Archive for the ‘Saints’ Category

Do We Recognize Jesus?

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

This week’s Gospel (Lk 24:13-35) features Jesus and two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus walks with them and talks with them and still, they do not realize who is in their midst until he breaks bread with them.

One thing the Resurrection appearances of Jesus have in common is that those who first see Him did not immediately recognize him. His glorified body was somehow different. Those who knew him best were not able to know who He was until he spoke to them or performed some action or showed them His wounds. Then they knew; they understood.

As we go through our daily lives, we often fail to recognize Jesus in our midst. Matthew 25:31-46 tells us that whenever we care for our brothers and sisters in this world, we are caring for Jesus. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Yet, do we see it that way? When our children need our care, do we see Jesus? When our parents grow old and need our help, do we see Jesus? When our friends are hurting, do we see Jesus? When our neighbors are in need, do we see Jesus? When a homeless person begs on the street, do we see Jesus? When our enemies are suffering, do we see Jesus?

Jesus comes to us in all sorts of disguises and it can be very hard indeed into recognize Him. He can be rich or poor, clean or dirty, young or old, a person in our home, on our street, or a stranger on the other side of the world. He can be our best friend or the person who pushes all of our buttons the wrong way. He can be someone who we feel has it made or someone who we judge to have made all the wrong choices. Yes, Jesus comes hidden and we are called to serve. We are called to love.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta is known for the service she gave to all those she met. She invited each of us to reach out in a personal way to those around us. She stated, “I believe in person to person. Every person is Christ for me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is the one person in the world at that moment.” May we follow her example and reach out to Jesus in all His disguises in our world.

Book Review: Partners in Holiness

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Partners in Holiness: Guardian Angels in the Lives of the Saints
by Melaine Ryther

I have always found stories of Guardian Angels fascinating. For this reason, I was very excited to have the opportunity to review “Partners in Holiness,” a new ebook by Melaine Ryther that focuses on the role of Guardian Angels in the lives of the saints.

“According to St. Thomas Aquinas, an angel takes watch over a person’s body and soul at the very moment of birth. All of us, whether we are saints or sinners, believers or skeptics,have guardian angels who: protect us from physical and spiritual harm; pray for us constantly before the throne of God; inspire us with good thoughts; incline us toward virtue; drive away evil; strengthen and console us in our sufferings; and eagerly await our prayers so that they may help us even more. The angels want us to become saints. And everything they do for us is a means to that very end.”

Ryther shares the stories of how Guardian Angels manifested themselves to some of the saints. Pope St. Gregory the Great saw his angel as a poor merchant whom God had sent to test his charity. St. Isidore’s angel did farmwork. St. Margaret’s angel provided comfort and taught her. St. Lydwine, who was confined to bed, had an angel
who took her on trips both to places in this world and the next. St. John Bosco’s angel appeared as a grey dog who provided protection whenever he needed it. Tales of St. Rose, St. Frances of Rome, St. Gemma Galgani, and St. Padre Pio are also included. These stories are fascinating and serve as great evidence of the powerful role Guardian Angels can play in our lives.

At the end of the book, Ryther provides a very helpful section with ideas on how to pray and interact with our Guardian Angels every day of the week.

“Partners in Holiness” was written to not only educate readers about the power of Guardian Angels but also to encourage us to call on them daily. All we need to do is ask for their help. All we need to do is ask. “Call on them and honor them frequently,” St. Francis de Sales says of the angels, “and ask their help in your affairs, temporal as well as spiritual.” They are our partners in holiness, every day of our lives.

Why is St. Anthony’s Help Sought in Finding Lost Things?

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Have you ever prayed to St. Anthony to help you find a lost item? This is a practice I learned from my mother when I was a little girl. Whenever something was missing, she encouraged me to seek his intercession. Over the years, St. Anthony has helped me find many, many things.

He hears from me on a nearly daily basis, not only to help me find things I’ve misplaced, but the toys, books, and mittens that my children have lost somewhere in the house and must be found and found quickly. He always helps me. If the item is there to be found, I usually find it pretty quickly, sometimes in some very unexpected places.

