Weeks 61-70

Week 61: Wisdom: A Reflection on 1 Kings 3: 5-14

 

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, ‘Ask what I should give you.’6And Solomon said, ‘You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart towards you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today.7And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.8And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted.9Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?’

 

10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.11God said to him, ‘Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right,12I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.13I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honour all your life; no other king shall compare with you.14If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.’ (1 Kings 3: 5-14)

 

In our first reading as we start the book of Kings, we see Solomon as a boy, empowered by his Father, King David, ready to assume the responsibility of governing Israel. But before he does, the first thing he does is pray, and, when the Lord asks him what he wants, he requests the wisdom to govern the people wisely.           

 

The Lord rewards Solomon because he doesn’t ask for wealth or victory over his enemies; God promises to fulfill his request. Solomon is given wisdom because Solomon demonstrates wisdom. Wisdom, according to the psalms and all the wisdom writings in the Bible, is seeking the Lord above all other things. Solomon demonstrates this in his request. Solomon’s request is a demonstration of his rejection of worldliness and a seeking of higher values. 

 

Well, then why does Solomon go so wrong? At the beginning of his reign, Solomon is not only known as the best King that Israel had ever known but the best king in the world! So much so, leaders and delegates of other nations seek out Solomon’s wisdom. He has such a promising beginning. Where does Solomon fall? Very simply, Solomon prospers spiritually and materially when he seeks the spiritual good only. When Solomon rejects the pursuit of spiritual perfection and seeks only worldly goods, he loses both the spiritual and the worldly wealth. 

 

There were three prohibitions given to the Israelite people in the Book of Deuteronomy. The first:  don’t multiply gold for yourselves. The second:  don’t multiply wives for yourselves. And finally: don’t multiply chariots, and especially don’t get them from Egypt. These should sound familiar to you, because these three prohibitions were meant to protect the Israelites from the three classic forms of idolatry. Don’t multiply gold, the idol of wealth. Don’t multiply wives, the idol of sex. Don’t multiply chariots, the idol of power. Solomon falls into all three traps. 

 

The turning point in Solomon’s reign happens when he is visited by the Queen of Sheba. The Queen of Sheba is so impressed by Solomon’s wisdom that she bestows a gift of gold on him. After Solomon receives this gold, he gets an idea, ‘That’s right! Why should I be bestowing this wisdom God gave me for free when I can sell it?’ So Solomon breaks the first prohibition. Then Solomon decides to take the newly acquired wealth and strengthen his army. So he purchases a fleet of new chariots from who? Egypt. Solomon breaks the third prohibition. Finally, Solomon starts making foreign alliances, but to seal the deal, he accepts the daughters of these foreign kings as his wives until he has over seven hundred of them, and three hundred concubines. Solomon breaks the second prohibition. 

 

But then, the final atrocity occurs. Solomon, to placate his new wives, allows them to build temples to their pagan gods in the land, after Solomon’s father David spent his lifetime driving the idols out of Israel. How could he do that? There was nothing to stop him. He had cut the three spiritual ropes that kept him bound to the Lord. Solomon allowing the pagan temples to be built was just the result of his earlier negligence of the law.       

    

When we neglect the laws of God, we will ultimately betray God. Solomon’s lesson is our lesson, too. As Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and the wealth of his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” 

 

May our goal always be God’s wisdom and righteousness, and He will provide everything else we need. 

 

Blessed Be God Forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents 

 

Quote From a Saint: “It is simply impossible to lead, without the aid of prayer, a virtuous life.”  -- Saint John Chrysostom  

 

“Wisdom enters through love, silence, and mortification. It is great wisdom to know how to be silent and to look at neither the remarks, nor the deeds, nor the lives of others.”  -- St John of the Cross, OCD 

 

Prayer “O Lord teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me when I seek you.  For I cannot seek you unless you first teach me, nor find you unless you first reveal yourself to me.  Let me seek you in longing, and long for you in seeking.  Let me find you in love, and love you in finding.”  -- Saint Ambrose of Milan
 

Questions for Reflection:

 

1. If Wisdom is seeking the Lord above all other things, and if that could be measured on a spectrum from one to one hundred (one hundred being the wisdom given Solomon) where would you fall on that spectrum? 

 

2. Solomon prospers spiritually and materially when he seeks the spiritual good only. What are you seeking?   

 

3. What might life look like for one who seeks only spiritual good?   

 

4. How does one avoid the trap of idolizing wealth? 

 

5. How does one avoid the trap of idolizing sex? 

 

6. How does one avoid the trap of idolizing power? 

 

7. What are the spiritual ropes that keep you bound to the Lord? 

 

8. For which virtue do you most often pray?

 

By Susan Boudreau

 

Week 62: Covenant Betrayals: A Reflection on Genesis 37:3-4 and Matthew 21:33- 39 

 

 

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves.But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him. (Genesis 37: 3-4)

 

 

33 ‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce.35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.”38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.”39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. (Matthew 21: 33-39)

 

 

Of all the evil things, of all the sins that anger us, probably the one that evokes the strongest emotions is the sin of betrayal. When a person betrays our trust, we often refer to them as what? We call them a Judas Iscariot, or a Benedict Arnold. Who were they? They were two of the most famous traitors in history. They were betrayers.

