28 February 2008

Schism & the Divided Kingdom

How inseperable the sacrament of unity is, and how without hope they are, and what exceeding perdition they purchase to themselves from the wrath of God, who make a schism, and abandoning their bishop set up for themselves another false bishop from without.

Holy Scripture declares in the Book of Kings, how ten tribes severed from the tribe of Judah and Benjamin, and abandoning their king, set up another for themselves without (1 Kings 12:17). "The Lord," it says, "was very angry with all the seed of Israel, and removed them away, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until He had cast them out of His sight; for Israel was rent from the house of David, and they made themselves a king, Jeroboam the son of Nebat." (2 Kings 17:20-21)

It is said that "the Lord was very angry," and gave them up to perdition, because they were seperated from unity, and had set up for themselves another king. And so great was the anger of the Lord against those who had caused the schism, that even when the man of God was sent to Jeroboam to reproach him for his sins, and to foretell the vengeance that would follow, he was forbidden "to eat bread or drink water" with them; which when he did not observe, and against the command of God took food (1 Kings 13:19), he was immediately stricken by the majesty of the Divine judgement, so that returning thence he was slain in the way by the jaws of a lion who came against him (1 Kings 13:24).

And does any one dare to say that the saving water of Baptism and heavenly grace can be in common with schismatics, with whom neither earthly food nor this world's drink ought to be in common?

~St. Cyprian of Carthage (3rd Century), Epistle 69

27 February 2008

Joy in Sorrow

The theme of joy kept coming up in my morning readings today.
"Joy? But it's Lent. Aren't you supposed to be sour-faced and serious?"

Not at all. One saint remembered today is Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother:

Baptized as Francis (after his hometown saint in Asissi) in 1838, he was from a family of thirteen children. Though fun-loving and well liked, Francis was bored and felt like something was missing. During two different illnesses he promised the Virgin Mary that if he recovered he would become a religious. He recovered, but didn't fulfill his promise.

During a procession he saw the icon of the Sorrowful Mother and she looked right at him. Then he heard a voice say, "Francis, the world is not for you anymore." He entered the Passionist monastery at the age of eighteen and took the name "Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother".

St. Gabriel spent most of his time thinking about the passion of Jesus and how much the Lord had suffered for him. He loved the Holy Eucharist and the Virgin Mary. You would think that his constant meditation on the suffering of Christ and sorrow of His Mother would make him gloomy, yet he was always happy and spread that happiness to those around him.

"Innocence alone gives true joy," declared Fr. Ignatius of the Side of Jesus (another Passionist Father and contemporary of St. Gabriel), "Those who seek to serve God, to please God, and to despise the world, feel a joy very different from the poisoned joy of worldlings. Their joy is the joy grounded on religion, altogether spiritual, all conformable with the nature of the soul; and this alone is able to content and satiate it. Their joy is a sweet joy, a tranquil joy, an abundant joy, which nothing can disturb, which must be possessed in order to form the right idea of it. Join yourself to good people in their practices of piety, in their spiritual exercises, in visiting churches; but keep from profane amusements, where there breathes nothing but profligacy and licentiousness. Fly from noise and dissipation; love solitude and retirement; for there God speaks to the heart and gives real gladness" ~From The Christian Armed Against the Seductions of the World and the Illusions of His own Heart (1865)

Frederick William Faber explained that Mary's sorrow was caused by her love, "O Mother! we cannot tell how it was, only that so it was! You were all joy, and being so near God, how could you help but be so? You were all sorrow, and what else could you be in those dark abysses of the Passion? And your sorrow had no power over your joy; but your joy had power over your sorrow, and gave it a brisker acid, a more volatile and pervasive bittreness! Glad creature! sorrow crushed you, and then a joy, like that of heaven, sat upon your burden, and made it tenfold more hard to bear!"
~The Foot of the Cross (1858)

Cardinal Suenens of blessed memory said that suffering does not destroy hope, "...joy lies at a depth beyond the reach of man. Joy is something Christ Himself expressly promised to His disciples: 'Your gladness will be one nobody can take away from you.' (Jn. 16:22) The promise was explicit, the pledge sacred. Every Christian who is obedient to the law of God holds the key of serenity and joy in his hands, if he submits to the filial way to all the demands of that law. Christianity is in itself a source of happiness to the individual, tha family and society."
~Christian Life Day by Day (1964)
"O my God, when shall I begin to be wise, and seek real joy in Thee only and in Thy love? This very day--yea, this very moment!" ~Fr. Ignatius of the Side of Jesus, C.P.

Vocations on the Rise

Last year saw a 62% jump in inquiries into Catholic religious life and a 30% increase in number of people in first stages of formation according to Vision Vocation Network.

"The majority of those who are considering religious life are under 30 and quite serious about choosing religious life—about one in five plan on entering a religious community in the next year, while another 64% are seriously considering it.”

Not only is there an increase in young people entering the religious life, "vocation directors—both men and women—commented on an increased interest among inquirers in wearing a habit or traditional religious garb."

Check out the results of the survey HERE

In related news, here's a story from the Boston Globe called The Unexpected Monks about evangelicals turning to monasticism. Sure, it's their own version of it based on their "discovery" of Catholic and Orthodox spirituality, but it is interesting to note.

Oblates of the last Martyrdom is a Catholic apostolate with many similarities to the so-called "new monastics" of evangelicalism.

26 February 2008


Is conversion necessary for all persons? Some apparently need it less than others. They have always led, it may be, an outwardly blameless life. They have never fallen into open sin. But even they need converting grace, for their hearts, by nature, are turned away from God, and they must be drawn towards Him by the power of the Holy Spirit. The change in such persons may not be very manifest. their conversion may be so gradual, so unmarked, that it is hardly noticed, even by themselves; but still the change takes place and the work is God's.

