Phil 4: 4-8

Friday, December 30, 2016

Year-End Indulgences Available to the Faithful


26. Prayers of Supplication and Acts of Thanksgiving

§1  A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful who devoutly assist either at the recitation or solemn singing of

1.      the Veni Creator, either on the first day of the year to implore divine assistance for the course of the year, or on the solemnity of Pentecost;
2.      the Te Deum on the final day of the year, to offer thanks to God for gifts received through the course of the entire year.

§2  A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful who,

1.      at the beginning and end of the day,
2.      in starting and completing their work,
3.      before and after meals,

devoutly offer some legitimately approved prayer of supplication and act of thanksgiving (e.g., Actiones nostras; Adsums; Tibi gratias; Benedic, Domine; Domine, Deus Omnipotens; Exaudi nos; the Te Deum; the Veni Creator; the Veni Sancte Spiritus; Visita, quaesumus, Domine). 

"Benedic, Domine" is simply the standard Catholic blessing before meals--"Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts..."
"Veni Sancte Spiritus" -- "Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love."

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Whose Fault Is It?

Recently we headed up to the Mother Cabrini shrine outside of Golden for some quiet prayer time at a holy place.  Beautiful, unseasonably warm weather ensued—and with it, hordes of others getting away from it all, many with high-energy youngsters.  Dozens of adults and rambunctious children were enjoying the shrine that day.  It was a weekend, after all! 

Before we left home for the shrine, after a brief prayer about what spiritual reading material to take along—Magnificat, Bible, The Imitation of Christ, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, or all of the above—The Imitation of Christ is what seemed most appropriate.  After finding some quiet space for a brief period of time in the shrine’s chapel, it became pretty obvious why the answer to my prayer was The Imitation of Christ.  From Book One, Chapter 16:

"Try to bear patiently with the defects and infirmities of others, whatever they may be, because you also have many a fault which others must endure.  If you cannot make yourself what you would wish to be, how can you bend others to your will? We want them to be perfect, yet we do not correct our own faults. We wish them to be severely corrected, yet we will not correct ourselves."

I literally did a double-take at this passage.  To borrow a line made famous by a then very young Robert DeNiro, I asked, “You talkin’ ta me?”  And, of course, He was talking to me—directly and clearly.  Let that be a lesson for us all: be careful what we’re wishing for when we pray that the Lord speak to us in clear, unambiguous terms that we can understand!  He’s more than happy to oblige, as in this case—“Don’t worry about others’ faults, you’ve got more than enough to go around.”

This reminded me of the quote I’d seen attributed to St. Ephrem to the effect that we should “Be kind to all you meet for everyone is fighting a great battle.”  As is the case with many such pithy quotes, this one or some version of it seems to be attributed to numerous individuals, from ancient Greeks to modern-day personalities, as well as the saint.  Regardless of who said it first, it rings true, doesn’t it?  Consider all of the people we know pretty well, and just some of the problems each is facing right now.  It should make us stop and think before we react the next time to another person’s lack of empathy or charity towards us.  We don’t know what else they have going on in their lives at any particular moment:
  • Maybe the reason why she’s rude to you today is because she or a family member received some bad news from a biopsy or other medical test;
  • Maybe she’s having some problems at home with her spouse or children;
  • Perhaps he seems less concerned about your needs than you’d like because his adult son or daughter is having marital problems of their own;
  • Or it could be that he just took the undeserved blame for some problem at work;
  • Perhaps there’s been a death in the family; or
  • [You fill in the blank…]

The list of reasons for someone’s apparently bad behavior can be endless.  As well, what I’ve found in working with a variety of people in business over the years is that sometimes the person simply doesn’t know how to act any more appropriately when under stress.  They simply may not have yet developed the emotional intelligence to respond in a more fitting manner, or haven’t learned more suitable behaviors to deploy.  Some problem behaviors come from deep-seated personal problems—poor self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, inferiority complexes, medical disorders, etc.

