Weeks 411- 420

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 411: Lack of Faith: A Reflection on Luke 1: 5-38

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 0 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 0 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 0 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1: 5-38)

This Gospel reminds us that the faith of the laity sometimes puts the faith of the priesthood to shame, which is why you need to pray for us. The archangel Gabriel brings good news to Zachariah and Mary. In a twist of irony, Mary, the thirteen- year-old kid, responds with faith. Zachariah, the priest, responds with no faith, and he’s punished for it. Even though their questions are almost exactly the same in their wording, Zachariah should have known better. He’s offering the sacrifice in the Holy of Holies, the most sacred spot on earth, the one place and the one time miracles could happen. So why does he respond with disbelief? What happened to Zachariah’s faith?

Maybe it was politics. Maybe Zachariah was discouraged because his country was under Roman occupation. You know how frustrating it can be when you’re a democrat and the republicans are in charge or vice, versa? Maybe Zachariah was discouraged at the behavior of the clergy of his day. We see the evidence in Scripture of the materialism and greed of the Pharisees. Historians of the day noted that the Saducees, the priestly clan, were lured by pleasures of the flesh, and indulged in eating and drinking. Maybe Zachariah was just harboring anger towards God because he and wife were devout, and they had been praying for children all their lives and never had any. So, when Gabriel tells Zachariah that he and his wife were finally going to have a child, his response is one of cynicism, “What? NOW? We’re old now! Where were you twenty years ago?!” Whatever the cause, whatever the reason, it is clear that God does NOT accept excuses for a lack of faith.

This follows through with Jesus. Every time that Jesus encounters a lack of faith, he responds with anger or tears. Sometimes he reprimands people sharply for their lack of faith. He calls Peter a satan! There’s a rebuke! He condemns the Scribes and Pharisees, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, teachers of the Law! You are a brood of vipers!” The Lord does not accept excuses for a lack of faith. It’s the one sin he displays very little patience for, and Jesus even calls it the one sin that would not be forgiven in this life or the next:  blaspheming the Holy Spirit, hardheartedness, which is completely closing oneself off to faith.

We are living in a generation that wants to live by its own rules. They are looking for anything to discredit faith. They are quick to point out failures of faith especially among the clergy. Things like this are not new. They’re as old as the Gospels themselves. The Lord does not accept excuses for a lack of faith, even from among his priests. We need to refocus our lives through the prism of faith. Don’t lose your focus! And blessed be God forever! –Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself. --Saint Augustine

Prayer: “I do believe. Lord, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Is lack of faith is one of the biggest problems of today? What are the reasons for your response? What are the dangers of lack of faith? Where does lack of faith lead?

  2. Do you feel that lack of faith is a big problem for clergy? What is the basis of your response?

  3. Have you ever met a member of the clergy whose faith seemed to be lacking? If so, what made you feel that he was unsure of his faith?

  4. A priest once stated that people should pray only about big matters but can make small decisions themselves. He used as an example a person praying about whether or not to go to a certain city on a certain day. He said, “God does not care if you go or not. Make up your own mind.” Discuss the faith of the person praying to know whether or not to make the trip. Discuss the faith of the priest who made this comment.

  5. Contrast Zechariah with Mary in their response to an angel’s message.

  6. How does willfulness interfere with faith?

  7. What excuses do people give for disbelief or unbelief? What might God’s response be?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 412: What Are You Willing to Give to God?: A Reflection on 1 Samuel 1:24-28

 

When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine. She brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, ‘Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.’ She left him there for the Lord. (1 Samuel 1: 24-28)

 

What are you willing to give to God, once you realize how much he’s given to you?

 

When you read the lives of saints, and see the incredible trials they went through, or the extremes in sacrifices they made, we ask ourselves; “How could they have DONE that?!” The reason the saints had the strength to endure what they endured, was that they realized what God had given them, so no sacrifice was too great for them to give to God. They did what they did because of the gratitude they felt toward God when it dawned on them how much God REALLY loved them. We’ve all experienced this in a human way.

 

Haven’t you ever been so grateful to someone that you’d do anything for them? My sister and I now take care of our parents. In all honesty, my sister made the biggest sacrifice and still does. My sister quit her job, sold her condo in DC and moved home to take care of them, because, if she didn’t, we would have had to send them to a nursing home. Previous to this, I would go home on my day off and do everything that needed to be done; food shopping, take them to doctor’s appointments, I’d cook enough food for them to eat the week, take care of the house and yard, but this past summer it became clear they needed day to day attention, which I, of course, couldn’t provide with my responsibilities as a pastor of my parish. So, my sister stepped up to the plate and took the reins, and now I help her out when I go home and try to lighten her load a bit.

 

And while my parents love having my sister home, my mom occasionally feels guilty about all this, and she tells me she feels bad that my sister had to sacrifice her life and I have to sacrifice my day off to take care of them. I answer her, “But you sacrificed all your lives for us; now we’re returning the favor.” Because my sister and I are aware of how endlessly our parents gave to us, we don’t mind giving back to them. That’s the same thing that happens to saints in relation to the Lord. The more fully aware we become of everything God has done for us, we don’t mind sacrificing ANYTHING to give back to him.

 

Thus, Hannah, after consecrating him to the Lord, gives her infant son, who would become the prophet Samuel, to the priest Eli, and leaves him forever. Hannah acknowledged that God gave her a child, which is what she wanted more than anything else in the world. In gratitude, she gave that child back to God. Guess what? She went on to have three sons and two daughters after Samuel. God is not outdone in generosity.

 

The Blessed Virgin Mary sings her song of praise to God after Elizabeth acknowledges her as the mother of her savior. When Mary is confronted with what God has done for her, she in turn gives that praise back to God, and like Hannah, will surrender her only son to God, only Mary's son is surrendered as an adult on Calvary. Guess what? From the cross, Christ gave her to John and to all the rest of us as our mother. She surrendered one child and got a bizzilion in exchange! God cannot be outdone in generosity!

