Weeks 51-60

Week 51: “The Family That Prays Together, Stays Together”—A Reflection on Luke 2: 51-52

 

Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years,* and in divine and human favour. (Luke 2:51-52)

 

I’ve been told by everyone, especially doctors, that I have to lose weight.

 

But let’s face it, I’ll never lose weight until I’m committed to losing weight.

 

Now I went to my computer, and using the indexing program, I found that I have used the word “commitment” in my homilies many times. So I think it’s safe to say that this is a recurring theme with me. That doesn’t bother me, nor do I consider myself redundant, because commitment is such a predominant theme throughout Scripture. In fact, there’s no getting away from the theme of commitment.

 

Our salvation is based on God’s commitment to us, and Jesus’ commitment to the Father. Throughout the bible we see various individuals, families, and whole nations, called to make a commitment to the Lord. Some do well. Others fail. And following suit, we see the narrative story of the Bible periodically shift characters, from those who fail tests of commitment, to those who pass. All throughout the Scriptures this is the one, consistent, theme; those who are committed to the Lord, the Lord in turn blesses. Maybe those blessings aren’t apparent. And maybe those blessings don’t take the form of material happiness, but take the form of peace, joy, perseverance, or hope. But one thing is clear--the Lord does not forsake those who are committed to him. In our darkest hours he is there.

 

Just look at the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The Holy Family endured great suffering. Jesus’ childhood was filled with poverty and exile, right from day one. He spent his first birthday in a barn. His first cradle was a feeding trough. Then, the family has to flee to Egypt to escape from an insane king who wants to destroy the child. The lives of the Holy Family were filled with rejection, and yet the reason they persevered was because of their commitment, their commitment to God and to one another.

 

And this is the real meaning of family. If you want to know what the definition of family is, just spell it out. F-A-M, I-L-Y; F-A-M, forget about me, I-L-Y, I love you. That is the meaning of family. Look at any crucifix and you will see the meaning of family. Look at a crucifix and you’ll see Jesus saying, “Forget about me. I love you.”

 

A family is a group of people wholly committed to one another, in good times and in bad, not by our choice, but by God’s choice. Every person in a family is a gift from God. I know they don’t seem that way, (don’t always act that way) but they are. A family’s commitment to each other should stem from their commitment to God. The bonds we form with God should strengthen us to strengthen our bonds with one another. Father Patrick Peyton was famous for saying ‘the family that prays together, stays together.’ And I have so often found this to be true. When people are committed to the Lord, we are given what we need to weather the bad times, and more fully enjoy the good times.

 

I think Joseph is exemplary here, in that he always does what God tells him to do without uttering a word. Think of what God was asking of him. Leave your relatives, leave your home, leave your job, leave your ancestral inheritance, leave your country, take your wife and child to Egypt to hide. That was a great display of commitment on Joseph’s part, to God and his family. It is very similar to what God was first asking Abraham to do. In fact there are many parallels between Joseph and Abraham.

 

We see Mary’s commitment all throughout the Gospels, from the time the angel Gabriel revealed God’s plan for her, to Calvary, where she witnesses the crucifixion without uttering a single word.

 

The Holy Family is really the perfect model of commitment for us all. My prayer for us today is a simple one; that our families are as committed to God and one another, as the Holy Family was.

 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” – Blessed John Paul II

 

Prayer by a Saint:

 

Let us pray
[as the family of God who share in his life]
Father in heaven, creator of all,
you ordered the earth to bring forth life,
and crowned its goodness by creating the family of man.
In history's moment when all was ready
You sent your Son to dwell in time,
obedient to the laws of life in our world.
Teach us the sanctity of human love,
show us the value of family life,
and help us to live in peace with all men
that we may share in your life forever.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen
New Saint Joseph Sunday Missal—Prayer for the Feast of the Holy Family

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Has it been your experience that the family that prays together, stays together?

  2. How do prayers with the Oratory foster your family life?

  3. Why do you think the Lord had the Holy Family endure such trials?

  4. What trials has your family endured? How did you fare through them? What kept you going? Are you facing any trials now? What are they? How may your Oratorian prayer group support you?

  5. Discuss the above quote by Blessed Pope John Paul II.

  6. Would you say that God blesses those who are committed to Him? Have you seen this in your own life or in the lives of others? How do you explain committed people who experience great trials as did the Holy Family?

  7. Discuss God’s commitment to the human race.

  8. What can you do to strengthen your commitment to God? To others? To your family?

  9. Discuss Father Sisco's meaning of the word "Family." Does it make sense to you? Why or why not?

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Week 52: Getting a Good Spiritual Tan: A Reflection on Isaiah 56: 1-3a, 6-8) 
 
 

Thus says the LORD:
Observe what is right, do what is just;
for my salvation is about to come,
my justice, about to be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
the son of man who holds to it;
Who keeps the Sabbath free from profanation,
and his hand from any evildoing.
Let not the foreigner say,
when he would join himself to the LORD,
"The LORD will surely exclude me from his people." 

The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
ministering to him,
Loving the name of the LORD,
and becoming his servants--
All who keep the Sabbath free from profanation
and hold to my covenant,
Them I will bring to my holy mountain
and make joyful in my house of prayer;
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be acceptable on my altar,
For my house shall be called
a house of prayer for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord GOD,
who gathers the dispersed of Israel:
Others will I gather to him
besides those already gathered. (Isaiah 56: 1-3 a, 6-8) 

 

Getting a good spiritual tan. I think many Catholics could do with a good spiritual tan, because, on a whole, I don’t think nearly enough Catholics bask in the light of the Son (S-O-N) as they should. Now what am I talking about?

