Clearing the Heart to See the Truth

A Saint from Saints

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux was called the “Greatest Saint of modern times,” by another great saint, St. Pope Pius X. Shortly after her death in 1897, her fame spread quickly, and her spiritual auto-biography—Story of a Soul—became an overnight success. In it, she recounted the growth of her interior life due to the workings of grace, culminating in her final words before entering into the abode of the blessed, “Oh, how I love him!” The ‘Him,’ of course, was Jesus. Despite her terrible disease of tuberculosis, which by the time of her death had consumed much of her lungs and capacity to breath, she remarked how her sufferings were joyful, as they drew her closer to her Beloved, Jesus. When I first returned to the Church in the early 1990’s, I tried reading her writings. I must admit, when I read some of them for the first time, I had to put the book down. The love and affections conveyed there were just too much for me. I confided to her sadly and secretly in the depths of my heart, “Thérèse, I don’t love Jesus like you. Further, I don’t even want to love Jesus like you did…but I want to want to.” She has been working on that part of my prayer ever since. Thus, when I was able to travel to Lisieux this summer with my teenage daughter, Claire Thérèse, to visit the wonderful shrines dedicated to her and her now canonized parents, I recognized her hand in all of this, nudging me—pushing me—to grow closer to her Beloved. To add extra leverage, she brought in her parents, Zélie and Louis. In learning about her parents, I understand better why Thérèse became such a great saint. In...

Rome and Reasons for Hope...

I just returned from my second pilgrimage to Rome in the last 10 months. This one was to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Apostles of the Interior Life community, a Roman/American community of consecrated women, priests, and laity, of which I am a lay member. The Lord God lavished grace upon grace upon me, and gave me reasons for hope in this time of world-wide moral struggles. It is for this reason that I compose this entry. God is utterly generous and gratuitous in the bestowal of heavenly gifts.  Of this truth, I am a living witness. So, if you feel anxious or worried about this present darkness, be at peace and confident in this fact–in Christ, the battle is won, and the victory is ours. Consider the following: Without realizing the audacious events that were about to unfold in the U.S. regarding the Supreme Court and the redefinition of marriage, we were given the privilege to celebrate Holy Mass in the crypt of the  tomb of St. Peter directly beneath the High Papal Altar in St. Peter’s Basilica on June 26. While attending Mass, I was able to peer continually over the priest’s shoulder to eye the actual tomb of Peter. Immediately after the homily, all of the married couples present were invited to approach the altar and renew our wedding nuptials. My wife was able to enjoy the pilgrimage with me, so we were deeply honored to be able to renew our vows with all of the other wonderful married couples. Only later that afternoon did we find out about the SCOTUS ruling. After my shock and anger subsided, I realized what had happened earlier in the day–I renewed my marriage, along with around 20 other...

The Touch of Grace

In my previous blog, I shared some concerns I have regarding Catholics who attend some non-Catholic bible studies. As I indicated, I often discover in their thinking assumptions that are un-biblical. I summarized these in a series of either/or assertions: either you go to Christ, or Mary and the saints; either you receive grace spiritually (not sensibly) or you don’t receive it at all; and grace is either a free gift, or you have to do something, which means that its not free. In this post, I wish to examine the second another either/or assumption that can be unknowingly be presupposed in the understanding of our relationship with Christ. I summarize it as follows: either grace is given spiritually, or it’s not given at all. If some Christian (here read Catholic) tells you that you must enact some ritual (i.e. the Mass, or some other Sacrament,) to receive grace instead of a pure profession in Christ, he is placing an obstacle between you and Christ. At first glance, this certainly seems correct. God is pure spirit. His life and power come from His own eternal reality as pure spirit. Grace, the gift of His life and power to human creatures, is therefore a spiritual reality, and benefits us in our spirit. Therefore, grace must be received spiritually, or it’s not received at all. If God had not become man in Christ, I would completely agree with this. However, the reality of the Incarnation reveals the mystery of God’s new relationship with creation: The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us! (Jn 1: 14.) This means that the pure, eternal Spirit–God– has now permanently and irrevocably wed Himself to His creation by taking it unto Himself as Jesus Christ, the God-man, and now acts through His material world. This...