~Bishop Ashton Oxended of Montreal, Anglican Metropolitan of Canada, "Thoughts for Lent" (1873)

Give perfection to beginners; give understanding to the little ones; give aid to those who are running their course. Give compunction to the negligent; give fervor of spirit to the lukewarm; give to the perfect a good consummation. Even so, Lord Jesus!

O God, who rejects not the greatest sinner, but in loving pity is reconciled to him by penitence; mercifully regard our lowly supplications, and give us strength to fulfil Your commandments.

O God, who justifies the wicked, and desires not the death of a sinner, we humbly beseech your Majesty to bountifully protect with heavenly succour, and to preserve, by Your continual help, we Your servants, who trust only in Your mercy; so that we may constantly serve You, and that no temptation may seperate us from You.

~ Prayer for Tuesdays from "A Few Devotional Helps for Lent & Passion-tide" (1858)

**For more on Conversion, check out "Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer" by Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M. from Ignatius Press. Also, Fr. Thomas has sermons in Real Media at EWTN including "Degrees of Conversion".

25 February 2008

Ex more docti mystico

Now with the slow-revolving year,
Again the Fast we greet;
Which in its mystic circle moves
Of forty days complete;

That Fast, by Law and Prophets taught,
By Jesus Christ restored;
Jesus, of seasons and of times
The Maker and the Lord.

Henceforth more sparing let us be
Of food, of words, of sleep;
Henceforth beneath a stricter guard
The roving senses keep.

And let us shun whatever things
Distract the careless heart;
And let us shut our souls against
The tyrant Tempter's art;

And weep before the Judge,
and strive His vengeance to appease ;
Saying to Him with contrite voice,
Upon our bended knees:

Much have we sinn'd, O Lord!
and still We sin each day we live;
Yet look in pity from on high,
And of thy grace forgive.

Remember that we still are thine,
Though of a fallen frame;
And take not from us in thy wrath
The glory of thy name.

Undo past evil; grant us, O Lord,
More grace to do aright;
So may we now and ever find
Acceptance in thy sight.

Blest Trinity in Unity!
Vouchsafe us, in thy love,
To gather from these fasts below
Immortal fruit above.

~ Tr. Edward Caswall, Breviary Hymns (1873)

24 February 2008

Crucis Adoratio

This is the 3rd Sunday of Great Lent--that means we are halfway to Pascha (Easter). For Byzantine Catholics it is dedicated to the "Adoration of the Holy Cross". The Cross is the center of our faith, so here it is at the center of our Lenten journey.

This is a good time to review your spiritual progress (or lack of it). Have you been fasting, praying, and giving to the poor? Have you been controlling the passions?

Have you even observed Lent? It's not too late to start. Lay down your life at the foot of the Holy Cross. The season of sacrifice continues.

"Hail! life-giving Cross, the fair Paradise of the Church, Tree of incorruption that brings us the enjoyment of eternal glory: through you the hosts of demons have been driven back; and the hierarchies of angels rejoice with one accord, as the congregations of the faithful keep the feast. You are an invincible weapon, an unbroken stronghold; your are the victory of kings and the glory of priests. Grant us now to draw near to the Passion of Christ and to His Resurrection." ~From Great Vespers

The following Troparion and Kontakion are sung in the Byzantine Catholic Church today:

Save Your people, O Lord, and bless Your inheritence. Grant victory to Your Church over evil, and protect Your people by Your cross.

No longer does the flaming sword guard the gates of Eden, for the tree of the Cross has come to quench it wondrously. The sting of death and the victory of Hades have been driven out.

23 February 2008

Angel of Smyrna

Apostolic Father of the second century, disciple of St. John the Theologian, Friend of St. Ignatius of Antioch, defender of the faith against heresy, Bishop of Smyrna (Rev. 2:8), Martyr--February 23 is the feast of St. Polycarp.

At 86, the Romans tried to burn him alive in a stadium in Smyrna but the flames did not harm him so he was stabbed and his body burned.

His intercessions are very effective against earaches. How people figure out these things seems strange to me. Some time over the last 2000 years someone with an earache decided to pray to St. Polycarp and God healed them so other people with earaches asked for his prayers. Suddenly he's God's go-to guy for earaches.

Since my surgery I've been suffering from an earache, so here goes: "Saint Polycarp, who burned as sweet incense in the censor of the Eternal Priest, pray to Him that my earache may be healed. Holy martyr, help me to endure all things for the glory of Christ. Amen."

St. Irenaeus writes: "But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried on earth a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true."

22 February 2008

Schism and the Sons of Korah

What means that loud portentious cry of terror strange from yonder tent?
From Korah and his company, that strange portentious cry is sent.
A Levite priestly power he sought, And Aaron, saint of God, opposed:
Her prey the opening earth has caught, And o'er the rash intruder closed.

~ Richard Mant, Bishop of Down & Connor

This poem was entitled "Hymn Commemorative of the Punishment of Schism" and is found in an old book called "Ancient Hymns from the Roman Breviary to which are Added Original Hymns" from 1871.

Two hundred and fifty leaders, men of renown, gathered together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, "You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?" (Num. 16:2-3)

How many times do I hear that one? Many Protestants think that the "priesthood of all believers" means that there aren't men called and anointed by God to serve as Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. They are confused, just like the sons of Korah.