 

We should all spend time every day in thanksgiving to God. Giving thanks to God trains us to appreciate everything God does for us. Giving thanks to God trains us to appreciate everything God has given us. The more we thank God the more reasons we come up with to thank God more. And when we reach that level of gratitude, nothing the Church asks of us will seem unreasonable. Nothing the Church asks of us will seem too demanding. In fact, we’ll begin to realize that what the Church asks of us isn’t nearly enough. Because once you realize what God has done for you, there’s nothing you would be unwilling to do for him. Be generous with your giving. You can’t outdo God.

 

Blessed be God forever. Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote from a Saint: Give something, however small, to the one in need. For it is not small to one who has nothing. Neither is it small to God, if we have given what we could.  -St. Gregory Nazianzen

Prayer: Father, your truth is made known in your Word. Guide us to seek the truth of the human person. Teach us the way to love because you are Love. Jesus, you embody Love and Truth. Help us to recognize your face in the poor. Enable us to live out our vocation to bring love and justice to your people. Holy Spirit, you inspire us to transform our world. Empower us to seek the common good for all persons. Give us a spirit of solidarity and make us one human family. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

[This prayer is based on Pope Benedict XVI's 2009 encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth)]

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Discuss: God cannot be outdone in generosity.

  2. What have you given to God out of gratitude? What might you be withholding?

  3. What person, place, or thing would be most difficult for you to surrender to God? Why? What would be your response if you knew that God wanted this?

  4. Compare Hannah with parents whose child announces that he or she has a religious vocation. What are the similarities? The differences? Could you relinquish your child or children to a religious vocation? Be honest in your answer. Would you put conditions on their entry into religious life, such as “You have to finish college first”? Can objections or conditions be a subtle way to dissuade?

  5. Discuss the quote from St. Gregory Nazianzen.

  6. Pray the prayer. What have you just prayed for?

  7. The Blessed Mother surrendered her son to an unjust death. What sorts of surrender are all parents called to make regarding their children?

  8. Is anything too mundane or little to surrender to God? What is the basis of your answer?

  9. What might God be asking you to surrender to Him now? Why might He be asking this?

  10. Do you ever think of giving to God out of gratitude? If not, how can you develop this minset?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 413: Praise Music: A Reflection on Revelation 15:1-4

Then I saw another portent in heaven, great and amazing: seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended. And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: ‘Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgements have been revealed.’ (Revelation 15:1-4)

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts the whole earth is full of his glory.’ (Isaiah 6:1-3)

There are some interesting details, that often get overlooked, in this reading from the book of Revelation and this reading from the Prophet Isaiah. First, we are all familiar with the stereotypical image of angels, the hallmark Christmas card image, of angels singing and playing harps. This passage from Revelation is where that stereotype comes from. But if you look at this passage closely, you see that the angels are NOT holding the harps. The angels are holding the seven last plagues. The souls of the redeemed are holding the harps and singing.

Singing is another thing. Angels don’t sing--at least, they don’t in the book of Revelation. Angels chant. The Prophet Isaiah says that they called to each other, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God of Hosts! Heaven and earth are full of your glory!” Angels don’t sing. We sing. The souls of the redeemed sing because we have something to sing about. We were lost, helpless, with no hope of eternal life, and God intervened to change that. We have cause to celebrate, and that’s why we sing.

What is this song that the souls of the redeemed are singing? “Great and wonderful are your works, Lord God almighty. Just and true are your ways O King of the nations. Who will not fear the Lord, or glorify his name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” This entire hymn is a song of praise. That’s what we’ll be doing in heaven: praising God.

Church music is supposed to praise God. This is why the songs we sing at Mass are from a book of hymns that the Bishops have approved. This is why we can’t do secular songs at funerals and weddings. People argue with me, “But, Father, it’s a song about love.” But it’s NOT a song that praises God. Therefore it has no place in the Mass. Because the average modern day Catholic is so defiant and void of humility, I’ve had to compromise with people at weddings and funerals and allow them ONE secular song at the end of Mass as people are leaving. But I’m not supposed to do this.

Consider what the secular world calls “the Christmas season.” This term is not accurate either, in the secular world, which considers the Christmas season as starting after Halloween. The Christmas season really doesn’t begin until December 24th. Despite the error in celebration, have you ever noticed how people seem to be better disposed toward each other in the “Christmas season?”. Everyone seems to be more generous during December. Everyone seems to be a little more patient with each other during December. Everyone seems to be a little more cheerful during December. Why? My theory…Christmas music. You go into all the stores, you turn on the radio, and all you hear is Christmas music, and much of that music praises God. I don’t mean Frosty and ho, ho, ho. December is the time of year when the average person hears the most music that praises God, and that has a direct effect on our disposition, I believe. And most people aren’t even singing along. They’re just passively LISTENING to the praise music! THAT’S the power of praising God!

So if just listening to Christmas music can have that kind of an effect of an entire society, just imagine what praising God on a regular basis can do for you personally. Praising God can lift your spirits! It can give you hope. It can change you from a pessimist to an optimist. It can increase your resistance to sin! And it can prepare you for the kingdom. How do you praise? I’ve said many times, praising God is anything that acknowledges his greatness. You can start by listening to praise music, and take it from there. And blessed be God forever.

 

– Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: Blessed be He whom our mouth cannot adequately praise, because His Gift is too great for the skill of orators to tell, neither can human abilities adequately praise His goodness. For, praise Him as we may, it is too little. Yet since it is useless to be silent and constrain ourselves, may our feebleness excuse such praise as we can sing. – Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Prayer: Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD." (Psalm 150:1-6)

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Do you believe that listening to praise music will help you be a more generous person?

  2. Stores don’t pump in praise music all year. How might we help others to hear praise music more often?

  3. Discuss subliminal influences (ones that occur below the level of consciousness). How can these work for good or ill?

  4. Do you believe in angels? What Scriptural basis is there for belief in angels?

  5. Do you ever pray to your guardian angel? Why or why not? Should you pray to him?

  6. Do angels have gender? What would be the basis for your response?

  7. Do you know of other praise psalms other than Psalm 150? Find at least one and pray it.

  8. Write your own praise of God. Include at least 5 praises.

  9. Why should we praise God? Does it matter to God? Does it matter to us?

  10. What can praising God do for your spirit?

  11. Discuss church music. Evaluate your parish’s music. Would you call it excellent, good, fair, mediocre, or poor? Why? If your parish’s music could stand improvement, how can you help?