How did this tradition start? First, let us learn some basics about the life of St. Anthony. He was born in 1195 in Lisbon and given the name of Fernando. At the age of 15 he entered the religious order of St. Augustine. He would then spend nine years studying Augustinian theology.

The life of the young priest took a radical turn when the bodies of the first five Franciscan martyrs were returned from Morocco and carried in solemn procession to his monastery. He was so moved by the experience, Fernando decided that he wanted to be a Franciscan, go to Morocco and become a martyr himself. As a Franciscan, he took the name Anthony.

Despite his desire, he never made it to Morocco. He became sick and needed to return home. His ship ran into storms and high winds and was blown to the east coast of Sicily, where he was cared for by the friars in Messina.

Anthony might have lived a quiet life as an unknown friar if he hadn’t gone to an ordination of Dominicans and Franciscans in 1222. While he was there, Anthony was asked to give a “simple” sermon. When Anthony began to speak, his holiness and knowledge impressed everyone. St. Francis heard of Anthony’s previously hidden gifts, and assigned Anthony to preach in northern Italy. Eventually, he was asked to also teach other friars.

In Padua, Anthony preached his last and most famous Lenten sermons. As many as 30,000 people would crowd to hear him. He would sometimes hear confessions all day. He was exhausted and knew that he would die soon. He died in 1231 at age 36. The following year, his friend, Pope Gregory IX, moved by the many miracles that occurred at Anthony’s tomb, declared him a saint.

How did St. Anthony, most known for his skill at preaching, become associated with finding lost things? When he was teaching friars, Anthony had a book of psalms that was very important to him. This was before the advent of the printing press, so the book itself was extremely valuable, but more importantly, it also had his notes for teaching which were irreplaceable.

A disgruntled novice decided to leave the community and took Anthony’s psalter with him! Upon realizing it was missing, Anthony prayed it would be found or returned to him. The novice saw a vision which compelled him to return the psalter to Anthony and return to the Order which accepted him back. The stolen book is said to be preserved in the Franciscan friary in Bologna. Shortly after his death people began asking St. Anthony’s help to find or recover lost and stolen articles.

The following is a traditional prayer to St. Anthony:

Dear St. Anthony,
You are the patron of the poor and the helper of all who seek lost articles. Help me to find the object I have lost so that I will be able to make better use of the time I will gain for God’s greater honor and glory. Grant your gracious aid to all people who seek what they have lost – especially those who seek to regain God’s grace.

Learning to Trust Like St. Joseph

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Being a woman, I tend to focus on Mary rather than Joseph when I look at the Holy Family. However, in the season of Advent, Joseph has much to teach us about what it means to wait, trust, and be faithful to God.

Joseph was in a difficult situation. The woman he loved and was supposed to marry was with child, and he knew that it wasn’t his baby. He was a good man who wanted to do the right thing. Under the law, she should be stoned, but he doesn’t want that to happen. Instead, he decides to divorce her quietly. Before he can do that, an angel appears to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. . . When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” (Matthew 1:20-24)

In an instant, Joseph’s life was turned upside-down. Whatever he had imagined his life with Mary was going to look like, this wasn’t it. Like Mary, he had a choice. He could have said “No.” He could have ignored the dream, divorced Mary, and gone on to have a nice quiet life with another young lady from Nazareth. Sure, he would have had some challenges, but he could have avoided the need to flee from Bethlehem in the middle of the night. He wouldn’t have had to bear the responsibility of making sure that the savior of the Jewish people made it to adulthood. No doubt, it would have been the easier path.

Joseph didn’t do that. Instead, he took the message to heart and obeyed God without question. He had no idea where the path would lead. He was only given the next step – take Mary as your wife. He had to wait and trust in God to see how it would all turn out.

In Advent, we call to mind that unfailing trust that Mary and Joseph had in God’s plan. They were one-hundred percent willing to cooperate with God’s plan. They were human. They must have had fear and uncertainty. There were plenty of times when the road was hard. They must have had moments when they wondered where God was leading them. Yet, they trusted.

