Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Christmas and the Fulfillment of Human History

God does not usually surprise us without first preparing us, sometimes for a long period of time, for what He is about to do. And yet, we are often surprised because we do not recognize His preparations.

All of history, up to the first Christmas, was a preparation for that Holy Night. That Christmas, and every celebration of Christmas since, was a great revelation of a simple but astounding truth: God's plan, His desire, His dream, is to dwell with us, to make His home among us, so that He might be our God and we might be His people.

The whole of Scripture can be read in the light of this desire of God to live with us, to share with us a life of intimacy, familiarity and communion. We find it from the beginning, when God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden in the cool of the evening. We find it in Exodus, where God’s presence with His people was manifested in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night which the people followed. We find it in the meeting tent, when Moses came out with radiant face after speaking with God.

This desire of God to be near His people is seen in the ark of the Covenant, the building of the tabernacle and the temple and in the liturgy of the Jewish people. We find it in the covenants themselves. And then, in an absolutely extraordinary way which few people recognized at the time, the whole of the Old Testament culminates in God coming to us in Person, taking on our flesh and coming to live with us as one of us, in Christ Jesus. "In the midst of our fallen world, in the midst of incredible darkness, in the midst of a world dying from sin…He comes to make a home for Himself. He comes to set up camp among us and establish a place where people can come to be healed, to be saved, and transformed.” (Fr. Michael Keating, CMSWR address 2011)

This is really quite extraordinary. Very few people were expecting this. And most of the world missed it. Only a few holy souls, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, a few simple souls (the shepherds), and those seeking wisdom (the wise men), witnessed this marvelous mystery of God coming into the world in Person to dwell with His people.

In Jesus, this Divine desire for intimacy with us becomes incarnate. He dwells within the womb of Mary for 9 months and then comes into the world as a tiny infant to dwell with us in utter poverty and need. He lives and grows up among us in the ordinary surroundings of daily life. He learns the ways of a trade with His foster father, dwelling in deep communion in a family, the Holy Family with Mary and Joseph.

When He begins His public ministry, He invites and calls the apostles and disciples to live with Him. They do everything with Him, accompanying Him in His work, asking Him questions, being fashioned and formed by His gaze, His teachings, and the words and works and wonders that come forth from Him.

And then, as He’s about to enter into His Paschal Mystery, He devises a way to still stay with them. He gives them the Holy Eucharist and ordains them so they will forever be able to bring Him down into the midst of our valley of tears -- so mankind will never be without God. As He is ascending into Heaven He reminds the apostles that He is not really leaving. He says: “Go forth and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit… and lo, I am with you till the close of the ages.” (Mt28:20)

This is astonishing, this reality that God simply does not seem able to keep away from us, does not want to keep away from us. He longs to be with us! He delights to be among the sons of men!

Fr. Hans Urs von Baltazar describes it this way: “For you must understand: He desires nearness; He would like to live in you and commingle His breath with your breathing. He would like to be with you until the end of the world. He knocks at all souls. He makes Himself small and inconspicuous so as to be able to partake of all their little transactions and concerns. He approaches quietly so as not to disturb or be recognized; He comes to be present incognito in the full hubbub of the earth’s annual fair. He seeks trust, intimacy; he is a beggar for your love.” ("Heart of the World")

When we understand God’s desire to live with us, to be one with us, our vision of life is changed. The world is full of His invitations, His attractions, His drawings to intimacy with Himself. We begin to find ourselves stealing away to be alone with Him. We begin to experience in the silence of our own spirits an ever deepening desire to be with the Lord, and to live in His House all the days of their lives.

The first Christmas contains within it the promise found both in the beginning of man's history in the Garden, and at the end of man's history in Revelations 21:1-4:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. The sea was no more, and I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more. Neither shall there be mourning or crying or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

In the midst of all our preparations, may this Christmas find us seeking the tiny Babe, that we may take Him into the humble dwelling of our own hearts where He longs to be. To the glory of God, which the angels sang on that first Holy Night, may it be said of us:

"Behold, the dwelling of God is with men."

Advent, 2014

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Healing Power of Silence

We live in a wilderness, a wilderness of noise.  Noise is not just about sound.  It has to do with the constant barrage of stimulation to our senses, emotions and even our intellect, (read information overload.)  The problem with all this noise, pure and simple, is that it is an obstacle to our own inner order and peace, and more importantly, to a living communion with God and with others.

For some reason, many of us either seem afraid of silence, or, more likely, we have lost familiarity with the wonders of silence.  Yet it is essential to our physical and spiritual well-being.

Authentic silence is not emptiness.  Things come to us in the silence.  We hear new languages. We are visited by penetrating peace, insight, God Himself, His wisdom, light, His perception and understanding.  In authentic silence we hear new sounds and enter new worlds.  In silence we come to know our own hearts.