  12. Do you believe that praising God should be the purpose of music at Mass? Why or why not?

  13. Name a secular song that would lift your mind to praise of God.

  14. Do you know anyone who is especially good at praising God? Name that person. What is he or she like? How does he or she praise God? How do you feel around that person?

  15. What services do angels perform? Why are these important to the spiritual life?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 414: Avoiding the Cross: A Reflection on Isaiah 50:4-9A
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The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame. He is near who upholds my right; if anyone wishes to oppose me, let us appear together. Who disputes my right? Let him confront me. See, the Lord GOD is my help; who will prove me wrong? (Isaiah 5); 4-9A)

We live in a world that does it best to avoid the cross. Look at the way people behave. They exercise every day. They avoid foods with gluten, sugar, saturated fats, aspartame -- all in an attempt to avoid the cross. I suppose that helps to some degree. However, my dad, who got diabetes in his forties, scrupulously watched his diet, and got his weight down, and took all his medications faithfully, and that STILL didn’t stop the disease from slowly breaking down all his bodily functions, until when he finally died, he couldn’t see, hear, taste, smell, or even move without great difficulty. We can try to avoid it, but one way or another, the cross will come to us.

Jesus did not run from his cross. Instead, he spent his life preparing for it. The apostles try to dodge the cross. EVERY TIME Jesus confronted them with the cross, they tried to escape it. When Jesus speaks of his crucifixion, Peter starts arguing with him, and James and John ask if they can sit on his left and right when he comes into his glory. Other times, they’re too afraid to speak or question him about the crucifixion. So, we are in good company at least. We are like the apostles. But the question that confronts our lives is NOT “How do we avoid the cross?” but rather, “What are we going to do with the cross when it comes to us?”

Well, Father, I’m going to carry it of course! OK. But are you going to carry it well, or are you going to carry it poorly? Because we can moan and groan and complain over our crosses, and yet still carry them. And while that still merits some grace, it certainly won’t inspire faith in others.

When I was in my third year of seminary, I had my first hospital ministry experience. I was stationed at Gettysburg hospital in Pennsylvania, and the first couple months I hated it, because I’d see people in suffering, and I wouldn’t know what to say to them. My strategy was to try to get their focus OFF of suffering and onto something positive. Avoid the cross. Then three months into my assignment I met Sister Monica, Daughter of Charity, 89 years old and in the hospital for a series of stomach operations. She had so many ulcers in her stomach that the doctors didn’t know what to do. She was in great pain, but you’d never know it because she was very bright and cheerful and spry. As soon as she saw me walk in, a fresh faced, young seminarian, she lit up, sat me down and told me all about life before Vatican II; what it was life to go to the Latin Mass, and how most of her years as a nun had been spent as a teacher. One year she was put in a high school science class, and she knew nothing about science, so she taught that entire year, one chapter ahead of her students. She was an incredible lady, and at one point she told me something I will never forget. She said, “Michael, God used to call me to sainthood through service. Now he calls me to sainthood through suffering. And that’s how he calls us. Some he calls through service, some he calls through suffering, and some he calls through both.” Sister Monica was a woman who carried her cross well. So, how can we do the same?

What determines how we will carry our cross is how well we train ourselves to carry it. This is one of the functions of Lent. Lent trains us to carry our crosses. It’s through self-denial, charity, and immersing ourselves in prayer NOW that we strengthen ourselves to carry our crosses later. When Lent is over, that doesn’t mean we can indulge all our old, bad, habits again. Hopefully, something of what we have done in Lent will stick with us, so that next year we can challenge ourselves to climb to the next level. Then when the times comes, we won’t try to dodge the cross. Instead, we’ll embrace it and carry it with great grace.

Blessed be God forever. Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: Yet the passion of Christ on the Cross gave a radically new meaning to suffering, transforming it from within. It introduced into human history, which is the history of sin, a blameless suffering accepted purely for love. This suffering opens the door to the hope of liberation, hope for the definitive elimination of that ‘sting’, which is tearing humanity apart. It is this suffering which burns and consumes evil with the flame of love and draws forth even from sin a great flowering of good. All human suffering, all pain, all infirmity contains within itself a promise of salvation, a promise of joy: ‘I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake’, writes Saint Paul (Col. 1:24). This applies to all forms of suffering, called forth by evil. It applies to that enormous social and political evil which divides and torments the world today: the evil of war, the evil of oppression afflicting individuals and peoples, the evil of social injustice, of human dignity trodden underfoot, of racial and religious discrimination, the evil of violence, terrorism, the arms race – all this evil is present in our world partly so as to awaken our love, our self-gift in generous and disinterested service to those visited by suffering. In the love that pours forth from the heart of Christ, we find hope for the future of the world. Christ has redeemed the world. ‘By his wounds we are healed’. (Is. 53:5) – St. John Paul the Great, Memory and Identity

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. Pray and discuss the prayer in light of carrying your own cross and helping others with theirs.

  2. Discuss the reflection by Saint John Paul the Great.

  3. Other than the suffering Christ, who do you feel has carried the greatest cross? Why do you say this? Do you feel that some people have no crosses to carry? Why do you say this?

  4. Make a list of five things we can do to help carry our crosses more faithfully.

  5. Discuss this: Life is a series of one cross after the other, sometimes a few at once.

  6. Reread Sr Monica’s attitude toward her cross and discuss her level of faith.

  7. How to people try to avoid the cross? Is this wise?

  8. Make a list of five ways you can be Simon of Cyrene and help others with their crosses.

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 415: “The Handmaid of the Lord”: A Reflection on Luke 1:38

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38)

Our Lady of Guadeloupe is the patroness of the America’s, because this was the first apparition of our Lady in the western hemisphere. Secondly, she is the patroness of the pro-life movement because this was the first apparition of our Lady, (and I believe the only approved apparition of our Lady,) where she appears pregnant. Keeping those things in mind, what are some of the intentions we can ask Our Lady of Guadeloupe to intercede for?

