Month: March 2018

FIVE QUICK INSIGHTS INTO THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS

 File:IVANOV YAV HRISTA MARI1.jpg

(Appearance of the Risen Christ to Mary Magdalene, by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov, 1835, Public Domain, U.S.A.)                          

                “They knew it was the [risen] lord” (John 21: 12)

 

INTRODUCTION:

Since the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the culmination of God’s work of creation, the insights to be drawn from it may very well be infinite in number! But in this short post I offer the following five insights which I hope will be beneficial to you.

1. The women as the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection powerfully affirm its authenticity.

One scholar of the Lord’s resurrection, Professor William Lane Craig, offers the following insights regarding the very first witnesses to the resurrection – who were all women with respect to encountering the empty tomb and the risen Lord himself (see John 20: 10-18; Matthew 28: 1-10). “Certainly these women were friends of Jesus. But when you understand the role of women in first-century Jewish society, what’s really extraordinary is that this empty tomb story should feature women as the discovers of the empty tomb in the first place. Women were on a very low rung of the social ladder in first-century Palestine….Women’s testimony was regarded as so worthless that they weren’t even allowed to serve as legal witnesses in a Jewish court of law. In light of this, it’s absolutely remarkable that the chief witnesses to the empty tomb are these women who were friends of Jesus. Any later legendary account would have certainly portrayed male disciples as discovering the tomb – Peter or John, for example. The fact that women are the first witnesses to the empty tomb is most plausibly explained by the reality that- like it or not – they were the discovers of the empty tomb. This shows that the Gospel writers faithfully recorded what happened, even if it was embarrassing (The Case For Easter, pp. 49-50).”

2. There were multiple resurrection appearances by Jesus which left the apostles fully convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead.

For quick reference here is a summary of the ten resurrection appearances of Jesus (eleven if you include the appearance to St. Paul on the road to Damascus). Here’s the link:

The Ten Resurrection Appearances of Jesus Christ | Believersweb.org

It is a point not to be underestimated that Jesus made multiple resurrection appearances over the course of forty days. Thus, the apostles were not left wondering whether they had seen Jesus in the flesh following his death and burial – Jesus went out of his way on multiple occasions to make sure that they had! Consequently, you have complete uniminty among the remaining eleven apostles that they had seen the risen Christ. By way of contrast, we don’t have a case here where six of the apostles claimed to have seen the resurrected Christ, whereas three denied it, and two were not sure. And these were men that went on to live heroic lives, to suffer and die for what they had witnessed, spawning the amazing rise of the Christian faith despite insurmountable obstacles, and without any resort to violence.

As the great Biblical scholar C.H. Dodd states:   “The main weight [regarding the truth of Jesus’ Resurrection] … is placed on the testimony that Jesus was ‘seen’ alive after death, by a number of his followers….” (The Founder of Christianity, page 167).  Something had happened to these men, which they could describe only by saying they had ‘seen the Lord’. This is not an appeal to any generalized ‘Christian experience’. It refers to a particular series of occurrences, unique in character, unrepeatable, and confined to a limited period” (p.168). Dodd therefore concludes:

“[For] the original witnesses [the resurrection of Jesus was] an immediate, intuitive certainty. They were dead sure they had met with Jesus, and there was no more to be said about it….Now they were new men in a new world, confident, courageous, enterprising, the leaders of a movement which made an immediate impact and went forward with an astonishing impetus.” (p. 170)

3. Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Confession during one of his resurrection appearances.

Jesus wished to continue his ministry of the forgiveness of sins through the Apostles and their successors. Thus, following his glorious resurrection, Jesus conferred on the apostles the power to forgive sins, a power Jesus himself had exercised during his earthly ministry. It is recounted in John’s Gospel that, during a resurrection appearance, Jesus met with the apostles and said to them, in particular: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. And when he said this, he breathed on them , and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven: if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20: 21-23)

Confession, thus, is a Resurrection gift from Jesus who has passed on his ministry of forgiving sins (what we call the Sacrament of Confession) to the apostles and their successors.  From our Lord’s Resurrection blossomed this great gift for the
church! 
Paragraph 1461 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church thus states:

Since Christ entrusted to his apostles the ministry of reconciliation, bishops who are their successors, and priests, the bishops’ collaborators, continue to exercise this ministry. Indeed, bishops and priests, by virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, have the power to forgive all sins “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

I don’t know how to say this: forgiveness of sins is the greatest need every person has. Jesus, in His Infinite Wisdom, and in His genius as the leader of souls, has willed that forgiveness of sins be readily available from his priests, where the concrete actions of forgiveness, absolution, and spiritual guidance can take place in a powerful and effective manner appropriately tailored to our human situation, and leading thus to an authentic spiritual resurrection of our souls!