Jesus referred to John the Baptist as a lamp. John is the lamp that lights our next few steps, but Jesus is the Sun that lights the whole world. Now think of the greatness of John the Baptist, the greatness that Jesus Himself acknowledged in John. Yet, despite that, John’s only a lamp. Why? Because John wasn’t God. John didn’t have a divine nature. So, as good as John was—Jesus said, “of man born of woman, no one is greater than John the Baptist” -- as good as John was, he could only ever be a lamp. 

 

Jesus is the light of lights, the source of all light, the Light of the world, the SUN (SON). Yet I can name countless examples of Catholics who hover around, not even the lamp--they hover around matches--and they ignore the sun!

I can name you countless examples of Catholics who don’t go to Mass because they’re doing any number of “good things.” Bad news. Brothers and sisters, good things become bad things when they keep us from the best things. Receiving Jesus in the Eucharist is the best thing. And the devil will tempt us with good things, as long as it keeps us from the best. The devil will use matches to keep us from the light of the sun. 

 

Let’s look at this reading from the prophet Isaiah. There is one line that is reiterated twice in this reading. “Who keeps the Sabbath free from profanation...” That line is repeated twice, and whenever a line is repeated more than once, pay attention to it, because the author of the passage wants you to. What was profaning the Sabbath? Doing what wasn’t permitted on the Sabbath. What wasn’t permitted on the Sabbath? WORK! You weren’t supposed to work on the Sabbath day. Why? What was the Sabbath for? Rest! 

 

Work is a good thing. Work is a gift from God. But work is not the Sun. It’s not even a light. It’s like a match. But God knows we need to work, but He knows that we also need to rest--thus Sunday. You don’t labor to rest your body. You spent time with family to rest your heart. You pray to rest to soul. And yet we look around and see that now Sunday has just become another day. We are so work obsessed in this country that we don’t even know how to stop. I think this is the reason why so many Americans have stress related health problems. We stopped resting on all levels as the Sabbath meant to rest us. We even work at going on vacation! We work overtime to save the money, to go somewhere expensive, or far away, and book all kinds of tours and flights and hotels, and run from this attraction to that attraction. And then we get home exhausted and need to rest from the vacation!

  

We’re so work obsessed that we don’t how to rest! We’re so used to squinting our way with matches that we don’t even realize that it’s broad daylight outside. 

 

And we indoctrinate our children into this mentality. Now I have to contend with the teenagers when I say “Where were you at Mass?” They answer, “I have to work on Sunday.” I say, “Oh, you’re telling me that you work on Sunday, and give your check to your parents to help pay the rent, the utilities, the food, the bills? Because if that’s the case, if you family is that hard up, fine, that’s a valid excuse for missing Mass on Sunday. But if you work to buy the clothes and toys and stuff that you want, that’s NOT a valid excuse for missing Mass.” 

 

Brothers and sisters, we cannot hope to grow in the Spirit until we’re willing to rest in the Son, and for that we need the Sabbath, because the Sabbath rests us on all levels. It is my prayer today that we all get a spiritually healthy tan and soon.

  

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents 

 

Quote from a Saint

 

My confidence is placed in God who does not need our help for accomplishing his designs. Our single endeavor should be to give ourselves to the work and to be faithful to him, and not to spoil his work by our shortcomings. -- St. Isaac Jogues

 

Prayer

 

O Jesus, come back into our society, our family life, our souls and reign there as our peaceful Sovereign. Enlighten with the splendor of faith and the charity of Your tender heart the souls of those who work for the good of the people, for Your poor. Impart to them Your own spirit, a spirit of discipline, order and gentleness, preserving the flame of enthusiasm ever alight in their hearts... May that day come very soon, when we shall see You restored to the center of civic life, borne on the shoulders of Your joyful people.

 

- Blessed Pope John XXIII

 

Questions for Reflection

 

1. Are you basking in the light of any matches? What are they? How do you know they are matches?

2. Why is our nation obsessed with work?

3. Could our world exist if people were not obsessed with work? How might we live in a different world?

4. How do work and Sabbath rest fit into the prayer from Blessed John Paul II?

5. How might we view Sunday if we took to heart the quote from St. Isaac Joques?

6. What are acceptable reasons for missing Mass on Sunday?

7. What can you do to make work less of an obsession in your life?

8. What can you do to make Sunday more of a day of rest?

9. What can you do to make your vacation more of a true vacation than an exercise in stressful planning?

10. What advice would you give people who don’t seem to know how to rest?

11. Can you rest in prayer? How?

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 
Week 53: I Am the Lord Unrivalled: A Reflection on Isaiah 45: 20-25

 

Assemble yourselves and come together, draw near, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge—those who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the Lord? There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is no one besides me.

  

Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness, a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.’

Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; all who were incensed against him shall come to him and be ashamed. In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall triumph and glory. (Isaiah 45: 20-25)

  

“Apart from me all is nothing. I am the Lord unrivalled.”

 

 These words are echoed over and over again by the Lord through the prophet Isaiah. “I am the Lord unrivalled. I am the Lord unrivalled.”

 

 This isn’t a new claim by God either. Throughout the book of Genesis, we see the belief or the attitude of the Israelites is, “There are lots of gods out there, but our God is the biggest and the strongest of the gods.” Even in the book of Exodus, how is the first commandment stated? “I am the Lord your God who led you with mighty arm out of the land of Egypt. You shall not have any other gods but ME.” The implication there is that there’s more than one God.

 

 When we get into Leviticus and Deuteronomy, we see that start to change. Isaiah is writing this prophecy about five hundred years after that. So for five hundred years, the Lord has been trying to drill this truth into the heads of the Israelites, “I am the Lord unrivalled.” Many times he failed. Many times the Israelites ran to pagan gods instead of remembering the Sovereignty of the Lord.

 

 And this touches on one of the purposes of the Incarnation. The Incarnation serves two functions. First, through the Incarnation it becomes possible for God to redeem us from all sins committed from the beginning of creation until its end. Secondly, the Incarnation makes it possible for God to prove his Sovereignty. The Incarnation makes it possible for God to prove that he is the Lord unrivalled.

