Month: January 2018

DOES A TENDENCY TOWARD UNIVERSALISM ACCOUNT FOR AMORIS LAETITIA?

“The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1035, promulgated by Saint Pope John Paul II)

This note on the impact of “universal salvation” on the modern church begins with a somewhat frightening quote from a great spiritual writer of the nineteenth century, F.W. Faber, who seemed to have a premonition that the loss of belief in hell was going to infiltrate the Church. He says:

“The devil’s worst and most fatal preparation for the coming of Antichrist is the weakening of men’s belief in eternal punishment. Were they the last words I  might ever say to you, nothing should I wish to say to you with more emphasis than this, that next to the thought of the Precious Blood there is no thought in all your faith more precious or more needful for you than the thought of Eternal Punishment.” 

Apokatastasis is the heresy that claims that – in the end –  all men are saved. It is a denial of hell or in the eternity of hell. It’s most famous disciple was Origen. In more recent times the theology of universal salvation (universalism) has made its way back into the Church through the apokatastasis-leaning writings of the Protestant, Karl Barth, and the Catholic, Hans Urs von Balthasar, although these men speak more to the hope or probability of universal salvation than to its dogmatic certainty (still von Balthasar popularized the notion that in view of God’s infinite love it is unlikely anyone is damned forever, even if the possibility cannot be ruled out).

“The history of the doctrine of universal salvation is a remarkable one. Until the nineteenth century almost all Christian theologians taught the reality of the eternal torment of hell….Since 1800 this situation has entirely changed and no traditional Christian doctrine has been so widely abandoned as that of eternal punishment….Universal salvation is now so widely accepted… that many theologians assume it virtually without argument” (Richard Bauckham as quoted in Will Many Be Saved, p. 130). Although Mr. Bauckham’s statement may be overly broad it nevertheless gives us some perspective on the rapid disenfranchisement of the church from the doctrine of hell (as in not preaching about hell, or popularizing the notion that only horrible characters go there, or in simply not preaching about sin).

I remember reading Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on evangelization, The Joy of the Gospel, and thinking to myself, “Wow!, he mentions hardly a word about the salvation of souls in a lengthy document dedicated to the preaching of the Gospel!” And then came the Encyclical Letter on the environment, Laudato Si, and the basic focus in that document was the salvation of  planet earth from threats such as global warming.

The purpose of this note is to question whether the infiltration of the heresy of universalism – or some modified version of it formulated to pass theological muster –  has now made its way even into the highest levels of the Church (at least in a finely nuanced manner)? My concern is that the loss of belief in eternal damnation necessarily results in a relaxation of doctrine, most especially in the area of morality. And fundamentally what is Amoris Laetitia but a relaxation or weakening of Catholic morality pertaining to intrinsically evil acts?

Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, once said: “The lack of the fear of God is the beginning of folly. When the fear of God…no longer holds sway, people lose their standard, their criterion…there emerges an idolatry…and the door is wide open for every kind of folly.” And what is most directly responsible for the loss of the fear of God among Christians than the loss of belief in eternal punishment.

As Father Dwight Longenecker said just a few years ago: “The effects of universalism on the church are catastrophic. It’s not real hard to understand. People aren’t dumb. If everyone is going to be saved, then why bother to go to church? If everyone is going to be saved there is no such thing as mortal sin. If everyone is going to be saved there is no need for evangelism. If everyone is going to be saved there is no need to feed the hungry, become a priest, build the church and become a saint.”

In Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia we are confronted by what seems to be a stunning manifestation of universalism in a Papal exhortation (at no. 297), which reads:

297. It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community and thus to experience being touched by an “unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous”mercy. No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! (emphasis added)

Regarding no. 297, renowned theologian “Josef Seifert warns that it’s ‘nearly unavoidable’ to deduce [from it] a denial of Hell—a fear echoed by others. Anna Silvas notes Amoris Laetitia’s ‘missing’ lexicon of eternity: ‘There are no immortal souls in need of eternal salvation to be found in the document!’ ” (from “Amoris Laetitia and the Four Last Things,” available online).

