Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Know Yourself

A statement like this is what draws me to the Mystics: “Those who see themselves not selfishly but for God, and who see God for God (as he is supreme eternal Goodness and is deserving of our love), when they contemplate God in blazing, consumed love discover the image of the human person in God. And they discover themselves, God’s image, in God.” This extraordinary expression was written by St. Catherine of Siena, a 14th Century 3rd Order Dominican.

Catherine’s letters, and later her Dialogue based on a letter to Friar Raymond of Capua of the Order of Preachers, describe the continuous link between a person knowing him/herself and knowing God, and how this knowledge is the basis of an ever-growing love between us and our Lord: the better we know ourselves in the Light of our Lord, the more clearly we see the sins that stand in the way of Him, and desire more and more to rid ourselves of them. The prize is union with God, who is constant, and IS, alive within us.

My Nature is Fire
(Prayer XXII)

In your nature,
eternal Godhead,
I shall come to know my nature.
And what is my nature, boundless love?
It is fire,
because you are nothing but a fire of love.
And you have given humankind
a share in this nature,
for by the fire of love
you created us.
And so with all other people
and every created thing;
you made them out of love.
O ungrateful people!
What nature has your God given you?
His very own nature!
Are you not ashamed to cut yourself off from such a noble thing
through the guilt of deadly sin?
O eternal Trinity,
my sweet love!
You, light,
give us light.
You, wisdom,
give us wisdom.
You, supreme strength,
strengthen us.
Today, eternal God,
let our cloud be dissipated
so that we may perfectly know and follow your Truth
in truth,
with a free and simple heart.
God, come to our assistance!
Lord, make haste to help us!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

St. Louis de Montfort

"I state that Jesus is the abyss of all knowledge so that you do not let yourself be deceived by the fine, glowing words of orators or by the specious subtleties of philosophers."

from The Love of Eternal Wisdom by St. Louis Mary de Montfort

Many years ago I remember reading a tale about St. Louis de Montfort:

Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort would travel on foot through the villages of France to preach. As he reached each village, he'd kneel down and pray a rosary. Sometimes he had an audience; sometimes the audience joined in with him. Once a couple of men tried to ridicule him. Louis Marie Grignion stood up, kissed his rosary, tucked it away safely, and proceeded to beat his hecklers to a pulp. When he returned to his rosary, the hecklers were kneeling beside him.

I don't know how true this story is, but I love the lesson: being a disciple doesn't mean being a doormat.

St. Louis Mary de Montfort, pray for us!

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Battle of Ideals

What you call yourself means little in light of what you actually believe, and how your beliefs prompt you to act.

The Notre Dame controversy as it continues to play out is an excellent example of this, particularly when a prominent Catholic like Mary Ann Glendon publically refuses an honor on the basis of her faith's fundamental ideals. Click here to read the full text of Glendon's letter.

What Catholic ideals truly are and what many think they aught to be are now at odds in this issue, and the Church is once again attacked from within. Bishop George Murray, S.J., of my own diocese, states it the best in the Catholic Exponent: "While I greatly respect the office of President of the United States and the historic achievement of Mr. Obama, his policies to date have not recognized the intrinsic value of the life of the unborn. In politics, one cannot functionally separate a politician from his policies. Mr. Obama’s policies of expanding the availability of abortion at home and exporting that availability overseas have demonstrated that he does not believe that the life of the unborn is very important. As a result, I cannot but be deeply disturbed by the decision made by the president and board of Notre Dame. (Read the rest of the Catholic Exponent article here.)"

Our ideals, or those principles which guide each of us in our daily actions, lie at the very center of morality and ethics, and lie at the very center of this controversy. If we call ourselves Catholic, we should make our best effort to behave as Catholics. This includes accepting, upholding and living out the fundamental ideals that our faith teaches. "As a Catholic university and the premier Catholic university in the nation," writes Bishop Murray, "Notre Dame should be in the forefront of protecting all human life in word and deed. It is not sufficient for the university’s administration to issue a statement that they do not agree with President Obama’s positions on life issues while at the same time giving him an opportunity to stand before the graduates and receive a prestigious honorary degree. That is the contradiction Notre Dame has failed to resolve and what, I believe, is at the heart of this controversy. (Catholic Exponent)"

The feeling of being accepted by others is a powerful motivator. I think of the times that I've compromised some part of my faith-even what I think is a small thing-to appease others and gain their acceptance. But to be honored by others is much more seductive. I wonder, would I have the courage and humility that Mary Ann Glendon had to turn down such a prestigious award? It would be very easy to fall victim to pride and vanity, letting self-importance blind a person to the Lord and His Church and disregard a very specific rule laid down by our Bishops. It would be very easy to ignore the words of our creed: “We believe in ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC and APOSTOLIC Church.” In this single action, Ms. Glendon has reminded me that being a Catholic means being willingly united with my Church in EVERYTHING, and that unity is more important than any award. She has effectively evangelized me.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Getting Unstuck

St. Mark the Evangelist, Pray for us.