 

In all the other religions in the world you will not see an Incarnation. At times in pagan religions you sometimes see gods taking human forms to interact with people. But it’s a counterfeit. It’s a fake. When the interaction is finished, the god returns to his or her godlike state. And never do you see a pagan god taking human form for the sake of redeeming or dying for humankind. The Incarnation is unique of Christianity.

 

 

When John the Baptist was in prison, he sent messengers to Jesus to ask if he is the Messiah, and how does Jesus answer? Jesus doesn’t give John a direct ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Instead he says, “Tell John what you see. The blind see. The lame walk. Lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” Now this is a ‘yes’ answer from Jesus to John’s question for a few reasons. First, these are the very things that the prophet Isaiah told people to expect from the Messiah. But that answer also tells John that Jesus is the Messiah because he is the Lord unrivalled. Jesus does what no one else can do.

 

 Now it is very true that it has been a teaching tradition since the Fathers of the Church that the real meaning of Jesus’ miracles was not to flex his spiritual muscles but rather to point to more significant spiritual healings. So Jesus making the blind see was also to show us that he can heal spiritual blindness. Jesus make the lame walk was to show that he can also heal spiritual lameness. But it cannot be denied that the miracles also had the effect of pointing to Jesus’ true nature. Now you may object to me and say, “But Father Mike, people of pagan religions also experienced healing miracles.” This is also true. Through herbal remedies and black magic, people of pagan religions did experience what can termed miraculous healing, but never did healings come as immediately and as completely as recorded in the gospels. This is especially true in Jesus raising people from the dead. There have been no accounts of any pagan religion pulling that off.

 

 The fact that Jesus demonstrated dominion over the physical realities of creation, even over life and death, only points to one conclusion: Jesus is the Lord unrivalled. It seems as though every Christmas and Easter, there are all types of shows and documentaries that seem to want to challenge that. When you see them, remember what you reflected on today. Jesus has proven that He IS the Lord unrivalled. I have yet to hear an argument that can convince me otherwise.

 

 And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

“God is not what you imagine or what you think you understand. If you understand you have failed.” -Saint Augustine

 

Prayer from a Saint:

 

The Breastplate of St. Patrick

 

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Christ.
May your salvation, Lord, be ever with us.

--St. Patrick

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Read all of Isaiah 45. Discuss how God uses human events and secular rulers to achieve His Will. Do you think this is happening today?

  2. Discuss the quote from St. Augustine. How does our understanding of God fall short of the truth?

  3. What is the truth about God? Is it possible to know? Why or why not?

  4. Pilate asked Jesus, “What is Truth?” Jesus had said earlier, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” Discuss what this means in light of today’s reflection.

  5. Why would it take the Israelite nation so long to realize that there is only one God and that He is unrivalled?

  6. What gods rival the Lord God today? Do you find yourself “worshipping” any such gods, perhaps unintentionally? How do you know if you are guilty of this?

  7. Why did Jesus perform miracles? Would people have believed in Him without the miracles? Would you believe in Him?

  8. How does the Incarnation prove the Sovereignty of God?

  9. How was St. Patrick aware of the Sovereignty of God, as reflected in his prayer? What would be the value to you of praying that prayer daily?

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Week 54: Surrendering to God’s Will: A Reflection on Matthew 1: 1-17 

 

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. 

 

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah,and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. 

 

And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. 

 

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations. (Matthew 1: 1-17) 

 

December seventeenth marks a special day in the Church’s liturgical celebration because on December seventeenth the Church begins a new stage of preparation for Christmas. Our spiritual preparation for the coming of our savior takes place in three stages: the remote preparation, which begins with Advent; the approximate preparation which begins on the seventeenth of December; and the immediate preparation which begins on December twenty fourth. 

 

Why, on December seventeenth, does the Church begin the approximate preparation? Count the days. It is exactly nine days until Christmas. How many days were there between the ascension of Jesus into heaven and Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and the Blessed Mother? Nine days. How many days are there in a novena? Nine days. Nine days has always been a symbolic unit of time for spiritual preparation.

Being in approximate preparation means the tone of our prayers should shift during these nine days. Now we always have intentions to pray for. We pray for ourselves. People ask us to pray for them. That’s OK. But during these nine days, our prayers should focus very specifically on the will of God. These days the theme of our prayers should be like those lines from the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” These nine days, while we pray for all our other intentions, we should also be devoting time to pray for the will of God; that the will of God is done in our lives and the will of God is being lived in the lives of others. This is the time when we reflect and try to open ourselves more to God’s plan. 

 

Now we can take comfort in the fact that God’s will have his way with or without us. God isn’t dependant on us to accomplish his plan. Creation will unfold as God has deemed it, whether we cooperate or not. That’s one of the messages in the first chapter of Saint Matthew. This chapter is really a rogues’ gallery. There are lots of shady characters to be found in this genealogy. Judah, was the one who wanted to kill his younger brother Joseph, because Joseph was daddy’s favorite, but then Judah ends up convincing the other brothers to sell Joseph into slavery instead. Rahab, one of the women mentioned, was a prostitute. Matthew makes sure that his audience doesn’t forget David big sin. Look how he words this, “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah.” Remember David’s big sin? David has an affair with the wife of one of his officers Uriah, and when he’s afraid he’ll get caught, because she gets pregnant, he has Uriah killed in battle. Matthew reminds his audience of that. Then he goes on to Reheboam, the king who caused the civil war in Israel that divided the nation and led to its destruction. And Manasseh, probably the worst king in Israel’s history, because he promoted worship to the Canaanite god Mollock, who demanded infant sacrifice. This guy was an ancestor of Jesus. 