I have much to learn from that trust. Admittedly, God’s messages to me don’t come straight from an angel (at least not any that I am aware of). They come in quiet whispers in prayer, in God’s Word in scripture, in the words of a trusted friend or the guidance of my spiritual director. Still, I am much more likely to question then to answer with a trusting “Yes.” I debate, pray some more, think about it, try it my way, fall on my face (repeatedly), get up, try again, pray some more, and eventually come around to doing it God’s way. Perhaps you can relate?

During these days of Advent, I want to try to be more like St. Joseph. I want to trust that God has a plan that is better than mine, even when I can only see the first step. I want to believe that God will always keep me in his loving care and that faithfulness to God will always work for my eternal good. Lord, I believe. Please help my unbelief.

Book Review: Take Five – Meditations with John Henry Newman

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman
by Mike Aquilina & Fr. Juan R. Velez
Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2010

I approached “Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman” knowing very little about this recently beatified Cardinal. I finished it wanting to know much more. Cardinal Newman was a “teacher, editor, administrator, and clergyman – and he still found time enough to write books that have been profoundly influential in the fields of theology, philosophy, history, and fiction.” “Take Five” begins with a short biography of Newman’s life, from his education and life as an Anglican to the reasons for his very public conversion to Catholicism. It then offers 76 short reflections. Each one features a short excerpt from Newman’s work that focuses on a given theme. A few key points are highlighted in “Think About It” which is followed by a quote or two from scripture and a take-away statement to remember.

Newman’s wisdom focuses on how to incorporate faith into everyday life. His words ring true and are very relevant over a hundred years after his death. This little book provides much food for reflection and offers a wonderful introduction to Newman’s thought.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Take Five – Meditations with John Henry Newman.

Book Review: Marthe Robin and the Foyers of Charity

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Marthe Robin and the Foyers of Charity
by Martin Blake
Nottingham, England: Theotokos Books, 2010

“Marthe Robin and the Foyers of Charity” was written to help introduce more of the English-speaking world to the French Servant of God Marthe Robin, a suffering soul who lived solely for God. Robin lived from 1902-1981 and neither ate nor drank for many years of her life. Her only nourishment came from her weekly Eucharist. At age 26, she was paralyzed. She would spent most of her life on a divan bed in a darkened room. Yet, she met with over a hundred thousand people who sought her spiritual advice, left behind a great deal of writings, and began a lay movement known as the “Foyers of Charity.”

Relatively healthy as a child, her health began to decline when she was sixteen. She began to understand that her life was to be one of suffering. The early 1920s saw a rapid progression of her physical difficulties. During this period, she experienced some spiritual hardships as well. As biographer Martin Blake states, “Marthe was still torn between giving all to God and hoping for a normal life. It was the priest of Saint-Uze who recalled her saying: ‘I struggled with God!’ The years 1923 to 1925 were filled with anguish.” By 1930, she would totally dedicate herself to Jesus. She wrote, “I dared to choose Jesus Christ. One day, having consecrated myself to Him and received clear proof that my humble act of Abandonment had been accepted, He revealed himself to me and gave himself spiritually to me as the spouse of my soul, living and active.” She would receive the stigmata (the physical wounds of Jesus on the cross) and from 1931 she began to have a weekly experience of the Lord’s Passion.

In 1936, Fr. Georges Finet first met Marthe Robin. Together they would begin “Foyers of Light, Charity, and Love.” These Foyers would consist of consecrated lay people under the direction of a priest. Five day silent retreats would be offered. There are currently “more than seventy Foyers spread over five continents.” Foyers are only formed with the permission of the local Bishop.

In “Marthe Robin and the Foyers of Charity,” Blake introduces readers to this amazing woman who suffered so much for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. He discusses her life, her mysticism, and her mission. He includes the perspectives of those who knew her and wrote about her. He also explores her connection with St. Therese of the Child Jesus and St. Faustina Kowalska. While her official designation as “Blessed” is still under consideration, there can be little doubt that she was a holy woman dedicated to God and the Church who can serve as a role model in our spiritual journeys. Hers is an incredible story, well-worth learning about.