Many Israelites felt that Moses and Aaron had mislead the people. How often is this charge brought against the Church? Despite what the people felt, even when Moses did make a mistake, he was still God's chosen leader and had authority over the congregation. Jesus pointed out that the authority of Moses passed down to his successors, even if they were hypocrites: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do." (Mt. 23:1-2)

Korah and the wanna-be priests were swallowed up by the earth, and later their followers were consumed by fire. What I find interesting is that their offering was still considered holy (Num 16:37-38), yet they were punished for their rebellion. The censors were hammered out as a covering on the altar, "to be a memorial to the children of Israel that no outsider, who is not a descendant of Aaron, should come near to offer incense before the LORD, that he might not become like Korah and his companions, just as the LORD had said to him through Moses." (Num 16:39-40)

Jesus gave the keys to His kingdom to St. Peter (Mt. 16:19). Those who are not successors (descendants) of the first Bishop of Rome do not have the same authority. This is the history behind today's feast of "The Chair of St. Peter". The other leaders of the church also have their hierchical authority given by God (1 Cor 12:28), but St. Peter had primacy that he passed on just like Moses.
Strict judgement came upon the schismatics and their followers. Will God do the same to those who cause division in His Church? What will happen to those who assume authority outside of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church?

St. Jude connects the account of the sons of Korah from Numbers 16 with Schism from the Catholic Church.

"But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe." (Jude 1:5) "Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries." (Jude 1:8) "Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah." (Jude 1:11)

The second century Apostolic Father, St. Ireneus of Lyons wrote that Christian tradition is "derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also by pointing out the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre-eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those faithful men who exist everywhere." (Against Heresies III, 3:2)

Grant Me a Spirit of Chastity

This is a rather lengthy post, but well worth reading. As mentioned previously I found much edification in praying the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian. Well, from Google Books I downloaded Meditations for every Wednesday and Friday in Lent on a Prayer of St. Ephraim. It was translated from the Russian in 1859 by Rev. S.C. Malan (Anglican). This is some powerful stuff and well worth the read. What follows are excerpts from Meditation #6 for the Third Friday in Lent.

If any spirit is to be obtained from above by prayer, it is assuredly that of chastity: for in order to cherish this virtue we have to fight with our own individual nature; and, in the words of a great good man, "where our nature is overcome, there must be present the virtue which has overcome it. In vain you will strive to drive from your own heart the spirit of carnal lust by the arguments and the contradictions of philosophers: because that spirit can present itself with equal reason on its side, and will contend with us with arguments ad hominem. The man, therefore, who wishes to overcome his flesh in his own strength, exerts himself in vain. But rather, let him lay before Him his utter weakness, and then that man will insensibly recieve from the Lord the gift of chastity."

He who wishes to be chaste, must, after the advice of holy men, not only attend as often as he can public prayer, but also have always ready at hand a short prayer for purity, against every temptation to sin. But namely, when, say they, you feel in your heart the rising of some carnal desire, through either your eyes, your ears, or even your own nature, then turn at once your thoughts toward Christ in prayer for help, and continue therein, until you have recieved support from Him. Having thus withdrawn your attention from that spark of sin, which had fallen into your heart, you will yourself take from it the breath that would have fanned it into flame; and it will go out. And then a dew of blessing will fall on you, for the temptation that is overcome.
Next to prayer, nothing tends to preserve chastity so much as fasting and labor. in fact, take away the fuel from under the pot, and the fire will go out itself: take way from a body given to luxury, food, and satiety, and the love of sensuality will go. The body when wearied with labor and not with the working of passions, seeks quiet and repose. On the contrary, however, idleness and self-indulgence are the never-failing source of sensuality. The man, therefore, who imagines that he can preserve his chastity in the midst of the indulgence and luxury to which he is disposed, might as well lie down in the mire, and expect to rise from it without a spot. He may, it is true, succeed in daily life in preserving the purity of his body; but, as to that of his soul, he loses it without a doubt.

For the same reason, he who wishes to preserve the cleanliness of his body and he who strives to keep his soul pure, both embrace the same opportunities to flee from whatever would evidently soil either: therefore, after the example of the holy man Job, we must make a covenant with our eyes, our ears and all our senses. For, it is not in vain that the Prophet calls our seses inlets, through which sorrow enters into the soul. All sins love to enter at those inlets; but no sin does it so readily as the lust of the flesh: therefore ought those openings to be well guarded; and not opened at random. And since it cannot be, but that we must both see and hear what offends us, it behoves us to have ready by us a spiritual antidote, to be used on such occasions. By these means at the time when anything happens that is an offence to us, let us at once, not only pray from the heart, but also think devotedly of the cross of Christ and of His wounds made on Him there for the cleansing of our souls from sin; or else let us think of His actual death and burial. Thus the presence of that scandal is left surely and quickly without power in us.

The very thing which kindles the lust of the flesh, may be used with advantage, like a remedy against passions. "Does the flesh allure you in the grave," asks St. Demetri of Rostov, "by wounding you with the beauty of the bodily form? No. Then, when that beautiful living form begins to smite your heart, think of it lying in the grave, hideous, a prey to worms and corruption, and it loses all attraction to you."

What then, do you ask, is the man to do, who has the misfortune of being given to the lusts of the flesh, and is held captive by sinful habits? That, beloved brethren, which we do when fallen into some deep and rugged chasm; we look about to see where we are; then placing ourselves under the protection of the Cross of Christ, and calling for the help of God and our guardian angel, we begin to come forth from thence; we climb, as best we may, with hands and feet, it is true; but still we are coming out; we get covered with crumbling earth and gravel; but still we are coming out: we feel sore and weary in all our members; but still we are coming out: we slip and at times we fall, but at last we are out of danger. When we act in this manner, and make use on our part of every means in our power; then, be sure, a stregth and a power against which nothing will avail, will comeforth in us; a hand we do not see upholds us, and a help which we can see often comes to our aid, sent by Him Who leaves the ninety and nine sheep and seeks in the wilderness the one that was lost.

