Sunday, March 18, 2018

Holy Father St. Joseph

Feast Day:  March 19

Devotion to St. Joseph was a hallmark of St. Teresa of Avila.  Teresa attributed her miraculous cure to Saint Joseph.  When she was living in the Incarnation Convent in Avila, she was struck with an ailment that left her half-dead.  She was paralyzed and was presumed dead at one point.  She prayed and prayed to Joseph and her prayers were answered.  Her paralysis was cured and she was able to walk again even though her health had always been fragile after that.

Saint Joseph is an example of a life so hidden and yet so pleasing to God.  Scriptures did not record for us a word he uttered.  But what the Gospels show is that Joseph was a doer of God's Will.  He was always on the go, always on the move to do God's bidding- waking up from the dream to journey to Bethlehem for the census, fleeing to Egypt with Mary and the Infant Jesus to escape Herod and his murderous band, journeying back to Nazareth at God's command after Herod had died.  These were important events but nothing was recorded of Joseph's account or words.  Even in the life of the Holy Family, the Gospel writers did not deem it necessary to give an account of the life in Nazareth.  The only indication we have that Joseph was respected and known in the local community is the passage in the Gospel where the townspeople were figuring out the source of Jesus' power,  "How did this man come by this wisdom and the miracles? Is not this the carpenter's son?" (Matthew 13:54-55).

Saint Teresa has this to say about St. Joseph: "

 "I took for my advocate and lord the glorious Saint Joseph and commended myself earnestly to him; and I found that this my father and lord delivered me both from this trouble and also from other and greater troubles concerning my honor and the loss of my soul, and that he gave me greater blessings than I could ask of him. I do not remember even now that I have ever asked anything of him which he has failed to grant. I am astonished at the great favors which God has bestowed on me through this blessed saint, and at the perils from which He has freed me, both in body and in soul. To other saints the Lord seems to have given grace to succor us in some of our necessities but of this glorious saint my experience is that he succors us in them all and that the Lord wishes to teach us that as He was Himself subject to him on earth (for, being His guardian and being called His father, he could command Him) just so in Heaven He still does all that he asks. This has also been the experience of other persons whom I have advised to commend themselves to him; and even to-day there are many who have great devotion to him through having newly experienced this truth." "I wish I could persuade everyone to be devoted to this glorious saint, for I have great experience of the blessings which he can obtain from God. I have never known anyone to be truly devoted to him and render him particular services who did not notably advance in virtue, for he gives very real help to souls who commend themselves to him. For some years now, I think, I have made some request of him every year on his festival and I have always had it granted. If my petition is in any way ill directed, he directs it aright for my greater good."

"I only beg, for the love of God, that anyone who does not believe me will put what I say to the test, and he will see by experience what great advantages come from his commending himself to this glorious patriarch and having devotion to him. Those who practice prayer should have a special affection for him always. I do not know how anyone can think of the Queen of the Angels, during the time that she suffered so much with the Child Jesus, without giving thanks to Saint Joseph for the way he helped them. If anyone cannot find a master to teach him how to pray, let him take this glorious saint as his master and he will not go astray." (Autobiography Chapter 6).

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Glorious Saint Patrick

Feast: March 17

The only awareness I had of Saint Patrick was celebrating St. Patrick's Day.  I'm not Irish and had no particular devotion to him.  Even St. Patrick's Day was just another day in the calendar when Irish trinkets, corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread and Irish coffee, pretty much make up the celebration.  My community was founded by an Irish-Scottish Sister and as a consequence we have a lot of St. Patrick tradition in our community.  I learned how to make a really exceptional (and well-kept secret) soda bread taught to me by Sister Peter Thomas (God rest her soul), (she called it "Scottish tea-bread").  So I was heavy on the externals but not much on the substance of St. Patrick.  This all changed when God ordained that I be sent to Ireland for a two year mission in our nursing home situated in Dublin.  I then made a better acquaintance with Patrick.