 

Lots of shady characters in Jesus’ family tree, and yet, God’s plan prevailed, as God’s plan always prevails. So then what is the point of praying that God’s will be done, if it’s going to be done with or without me. We pray that God’s will be done in our lives, so that we may fulfill our small part of his greater plan. And we pray that God’s will be done in the lives of others, because we want as many people to join us in heaven as possible.

  

It is my prayer for all of us today that we surrender ourselves to the will of God, not just during the approximate days of preparation for Christmas, not just between Easter and Pentecost, not just during a novena, but every day of our lives.

  

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

They deceive themselves who believe that union with God consists in ecstasies or raptures, and in the enjoyment of Him. For it consists in nothing except the surrender and subjection of our will - with our thoughts, words and actions - to the will of God....—Saint Teresa of Avila

 

Prayer of a Saint:

 

Father, I abandon myself into Your Hands. Do with me what you will. Whatever You may do, I thank You. I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only Your Will be done in me and in all Your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into Your Hands, I commend my soul. I offer it to You with all the love of my heart, for I love You, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into Your Hands without reserve and with boundless confidence, for You are my Father. – Blessed Charles de Foucauld

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Why do you think Matthew intentionally listed a rogues’ gallery for the lineage of Jesus? Why wouldn’t he want to gloss over the less savory characters?

  2. What influence do our ancestors have on us?

  3. Why might the number nine be associated with times of prayer and surrender to God?

  4. Have you ever made a novena? What is your favorite novena? What was the spiritual fruit of your novena?

  5. Can a person make a novena at any time? Why might this be a good idea?

  6. Discuss the quote from St. Teresa of Avila. What common misconceptions does it address?

  7. What does “total surrender to God” mean? What is difficult about this? What is easy? How can we foster total surrender in ourselves? How do we know if we have achieved the goal of total surrender?

  8. Discuss the parallels between Charles de Foucauld’s prayer and the prayers of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels.

  9. Why would the Church want to have a time of approximate preparation for Christmas? Look up the Christmas antiphons from the Divine Office for these days and discuss how each is meant to deepen our faith. These are also reflected in the verses of the song “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel.”

  10. If God's Will is going to be done anyway, despite our active cooperation with it, why should we surrender to it?

 

Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Week 55: The Spirit, the Water, and the Blood: A Reflection on 1 John 5: 6-8

 

“This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood. The Spirit is the one that testifies, and the Spirit is truth. So there are three that testify, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are of one accord.” (1 John 5: 6-8)

 

“Whoever possesses the Son, possesses eternal life, and whoever does not possess the Son, does not possess eternal life.” (1 John 5: 12)

 

Now we can spend all day debating who in this world possesses the Son and who does not. You can find any number of religions claiming that they possess Christ to the exclusion of everyone else. I don’t think it’s that simple.

 

How does Saint John the Evangelist say that Jesus came? Through water, through the blood, and through the Spirit. Through water; baptism. Through the blood, Eucharist. So John speaks here of the sacraments.

 

John explains how we remain in Jesus through his teachings, how to be a child of God by growing in his love, and how to possess the Son through the sacraments. But there’s one more element. There’s one more piece to the puzzle. Jesus came through water, through blood, and through the Spirit. And it’s through the Spirit that’s the most important and ties everything else together. It’s the Spirit that gives the sacraments their power.

 

We remain in Christ by heeding his teaching, but what good is the teaching unless the Spirit is guiding the authority of the Church, showing us how to apply the teaching to modern day moral problems? We become a child of God by growing in his love, but how can we grow in his love without the Spirit that comes to us through baptism and Eucharist?

 

And this is how we possess the Son and possess eternal life. The teaching, the Scriptures, the sacraments, the Church--these are all tools. These are all instruments God has given to us to give us access to his Spirit. To possess all of these things is to possess the Son, and the Spirit the Son sent us.

 

And the Spirit of the Son is the power to become holy.

 

The Spirit of the Son is the power to change.

 

The Spirit of the Son is the power to rise above our human nature on earth, so we can rise out of our mortal bodies when we die.

 

The Spirit of the Son is the power not to be slaves of sin, not to be overcome by fear, not to be crippled by temptation and weakness.

 

The Spirit of the Son is the power to become an image of God; to be a person of peace, to be a person of joy, to be a person of love, to be a person of charity.

 

In a word, to be holy.

 

All of these things that Saint John describes in his letters come from the Spirit, and they lead us back to the Spirit, so we can possess the Spirit, and the Spirit can recreate us. Give thanks we have so great a God.

 

--Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

Prayer:

 

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.
V. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created.
R. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

Let us pray.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams.” – Saint Augustine

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. What is your relationship with the Holy Spirit? Do you pray to the Holy Spirit? Do you pray through the Holy Spirit? What can you do to develop your relationship with the Holy Spirit?

  2. What part do the sacraments play in the life of the Church? In your life?

  3. Why does Fr. Sisco say that the Holy Spirit is the binding force in the Sacraments?

  4. Is it possible to possess the Son without also possessing the Holy Spirit? How does God the Father fit into this picture?

  5. How does the Spirit give us the power to become holy?

  6. How does the Spirit give us the power to change?

  7. How does the Spirit give us the power to rise above our human nature?

  8. How does the Spirit give us the power to resist sin? To overcome fear? To rise above temptation and weakness?

  9. How does the Spirit give us power to become an image of God? To be a person of peace? Of joy? Of charity? Of love?

  10. Look over questions 5 through 9. Which of these “powers of the Spirit” would you most like to have in your life? Why? How can you begin to tap into that power today?

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Week 56: Royal Kingship or Royal Priesthood?: A Reflection on 1 Samuel 8: 1-9

 

“When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beer-sheba. Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.

 

 

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, ‘You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.’ But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to govern us.’ Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.’ (1 Samuel 8: 1-9)

 

 

In this reading we see Samuel as an old man, and the Israelites confront him to elect for them a king to rule over them. Samuel is disturbed by the request and rightly so. The Israelites want a king because they want to be like other nations. But why should Samuel have a problem with that?