Further, and of great significance, the acknowledged “ghostwriter” of Amoris Laetitia, Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, apparently leans towards universalism as seen from a 1995 article where he stated:  “I rely firmly upon the truth that all are saved.” 

Even if the phrase “no one can be condemned forever” refers primarily to earthly life in relationship to the Church, the phrase is equally troubling and problematic – this is so because a person who refuses the grace of the Holy Spirit to repent of mortal sin is in a state of condemnation and cannot be granted a free pass to stay in his sinful condition. In any event, even this alternative explanation, not only being contrary to the Church’s teaching regarding mortal sin, also involves a tacit denial of the eternity of hell (or affirms the new theology that no one actually goes there). As Pope John Paul II said in Dominum et Vivificatem, “If man rejects the ‘convincing concerning sin’ which comes from the Holy Spirit,” he is in essence rejecting the “redemptive power of Christ’s blood” (no. 46).

Let me add here that the great Catholic moral theologian, Germain Grisez, sent a letter to Pope Francis, co-signed by John Finnis, outlining significant difficulties regarding the manner in which Amoris Laetitia could be interpreted. Pages 22 through 30 of that letter of 31 pages pertain to the very liberal interpretation of hell that could be deduced from Amoris Laetitia. See “The Misuse of Amoris Laetitia to Support Errors Against the Catholic Faith” (available online).

So we are confronted by a conundrum: what motivated Pope Francis to tinker with Catholic moral theology in such an unprecedented manner? After all, Pope John Paul II had warned that the types of arguments made in Amoris Laetitia, wherein circumstantial exceptions are made possible for intrinsically evil acts (see AL 301-303), would constitute “a very serious error” (VS 103). Saint John Paul II specifically said:

“The negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behavior as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the “creativity” of any contrary determination whatsoever.” (Veritatis Splendor 67)

“The negative precepts of the natural law are universally valid. They oblige each and every individual, always and in every circumstance. It is a matter of prohibitions which forbid a given action semper et pro semper, without exception.” (VS 52)

With such strong and clear statements regarding the integrity of Catholic morality in VERITATIS SPLENDOR, what could have so easily encouraged Pope Francis to move in the opposite direction, causing great confusion in the Church, and casting a shadow over the moral teachings of the Church?

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A., J.D.

References: Will Many Be Saved?  by Ralph Martin (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.). This book was written before Pope Francis’ Papacy. Martin argues that Hans Urs von Balthasar believed in and did, in fact, teach universalism, while formulating it as a hope and not a doctrine (see p. 135). The quote from Father Faber is from Notes on Doctrinal and Spiritual Subjects, p.23).

Note: It is possible to believe in hell, or speak of hell, but to further believe that it is not eternal and will ultimately be empty (this type of belief is a form of universalism).

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WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE BORN AGAIN?

 “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5)

As you can see from the painting above, the Pharisee Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (John 3:2). The night, illuminating in its own unique way, will reveal to Nicodemus things that had escaped his attention during the busy day. After all, Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12), and the “true Light which…enlightens every man” (John 1:9).

But the darkness also symbolizes Nicodemus’ fear and ignorance. Nicodemus came to Jesus under the cover of night for fear of being seen by his fellow Pharisees. And Nicodemus’ ignorance – his being in the dark –  is seen by his inability to see that Jesus is not talking about a physical rebirth but a spiritual one.

In the “dark night” that spiritual writers talk about enlightenment doesn’t come all at once – no, such illumination is preceded by trials and tribulations, by misunderstandings, and by humiliations of the worst kind. Nevertheless, the scriptures attest that “surely the darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light” (Psalm 139:11), and from “the recesses of the darkness he discloses, and brings the gloom forth to the light” (Job 13:22). In the physical darkness Nicodemus’ own darkness and ignorance is exposed by Jesus, and all of this is nothing short of “sheer grace” for Nicodemus, who will no doubt ponder and reflect deeply on Jesus’ words.

Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (3: 3)

Nicodemus:  “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” (3:4)

Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (3:5)

The commentators agree that there is a mix up here. By saying that a person must be born again, Jesus is using the interpretation of the Greek word anothen which means “from above,” whereas Nicodemus applies the other permissible usage of anothen which means “again”.  As one Bible commentary states:

“The Greek expression can mean either ‘again’ or ‘from above’. Nicodemus takes it to mean ‘again’, as though Jesus requires a physical rebirth to enter the kingdom. This is a misunderstanding. Jesus instead calls for a spiritual rebirth ‘from above’ (CCC 526). The Greek expression always means ‘from above’ elsewhere in John ( see 3:31; 19:11, 23).” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible).

According to one commentary referenced below, the “vast majority” of scholars agree that the “water and the Spirit” mentioned by Jesus in John 3:5 refers to baptism, and the Catholic teaching is that baptism causes an actual spiritual regeneration. “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte ‘a new creature,’ an adopted son of God, who has become ‘a partaker of the divine nature,’ member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1265; see also, 1215, which states “This sacrament is also called ‘the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit,’ for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit  without which no one ‘can enter the kingdom of God’.”).”

“Through baptism we have already received the seed of eternal life, for through it we received sanctifying grace which is the radical principle of that life….” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange).

In conclusion, to be born again means to be born from above in the birth of water and the Holy Spirit which is brought about in the sacrament of baptism.

But what happened to Nicodemus? Did his “dark night” ultimately deepen his understanding and lead to his conversion? The Gospel of John tells us that after Jesus had died “Nicodemus…who had first come to him by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds’ weight. They [Jospeh of Arimathea and Nicodemus] took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.” John further tells us by implication that it was still light out because the Sabbath (sundown Friday) was “close at hand,” so that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus laid Jesus’ body in a garden “in a new tomb where no one had ever been laid” (see John 19: 38-41).

If, at the beginning of John’s Gospel we encounter Nicodemus in the darkness of night (Chapter 3), by the end of the gospel we find him walking in the light, carrying the blessed body of Jesus (Chapter 19), and lovingly placing it in the tomb of resurrection.

According to Wikipedia, “in the current Roman Martyrology of the Catholic Church, Nicodemus is commemorated along with Saint Joseph of Arimathea on August 31.”

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: Jesus and Nicodemus by William Hole (Public Domain, U.S.A.)

References: Ignatius Catholic Study Bible; The Gospel of John (audio presentation) by Scott Hahn; for a more detailed account of why John 3: 5 applies to baptism, see on-line Mark Brumley’s article, “Are Catholics Born Again?”; and  Ascent of Mt. Carmel by Saint John of the Cross (I have in this note made a comparison between the dark night of the soul discussed by Saint John of the Cross and Nicodemus’ experience of darkness, and this could be considered a spiritual or allegorical interpretation). Regarding John 3:5, a commentary at biblestudytools.com says: “Except one be born of water. By far the vast majority of scholars consider the word “water” in this verse as a reference to Christian baptism. The Cambridge Bible says “the outward sign and inward grace of Christian baptism are here clearly given, and an unbiased mind can scarcely avoid seeing this plain fact.”

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THE POWERFUL ROLE OF MEEKNESS IN THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5)

“Take care to practice well the humble meekness that you owe to everybody, for it is the virtue of virtues which our Lord greatly recommended to us.” (St. Francis de Sales)

Our discussion regarding meekness begins with the teaching of Jesus, who said: “Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Of this passage Spurgeon says: “One great lesson of the gospel is to teach us to be meek—to put away our high and angry spirits, and to make us lowly in heart. Peradventure, this is the meaning of the passage— that if we will but come to Christ’s school, he will teach us the hardest of all lessons,—how to be meek and lowly in heart.” In the school of Jesus Christ, we learn the importance of meekness for living a Christian life.

