Here we are again, staring down the last few months of the year, watching the harvest ripen in the field, while the leaves change and the days grow cooler and the nights grow longer.
It's October and that brings Halloween. Already in the stores and in many homes, elements of "the spooky season" can be seen. Werewolves, witches, spiders, ghosts - they are all in profusion. And although I know that I have a very different perspctive on Halloween than most Catholic bloggers, I still maintain that all these visual reminders can be a good, even healthy thing for us. Sure, most of the Halloween items around us are promoting impulse buying and even a descent into things that are not good for us (I mean, no one is THAT naive), but nevertheless, these images of ghosts and goblins and skeletens continue the long tradition of being aware of our own inevitable physical deaths, and even more importantly, of becoming aware of our own spiritual deaths as they are today.
All of these images serve both purposes - they remind us that ultimately we will have to take stock of our actions and decisions, but more importantly, they remind us to take a spiritual inventory of where we are right now. It is certainly possible to be physically alive but spiritually dead - spiritually in the form of a witch, werewolf, ghost or goblin. The Walking Dead is more than just the name of a tv series.
And it is especially important to take stock now, in October, because November is approaching quickly! The month of November is the month when we, as a church, pray for all the dead who have gone before us. But let's not constrain our prayers to just those who are physically dead (as important as that is). Let's also pray for those who are spiritually dead, that they may experience a resurrection now.
So rather than just dismissing all these reminders of death and doom, why not use the month of October to take a serious look within? Are we entertaining werewolves, vampires, and their kind unawares? Do they, in reality, journey with us for most of the year? Don't let October and "the spooky season" pass without reaping its benefits and the wisdom it has to offer.
Today is a special day, indeed! Not only is it the first official day of Fall (and, in theory, when cooler weather starts and we get a break from 100 degree days) but it is also the day that we remember, honor and thank God for the great gift of St. Pio.
St. Pio, or Padre Pio, as he was referred to in life, is one of our more recent saints. He was born May 25, 1887, in Pietrelcina, Italy. He was born to a poor, hard working family, but he spent the majority of his life tucked away at the end of the earth - or so it seemed to those who visited the monastery- at San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy.
Over the course of his life as a friar and priest, St. Pio was known for his ability to intercede for the faithful and to convert the unfaithful. He was given many, many spiritual gifts, including that of the odor of sanctity, oa beautiful scent that signified he was near. This odor was sometimes the scent of flowers, other times it was a heavy perfume or an exotic tobacco. He also had the gift of bilocation, which is the ability to be in two places at the same time, as well as the gift of being able to read hearts. He knew when the confessions he heard were sincere, and even when people left some sins out. He was especially loved for his deep and abiding sympathy towards the sick and struggling who came ot see him. He could obtain miraculous cures for many people, even from a great distance.
But of all these gifts, the greatest he received by far was that of the stigmata - the 5 wounds that Christ received when he was on the cross. It was through St. Pio's participation in the suffering of Christ that made him so Christ-like. Like Christ, he could cure the sick and comfort the sad. He had a more-than-human ability to interact with nature and the laws of physics. And like CHirst, he was humble and meek, giving all glory to God.
The teachings and spirituality of St. Pio are continued through the Padre Pio Foundation of America (www.padrepio.com) whose aim is to spread devotion and knowlege of St. Pio. Padre Pio died in Italy in 1968. He is best remembered for the words "Pray. hope and don't worry!"
St. Pio, pray for us!
Ahh, June. That month of daydreaming and dandelions, when time slows down, the days are longer, the breeze is softer and evening twilight lasts and lasts. We move out of the time of Easter celebration and back to ordinary time. Note that "ordinary" does not mean "boring" or "uneventful." Rather, it means we get back to the basics of normal growth in the spiritual life. And this month offers a wonderful Catholic devotion to orient us in getting back to the basics - the Feast of the Sacred Heart.
To start off the month of June, let's revisit devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart was inspired straight from the words of Scripture. When the soldier pierced the side of Christ, his lance cut into the heart, drawing the blood out and onto the earth. This is why more realistic depictions of the Sacred Heart show a gash in the flesh.
Over the years, many saints have venerated the Sacred Heart of Christ. However, the most well know was St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun who lived in the 1670s. She was called by Jesus himself "the beloved disciple of the Sacred Heart." Jesus made 12 promises to her for those who would venerate his heart.
12 Promises of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary
1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state in life.