We can ask her to convert the North American Continent back to her son, because it was the apparition of Our Lady of Guadeloupe that converted the Aztec tribes to Catholicism.

Because she is the patroness of ALL the America’s, north, south, AND central, those in the United States can ask her to guide us toward a humane and responsible solution, to dealing with our brothers and sisters south of the border, that are seeking refuge in the United States. No, we just can’t throw open the doors with no vetting process. That would be reckless, and perhaps even dangerous.  No country in the world does that. But at the same time, we cannot turn a blind eye to people, most of whom are Catholic,  who are suffering extreme poverty, violence, and injustice, due to drug cartels and corrupt governments. I don’t know what the answer is, and anyone who claims they do is probably lying, or doesn’t appreciate how complex a problem this is. So why not ask our Our Lady of Guadeloupe to shine some divine light on this problem, and help us find that humane and responsible solution. After all, when she appeared to Juan Diego, she appeared as an Indian woman, not as a Caucasian.

Right now in we have record numbers of single parent families. This has taken a physical toll on the parent who has carry the entire burden or the lion share of the burden of raising the children. It’s also taken a spiritual toll on the parent who stops practicing the faith because of discouragement, or just sheer exhaustion.  THAT in turn takes a spiritual toll on the children, because if they’re not taught the faith by their parents, where are they going to get it from? And being in a single parent home takes a psychological toll on the children. That’s been demonstrated medically. Having one parent effects the psychological development of the children.  They struggle more with issues like self loathing, guilt, depression. So why not ask our Lady to intercede for single parents and their children, because Our Lady was also a single mother.

It was in the early 1980’s when the pro-life movement adopted Our Lady of Guadeloupe to be their patron and their icon, and now, almost forty years later, we’re beginning to see the fruits of that. The numbers of abortions in the United States have decreased annually by a third since the 80’s.  I see the youth, as liberal as they can be, and yet, still stand against abortion and recognize the sanctity of life in the womb. States are now passing laws that protect the lives of the unborn. And Donald Trump was the first American President to come out of the White House and address the pro-life demonstrators at the annual march for life in Washington DC. No President, Republican or Democrat had ever done that before. I know the guy has issues, but let’s give credit where credit is due. That was a significant gesture of political progress on this issue.

So now we have plenty of evidence that Our Lady of Guadeloupe can get the job done.  Let’s start pleading for her assistance in some of these other causes as well.

 

Blessed be God forever. -- Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest and dearest son, that the thing that frightens you, the thing that afflicts you, is nothing: do not let it disturb you…Am I not here, I who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am 1 not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need something more? Let nothing else worry you or disturb you. (Our Lady of Guadaloupe’s words to Saint Juan Diego)

Prayer: Our Lady of Guadalupe, mystical rose, make intercession for the Holy Church, protect the Sovereign Pontiff, help all those who invoke thee in their necessities, and since thou art the ever Virgin Mary and Mother of God, obtain for us from thy most holy Son the grace of keeping our faith, sweet hope in the midst of the bitterness of life, burning charity and the precious gift of final perseverance. Amen.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Discuss the following from Our Lady’s message to Juan Diego.

    • Listen – How can you listen to Our Lady, to Our Lord?

    • put it into your heart – What does this mean to you?

    • my youngest and dearest son –What is your relationship to Our Lady?

    • that the thing that frightens you, the thing that afflicts you, is nothing: do not let it disturb you –What is troubling you? How can you give it to Our Lady?

    • Am I not here, I who am your Mother?—What does this mean to you?

    • Are you not under my shadow and protection? –How would your life be different if you took this to heart?

    • Am 1 not the source of your joy? –Can you claim Mary as the source of your joy?

    • Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? – Discuss the meaning of this and the emotions behind it.

    • Do you need something more? – What are you looking for from God?

    • Let nothing else worry or disturb you. – Is this possible?

  2. Father Sisco mentions the following petitions to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Discuss each:

    • The Conversion of the North American continent. Why might this interest her? Are you doing anything to help bring this about?

    • Humane way to deal with illegal immigrants. What might be done about this problem? How could Our Lady bring competing sides together for a solution?

    • Assistance to single parents. How could Our Lady be an inspiration for single parents? What can you do to assist single parents?

    • Aiding the prolife movement. Why is Our Lady a good patron of this cause? What can you do to assist in respect for all human life?

  3. The prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe mentions other concerns. Discuss each:

    • Our Holy Church. How might Our Lady help and inspire our leaders and members? What can you do to assist your local parish to hold fast to the faith?

    • Protection for the Pope. Why might she be a good intercessor for this? Do you pray for the Pope?

    • Help for those who invoke her. The Blessed Mother is widely invoked. What might be some of the petitions addressed to her? Why is she a powerful intercessor?

    • Keeping our faith. How might Our Lady inspire us to do this?

    • Maintaining hope. What in Our Lady’s life is instructional in the virtue of hope?

    • Burning charity. How did our Lady show charity and how might we?

    • Final perseverance. What did Our Lady experience regarding this?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 416: Measuring Success: A Reflection on Isaiah 49:4

“Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly spent my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.” (Isaiah 49:4)

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24)

Sometimes we can look at some aspect of our lives and be tempted to think, ‘This was a complete waste of time.  I’ve accomplished nothing.’

This is particularly true with the faith.  We’re frustrated our kids or grandkids don’t go to Church.  Why did I waste all that time on them? Why did I waste all that money to send them to Catholic school?

We can feel this way if we’re involved in a parish ministry and no one seems to appreciate our efforts.

We can feel this way if we’re trying to counsel someone with problems to try to bring them to faith, and they just don’t seem to get it.

We’re not alone when we feel this way.  The prophets many times felt their message was falling on deaf ears, and they wasted their strength for nothing. The saints very often felt this way. All the apostles must have felt this way after the crucifixion. What were these past three years all about?  It was all for nothing.

Note what Isaiah says here, “Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing uselessly spent my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.” And this is what we have to keep in mind. Whenever we try to do anything productive, anything that is inspired by the Spirit, anything that builds the Kingdom of God, we will meet opposition. We will meet physical opposition, and spiritual, demonic opposition. We will enjoy victories, and we will suffer defeats. But we cannot measure success by the same standard the world measures success. We cannot measure success by numbers. The only way we measure success or failure, is by how well I have lived the will of God today.  And that’s it!