Relying on Surrin, Father Faber states that “gentleness and softness were the graces our Lord [Jesus] most desired that we should copy in Himself; and certainly, whether we look at the edification of others, or the sanctification of ourselves, or of the glory our lives may give to God, we shall perceive that nothing can rank in importance before gentleness of manner and sweetness of demeanor towards others” (The Blessed Sacrament, p. 169).

Why do the meek inherit the earth? “The words [inherit the earth] may be partly allusive to the ‘kingdom of the saints of the Most High’…. They have, however, a wider and continuous fulfillment. The influence of the meek and self-controlled is in the long-run greater than that of the impulsive and passionate. Their serenity helps them to find the maximum of true joy in all conditions of life; for to them the earth is not a stage for self-assertion and the graspings of desire, but an “inheritance” which they have received from their Father” (Ellicott’s Commentary).

“Far from being weak, however, the meek possess an inner strength to restrain anger and discouragement in the midst of adversity” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible). In this sense, meekness could never be considered weakness because a beatitude taught by Jesus (“Blesses are the meek”)  “is the original and transcendent synthesis of the Christian ethic or, more accurately and more profoundly, of the spirituality of the new covenant in Jesus Christ” (Saint Pope John Paul II). Simply put, the beatitude of meekness is not only a grace-filled power, but a very elevated manifestation of that power.

The real POWER of meekness lies in its capacity to diffuse anger. “Meekness is particularly meritorious when practiced toward those who make us suffer; then it can only be supernatural, without any admixture of vain sensibility. It comes from God and sometimes has a profound effect on our neighbor who is irritated against us for no good reason. Let us remember that the prayer of St. Stephen called down grace on the soul of Paul, who was holding the garments of those who stoned the first martyr. Meekness disarms the violent.” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange)

Additionally, Father Garrigou-Lagrange helps us to understand the difference between the virtue of meekness and mere meekness of temperament. He states:

“Meekness, or gentleness… has as its special effect, not the endurance of the vexations of life [the special effect of the virtue of patience] but the curbing of the inordinate movements of anger. The virtue of meekness differs from meekness of temperament inasmuch as, in widely diverse circumstances, it imposes the rectitude of reason illumined by faith on the sensibility more or less disturbed by anger. Meekness of temperament is exercised with facility toward those who please us and is rather frequently accompanied by ill-temper toward others. The virtue of meekness does away with this bitterness toward all persons and in the most varied circumstances. Moreover, into a just severity that is necessary at times, the virtue injects a note of calmness… Meekness, like temperance to which it is united, is the friend of the moderation or the measure which causes the light of reason and that of grace to descend into the more or less troubled sensible appetites.”

Simply put, when we become ANGRY at someone we need to let grace-filled MEEKNESS descend or enter into that anger to produce the fruit of gentleness and self-control. Meekness, then, transforms the vice of potential inordinate anger into the virtue of meekness towards our neighbor.

“The times call for the manliness of meekness more than the false courage of violence and uncontrolled anger. We need the self-conquest of meekness more than the self-centeredness of hate and brutality. We need the meekness and humility of Christ” (Father Kilian McGowan, Your Way to God, p.57)

CONCLUSION: Are not most of us in need of POWER to control our inordinate anger and resentment? What we need, then, is the virtue of MEEKNESS. “Let us often, in practice, ask our Lord for the virtue of meekness united to humility of heart. Let us ask Him for it at the moment of Communion, in that intimate contact of our soul with His, of our intellect and heart with His intellect illumined by the light of glory and His heart overflowing with charity. Let us ask Him for it by spiritual communion that is frequently renewed and, whenever the occasion presents itself, let us practice these virtues effectively and generously” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange).

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: The quotes from Father Garrigou-Lagrange are from The Three Ages of the Interior Life.