 

           

We can expect to be persecuted by enemies. We don’t like it, but we’re not surprised when it happens. But when someone we trust turns on us--a friend, or even worse, a relative, our own blood--we find that much harder to swallow. Joseph trusted his older brothers. They were jealous because Joseph was Daddy’s favorite; and being Daddy’s favorite, Joseph was probably going to inherit the blessing that had been passed down through the generations from Adam, to Seth, to Noah, to Shem, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to their father, Jacob.

 

           

What blessing was that? It was the covenant blessing; the blessing that promised the Messiah would be born of their birth line. So they plot to kill their brother, but when they spot a caravan of traders on their way to Egypt, they decide to sell him as a slave instead. Why not? I mean, if we’re going to betray our own blood we might as well get paid for it. How much do they get? They get twenty pieces of silver. It is ironic. Jesus is a prince who became a slave by taking on human flesh. And how much does His betrayer sell Him out for? He is sold for thirty pieces of silver.

 

 

This is what Jesus is trying to convey in this parable he tells the Pharisees. There’s a contract, a bond of trust between the landowner and the tenants. Here, you can use my land, you can use my equipment, and at harvest time I get X amount of the produce. The tenants betray the trust of the landlord. They compound that betrayal by abusing and killing the servants whom the landlord sends, and they seal the betrayal by killing the landlord’s own son. Why? “This is the one who will inherit everything. Let’s kill him, and his inheritance will be ours.” It sounds like the same motivation Joseph’s brothers had.

 

           

There are actually many parallels between Jesus and Joseph, not the smallest of which is that Joseph is the name of Jesus’ foster father. So there’s an immediate connection between these two figures. Joseph is sold as a slave in Egypt. The holy family has to flee to Egypt. Joseph is an upright and devout man. St. Joseph is described in these same words.

 

 

But why is Jesus calling the Pharisees betrayers? God had a covenant, a good will agreement, with Israel. It said, basically, “I will provide you with a nation; you will in turn be a holy nation, a nation of priests, to lead the other nations to holiness.” Israel betrayed the agreement. They became as corrupt as the other nations. Israel murdered the prophets who came to remind Israel of their responsibility, and now the Pharisees are plotting to do the same to Jesus.

 

           

The frightening thing is that God has a more perfect covenant agreement with us. The agreement basically is, “I will provide you with a Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. You will in turn provide me with saints, to lead the world to holiness.” My brothers and sisters, if we’re not challenging ourselves to live that vocation to be saints, then we betray our Lord. If we get comfortable with our sins, and don’t confess them, and don’t challenge ourselves to try and stop committing them, we betray the Lord. If we don’t reach out to our brothers and sisters with the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, we betray the Lord. And what’s worse, because of the Eucharist where we become one with God, we’re not betraying our landlord anymore. We’re betraying our blood.

 

           

I cannot stress enough the need for monthly confession. I cannot stress enough the need for frequent reception of the Eucharist. It is true that holiness is not easy to attain, but it is attainable. God has provided us with the Church, and all the tools we need within the Church to do just that.

 

 

Blessed Be God Forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote From a Saint: “All of us can attain to Christian virtue and holiness, no matter in what condition of life we live and no matter what our life work may be.” -- Saint Francis de Sales 

 

 

Prayer By a Saint: “O my God, holiness becometh Thy House, and yet Thou dost make Thy abode in my breast. My Lord, my Saviour, to me Thou comest; hidden under the semblance of earthly things, yet in that very flesh and blood which Thou didst take from Mary, Thou, who didst first inhabit Mary's breast, dost come to me. My God, Thou seest me; I cannot see myself... Thou seest how unworthy so great a sinner is to receive the One Holy God, whom the Seraphim adore with trembling... My God, enable me to bear Thee, for Thou alone canst. Cleanse my heart and mind from all that is past... give me a true perception of things unseen, and make me truly, practically, and in the details of life, prefer Thee to anything on earth, and the future world to the present.”  -– Venerable John Henry Neuman 

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. In your own words, what does betrayal mean to you? 

 

2. By whom have you been betrayed more often: friends, enemies or family?

 

3. Which has been most painful for you: betrayal by friends, enemies or family?

 

4. What motives seem to justify betrayal? 

 

5. What is the difference between a covenant and a contract? 

 

6. With whom do you have covenant agreements? 

 

7. How do you maintain your part of a covenant when the other party does not?

 

8. Describe your understanding of the covenant between yourself and the Church.

 

9. How does the Church maintain her covenant with us when we do not meet our part of the covenant?

 

10. What can you do to strengthen your ability to fulfill your part of that covenant? 

 

 

By Susan Boudreau

 

Week 63: Four Vehicles of Faith: A Reflection on Luke 17:5

 

 

“The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5)

 

 

We all speak of faith, and the need for faith, and how some people have faith and some do not. But do we ever deal with the question, how do we attain faith?

 

 

Well, strictly speaking we can’t attain faith. Faith is a gift from God that comes from the Grace of God. Therefore we cannot do anything to attain faith, in the strict sense of that word. But is it not also true that faith is something that can be shared? So while it is true we cannot attain faith, it is possible to make ourselves open to faith and help others to be open to it as well.