Heavenly Father, and God of truth, Who sent Your beloved Son to seek the sheep that was lost, I have sinned against heaven and in Your sight, recieve me back like the prodigal son, and put on me the first robe of innocence which I lost by sin. And have mercy on me a great sinner. Amen.

21 February 2008

Uproot Hidden Weeds

Last night I went to a Presanctified Divine Liturgy at Holy Protection Byzantine Catholic Church here in Denver. Fr. Michael gave a wonderful sermon about Noah's Ark not just being a nice kid's story. He reminded us that outside the boat there were storms, dead bodies, and animal carcasses floating in the water. Not only should we be thankful that we are safe in the boat with all the cute animals, but we should also reflect on the death that is around us as the result of sin.

Another highlight for me was the Prayer of St. Ephraim. This prayer is recited during Lent by Eastern Catholics and Orthodox Christians. The translation I learned was different from how we recited it last night, but the difference made quite an impact: "Spare me from the spirit of indifference... bestow on me integrity".

Here are both versions:

Byzantine Catholic
Lord and Master of my life, spare me from the spirit of indifference, despair, lust for power, and idle chatter. (Prostration)
Instead, bestow on me, your servant, the spirit of integrity, humility, patience, and love. (Prostration)
Yes, O Lord and King, let me see my own sins and not judge my brothers and sisters; for you are blessed forever and ever. Amen. (Prostration)

Eastern Orthodox
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust for power and idle talk.(Prostration)
But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love.(Prostration)
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brothers and sisters. For blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen.(Prostration)

Hymn on Fasting 1.9
The Troubler mixes filth with our Clarity,
So as to make the first-fruits of our prayer and fasting hateful.
It is possible by his jealousy, that our gift be rebuked.
Take away your deceits from your fasts,
remove mockery from your praise.
May your voices wash your mouths from lies.
Allow us, O First Born in your mercy
To uproot hidden weeds from our thoughts.
~St. Ephraim the Syrian

St. Ephraim's Psalm 120

Grant forgiveness, O Lord, send also strength. Convert me, that I might live in sanctity, according to Thy holy will. Sanctify my heart that has become a den and dwelling-place of demons.

I am unworthy to ask forgiveness for myself, O Lord, for many times have I promised to repent and proved myself a liar by not fulfilling my promise. Thou hast picked me up many times already, but every time I freely chose to fall again.

Therefore I condemn myself and admit that I deserve all manner of punishment and torture. How many times hast Thou enlightened my darkened mind; yet every time I return again to base thoughts! My whole body trembles when I contemplate this; yet every time sinful sensuality reconquers me.

How shall I recount all the gifts of Thy grace, O Lord, that I the pitiful one have received? Yet I have reduced them all to nothing by my apathy -- and I continue on in this manner. Thou has bestowed upon me thousands of gifts, yet miserable me, I offer in return things repulsive to Thee.

Yet Thou, O Lord, inasmuch as Thou containest a sea of longsuffering and an abyss of kindness, do not allow me to be felled as a fruitless fig tree; and do not let me be burned without having ripened on the field of life. Snatch me not away unprepared; seize not me who have not yet lit my lamp; take not away me who have no wedding garment; but, because Thou art good and the lover of mankind, have mercy on me. Give me time to repent, and place not my soul stripped naked before Thy terrible and unwavering throne as a pitiful spectacle of infamy.

If a righteous man can barely be saved, then where will I end up, I who am lawless and sinful? If the path that leads to life is strait and narrow, then how can I be vouchsafed such good things, I who live a life of luxury, indulging in my own pleasures and dissipation? But Thou, O Lord, my Saviour, Son of the true God, as Thou knowest and desirest it, by Thy grace alone, freely turn me away from the sin that abides in me and save me from ruin.
**From A Spiritual Psalter by our Holy Father St Ephraim of Edessa, the Syrian; excerpted and arranged by Bishop Theophan the Recluse according to the manner of the Psalter of the Old Testament.

20 February 2008

Always on Time

God always helps. He always comes in time, but patience is necessary. He hears us immediately when we cry out to Him, but not in accordance with our own way of thinking.

You think that your voice did not immediately reach the saints, our Panagia (Mary), and Christ. On the contrary, even before you cried out, the saints rushed to your aid, knowing that you would call upon them and seek their God-given protection. However, since you do not see beyond what is apparent and do not know how God governs the world, you want your request to be fulfilled like lightning. But this is not how things are. The Lord wants patience. He wants you to show your faith. You cannot just pray like a parrot. It is necessary also to work towards whatever one prays for, and then to learn to wait. You see that what you longed for in the past has finally happened. However, you were harmed because you didn’t have the patience to wait, in which case you would have gained both the one and the other: both the temporal and the eternal.

Now you become angry and fainthearted and grieved, thinking that the heavenly Father is slow in answering. But I tell you that this will also happen as you desire—it will definitely happen—but first it takes prayer with all your soul, and then you must wait. And when you have forgotten your request and have ceased asking for it, it will come to you as a reward for your patience and endurance. When you reach the verge of despair while praying and seeking, then the fulfillment of your request is near. Christ wants to heal some hidden passion within you, and this is why He delays in granting your request. If you obtain it sooner, when you demand it, your passion remains uncured within you. If you wait, you obtain your request and the cure of the passion. And then you rejoice exceedingly and give warm thanks to God Who arranges all things in wisdom and does everything for our benefit.