It is interesting to note how often people observe that the sounds God has put in creation:  wind rustling in the trees, birds chirping, the lapping of waves at the ocean, are a balm to the soul.  This stands in stark contrast to the agitation and disturbance created by the sounds of the modern world driven by mechanical energy and a volume, a pitch that does violence to one’s nerves, stressing them beyond what they are meant to endure.  Silence is almost completely exiled from our modern culture. Yet it is exceedingly important for us.

Silence in fact is so important to us that it may be one of the main reasons God has structured us to sleep a third of our days.   We know that when we can’t sleep, when our bodies and  minds are deprived of  the stillness good sleep brings, we become sick.  Anyone who struggles with insomnia knows the anxiety and frustration lack of sleep brings.  “If I could just sleep, I would feel better,” is the all too common cry.  For those saints who were able to pray the night away and not be ill-affected, it was because they entered a deep contemplative silence that so rejuvenated soul and spirit, the body was refreshed and strengthened by it…

In the Liturgy, given to us by God through Moses on Mt Sinai, and Jesus at the Last Supper, there are spaces for silence.  That tells us that silence is part of a Divine Rhythm, part of the rhythm of life in Heaven…it tells us silence is a good thing, a medium for God’s communication of Himself to us.  The lives of Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph, in particular, bear striking witness to the inseparability of silence from great holiness.

In those who are progressing in prayer, in the inner experience of the presence of God, silence becomes a medium for God’s deeper and deeper communication of Himself to the soul.  St. Teresa calls one of the early stages of contemplative prayer, the Prayer of Quiet.  God begins to suspend, or silence or still the human activity of the mind, the will, the memory, the imagination, the passions, so that He can communicate Himself more deeply.  And in that, the soul itself begins to be healed of its defects and weaknesses and disorder.  St. John of the Cross poetically describes this as:  “My house being now all stilled…”  He goes on to say that once there is this stillness (which comes through real purifications) the soul is now able to go out to find God without hindrance or distraction.  This, by the way, is often something one sees in those who are going through the process of dying.  They become strangely quiet in the months and weeks preceding their deaths.  It is as if they no longer have words. In the activity of God in their souls, as they are being readied to enter eternity, they often go through, all at once, the purifications as well as the sweet visitations of the Lord, that the person who prays regularly, goes through over a period of time.

We are all interested in healing these days.  This is the true healing we seek, that which comes to us from God Himself, the Divine Physician, and which heals us from the inside out and orders our inner being to bring it into communion with He Who is our ultimate bliss and fulfillment.

If we want to be healthy, we must cultivate spaces of silence in our lives.  Not the isolating silence so many live in, but a silence that nurtures peace within and communion without.  One place to begin is to keep our Churches as sanctuaries of silence, not places for chit chat.

Another concrete step is to actually set aside real time for silence.  Silent prayer.  Not vocal prayer but a prayer of presence, of being, in silence, in the presence of the Lord, even for 5 minutes a day, preferably in a place where there is no outside noise. (That may be early in the morning before the rest of the family rises.)  Simply ask the Lord to take you into Himself for 5 minutes, to be still and know that He is God.

Over 100 years ago, Maria Montessori noted that children have an innate need for intervals of stillness and silence, silence for her, meaning the cessation of every movement:

“One day I came into class holding in my arms a baby four months old, which I had taken from the arms of its mother in the courtyard.  … The silence of the little creature struck me, and I wanted the children to share my feeling.  … To my amazement I saw an extraordinary tension in the children who watched me. It seemed as though they were hanging on my lips, and felt deeply all I was saying.  “Then its breathing,” I went on, “how soft it is. None of you could breathe as it does, without making a sound…” The children, surprised and motionless, held their breath. In that moment there was an extraordinary silence; the tick of the clock, which generally could not be heard, became perceptible. It seemed as if the baby had brought with it an atmosphere of silence such as does not exist in ordinary life. This was because no one was making the smallest movement. And from this came the wish to listen to the silence, and hence to reproduce it.” Maria Montessori  (The Secret of Childhood)

She created the “Silence Game” in which children begin practicing this kind of silence for small intervals at first (even 30 seconds), and then for longer periods. There is a joy the children, (and the teacher) experience, when they are able to do this.  They later come to ask for the Silence Game when things become chaotic or noisy, recognizing that this silence has the power to restore their inner peace and equilibrium.  Then, as a year progresses, the silence begins to happen spontaneously, within the whole group.  The children will look up when this happens, smile, and go back to their work.  The natural, contemplative spirit of the child, over time, is released.

It may seem like passivity to focus on silence when the world is screaming for answers and actions to address it’s many grave problems.  Yet, “if The Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor.”  Likewise, the walls of Jericho would never have come tumbling down, nor would the people have persisted in the right action, if they had not consulted and stayed faithful to the Lord’s rather odd directions.