 

 

Alright then, that being true, what are the vehicles of faith? What make us open to faith? Four things. The first is persecution. In the prophet Jeremiah, we read, “I hear the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him!’ All those who were my friends watch for any misstep of mine.” Jeremiah was one prophet who was constantly persecuted.

 

 

Why on earth would persecution be a doorway to faith? Because when we’re persecuted, when there’s ‘terror on every side,’ we have to turn to the Lord, because we have no one else. It is interesting that historically that the times when the Church experiences its greatest growth is when we’re persecuted. There is something about persecution that galvanizes faith.

 

 

OK, what’s the second vehicle of faith? Charity. When the crowd wanted to stone Jesus, he responded, “For which of my charitable works are you stoning me?” Why does he respond like that? Two reasons. First, to make them see the irony. ‘Hey, I’ve done nothing but good things. And you want to kill me for that?’ Secondly, Jesus is calling their minds to the Old Testament scriptures, which describe the godly man as one who does charitable deed to his brothers and the wicked man as the one who wishes to kill the godly man. Brothers and sisters, charitable deeds speak louder than words when it comes to communicating faith. People are naturally good. We were created good, and we gravitate to goodness. When people see charity it touches the heart and moves them toward faith.

 

 

The third door to faith is Scripture, the Word. The Word of God is truth and leads to truth, and truth leads to faith, because God is truth and all truth points to God. That’s why it’s important to be reading the scriptures ourselves and becoming familiar with the scriptures, and also to be encouraging others to read and meditate on the scriptures. When the crowd accuses Jesus of blaspheming, how does he defend himself? With the scriptures. He uses the word of God to back up his claim.

 

 

And finally the last door to faith is witnessing. In the scriptures, how many people come to believe in Jesus because they’ve heard the testimony of another? Lots! Why did so many people follow Jesus, even to remote places, and come to believe in him? Because they were saying, “Everything John the Baptist said about him is true.” Through the testimony of John the Baptist, others come to believe.

 

 

You know, we have a treasure in our Catholic faith. Why do people sit on it? Why do people stay so hushed about their faith like it’s a big secret? That’s society’s doing. American society has trained us to frown on people who share their faith. We’ve got to snap out of that.

 

 

The persecution is here. The soil is being prepared, and I am convinced that Catholicism can blossom in this country once again, but it’s not going to happen if we just sit around and wait. We’ve got to use charity, the scriptures, and witnessing to win the hearts of this nation, and so our nation can in turn, win the world.

 

 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

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: 

Lord, I believe: I wish to believe in Thee. Lord, let my faith be full and unreserved, and let it penetrate my thought, my way of judging Divine things and human things. Lord, let my faith be joyful and give peace and gladness to my spirit, and dispose it for prayer with God and conversation with men, so that the inner bliss of its fortunate possession may shine forth in sacred and secular conversation. Lord, let my faith be humble and not presume to be based on the experience of my thought and of my feeling; but let it surrender to the testimony of the Holy Spirit, and not have any better guarantee than in docility to Tradition and to the authority of the magisterium of the Holy Church. Amen. (from www.catholic.org) 

 

Questions for Reflection: 

 

1. How does persecution cause faith to increase? Have you seen examples of this? What were they?

 

2.    What part does Scripture reading have in your faith journey? What are some techniques for sharing Scripture with others?

 

4.    Which of the four vehicles of faith—persecution, charity, Scripture, or witnessing—seems to be in the ascendency at this time? Why would you say that?

 

5.  Which of the four vehicles of faith—persecution, charity, Scripture, or witnessing—seems to be in the ascendency at this time? Why would you say that?

 

6. Which of the four vehicles of faith—persecution, charity, Scripture, or witnessing—seems to be on the wane at this time? Why would you say that?

 

7. Think of three people whom you know whose faith is weak or non-existent. Which of the four vehicles of faith do you think would work best with each of those people? Is there any way you can use the vehicles to help foster faith in these people? 

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

 

Week 64: Personal Conversion Leads to Holiness and Evangelization: A Reflection on Ezekiel 18:5

 

 

"You say, ‘The Lord’s way is not fair!’ Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” (Ez 18:25)

 

 

I really like reading from the prophet Ezekiel. It’s one of those passages that remind us that we really haven’t changed so much in two thousand years.

 

 

So often I hear people accuse God of being unfair, or the Church is being unfair. But me? I’m never the one being unfair. The passage also points us to the truth that the need for personal conversion is ongoing. Note what I say: “personal conversion”. All too often, we’re so anxious and concerned over the state of someone else’s soul that we’re really not focusing on what we need to do to bring us into a closer communion with God. Saint Augustine, great psychologist that he is, summed it up perfectly when he said, “Having failed to convert ourselves, we become intensely interested in the faults of others!”

 

 

There’s a great story about Saint John Vianney, the curette of Ars, and the patron saint of parish priests. A brother priest had gone to John Vianney, complaining that his parishioners were a bunch of pagans and he couldn’t do anything with them. So Saint John said to him, “How often do you fast on bread and water for them? How often do you sleep on the cold, hard, marble floor for them? How many times do you keep an all night vigil in front of the Blessed Sacrament for them?” The priest admitted he had done none of these things. Then John Vianney said, “Well, now go do them, and after a year, if they still haven’t changed, come back to me, and I will give you more to do.”

