Examen on Compassion

Place yourself in the presence of the Lord and pray for enlightenment. Relax. Breathe deeply. Run quickly over the past few hours or days, allowing your real feelings to surface about the events that have been part of your life, the feelings you’ve buried so that you could make it through the day.

Pay attention to the way in which the Lord has been present to you. Where have you felt drawn to the Lord or moved to compassion? Where have you met the Lord when you felt afraid … misunderstood … tempted … relieved … happy? Turn to the Lord with gratitude.

Choose one incident or reaction that stands out particularly for you at this time and which is still not settled for you. Recall to mind the details of the incident and its context, the people involved, and how you feel about it.

Read in the Bible The Second Sign at Galilee (John 4:46-54)

Allow the royal official to show you how it feels to have someone show you compassion.

Then Jesus came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’ The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my little boy dies.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.’ The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ So he himself believed, along with his whole household. Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee. (Jn 4:46-54)

The royal official is burdened with concern that his son will die, and he catches a glimpse of hope when he hears that Jesus, who has performed many miracles, is nearby. So, he runs to meet the Lord. He expresses his genuine grief and sorrow about his son’s illness. Jesus expresses frustration that people keep demanding signs from him, yet it does not stop him looking at the official with compassion and answering his request.

As you read the passage again, notice that the Lord’s compassion for the royal official is so strong that, even though he was still a day’s journey away, the official believed that his son had been healed.

As you reflect again upon the incident or reaction that you chose for your examen, pretend that you are in the royal official’s place. The Lord looks at you with great compassion and tells you that you can go on living your life; he will take care of your greatest worries. What is it like to know that you concerns genuinely move the Lord to compassion?

Jesus looks at each of us, in our needs and worries, with great compassion because he loves us. What would it be like to trust that love, the power of that compassionate care that God has for you?

God’s great love for you is made manifest in the experiences of your life. As you make this examen, the Lord is right now moving your heart toward compassion.

Spend some time talking over with the Lord what you are learning and experiencing. With simplicity express your sorrow for any lack of compassion in your life and your gratitude for any movements you sense toward greater compassion through God’s grace.

Identify one step toward becoming a more compassionate person that you want to take going forward, a step that is actually possible for you. Pray for the grace to be a more compassionate person.

Prescriptions from the Doctors of the Church: Saint Basil the Great (c. 330–January 1, 379)

Saint Basil the Great is one of the thirty-six saints who are Doctors of the Church. The Doctors of the Church are renowned for their holiness and also for their important teachings. Using the doctor metaphor, we can say that in a sense each Doctor of the Church gives us a “prescription” for spiritual growth. Saint Basil’s particular prescription for holiness will help you create and keep a simple plan of holiness for your life.

Basil came from a family of saints. His parents are Saint Basil the Elder and Saint Emmelia of Caesarea. Four of their ten children also became saints—Basil, Macrina, Gregory of Nyssa, and Peter. Basil studied in Athens, where he became close friends with Saint Gregory Nazianzen. After this, Basil had a spiritual awakening that led him to focus on his interior life. He visited various monasteries and later established his own. He wrote a Rule for monks that became the foundation of monastic life in the East. His Rule influenced Saint Benedict who wrote the Rule that would influence the West.

Basil eventually left the monastery to become a hermit. However, Archbishop Eusebius of Caesarea soon summoned him to refute Arius’s teachings that Christ was not divine. Basil had much success in refuting Arianism and in 370 became a bishop himself. Basil also wrote important works that helped the Church articulate the dogma of the Trinity. Basil had a great influence on the Eastern liturgy, composing many prayers and hymns. As bishop, Basil was known for his tireless work for the sick and the poor, for whom he built many soup kitchens and a huge hospital. He was so beloved by Christians and non-Christians alike that upon his death, the entire city mourned.

Basil’s prescription: Have a balanced plan for your spiritual life.

Saint Basil’s rule for monks is essentially a very balanced plan for growing in the spiritual life. But if it’s for monks, what does that have to do with the lives of busy people today?

It doesn’t mean adopting his particular plan, also called a rule of life. The first responsibility each of us has is to faithfully fulfill the duties of our state in life. Most people are called to marriage, so their plan will have a lot to do with loving one’s spouse and children, while pursuing a career to support their family.

Basil’s rule is known for balance and moderations. He did away with any extreme ascetical practices (like excessive fasting or sleep deprivation). So any plan we develop for our own lives should also be balanced. Lay people can’t live as if they were monks. They can love their family in practical ways and be Christ for each other.

Write down your own personalized plan of life.

You can include some spiritual practices that you can take on. Sunday Mass should be a given, because it is an obligation for all Catholics. But could you attend Mass on another day too? Or put in some prayer time such as the rosary and reading the Bible? If you are a parent you can help your children to learn about and practice their faith.

Some practical things to do:

  • Write your own spiritual plan of life. For help with this consult the book Plan of Life by Fr. Roger Landry.
  • Don’t overwhelm yourself. It’s better to do a few things you can follow through on, rather than trying to do so many things you’ll give up.
  • Is there some area of life where you need better balance? For example, people often have trouble finding balance in regard to food. If you find yourself eating too much junk food, learn how to cook simple, healthful meals and don’t buy the junk food. Focus on the area that will make the most difference in your life.