It  has become an almost urgent necessity today, to ask Our Lord and Our Lady to lead each of us to the kind of silence we speak of.  The release of a true contemplative spirit among us, one in which the Lord lives and moves us, will, in the end, be the key to the salvation of our modern world.

Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Mature Believers

On November 15, 1972, at a General Audience, Pope Paul VI said the following:

"WHAT ARE the Church's greatest needs at the present time? Don't be surprised at Our answer and don't write it off as simplistic or even superstitious: one of the Church's greatest needs is to be defended against the evil we call the Devil."

It is worth reading the entire text of this address to understand yet again how the Lord is always teaching us exactly what we need to understand about the world in which we live. Pope Paul VI speaks movingly about the beauty of the Christian vision of the universe, as well as it's dramatic history gifted with the great treasures of Redemption.

Yet, his focus in this address is upon the proper awareness, understanding and response to the mystery of evil. A question that begs answering is: why does so much evil go unchallenged?

There are well-established evils already present in the world, abortion and pornography, to name a few of the many. But there are also newly developing ones that scandalize us but don't seem to rouse enough of us to action. The barbaric activity of Isis in the Middle East is a current example. There are others.

One of the fastest growing criminal activities in the world is human trafficking. Somewhere between 27 and 30 million people have already been enslaved by it. This is an evil that is unquestionably intelligent, organized and has the darkest of forces behind it.

There are many people addressing this abomination, including our own SOLT Sisters in Thailand who have a "safe" house for young girls who come to the city to study and who would otherwise be vulnerable to the sex industry there. But are there enough of us who see with a mature eye and play a decisive role in this battle of the Kingdoms?

Recently, one of our Sisters was on a plane from Corpus Christi to Kansas City. There were 4 young girls on the plane. The head flight attendant asked Sister to help her to find out where these girls were from and where they were going. Sister was able to obtain the requested information which had marks of human trafficking. It was reported immediately to the Police. There was an emergency landing in Houston where these girls were recovered by the Immigration Officials. A man on the flight who acted like the protector of these girls was arrested at the next stop-over in Dallas. Sister was accompanied by a police escort the rest of the way to Kansas City to ensure her safety.

This depravity is close to home, present among us. Yet, too much evil goes unchallenged...

Christine Caine, a wonderful, spirit-filled, mature believer who is among those standing up to this evil, has found in her work with women, some horrific realities of the way human trafficking operates. She recounted the story of a young woman in Bulgaria who went out with her friend. A drug was put in her coffee. She woke up in a different country (Greece) chained to a bed, and forced to take 25 men a day. This went on for 3 weeks at which point she was able to contact her mother through a cell phone she'd hidden. Her mother got hold of Chris Caine's organization, A21, and they were able to rescue the girl and get her to a safe house.

Human trafficking in that part of the world follows this pattern: the traffickers work the girls for two years. Then, those who are able, they impregnate. They then sell the babies to infant farms who in turn sell the children to pedophile rings, illegal adoption rings, and begging rings. Begging rings use children to get money and they often amputate limbs because such children bring in more money. As for the girls, they overdose them with drugs and when they die, their organs are trafficked, another huge activity of organized crime.

These things are beyond shocking. But this is what happens when evil goes unchallenged. It proliferates at incredible speed. This is what happens when we refuse to become mature believers who stand up to whatever evil presents itself in our lives and the lives of those we love. This is what happens when we wallow in our own self-centered world, allowing ourselves to be endlessly distracted and deceived, and refusing to let Christ really detach us, cleanse us, strengthen us, and transform us into warriors for the Kingdom, into valiant men and women meant for such a time as this.

We were not set into this time by the Lord to be comfortable. We're meant to make a difference in the cause of Christ, in halting the spread of darkness and advancing the Kingdom of God in this generation. We have a lot of territory to reclaim. But we take heart that God will equip us for every good work (Tim. 3:17).

Please, let us do the work we need to do to die to the "old" man (woman) so that we can authentically take up our positions in the battle, and in Christ, help to free His people from the oppression of the evil one. May the Holy Spirit and Our Blessed Mother lead us as their little army, in all humility and docility to the complete victories of Christ.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Our Lady of Sorrows and the Prophecy of Simeon

Every person’s life is marked by both sorrows and joys. The two often intertwine in such a way as to make one impossible without the other.

When considering a Feast like Our Lady of Sorrows, it is good to keep in mind that sorrow is always related to love. We do not grieve what we do not love. The greater the love, the deeper the sorrow when the good we love is lost, threatened, abused or violated in some way.

Who can measure the sorrows of Our Lady? The fullness of grace abiding in her infused her with a love that completely transcended our human limitations. Because of this, her sorrow likewise knew no bounds. The two realities in her have been linked at various times to other titles, most notably “Our Lady of Compassion” and “Our Lady of Hope,” both beautiful because they speak to this union of love and sorrow.