 

 

Because right from the get go, right from the beginning when God makes the covenant with Abraham, God has indicated to his people that were not to be like other nations. God had chosen Israel to be a people set apart, to be not a nation of kings and princes, but rather a nation of priests, that all other nations would look to for wisdom.

 

 

So when the people make this demand of Samuel, it shows that they have rejected this calling to spiritual greatness, to instead choose secular greatness. Even when Samuel warns them, “God is your king. If you choose an earthly king he’s going to tax you and your property, he’ll take your daughters to be his wives and his concubines, and his servants in his palace, and he’ll take your sons to be in his army.” Despite this, they choose secular over sacred.

 

 

This isn’t the first time they make this choice. They made the same choice with Moses. Moses tells Pharaoh that Israel is God’s first born son. He meant that God had set Israel apart from the nations, as a father sets apart a first born son to train him to be head of the family when he dies. Moses tells the people that God is going to make them a nation of priests. But when Moses ascends Mount Horeb to receive the Ten Commandments, the second covenant God makes with his people, what do the people do? They make a golden calf, an image of the Egyptian god Apis, a god of wealth, sex, and power. When it came time for Israel to choose royal kingship or royal priesthood, once again they choose kingship. (Secular over sacred.)

 

 

And we can see the same thing happen throughout the gospels. Let’s look at the Gospel where Jesus heals the crippled man. A very famous passage. Jesus heals the cripple after his friends lower him from the ceiling. When Jesus says to him, “Your sins are forgiven,” what is the reaction of the Pharisees and scribes? They think to themselves, “He has blasphemed. No one can forgive sins but God alone.”

 

 

Note that they think to themselves. No one actually says anything. And after Jesus performs the miracle everyone is amazed. At this early time in the Gospel of Saint Mark, Jesus is winning the favor of even the Pharisees, but when will that change?

 

 

That will change when Jesus starts drawing the line in the sand, and forcing people to make the choice between royal priesthood and royal kingship. That’s when the Pharisees turn on him, because they want kingship. They don’t want to hear about crosses. They don’t want to hear “love your enemy.” They don’t want to take God out of this little ritualistic, legalized box they’ve put Him in, because keeping Him there is easy. It’s easy to say of God, all we have to do is go through the rituals, pay our lip service, pay our dues, and we can still have the world.

 

 

Jesus challenged that, and rightly so, because we cannot pursue kingship, we cannot pursue the secular--wealth, power, prestige, flesh--and still pursue sainthood. We have to make a choice. Are we going to live for the world, or are we going to live for God?

 

 

So many Catholics fall into this error. I go to Church on Sunday, put my dollar in the basket, take a nap during the homily, and eat the “magic cracker,” because I’m just paying my dues.

 

 

Ask yourselves, am I letting the Lord change my life so that He becomes the center of my life? This reflection is a calling and an invitation to us to examine our priorities. What are we pursuing? Royal kingship? Or royal priesthood?

 

 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

Prayer:

 

Almighty, everlasting God,
Who in Thy beloved Son,
King of the whole world,
hast willed to restore all things anew;
grant in Thy Mercy that all the families of nations,
rent asunder by the wound of sin,
may be subjected to His most gentle rule.
Who with Thee lives and reigns world without end.

Amen.

 

Quote from a Saint:

“I die the King’s faithful servant, but God’s first.” – Saint Thomas More

 

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Do people want a king to reign over them today? What is the basis of your answer?

  2. What is the difference between royal kingship and royal priesthood?

  3. Why does the Church celebrate the Feast of Christ the King?

  4. Father Sisco says that we cannot pursue the secular and still pursue sainthood. Do you agree? Give the reasons for your answer.

  5. Are you pursuing the secular? What makes you answer as you do?

  6. What makes the status quo appealing in our lives? Why is it difficult to allow God to change our lives?

  7. What can you do to pursue sanctity? What helps are available to you?

  8. Where does prayer fit into the picture of royal priesthood vs. royal kingship?

  9. Reflect on Saint Thomas More’s well known quote. Can it apply to us in the modern world?

  10. Why is it easier to pursue royal kingship rather than royal priesthood?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Week 57: The Lord’s Anointed: A Reflection on 1 Samuel 24: 1-8)

 

 

When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, ‘David is in the wilderness of En-gedi. ’2Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to look for David and his men in the direction of the Rocks of the Wild Goats. 3He came to the sheepfolds beside the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself.* Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. 4The men of David said to him, ‘Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, “I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.” ’ Then David went and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak. 5Afterwards David was stricken to the heart because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak. 6He said to his men, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to raise my hand against him; for he is the Lord’s anointed.’ 7So David scolded his men severely and did not permit them to attack Saul. Then Saul got up and left the cave, and went on his way. (1 Samuel 24: 1-8)

 

 

We have a very interesting scene in the Old Testament where Saul, David’s enemy, is completely in David’s power and David does not kill him. Let’s look at the incident. Saul has picked three thousand men and is on a hunt to kill David. Saul, in his jealousy of David, is convinced that David is out to destroy him. And, yet despite this, David is probably one of Saul’s most loyal subjects.

 

 

But Saul hunts relentlessly for David, and when he’s close to trapping him, Saul goes to relieve himself in the very cave where David and his men are

hiding. And here David has his opportunity to kill Saul. But he doesn’t. He slips up behind Saul and cuts off the end of his mantle, so he can prove to him that he spared his life when he had the opportunity to take it.

 

 

But note David’s words. Notice his reasoning when his men are encouraging him to kill Saul. “Far be it from me to lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed.” Even though Saul has committed injustice on top of injustice to David, David

refuses to do Saul bodily harm, because like him or not, God chose him to

be king. And if God put him here, it’s God’s job to take him out.