FIVE LEVELS OR GRADATIONS OF MEEKNESS: Relying on Father Garrigou-Lagrange I note five levels or gradations of meekness:

  1. The natural temperament of meekness.
  2. The human or acquired virtue of meekness, “causing the light of reason to descend into the sensibility”.
  3. The supernatural or infused virtue of meekness flowing from sanctifying grace (associated with the cardinal virtue of temperance, which “moderates the inordinate impulses of our sensible appetites”).
  4. The supernatural virtue of meekness profoundly strengthened by the Gift of Piety.
  5. The beatitude of meekness which is essentially the overflowing of # 4 in a person’s life.

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THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE HIDDEN POWER OF KINDNESS

 

 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church at 1832 lists KINDNESS as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. It says:

“1832 The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. The tradition of the Church lists twelve of them: “charity, joy, peace, patience, KINDNESS, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity [citing Galatians 5: 22-23].”

Kindness is a virtue which “lifts the spirits” and “touches the hearts” of the people we encounter in our lives. When kindness is amplified by grace theologians call it an infused or supernatural virtue gifted to us in baptism, and when that virtue of kindness becomes part of our very nature – perfecting us in grace – it is a manifestation of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Kindness therefore involves acts of kindness, and these acts of kindness can increase by way of practice, prayer and sacramental life. The goal, then, is to become proficient in producing these all-important acts of kindness in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.

The late Father Lovasik wrote a wonderful book about the power of kindness called The Hidden Power of Kindness (Sophia Press). Father Lovasik points out that even a kind smile or a small compliment can bring joy to someone. I think we should resolve to pray to the Holy Spirit to ripen the fruit of kindness in us! “Ask and you shall receive” (John 16:24 ).

Please keep in mind that I am not using hyperbole when I call kindness a power! (after all, a fruit of the Holy Spirit is a tremendous, supernatural power). Authentic kindness has the power to make other people’s lives more bearable, less miserable, to repair  damaged self-esteem in a person, and even to produce joy and happiness in souls. It really is a tremendous power!  Regarding this power of kindness, Father Lovasik states:

“Not only is kindness due to everyone, but a special kindness is due to everyone. Kindness is not kindness unless it is special. Its charm consists in its fitness, its timeliness, and its individual application. Kindness adds sweetness to everything. It makes life’s capabilities blossom and fills them with fragrance. Kindness is like divine grace. It bestows on men something that neither self nor nature can give them. What it gives them is something of which they are in need, or something which only another person can give, such as consolation. Besides, the manner in which this is given is a true gift itself, better far than the thing given. The secret impulse out of which kindness acts is an instinct that is the noblest part of yourself. It is the most undoubted remnant of the image of God, given to us at the beginning” (The Hidden Power of Kindness, p.6, Cf. Frederick William Faber, Spiritual Conferences (Baltimore: John Murphy Company, 1859) at 19).

Here are Fr. Lovasik’s simple rules for being kind from his book, The Hidden Power of Kindness:

DON’TS

1. Don’t speak unkindly of anyone.

2. Don’t think unkindly about anyone.

3. Don’t act unkindly toward anyone.

(My note: of course there may be some instances when we have to speak sternly to others, but we should try to do this with the Holy Spirit’s guidance and with the good of the other person in mind. Of course, the kindness of the Holy Spirit is rooted in truth. The essential mission of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of the ruin of sin and of our salvation in Jesus – see Jesus’ farewell discourse in John’s Gospel.)

DO

1. Speak kindly of someone at least once a day.

2. Think kindly about someone at least once a day (this teaches us to think kindly, which in our secret thoughts we’re prone not to do).

3. Do an act of kindness to someone at least once a day (and as this virtue grows such acts can be multiplied).

When you are unkind, says Father Lovasik, make a short act of contrition and resolve to produce acts of kindness in your life. Practicing these simple rules isn’t easy and will require conscious effort and self-denial, but keeping them will lead to growth in holiness as we become less self-centered and more humble. Kindness, like patience, involves a certain form of mortification. Kindness is a type of love or charity. Frankly, it doesn’t cost us very much to be kind, or to say a kind word to someone.