 

           

The late great Bishop Sheen in his book, The Priest is Not His Own,” which if it were up to me I’d make it mandatory reading in all seminaries, wrote “Father, don’t get on your pulpit and complain that the world is too materialistic. If the world is too materialistic it is because the priesthood is too materialistic.” The same would apply to accusations of being lustful, selfish, or lazy. Bishop Sheen said the world, whether they admit it or not, follows the priesthood. Bishop Sheen published this book in 1967, over forty years ago!

 

 

We cannot convert others until we convert ourselves. When I was in seminary, I was very naïve. I thought that if I became a good enough apologist; if I just learned all the arguments; if I just became a good enough debater; if I just became an eloquent enough speaker; well, then everyone would come to see my point of view. I would bring people back to faith. No. Only God brings people to the faith. I have to preach the truth, but more importantly, I have to live the example. It took years as a priest for me to realize that what really effects people is when they see a striving to grow in the holiness of the Spirit. Dedication. Self sacrifice. Commitment. All of which bring me back to Ezekiel.

 

 

Someone who is striving for holiness wouldn’t say, “The Lord’s way is not fair,” but would be overjoyed to see the sinner repent of his ways and be saved. Someone who is striving for holiness wouldn’t say, “The Lord’s way is not fair,” and wouldn’t even consider returning to sinful ways as if it was a right to which they were entitled.

 

 

Jesus makes a very profound theological point in the Gospel of Matthew (5:20-26). Let’s listen to it:

 

 

‘For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.”But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.’

 

 

Sin is not just an action, but rather sin is in the desire of the heart.

 

 

Murder is wrong, but the sin of murder begins with harboring hatred in one’s heart. The act of murder is only the natural consequence of what has already taken place in the will. So it is with all sin.

 

 

 

Blessed Be God Forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote From a Saint: “Don't you long to shout to those youths who are bustling around you: Fools! Leave those worldly things that shackle the heart - and very often degrade it - leave all that and come with us in search of Love!" --Saint Josemaria Escriva

 

 

Prayer: “O my God, help me to remember that time is short, eternity long. What good is all the greatness of this world at the hour of death? To love You, my God, and save my soul is the one thing necessary. Without You, there is no peace of mind or soul. My God, I need fear only sin and nothing else in this life, for to lose You, my God, is to lose all. O my God, help me to remember that I came into this world with nothing, and shall take nothing from it when I die. To gain You, I must leave all. But in loving You, I already have all good things, the infinite riches of Christ and His Church in life, Mary's motherly protection and perpetual help, and the eternal dwelling place Jesus has prepared for me. Eternal Father, Jesus has promised that whatever we ask in His Name will be granted us. In His Name, I pray: give me a burning faith, a joyful hope, a holy love for You. Grant me perseverance in doing Your will and never let me be separated from You. My God and my All, make me a saint. Amen.”  -- Saint Alphonsus Liguori

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. In what circumstances have you heard yourself say, “The Lord’s way is not fair”?

 

2. Is your prayer for conversion primarily for those near or dear to you or is it for yourself? 

 

3. If your attention to conversion is primarily personal, is it self-centered or God-centered?  That is, is it focused on self-perfection or glorification of God? 

 

4. What personal change can you make that will bring greater glory to God? 

 

5. What personal change can you make that will give greater testimony to others of the greatness of God and draw them to Him? 

 

6. Who will these changes most likely effect and how? 

 

7. How does one change the desire of the heart that leads to sin? 

 

8. To what change are you willing to commit to change the sinful desires of your heart? 

 

9. Is there a patron saint upon whom you can rely for prayer and assistance in keeping this commitment to change? Who might that be and why? 

 

--by Susan Boudreau

 

Week 65: Sacrifice Pleasing to God: A Reflection on Isaiah 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. The prophet Isaiah reinforces that.

 

 

“Yes,  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 yolk; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yolk; 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)

 

 

Isaiah says 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 to what we hope to become, our fasting is pointless.

 

           

None of these three forms of penance--prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—is  meant to be taken by itself. 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. And our charity should stem from our desire to be like God, which comes from our fasting and prayer.

 

 

We can give to charity for no reason other than to make ourselves look good or we can give to charity simply as a tax shelter. Guess what? If we do it only for these reasons, we get no moral credit. Our motivation should always be our desire to become like God, and to serve humanity out of love.

 

 

Psalm 51 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: “We must give alms. Charity wins souls and draws them to virtue.  --Saint Angela Merici

 

 

Prayer By a Saint: “Lord, you were rich yet, for our sakes, you became poor. You promised in your Gospel that whatever is done for the least of your brothers and sisters, is done for you. Give us grace to be always willing and ready to provide for the needs of those whose parents have died or whose homes are broken, that your kingdom of service and love may extend throughout the world, to your unending glory.” --Saint Augustine of Hippo

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. What can fasting can change about you?