Prayer

Saint Basil, you knew how to lead a balanced life centered on God. Pray for us as we too strive to give our whole lives to God day by day, practicing virtue and loving God and our neighbor day by day.

Feast: January 2 (with Saint Gregory Nazianzen)
Patron: Russia, monks, tailors

Selection from Saint Basil:

On Charity toward One’s Neighbor

We have already said that the law [of God] develops and maintains the powers existing in germ within us. And since we are directed to love our neighbor as ourselves, let us consider whether we have received from the Lord the power to fulfill this commandment also. Who does not know that man is a civilized and gregarious animal, neither savage nor a lover of solitude? Nothing, indeed, is so compatible with our nature as living in society and in dependence upon one another and as loving our own kind. Now, the Lord himself gave to us the seeds of these qualities in anticipation of his requiring in due time their fruits, for he says: “A new commandment I give you: that you love one another” (Jn 13:34). Moreover, wishing to animate our soul to the observance of this commandment, he did not require signs of wonders as the means of recognizing his disciples (although he gave the power of working these also in the Holy Spirit), but he says: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). Further, he establishes so close a connection between the two great commandments that benefit conferred upon the neighbor is transferred to himself: “For I was hungry,” he says, “and you gave me to eat” (Mt 25:35). . . .

It is, accordingly, possible to keep the second commandment by observing the first, and by means of the second we are led back to the first. He who loves the Lord loves his neighbor in consequence. “If anyone love me,” said the Lord, “he will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:23); and again, he says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). On the other hand, he who loves his neighbor fulfills the love he owes to God, for he accepts this favor as shown to himself. Wherefore Moses, that faithful servant of God, manifested such great love for his brethren as to wish his name to be struck off the book of God in which it was inscribed, if the sin of his people were not pardoned (see Ex 32:32). Paul, also, desiring to be, like Christ, an exchange for the salvation of all, dared to pray that he might be an anathema from Christ for the sake of his brethren who were his kinsmen according to the flesh (see Rom 9:3).Yet, at the same time he knew that it was impossible for him to be estranged from God through his having rejected his favor for love of him and for the sake of that great commandment; moreover, he knew that he would receive in return much more than he gave.

From the Long Rules for monks

By Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP

St Basil, On the Long Rules part I, Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 1950, page 25-26.

Examen on Acceptance

Place yourself in the presence of the Lord and pray for enlightenment. Relax. Breathe deeply. Run quickly over the past few hours or days, allowing your real feelings to surface about the events that have been part of your life, the feelings you’ve buried so that you could make it through the day.

Pay attention to the way in which the Lord has been present to you. Where have you felt drawn to the Lord or moved to acceptance? Where have you met the Lord when you felt afraid … misunderstood … tempted … relieved … happy? Turn to the Lord with gratitude.

Choose one incident or reaction that stands out particularly for you at this time and which is still not settled for you. Recall to mind the details of the incident and its context, the people involved, and how you feel about it.

Read in the Bible Peter and the Risen Jesus (John 21:15-19)

Allow Peter to show you how to accept a challenging reality by trusting in the Lord’s love.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ (Jn 21:15-19)

This scene is the first time that the evangelist John shows Peter speaking with Jesus after he denied him three times during the Passion. Surely Peter is nervous; he knows that he has abandoned the mission that God gave him in a very real sense. He does not run away in shame, however. Instead, he draws close to the Lord’s love, knowing that it is exactly where he belongs.

And so, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, giving him an opportunity to make up for each of the three times that he denied him. Peter accepts the reality of his past, but does not allow his past mistakes to prevent him from confidently saying that he loves Jesus. It is this acceptance that allows Peter to fully live the life that God has planned for him to help start the early Church.

As you reflect again upon the incident or reaction you have chosen for your examen, imagine that you are in Peter’s place. Are you willing to tell the Lord everything that happened, not only in the situation but in your own heart? If you feel any resistance to sharing an aspect of the incident with the Lord, why do you think that is? Jesus knows every aspect of the situation and he looks at you with great love. He does not want you to live in a past with regret, but to accept his love in the present. What would it be like to entrust the incident that you chose for your examen to the Lord’s care?

God’s great love for you is made manifest in the experiences of your life. As you make this examen, the Lord is right now moving your heart toward acceptance.

Spend some time talking over with the Lord what you are learning and experiencing. With simplicity express your sorrow for any times that you have been unable to accept the reality of a situation in your life and your gratitude for any movements you sense toward greater acceptance through God’s grace.

Identify one step toward acceptance that you want to take going forward, a step that is actually possible for you. Pray for the grace to accept God’s plan for you.

Prescriptions from the Doctors of the Church: Saint Alphonsus (September 27, 1696–August 1, 1787)

Saint Alphonsus is one of the thirty-six saints who are Doctors of the Church. The Doctors of the Church are renowned for their holiness and also for their important teachings. Using the doctor metaphor, we can say that in a sense each Doctor of the Church gives us a “prescription” for spiritual growth. Saint Alphonsus’s particular prescription for holiness can lead us to a greater love for Jesus.