As long as I have behaved virtuously today, as long as I have tried to avoid sin today, and as long as I did my best to live God’s call today. That’s how we measure success.  And that’s how Jesus measured success. That’s what gave Jesus the strength to keep climbing the hill to Calvary. That’s what gave Jesus the strength to stay pinned to that cross. It was the Father’s will.  And that’s all Jesus needed to know. And that’s all we need to know.

Inevitably, when we follow the Lord we will ruffle feathers. Inevitably we will be rejected.  Inevitably we will feel sometimes as if it was all in vain. Don’t give up. First of all, you never know who you’re affecting just by your presence. You never know what seeds you’ve planted that you’ll never see grow. Second, it doesn’t matter if you never accomplish anything, as long as you always tried to do God’s will.

It doesn’t matter how many times you sin, as long as you never stop trying, honestly trying, not to sin.

Brothers and Sisters, the whole reason we go through six weeks of Lent is to attempt to shut out the distractions in our lives and listen for the Lord. When Lent draws to a close, we don't draw back. We keep listening for His voice and, hopefully, we are a bit better prepared to respond to it.

Blessed be God forever! Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe. – Saint Augustine

Prayer: Lord as we navigate through this world of sin, thank You that You have promised to be with us, no matter what difficulties and dangers may cross our paths. Keep us we pray, from all perils, problems and persecutions that we may encounter and may we remain firm to the end and enabled to persevere in the midst of all our trials. Thank You that there is no situation in life that is outside of Your jurisdiction and that You have every circumstance covered by Your sufficient grace. Lord as we steer our path through this sin-sick world may we keep our confidence in You and place every need into Your hands, knowing that greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world – we ask this in the name of Jesus, Amen

Questions for Reflection:

  1. In light of this reflection, discuss this advice: Always stay true to yourself and never sacrifice who you are for anyone.

  2. Have you ever felt discouraged by lack of success? Describe that time. How did you get through?

  3. Discuss this: It doesn’t matter how many times you sin, as long as you never stop trying, honestly trying, not to sin.

  4. Do you believe that this is true and discuss the reasons for your answer: Whenever we try to do anything productive, anything that is inspired by the Spirit, anything that builds the Kingdom of God, we will meet opposition.

  5. Can you think of a saint who was apparently a failure? How did he or she keep being faithful?

  6. Put yourself into the place of the apostles on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. How do you think they felt? How would you have felt if you were among them?

  7. How can we keep from becoming discouraged by lack of positive results?

  8. Do you find that the quote from Colossians has held true in your life? Give examples for your answer.

  9. Can you honestly thank God for difficulties? Should you? Give reasons for your answer.

  10. Discuss times when you felt as if all had failed and then, in time, you could see unexpected results from that apparent failure. What can you learn from that experience?

  11. Fr. Sisco mentions 3 areas in which we can feel we have failed and wonder why we tried. What are those areas? What other areas come to mind?

  12. What might you say to someone who is discouraged by lack of results?

  13. Number the following traits in order from most to least important as ways to deal with apparent failure. Give reasons for your response: Trust in God – Try harder – Know when to give up – Pray – Consult others for advice – Study techniques of success – Reframe your results – Never give up

  14. Discuss this quote: If God answers your prayers, He is increasing your faith. If He delays, He is increasing your patience. If He doesn’t answer, He has something better for you.

  15. Discuss this admission by Barbara Corcoran: My best successes came on the heels of failures.

  16. Discuss this quote: God has a purpose for your pain, a reason for your struggles, and a reward for your faithfulness. Trust Him and never give up.

  17. Discuss this quote from Mark Twain: The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

  18. How might you start on a different way of viewing success and failure in your own life and in the lives of others?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 417: The Rage of Idolatry: A Reflection on Daniel 3

You remember the story. King Nebuchadnezzar builds a golden statue and orders everyone to fall down and worship it. Everyone does except three young Jewish slaves. When they refuse, stating that they worship only God, the king is enraged and orders them to be thrown into a furnace that, in his fury, he has heated to seven times its usual temperature. The young men are tossed in but are not harmed so the King releases them and embraces their faith because, he says, no god he worships could have saved anyone from being burned up. So their God must be the real one.

“King Nebuchadnezzar’s face became livid with utter rage…. He ordered the furnace to be heated seven times more than usual.”

What got King Nebuchadnezzar so enraged?

The prophet Daniel and his companions refused to worship the golden idol that the King had created. Daniel and his companions are slaves of the king. The king brought them to Babylon after his conquest of Israel. The King gives them new names; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. That’s a symbolic statement. That’s the way a master says to slave, “You have nothing. Even your name is not your own.” And because Daniel and his companions tell the king, “Because we’re Jews we cannot worship your golden idol. We worship the Lord alone,” the king becomes enraged and orders their execution.

Being burned alive is a horrible way to die, but the king is SO enraged, he orders the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual, so much so that the men who open the furnace door to throw Daniel and his companions in, themselves get consumed by the fire. Daniel and his companions were thrown in the furnace fully clothed, because the king’s order was so urgent.

Why would Nebuchadnezzar get that enraged because Daniel and his companions simply said, “Our belief in God won’t allow us to worship anything else”?

When people debate ME on a point of theology, and they say, “Well that’s what YOU believe, but I’m Jewish, I’m Protestant, I’m Hindu, I don’t believe that,” I don’t get mad. I say, “OK. We’ve come to an impasse. We must agree to disagree.”

However, rage is always the reaction of idolaters toward those who won’t acquiesce to their idolatry, because NO truth abides in them, and so they must destroy the truth to keep living their lie. In any legitimate religion, there are elements of truth, and where there is truth, the Grace of God is at work, so we can reason together. ALL idolatry is based on a lie. Idolatry basically says that I am God. I decide what’s moral and what isn’t. I decide who lives and who dies. Therefore, those in the grips of idolatry, seek to destroy whoever or whatever challenges that idolatry.