The Sisters didn't really celebrate St. Patrick's Day with trinkets and parties.  In fact, the only celebration I saw was in Tipperary on TV, with the parade and party.  The Sisters had  real shamrocks pinned on our habits on Patrick's day.  There was no corned beef and cabbage either.
In Ireland,  I read and learned about St. Patrick.  He was different from what I experienced of him in the States.  He had a depth and palpable presence one can feel when one reads about him.  Maybe it's the being in the land where he walked and lived and died.  He became a real person to me.  In reading his Confessions, the virtue which struck me the most about Patrick was his humility, his great humility.  It was just something that jumped out of the pages of his life.  His words were powerful and spoke of a deep sense of gratitude, which translates in his keen sense of natural beauty and power.  I never would have believed that after leaving Ireland, I would be eager to find a statue of him I can place in my room!  I finally found one!  The Sisters were kidding me and said that one day I will return to Ireland.  And like St. Patrick, I would hear the "voice of the Irish" begging me to "come back, come back!"  At that time, no dream was to keep me away from the U.S since I've been away so long and missed home.  But my time there was precious and memorable.

St. Patrick, like all the Saints, transcends culture, place and time.  His "Confessions" is a wonderful book I would recommend anytime. Here is an ebook link:

Friday, February 16, 2018

Temptations: Good or Bad?

"The LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.  The breath of life... this breath is sometimes referred to in some theological books as the "soul" given to man making him a spiritual being.  Did you ever wonder why the story of creation began with the natural world and ended with the creation of man?  Why did God created Paradise before he created Adam and Eve? It was an act of pure love.  He wanted to make sure that they would want for nothing, everything would be ready, when they opened their eyes for the first time.   It was a great act of hospitality.  How good God is.  "Lord, what is man that you care for him?" the Psalmist would ask.  The story of Adam and Eve is I think a story of great betrayal.  It is a story of great ingratitude.  It was not the apple which made the difference but the disobedience, the total disregard, to what God had requested them not to do.  
"The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.  So she took some of its fruit and ate it;"  Spiritual writers have warned us that sin comes to us in the guise of good.  St. John of the Cross has this to say: "it must be noted that, among the many wiles used by the devil to deceive spiritual persons, the most ordinary is that of deceiving them under the appearance of what is good and not under the appearance of what is evil; for he knows that if they recognize evil they will hardly touch it. " (Counsels of Love and Light).  In our world where the idea of freedom is treated as an absolute value, separate from accountability and responsibility, this might be an apple we may want to bite without hesitation.
"and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it."  Misery loves company.  I wonder if Adam ate it because he loved her too much and wanted to share with Eve whatever would come about, or was it because he just didn't know any better?  Sin made malicious what was previously seen as innocent.
Why did God created the serpent which created this mess that Adam and Eve found themselves in?  It comes down to the notion of choice.  The greatest thing about being human is the fact that we were created with our reason and free will.  These are gifts which elevate and give us dignity.  When God endowed us with free will, he was running the risk of us using it to our own advantage- and so it happened.  But love opens itself to risks.  True love, if it is to be true, think only of the beloved's good.  St. John of the Cross warns us that true love subjects the lover to the beloved- so be careful who and what we love.  If we fix our heart on frivolous things, we become frivolous.  That's why St. Paul encouraged us by saying: whatever is noble, whatever is beautiful, whatever is true, think about these things.  We become what we love.  Temptations can make us humble because we are forced to acknowledge our weaknesses and depend on God's grace .  They can make us strong when we persevere in resisting them.  They can make us wise when we learn from our mistakes.  They can make us compassionate towards others because we learn to understand their struggles.  Ultimately, the choice is ours.

The Gospel reading on this First Sunday of Lent is about the temptations of Jesus.  Temptation can be both external and internal.  We are tempted by what we see or hear or perceive around us.  But it can also be internal because we have our inner obsessions, compulsions and addictions.  Jesus was tempted by the devil over three important areas of human needs: physical (food), knowledge,and possessions.  Jesus shows us that having the Word of God for our foundation, we can fight the snares of the devil.  If we know the truths of God, we will recognize the lies of the devil.  The truth will set us free.
Temptations can be good even when we fall.  We don't look for them, just as Jesus didn't look for his, but if we cling to God's words and trust in his mercy, everything will work out for the good of those who love Him.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

St. Bernadette and the Story of Lourdes

 The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11th, is close to my heart.  The first Saint I was ever aware of was St. Bernadette and the movie which made me keenly aware of the presence of Mary was The Song of Bernadette.  It made such an impression on me that I joined the Children of Mary with their white dresses and blue sash.  I read lots of books on Bernadette, my favorite being "Saint Bernadette Soubirous" by Abbe Fancois Trochu, and "A Holy Life" by Patricia McEachern.  Renee de Laurentis also wrote delightful books on St. Bernadette.  Among the many virtues of the Saint, it was her humility, simplicity and modesty , which spoke volumes to me.  I believe that Mary is drawn irresistibly to these virtues and is very close to those who possess them.  The story of Lourdes is closely linked to the story of suffering and February 11th is designated as World Day of Prayer for the Sick.  It is no wonder that St. Bernadette was chosen since she was the perfect model of bearing our sufferings with patience, faith and love.  Her life bears witness how God confounds the proud and lifts up the lowly.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Feast of the Presentation