Alphonsus was born near Naples, Italy. His wealthy family provided him with the finest education and by age sixteen he had earned doctorates in both civil and canon law. Two years later, he joined the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mercy and cared for the sick at the hospital for “incurables.” At the same time, he began to practice law. However, after several years, Alphonsus left the bar, disgusted by the unscrupulous machinations of the court system.

Alphonsus entered the seminary and was ordained in 1726. He soon became known for his sermons, which were eloquent and persuasive. His great compassion led him to evangelize everyone, especially the poor, with patience and love. Due to his untiring efforts, groups in which people would pray and reflect on the Word of God began to arise throughout the city. In 1732, Alphonsus founded the Redemptorists, dedicated to evangelizing the materially and spiritually poor the world over. He became an expert in moral theology and was widely sought after as a compassionate confessor. Despite resisting the honor, Alphonsus was made a bishop when he was sixty-six years old. He wrote over one hundred books, including classics such as The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ and The Glories of Mary. Known for his strong devotion to Mary, Alphonsus died at the age of ninety-one, just as the Angelus bells tolled.

Alphonsus’ prescription:  Live with a penitent heart. Go to confession on a regular basis.

Being an expert in moral theology, Alphonsus did his best to help people to have a spirit of contrition for their sins. He knew that people often sinned from weakness and did not realize the seriousness of their sins. His remedy was to move people to have a deeper love for Jesus, a penitent heart that would help them to want to invite Jesus more and more into their lives. Alphonsus focused on love more than on sin itself. He would preach about the sufferings of Jesus, which he endured out of love for each one of us. This emphasis on love had the power to help people come to a deeper conversion in their lives. Alphonsus moved many hearts when he preached and gave parish missions. It was because Alphonsus himself had a penitent heart that he was able to move people so deeply.

Some practical things to do:

  • Go to confession. If it has been a while since you’ve received this sacrament, prepare for it by focusing on Jesus’ love for you. He is ready to pour out his love and mercy on you and forgive all your sins through the ministry of the Church. After your initial confession put it on your schedule to go regularly. A monthly confession is a good ideal to strive for.
  • Do you have some resentment in your heart against any particular person? If so, pray for the grace to give up the bitterness and reconcile with that person if possible. It may not be possible to have an actual reconciliation. In that case simply forgive in your heart.
  • Practice gratitude. Praise God for the many gifts he has brought into your life. You may wish to pray with the Psalms, which are full of praise prayers.

Prayer

Saint Alphonsus Liguori, pray for me that I might live with a penitent heart just as you did. Inspire me with thoughts and sentiments of love for God and for my neighbor. Help me to see Jesus in each person whom I meet. Amen.

Feast: August 1
Patron: Moral theologians, confessors, and those suffering from arthritis

Excerpt from the writings of Saint Alphonsus:

The Scriptures are clear enough in pointing out how necessary it is to pray, if we would be saved. “We ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Lk 18:1). “Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation” (Mt 26:41). “Ask, and it shall be given you” (Mt 7:7). The words “we ought,” pray,” “ask,” according to the general consent of theologians, impose the precept, and denote the necessity of prayer. . . .

 Without the assistance of God’s grace we can do no good thing: “Without Me, you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). Saint Augustine remarks on this passage, that our Lord did not say, “Without Me, you can complete nothing,” but “without Me, you can do nothing;” giving us to understand that without grace we cannot even begin to do a good thing. Even more, Saint Paul writes, that of ourselves we cannot even have the wish to do good. “Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor 3:5). If we cannot even think a good thing, much less can we wish it.

The same thing is taught in many other passages of Scripture: “God works all in all. I will cause you to walk in my commandments, and to keep my judgments, and do them.” (Ezek 37:27). So, as Saint Leo I says, “Man does no good thing, except that which God, by his grace, enables him to do.”. . .  

From these two premises, on the one hand, that we can do nothing without the assistance of grace; and on the other, that this assistance is only given ordinarily by God to the person who prays, who does not see that the consequence follows, that prayer is absolutely necessary to us for salvation? And although the first graces that come to us without any cooperation on our part, such as the call to faith or to penance, are, as Saint Augustine says, granted by God even to those who do not pray; yet the Saint considers it certain that the other graces, and especially the grace of perseverance, are not granted except in answer to prayer: “God gives us some things, as the beginning of faith, even when we do not pray. Other things, such as perseverance, he has only provided for those who pray.”

Hence it is that the generality of theologians, following Saint Basil, Saint Chrysostom, Clement of Alexandria, Saint Augustine, and other Fathers, teach that prayer is necessary to adults, not only because of the obligation of the precept (as they say), but because it is necessary as a means of salvation. That is to say, in the ordinary course of Providence, it is impossible that a Christian should be saved without recommending himself to God, and asking for the graces necessary to salvation. Saint Thomas teaches the same: “After Baptism, continual prayer is necessary to man, in order that he may enter Heaven; for though by Baptism our sins are remitted, there still remains concupiscence to assail us from within, and the world and the devil to assail us from without” (Part 3, q. 39, a. 5).