Simeon’s prophecy, as Mary and Joseph present the infant Jesus in the Temple, is the first public pronouncement to Mary of where her relationship with the God-Man, her child, will take her. Simeon utters mysterious words:
“Behold this child is set for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed.” (Luke 2: 34-35)

These words are intriguing. But they can be understood from the perspective of Mary's unique motherhood. What mother does not know her child so well that even those things that seem otherwise hidden, are not hidden to her?

As children we were amazed by this in our own mothers. We would exclaim: “How did she know that? Does she have eyes in the back of her head?” Actually no. But mothers have eyes at the center of their hearts. Love gives one a vision into things that are otherwise concealed. And that love encourages us, like no other, to remedy any evil or disorder in our hearts. With great solicitude a mother knows us as we really are so that we can become all we’re meant to be.

There is some interesting scientific research that gives support to this even on a biological level. At a congress entitled: “At the Dawn of Human Life,” organized by the Institute of Gynecology and Obstetrics of the Catholic University of Rome, during the Jubilee year 2000, Professor Salvatore Mancuso, head of the Gynecology Institute, presented some fascinating findings. The research gave proof that beginning in the fifth week of gestation,

“…when a woman realizes she is pregnant, an infinite number of messages pass from the embryo to the mother, through chemical substances like hormones, neurotransmitters, etc….and the embryo sends stem cells that colonize the maternal medulla and adhere to it. Lymphocytes are born from here and remain with the woman for the rest of her life.” Mancuso stated: “From the fifth week there is clearly a passing of cells, but messages begin at conception. Even during the first phases of cellular subdivision, when the embryo is moving in the fallopian tubes, there are transmissions through contact with the tissues touched by the moving embryo. Later, after implantation in the uterus, the dialogue is more intense through the blood and cells, and chemical substances that enter the mother’s bloodstream. Finally the child’s stem cells pass to the mother in great quantity both at the moment of birth, whether spontaneous or Caesarean, as well as at the time of abortion whether spontaneous or voluntary.”

When asked how long the fetus’ influence on the mother lasts, the professor answered: “Stem cells have been found in the mother even 30 years after the birth. It could be said therefore that the pregnancy does not last the 40 canonical weeks, but the woman’s entire life….It is somewhat as though the thoughts of the child pass to the mother, even many years after his birth.”

This is what Simeon’s prophecy is about, though in a spiritual sense. It is a prophecy of the universal motherhood that will be given to Mary in the agony of Calvary. As a mother knows everything about her children, and suffers not only for, but with her children, Mary, in an extraordinary way, was so one with Jesus in His sufferings and death that she is rightly called Co-Redemptrix. As her soul was mystically being pierced on Calvary, Jesus opened up a place large enough within her, to take on a universal motherhood for all of us.

In one way, Mary’s sorrows flowed from the sufferings of her innocent Divine Son. In another, they flowed from her maternal union with us and our indifference and ingratitude toward God's unfathomable love for us. Her distress over those children who reject their Father's love keeps her always at work and in intercession for the restoration of this relationship. She is near us always, helping us in all adversity, affliction, heartache and difficulty.

St. Pope John Paul II puts it beautifully this way: “Mary Most Holy goes on being the loving consoler of those touched by the many physical and moral sorrows which afflict and torment humanity. She knows our sorrows and pains because she too suffered, from Bethlehem to Calvary…Mary is our Spiritual Mother, and the mother always understands her children and consoles them in their troubles. Then, she has that specific mission to love us, received from Jesus on the Cross, to love us only and always, so as to save us! Mary consoles us above all by pointing out the Crucified One and Paradise to us!” (1980)

Mary continues to mother us, laboring to bring us to true holiness, so that we can be born into eternal life and everlasting happiness. When we are all safely home, it is then, as the best of Mothers, that her joy will be complete.

Denial and the Roots of Violence

Denial and the Roots of Violence

One of the most distressing realities in the world today is the prevalence of violence. News stories ranging from reports of local crimes to the atrocities of the drug lords to the tortures and executions among rebels and fanatics and dictatorial regimes in various parts of the world seem more and more extreme and almost unbelievable. The destruction of the unborn, perhaps the worst example of all, no longer even gets attention in the average mind. Where does this unbridled, ever increasing aggression, come from? The Word of God gives us some clues.

Jesus points to the heart, as do St. James, and St. Paul. "...out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander." (cf. Mt 15:18-20; also Mk 7:20-23). "What leads to war, what leads to quarreling among you? Is it not precisely the desires fighting inside your own selves?" (Jm 4: 1). " once nourished hostility in your hearts because of your evil deeds," (Col 1:21).