Now do these examples of personal challenges justify someone treating us rudely?  No, they don’t.  And we are not required to put up with patterns of abusive behavior, verbal or otherwise.  But we also do not need to respond in kind. 

Consider also that sometimes, based on the kind of day we ourselves are having, for example, we may take something in the wrong way, even if the person we’re interacting with didn’t mean it that way.  As a result, we get worked up and then create behavioral problems of our own that spill over into our interactions with others. 

So what should we do about all of this, if we’re interested in making some improvements in our own lives?  The Imitation tells us:

"If all were perfect, what should we have to suffer from others for God’s sake? But God has so ordained, that we may learn to bear with one another’s burdens, for there is no man without fault, no man without burden, no man sufficient to himself nor wise enough. Hence we must support one another, console one another, mutually help, counsel, and advise, for the measure of every man’s virtue is best revealed in time of adversity—adversity that does not weaken a man but rather shows what he is."

But just how might we implement that advice?  Perhaps by:
  • Spending more time in prayer generally, and specifically in relational prayer, in dialogue with God.  Talking to Him and then letting Him talk to us
  • Asking the Lord what He’s trying to tell us through the interaction we’ve just had with someone—what lesson is He teaching us?
  • Praying to Our Lady to obtain for us the grace we need to respond appropriately to all with whom we come into contact, showing them the peace and merciful love of Our Lord in our interactions with them
  • Giving thanks to God when we encounter inappropriate behavior from others for the opportunity to practice building virtues such as obedience, humility, patience and courage.  (Yes, at first blush this sounds odd, but try it, and see if it doesn’t almost immediately lower your blood pressure.)

There probably are many more tactics we might consider as well, but the point is that we need to take it to prayer and continually be open to our personal transformation through His graces.  Let’s follow the lead of two great Saints:

St. Paul: “Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”  1 Thes 5:16-18

St. Teresa of Avila: “Be gentle to all and stern with yourself.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Focus for Lent

So how is Lent starting off this year?  We’re three days into it, so we still have time to get focused or refocused at this early stage and to create as, Matthew Kelly calls it, “The Best Lent Ever” even if we’ve been slow on the draw.  But really—how has it been going so far? 
  • Have we taken some quiet time away from the day-to-day madness for relational prayer with Our Lord?
  • Have we identified, through prayer, what He suggests we do for mortification over the next six weeks?
  • Have we begun actually implementing whatever it is that the Holy Spirit has placed on our hearts?

Or, are we still thinking about getting “around to it?”  Have we been just a little too busy to engage in some prayerful discernment and to take those first steps on the way to creating some permanent spiritual improvements in our lives?  Spiritual directors will caution us against becoming so busy that our prayer life suffers, or what a friend refers to as the “heresy of busy-ness.”  Keep in mind that the evil one will set us up for failure in the most subtle ways.  As our men’s group heard from Fr. Larry Richards a couple of years ago, the father of lies will create attractive situations for us to draw us away from God.  Certain of these attractions can lead to sin of the worst kind, of course. 

But there’s more at risk.  We can be distracted from our relationship with Our Lord—from our prayer life—by the evil one when he appeals to what are arguably our higher, more pure motives.  For example, if we need approbation and like being in the spotlight, he’ll encourage us to work harder for the accolades.  If we pride ourselves on being self-reliant and over-achievers, he’ll entice us to go out and get more involved in daily busy-work to prove just how “good” we are in doing our jobs, carrying out volunteer activities (even at church), increasing our intellectual prowess, and more.  It’s a cunning trick he’s always trying to play on us.  And it leads to an incremental build up, so we’re not even aware of what’s going on until we stop, if we ever take time to do so, and reflect on where we’re going and realize how over-committed we are.

It’s easy to be over-committed in these times, especially for families with children at home—between making a living, spending some time at home as a family, engaging in school activities, extra-curricular activities and shuttling to and from them, we’re often near maximum capacity with only a minimal amount of time left to devote to spiritual activities.  This also can be true for people who are empty nesters and grandparents as well—at the end of the day, it’s not uncommon to sit down exhausted, wondering where the day went.  The evil one will present us with many, many opportunities to distract us from growing in our relationship with the Lord and getting to know Him better—and some of these opportunities will be for potentially good causes.  Only by prayerful discernment, at times augmented with some candid discussion with a spiritual director and/or a confessor, can we make the decisions that God wants us to, for His Greater Glory.