In the Gospel, we see Jesus choosing the twelve, and note that Judas Iscariot is among them. The evangelist Mark never lets the audience forget that Judas was the betrayer. As soon as Judas is introduced in Mark, Chapter Three, the first time he’s ever mentioned, he’s introduced as the betrayer.

 

 

But also, Mark never lets his audience forget that Judas was one of the twelve. Judas was in the inner circle. Judas was one of those closest to Jesus. And Jesus chose him for a reason. Jesus saw something in Judas that was worthy of being an apostle. Judas, just as much as the other eleven, was chosen by God, and given the authority to preach and expel demons.

 

 

The Lord’s anointed.

 

 

In the Old Testament, there’s a story of the prophet Balaam. Balaam is hired by the king of Midian to curse the Israelite people, because the king of Midian is afraid that the Israelites are getting to powerful. Balaam accepts, because even though he’s a true prophet, he’s an unscrupulous man. He’s a prophet for hire. But an interesting thing happens. Each time he opens his mouth to curse Israel, blessings come out instead. And the more he tries to curse Israel, the more and more elaborate the blessings become. And this makes perfect sense. Because he is a true prophet, he can’t speak falsely in the name of God, so he cannot curse what God has blessed.

 

 

I don’t think we understand the significance of being the Lord’s anointed. How many times have you heard people bad mouth a priest or a bishop? Now we’ve all had negative experiences with priests, myself included. We’ve all been frustrated by or disagreed with bishops and made the statements, “Well, why doesn’t the Bishop excommunicate some of these people?” But what good does trashing them do? They’re still the Lord’s anointed. God chose them for a reason, and, if they’re not living up to their call, all we can do is pray for them, because maybe, just maybe, they’re living up to their call, but we’re not living up to ours.

 

 

There was a priest who did a lot of damage to a lot of people in my home town, once upon a time. He was mean spirited, and very coarse. He openly mocked parishioners who disagreed with him, sometimes from the pulpit. But he never turned away a beggar who came to the door. He raised money for a poor village in Haiti, and he would visit it every year with food and clothing supplies he gathered from the parish, and spend a week ministering sacraments to the people. God saw something in him worthy of being an apostle.

 

 

Pray for the Lord’s anointed, my brothers and sisters, that we priests may live up to our calling, and pray that the rest of the Church has the patience and respect needed to see something worthy of apostleship in those who don’t live up to their calling.

 

 

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Prayer:

 

 

O God, who hast appointed Thine only-begotten Son to be the eternal High Priest for the glory of Thy Majesty and the salvation of mankind; grant that they whom He hath chosen to be His ministers and the stewards of His mysteries, may be found faithful in the fulfillment of the ministry which they have received. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen

 

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

 

“When people want to destroy religions, they start by attacking priests, because where there are no priests, there is no sacrifice; and where there is no sacrifice, there is no religion." -- Saint John Vianney

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

  1. What attitudes toward priests exist in our lifetime?

  2. Make a list of all traits you think a good priest should have. Consider your parish priest. Which of these does he possess?

  3. Which traits does your parish priest lack? If any, is there anything you, as a parishioner, can do to help foster the growth of those missing virtues?

  4. What should be our response as Catholics to priests who sin?

  5. What should be our response to priests who are not teaching the full doctrine of the Church?

  6. What can you do to support priests, particularly your parish priest, in his priestly ministry?

  7. What can you do to support your bishop in his role?

  8. Discuss Father Sisco’s illustration about the mean spirited priest. What lessons does it teach?

  9. Discuss David’s treatment of Saul in the Bible passage above. What does that teach us?

  10. Father Sisco mentions that Jesus chose Judas and so must have seen good in him. How does that apply to priests who have harmed the flock?

  11. How often do you pray for priests? For a particular priest? Should you improve? How?

  12. Find the passage on Balaam in the Bible (Numbers 22-24) and discuss it.

  13. Discuss the above statement by St. John Vianney. Do you think it is true? Why or why not?  

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Week 58: Where Laziness Can Lead: A Reflection on 2 Samuel 11

 

 

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

 

 

2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful.3David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, ‘This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’4So David sent messengers to fetch her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house.5The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, ‘I am pregnant.’

 

 

6 So David sent word to Joab, ‘Send me Uriah the Hittite.’ And Joab sent Uriah to David.7When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going.8Then David said to Uriah, ‘Go down to your house, and wash your feet.’ Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king.9But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house.10When they told David, ‘Uriah did not go down to his house’, David said to Uriah, ‘You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?’11Uriah said to David, ‘The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths;* and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.’12Then David said to Uriah, ‘Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.’ So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day,13David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

 

 

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.15In the letter he wrote, ‘Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.’16As Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant warriors.17The men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was killed as well.18Then Joab sent and told David all the news about the fighting;19and he instructed the messenger, ‘When you have finished telling the king all the news about the fighting,20then, if the king’s anger rises, and if he says to you, “Why did you go so near the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall?21Who killed Abimelech son of Jerubbaal?* Did not a woman throw an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?” then you shall say, “Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead too.”

 

 

22 So the messenger went, and came and told David all that Joab had sent him to tell.23The messenger said to David, ‘The men gained an advantage over us, and came out against us in the field; but we drove them back to the entrance of the gate.24Then the archers shot at your servants from the wall; some of the king’s servants are dead; and your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.’25David said to the messenger, ‘Thus you shall say to Joab, “Do not let this matter trouble you, for the sword devours now one and now another; press your attack on the city, and overthrow it.” And encourage him.’

 

 

26 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him.27When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. (2 Samuel 11)

 

 

Today we see one of David’s big sins, but it is probably the sin he’s most remembered by; his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murdering of her husband Uriah. Now this is David’s first big fall, to a sin of the flesh.

 

 

And an interesting thing to note here is, look how the sin compounds itself. Where does the sin begin? With adultery? No. With laziness.