 

2. How does prayer enhance who you are?

 

3. For what do you hope?

 

4. How does almsgiving bring that to fruition?

 

5. Which of these--fasting, prayer or almsgiving--is the prime mover for you and why?

 

6. Give an example of how any one of these means has changed you.

 

7. What is your inner-most motivation for personal conversion?

 

8. What obstacles are there in your path that might inhibit the full use of these means?

 

9. How can you make your sacrifice more pleasing to God?

 

 

By Susan Boudreau 

 

Week 66: Identity Crisis: A Reflection on John 7: 26-27

 

 

“Perhaps even the authorities have come to accept him as the Messiah. Still, we know where this man is from. When the Messiah comes, no one is supposed to know his origins.” (Jn 7:26, 27)

 

 

The inhabitants of Jerusalem are confused because they know where Jesus is from, and no one is supposed to know the Messiah’s origins. Jesus tries explaining to them that they know his human origins--Bethlehem, Nazareth--but they do not know his divine origins. But they are confused and they remain confused.

 

 

We can get confused also, but not about the identity of Christ.       We all say, ‘amen,’ that Jesus is the Messiah. We all say, ‘amen,’ that Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth. We all say, ‘amen,’ that Jesus is the Son of God, the God man, the Word of Father incarnate. So what are we confused about?

 

 

We are not confused about his identity. We are confused about our identity. Do we truly believe that we are chosen to share his suffering? If so, why do we so readily run away from the cross? Do we truly believe that we are adopted children in him? If so, then why don’t we give ourselves unconditionally to those in need? Do we truly believe that his teachings are the way for our salvation? If so, why do we shy away from so many of his commands and precepts?

 

 

Many people today don’t have any problem identifying Jesus for who he really is. Rather we have a crisis of identifying ourselves through him. The authorities in Jerusalem sought to kill Jesus because, even though he was fulfilling all the prophecies of who Messiah would be, he wasn’t meeting their expectation of who Messiah should be. People today do the same thing because Jesus isn’t the kind of Messiah they want him to be.

 

           

So you’ve got the groups of people who try to violently kill him by attacking the Church. They stereotype priests and religious, and try to kill the faith with negative propaganda. Just look at what’s happening with a Georgetown University Law student who wants the government to pay for her contraception. Here’s the kicker; this is all apparently the Catholic Church’s fault! It is said that the Church is trying to send women back to the Stone Age.  The Church is speaking out, NOT because the American Bishops protested contraceptives being covered in Obama Care, but because the government is trying to force Catholic hospitals and Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives and pay the cost of contraception!

 

           

First of all, let’s clear away all the muck. No one is being denied contraception. Go to any drug store and there they are. Second, walk into any Planned Parenthood and women can get free contraceptives. Planned Parenthood WANTS women to have free contraceptives, because they WANT women to have sex, knowing that all contraceptives have some failure rate, and many of these women will eventually have to come back to them for an abortion, which is where the real money is. Third, what the Bishops are saying in protesting is that government CANNOT force a religion to do something that violates its teaching. See how distorted the truth can become! Then you’ve got the people who try to reshape Jesus to fit their agenda. Instead of allowing God to recreate us in his image, we recreate Jesus in ours. So I latch onto my favorite image of Jesus--the healer, good shepherd, the teacher--and I say this is true but to the exclusion of everything else. Then you’ve got the people who know who Jesus is but ignore him anyway, because it’s too much of a burden being Christian.

 

 

Brothers and sisters, let us not look outward to what we want out of life. Rather, let us look inward and see what the Lord is calling us to be.  Let’s  clear away the confusion from the world and focus on our relationship with Jesus. My prayer is that we never confuse his identity or ours.

 

 

Blessed Be God Forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote From a Saint: “Our wish, our object, our chief preoccupation must be to form Jesus in ourselves, to make his spirit, his devotion, his affections, his desire, and his disposition live and reign there.” --Saint John Eudes

 

 

Prayer By a Saint: “Jesus Christ, Lord of all things! You see my heart; you know my desires. Possess all that I am - you alone. I am your sheep; make me worthy to overcome the devil.” --Saint Agatha

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. Who do you say that He is?  By what name do you most often call Him?

 

2. How do you demonstrate your belief in Him as Lord?

 

3. How do you identify yourself in relation to Jesus? 

 

4. Why do we so readily run away from the cross?

 

5. Why don’t we give ourselves unconditionally to those in need?

 

6. Why do we shy away from so many of His commands and precepts?

 

7. What emotion or obstacle impedes the consistent profession of your true identity in Christ?

 

8. What small step can you take to overcome that obstacle? 

 

9. When will you take that step? 

 

 

By Susan Boudreau 

 

Week 67: Surrender: A Reflection on Matthew 22: 36-40

 

 

‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ (Matthew 22: 36-40)

 

 

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” A scribe puts this question to Jesus, and Jesus gives a twofold answer. Jesus says the first commandment is to love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. How do we sum that up? Surrender. Surrender to God.

 

 

When we love God with all our heart, we’re surrendering our life to God. When we love God with all our soul, we’re surrendering our will to God. When we love God with all our mind, we’re surrendering our actions to God. Our actions are dictated by our minds. And when we love God with all our strength we’re surrendering our circumstances to God.

 

 

Surrender. We’ve got to fight the tendency to try to control our lives, our fates, our actions and our circumstances and give God dominion over all these things. Because when we try to control these things, we easily fall into idolatry. We keep God in a box that we take off the shelf on Sunday, but we give the dominion that is rightfully his to someone or something else.

 

           

The prophet Hosea laments Israel’s idolatry. He’s calling the nation to return to God with words of repentance, saying to the Lord, “Forgive all iniquity.” The first step of surrender is always repentance. But note what he says a few verses later, “Assyria will not save us, nor shall we have horses to mount; we shall say no more ‘our god’ to the work of our hands.”