Now it should be noted that anger is not the same as rage. We should get angry when we witness injustice. That’s a good thing, because that can motivate us to change laws and policies to better ensure justice in the future. That isn’t rage. Rage seeks to destroy the person or people that I’m angry at.

Right now, we are living in a society that is enraged at the Catholic Church. The government, under a previous president, attempted to force a Catholic Order of religious sisters, the Little Sisters of the Poor, to provide contraception and abortion for employees in direct conflict to our religious beliefs. What is that but Nebuchadnezzar trying to force Daniel and his friends to worship his golden statue? You’re telling me the Little Sisters of the Poor employ SO many people that it was imperative that they provide contraception and abortion to their employees? That was a symbolic battle. Trying to bend the Church to the will of the State.

Right now, bills are being debated which, if passed, will make it illegal for any clergy to call homosexual behavior a sin, defining that as “hate speech.” Right now in California, another bill has been kicked around for years that would make it possible to subpoena a priest to force him to testify to what was told to him in confession. Even if that DOES pass, don’t worry. That’s an easy fix. We simply do away with the reconciliation rooms and go back to the booths, and when they get me on the stand and say, “Did this person say that to you in confession?” I respond, “I dunno. I hear a disembodied whisper behind a screen. I can’t identify that.” There was wisdom in some of those old practices my brothers and sisters.

All of these things are attempts by idolaters, in their rage, to destroy the Catholic Church. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be discouraged. Just as the Lord saved Daniel and the friends from Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, he’ll save the Catholic Church, because we speak the truth.

Blessed be God forever. Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. – Saint John Paul II

Prayer: Lord, help me to put you first in my life. So many times I find myself putting other things ahead of you. I make time for the things I want to do, but I find little time to pray. I find time to talk to my friends, but little time to speak with you. I need strength from you to love you. Help me also to see and love others as you see them. Help me to love them as you love them. Amen.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Name at least one other way in which society is enraged about the Catholic Church.

  2. Name at least 5 tactics society uses to control Catholics.

  3. What is the relationship between fear, idolatry, and respect for others?

  4. Do you feel that Catholics and other Christians are becoming marginalized for their beliefs? Give reasons for your answer.

  5. Could the response of society to the Catholic faith be part of the reason why the number of Catholics is dwindling? What might be some other reasons?

  6. Discuss the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s definition of idolatry:

  7. Take 10 minutes to scroll through the internet. How many idols do you come across? List them. Why would you consider them idols?

  8. How is it possible to worship an idol and not be aware of it?

  9. Discuss this quote from Pope Francis: “And what is the way of idolatry? He [St.Paul] says clearly: ‘they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened.’ The selfishness of their own thoughts, the omnipotent thought, that which I think is true: I think the truth, I make the truth with my thought.” What truths are people making with their own thought?

  10. Where is idolatry in this statement? “I have my truth and you have yours.”

  11. Is modern idolatry more in things, ideas, or spiritual realities (or fantasies)? What is the reason for your answer?

  12. Is it possible to be so attached to a person, place, thing, or idea that it become an idol? Explain.

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 418: The Lord Remembers His Covenant Forever: A Reflection on Genesis 17: 1-9

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.’ Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.’ God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. (Genesis 17: 1-9)

He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations (Psalm 105:8)

“The Lord remembers his covenant forever…” That short verse of scripture simply means that God is true to his Word. God doesn’t lie. God doesn’t make empty promises. And so, the Lord kept the promise he made to Abraham, although it may not seem that way to the naked eye.

Abraham’s descendants HAVE become numerous and filled the earth. “Well, not really, Father. The Jewish people are a rather small ethnic group by comparison to others”. Granted, but remember, it is not only the Jewish people that call Abraham their father, but also Christians, AND Muslims. Remember, the Muslim people are Abraham’s children also, descended not from Isaac, but from Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, the son of Hagar, the slave girl. So, the Lord does indeed remember his covenant forever, but the question remains, do we keep our end of the covenant with him?

That was the deal. God said to Abraham, “I’ll bless you with descendants, but in return, they have to worship me.”

THIS is what Jesus is following up with when he says, “Amen I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” Now, first of all, we say “Amen” at the end of a prayer. ‘Amen’ means let it be done. So why does Jesus often say ‘Amen’ at the beginning of his statements? It shows his unity with the Father. Unlike the prophets before him, who prayed and fasted, and had a vision or message from God, and then came back to the people and said, “Thus says the Lord…” or During my meditation, THIS is what God told me to tell you.” In Jesus’ case, God the Father has a thought, and that thought is immediately received by the Son. So, the Father thinks, “Whoever keeps your word will never see death.” Jesus says “AMEN” to the Father’s thought, and THEN says to the people, “Whoever keeps my word will never see death.”

It demonstrates the unity between the Father and the Son, and underscores the reality that Jesus is NOT a prophet. Jesus is on a completely different level. After reading the gospels, you must conclude that Jesus either was who he claimed to be, the Son of God, or he was crazy. There are no other conclusions. You can’t even say he was a con man, because if that were the case, when he was threatened with death, he would have backed down.

So how do we know that he WAS the Son of God, and NOT crazy? Because of the miracles he performed, primarily his resurrection from the dead. ALL his apostles and disciples willingly accept execution rather than to deny the resurrection. THAT’s the REAL proof. Nobody dies for a lie. All of the people, who claimed they saw Jesus risen from the dead, accepted horrible executions, rather than recant the story of the resurrection. That is our proof it really happened.

And if Jesus is the Son of God, like the Father, Jesus remembers his covenant forever. Jesus is also true to his word, and so if he says, “Whoever keeps my word will never see death,” we can be assured that promise is true.

And so, we come back to the same question. Jesus remembers his covenant with us, but how well do we remember our covenant with him? If it is true that those who keep Jesus’ word will never experience the eternal death of hell, how well are we striving to keep that word? Do we challenge ourselves grow daily, not just in GOODNESS, but in HOLINESS? Because that IS our end of the bargain. Holiness, nothing less. Christianity is a challenging lifestyle, my brothers and sisters, but the reward is worth it, because the Lord is true to his word.