2. I will establish peace in their families.
3. I will comfort them in their trials.
4. I will be their secure refuge during life, and above all, in death.
5. I will shed abundant blessings on all their undertakings.
6. Sinners will find in my heart an infinite ocean of mercy.
7. Lukewarm souls will become fervent.
Today, May 13th, 2019, marks the 102th anniversary of Mary's apparition to 3 small shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. Like most Marian apparitions, it took place in an obscure location, to some relatively unimportant people, at least by worldly standards. Yet, like the mustard seed, this apparition grew and grew until it became known worldwide, transcending time and space.
The 3 children were engaged one ordinary day in their regular chore of tending the sheep. They would later say that before Mary visited them, an angel who identified himself as the "Angel of Peace" and the "Guardian Angel of Portugal" appeared to them 3 times to teach them prayers and invite them to offer sacrifices and spend time in adoration of our Lord. He was preparing them to receive an even greater visitor, Mary, the Mother of God.
Over the course of several months, Mary gave the children 3 secrets, all of which were eventually revealed. The first secret was a vision of hell. The second secret revealed a desire by God to establish a devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Through this devotion, Mary promised to save souls and bring peace to the world, all through her ability to intercede for us before God. The third and final secret had to do with the death of a pope and other religious figures. Most people think that this event was attempted but not completed in the assassination attempt on Pope St. John Paul II. He himself said he believed his life had saved through Mary's intercession.
Many good and worthwhile books and commentaries have been written about Fatima, and it is a subject worth learning about. Rather than try to summarize the Fatima story here, I would like to point you to some reliable sources for reading about it. It takes a while to work through the events of the apparition and to listen to Mary's message at the same time. The small book The True Story of Fatima is a good place to start. Ignatius Press also published a book called Fatima Mysteries: Mary's Message to the Modern Age, and I also recommend William Walsh's book Our Lady of Fatima.
Although the title usually given to Mary for this apparition is Our Lady of Fatima, her official title is Our Lady of the Holy Rosary at Fatima. That name change makes a big difference. Calling Mary Our Lady of Fatima emphasizes the secrets and the supernatural aspect of Fatima. These are indeed notable, to be sure, but they can also become overwhelming. Remembering that Mary is actually named Our Lady of the Holy Rosary at Fatima gets to the heart of the message. It enables us to carry out the message that Mary relayed - Pray, offer sacrifices and repent. In other words, get out your rosary beads. The solution to war, strife and suffering - literally- lies in your own hands. It is not beyond reach, or too high above us. It is in the humble act of daily prayer.
It is helpful to remember the words of Pope Pius XII who said ""The gates of hell will never prevail, where Mary offers her protection. She is the good mother, the mother of all, and it has never been heard, that those who seek her protection, will not receive it. She will help! Error will be overcome with her assistance and divine grace."
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
Have you heard about the Stations of the Resurrection? Also referred to as the Via Lucis - or Way of Light - this devotion was first created in 1988 by Fr. Sabino Palumbieri, from the Salesian University in Rome. The devotion consists of 14 stations, and follows the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection. First publically performed in 1990, the Stations of the Resurrection have gained popularity as a way of meditating on the joy and hope brought about by the resurrection. In 2001, the Vatican commended the Via Lucis by saying:
"A pious exercise called the Via Lucis has developed and spread to many regions in recent years. Following the model of the Via Crucis, the faithful process while meditating on the various appearances of Jesus – from his Resurrection to his Ascension – in which he showed his glory to the disciples who awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14, 26; 16, 13-15; Lk 24, 49), strengthened their faith, brought to completion his teaching on the Kingdom and more closely defined the sacramental and hierarchical structure of the Church.
Through the Via Lucis, the faithful recall the central event of the faith – the resurrection of Christ – and their discipleship in virtue of Baptism, the paschal sacrament by which they have passed from the darkness of sin to the bright radiance of the light of grace (cf. Col 1, 13; Eph 5, 8)"
The Stations of the Resurrection help us to move from the experience of suffering, pain and death to the hope, joy and life of the resurrection, which is the promise of our faith.
The Stations are generally arranged into the 14 stations below, but there are variations.
Today, May 1, is the Feast Day of St. Joseph the Worker. This is a truly beautiful feast day, in that it takes honest, simple work and raises it as an offering to God. The statue above was sent to me to review by the folks at Holyart.com, and I used it during Lent on my St. Joseph's Altar. But since it depicts St. Joseph the Worker, I thought it would be appropriate to look at it again.