Father Faber says that, in terms of evangelization, “kindness is the best pioneer of the Precious Blood.” He further states: “Kindness has converted more sinners than either zeal, eloquence or learning: and these last three have never converted anyone, unless they were kind also” (Spiritual Conferences, p.15).

Come Holy Spirit, Creator Blest, Uncreated Gift of the Father and the Son, and fill our hearts with kindness.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: In addition to Father Lovasik’s book, I have relied on Father Faber’s famous essay, “Kindness,” and also on an internet article by Michael Hickey: “Words of Wisdom: kindness is the greatest virtue of all.”

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THE POWER OF THE MORNING OFFERING

 

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1)

“The Christian begins his day, his prayers, and his activities with the Sign of the Cross: ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’ The baptized person dedicates the day to the glory of God and calls on the Savior’s grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2157)

There is an interesting – and even charming – moment in Pope Benedict’s encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi, when, in the midst of deep theological reflection, he suddenly pauses for a moment to pass on to us some fatherly advice on the practice of making a Morning Offering. Here is what the Pope said:

“I would like to add here another brief comment with some relevance for everyday living. There used to be a form of devotion—perhaps less practised today but quite widespread not long ago—that included the idea of “offering up” the minor daily hardships that continually strike at us like irritating “jabs”, thereby giving them a meaning. Of course, there were some exaggerations and perhaps unhealthy applications of this devotion, but we need to ask ourselves whether there may not after all have been something essential and helpful contained within it. What does it mean to offer something up? Those who did so were convinced that they could insert these little annoyances into Christ’s great “com-passion” so that they somehow became part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race. In this way, even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning and contribute to the economy of good and of human love. Maybe we should consider whether it might be judicious to revive this practice ourselves.” (Spe Salvi, 40)

The great German Dominican, Father Albert M. Weiss, whose writings Pope Benedict was most likely familiar with, makes a most powerful comment concerning the importance of connecting up all the actions of our day with God. He states:

“All spiritual life is governed by the life of prayer. If a man ceases prayer death ensues…. [N]ot to intersperse the actions of the day with a thought of God and some pious aspiration, is to give undeniable proof that the spiritual life has not taken deep root in the soul.” (The Christian Life, pages 95-96)

Still further,  the great Jesuit and French spiritual writer, Father Lallemant, comments on the losses incurred by failing to sanctify our actions:

“The smallest measure of holiness, the least action that increases holiness, is to be preferred before scepters and crowns. Whence it follows, that by losing everyday opportunities of doing so many supernatural actions [i.e., little sacrificial acts done out of love for God] , we incur losses of happiness inconceivable in extent and all but irreparable.” (The Spiritual Doctrine, p. 197)

Put in a more positive light, Father Grou, another great French spiritual writer, states:

“Great occasions of heroic virtue are rarely presented to us. But little things are offered to us every day” (p.116).  “A soul which is faithful to its resolution of pleasing God in the smallest things will most assuredly gain the Heart of God; that it will draw to itself all His tenderness, all His favors, all His graces; that by such a practice it will amass every moment inconceivable treasures of merit….” (Father Jean Nicolas Grou, Manual for Interior Souls, p.120)

In the spiritual life we should desire to become more and more conscious of offering up all we do throughout the day for the love of God (the three books cited above emphasize this point). The practice of making a Morning Offering, and then renewing it throughout the day, helps us to accomplish this purpose and to merit additional graces for ourselves and others (see CCC 2010). However, we don’t want this practice to become stale and mechanical: we want it to spring forth from the love of God we have in our hearts and the desire we have to please God and do His will.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

P.S. There are many morning offering prayers you can find online. Saint Therese of Lisieux composed a very lengthy one. You might simply say throughout the day – or merely thinking it is all that matters – “this is for you, Jesus.” What really gives the action supernatural value is the purity of intention – doing it for the love of God. Here is a sample morning offering prayer:

Morning Offering Prayer: “O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of your sacred heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all the apostles of prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month.” (from Catholic.com)

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THE DIVINITY OF JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK

DEVOTION TO THE HAIL MARY PRAYER IS IMMENSELY FRUITFUL

(The Annunciation by El Greco, c. 1590-1603, Public Domain, U.S.A.)     