Whenever we sin we contract something of the contagion of the evil one. His primary disease is pride-induced rage against God. It spills over into a crazed hatred for everything that has its source in God, human beings in particular, and types him as a liar and "a murderer from the beginning." This kind of spirit can begin to contaminate, little by little, anyone of us.

How is it we become infected by this contagion? We are already born handicapped by the consequences of the sin of our first parents. Our own personal sin further weakens our spiritual immunities and compromises our spiritual health so that without regular infusions of grace from the Mass, sacraments, God's Word and prayer, opportunistic temptations begin to gain strength until at some particular moment our defenses are breached and we no longer have the strength to repulse the enemy.

Yet, there is a difference in what happens to a person who has never known The Lord, and one who has known The Lord intimately but then falls through continual carelessness or selfishness or the seduction of some idolatry.

It becomes especially frightening when an entire people who has once once known the Lord, forsakes Him for these reasons. For they become then capable of every evil imaginable, and worse yet, seeing and calling it good. Bishop Fulton Sheen noted that sin is not the greatest evil in the world, but rather the denial of sin is. It is what put Jesus on the Cross. Can there be a greater act of violence than the murder of God Himself, one which was justified by the religious leaders of the time as good for the nation?

In the readings for Thursday of the 16th week in ordinary time, the Prophet Isaiah, whom Jesus quotes, describes this condition: "Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted and I heal them."

In the medical world the modern mind would understand this as a state of denial. In the spiritual life it's just as deadly as the state of one who denies symptoms of cancer or heart disease. Yet anyone who knows the workings of denial knows that a challenge to it can provoke vehement reaction.

When denial is firmly entrenched, one can no longer speak the truth directly. The person in denial cannot, chooses not to see it or hear it. They are unable to receive it in any unfiltered form. They become insensitive, and even, as Josef Pieper notes, "unable to search for truth because they become satisfied with a fictitious reality which has been created through the abuse of language." So Jesus often does not speak directly to the people. He uses another tactic. He speaks in parables. He intrigues. He touches the desire in man to solve mystery, to know secrets.

He acknowledges at the same time that those (his own disciples) who can know the truth directly are blessed. Sin has not deadened their sensitivities nor made them skeptics. Unrepented sin that is. For there is perhaps no one more sensitive to grace, more grateful, more humbly dependent on God's mercy and receptive to His communications of truth and love, than the repentant sinner.

But one steeped in sin, and more importantly, attached to it, becomes insensible to even the most spectacular graces, skeptical of God's miraculous power, which though without limit, never trespasses man's free will. Truth and grace must be chosen. Speaking truth directly without this can be dangerous, just as it was when Jesus spoke clearly in the synagogue and His own townspeople, in response, attempted to throw Him off a cliff. Denial is a tenacious animal. It can be vicious in protecting it's territory.

This explains the oftentimes unreasonable anger that a believer can encounter in an unbeliever. It's difficult to hold a genuine conversation when hostility surfaces quickly, as though truth itself is the trigger for visceral rejection and rebellion. It's pretty much impossible to approach someone with water, even life-giving waters, if they've been infected by the spiritual variant of rabies.

Which is another reason why Jesus was "not able" to perform many miracles in certain places, because of the lack of faith, of belief. Not because He couldn't but because He wouldn't impose Himself, or force Himself on an unbelieving lot, a people in denial.

This makes the man who prayed: "Lord I believe, help my unbelief," remarkable for his recognition of his own state and remarkable for his humility in asking for the right remedy. May we have his same courage to break free from the fetters of denial in our own lives, for the sake of our own healing, and our healing as a people whom God has chosen to be His own.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Wine That Dazes

While speaking with a dear friend recently, I found myself sharing some of my personal experiences growing up during the 60’s and 70’s. I lived my grade school, high school and college, during the great movements and turmoil of that time: the civil rights movement with its urban riots, massive and active anti-war, anti-establishment activity especially on the campuses, women’s liberation, changes in the Church with Vatican II and shortly thereafter, the exodus of thousands of Priests and Sisters from their vocations. I vividly recall the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, from the impressionable and uncomprehending perspective of youth. My friend asked what I thought, out of all that, had had the greatest impact on our culture, our society today. While there is a case to be made for the progress we’ve made in civil rights, and while I believe the Church has been tremendously blessed by Vatican II (yet is also still reeling from the effect of the thousands who left their vocations,) I responded without hesitation that the sexual revolution, to my mind, has had the greatest impact on where we are today.

In the Divine Office, which Priests, Religious and many Laity pray daily, there is a psalm that speaks about what happens when God’s people are unfaithful. Psalm 60: 5 says:

“You have inflicted hardships on your people
and made us drink a wine that dazed us.”

But then it says:

”You have given those who fear you a sign
to flee from the enemy’s bow.”