From The Great Means of Prayer, chapter 1, “The Necessity of Prayer.”

By Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP

Throw Open Your Heart

The road to communion is beautiful. So open your heart to the world. We are meant to be one. We are one. We come forth—each and all of us—from the creative word of the same Father and Creator: “Let us make mankind in Our image, after Our likeness….” (Gn. 1:26).

Throw open the doors and windows of your heart to brothers and sisters looking for someone whose heart is filled with the wind of the Spirit…

Throw out the furniture to make more room, for only a heart that is poor and waiting can receive the other…

Throw down the welcome mat and refuse to no one access to your charity and compassion and care…

Let them come, my friends, these others who are your brothers and sisters. Let them come from wherever they are now, from whatever country, political persuasion, faith, poor or rich, healthy or suffering in any way, and together let us build a new way of living in communion.

What would it look like to live together knowing our total dependence on God for everything?

To wait upon the Lord…

To let gentleness live within us and among us…

To claim nothing as our own, but to share all things as one family…

To be single-hearted and pure of spirit…

To be makers of peace, to wish well-being to all…

To work that no one might suffer…

The road to communion is beautiful. The possibility of living the way of the beatitudes proclaimed by Jesus attracts us. When I was younger, I had great hopes for a heart characterized by this charity. At 57 I realize that I cannot change my own heart in so radical a way, much less transform others and the world. The terrors and pain that wound my brothers and sisters in the world frighten and overwhelm me. Sometimes they seem to steal my voice and paralyze my own hope.

At 57 I realize that the beauty of this path is created by the eagerness of the continued journey, and the willingness to let God wreck my idealism about myself and the world. So know, my friend, that deep inside your heart lies the seed of God’s own power to build communion. The gift of unity and shared respect grows like the mustard seed and in our tentative, gradual and often faltering steps this broken yet gifted world is transformed into the Kingdom. 

So allow others into your life and heart. They are God’s messengers to break you out of your own frozen places and constricted ideas and opinions about what is true, good, and beautiful. Even the ugly can teach you beauty. Even the harsh can call forth your tenderness. Even the proponent of ideologies you do not share can push you to kneel before the One alone who is Truth, Way, and Life.

Ask Jesus for the grace to know who you may need to forgive or where bitterness and resentment are keeping you apart from this oneness for which you are made. May these days be a time of healing, a calling to the center, a uniting into one family, a restoring of what has been lost, a re-membering of what has been forgotten. May these days be filled with graces beyond your wildest dreams.

Never stop running for the goal!

In this spring and summer we are almost holding our collective breath as the pandemic seems to be slowly winding down here in the US. We wonder what normal will look like after having “worshipped” via Zoom for so long.

The Spirit is actively creating something new in this transition and return to the celebration of the Eucharist with our brothers and sisters, together, as a community in Christ, as Christ’s body. Those who have been waiting for Baptism can now receive that most important sacrament by which, as St Paul tells us, we die with Christ and rise with him.

Through the sacraments of baptism and the receiving of the risen Christ in the Eucharist at Mass, a deep and radical change takes place within us. In the words of Nicholas Cabasilas (a 15th-century Greek theologian): “O wonder of wonders! It is God himself we touch in the Eucharist and God becomes one with us in the closest union.” And again, of the sacrament of baptism, “When we come up from the water we bear the Savior upon our souls, on our heads, on our eyes, on all our members…. We have been stamped with Christ.”

These days can be a renewed experience for all of us of the life we receive only through Christ, in Christ, and in the sacramental life of the Church. This was a favorite topic of St. Paul, so I reached out to Sr. Margaret Kerry for some thoughts on this theme. She has such a rich experience of speaking with people both about the faith and about St. Paul to help us deepen this topic. For years she has been writing reflections on Paul’s letters for our lay Paulines (Pauline Cooperators) as an ongoing study. Her focus is on baptism, the sacrament that opens the door for all of the sacraments as we join the family of God. The following material is from Sr. Margaret.


                                               

Thank you so much for inviting me to explore the sacraments with you in the spirit of St Paul. I would first like to put this in context by recalling Paul’s words, quoted loosely, “Never stop running for the goal!” St. Gregory the Great wrote, “Jesus became incarnate so that he may be seen by us. And Jesus wants to be seen so that we may imitate him.” In relation to this, Blessed James Alberione exclaims, “How sublime this is! All baptized Christians are called to become one personality in Christ, to graft ourselves to Christ, so that truly Christ lives in us.”

St. Paul explained this imitation of Christ, this goal of becoming Christ, in terms of living in Christ when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me” (Gal 2:19-20). St. Paul imitated Christ so brilliantly that he could exhort others, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).

Through our baptism, this conformity with Christ is already a reality in us. We enter a covenant with God. On our part, we pray that the “grace of God will bear fruit” so that this conformity with Christ will attain fullness. We have been given the first fruits of the Spirit who helps us in our weakness. “With Christ in us we are a new creation!” (see 2 Cor 5:17).