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42)

INTRODUCTION: The value of good advice is, in some instances, simply priceless. When God in his Eternal Wisdom sent an angel to greet Mary, the angel addressed Mary not by a name, but by a title, saying: “Hail, full of grace” (Luke 1:28). Nothing could be more assured, therefore, than the fact that Mary is a vessel of tremendous grace. The advice given by Saint Louis De Montfort (set forth below) is that devotion to the Hail Mary prayer is of incalculable value. In other words, to love to say the Hail Mary prayer with devotion and love for Mary is a Heavenly dew certain to bring you many blessings and draw you closer to Mary’s son, Jesus Christ. Here, then, is the wonderful advice given by Father De Montfort about the immense value of the Hail Mary prayer:

  1. “[You] ought also to have a great devotion to saying the Hail Mary (the Angelical Salutation). Few Christians, however enlightened, know the real price, merit, excellence, and necessity of the Hail Mary. It was necessary for the Blessed Virgin to appear several times to great and enlightened Saints, to show them the merit of it. She did so to St. Dominic, St. John Capistran, and the Blessed Alan de la Roche. They have composed entire works on the wonders and efficacy of that prayer for converting souls. They have loudly published and openly preached that, salvation having begun with the Hail Mary, the salvation of each one of us in particular is attached to that prayer. They tell us that it is that prayer which made the dry and barren earth bring forth the fruit of life; and that it is that prayer well said which makes the Word of God germinate in our souls, and bring forth Jesus Christ, the Fruit of life. They tell us that the Hail Mary is a heavenly dew for watering the earth, which is the soul, to make it bring forth its fruit in season; and that a soul which is not watered by that prayer bears no fruit, and brings forth only thorns and brambles, and is ready to be cursed. (Hebrews 6:8).
  2. … it is an equally universal experience, that those who have… great marks of predestination about them love and relish the Hail Mary, and delight in saying it. We always see the more a man is for God, the more he likes that prayer. This is what our Lady said also to the Blessed Alan, after the words which I have recently quoted.
  3. I do not know how it is, nor why, but nevertheless I well know that it is true; nor have I any better secret of knowing whether a person is for God than to examine if he likes to say the Hail Mary and the Rosary. I say, if he likes; for it may happen that a person may be under some natural inability to say it, or even a supernatural one; yet nevertheless he likes it always, and always inspires the same liking into others.
  4. O predestinate souls! slaves of Jesus in Mary! learn that the Hail Mary is the most beautiful of all prayers after the Our Father. It is the most perfect compliment which you can make to Mary, because it is the compliment which the Most High sent her by an archangel, in order to gain her heart; and it was so powerful over her heart by the secret charms of which it is so full, that in spite of her profound humility, she gave her consent to the Incarnation of the Word. It is by this compliment also that you will infallibly gain her heart, if you say it as you ought.
  5. The Hail Mary well said, that is, with attention, devotion, and modesty, is, according to the Saints, the enemy of the devil, which puts him to flight, and the hammer which crushes him. It is the sanctification of the soul, the joy of Angels, the melody of the predestinate, the canticle of the New Testament, the pleasure of Mary, and the glory of the Most Holy Trinity. The Hail Mary is a heavenly dew which fertilizes the soul. It is the chaste and loving kiss which we give to Mary. It is a vermilion rose which we present to her; a precious pearl we offer her; a chalice of divine ambrosial nectar which we hold to her. All these are comparisons of the saints.
  6. I pray you urgently, by the love I bear you in Jesus and Mary, not to content yourselves with saying the Little Crown of the Blessed Virgin, but a whole Chaplet; or even, if you have time, the whole Rosary every day. At the moment of your death, you will bless the day and hour in which you have followed my advice. Having thus sown in the benedictions of Jesus and Mary, you will reap eternal benedictions in heaven. ‘He who soweth in blessings, shall also reap blessings’ (2 Corinthinas 9:6).”  (From: True Devotion to Mary, translation by Father Faber, as edited)