 

 

What’s going on here? Babylon is poised for invasion and the people are thinking of asking Assyria for help. Hosea is saying, “Stop relying on foreign alliances, stop relying on horses, (meaning Calvary, their military). Instead rely on the Lord. Surrender.”

 

 

Well OK then, how do we surrender our heart, mind, soul, and strength to God? Love your neighbor as yourself.

 

 

Think about that statement for a minute.

 

 

Love your neighbor as yourself, not as your best friend, not as your spouse, as yourself. Consider others as more important than you are. Putting others before ourselves conditions us to surrender. Charity conditions us for surrender. How?

 

 

When we are charitable with our time, when we’d rather do something for me, but instead spend that time doing for someone else, we’re surrendering our will, are we not? We’re loving God with our soul.

 

 

When we’re charitable with our money, we’re taking money I could spend on me, and we’re giving that to someone else--then we’re surrendering our circumstances, are we not? We’re loving God with our strength.

 

 

When someone is nasty to us, and we don’t respond with nastiness, we’re surrendering our actions, are we not? We’re loving God with our mind. We get in the habit of doing these things and we begin surrendering our whole lives to God. We’re loving God with our hearts.

 

 

My brothers and sisters, may we all become good at surrendering.

 

 

Blessed Be God Forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote From a Saint: “If we are, in fact, now occupied in good deeds, we should not attribute the strength with which we are doing them to ourselves. We must not count on ourselves, because even if we know what kind of person we are today, we do not know what we will be tomorrow.”
-Saint Gregory the Great

 

 

Prayer By a Saint: “Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you.” - Saint Thomas Aquinas

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. Give examples of how Jesus surrenders his heart to God.

 

2. Give examples of how you surrender your heart to God.

 

3. Give examples of how Jesus surrenders his soul to God.

 

4. Give examples of how you surrender your soul to God.

 

5. Give examples of how Jesus surrenders his mind to God.

 

6. Give examples of how you surrender your mind to God.

 

7. Give examples of how Jesus surrenders to God with all His strength.

 

8. Give examples of how you surrender to God with all your strength.

 

9. From whence do you find your strength?

 

10. In which of these areas--heart, soul, mind or strength--could you use more improvement, support and assistance?

 

11.  Describe what you can do to improve and what you need from others. 

 

 

By Susan Boudreau 

Week 68: Persevere to Success: A  Reflection on Acts 5:41

 

“The apostles, for their part, left the Sanhedrin full of joy that they had been judged worthy of ill-treatment for the sake of the name.” (Acts 5:41)

 

 

That’s a strange reaction isn’t it? The apostles do not only accept suffering.

 

The apostles do not only embrace suffering. The apostles rejoice in suffering.

 

 

That concept is foreign to us. Why do they react so strongly to being whipped? Because they remember the words that Jesus spoke, “Blessed are you, when they curse you, and revile you, and utter every kind of slander against you for my name sake. Be glad and rejoice, for great is your reward in heaven. They persecuted the prophets before you in the very same way.” (MT 5:11, 12)

 

 

The apostles never took their eyes off the goal. The apostles never let themselves forget the big picture. The apostles understood that persecution and suffering were bringing them closer to God.

 

 

A Catholic evangelist speaker from Australia, Matthew Kelly, said that as a young boy, he became fascinated with the lives of rich and famous people.

 

 

He said he used to think, “Gee, I hope that happens to me someday, because I’d really like to be rich.” Then he said he realized as a teenager that was a fatal mistake. It was a mistake because successful people don’t sit around thinking, “Gee, I hope that happens to me someday.” Successful people go out and make that success happen.

 

 

Matthew Kelly said he studied the lives of all kinds of famous people; athletes, business tycoons, actors and actresses, musicians, saints and he started to see a pattern. He said that first, most successful people work out where they are, with all their strengths and virtues, weaknesses and vices.

Many times they write it down. Then they work out where they want to be, and they write that down. They work out how to get from where they are to where they want to be. They write down their goal. They define it. They sharpen it and they remind themselves of that goal constantly.  

 

 

A successful ballplayer doesn’t say, “I want to be a ballplayer.” A successful ballplayer works out what position he wants to play, and what team he wants to play for. Then he spends every spare moment, training for that position.

 

 

Successful people devote their lives to their goal. They’re driven toward it.

 

 

Whenever they encounter an obstacle they climb over it, or go around it, or if they have to, they punch through it. But they don’t let anything stand between them and that goal. And you know what? They reach their goals.

 

 

And every time they do, they put you and me, and every other confirmed Catholic to shame, because the last time I checked perseverance was a virtue and they’ve got it, and so many of us don’t. That’s the reason they succeed. They have a clear goal in their mind and they don’t let anything deter them from that goal. They persevere.

 

 

That’s why the apostles could rejoice at being whipped for Jesus’ name. They saw worldly abuse and suffering as bringing them that much closer to sanctity. We have to have the same attitude. If we want to be spiritually successful, we have to be as driven toward our goal as worldly people are toward theirs. We have to persevere as the apostles did, not moan and groan over all our problems and sufferings, but rejoice in them, because every suffering we endure brings us that much closer to God.