Blessed be God forever. – Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: "Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mold them accordingly." -- St. Ignatius Loyola

Prayer: Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love only what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me so, O Holy Spirit, that I may always be holy. Amen.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What covenant did God make with Abraham? What other covenants did God make?

  2. Did you ever make a covenant with anyone? What? How did it turn out?

  3. How is marriage a covenant?

  4. Enumerate Fr. Sisco’s reasoning that we can be sure that God will keep His promises forever.

  5. Go through the Gospels and locate the places where Jesus says, “Amen, I tell you.” Discuss how these reflect what He is hearing directly from the Father.

  6. Father Sisco gives the behavior of the witnesses to the Resurrection as proof that it happened. He uses the Resurrection as proof that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Have you ever used this reasoning with an unbeliever? What was the result?

  7. Father Sisco concludes that Jesus was either who He said He was or He was crazy. Elaborate on that line of reasoning.

  8. Discuss the quote from St. Ignatius in light of this reflection.

  9. Pray the Prayer to the Holy Spirit. Do you pray to be holy? Should you?

  10. What is the difference between holiness and goodness? Is it possible to have one but not the other? Give reasons for your answer.

  11. What can we do to help us remember our covenant with Jesus? What does God expect of us?

  12. Why serve God? Would God call us to follow Him without wishing to make us holy?

  13. Discuss the call of Abraham and how he might have felt. Have you ever felt that God was calling you to follow Him in a radical and totally unexpected way? What was He asking of you? What was your response? Why did you respond as you did?

  14. Do you ever feel that God is leading you where you would rather not go? What is your response in such a situation?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 419: The Joy of the Lord: A Reflection on Isaiah 49:13

Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. (Isaiah 49:13)

“Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord…!” Oh no!  Is THIS going to be another one of Father Sisco’s homilies on the importance of praising God?  YUP! This quote is from the prophet Jeremiah and, if you remember his life and all the opposition he attracted, it doesn’t seem like Jeremiah has a whole lot of reasons to be praising God! Quoting the beginning of this passage; “I hear the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side!  Denounce!  Let us denounce him!’  All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.”

Jeremiah is saying that EVERYONE has turned on him, EVEN his closest friends. People are trying to discredit him, others are trying to outright kill him. And in this same passage of scripture, just a few verses later, Jeremiah says, “Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord.”  Why?  What happens in between?

Why does Jeremiah say sing to the Lord, praise the Lord? “(Because) the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.  In their failure they will be put to utter shame…” Even though everyone seemed to be against Jeremiah, he was confident that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord would defend him. And that’s why we should sing to the Lord, and praise the Lord. Because singing to the Lord and praising the Lord builds up our confidence in the Lord. Singing to the Lord and praising the Lord bolsters up our weakening faith.

I’ve experienced what Jeremiah has experienced.  (Well, no one has tried to kill me!) But I’ve lost friends for standing up for the Catholic faith. I’ve lost friends because I have defending the Churches teaching on homosexuality and abortion. Several years ago I told a woman in this parish something she didn’t want to hear and she denounced me to other parishioners, told blatant lies about me in an attempt to discredit me.  And yet here I am, still doing what the Lord has ordained me to do.

I said it before my brothers and sisters, and I’ll say it again. Do NOT be discouraged by the darkness.  Do not be afraid of the darkness. Cling to the truths of the faith, which, granted, can be lonely at times, and it can be difficult, but the Lord will be beside you, and defend you when necessary.

Consider our Scripture verse from Isaiah. “Sing out O heavens and rejoice O earth, break forth into song, you mountains.  For the Lord comforts his people and shows mercy to the afflicted.” The prophet Isaiah is saying in this verse of scripture, that God is SO good, even the earth itself should sing for joy! Inanimate objects like the mountains and the sky should rejoice because God is so good. And if inanimate objects should be rejoicing in the Lord, how much more responsibility does that put on us who ARE animate? How much responsibility does that put on us who have the ability to sing and rejoice, to give that glory to God?

Why is giving God praise so vital?  Because it combats negativism, and being negative is at the core of many of our sins.  Ultimately, we sin because we’re afraid, or we’re not happy. We experience what Bishop Sheen called “unholy curiosity.” The sinners seems to be enjoying life more than us, so we want to check this out. BOTH of those things grow out of negativity. When we feed negativity, when we condition ourselves to see the worst in people or situations, instead of the best, that gives way to complaining, gossip, jealousy, unforgiveness, which then become the seed ground for bigger and better sins. It creates a snowball effect. That’s why I encourage everyone to give up negativity for Lent! No complaining, no sarcasm, no dark humor, don’t even allow yourself negative thoughts.   Everyone who has tried this, has told me how hard it is.  I KNOW! I fail in some small way every day, but I also notice changes in myself for the better. Like the last time I tried this, I find I am not tempted to commit other sins I normally succumb to, that are seemingly unrelated to negativity, like overeating. I’ve noticed my appetite has significantly diminished the Lent that I fasted from negativity. Why is that? I suspect it’s because I’m stress eater.  I eat when I’m nervous or upset, and reducing negativity, (which indirectly praises God) has a tranquilizing effect.

By the way, after fasting from negativity for Lent, I had my annual physical. It was the first time in years my blood pressure was NOT high. I also notice it’s been easier for me to do THIS time than the LAST time I attempted this a few years ago.  That means I’m getting better at it!

 

Another thing to fast from any time is to not listen to secular music. Now I listen to all kinds of music, and things that are NOT mainstream. I listen to OLD country music; Hank Snow, Marty Robbins, (what I call REAL country music!)  But I also listen to folk music, sea chanties, certainly nothing BAD. I don’t listen to gangsta rap. But when I fast from secular music, I allow myself to listen only to religious music, church hymns, praise music, old gospel songs, music that praises God, and I’ve noticed just THAT has had an effect on my disposition especially when I’m driving.  I’m more patient. That’s the effect of praising God.  That’s the effect of taking joy in the Lord.