I'm stuck in Mark. I've been reading it since December. This happens to me all the time. I start reading a book of Scripture, and I read it over and over and over again. I did this with Genesis a few years back.

I picked up a study guide to the Gospel of Mark by Ignatius Press. They're coming out with an entire study Bible (it's about time), but until they have it compiled, they have made available what's completed. There are notes, commentaries and a few questions for each chapter.

(W)hen Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." Mk 2:5

The first application question (pertaining to ch. 2:5) is this: Jesus responds to the faith of the paralytic's friends by forgiving the sick man's sins. As you reflect on your own life, how does sin tend to paralyze you spiritually? How does forgiveness of sin heal that paralysis?

What a sign for someone stuck in this Gospel.

If forgiveness of sin can give a paralyzed man the power to walk, what will it do in me, an able-bodied woman confirmed in the Spirit and desiring to walk with the Lord?

Friday, April 24, 2009

You Can Talk To Me

"Don't make your life into a bad movie version of what it could be." This is the kind of line that I really wish I wrote. Thank you, Sister Mary Martha, for such a clear explanation of what prayer is all about. To read Sister's explanation, click here.

I'm currently reading a book titled My Life with the Saints by James Martin, S.J. It's a memoir highlighting the role that the lives of the Saints played in his formation. I'm only up to chapter two, so I'll have to get back to you with a more proper review when I finish it.

Chapter one is about Therese of Lisieux, one of my favorite saints. Quite a few of my Catholic friends have a devotion to the Little Flower (as do I), and quite a few have stories about mysterious roses appearing duing their novenas, and a number attribute specific prayers being answered through the intercession of the Little Flower (as do I).

I'm not surprised that Fr. Martin devoted the first chapter of his memoir to the Little Flower. He talks about Therese's trials, how she struggled with doubts about the existence of heaven, and how she even contemplated suicide during her battle with Tuberculosis. "Yet though she struggled, wept, and raged," Martin writes, "she continued to believe--drawing from a deep well of trust filled from the springs of a lifelong friendship with God." Now that's what I call an a-ha moment.

Recently an old friend of mine tried to get in touch with me. She sent me a message on Facebook, and then later called me. I did respond to her Facebook message, but I've been so destracted with all of my obligations that I just haven't picked up that phone and called her back. I deeply regret letting this opportunity to reconnect with a dear old friend pass me by. The longer I wait to pick up that phone and call her, the harder that call becomes to make. Soon I start making excuses and finding something convenient on which to lay blame. The days turn into weeks, and this woman that had been a part of my life since kindergarten slips further and further away from me...or more accurately, it's I who slips further and further away from her.

Isn't it the same with our Lord?

It sure is for me. It's why I've been focusing so much on prayer these days. If someone is going to call me "friend", it's because I've accepted those precious invitations that give us the opportunity to build our relationship, and I've reciprocated and extended real invitations myself.

Prayer is exactly that: communication with the Lord. Whether it's worship at Mass or just silently contemplating Him while sitting in a quiet corner of my yard, I am building a rich, vibrant friendship with the Lord who loves me infinitely, who will sustain me through trials, darkness, even sickness and death.

I'd never know any of this, though, if I didn't bother to return his calls.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I Am Love

Unless you know Romanian, you won't be able to read the subtitles in this presentation. It won't matter, though. The song tells the story perfectly.

"I Am Love" by Michael W. Smith

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Only In God

A mighty angel picked up a stone like a huge millstone and threw it into the sea and said: "With such force will Babylon the great city be thrown down, and will never be found again." After this I heard what sounded like the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven saying: "Alleluia! Salvation, glory, and might belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments."
Rev 18:20, 19:1-2

Until last night, I had no clue what went on in the world since Friday at 5 o'clock. My husband and I spent most of the weekend in our yard tending our lawn and flowerbeds. Plus Saturday night we attended a wedding reception, so I kind of fell out of the loop regarding what's going on in the world. I therefore spent about an hour last night surfing the Internet for some news.

As I clicked through the pages, I couldn't help but be overcome with sadness. The world changes before our eyes. How many of us ("us" being all of humanity) put our faith and trust in this world?