I was moved to ask what is the wine that dazes us? It clearly seemed to me that the wine we tasted in the sexual revolution was the wine of sexual permissiveness. And now we crave this wine. We, as a people, have become addicted to this wine and over these last decades have brewed some very potent varieties of it. Some are so potent that they say one taste (pornography comes to mind), immediately hooks you.

In the space of a relatively short time, we have become like the chronic alcoholic who rationalizes his use and denies the devastation and destruction all around him, because he wants free and unfettered access. Never mind that marriages and families are destroyed, babies aborted, children traumatized and stripped of their innocence. Never mind that violence against women increases, along with every other imaginable form of degradation and perversion. Never mind that disease, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, can be directly traced to the devastating effects of this addiction. We just have to have it. We tell ourselves this makes us free, adult, normal, uninhibited. Exactly what the alcoholic says.

Our denial with regard to what we are drinking is so strong now, that we are blind to our own enslavement, except when the despair this creates in us sometimes seeps through to the surface and we experience that sin has it's own punishment built into it. We can no longer help ourselves. And because we do not want to be judged, we try to convince everyone else this is a good thing. “Try it, you’ll like it.” Thus have we exported the wine of our own lewdness to the nations, as the book of Revelation puts it. (Aren’t we the biggest exporter of pornography in the world?)

This is one addiction that also helps paralyze this country, that makes it passive, indifferent in the face of the grave moral challenges we face. We complicity acquiesce to the sin of others so we can be left alone with our own sin. “As long as you leave me free to do what I want, go ahead and do whatever you want.” That seems to be the thinking of so many. It accounts for the apathy that exists in place of a vigorous defense of justice and right and all that is good, truly good. How can there be moral indignation in a people who are not living moral lives? Could this be why so many people are silent in the face of the gross attacks on human life and dignity that exist in our world today?

Psalm 60 says that God gives those who fear Him a sign to flee from the enemy’s bow (the fiery darts St. Paul talks about). Perhaps one sign can be found in the Wedding Feast of Cana.

Jesus wants to give us a different kind of wine, the wine from this wedding feast. This wine is given to those who are rightly ordered in the gift of their sexuality and who celebrate it in the context in which it was given to us by Our Heavenly Father. This wine, the best wine, fills us with love for life, excitement at the promise it holds, joy in the divine love it expresses. It is a wine which is available to all, and which can be had by following Our Lady’s counsel: “Do whatever He tells you.”

This is the wine the world truly craves, the wine we were created to drink freely. This is the wine that will not enslave but will bring all of us into the true freedom of the sons and daughters of God. May the Most Holy Trinity and Our Lady heal us and bring us to be worthy to receive this wine.

March 5, 2013

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Price of Our Ransom

The Price of Our Ransom

What does God think of humanity?  What does God think of us?  There is plenty of evidence to suggest that what we think He thinks, and what He actually thinks, are often two very different things.

The bloodshed in the last century alone causes devout people sometimes to feel God should intervene, and perhaps, just as in the time of Noah, start over with a remnant.  After all, wars and ideological struggles, the persecution of Christians in various parts of the world, genocide, tyranny and intentional famines, homicide and  the holocaust that is abortion have been responsible for the deaths of 1.5 - 2 billion people in only one century of time.   There is not a place on earth that has been unaffected by senseless bloodshed, a situation which at times seems almost hopeless, even to people of strong faith.

Yet, If one could look from some distant point in the universe, at all the suns birthing worlds, all the planets spinning through space, at nebulae and quasars, pulsars, comets, moons and asteroids, the prodigious wonders of galaxies coming to life and others passing away, there would be one spot in creation more beautiful, more blessed, more full of light than all the rest!  And it would be our own earth.

This is not because of those who inhabit this world.  In fact the inhabitants of our particular world are often so caught in quagmires of darkness that they cannot be said to be responsible in anyway for this beauty.  Yet exceptional beauty there is because of God's personal presence among us.

God's interventions in human history are respectful, astounding and full of a wisdom we do not readily comprehend.  Most of the things we attribute to God, war chief among them, are really just the consequences of our own sins catching up with us. But from the beginning of time, God's response to our sin, after pointing out the consequences which logically flowed from them, was to promise a Redeemer.  The first sin led all of us into captivity.  But God was immediately prepared to pay the ransom.

Historically the amount of ransom demanded is determined by the value placed on the person held.  The largest ransom ever paid was by the Incas in  1532, to Francisco Pizarro for the release of their leader.  The amount of gold given him  would be worth about $2 billion in today's markets.  Pizarro took the ransom but did not honor the agreement.  He executed the Incan leader anyway.

The ransom paid by God for us is infinitely beyond any sum, no matter how great.  That in itself tells us something of the value God places on each one of us.  St. Peter says:

"You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot."  (1Peter 1:18-19). Jesus gives His very life, down to His last drop of blood, in order to redeem us.