 

 

Where are David’s men? At war laying siege to a city.

 

 

Where is David? Where is the King? Where is the leader of the people? HOME in Jerusalem. What the heck was David doing at home while his men were engaged in battle? David, the king, should have been with his troops at the front. He isn’t. Instead he stays home. And this is a good lesson, brothers and sisters. This is a good lesson on how laziness, idleness, can be a springboard to get us into bigger and better sins.

 

 

Because what happens while David is home? After rising from a siesta, (there we go again, more laziness) he’s taking an evening stroll on his roof and there he sees Bathsheba bathing in a nearby courtyard. David’s laziness gives him the opportunity to lust, which leads him to have an affair with Bathsheba, which leads her to getting pregnant.

 

 

Now here’s an awkward position to be in. Well, better get a hold of Uriah, her husband, and come clean, right? No. Now it’s time for a cover up. So David sends for Uriah under the pretense of giving him a progress report on what’s happening with the war. But in actuality he just wants Uriah to go home to his wife so David’s sin can be covered up. Now here is the ultimate irony. David has shown his disloyalty to Uriah by having an affair with his wife. But Uriah demonstrates his loyalty to David by not going home to his wife when he has the opportunity. Instead he stays with the other officers. When David questions Uriah on this, he responds, “Far be it from me to enjoy my home and my wife while my kings officers and men sleep on the battle field. I will not go home until my lord and king is victorious over ALL his enemies!”

 

 

Uh, gee, thanks Uriah.

 

 

So David tries getting him drunk. That doesn’t work either. And here, in the ultimate irony, David sends Uriah back to front with a sealed message for his army officer Joab, basically telling Joab to kill Uriah, and make it look like an accident. That’s how Uriah’s loyalty to David was repaid.

 

 

So David’s lust leads him to deception, and murder, and maybe even bigotry. I’ve often wondered, if Uriah was a Jew would David still have had him murdered? Uriah’s not a Jew. He’s a Hittite. He’s a legal alien living in the land. But it’s obvious that Uriah is extremely loyal to David, but still he’s a foreigner. Could David have been thinking, “What’s one more dead pagan? God won’t care. It’s not like I’m killing one of my kinsmen. It’s not like a killing another Jew.” Could bigotry be here as well?

 

 

It all started with laziness, my brothers and sisters. When we are lazy, when we’re idle, when we do not actively go to war with our sinful inclinations, when we do not actively try to build the kingdom of God by spreading seeds as the Gospel tells us, then we leave ourselves open for temptation and sin.

Dr. Peter Kreeft has a good book called, “Prayer for Beginners.” In it he says, “None of us is going to get to heaven and say, “Gee, I spent way too much time praying and doing charitable works. I should have watched more TV.”

 

 

Diligence, my brothers and sisters. The road to eternity is paved by diligence.

 

 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

Prayer:

O my God, I know well that so negligent a life as mine cannot please You. I know that by my lukewarmness I have closed the door to the graces which You desire to bestow on me. O my God, do not reject me, as I deserve, but continue to be merciful toward me, and I will make great efforts to amend and to arise from this miserable state. In the future I will be more careful to overcome my passions and to follow Your inspirations; and never through slothfulness will I omit my duties, but will strive to fulfill them with greater diligence and fidelity. In short, I will from this time forward do all I can to please You, and will neglect nothing which I know to be pleasing to You.

Since You, O my Jesus, have been so liberal with Your graces toward me and have deigned to give Your Blood and Your Life for me, I am sorry for having acted with so little generosity toward You, Who are worthy of all honor and all love. But, O my Jesus, You know my weakness. Help me with Your powerful grace; in You I confide.

O Immaculate Virgin Mary, help me to overcome myself and to become a saint. Amen.

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

It is easier to mend neglect than to quicken love. -- Saint Jerome

 

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How many sins did David’s laziness lead to? Enumerate and count them.

  2. How does the prayer act as an antidote to laziness?

  3. Discuss the quote by Saint Jerome. What does it have to do with laziness?

  4. Laziness (sloth) is one of the seven deadly sins. Why is it so harmful?

  5. How does sloth impact one’s spiritual growth?

  6. Are you guilty of the sin of laziness? How do you know? If so, what can you do to overcome this fault?

  7. Could bigotry be a form of laziness? How?

  8. How can laziness lead to other “bigger and better sins” in the modern world? Can you give any examples of where this seems to have happened?

  9. How does one strike a balance between laziness and work-a-holism?

  10. How is the road to eternity "paved with diligence"?

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Week 59: Desire for Love Motivates Penance: A Reflection on Isaiah 58: 4-7

 

 

“Yet your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw….Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance…. This, rather is the fasting I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry; sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them; and not turning your back on your own.” (Is 58:4-7)

 

 

I have said that the three classic forms of penance during Lent--prayer, fasting, and almsgiving--underscore the three messages that Lent is supposed to convey.  Fasting reminds us of who we were, people of the flesh, powerless against the cravings and whims of the flesh. Prayer reminds us of who we are; people on a journey to our Father’s kingdom. 

 

 

Almsgiving reminds us of who we hope to become, namely like God himself, who is all- charitable. This reading from the prophet Isaiah reinforces that. “Yet your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw…. Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance…. This, rather is the fasting I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry; sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them; and not turning your back on your own.” (Is 58:4-7)

 

 

So Isaiah says here that our fasting has to be done with the motivation to increase our love, increase our charity. If it doesn’t, if our fasting exists in a vacuum, if it doesn’t remind us of who we were and so motivate us to strive toward what we hope to become, our fasting is pointless.

None of these three forms of penance--prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—is meant to be undertaken alone. They all interact with one another for the purpose of helping us more closely imitate Christ and make us like the Father. So our fasting should increase our charity, as Isaiah says here. Our prayer, a reminder of who we are, pilgrims on a journey, should increase our charity by getting us to focus on our heavenly home where we are all brothers and sisters. Our charity should stem from our desire to be like God, which comes from our fasting and prayer.