The necessity of work has been around since the creation of Adam and Eve. In fact, even in the Garden of Eden, before the fall, Adam had work to do. Yes, he had some jobs in that garden! According to Genesis 2:15, God settled Adam in the garden to "care and cultivate it." Of course, the big difference between doing work before the fall and doing work after the fall is the effort involved, as well as the fruit that resulted from it. Before the fall, Adam's work was enjoyable and fruitful. Everything went well, according to plan and as it should. That experience of work changes after the fall. Scripture relates that God tells Adam that only by toil (a new word) shall you eat, "by the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground from which you were taken." (Genesis 3:17, 19) So, work is inescapable. It is part of the human condition. As St. Paul reaffirms later on "He who does not work, shall not eat." (2 Thess 3:10) In his document Laborem Exercens, Pope St. John Paul II writes "Work is one of the characteristics that distinguishes man from the rest of creatures."
But, work is more than just putting our nose to the grindstone and toiling away for mere survival, year after year. Now, because of the descent of the Holy Spirit, our work enables us to be co-creators with God as we participate with the Holy Spirit in building the Kingdom. Our occupation becomes part of our vocation. This is what the statue of St. Joseph shows us. On the surface, St. Joseph was a humble, ordinary carpenter who didn't make much money in his lifetime and likely worked very hard every day, sun up to sun down. He shouldered the financial burden of the family and labored to keep them safe and sheltered. But that was just a part of his life. In reality, his occupation supported his vocation, which was to be the foster father of Jesus and spouse of the Virgin Mary. He was - quite literally - building the Kingdom of God in his home, while he built tables and chairs in his workshop. And that is what we are all called to do. Regardless of whether our occupation is full of prestige or like St. Joseph's - honest and simple, our occupations should be at the service of our vocations, not the other way around. And everyone's vocation, ultimately, is to build the Kingdom of God.
The picture above shows two modern travelers making their way through some rough, desert-like terrain. If you imagine them in long robes and squint a bit, this is probably pretty close to how the two disciples looked, as they made their way to Emmaus. This Biblical story has been on my mind lately, since it was one of the Mass readings this week, post Easter.
The big question that everyone always asks about the Emmaus story is "Why didn't the two disciples recognize Jesus?" I once heard a well known Scripture scholar ask this exact question at a conference. She was giving the keynote address, and I thought she had many wise and true insights to share. But, she mentioned that the disciples' lack of ability to recognize Jesus had always bothered her. After all, they had spent a few years with Jesus. How could they not recongize someone they had spent so much time with? Was he that changed, after the resurrection? Her answer was to say that the disciples simply could not recognize Jesus because they couldn't fathom the possibility of the resurrection. I think that could certainly be true. I've heard other folk say that the disciples didn't recognize Jesus because he was so transformed in glory he was impossible to recognize.
I think the answer is more simple that that. After his resurrection, whenever Jesus IS recognized, it is almost always in the breaking of the bread. In fact, I like to read the Emmaus story out loud to the families at our sessions and I stop at verse 31:
And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. (Luke 24: 30-31).
"Where did Jesus go?" I ask. "I'll give you a hint. He is still in the room." I love to watch the young children especially. They turn to mom or dad, eyes wide, and say "Where is he?" The answer is pretty obvious, once it's pointed out. Jesus has not left. He is now fully present in the form of bread and wine, just as we proclaim at every Mass. It seems, then, that the reason the two disciples didn't recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus is that, post resurrection, Jesus will be fully present sacramentally. He is no longer only Jesus of Nazareth, the wandering preacher with a small band of followers, even though we understand he has always been the Son of God. Jesus has changed from being confined to a single place and point in time (i.e. a very small and local area of Judea, circa 33AD) to being able to go everywhere and all times, carried through time and space by his diciples, who become moving temples. Yes, this form is unexpected, especially to those of us outside of Judaism since we don't have the tradition of the Passover meal handed down, generation to generation. And certainly, it was completely unexpected. But, it also makes sense if you follow all the other covenants that God made in the Old Testament. In fact, the divinization of that little bit of wheat and those few grapes points to the ultimate end of the entire universe, when God will be "all in all" and those who follow in the path of discipleship will enter the Kingdom of God.
It's a lot to take in, really. I like to say it's "profoundly simple." Something to ponder, this Easter season.
Happy Easter! The long journey of Lent is behind us. Now is the time to rejoice!
In keeping with the celebration of Easter, today I begin the series on works by Marjolein Bastin, an internationally acclaimed artist who is renowned for her ability to capture nature scenes in an uplifting and inspiring way.