Which leads me to the main point of this post:  This Lent, we ought to consider the maxim that “Less Is Better.”  No, that does not mean that we should minimize our prayer, penance and almsgiving practices this Lent!  Rather, we might benefit from a tighter focus on just what we ought to do.  In my coaching of executives and managers, one of the things I’ve found that stacks the odds in favor of success is to focus on a few key objectives with clearly identified metrics for success (metrics for success answer the question, “How are we going to know it’s working?”).  This is more of a rifle shot approach than a shotgun approach.  Make some progress on the initial, key goals, and then and only then, add in another goal or two.  We all have only 24 hours in the day, and we all have limits to the energy we can devote to any and all matters we need to address.  So what one or two things is God calling each of us to really work on this Lent?

As well, what approach to prayer and meditation will we use this Lent?  Keep in mind that, at Lent, the Catholic book publishers and video producers come out of the woodwork with offerings to help us have a better (or “the best”) Lent, in addition to standard favorites such as the Divine Office and Magnificat, etc.  Any one of the many available Lenten prayer products could be of help to us.  Consider, for example, the Little Black Books, Dynamic Catholic’s “The Best Lent Ever,” Bishop Barron’s Lenten reflections, “40 Days to Mercy” from the MIC group, and we could go on and on. 

But—getting back to the point of this post—we can be overwhelmed with Lenten prayer approaches and reading materials if we aren’t selective.  We actually could end up spending more time reading multiple Lenten prayer pamphlets or e-mails than we do talking with, and listening to, the Lord.  The bottom line: we each might benefit from finding one approach we like and sticking with it, leaving adequate time for relational prayer this Lent.

Don’t let the evil one throw you off your spiritual game.  Get focused—stay focused—and have your best Lent ever!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Finding Peace, Keeping It, Showing It With Merciful Love

During his homily at one of the daily, televised EWTN Masses this last week, Father Wade Menezes, CPM referred to The Imitation of Christ, a 14th century guide to Catholic spirituality, the popularity of which is second only to that of the Bible.  In connection with the daily scripture readings, Fr. Menezes spoke about Book Two, Chapter Three, titled Goodness and Peace in Man.  It is reproduced in part below:

“First keep peace with yourself; then you will be able to bring peace to others. A peaceful man does more good than a learned man. Whereas a passionate man turns even good to evil and is quick to believe evil, the peaceful man, being good himself, turns all things to good.

The man who is at perfect ease is never suspicious, but the disturbed and discontented spirit is upset by many a suspicion. He neither rests himself nor permits others to do so. He often says what ought not to be said and leaves undone what ought to be done. He is concerned with the duties of others but neglects his own.

Direct your zeal, therefore, first upon yourself; then you may with justice exercise it upon those about you…If you wish men to bear with you, you must bear with them…

…Some people live at peace with themselves and with their fellow men, but others are never at peace with themselves nor do they bring it to anyone else. These latter are a burden to everyone, but they are more of a burden to themselves. A few, finally, live at peace with themselves and try to restore it to others.”

Wow—if this doesn’t cause each and every one of us, regardless of who we are, to stop and take stock of what we are doing to bring others to Jesus, what will?  When I first read it, I could think of many others to whom it applied.  But all too quickly, I had to accept the fact that it applied to me!  And it raised a lot of questions—

·       In this Jubilee Year of Divine Mercy, what am I doing to live as an exemplar of God’s merciful love?

·       How do I show my joy in having God in my life to others in my daily circumstances?

·       Are my actions the kind that bring peace to others or turmoil?

·       Am I pulling others TO Jesus, or pushing them AWAY from Him?