 

 

Blessed Be God Forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote From a Saint: “Not the goods of the world, but God. Not riches, but God. Not honors, but God. Not distinction, but God. Not dignities, but God. Not advancement, but God. God always and in everything.”  -- Saint Vincent Pallotti

 

 

“Trials are nothing else but the forge that purifies the soul of all its imperfections.” --Saint Mary Magdalen de'Pazzi, OCD 

 

 

Prayer By a Saint: “Father, keep us from vain strife of words. Grant to us constant profession of the Truth! Preserve us in a true and undefiled faith so that we may hold fast to that which we professed when we were baptized in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that we may have Thee for our Father, that we may abide in Thy Son and in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.” --Saint Hilary of Poitiers

 


 Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. What is your primary goal?

 

2. Is there merit in suffering and if so, what is it? 

 

3. How do suffering and persecution bring us closer to God? 

 

4. Bl Mary of Jesus Crucified "The Little Arab" is quoted as saying, “I desire to suffer always and not to die. I should add: this is not my will, it is my inclination. It is sweet to think of Jesus; but it is sweeter to do His will.”  Describe your understanding of the distiction she makes that suffering is not her will, but her inclination. 

 

5. What has suffering or persecution accomplished in your life? 

 

6. Where are you now, with all your strengths and virtues, weaknesses and vices?

 

7. Where do you want to be and in what timeframe?

 

8. How do you get from where you are to where you want to be? 

 

9. What deterrents or obstacles can you anticipate? 

 

10.  What will drive you to success?

 

 

By Susan Boudreau

Week 69: Dying For Love: A Reflection on John 15:13

 

 

“There is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

 

 

Saint John, more than any other evangelist, deals with the question of what love is and what love isn’t. We can certainly draw the conclusion that love is a serious commitment, a demanding commitment.

 

 

In this passage, Jesus lays down the harshest condition for love, the laying down of one’s own life. I think that’s something we can all relate to on one level. We, who have chosen to follow the vocational life, have laid down our lives, in a way, for the sake of God’s family. You who are married understand certainly that family life is a continual laying your own will down to another’s. Then why are so many people unhappy, unloving, and unfulfilled?

 

 

When I have couples who are getting married come in to start their marriage paperwork, I usually ask them to tell me their story: how they met, when they knew that this person was the one they wanted to marry, etc. Through all this I try to communicate to them that love is not something we fall into. That’s a big misnomer in our society today. I stumbled and fell in love, oh and look, I got it all over my new suit! No. We don’t fall in love. We grow in love. That takes time. That takes effort.

 

 

Love is either growing or it’s dying. It’s never stagnant. If the greatest love is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, and we are constantly trying to emulate the perfect love of our savior, that means we have to be constantly laying down our lives. That means we have to be constantly dying to self. Because if we don’t, we’ll get jaded, cold, stale.

 

 

In seminary, we thought that the goal was to get to ordination. If I can just make it to ordination I’m golden. I quickly learned that trials do not end at ordination. Trials begin at ordination. Then the real test of dying to self begins. In seminary, no one calls to be anointed at 2:00 am. In seminary, you don’t get deeply involved in people’s lives. One of the joys of my priesthood has been youth ministry, but it’s also my curse. I learned early on that the first rule of youth ministry is that the kids will break your heart. The second is that, no matter how hard you try, you can’t change that first rule. You teach them, do prayer groups with them, and go to youth conferences with them. They get excited about the faith. You get excited that they get excited about the faith, but then, too often, in high school or in college, they turn their back on the faith and choose to go the way of the world. It’s heartbreaking, because you see their potential, and you know they’re setting themselves up for a fall, and you can’t stop it.

 

           

Then is the time to die to self. You pray and fast so that eventually they find their way home. In this way, the priesthood is not unlike marriage. I’m sure it was easy to live on love when you got engaged. But once you married and started living together and the kids starting coming, I’m also sure that changed rather quickly. Then it was time to die to self.

 

 

“Die to self.” We all get unhappy sometimes. We all experience disappointment, but the way to protect ourselves from despair, when we want to give up, is to remember that we live to serve others, be that in active ministry or in the married life. In both, we lay down our lives for love of him, who laid down his life for love of us.

 

           

The more we die to self, the more room we make for him to fill us with his Grace, so we can have peace in the midst of those dark times, because we know that he is near.

 

 

Blessed Be God Forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote From a Saint: “Love is the most necessary of all virtues. Love in the person who preaches the word of God is like fire in a musket. If a person were to throw a bullet with his hands, he would hardly make a dent in anything; but if the person takes the same bullet and ignites some gunpowder behind it, it can kill. It is much the same with the word of God. If it is spoken by someone who is filled with the fire of charity- the fire of love of God and neighbor- it will work wonders." -- Saint Anthony Mary Claret

 

 

Prayer by a Saint “Does our life become from day to day more painful, more oppressive, more replete with sufferings? Blessed be He a thousand times who desires it so. If life be harder, love makes it also stronger, and only this love, grounded on suffering, can carry the Cross of my Lord, Jesus Christ. I believe, O Lord, but strengthen my faith; Heart of Jesus, I love Thee, but increase my love. Heart of Jesus, I trust in Thee, but give greater vigor to my confidence. Heart of Jesus, I give my heart to Thee, but so enclose it in Thee that it may never be separated from Thee. Heart of Jesus, I am all Thine, but take care of my promise so that I may be able to put it in practice even unto the complete sacrifice of my life.” -- Blessed Miguel Pro, S.J.