We celebrate February 2nd  as the Feast of the Presentation of the the Lord or traditionally called "Candlemas."This is an ancient feast in the Roman Catholic Church dating back to as far back as 312 with some historical homilies by bishops.  This feast falls 40 days after Christmas and commemorates the Purification of Mary in the temple in Jerusalem following the mandate of the Law of Moses in the Book of Leviticus (Leviticus 12:2-8).  According to this Mosaic Law, any woman who had given birth to her first-born son is considered impure, and would have to go through a process of ritual purification.  Consequently, the Child Jesus was also presented to the temple to be consecrated to God according to the same Law.  Candlemas was originally a celebration of the blessing of candles.  These candles were blessed and were reserved for the use of the Church in its different liturgical celebrations throughout the year.  In the liturgy, we still have the part of Simple or Solemn procession and blessing of the candles.  After Vatican II, the emphasis was refocused on the feast of the Presentation itself.  It traditionally became the day when Religious renew their vows as a symbol of renewing their religious consecration. 

This feast presents to us many points for personal reflection.  There are many things which come to my mind and among these are the following:
A lesson on poverty:  This feast recalls to mind how Mary and Joseph were really poor.  They offered to God what was prescribed in the Law as the offering of poor people: turtle doves.  Sometimes we may be tempted to think that the Holy Family's poverty was a pious tradition to exalt the virtue of poverty to those who were born poor in this world. Or to pacify the restless hearts of peasants during the middle ages by the backing of religion.  But this Gospel event proves to us that they were materially poor in the true sense of the word.  It is so consoling to think that material possessions are not always a badge of God's favor and the lack of them is not a sign of God's disfavor.
We are all consecrated:    By virtue of our baptism, we are consecrated to God.  We are set apart to do a particular mission in life to bring about the Kingdom.  Consecration is lived out in many ways.  Religious are consecrated by a certain ritual in the Church which sets them aside for a particular ministry following a particular charism, within a particular Religious Order.  Ordained Priests are consecrated to be God's ministers of Word and Sacraments for the life of one's soul.  A baptized Christian in the world is consecrated to be a leaven, a salt of the earth, to make present the presence of God in the market-places of the world.  No one is exempted.  We just do not exist, we live for a purpose.  The Presentation of the Child Jesus was a statement of this truth.
God lives in His temple and because of that we ought to give the House of God the respect it deserves.  The drama of Mary's purification, Jesus' consecration, the prophecy made by Simeon and the love of the prophetess Anna, all demonstrate to us how holy the temple or Church is.  In our Catholic Churches is present, day and night, the Son of God, Lord of Heaven and earth, who chose to remain in that little piece of bread we call the Eucharist so that He can be with us always.  And yet, for one reason or other, we take it for granted.  We need to recapture the reverence and awe we once had for the House of God.  Everyone of us can cite examples of how people can be so disrespectful of God's temple.
Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and as such should be treated with respect and reverence.  Our body is the instrument to render homage to God by acts of good deeds and virtues or to be used as an instrument to offend Him.  This feast reminds us to be conscious of this reality.
The sword piercing Mary's heart was a prophecy of the Cross.  Along with the joy of having given birth to God, the joy was lined with sorrow because the prophecy foretells  rejection, hate and death.  Isn't this a consequence of following Jesus, of discipleship?  The Cross is never far away from those who truly follow God.  That is one reason why people are afraid to follow Christ, "it is difficult, too complicated" many would say.  It entails dying: to self, selfish desires, life of sin.
As we celebrate this feast of the Presentation, let us again be mindful of these truths and ponder the insights which God reveals to those who seek Him.  "And suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek (Malachi 3:1-4).  "Are you not aware that you are God's temple?"  Let us enter in, into the temple of our soul.  Let us remain in silence before the Lord our God.  Nothing is needed for this journey except the desire to be united with Him. As St. John of the Cross would say, the language God hears best is the silent language of love.