(Excuse me for a second while I go remove this log from my eye…)

In a somewhat similar vein, a recent blog post at Charlie Johnston’s website mentioned the great deceiver’s effort to cause turmoil by creating unrest and a sense of betrayal among the faithful of God’s church, to divide them and push them into despair.  The blog post uses the metaphor of a tree on fire:

“…This is like a tree in a huge fire. The sap super-heats and suddenly explodes, and sends showers of sparks igniting all the trees around it.” When a person feels betrayed – whether the betrayal is real or merely felt in that way – that person then experiences a sense of helplessness which quickly turns into anger and a need to lash out. The betrayed person cries out for justice, but then feels entirely justified in wreaking vengeance and hurt on those whom he perceives to have betrayed him. The betrayal may, indeed, be real, or the source of the temptation may be with the betrayer. It may be that someone who has been hurt is tempted to ascribe this hurt to the malice of betrayal on the part of the person who inadvertently caused the hurt without realizing it. Either way, what is most important is the nature of our own response in these kinds of situations.

Dominoes fall one at a time or in small groups. The tree exploding with fiery sparks immediately sets on fire all the trees around it, which then ignite all the trees around them. Such a forest fire will cause a huge conflagration in only a few minutes. The betrayed person justifies his own behavior in hurting others in his desperate need for vindication. He ignites the anger of those he believes have hurt him by hurting them. Like the flaming trees in the fire, these people then spread their own anger and vengeance to those around them until an entire area is filled with hate and revenge. We are seeing just this scenario being played out in so many areas around us….”

The approaching “storm” that many people have been referring to is already here.  We see it among faithful Christians, among the ordained and lay leaders and among the rest of the faithful as well.  None of us are without fault in this regard.  If, like me, you find yourself at least occasionally being one of the “sparks” to which the above blog post refers, what are the implications?  When this happens, who wins?  Clearly the great deceiver, the accuser, is the only winner if we let these things continue unabated.  All the souls turned away from God and from His merciful love lose. 

If we contributed to the loss of these souls, we lose as well.  When we’re called to account, will we be able to say we did all we could, with His grace and assistance, to bring souls to Jesus?  Or will we use the excuse that someone else started it, they betrayed us, they did us wrong, it wasn’t my job or my concern, or [fill in the blank]?

Look at the converging trends positioned to create and sustain this storm:
·       Serious, underlying structural weaknesses within the global economic system
·       Losses of religious liberties in “developed” countries, including the USA
·       Increased persecution of Christians world-wide
·       Immigration of hordes of people driven from their homes due to persecution, with known terrorists inserted into the groups of immigrants
·       A culture of death that devalues individuals from the unborn to the aged
·       Societal unrest in general—a “them vs. us” view of life with a growing sense of incivility
·       Eliminating God from the public square and prayer from private lives
·       And more…

This life is short (take a look at the obits if you don’t believe it)—how much time does each of us have left here?  It’s time to wake up—in some cases, it’s long past time—we’ve hit the spiritual snooze button one time too many.

Shouldn’t we be building up relationships to support one another in the storm that we see building instead of tearing one another down?  Shouldn’t we be praying for God’s help, in showing His merciful love to everyone, through the intercession of our Blessed Mother, rather than, as The Imitation puts it, “[being] upset by many a suspicion”?

Let’s rewrite the “burning tree” metaphor:

The burning tree is indeed exploding with fiery sparks and immediately setting fire to all the trees around it, which then ignite all the trees around them, but the sparks are from the Holy Spirit

We can become the sparks, spreading God’s peace and merciful love to all with whom we come into contact, enflaming them with His love, and leading as many souls with hearts afire as we can to Him for His Greater Glory. 

“Yes,” you say, “but that’s easier said than done.  Too much has been said and done to be undone.”  It may be difficult, but with God all things are possible.  He wants what’s best for us.  Jesus tells us multiple times, “Peace be with you.”  His Peace and Divine Mercy await us. Now is the time to pursue it and to pass it on to others with renewed vigor. 

Let’s get out there and spread the fire of God’s love—all of us.