Since it is the day after Easter Sunday, it seemed appropriate to start off with a post on an ornament done for Hallmark in 2004, called "Thirsty Cardinal." This ornament is particulary fitting to think about at this time of the year. On Good Friday, just 3 short days ago, we hear the words uttered by Christ on the cross "I thirst." In her now famous vision on the train, Mother Teresa hears these words spoken to her by Jesus and she immediately understood them to mean that Jesus thirsts for souls. These words and this understanding became her motivating guidance through the decades of service she offered to God and the world. She went in search of souls for Christ.
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, "Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you."
But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end."
But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?"
And the angel said to her in reply, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God."
Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."
Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)
Today, March 25, is the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. It is the day when we contemplate the moment Mary was asked to become the Mother of God. We know that she agreed, and 9 months later Jesus is born at Bethlehem, on December 25. Whether or not this is the actual date of the Annunciation, and therefore Christmas as the actual birth of Jesus, is not really the point. I've met people who get all worked up about the truth of dates, especially Christmas, and they so often seem to overlook the baby in the manger. So, today we will not concern ourselves with that and instead focus on how this day can help us on our "Slow Greening" Lenten journey.
Certainly, Mary experienced a type of "slow greening" as the Child Jesus grew within her. If ever there is a literal interpretation of the "greening" or life-giving power of God, this is it. But we should remember that it all started with a question. Mary was not forced into anything, on the one hand. She was clearly given time to think about it, to ponder it, and she even asks questions of the angel. Interestingly, this is one of the few times in Scripture where an angel appears, and the human who sees it doesn't tremble in fear. Mary seems surprised, but not afraid. On the other hand, it is not that surprizing that she says "Yes." She has already formed her heart and soul into being the receptacle of God. To be able to to respond to God in a way that allows her to give even more of herself is going to be her natural answer. We also know that Mary was conceived without original sin. Other than Jesus, she is the only human being not to inherit the tendency to fall into choices that move her away from God. Did that make her life easier? Was sin less tempting to Mary because of her unique dispostion?
Not likely. There is no triumph or victory in doing something that is easy. The triumph lies in overcoming what is more difficult, what is hard. Perhaps Mary was thinking that making this offering, saying "Yes," would increase her suffering greatly. That seems likely, especially considering Simeon's prophesy that "a sword will pierce your heart." But, in a true Lenten journey that leads to the cross, the death and burial of Jesus, and the resurrection, Mary accepts and begins to walk the path. She puts her faith in God. As Pope Benedict XVI writes in Jesus of Nazareth, Mary knows that the word of God "is more real and more lasting than the entire material world. The word is the true, dependable reality; the solid ground on which we can stand, which holds firm even when the sun goes dark and the firmament disintegrates. The cosmic elements pass away; the word of [God]is the true 'firmament' beneath which we can stand and remain." So, Mary says "Yes," and places her hope and belief in God.
What is God asking you to do, to say "Yes" to this Lent, in order to experience the "slow greening" power of renewal?
Although we are used to seeing lots of shamrocks and assorted green things in honor of St. Patrick during the month of March, there’s another special day in this month we should keep in mind as well. March 19 is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In many parts of the world, this is a big feast day, marked by special foods and by setting up a St. Joseph’s Altar. This day is remembered especially as a day to thank God for the intercession of St. Joseph.
The tradition of setting up an altar honoring St. Joseph began in Sicily, Italy, and was brought to the United States by Italian immigrants in the late 1880s. As the story goes, a severe famine hit Sicily in the Middle Ages
(likely causing one of the “megafamines” Europe suffered) and the crops were in danger of failing. The farmers and families prayed to St. Joseph for his help, and were filled with gratitude when the rains came. They attributed the help to their patron saint, and at harvest time erected a large altar in his honor. On the altar they placed fruits, veggies, baked goods and lots of fava beans – the beans that had sustained them during the lean months until harvest. In recognition of St. Joseph’s humble life, the families invited everyone, especially the poor, to come to the feast. Everyone was invited, and everyone could participate in the abundance.
Today, many churches and Italian communities still erect an altar to St. Joseph, and over time specific foods have become traditional to place on the altar. The custom of remembering the poor has also become an aspect of the altar.
Many of the altars are elaborate and the foods can be quite involved to make, but don’t let that stop you from setting up an altar in your own home! We are aiming for participation, not perfection. With a few adaptations, every family can join in the celebration. Below, you can see the altar I set up in our house. A quick trip to the grocery store, plus a tour around my house for plates and linens, and I was done. I used our Family Prayer Space to set it all up. There are just a few things to keep in mind in when setting up a St. Joseph’s Altar. Below are close – up pictures and an explanation of how we did it.