Wasting Money on the Poor; Wasting Time on the Dysfunctional...

Last spring I went to a lecture by Peter Brown, an expert on “Late Antiquity” (a time period centered around the early centuries of Christianity). The lecture dealt with the massive cultural and economic changes which occurred in the Roman empire due to the distinctively Christian way of conceiving the poor. Here’s more or less how Professor Brown put it: In pagan Rome, it was seen as socially irresponsible to give your money to the poor. Why? Well because it wouldn’t do any good. You’d give to the poor, they’d spend it, and then they’d be right back where they started from. So you’d be blowing your money on something with no long-term benefits. If you want to help society, do something that would improve the social infrastructure – don’t waste it on hopeless individuals. But then Jesus came along and told his followers that if you give your money to the poor, you’ll be “laying up treasure in Heaven.” Now once this idea took off, the poor became hugely important, since, after all, Christ had basically said that they were the currency exchange people for the next life. The poor were the folks who could change your Earth-bucks into Heaven-bucks, so it was a very savvy financial move to give them your money. Which is why, according to Brown, the poor became such a major factor in the economics of Christendom. Because in the Christian system it is wise to waste your money on the poor. So I thought that was interesting. Then this fall I got to go to a lecture by Leon Kass, who’s a sort of public intellectual figure. His presentation was on the “new poverty” in America – a poverty not characterized by material...

All Souls, Purgatory, and the Bible...

On All Souls Day, the Catholic Church offers prayers and liturgies for the repose of the dead. As Catholics, we are called by the Church to focus our spiritual energies to assist these poor souls, who, though saved, are still in need of purification. Our prayers and sacrifices assist them in this process of purification as a means used by God to communicate purifying grace to them. After all, He is the vine, we are the branches so that He produces his fruits of grace through us.  The practice of praying for the dead actually predates Christianity. In 2 Maccabees 12: 41-45, Judas offers prayers and sacrifices for his fallen comrades to make “atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.” Some argue that the books of the Maccabees are not inspired scripture. Leaving that argument aside for now, we can at least look at them as historical books detailing accepted pious practices of God’s people some 300 years before Christ. If that is the only place in the Bible where we find any reference to purgatory, many Protestant Christians argue, then that is a weak support for such a practice. Fortunately, we know as Catholics that all of our doctrines are indeed found in the Word of God, as is the doctrine of Purgatory. Hence what follows is a biblical understanding of the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. The book of Genesis recounts for us the far reaching repercussions of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden. This sin, we find, brought about four consequences which I will summarize here (Gen 3: 16-24): First, their sin brings about disharmony between persons. God tells Eve that both her relationship to her husband and children will now...

Hidden Treasures, Blessed Adventures in Italy...

Pilgrimages reflect and remind the pilgrim of his sojourn on earth. They are not vacations, but, rather, journeys into God’s providence. It is a time of recognizing what is our true goal, union with God in heaven, versus what is merely the means to get there, our life on earth. We often get those two mixed up. I recently returned from leading a pilgrimage to Italy. I was reminded several times that I still lack patience and charity, and so my earthly pilgrimage still has a long way to go in achieving its end. Nevertheless, this pilgrimage was for me a truly blessed adventure. God never allows our own weaknesses and sins to completely deter Him from accomplishing what He wants to do in us. He only asks that we allow Him the opportunity. I experienced profound grace at every destination. It would take too long to recount the entire journey, but there were some hidden treasures that are worth sharing. Our pilgrimage started in Florence. Florence possesses some of the greatest art treasures on earth and is an art-lover’s paradise. One of the sites that really struck me was the convent of San Marco. This ancient monastery is less known compared to some of the other art museums in the city. 600 years ago, inside this old Dominican cloister, lived a friar and master-painter named Fr Angelico, Blessed Fra Angelico, as St. John Paull II beatified him in 1982. He was asked by his superior to paint frescos inside each monk’s cell. Those frescos are still there, and their splendor has not faded with the passing of the centuries. The holiness of Fra Angelico radiates through his work. Michelangelo said of him, “he must have seen heaven to...
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