St Teresa of Avila Interior Castle

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

October 15th is the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila. A Carmelite nun living in the 1500s, one of her most famous works is “Interior Castle” (known as “The Mansions” in her native Spain) which she wrote at the request of her confessor. A mystic who communed intimately with God, she had experienced a vision of “a most beautiful crystal globe, made in the shape of a castle, and containing seven mansions, in the seventh and innermost of which was the King of Glory, in the greatest splendour, illuming and beautifying them all. . . outside the palace limits everything was foul, dark, and infested with toads, vipers and other venomous creatures.” This castle became Teresa’s metaphor for the soul. Teresa truly believed that anyone who knew what treasures lay in the center of this castle would never want to sin because sin mires the soul in “misery and filth.” “Interior Castle” explores each of the seven mansions in great detail. Her intended audience was the sisters who made up her cloistered religious community, however her insights offer much to the world at large.

Teresa wrote reluctantly and felt that she had little to offer that had not already been said. She also emphasized that her description and her path to the center of this castle was not the only one. She believed that “Our Lord will be granting me a great favour if a single one of these nuns should find that my words help her to praise Him a little better.” She focuses on the beauty of the soul and laments that we spend so much attention on our physical body and so little on the divine spark that is within.

Teresa focuses on gaining self-knowledge, but not in the way we in the 21st century interpret that term. For her, self-knowledge means coming to know the soul within. It means understanding our dependence on God and gaining humility by acknowledging that we are nothing without Him. The route to self-knowledge and entry into the interior castle comes through prayer and meditation. As one progresses through the mansions, one comes to know and long for God more and more and to reject the world and its attractions. Teresa encourages the beginner in prayer “to labour and be resolute and prepare himself with all possible diligence to bring his will into conforming with the will of God.” She also offers encouragement: “If, then, you sometimes fall, do not lose heart or cease striving to make progress, for even out of your fall God will bring good.” Teresa also makes the point that prayer leads to action rooted in love. “True perfection consists in the love of God and of our neighbor, and the more nearly perfect is our observance of these two commandments, the nearer to perfection we shall be.”

As one makes her way ever deeper into the heart of the castle, increased spiritual consolations and trials become par for the course. Many (perhaps even most) do not reach the most inner mansions in this lifetime. Teresa is quick to point out, however, that “the Lord gives when He wills and as He wills and to whom He wills, and as the gifts are His own, this is doing no injustice to anyone.” Indeed she cautions her readers to never believe that they deserve any gift that the Lord bestows upon them, nor should we set out to obtain any consolations or mystical experiences because “the most essential thing is that we should love God without any motive of self-interest.”

Teresa was truly granted amazing gifts of insight and experience from God. While we may not fully share in her experience, “Interior Castle” offers a unique portrait of our souls and invites us into a deeper relationship with God.

Book Review: “Olivia and the Little Way”

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Olivia and the Little Way
by Nancy Carabio Belanger
Illustrated by Sandra Casali LewAllen
Rochester, MI: Harvey House Publishing, 2008

“Olivia and the Little Way” by Nancy Carabio Belanger is a sweet story about a fifth grader who is struggling to follow St. Therese. Her grandmother is the person who first introduces Olivia to the wonderful example of St. Therese. She shares how she asked that saint for help in finding a nice man to marry who believed in God. She prayed a novena (a prayer repeated over the course of nine days)and then waited for a rose (the symbol of St. Therese) as a sign that her prayer had been heard. She waited three long years for that rose, but it finally came the same day she met her future husband.

Olivia admires St. Therese’s little way of making small sacrifices and tries to emulate her as best she can. She prays to St. Therese for help in making friends at her new school and for guidance in making good decisions. Olivia is a real girl. She doesn’t always do the right thing. She succumbs to peer pressure and gets in trouble with her parents. She keeps trying, however, and St. Therese does help both her and her friends out. Though it takes a while, she finally does get her rose.

This is a lovely story written for tweens, especially tween girls. It helps introduce readers to the Little Way as well as keep them engrossed with the storyline. One truly cares about Olivia and her friends in reading this book.