Saint Paul, you lived in deep intimacy with Jesus and spent your life proclaiming him to all God’s people. Teach us to do the same.

By virtue of our baptism, we live in Christ; in him “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). We are members of his Body, his dwelling place. Show us what it means to live out of this amazing reality: that, having encountered the love of God in Jesus, we are called to share it as his missionary disciples.

Baptism admits us into a mysterious and permanent communion with Christ. In the ancient church, baptism was also called “illumination,” because the sacrament gives light; it truly makes us see. This is clear from the Acts of the Apostles, which recounts Paul’s encounter with Jesus, his “conversion.” He had traveled to Damascus prepared to take any followers of the Way into custody to Jerusalem. Instead, Jesus appeared to him outside Damascus, calling out, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” When Paul asked Jesus who he was, he was told to get up and go into Damascus where he would be told what to do. Paul waited three days in Damascus, unable to see anything. The darkness gave way to light when Ananias, sent by the Lord, baptized him so that he might be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Paul was transformed by the irresistible presence of the Risen One. Once blind, he was now able to see. The illumination that Paul received on the road to Damascus is what happens for every Christian at their own baptism. Baptism admits us into mysterious and permanent communion with Christ. “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of [Jesus] Christ” (2 Cor 4:5-6).

Lord, illumine us, grant us an encounter with your presence in our world, open our eyes, grant us a lively faith, an open heart, and great love for all, love capable of renewing the world.

Even after such a tremendous grace as was this encounter with the risen Christ, Paul writes again and again in his letters about an ongoing “conversion.” In his letter to the Romans, he famously writes about his struggle: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Rom 7:15, 18-19).

The verb Paul uses for conversion is an active verb signifying “ongoing transformation.” Paul admitted that he was always on the road to conversion. “I strain forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14). He depicts the ongoing struggle we all experience in our call to live fully our Baptismal commitment. “Creation waits in eager expectation for us to be revealed as new” (Rom 8:19).

Yet Paul also assures us that, through our baptism and our ongoing transformation, we are being transformed from glory to glory. “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).

Lord, grant us freedom in your Spirit so that, from this inner abundance filling our earthen vessel, we can say “it is no longer I who live, Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20)

Ultimately, our transformation takes place, not through our own power, but through the power of the Risen One. Paul invites us to glory in our weakness as the power of Christ is manifested in us. When Paul experienced what he called a “thorn in the flesh,” he begged God to take it from him. But Paul said that the Lord refused to take this suffering from him. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then glories in his infirmities, because the power of God is made manifest through them: “So I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me” (see 2 Cor 12:9).

Through our baptism, Christ confirms a permanent dwelling in us, the beginning of new life. “He will change our lowly body to conform to his glorified body” (Phil 3:12). Paul speaks of this permanent dwelling, this conformation to the glorified body of Christ, as living “in Christ.” In fact, Paul uses the word “in” over 164 times when he refers to life in Christ! By living in Christ through the graces of our baptism, by deepening our union with Christ through the Eucharist, Jesus restores us to the fullness of life in the Triune God in whose image we are created. In turn, we are sent as Christ for others.

God, in your mercy, transform us into your likeness so that we become way, truth and life for our families, our neighbors, our Church and for those who have not yet encountered you. Amen.

Jesus, I want what you have!

Keeping the commandments. It is something that children wrestle with as they prepare for their First Penance. Do you remember that first time you had to examine your conscience? Later this tension to fidelity to God’s Word and the Ten Words of Law becomes “second nature,” spiritually speaking, or else rebellion to the invitation to holiness found in the commandments becomes ingrained in thoughts, words, and habits, ultimately manifesting in a life of pain and sorrow. According to the words of Jesus there is no middle road: “Whoever breaks one of the of the least of the commandments…whoever obeys and teaches these commandments…”

St Silouan the Athonite said that the apostle John says that the commandments of God are not difficult to keep (1 John 5:3). For the one who loves, they are easy to keep. They are difficult only for the one who does not love.

Keeping the commandments is a matter of the heart. Recently I was resting in prayer, silently contemplating Jesus who had climbed a mountain for time alone with his Father. It was night. I imagined myself quietly watching from a short distance, my elbows on a large boulder, holding my face in my hands, as I observed Jesus standing a few yards away. I could just see the silhouette of Jesus as he stood looking up into the star-lit night sky in this place to which he had retired to be with his Father. The intensity of love that I sensed between him and his Father, the energy of their wordless communion, the giving and receiving, the loving and responding, the gift and obedience…. Even though I was not a part of their unspoken communication, Jesus’ bond with his Father was unmistakable and strong. When Jesus’ had finished praying he turned and noticed me watching. He walked quietly toward me and sat down. My heart full, I said simply, “I want what you have.” And he said to me, “I want you to have it too.”

I want the love that Jesus experiences to take hold in the deepest recesses of my heart. I want my sole desire to be to surrender my life entirely to that love, to desire to speak, think, and do only what the Father has given me to do. In other words, I want to be true to the Father’s love for me and for others in the totality of the way I live. But when I examine myself I see that I am not like Jesus who could say, “I say only what I hear from the Father.” My love is only a distortion of divine love.