 

 

Do we advance spiritually or get extra credit because we can give to charity for no reason other than to make ourselves look good? How about if we give to charity simply as a tax shelter? Guess what? No moral credit. Our motivation should always be our desire to become like God, and our love for humanity.

 

Psalm 51:19 says, “A broken, humble heart O God you will not scorn.”  That is the ultimate purpose of our prayer, fasting, and charity, to make us humble. And that, my brothers and sisters, is how we make a sacrifice pleasing to the Lord.

 

 

Blessed Be God Forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

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." -- Saint Gregory Nazianzen

 

 

Prayer

 

 “O Lord my God, Teach my heart this day where and how to see you, where and how to find you. You have made me and remade me, and you have bestowed on me all the good things I possess, and still I do not know you. I have not yet done that for which I was made. Teach me to

seek you; for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, or find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in my desire; let me desire you in my seeking. Let me find you by loving you, let me love you when I find you.” -- Saint Anselm

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. What penance are you doing for Lent?

2. How did this penance come to be chosen?

3. What is your purpose in this particular penance?

4. Does this penance combine prayer, fasting and almsgiving?

5. Does this penance increase your love of God or help you to know Him better?

6. Does this penance increase your love of neighbor or help you to see God in him or her?

7. Will this penance break your heart?

8. Will this penance build virtue, especially humility?

9. Is your Lenten sacrifice pointless or pleasing to God?

10. Does this penance meet the criteria set forth by Isaiah?

 

 

By Susan Boudreau

 

Week 60: Faith and Works: A Reflection on James 2: 14, 18-21

 

 

“Brothers and sisters, what good is it to profess faith without practicing it? Such faith has no power to save…. Show me your faith without works, and I will show you the faith that underlies my works! Do you believe that God is one? You’re quite right. The demons believe that and shudder. Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that without works faith is idle? Was not our father Abraham justified by his works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?”

(James 2:14, 18-21)

 

 

This is the famous passage in Saint James letter that Protestants, particularly Evangelicals hate, because it contradicts their whole theology of faith alone.  Sola  Fidae. This is why they refer to the epistle of James as “the

epistle of straw,” because they just can’t throw it out. But they don’t know what to do with it so they just largely ignore it. “All you have to do is profess on your lips that Jesus Christ is your personal Lord and Savior, and you’re saved.”  That’s the evangelical approach.

 

 

Well, not according to James, and really, not according to Saint Paul either. They’re just pulling what Paul says in Romans 10:10 out of context. What James says here is a key point in our theology and our parting with fundamentalist Christians, so let’s take a closer at this. What’s wrong with professing on our lips that Jesus Christ is our personal Lord and Savior?  Absolutely nothing.  Do it every day. We do it, in fact, every time we say the Creed during Mass on Sunday, or we say the Creed at the beginning of a rosary or chaplet. In that profession of faith we are stating more elaborately and completely that Jesus Christ is Lord. If you were to boil the Creed down to its central theme, that would be it.

 

 

But James says here, even the demons do that much. They have to.  That’s part of their punishment. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, “at the name of Jesus every knee must bow in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth.” What does that mean? Even demons and souls of the damned must do homage to the name of Jesus. Well, if that’s the case, what’s the difference between demons and us?  Or angels and demons?  The difference is that demons are completely void of love.

 

 

Demons are completely void of charity. Demons are completely void of mercy. In a word, demons are completely void of good works. That’s the difference between them and us. We can practice charity. They can’t.  When we practice charity, we imitate our God who is all-charitable. We cannot imitate God on any other level. We can’t be all knowing. We can’t be all powerful. But we can practice charity from our hearts. In that way we can imitate our God. The problem occurs, and this is where the evangelicals have a legitimate gripe with us, when Catholics think they can buy their way into heaven.

 

 

So I know I’m going to heaven, because I give a million dollars a year to charity. Yeah, but you make 20 million a year, so that’s not a real big sacrifice now, is it? If your charity doesn’t challenge you to give up your sinful practices, does it do any good? No. Sorry, but no cigar. Or, we can practice charity with our wallets and stop there, not allowing it to challenge us to practice charity in our words and thoughts.

 

 

How many people dutifully give to charity, even tithe, but then trash their neighbor with gossip? That’s a serious sin, brothers and sisters. Gossip is character assassination. It kills a person’s reputation. It sins against charity. As Christians, we are always supposed to be looking for the best in another person, not the worst. We’re supposed to presume innocence, not guilt.

 

 

Brothers and sisters, I invite us today to think about Saint James’ words, and ask ourselves, do my works reflect my faith, and does my faith shine through my works?

 

 Blessed Be God Forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote From a Saint:

 

“Charity is that with which no man is lost, and without which no man is saved.” -- Saint Robert Bellarmine

 

 

Prayer By a Saint

 

 “Lord, increase my faith, bless my efforts and work, now and for evermore. Amen.” -- Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. “In the synagogue there was a man with the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out in a loud voice, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy

One of God!” (Lk4:33,34; Mk 1:23,24) What distinguishes your profession of faith from that of this demon?

2. What works set you apart?

3. Do your works increase your faith?

4. Does your faith shine through your works?

5. Do your works challenge you to give up your sinful practices?

6. What good comes to others from your work?

7. What good comes to you from your work?

8. Throughout her work, “Interior Castle”, St. Teresa of Avila talks of penance, prayer, mortification, solitude, humility and obedience. Still, she makes the point that the Lord asks of us only two things: love of His majesty and love of our neighbor. Do your works and other spiritual practices increase your love of His majesty and glorify Him?

9. Do they increase your love of your neighbor?

 

 

By Susan Boudreau

 

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