1. Give Our Best: In keeping with all things sacred, we always try to give our best. That means I got
out the nice china and Easter linens to use. There’s no need to buy anything “good,” of course, but this is a great time to get out those fancy items usually tucked away for “one day.” That day has come!
2. Showcase the Trinity: The altar should be 3 levels. This is a physical representation of the Trinity, who listened to the intercession of St. Joseph and came to the aid of the farmers. It reminds us that the saints are fully united to the Trinity, and always carry out the best for us. It also reminds us that the Trinity is under and behind everything, even though we only see the people and things on the top, the surface level.
3. Honor St. Joseph: Place a statue of St. Joseph on the top level. After all, this is his day. The folks
at Holyart.com sent me this lovely statue of St. Joseph to preview. It features St. Joseph, with his carpentry tools, inside a wooden niche with swinging, hinged doors. I had this statue sitting out on my kitchen bench and 2 of my boys picked it up. They were fascinated with the doors and St. Joseph hidden inside, and it led to a great conversation about St Joseph’s “hidden” life, and how little is recorded of him. Yet, in spite of this, what an enormous role he played in the life of Christ and salvation history. The statue proved to be a wonderful conversation starter about what it means to be a man of God.
- The statue is handcarved by Italian woodworkers from a company called
Pema. (Pema.it). My boys loved the idea that woodworkers today made this image
of St. Joseph, also a woodworker. It made St. Joseph seem more real, like there was
a connection to him through the work of hands. They looked at the tools St. Joseph
is holding – a square and a plane- and thought about how those same tools created
the statue they were holding.
- This particular statue is a bit more expensive than I would normally spend on a
statue, but the detailing and high quality craftsmanship make it worthwhile. This is a
holy item that I can keep as a family keepsake, and perhaps even see it in use on St.
Joseph altars in future generations. (though not for a while!)
4. The Food! There are some food items that are almost always seen on St. Joseph altars.
Fruits and Veggies: Put an assortment of veggies and fruits on your altar. I used what I had in my fridge.
Pastries: As I mentioned above, some of the baked good items are traditional. A delicious cream filled pastry called a zeppole features prominently. It looks amazing, but I am not that mom. I hope to be that grandmother. Instead of baking these myself, I went to the bakery at my grocery store and bought a few individual cream themed pastries. Another traditional cookie for the altar is called a pizzelle. It is created using a special type of waffle iron. Again, I picked up a container of these at the grocery store in the cookie aisle. I also added some
mini cupcakes, just for fun.
Figs: Figs are plentiful in Italy, and so generally appear on the St. Josephs altar. I do not like to waste food, even for these teaching moments, so instead of the fruit I bought a couple of types of Fig Newton – like cookies.
Bread Crumbs: These symbolize the sawdust found in St. Joseph’s workroom. I used the Italian seasoned breadcrumbs, of course.
Wine: a bottle of red wine is appropriate, as a reminder of the joy and happiness of the occasion. It’s also a good reminder of the red wine used at Mass, and Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana, which took place at another festival as well.
Bread: some nice bread is also usually on the atlar. I picked up a tasty assortment of bread rolls at the bakery.
Beans: Fava beans were originally used on the altar, and are still widely used today. However, I substituted them for great northern beans, as they were not available at my grocery store.
5. What else?
Candles: Especially a candle of the Sacred Heart, if you have it, reminding us of St. Joseph’s years of caring for Jesus.
A rosary: because after all, this commemorates an answer to prayer and Mary is always close to Joseph.
Crosses: I placed a couple of small crosses on our altar, to remind us that it is through the sacrifice of our Lord that we receive the blessings of God.
A CRS Rice Bowl: we also want to remember that the story of the altar emphasizes that the graces and abundance of God are to be shared with everyone. Since my parish participates in the CRS Rice Bowl during Lent, I added it to our altar as a reminder to include the poor in this celebration.
Once everything was all set, we held our own Prayer Service. (see below to download our Family Prayer Service)
All told, my grocery bill came to $20.26 to create our St. Joseph Altar. As I said, I used mostly what I had in the house already, which I think is a fitting tribute to the life of the Holy Family, anyway. Remember, participation, not perfection! My kids, having never experienced a St. Joseph’s altar before, absolutely loved it. It was a fantastic way to remind ourselves of the the life of St. Joseph, learn more about another culture, participate in the liturgical calendar, and of course, enjoy some really yummy treats. I think this is destined to become a new family tradition.