July is a month which the Church dedicates to honoring the Precious Blood of Jesus in a special way.  Why the Precious Blood?  Because the Precious Blood of Jesus is the price of our salvation.  It is God's answer to our sin.  It is the ransom He freely and willingly gives as an expression of His unfathomable love for us.

And this ransom, which is of infinite worth, has been paid once and for all.  It may be claimed for anything and anyone, for salvation, conversions, protection, liberation from bondages, reconciliation, purification, healing, restoration of relationships with the Trinity, the saints, each other, for the souls in Purgatory, for advancement of the work of the Kingdom.

How do we access this ransom that is ours?  Most easily through the sacraments, through the Mass, through prayer.  St. Paul says that where sin abounds grace superabounds.  (Romans 5:20). He can say this because of the ransom which Christ has paid!  We are entitled to all the good things of God because of this ransom.  And we are left all of the channels in the Church by which we may acquire them.

Who doesn't want to be saved?  Saved from despair, saved from meaninglessness, saved from a life without love, saved from our own narrow, selfish desires and compulsions, and from all the captivities the world so easily lures us into?  Is there anyone who does not want to be saved from illusion?  Saved from sin?  Is there anyone who does not want to be saved from death?  Really?

St. Pope John XXIII stated, "The world can still set itself right and always will be able to, because the voice and Blood of Christ cry out for pity and mercy... Devotion to the Precious Blood is the devotion of our time...It is devotion for all souls, for the whole world."

If you really want to know what God thinks of humanity, what He thinks of you, ponder well the astounding price Christ has paid for you and for all of mankind, and let your heart respond unceasingly with awe and overflowing gratitude!

June 2, 2014

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Our Lady of Conquering Love

Our Lady of Conquering Love

At Calvary, where Jesus conquered sin, the flesh, the devil, death and all of hell, Mary was given to us to be our Mother.  In His last moments Jesus shared His love for Mary with us that we might love her too and entrust ourselves to her care just as He did.  It is a love upon which He bestows boundless blessing.

Mary is not a passive woman, nor a pushy, aggressive one either. This is the valiant woman par excellence, who is as active a mother in the world today as she was when she mothered all those Jesus gave to her care during His hidden life, His public ministry, and in the early Church as it struggled through persecution to establish itself and evangelize the world.

One of the great stories of Our Lady's care for us, from our recent history, comes to us from the Philippines.  The Philippines is a poor country, and the trials and sufferings of its people are immense.  At the same time the people have a vibrant, living faith that freely expresses itself in their culture.

During the 1980s, after having suffered for 20 years under the corrupt, oppressive, authoritarian regime of President Ferdinand Marcos,  the Archbishop of Manila and spiritual leader of Asia, Jaime Cardinal Sin, called for a Marian year.  People attended Rosary rallies, processions and special Masses by the millions, imploring Our Blessed Mother's help.

At end of the year (1986), the people, including Priests and Religious, took to the streets, again by the millions, praying, carrying banners, and demanding that Marcos step down.  Marcos responded by sending tanks into the streets and ordering his soldiers to fire upon the crowds.  The soldiers looked into their gun sights to take aim but saw images of Our Lady everywhere.  They could not, would not fire.  In the end Marcos was airlifted out of the country and democracy was restored.

This was an unheard of thing, a completely bloodless, nonviolent revolution.  Secular media called it the People Power Revolution.  The Spanish of another era, here in our own country, would have called it the work of La Conquistadora, Our Lady of Conquering Love!  And the Filippinos themselves know where the real victory came from.

Blessed Pope John Paul II took his cue from the events in the Philippines and called for a Marian year for the whole world from June 7 (Pentecost), 1987 to  August 15 (the Assumption), 1988.  Following the close of the world-wide Marian year, the Iron Curtain fell, and shortly thereafter the Soviet bloc disintegrated, all to the utter astonishment of the secular press.

Coincidence?  Don't believe it!  They say the most common word heard on the battlefield is "mother".  But this is the Mother we need in the battles we fight today.  We are all her children and she is ready to help any who approach her.

Praying the rosary, asking Mary's intercession, and honoring her in different ways has so much more efficacy and meaning when we know and understand her as she really is.  Mary is more favored, has a richer personality, more gifts, deeper emotions, greater wisdom, profounder graces, more sensitive, loving virtue, and a more heavenly human beauty than anyone who ever was or ever will be born, aside from Jesus himself.  No one sways the heart of God nor reaches it as quickly as she does.  And no one aside from God Himself loves us as much as she does!