I, for one, do not:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Extraordinary Statue of The Divine Mercy

CLICK HERE to read more about the Divine Mercy Shrine at Divine Mercy Hills in the city El Salvador, Mindanao, Philippines.

Divine Mercy Sunday

O blood and water which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You.

Eternal Father, I offer you the body and blood, soul and divinity of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins, and those of the whole world.

For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.

Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.


The Easter Octave appropriately culminates with the Feast of The Divine Mercy. Today we celebrate God's unfailing, unending love for us.

Tell the world about My mercy and My love.

The flames of mercy are burning me. I desire to pour them out upon human souls. Oh, what pain they cause Me when they do not want to accept them!

My daughter, do whatever is within your power to spread devotion to My mercy. I will make up for what you lack. Tell aching mankind to snuggle close to My merciful Heart, and I will fill it with peace.

Tell all people, My daugther, that I am Love and Mercy itself. When a soul approaches Me with trust, I fill it with such an abundance of graces that it cannot contain them within itself, but radiates them to other souls. (1074)

I love the 20th century saints, particularly Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. St. Faustina was a simple, uneducated Nun who in 1934 began to keep a diary that would become a profound work of mysticism, sparking an international devotion to the Mercy of our Lord Jesus. It was through her direction that the artist E. Kazimierowski painted the first image of the Divine Mercy. Several variations have been produced since (including the image at the top of this post). Christ opens the vestment to reveal his chest wound, and from it are rays of red and white light, the blood and water pouring out from his pierced heart.

I can't look at this image and not think of Cassius, the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus' side. I have been reading (along with a zillion other titles) Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Anne Catherine Emmerich (another great mystic of the Chruch), where she writes that when the blood and water flowing from Christ's side flowed onto Cassius' head and face, he fell off his horse to his knees and worshipped the Son of God. "The water and blood continued to flow from the large wound in the side of our Lord; it ran into the hollow in the rock, and the holy women put it in vases, while Mary and Magdalen mingled their tears." (Emmerich, Chapter XLVIII: The Opening Of the Side of Jesus.—Death of the two Thieves.)

Thus His Divine Mercy eternally flows. Today we stand at the foot of the cross with all of them, our own hearts the vessels with which we collect the great love and mercy flowing without end from the side of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Fast Aftermath

Sweets really ain’t my thang. Sure, I’ll have a piece of cake if it’s sitting in the kitchen, but just a couple of bites is plenty for me. I have no problem passing on the donuts in the lunchroom. I’ll opt for the cheese ‘n crackers from a vending machine over a Milky Way bar any day of the week. I don’t even put sugar in my coffee. Sweets are just not my vice. So this year, I didn’t give up sweets for lent.

Instead I gave up meat: beef, chicken, pork. I lived for 40 days on fish, vegetables, bread and pasta. That's right. No hot chicken wings. No ranch-cheddar-bacon burgers. No bacon. I love bacon. By Holy Week I nearly chewed off my left hand. It was a good sacrifice. It was the hardest fast I’d ever made. I felt the pain of this sacrifice right up until midnight after the Easter Vigil when I practically flipped my head open to take a bite out of my enormous bacon cheeseburger on mountain rye bread, lightly toasted (just like the one pictured here--the messier the better).

From Ash Wednesday through the Vigil, I did not receive any comfort for my sacrifice at all. No amount of prayer during my moments of weakness gave me any sense of closeness with my Lord. I knew, however, that I was being taught a very important lesson: no matter how good I think I am, I am still far too attached to this world. I realized it a few moments after I sank my teeth into that messy, greasy, delicious burger. I savored that first bite, glad that I was done with this crazy fast, and kicking myself for such a severe self-imposed penance. Then a dark feeling began to bother me those few moments later. Know what? It still bothers me.

Early on during lent I declared with pride, “I think I can continue this fast all year on both Wednesdays AND Fridays.” Then the first Wednesday of Easter came and went. Lunch was leftover Chicken Piccata, dinner was fried chicken that my husband brought home from a local grocery store. (Seriously—how do you resist IGA Fried Chicken?! For Youngstown, Ohio locals, the one in Struthers at the corner of 5th and Creed. For everyone else, woo, you're missin' out!)

Knocked down another notch.