So then, there is no point in losing heart, getting upset, complaining. You must close your mouth. Let no one perceive that you are disturbed. Don’t fume with anger, as if to work it out of your system, but rather be calm. Burn the devil through patience and forbearance.

~ Elder Joseph the Hesychast (+1959),
Orthodox monk and elder on Mount Athos

83 Years of Marriage!

Clarence, 101, and Mayme Vail, 99 of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, celebrated their 83rd anniversary, possibly making them the longest married couple alive in the United States.

When Clarence became critically ill with tuberculosis in 1948, Mayme made a promise to God that if her husband survived, she would attend mass every day -- a promise she kept until last year when health issues forced them to move into an assisted-living center.

Their family includes six children, 39 grandchildren, 101 great-grandchildren and 40 great-great grandchildren.

Read the Whole Story

19 February 2008

Rite of Election 2008

"Last Sunday hundreds of people who are entering the Catholic Church in Northern Colorado this Easter gathered in our cathedral for the Rite of Election. Next Sunday there will be hundreds more doing the same. All total, more than 1,100 — that’s a lot of people! Hasn’t anyone told them what a mess the Church can be? Are they not aware of all the scandals of the past 10 years? Why don’t they turn to a more vague Eastern religion — don’t they know it isn’t “cool” to be Catholic anymore? And why are they choosing a faith that demands so many sacrifices in this age of convenience? What have they found that is so attractive about this antiquated, simple religion?"

Check out the rest of this article in the Denver Catholic Register by Chris Stefanick. He's a really cool guy who I met at Church when we were waiting for our daughters to get out of their girl's group. He's the director of the Denver Archdiocese’s Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry Office and will be speaking at this year's "Pure by Choice" rally.

Prayer for the Elect
Lord God, you created the human race and are the author of its renewal. Bless all your adopted children and all these chosen ones to the harvest of your new covenant. As true children of the promise, may they rejoice in eternal life, won, not by the power of nature, but through the mystery of your grace. Amen

Pray for Dennis

Please pray for Dennis, my friend and co-worker--a good Christian in a scary situation.

He's an older guy who had a hernia fixed a while back and it burst open again. Only this time, he doesn't have any health insurance. He's tough and stubborn, so he won't go into E.R. despite blood and puss. Also, he's afraid to take time off because he'll have no income while recovering.

So, here's what to pray for:
1. That the confusion caused by fear will lift so he will trust in God's care
2. That he will stop being stubborn and go to the hospital
3. That any medical care will be paid for
4. That a source of provision will help him and his wife during recovery
5. If it be God's will, complete healing in Jesus' Name

O God, with Whom it is an easy thing to give life to the dead; restore the sick to their former health, and let none that implore the healing of Your heavenly mercy be in want of the remedies of earthy medicine; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O Lord, holy father, Almighty and everlasting God, hear us, and preserve Your servant Dennis who You have given life, and whom You have redeemed by the price and the great gift of the Blood of Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.

I'm going to light an online candle for him right now and ask the Carmelites of Indiana to pray for him.

18 February 2008

Stichera for the Second Week of Lent

Christian, dost thou see them on the holy ground,
How the powers of darkness prowl and prowl around?
Christian, up and smite them, counting gain but loss,
Smite them by the merit of the Holy Cross!

Christian, dost thou feel them, how they work within,

Striving, tempting, luring, goading into sin?
Christian, never tremble; never be downcast;
smite them by the virtue of the Lenten fast.

Christian, dost thou hear them, how they speak thee fair?
"Always fast and vigil? Always watch and prayer?"
Christian, answer boldly: "While I breathe I pray!"
Peace shall follow battle, night shall end in day.

"Well I know thy trouble, O my servant true;
Thou art very weary, I was weary, too;
But that toil shall make thee some day all Mine own,
At the end of sorrow shall be near my throne."

~ St. Andrew of Crete (Tr. John Mason Neale)

17 February 2008

St. Gregory Palamas

The second Sunday of Lent in the Eastern tradition commemorates St. Gregory Palamas. This 14th century father of the East defended the use of the "Jesus Prayer" and the practices of the Hesychasts.

St. Gregory also established the Eastern Orthodox doctrine that distinguishes between the Essence of the Triune God and the Energies of God, which is what we experience. This caused some controversy between East and West, regardless, Pope John Paul II called him a saint, and the Holy See approved his commemoration among Byzantine Catholics. I'm glad, because I like St. Gregory.

We unite ourselves to Christ, in so far as this is possible, by participating in the godlike virtues and by entering into communion with Him through prayer and praise. Because the virtues are similitudes of God, to participate in them puts us in a fit state to receive Christ, yet it does not actually unite us to Him. But prayer through its sacred and priestly power actualizes our ascent to and union with Christ, for it is a bond between intellectual creatures and their Creator.

~ Three Texts on Prayer and Purity of Heart (14th Century)

**St. Gregory uses big theological words like "sacral", "hieratic", and "noetic". I decided to substitute these words with ones easier to understand.

Kontakion of the Holy Relics (Tone Eight)
Through penance and mortification, the holy martyrs of Christ have overcome the disorder of their burning passions. During their lifetime, they had received the grace of healing the sick; after their death, they have the power of performing miracles. It is a great marvel indeed that healing should come forth from mere bones. Glory to the Creator, to God alone!

16 February 2008

What's Your Spiritual Type?

A while back I took an online quiz to find out what religion best fits me. I was scared at first. What if it tells me to become a Buddhist or something? It said I should be Roman Catholic. No, that's not how I came to the Church.