I want the love that Jesus experiences to take hold in the deepest recesses of my heart. I want my sole desire to be to surrender my life entirely to that love, to desire to speak, think, and do only what the Father has given me to do.

The law of God helps us recognize our poverty and our utter dependence on God. It floods us with God’s mercy which renews us, as we realize we cannot keep the commandments unless God himself remakes our hearts. And he will do so, if we open our heart to him. As Jesus said to me, “I want this for you too!” What generous kindness that will not fail to be brought about through Jesus’ action on my poor heart.

Pope Francis said that the commandments help people face the disarray of our hearts in order to stop living selfishly and become authentic children of God, redeemed by the Son and taught and guided by the Holy Spirit.

The commandments are a gift. They save us, as Saint John Paul II reminded us in his speech on Mount Sinai, from the “destructive force of egoism, hatred and falsehood. They point out all the false gods that draw [us] into slavery: the love of self to the exclusion of God, the greed for power and pleasure that overturns the order of justice and grades our human dignity and that of our neighbor.”

To keep the commandments is paradoxically to know that we can’t keep them without the power of God at work within us, without the Spirit remaking our hearts and minds, without the blood of Jesus washing us clean and transfiguring our entire being in himself.

Image credit: Il Ragazzo via Cathopic

Heartbreak in Kamloops

 Indigenous Catholic Icon of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, BC artist André Prévost

Heart of Jesus, broken for our sins, have mercy on us.

By now you may have heard the shattering news of the mass grave of 215 children at Kamloops Residential School, a government school operated by Catholic religious in British Columbia, Canada. For many of our American readers, this may be the first time you have heard of the residential school system. But for our Canadian readers, this is the latest in a decades-long string of tragic revelations of the legacy of an educational system designed to rid Indigenous children of their culture. It was a government program founded on racist ideology, enabled by various churches that ran the schools in accordance with the government mandate.

Heart of Jesus, victim of our sins, have mercy on us.

Unfortunately, to identify the sin of racism as present solely in members of the government or churches of that era would not be accurate. The sin of racism was harbored in the hearts of many across Canadian society. It was systemic, as evidenced by the residential school system. With the last residential school closing in 1996, the wounds of this racism are still very fresh, and the sin of racism is far from eradicated.

Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation, have mercy on us.

In a recent video released by the Archdiocese of Edmonton with Chief Littlechild and Archbishop Smith, Chief Littlechild encouraged viewers not to let this news break us, not to let it rob us of our hope. As Catholics, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, this is a difficult history to face, accept, and take responsibility for. Where is our hope? Where is our comfort? Where is our transformation?

We find all these things in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Heart of Jesus, our peace and reconciliation, have mercy on us.

Christ’s heart suffered, bled, and died for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). Christ’s heart broke for each and every child taken from their families to be put in a residential school, and for every family and community that lost them. Christ’s heart broke for the sins of those perpetrating wounds in Indigenous children, families, and communities. Christ’s heart broke for every time the dignity of his beloved Indigenous people is attacked in the streets and workplaces of today.

I was born in Winnipeg, the city with the highest Indigenous population in Canada. As of the last census, nearly 93 000 people identified as First Nations, Métis, or Inuit. In the climate of a richly Indigenous city, I witnessed many attacks on the dignity of my Indigenous brothers and sisters from people I knew and loved. It was heart-breaking. Yet I have also witnessed the conversion of racist attitudes in some of these same people. I have seen their conversion happen in Christ and know firsthand it is possible.

It is possible to face these dark realities together, honestly, as a Church, in the light of Jesus Truth. It is possible to open ourselves up to vulnerably examine our own hearts to find where we need conversion, in the light of Jesus Way. And it is possible to enact healing and reconciliation in the light of Jesus Life.

It is possible to face these dark realities together, honestly, as a Church, in the light of Jesus Truth. It is possible to open ourselves up to vulnerably examine our own hearts to find where we need conversion, in the light of Jesus Way.

Heart of Jesus, our life and resurrection, have mercy on us.

As we turn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus this week, let us pause to search our own hearts. Are there attitudes of resentment, self-righteousness, labeling, judgement, blanket annoyance, or impatience we hold toward another group of people? Do we look at people who are different from us and wish they were the same as us? Do we get defensive when mistakes or sins are pointed out to us instead of openly allowing the Lord to use people’s comments to convert us?

Let us make the final request of the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus our own: “Jesus, touch my heart and make it like your own.” In him we find the humility and the gentleness we need to allow ourselves to be changed, converted, and enflamed with a zealous love for him and his people. May he form his heart in us, so that we may love with his love–a love that can transform the world. And may we learn from the Indigenous wisdom of listening to others for as long it takes, so that we may truly understand, honour and love others with this gift of Christ.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, touch our hearts and make them like your own. Amen.

by Sr. Orianne Dyck

We are grateful to André Prévost for the use of the icon above.