She is ours!  This is who God has given us to be our Mother, the very one He singled out and prepared for Himself.  This is the woman of unshakable faith in the midst of suffering and sorrows we will never even remotely comprehend or appreciate.  This is a woman of invincible charity, hope and courage, who comes up from the desert like an army in battle array and crushes the head of the ancient enemy with her heel.  Her humility, simplicity and modesty are more feared by the powers of darkness than the greatest preaching on earth!  This is the soul so full of grace and light, and adorned with such great fruits that it alone ravishes the heart of God and causes Him to send floods of grace upon the whole world, beginning with the greatest gift of all, the sending of Jesus to be our Savior.

With grateful hearts, we ask Mary Our Mother, Our Lady of Conquering Love, to obtain for each of us the Light, charity and strength that routs the enemy, overcomes the immense dangers of our present existence, and helps us in peace to continue the work of building the Kingdom of God.

Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT
April, 2014

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Urgency of Divine Love

The Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Urgency of Divine Love

In 1673, Jesus began appearing  to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a humble nun of the Visitation Order, in Paray Le Monial, France.  He revealed to her the tender wonders of His love for her, desiring through her to share these same wonders with the whole world.

In the course of His revelations to St. Margaret Mary, Jesus complained of our ingratitude.  But His complaint was weighted with the sorrow of a lover who knows not what else He can do to gain the attention of his beloved, a beloved who is totally distracted and uncomprehending.  In the great apparition which occurred sometime during the octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi, 1675, He said, in what must have been an imploring spirit, "Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming itself, in order to testify its love.”

We should ask ourselves: What is it we behold, what is it we see, when we look at the Heart of Christ? What is Jesus trying so hard to show us?

It is interesting that Jesus says: "Behold the heart," and not:  "Behold My heart."  Jesus, in His Incarnation, comes to reveal the Father to us. Scripture says Jesus "is the image of the invisible God." (Col 1:15) He tells the Apostles:  "If you see Me, you see the Father."  (Jn 14:9)

So is He not really saying: "Behold the Heart...which is the Heart of the Father.  If you only knew the depths of His love!” ?

One of the most compelling revelations of the Heart of God in Scripture is found in the father of the prodigal son. The younger son, returning home after losing everything, though genuinely repentant, is in survival mode. He approaches the father completely broken by his own sinful choices. He has utterly spurned his father's love and squandered every gift that has been given to him.

Yet the love in the heart of the father who has been anxiously watching and praying for his son's return sees only that his son is back.  And though the son has no real expectations, other than to be treated as a slave, the father's response instead is an explosion of love! He orders the best robe, a ring for his finger, sandals for his feet, and the commencement of a feast!  His heart has no other response.  Not anger, not judgment, not punishment.  Only rejoicing, tearful embraces, and celebration!  Perhaps we are sometimes held back from approaching or returning to our Father, because we have the same poor expectations as the prodigal son did.  Our defective appreciation of God's love only harms us!

The sufferings of our lives, especially those that come from our sinful choices, wound our hearts and often plunge us into our own little hells on earth.  But the Wound in the Heart of Christ, which we caused, is different.  It is a gateway into the Father's love.  Entering that Wound takes us on our first steps into Heaven.

Witness the promises of Jesus to those who recognize His love, the Father's love, and seek to live in the Heart that is the source of that love.  These promises were given to St. Margaret Mary as part of the revelations of Divine Love and are made to those who are devoted to Jesus' Sacred Heart:

1.  I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.

2.  I will establish peace in their families.

3.  I will console them in all their troubles.

4.  They shall find in My Heart an assured refuge during life and especially at the hour of their death.

5.  I will pour abundant blessings on all their undertakings.

6.  Sinners shall find in My Heart the source of an infinite ocean of mercy.

7.  Tepid souls shall become fervent.

8.  Fervent souls shall speedily rise to great perfection.

9.  I will bless the homes where an image of My Heart shall be exposed and honored.

10. I will give to priests the power of touching the most hardened hearts.

11. Those who propagate this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be effaced.

12. The all-powerful love of My Heart will grant to all those who shall receive Communion on the First Friday of nine consecutive months the grace of final repentance; they shall not die under my displeasure, nor without receiving their Sacraments; My heart shall be their assured refuge at that last hour.

Does that not already sound like Heaven begun on earth?  Isn't that what we're seeking?

But there's even more.  Poor as we really are, and we are all poor in the presence of God, just as stripped as the prodigal son, we have the possibility of being able to bring joy and consolation to the Heart of Jesus, to the Heart of the Father, by returning to Him, by remembering Him in the ways He asks above.  This helps repair, in some mysterious and superabundant way, the hurt Jesus feels, the hurt the Father feels, over the indifference and ingratitude of the vast majority of men.  When we behold the Heart that has loved us so, these are small requests.  But fulfilling them can transform our lives.  And at the end of our lives, these practices will safely lead us through the Wound of Divine Love into the glory of Eternity.

Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT
May 3, 2014