Well, here's another good one for those who like online quizzes. This one helps you discover your spirituality type. It's found on the Vision Vocations Network. Here's what mine said:

Path of Devotion (Augustinian prayer)

The majority of saints are of this spiritual temperament as well as 12 percent of the population (but half of those who go on retreats or belong to small faith groups). This method uses creative imagination to transpose the world of scripture to our situation today--as if the scripture passage is a personal letter from God addressed to each one of us (like Saint Augustine picking up Romans 13 and reading a message pointed directly at him). The essential element of this spirituality, going back to New Testament times (Jesus, Saint Paul, the early church fathers), is experiencing a personal relationship with God. Because they read between the lines and catch what is inexpressible and spiritual, those who follow the path of devotion best understand symbols and their use in the liturgy. This path concentrates on meditations that loosen the feelings and expand the ability to relate to and love others. The stress is on the love of self, others, and God. Those on this path can follow the four steps of the Lectio Divina: listen to what God says in scripture; reflect prayerfully and apply it to today; respond to God's word with personal feelings; remain quiet and stay open to new insights.

I've had a devotion to St. Augustine since my Bible college days when I started reading the Church Fathers. I have a daily devotional of his quotes that I read (a gift from an Eastern Orthodox priest). So, I'm not surprised by these results of this quiz. Some key elements of Augustinian Spirituality are that Holy Scripture is a primary place of encountering God, discovering God in community, the interior life, Apostolic service, and the promotion of Justice, Unity, Harmony, Peace and Reconciliation.

Practicing Augustinian prayer involves using your creative imagination. Since much of what is embedded in the passages of Scripture is the wisdom of God made down to earth by Biblical writers, through our intuitive and creative imagination, we can discover how to apply this wisdom to our situation. Important also is: openness to the Holy Spirit and His inspirations; sound and wise personal discernment; and seeking the counsel of mature and experienced spiritual directors.

A friend took the test and it came up Ignatian. This means that she would greatly benefit from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Interestingly, she has been using the Examen prayer recently as part of her Lenten discipline.

"Those who adopt Ignatian spirituality—whether they be Jesuits, members of other religious orders, or lay men and women—find themselves more and more being 'contemplative in action', finding God in whatever they do, if they do it with their whole being; finding God in whomever they serve, if they are fully honest and attentive in their service. So too, in the Ignatian heritage, we seek to find God in friends and colleagues, with affection and gratitude; and in prayer, in song, in solitary thought, in periods of contemplation; and in working together with others for the transformation of the world and the liberation of all women and men from every kind of oppression." (Oregon Province Jesuits website)

So, what's your type? Knowing it can help you find a method of prayer that suites the personality God gave you.

15 February 2008

Make Lent a Reality

Make the present Lent a reality; not looking upon it merely as a recognized ordinance, which comes before you in dry and lifeless form, when public opinion makes a sort of compromise with the world, and is content that some of the wilder enjoyments should be suspended for a certain number of weeks, whilst others less condemned, but perhaps equally frivolous, are allowed in their stead. But make it a real time of reckoning with God, and of forwarding the work of your own salvation.
Bishop Ashton Oxenden of Montreal
& Metropolitan of Canada (Anglican)
from "Thoughts for Lent" 1873
We beseech Thee, O Lord, that our earnest devotion may become fruitful through Thy grace; for then shall our fast be profitable to us, if it is well-pleasing to thy loving-kindness; through Jesus Christ our lord. Amen.

14 February 2008

Be Mine!

It's February 14th
and you know
what that means...

Will you be my
Cyril & Methodius?

These two Greek brothers from Thessaloniki brought the Gospel to the Slavs. Considered "equal-to-the-Apostles" in the Eastern churches (who celebrate their feast on May 24), they are the patron saints of Europe. Today is a public holiday in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, the Republic of Macedonia, and Slovakia.

The Slavic lands were a crossroads between East and West, and the brothers recieved the blessing of both Rome and Constantinople for their missionary work. Anothother thing to note is that the oldest Glagolitic liturgical fragments, brought from Jerusalem to Kiev, adhere more to the Latin form than the Byzantine. Many scholars argue that the first Slavonic Liturgy was Western, rather than Eastern (even "Western Rite" Orthodox claim this position). I bring this all up to celebrate these saints as representatives of the undivided Body of Christ.

Let us follow their example of evangelism by relating to the culture God sends us to. Rather than chocolate and flowers, I give you this Troparion in Tone 4:

O Cyril and Methodius, inspired by God, you became equal to the Apostles by your life. Since you were teachers of the Slavs, intercede with the Master of all That He may strengthen all peoples in the True Faith, and that He may grant peace to the world and great mercy to our souls.

13 February 2008

Here and There

The length of every Lent commemorates
Our Saviour's forty days and forty nights
Of fasting in the wilderness, and waits
Till Garden of Gethsemane invites
Us back to Paradise: paid for and won
Only by Second Adam, God the Son.

It rained upon the earth for forty days
And forty nights it rained upon the earth,
God sets his bow in heaven to amaze
Us by the beauty of His promise: worth
So much is each new rainbow by its meaning
That viewing it we reach for Truth, keep gleaning.

Moses for forty days and forty nights
Stayed fasting in the mount, obeyed the Lord
In setting down His law to set to rights
The sons of men: The Son of God's accord
With the mosaic pattern did far more
By Love fulfilling it than writ of yore.

For forty days and nights it did not rain,
The people hot got water on the brain,
The prophet prayed and it displayed again: Selah!