A New (Old) Take on Sin

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote “We do not offend God except by doing something contrary to our own good.” I came across that quote recently and was struck by both its simplicity and its implications. One traditional act of contrition states “O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you because I dread the loss of heaven and the pain of hell, but most of all because you are all good and deserving of all my love.” Our first reason for doing the right thing should not be because we fear punishment, but because we love God. When we fail in that love, we offend God and commit a sin. Sin is one of those things that most people don’t seem to think about much anymore. As a society, we have lost a sense of sin. Even if one acknowledges that he or she has committed a wrong against another person, one rarely thinks of it as an offense against God. Aquinas puts sin back in its proper perspective.

We have a God who loves us and created us because He wanted us to know, love and serve Him and ultimately be happy with him in heaven. He wants what is good for us. Sometimes, that is hard to understand and accept. After all, there are all those rules. Aren’t they all meant to take away our fun and suck all the pleasure out of life? Sometimes, it can seem that way. But, think for a moment about true human love. If you truly love another person, you want what is best for him or her, even if it is not what might be in your own best interest. Sometimes, that person might not even consider it to be what is best for him or her. Think of a parent who loves her child. (For the sake of argument, we’ll use a mother. It could just as easily be a father). Parenthood can be one of the most selfless human loves in existence. A mother spends years caring for a child, attempting to form his character, enforcing rules, gently guiding the development of his interests, encouraging, educating, and being a shoulder to cry on. In response, a child often rebels and frequently dislikes the parent. A good mother wants what is best for her child, even though it may cost her dearly. When a child makes a poor decision (regardless of the child’s age), it wounds the parent deeply.

With God, He is the parent and we are the children, except on an even deeper level. We are His creation in a way our own physical children never could be. We did not create our children. God sent them. We welcomed them. They are pure gift. On the other hand, without God’s thought willing us into existence, we would not be. God formed every part of us. He knows every hair on our head, every cell within our bodies, our interests and longings, our hurts and challenges. He sees all that we could be and longs for us to fulfill our purpose. He gives us rules for good behavior so that we might know what to do. He watches us and wants us to make good decisions. He wants us to love Him and love our neighbor in a selfless manner. He wants what is best for us. When we fail, we do offend Him. That is sin.

Aquinas’ quote also offers a question to ask when making decisions. Is this good for me? Is this activity or decision beneficial to my spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being? Is this what God would want me to do? Imagine how life might be different if this was the standard by which we shaped our lives.

Book Review: “Saint Francis”

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Saint Francis (Christian Encounters Series)
by Robert West
Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010

St. Francis, who lived and preached in the 13th century, is one of Christianity’s most beloved saints. Like many saints, however, time has served to separate him from the actual life he lived. In many minds, he is known only as the lover of animals. He is usually seen with birds, often as a statue in a garden. While St. Francis certainly had that side to him, he was much more than that. “Saint Francis” by Robert West, a book in the Christian Encounters series by Thomas Nelson, sets out to show Francis in all his complexity. He was a saint, yes, but like all saints, he was also very human.

This is a no-holds-barred biography of Francis. West does not gloss over Francis’ wild youth. In fact, he makes much of it in order to contrast it with the man he later became. Yet, the charisma that would make Francis such a compelling preacher and leader was already at root in the boy and young man. Francis was meant to be a leader.

West discusses Francis’s conversion and does his utmost to make his love of “Lady Poverty” understandable to the modern mind. He shows the battles Francis had with his own bodily desires and the lengths he would go to in order to overcome them. He wanted nothing to come between him and God. West also examines his relationship with the men that would come to join him as well as his relationship with St. Clare, who also gave up everything to follow him.

Francis’ life was certainly not without its challenges. His way of life was so austere that many begged him to relax his rules for those who followed him, but he would not relent. As a result, there was infighting among the brothers, especially when Francis was not physically present. It took considerable effort for his order to be recognized by the Pope. His dream of converting the Muslim Sultan during the crusades did not go the way he had hoped.

Yet, Francis is most known for his miracles, his communing with nature, and the stigmata he bore on his body. West examines some of the legends that grew up around the life of Francis, and despite a healthy skepticism, is willing to admit that at least some of them were possible.

West’s “Saint Francis” is a highly readable well-researched biography. It serves as a valuable introduction to the life of the man behind the statues.