To pray with this Indigenous Catholic Icon of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, you can visit BC artist André Prévost’s webpage here: https://www.andreprevost.com/siksika-nation.html

Helpful Resources:

To learn more about Catholic efforts to seek truth and healing, you can read about “Our Lady of Guadalupe Circles” here: https://ourladyofguadalupecircle.ca/

To pray with an Indigenous Catholic Icon of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, you can visit BC artist André Prévost’s webpage here: https://www.andreprevost.com/siksika-nation.html

To pray the full Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (excerpts of the Litany appear in this article in bold), visit: https://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers-and-devotions/litanies/litany-of-the-sacred-heart-of-jesus

To watch the joint statement and interview with Chief Littlechild and Archbishop Smith referenced in this article, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OXW395L2dU and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPtpgvlsPAw

To read Pope Francis’ statements regarding the Kamloops discovery after Sunday’s Angelus, visit: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2021-06/pope-appeal-canada-residential-school-discovery-healing-reconcil.html

Guest Post: The Hearts of Jesus and Mary

June is the month of the Sacred Heart, and this year the feast of the Sacred Heart falls on Friday, June 11. In this feast Jesus pours out the love of his heart on us. But Jesus always comes with Mary. The next day, June 12, is the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In the union of these two hearts we are completely enveloped in divine and human love.

The heart is the symbol of love, one that’s even used widely in our secular culture (as in Saint Valentine’s Day). It’s a universal symbol most people can relate to easily. From his heart, Jesus pours forth the ocean of his love, and Mary does the same from her own tender maternal heart. They both have an unconditional love for us. That doesn’t mean they don’t care if we sin, but rather that they still love us despite our sins. Jesus in his Sacred Heart and Mary in her Immaculate Heart want to pour out their love on us. If we stray, they call us back.

Mary can transform hearts. In Paris in 1836, a holy priest, Monsignor Charles Desgenettes, was assigned to Our Lady of Victories parish. Spiritually the parish was dying. Only a faithful few old people still went to Mass. Determined to bring about a spiritual revival, the priest consecrated himself and the parish to Mary’s Immaculate Heart. He announced that he was going to call a meeting about being consecrated to Mary. To his astonishment, the church was packed for the meeting! In time a complete spiritual revival took place—and devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart was the driving force.

If we need renewal in our life, whether as a church or as an individual, devotion to Mary is a great place to start. She will draw us closer to her son, Jesus, and together the two hearts of Jesus and Mary will help our own hearts burn with love of God and neighbor.

By Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP

Image Credit: Tacho Dimas via Cathopic

The Heart of a World in Pain: Meditation for Corpus Christi

I spent a couple of hours this morning before Mass meditating on Alexander Schmemann’s profound articulation of the mystery of the Eucharist…. a gift to myself on this most beautiful of liturgical feast days. The vast horizons of this Orthodox priest and writer’s soul seem to peer into eternity as he contemplates the liturgy of the Eucharist:

The Liturgy is the journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom…. Our sacramental entrance into the risen life of Christ. The liturgy of the Eucharist is where individuals of every culture, socio-economic bracket, and way of life come together in one place to bring their lives with them in order to be more than what they were: a new community with a new life. In the liturgy we are immersed in the new life of the Kingdom… (cf. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, page 28-32).

This morning my heart is also shadowed by conflicting emotions, sorrow, a desire to make things right if I could, to erase wrongs, to supply for what is now lacking, to heal the ones who are broken…. On this day I am mindful of very difficult stories that have been in the news and are on all of our minds and hearts lately: the discovery of the mass grave with the bodies of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Residential School in British Colombia, Canada; the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre; the one year anniversary of the death of George Floyd; the ongoing violence on our streets and in our homes.

The inexcusable and horrific stories of how we creatures of the same God and Father of us all can harm each other, taking from each other life, hope, future overwhelm our hearts. They are so incomprehensible that our minds and hearts recoil from even learning about them, facing them, putting things right. Let’s take a step back, again letting Schmemann be our guide, as we ask ourselves from where this evil among us comes, this evil we first encounter in the story of Cain turning on his brother Abel, these two sons of Adam and Eve who had chosen to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden at the serpent’s suggestion:

Man ate the forbidden fruit. The fruit of that one tree, whatever else it may signify, was unlike every other fruit in the Garden: it was not offered as a gift to man. Not given, not blessed by God, it was food whose eating was condemned to be communion with itself alone, and not with God. It is the image of the world loved for itself, and eating it is the image of life understood as an end in itself.

To love is not easy, and mankind has chosen not to return God’s love. Man has loved the world, but as an end in itself and not as transparent to God. He has done it so consistently that it has become something that is “in the air.”

It seems natural for man to experience the world as opaque, and not shot through with the presence of God. It seems natural not to live a life of thanksgiving for God’s gift of a world. It seems natural not to be eucharistic.

The world is a fallen world because it has fallen away from the awareness that God is all in all. The accumulation of this disregard for God is the original sin that blights the world.