~John Bradburne, 1978

Copyright to this poem is owned or controlled by The John Bradburne Memorial Society

Third Order Franciscan, mystic, poet and friend of lepers. Born in England in 1921, John Bradburne served with the Gurkhas in Malaya and Burma during World War II. A Pauline like conversion led him to become a pilgrim seeker, first with the Benedictines, then the Carthusians, but remained a layman to the end. His search for God's will led him through England, Europe and the Holy Land, mostly on foot. In 1962 he went to "seek a cave" in Zimbabwe. Instead he found Mutemwa Leprosy Settlement. There he tended a flock of 80 leprosy patients with loving care, laying down his life for them on September 5th, 1979.

At his funeral, a pool of blood was seen beneath his coffin. On opening it, there was no evidence where the blood had come from. However, an oversight was revealed: John had not been clothed in the habit of St. Francis, as is the privilege of members of the Third Order, and had been John's wish. The habit was found and John was clothed in it.

Since his death there have been many signs of his sanctity: reports of miracles, claims of cures, as well as many answers to prayer. More important, many have turned to God through John's extraordinary example.

12 February 2008

Wash me with Hyssop

At first I thought this was a joke, but it's for real and it looks like these folks take themselves very seriously. I post it here out of curiosity and the connection with Lent, not as a product endorsement. Hyssop Baths in South Carolina makes Hyssop Soap.

Here's what they have to say: "As a spiritual cleansing soap, it can be used in conjunction with praying and fasting, during times of trouble, before receiving communion, during atonement and other spiritual moments. We truly believe that cleansing with Hyssop Soap will help church leaders and their congregations experience an uplifting movement to our Heavenly Father and His Kingdom in a spiritual rejuvenation."

I think they're taking Psalm 51 (50 LXX) a little too far. Our Lord said, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also." (Mt. 23:25-26)

I'll keep my focus on inward cleansing this Lent.

Thou shalt purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean: Thou shalt wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Have mercy on me, O God, after Thy great goodness: according to the multitude of Thy mercies, do away mine offences. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. (Ps. 50:8,1-2)

11 February 2008

Lourdes at 150

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. In 1858 the Blessed Virgin mary visited St. Bernadette Soubirous 18 times. Mary requested that a chapel be built on the spot. This is the 150 year Jubilee of this visitation.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in southern France is the most visited pilgrimage site in the world--mainly because of the apparent healing properties of the waters of the spring that appeared during the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Official Shrine Site

150 Year Jubilee

The Lourdes Marian Center here in Denver is an official distributor of water from Lourdes. When anyone is sick around our house, Sophia gets out her bottle of Lourdes water and prays for us.

Icon Available from Monastery Icons

"The story told by the ignorant little girl, and the wonders wrought by the slender stream which flowed forth from the rock beneath her hands, have gone further to confound the objections of the sceptical criticism which calls itself modern thought, than the arguments of the most learned apologists or of the most subtle theologians. God has taken the weak and the foolish things of the world into His hands, and with these for ffis instruments has overcome those who, in the pride of their intellect, had set themselves up against Him—has silenced the learned and bewildered the scientific—and in the midst of the most mocking incredulous country of this mocking incredulous age, has shown us the Grotto of Lourdes as an irrefragable testimony to His existence, His power, and His love."

The English Pilgrimage to Lourdes, May 1883

10 February 2008

Fasting, a Source of Trial

It is commonly said, that fasting is intended to make us better Christians, to sober us, and to bring us more entirely at Christ's feet in faith and humility. This is true, viewing matters on the whole. On the whole, and at last, this effect will be produced, but it is not at all certain that it will follow at once. On the contrary, such mortifications have at the time very various effects on different persons, and are to be observed, not from their visible benefits, but from faith in the Word of God.

Some men, indeed, are subdued by fasting and brought at once nearer to God; but others find it, however slight, scarcely more than an occasion of temptation. For instance, it is sometimes even made an objection to fasting, as if it were a reason for not practicing it, that it makes a man irritable and ill-tempered. I confess it often may do this. It is undeniably a means of temptation, and I say so, lest persons should be surprised, and despond when they find it so.

Let it not then distress Christians, even if they find themselves exposed to thoughts from which they turn with abhorrence and terror. rather let such a trial bring before their thoughts , with something of vividness and distinctness, the condescension of the Son of God. He was tempted in all points "like as we are, yet without sin." Surely here too Christ's temptation speaks comfort and encouragement to us.

~St. John Newman
We beseech Thee, O Lord, let Thy gracious favor carry us through the fast which we have begun; that as we observe it by bodily discipline, so we may be able to fulfil it with sincerity of mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

09 February 2008

Heal My Soul

Heal my soul for I have sinned against Thee.
I said: O Lord, be Thou merciful unto me.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit.
(Psalm 40:5)

08 February 2008

40 days in the desert with Jesus

But that you may learn how great a good is fasting, and what a mighty shield against the Devil, and that after baptism you ought to give attention to fasting and not to lusts, therefore Christ fasted, not Himself needing it, but teaching us by His example. And to fix the measure of our quadragesimnal fast, he fasted forty days and forty nights. But He exceeded not the measure of Moses and Elias, lest it should bring into doubt the reality of His assumption of the flesh. (St. John Chrysostom)

The Creator of all things took no food whatever during forty days. We also, at the season of Lent as much as in us lies afflict our flesh by abstinence. The number forty is preserved, because the virtue of the decalogue is fulfilled in the books of the holy Gospel; and ten taken four times amounts to forty. Or, because in this mortal body we consist of four elements by the delights of which we go against the Lord's precepts received by the decalogue. And as we transgress the decalogue through the lusts of this flesh, it is fitting that we afflict the flesh forty-fold. Or, as by the Law we offer the tenth of our goods, so we strive to offer time tenth of our time. And from the first Sunday of Lent to time rejoicing of the paschal festival is a space of six weeks, or forty-two days, subtracting from which the six Sundays which are not kept there remain thirty-six. Now as the year consists of three hundred and sixty-five, by the affliction of these thirty-six we give the tenth of our year to God. (St. Gregory the Great)