One day, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with everything that needed to get done and I started getting negative. Fortunately, many friends gave me advice that all boiled down to the same thing. Here and now.  Keep your focus here and now.  Don’t think about what’s coming up later this week.  Don’t overthink what’s already happened in the past. That’s another way to combat negativity.  Keep your focus on what needs to be done now.  Nothing else.

My brothers and sisters, sing out and rejoice in the Lord, because God IS that good. You will have far more peace in your life if you do. And blessed be God forever. Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: ”God made us for joy. God is joy and the joy of living reflects the original joy that God felt in creating us.” -- St. John Paul II the Great

Prayer: Oh my God, fill my soul with holy joy, courage, and strength to serve you. Enkindle your love in me and then walk with me alone the next stretch of road before me. I do not see very far ahead, but when I have arrived where the horizon now closes down, a new prospect will open before me, and I shall meet it in peace.” -- St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Discuss this Biblical quote, “The joy of the Lord must be your strength.

  2. What are the spiritual dangers of dwelling in the past or focusing on the future?

  3. How can we find joy when we are the object of scorn?

  4. Try fasting from negativism. Keep a journal on how this changes your life.

  5. Write your own psalm of praise.

  6. Make a list of what gives you joy. See if you can write 10 things.

  7. What are the dangers of secular music? What is the advantage of religious music?

  8. What is the worst thing ever to happen to you? How can you praise God for it?

  9. Discuss the quote of Pope John Paul II.

  10. Pray the prayer of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Try praying it daily.

  11. How can you keep focused on the present? How can you find joy in the present?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 420: The Lord Is Close to the Broken Hearted: A Reflection on Psalm 34: 15-22

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry. The face of the Lord is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all. He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.

Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned. (Psalm 34: 15-22)

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.” If we look in the Gospels, we see that this is very true. Jesus, in his compassion, extends himself to those who are grieving, even when they don’t directly ask him for anything. One passage that leaps to mind is when Jesus catches sight of a crowd carrying the corpse of a young man out of a house with his widowed mother weeping behind him. Nobody ASKED Jesus to intervene. Still, Jesus approaches, touches the litter being used to carry the dead man, and brings him back to life.

After Jesus’ own death on the cross, he appears to Mary Magdalene while she’s grieving at Jesus’ tomb.

 He appears to Thomas when he doubts.

When Peter is confused and says, “I’m going fishing,” and the others accompany him, Jesus appears again.

When two disciples, in fear, decide it’s time to high tail it out of Jerusalem and head for Emmaus, Jesus appears to them.

The Lord IS close to the brokenhearted. But why then? A couple reasons, I think.

The first I already said. Jesus is often motivated by his empathy for us.

The second, is that when we’re brokenhearted, our prayers get really, really honest. I often say in funeral homilies, “Maybe you’re mad at God right now. If you need to be mad at God right now, it’s OK, be mad. God is a big boy. Trust me, he can take it. But talk to him about your feelings, ESPECIALLY the angry ones.” And I say that, because the angry prayers are the most honest with God we’ll ever get! I know in the past when I’ve gotten angry in prayer, that’s when I feel the greatest consolation from God. God respects honesty.

My dad passed away a short time ago. Right now, my mom is starting to feel the effects of my dad’s death. Now that the busy-ness of the funeral is done, now that people have stopped coming to the house to visit and everything is quiet, it’s setting in. My mom said to me on my day off this week, “I keep looking at his chair and he’s not there. I miss hearing his cane coming down the hall. I look for him on the porch, and it’s empty.” Strangely though, I can’t grieve. I haven’t shed one tear for my father, because I know he was a good man. I’m confident in his salvation. I know I’ll see him again. And I’m happy he’s no longer suffering. People have told me it hasn’t hit me yet. Maybe that’s so.

But what makes ME brokenhearted, is when I check in on former students I had in Catholic school, now in college, and I see their Facebook status change from “Roman Catholic,” to atheist, or agnostic, or no affiliation. THAT breaks my heart.

When so many people work so hard to try to make this parish work, and others have to diminish it by starting silly rumors, suggesting ulterior motives, THAT breaks my heart.

When I look at the world of politics and see NOTHING but nastiness! People can’t even have a civil conversation about issues anymore without it turning in a name-calling contest. THAT breaks my heart.

This is what we need to take to prayer the things that break our hearts. Because that’s where the Lord will be closest to us. -- Blessed be God forever. Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: The success of love is in the loving—it is not in the result of loving. Of course, it is natural in love to want the best for the other person, but whether it turns out that way or not does not determine the value of what we have done. The more we can remove this priority for results the more we can learn about the contemplative element of love. There is the love expressed in the service and the love in the contemplation. It is the balance of both which we should be striving for. Love is the key to finding this balance. – Saint Teresa of Calcutta
 

Prayer: Prayer for the Brokenhearted

Merciful Lord of Life, I lift up my heart to you in my suffering and ask for your comforting help. I know that you would withhold the thorns of this life if I could attain eternal life without them. So I throw myself on your mercy, resigning myself to this suffering. Grant me the grace to bear it and to offer it in union with your sufferings. No matter what suffering may come my way let me always trust in you. Amen.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What breaks your heart?

  2. How have you dealt with a broken heart?

  3. How do you help someone who has a broken heart?

  4. Discuss St. Teresa’s quote in light of a broken heart. How does love factor into a broken heart? What is St. Teresa telling us about results? What results do we expect from love? How does a lack of results or different results factor into our love or our broken heartedness? Can what St. Teresa is saying help someone deal with a broken heart? How?

  5. Write your own prayer for healing from a broken heart.

  6. Can you name at least 3 other instances in the Gospels where Jesus knows that someone is broken hearted and ministers to that person?

  7. How honest are you with God in prayer? Why is honesty in prayer the only sensible way to pray?

  8. Does God know what we think and do? How should that factor into how we relate to him?

  9. Do you pray about what breaks your heart?

  10. Father Sisco mentions things in society that break his heart. What others might he mention? Being broken hearted about them does not achieve much. What can we do to make a difference? Discuss your answer in light of the quote from St. Teresa.

  11. Psalm 44 says that God rescues the righteous from all their afflictions. Is this true, from your experience? Give reasons for your answer. If you answer “no,” what does the Psalmist mean?

--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