On this Feast of Corpus Christi I’ve been thinking about how all of life is meant to be eucharistic, a life of thanksgiving to the God on whom we depend for everything. Life lived in a eucharistic key is a journey of love and adoration toward God. We lost this eucharistic life in Adam and Eve. In Christ, the new Adam, this eucharistic life is restored to us. Contrary to the first Adam, Christ offered himself to the Father in perfect obedience, love and thanksgiving. Christ did not reach for his own glory, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. Christ’s life was a symphony in the key of Gift and Gratitude. He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant for our salvation, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross! As Gift he received from God the highest place, and to him every knee must bow to the glory of God the Father (cf. Phil. 2:5ff).

For “the wages of sin is death.” The life man chose was only the appearance of life. God showed him that he himself had decided to eat bread in a way that would simply return him to the ground from which both he and the bread had been taken: “For dust thou art and into dust shalt thou return.” Man lost the eucharistic life, he lost the life of life itself, the power to transform it into Life. He ceased to be the priest of the world and became its slave.

In the story of the Garden this took place in the cool of the day: that is, at night. And Adam, when he left the Garden where life was to have been eucharistic—an offering of the world in thanksgiving to God—Adam led the whole world, as it were, into darkness. In one of the beautiful pieces of Byzantine hymnology Adam is pictured sitting outside, facing Paradise, weeping. It is the figure of man himself (Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, page 17-18).

In the Mass Christ himself takes all of us and the totality of our life to God. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, he takes away: and every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word I have spoken unto you. Remain in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it remains in the vine; so neither can you, unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches: He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit: for away from me you can do nothing. If a man does not remain in me, he is thrown away as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatsoever you will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:1-7).

In the light of the Eucharist we see that Christ is indeed the life and light of all that exists, and the glory that fills heaven and earth….

He became man and lived in this world. He ate and drank, and this means that the world of which he partook, the very food of our world became His body, His life. But His life was totally, absolutely eucharistic—all of it was transformed into communion with God and all of it ascended into heaven. And now He shares this glorified life with us. “What I have done alone—give it now to you: take, eat. … (page 43).

Each time we celebrate the Eucharist we experience the very joy of the Kingdom because we realize that even as the joys of earth will one day come to an end, there is now through Christ a seed of eternal joy planted in our world that will grow into the Kingdom. And so we pray for the world, we beg God that we might love the world as Jesus loves the world. That we might love the world with the very love of Christ. That we might see the world in Christ, as it really is, and not from our own limited points of view. We intercede for those who are victims, for those who perpetrators, for our are brothers and sisters.

I’ve been wrestling with these shadows of sorrow even as I stand at the messianic banquet and receive into my heart the Life of the world. It is this way with all of us. It will always be this way in this world.

I’ve decided today that what matters for me is where I stand. In what dimension I live. With whose gaze I look upon the world. With whose heart I feel.

I am, we are, one in Jesus, the Vine, our Life, the one who holds us all together as one and brings us with him into the Kingdom of his Father. The image of the Vine and the Branches offers me a way to live through these sad and disconcerting times:

  1. Jesus said that the branches must bear fruit. He commands it actually eight times in John chapter 15. The present tense here points to bearing more than one fruit or one season of fruitfulness. It indicates a sustained productivity. Yet I know by myself I cannot bear fruit. I cannot reach up and grasp for fruitfulness. I need to remain attached to the Vine through the Eucharist in order to be fruitful. I am mindful of the too many branches that have been weakened and have even given up on the Vine because of the activity of some of those who are Christians and Catholics, themselves branches on the Vine. I remember those who have chosen to behave toward others in ways that have separated themselves in some way from the full Life of Christ the Vine. I remember all those who have suffered grievously at the hands of other branches on the one Vine. In every Eucharist I can pray with the heart of Jesus for all those for whom Christ died for he is now the only one who makes things right, who brings shalom, that is, wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety and peace with God and reconciliation.
  2. Every branch that does not bear fruit will be taken away by the Gardener. The prayer often on my lips in times like these is: “Thy kingdom come! Thy kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God is at work clearing away what needs to be cleared away so that the voices of his children who have been marginalized and suffered devastating losses can be heard. We need to have the courage to enter into the stories of those who have suffered at the hands of others. I must admit, about some of these situations I knew nothing until I started reading, inquiring, listening. Even a 30 minute tour around the internet can help us hear their voices. Thy kingdom come means that we stand up to hear all these voices and allow the kingdom which is beyond the smallness of our hearts to break open the hold that evil has on us.
  3. We are invited to remain in Jesus as he desires to remain in us. To abide, to be joined to him. To have a sustained union, a steadfast and enduring communion with the Vine. For those who abide in Christ as branches on the Vine there is the promise that they can ask what they will and it will be done for them. I believe this is because the branches that are receiving nourishment from the Vine are of one heart and mind with Jesus. What they ask for the world comes from the heart and interests and desires of Jesus that all be saved, that all be healed, that all be made whole, that all be one.

Through the Liturgy the broken life of this world is brought, in Christ and by Christ, into the dimension of the Kingdom of God. The Mass is the Heart of a world in pain, the seed of Joy, the manifestation of the mystery of God’s presence and action. It is in the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice that the world as it isdivided, torn, broken apart with anger and shadowed in fearis brought to God. For it was for this world that God’s Son, his only Son, gave his life. And so will I.

Image Credit: Dulce Maria via Cathopic