? What was your most traumatic experience of death? How did that effect you? Why are your responses different depending on who died?

  2. What is your response to thinking about your own death? If God called you to die today, are you prepared? What preparations have you made regarding your funeral, will, funeral Mass, burial plot, and other important matters?

  3. Is there anyone with whom you should reconcile while there is still time? What tips can you glean from Paul’s letter that might help a reconciliation happen?

  4. Who are you looking forward to seeing in heaven? What do you think heaven will be like?

  5. Do you pray a prayer daily for a happy death? The prayer above is a good example.

  6. Discuss the quote from St. Gregory the Great.

  7. Read St. Paul’s letter to Philemon and discuss Paul’s feelings toward Onesimus. Imagine what transpired between Paul and Onesimus to generate the love felt between the two.

  8. What might have been Philemon’s reactions to Paul’s letter? What do you think convinced Philemon to take Onesimus back as a brother?

  9. Have you ever had the opportunity to advocate for someone? Describe your experience.

Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 400: Desolation of Nations: A Reflection on Luke 21:20

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendour. He called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! It has become a dwelling place of demons, a haunt of every foul and hateful bird, a haunt of every foul and hateful beast.

Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “With such violence Babylon the great city will be thrown down, and will be found no more; and the sound of harpists and minstrels and of flutists an trumpeters will be heard in you no more; and an artisan of any trade will be found in you no more; and the sound of the millstone will be heard in you no more; and the light of a lamp will shine in you no more; and the voice of bridegroom and bride will be heard in you no more; for your merchants were the magnates of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery.

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power to our God, for his judgments are true and just; he has judged the great whore who corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” Once more they said, “Hallelujah! The smoke goes up from her forever and ever.”

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” (Revelation 18:1-2, 21-23; 19:1-3, 9)

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Jesus said to his disciples, “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21: 20-28)

“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you must realize that she must soon be laid desolate...” (Luke 21:20)

In this reading, we hear about the fall of empires. Jesus was predicting the destruction of Jerusalem which the Roman’s laid waste around 70 ad. when the Jews revolted and tried to drive out the empire. They failed. So often throughout the old testament, we see Israel conquered by a foreign power because the people forsook the worship of the Lord and followed idols. So often again, we see them manage to drive away their enemies when they return to the Lord and the covenant. This time though, the Jews are never really able to get rid of the Romans.

The Babylonian empire wasn’t nearly as expansive as the Roman empire, but they treated the Jews worse than any other conquerors. In the reading, the Evangelist John says ‘Babylon’, but he’s not talking about Babylon. He’s actually predicting the fall of the Roman Empire. Why not just say that then? Christianity is already being persecuted by the time John is writing this. And the oral tradition tells us that John wrote the book of Revelation while in exile on an island in the Mediterranean. He was sort of under house arrest. Therefore, if John were to write anything against Rome, they’d have cause to charge him with treason and execute him. But he, and the community he writes to, both know that he’s talking about Rome. What’s the connection?

 

Where is the Babylonian empire now? Aside from some wheat contracts, and a few common place documents we have no record of this empire that at one time controlled all of the near east and Asia minor.

Where is the Roman empire? Aside from some ruins and what we have written about her by the ancient poets, there’s really not much left of that either.

Ottoman Empire? Gone.

All of the great empires of history are gone.

The United States is also an empire. I don’t think the United States really became an empire until after World War II, so we’re a very young empire, but an empire, nonetheless. The only difference is instead of controlling other countries through military conquest, we now control them through economics.

Every empire in history fell because of three consistent elements; corruption within, domestic unrest, and attacks from without. Right now, all three of those elements exist within the United States. I think the only way for our country to reverse this trend in to return to the moral and spiritual foundation that this country was founded on. Whether that will happen or not I cannot say.

What I can guarantee WILL happen, is if the United States does someday collapse in upon itself, the Catholic Church will be there to help pick up the pieces and rebuild again. God is blessed FOREVER. -- Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world. – Saint Pope John Paul the Great

Prayer: Mary, our Mother, sustain us in moments of darkness, difficulty, and apparent defeat. Amen.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. History shows that empires last about 400 years. What does that say about the United States?

  2. What are the marks of an empire? Can a nation exist without being an empire?

  3. Discuss the quote from Pope John Paul the Great.

  4. The United States is under the banner of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. In light of this, discuss the prayer. Why would our Lady care about nations?

  5. What signs can you see that the United States is strong? What signs that it is weak? Would there be any way we could no if the country is on the verge of a collapse?

  6. Discuss the role of God in any nation and the role of politics. Discuss the interaction between the two. What is the appropriate response of a Catholic to the goings-on in their nation?

  7. What can Christians do to reverse the immoral tendencies of a nation?

  8. Discuss the importance of each of these to a nation: Witness. Evangelization. Example. Education. Works of mercy.

  9. Write a prayer for our country. Then pray it daily

  10. Consider participating in National Day of Prayer, held on the first Thursday of May for the nation. Should Christians consider every day a Day of Prayer for their country?

--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