Last night, with Divine Mercy Sunday only a few days away, I curled up for a little while with Divine Mercy In My Soul by St. Faustina Kowalska. The pages of this marvelous work revealed to me the reason for my soul’s discontent:

God made known to me what true love consists in and gave light to me about how, in practice to give proof of it to Him. True love of God consists in carrying out God’s will. To show God our love in what we do, all our actions, even the least, must spring from our love of God. (279)


What would my sacrifice mean if I spent the whole time whining about it? What would anything I do for the Kingdom of God mean if I didn’t live my life as a Christian in EVERYTHING I do? We can sit in church all we want, and it will do us no good if we are not living a truly Christian life in even the smallest details.

In my case, my whining about my fast—a fast that I imposed on myself to prove how much I loved God—only proved how much I love meat, and how I put it before my Lord.

I wonder…what other things do I put before my Lord?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I Believe In God?

We believe in God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.
-The Nicene Creed

Last week after daily Mass my friend, a young man who is discerning a call to the priesthood, needed to talk. "I've been whining alot lately," he confessed, "and I know it. I keep wondering if I can do it, if I can live that life for sixty or seventy years." He went on, listing his many worries: austerity, celibacy, family... After he expressed his concerns, and after I gave him the motherly hug he needed at that moment, he said to me, "Gina, will you pray with me?"

I immediately started into my little request for him: for a clear, obvious sign that would tell my friend exactly what he needed to hear so he could move forward. More importantly, I now realize, I listened to my friend as he prayed aloud to God: "Dad," he said, "I need your help. I'm confused. I don't know what to do. You always help me, Father. I know you hear me, Dad, sometimes I can't hear you, and I know it's because I'm not listening. And I'm scared, Dad. I'm scared, but I trust you, Father. And I love you."

Dad. Wow.

His prayer went on like this for quite a while, the conversation between a small child crying and his Daddy, comforting him. I held his hand throughout his prayer, and I prayed silently with him, feeling utterly humbled.

My friend helped me to really understand something that I've always kind of known, but wasn't applying to my daily faith: believing that a God exists who does wondrous, miraculous things by merely speaking them, and believing IN this same God are two entirely different things. How often do we--do I--confuse them?

While I was very sincere in my prayer, thinking that I was praying with my whole heart for my friend, I was doing nothing more than telling God that I wanted something, as if he were some genie in a bottle that I summon periodically to perform a little trick for me. In other words, I was merely demonstrating that I believe a God that does signs and wonders exists.

Didn't many of Jesus' followers do this same thing? Even after he fed thousands on a hillside with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, many still had to ask him: "What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do?" (Jn 6:30) When he not only withheld the sign, but gave them an answer that they didn't like, didn't many of them turn away from Him? I wonder how many times in my life I've done this very same thing. I wonder if I'm any different from these followers, coming to Jesus to give me a flashy parlor trick so that I can continue to believe.

My friend didn't need a parlor trick. What he needed was compassion, understanding and love. He needed his hand held. He needed the relationship that is BELIEVING IN GOD. He needed to get beyond the signs, and really enter into that relationship with the Living Lord.

In those moments that I shared with my friend, I realized that I need it, too.

Monday, April 13, 2009


"John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."
-Mark 1:4

Linguistic factoids fascinate me. It’s probably why I loved studying Ancient Greek in college. Take the word “metanoia” for example. It’s a Greek word found all over the New Testament in various forms, and it is translated into “repent”, or “repentance”. As the saying goes, though, a lot is lost in translation.

I didn’t give much thought to the concept of repentance. I was always taught that repentance means going to Church, follow the 10 commandments, being nice to people, all that stuff. Simple enough, right?

Several months ago I was listening to a presentation about a retreat center located in upstate New York, when the speaker used this remarkable word. Metanoia. The word resonated with me. I'd heard this word several times before, but it didn't hit me quite the same way as it did during her presentation. I can’t remember the context in which she used it, but I most certainly remember that word. So I went on one of my little linguistic quests.

I discovered that the word literally means “change of mind”. As I pondered this idea, I started to really get what “repentance” is all about. It’s not just recanting a former life, or suddenly acting in a manner befitting a good little Christian. Essentially, metanoia is changing the way we think, so that we can in turn change the way we live. We don’t just turn away from sin; we also turn toward something else: toward the Lord. And in our turning to the Lord, we are changing the way we think about our relationship with the Lord. In the Lord we no longer mindlessly exist for our own selfish desires, but consciously live out every aspect of our lives according to God's will.

Is this an easy task? No way. Metanoia is ongoing in my life, a series of little changes, little light-bulbs popping on, little steps away from the things that keep me from living a fully human life as God intended and toward the real me that I am meant to be. Do I have a really long way to go! Between my “past” creeping up and biting me in the butt and my own stubborn will, change is nothing short of difficult.

But the results are so worth the effort.

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