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

1. Make a list of saints and holy men and women who exemplify for you love great enough to lay down their life.

 

2. What traits do you have in common with these saints and holy people?

 

3. Is there any trait you think they had that you do not?

 

4. Describe your greatest act of love. 

 

5. What within you made that act of love possible?

 

6. What did you experience as a result of that act of love?

 

7. From what would you need to detach yourself in order to lay down your life for a friend? 

 

8. Describe your feelings about laying down your life for an enemy or someone who has hurt you or someone you dearly love.

 

9. What would you need in order to lay down your life for an enemy?

 

10. How could you acquire what you need?  

 

 

By Susan Boudreau

Week 70: Praying in the Spirit: A Reflection on Ephesians 6: 18-19

 

“At every opportunity pray in the spirit, using prayers and petitions of every sort. Pray constantly and attentively for all in the holy company. Pray for me that God may put his word on my lips, that I may courageously make known the mystery of the Gospel….” (Ephesians 6:18-19)

 

“At every opportunity pray in the Spirit.” What does that mean?

 

There’s another reference to this “praying in the Spirit,” in the beginning of John’s Revelation. “I was praying in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.”

 

Now some have argued that this is simply a reference to going to Mass. The basis for this argument is John’s reference to the Lord’s Day, Sunday. I don’t buy that explanation for a few reasons.

 

First, the whole reason why the Lord allows John to experience the visions he does in Revelation is because he’s in exile on the island of Patmos, and can’t celebrate Mass, at least not with his community. So God, seeing John praying in the Spirit, allows him to share in the heavenly liturgy.

 

Another reason I don’t think the reference in Ephesians 6 is a Mass reference is because Paul makes several references to the Mass in other letters. He always refers to Mass as the “breaking of the bread,” or the “partaking in the one bread and one cup.” Paul never refers to Mass as "praying in the Spirit."

 

Others speculate that praying in the Spirit could be a reference to charismatic prayer. This is very plausible since both John and Paul were connected with charismatic communities, but I think this also misses the mark.

 

If I may speculate, and this is only speculation on my part, I think praying in the Spirit means being open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That can be done in charismatic prayer but it’s certainly not limited to that.

 

I think both John and Paul are making references to contemplative prayer. We cannot do anything to become a contemplative pray-er. That’s something God has to do. All we can do is meditative prayer. That is, we can meditate on the events of the Lord’s life in Scripture as the blessed Mother meditated on the events of her son’s life throughout Scripture.

 

Meditative prayer becomes contemplative, when God takes over the experience, just as God took over the experience of John’s prayer experience in Revelation. So Paul puts a great deal of importance on prayer of this kind, because prayer of this kind, contemplative prayer, draws us into the experience of God.

 

But Paul isn’t done yet. He then says, “Pray constantly and attentively for all in the holy company.” In other words, pray for the Church.

 

You’ll notice in Sunday Mass, whenever we do the prayers of the faithful, the first intention is always for the universal Church. But this is something we should also be doing in our personal prayers. We should be praying for the Church to be protected from demonic influences. We should always be praying for the growth of the Church through conversions. And we should be praying for members of the Church who are suffering persecution.

 

And finally Paul says “pray for me.” And what does Paul ask the Ephesians to pray for? Paul wants them to pray that the Lord puts His words on Paul’s lips, that is, make him an effective preacher and evangelist. And pray that Paul has courage to make known the mystery of the Gospel.

 

The last thing we should pray for is the priesthood and leaders of the Church. To pray that the Lord puts His words on our lips to make us effective preachers and evangelists. Whenever someone compliments me on a homily, I always say, “Pray for me.” Because I know it’s only the Spirit of God that allows me to do this. And pray that we have courage, and this is needed especially today. Priests and bishops can’t afford to be timid about making the tough moral stands.

 

My brothers and sisters, the Church needs people right now to be praying in the spirit, and not just praying for themselves, but for the Church and the priesthood. It is my prayer today that we all answer that call.

 

And God be praised forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco 

 

Quote from a Saint

 

Those whose hearts are pure are the temples of the Holy Spirit. (St. Lucy)

 

Prayer  from a Saint

 

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 but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen. (Saint Augustine)

 

Questions for Reflection

 

1.    Do you pray in the Holy Spirit? How often? How do you do this?

 

2.    What is the difference between meditation and contemplation?

 

3.    St. Lucy said that those whose hearts are pure are temples of the Holy Spirit. Why would this be? Is the converse true—unless you are pure, the Holy Spirit cannot dwell within you? What is the basis of your conclusion?

 

4.    Do you pray for the Church and the priesthood? If not, how might you begin? Why is prayer for the Church and priesthood important?

 

5.    How can you be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit?

 

6.    Have you ever felt the Holy Spirit at work in your life? When?  What was the result of that work?

 

7.    We receive the Holy Spirit at Confirmation. How can we enliven the Spirit in our souls?

 

8.    Why should prayer to the Holy Spirit be part of our daily prayer life?

 

By Madeline Pecora Nugent

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