CONCLUSION: What a simple but powerful devotion! – to love saying the Hail Mary prayer. There is nothing hard about saying this prayer (so deeply rooted in Luke’s Gospel) – and yet Saint Louis De Montfort assures us that so much good will come from it! Dear friend, fall in love with the Hail Mary prayer. Oh holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death! Amen.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

P.S. The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible rightly defends the traditional translation, “Hail, full of grace,” as against some modern translations, stating: “[The Greek word used by Luke], kecharitomene, indicates that God has already graced Mary previous to this point, making her a vessel who ‘has been’ and ‘is now’ filled with divine life. Alternative translations like ‘favored one’… are possible but inadequate.”   

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MARY, THE MOTHER OF GOD

 

“The Virgin Mary . . . is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the redeemer….” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 963).

“And why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43)

It is a matter of dogma, concerning the Most Blessed Trinity,  that God the Son is eternally begotten by the Father (“God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God“). It is a matter of dogma that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Eternal Love between the Father and the Son (“I believe in the Holy Spiritthe Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son“). The Holy Spirit is the fulfillment or “terminus” of the Holy Trinity, and therefore (unlike the Father and the Son) He does not bring forth (to use human terms) another Divine Person, except through Mary in the Incarnation!

The Holy Trinity chose to take its “repose” in Mary in order that the Holy Spirit could bring forth a God-man, Jesus Christ, through the unspeakable grace of the true and never-ending maternity of Mary Immaculate who is, and will always be, the Mother of God. Through Mary’s consent, the Holy Spirit’s shadow covered Mary, and she conceived our Savior in her womb (Luke 1:35). Even now in Heaven she is truly the Mother of Jesus Christ.

Although we are all adopted sons and daughters of God through baptism, Mary is, as Saint Maximilian Kolbe points out, the actual Mother of God! There is, then, a unique and special relationship between Mary and the Holy Trinity that far exceeds in profundity our understanding. We can only approach this mystery in love.

Mary’s supreme office then – her predestination we might say – is that of Mother! And since she is the mother of the first born of all the elect, Jesus Christ, she is our mother too. She intercedes for us as a good mother – no, much more, as “the best of mothers!” Jesus bequeathed her to us! “Behold your Mother.”

The Fathers at Vatican II put it this way in Lumen Gentium:

“The predestination of the Blessed Virgin as Mother of God was associated with the incarnation of the divine word: in the designs of divine Providence she was the gracious mother of the divine Redeemer here on earth, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord. She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ, she presented him to the Father in the temple, shared her Son’s sufferings as he died on the cross. Thus, in a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.

This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation.[15] By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home.”

January 1, 2018 is the feast of the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Let us begin the new year by drawing closer to the maternal heart of Mary. 

“In Mary’s case we have a special and exceptional mediation…Jesus Christ prepared her ever more completely to become for all people their ‘mother in the order of grace’ ” (Saint Pope John Paul II, Mother of the Redeemer, 39).

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Sources: I am relying on Chapter One of True Devotion to Mary by Saint Louis DeMontfort, and also on Aim Higher, Spiritual and Marian Reflections of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. I am indebted to these two saints for the content of this note. Thank you, Mother Mary, for these two great saints!

Image: Our Lady of Good Counsel by Pasqualle Sarullo (Public Domain, U.S.A.).

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