From Catena Aurea (The Golden Chain), Matthew 4
Grant us, O Lord, to enter on the service of our Christian warfare with holy fasting; that as we are to fight against spiritual powers of wickedness, we may be fortified by the aid of self-denial; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Gelasian Sacramentary)

07 February 2008

An Acceptable Fast

Let us keep an acceptable fast that will please the Lord. A true fast means estrangement from evils, abstinance from anger, control of the tongue, giving up the passions, insults, lies, and swearing. To be deprived of all these is a true and acceptable fast. (Stichera from the Presanctified Liturgy, Tone 3)

Come, O faithful, let us eagerly take up the strong shield of the fast to deflect the enemy's every evil scheme. Let us not be enticed by passionate pleasures nor fear the fires of temptations; for through them Christ the lover of us all will reward us with crowns for our perserverance. Then let us pray with boldness; let us fall down before Him and cry out, begging peace for our souls and great mercy. (Stichera from the Presanctified Liturgy, Tone 5)

We beseech Thee, O Lord, that our earnest devotion may become fruitful through Thy grace; for then shall our fast be profitable to us, if it is well-pleasing to Thy loving kindness; through jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

06 February 2008

Ash Wednesday

"For dust you are, And to dust you shall return." (Gen. 3:19)

It's here! Welcome to Lent.

Last year, when I was Eastern Orthodox, I went to my local Antiochian Wetern Rite parish for the imposition of ashes during lunch hour. I work in the service department at a car dealership so all day I heard "Hey, you have grease on your forehead". The cool thing was that I was able to witness my faith. I noticed newscasters on CNN and ESPN that day with ashes too.

This will be my first Lent as a Roman Catholic after 12 in Orthodoxy. In fact, our first visit to an Orthodox church was on Cheesefare Sunday (the Sunday before Lent). This year the Orthodox don't start Lent until the middle of March since our Paschal celebrations are almost a month apart.

A Prayer for Ash Wednesday:
Mercifully direct, O God, all my thoughts, words, and actions throughout this season to Thy greater glory, and to the welfare of myself and others; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
~From "A Few Devotional Helps for Lent and Passion-tide" 1858

05 February 2008

Mardi Gras

Well, here we are... Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day, Pączki Day, Shrove Tuesday, etc. Lent begins in the Western Church tomorrow.

Today, which should be a festive day before the "joyful sorrow" of Lent, is ruined by the debauchery and scandal that will occur today in the name of Mardi Gras. I find the shenanigans embarrassing and it gives Catholics a bad name, but the Church has tried to stop or tame festivities in the past to no avail. How many of the hedonists who go down to places like New Orleans even plan on doing anything for Lent anyway. It's just an excuse to party and flash bead-throwing bystanders.

Regardless of the way it gets spoiled, it is still a significant day.

Eggs, meat, oils and butter were strictly prohibited during the 40 days of Lent before the fasting rules were relaxed (Byzantine Catholics and Eastern Orthodox still follow the stricter custom). "Fat Tuesday" was the day to eat all that remained of these foods in the house and enjoy one last feast on the day before Lent. When I lived in Detroit the Polish Catholics in Hamtramck called it Pączki (punch-key) Day, and people would get these deep-fried jelly doughnut type things--I never could finish one they were sooooo sweet and greasy!

The name "Shrove Tuesday" comes from the practice of "shriving," or the confession and absolution of sin, that takes place on this day. "In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive (absolve) him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do (in the way of penance)." Ecclesiastical Institutes, Anglo-Saxon A.D. 1000.

So, clean out your cupboard of the foods you won't be eating during Lent, and clean out your soul with confession and penance. Have some fun and goof around, but keep your shirt on.

03 February 2008

Tone 9!

In my Eastern Orthodox days I was a tonsured reader trained in Byzantine chant. I was taught that there were only eight liturgical tones (same goes for the Modes in the Western church). How surprised I was to read this post from The Onion Dome about the discovery of a ninth tone (actually it is tone "square-root-of-29"). This has caused some controversy between the Greeks and Russians, as usual--Not sure how the Antiochians recieved it.

02 February 2008

Letter and Spirit

Check out this new show on EWTN called "Letter and Spirit". It comes on at 7pm MST (9pm EST) right after "Journey Home".

Scott Hahn takes on the lofty subject of scripture and its relationship to liturgy. He shows how scriptural texts have been intimately tied to ritual public worship since the early Christian church and even before that in the Jewish temple.

If you aren't familiar with Mr. Hahn, he is a convert to the Catholic Church from Evangelicalism and the author of several excellent books. His journey to the faith of the Apostles can be found in the book "Rome Sweet Rome".

01 February 2008

February Prayer Intentions

The month of February is dedicated to the Holy Family.

Pope Benedict's prayer intentions for this month really hit home for me, being bipolar and having several children with mood disorders we often seek the intercessions of St. Dymphna. Now, for the whole month, millions of faithful people will be praying for us.

Mentally Handicapped: That the mentally handicapped may not be marginalized, but respected and lovingly helped.

Institutes of Consecrated Life: That the Institutes of Consecrated Life in mission countries may rediscover the missionary dimension and generously proclaim Christ to the ends of the earth.

Check out Mental Illness Ministries website
Also, here's a site for women considering Consecrated Life