4. Jesus’ wounds are a special manifestation of his resurrection.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Jesus’ resurrection is the existence of wounds of crucifixion on his resurrected body (see John 20: 20). We are all familiar with the apostle Thomas being invited by the resurrected Jesus to touch his wounds (John 20:27). And at Luke 24: 36-41 Jesus appeared to his disciples saying “Peace to you.” But Luke recounts that the apostles “were startled and frightened, and supposed they that they saw a spirit.” Jesus then said: “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings arise in your hearts? See my hands and feet , that it is I myself; handle me; and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible relates that Jesus’ reference to his hands and feet in this passage pertains to “the nail marks” which “demonstrate that Jesus’ risen body is the same body that was crucified only days earlier. He carries these marks of his earthly sacrifice with him when he ascends into heaven (Rev. 5:5).”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“By means of touch and the sharing of a meal, the risen Jesus establishes direct contact with his disciples. He invites them in this way to recognize that he is not a ghost and above all to verify that the risen body in which he appears to them is the same body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of his Passion. Yet at the same time this authentic, real body possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills; for Christ’s humanity can no longer be confined to earth, and belongs henceforth only to the Father’s divine realm” (no. 645).

The spiritual lesson here is that Jesus, even in his resurrected body, never wants us to forget how much he suffered in order to prove his love for us and secure our salvation. As a gifted spiritual writer once said, let us never forget the sufferings of the Lord. Father Faber adds: “O for some corner, the least, the lowest, and the last in the world to come [Heaven], where we may spend an untired eternity in giving silent thanks to Jesus Crucified!”

A wonderful reflection on our Lord’s glorious wounds, building on the thoughts of Saint Thomas Aquinas, can be accessed via the following link:

Glorious Wounds—Christ’s and Ours – Homiletic & Pastoral Review

 

5. Jesus reestablished Peter as head of the Church during one of his resurrection appearances.

In one of the most beautiful of his resurrection appearances, Jesus appeared to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias (John 21: 1-25), “and none of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the lord'” (John 21: 12-13). And they ate breakfast together, utilizing a charcoal fire (John 21: 9). Here, again, we see Jesus hard at work building up his apostles to ready them for the demanding work of evangelization. In this instance, Jesus directed his comments to Peter, stating:

“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21: 15-19)

Peter had previously stood by a charcoal fire in John 18 when he denied Jesus three times. Now, in the presence of another charcoal fire, and in order to restore and reaffirm Peter as head of his Church, Jesus leads Peter to express love for Jesus three times. Each of these three times Jesus implores Peter to take care of his sheep, and on the third time Jesus alludes to Peter’s manner of death, where Peter will “stretch out [his] hands” on a cross in imitation of Jesus.

CONCLUSION:

The historical authenticity of the resurrection of Jesus’ body from the dead is well proven by the Gospel writers, especially by the numerous accounts they provide of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, and the subsequent witness of the apostles shows they were fully convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead. Indeed, almost all of these apostles went on to convincingly confirm that they witnessed the resurrected Jesus with the witness – the Greek word “martyr” literally means witness – of their own lives, which is a most powerful testimony. Moreover, Jesus demonstrates by his resurrection his great concern for the Church – this by establishing the Sacrament of Confession during one appearance, and by reaffirming Peter as head of the Church on another, and by the retention of his sacred and glorious wounds on his resurrected body in order to remind us that by “his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, is the source of all good things for us! Gather in for your eternal welfare the incredible “POWER flowing from his resurrection” (Phil 3:10).

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

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THE APOSTLE JUDAS REJECTED THE HOLY EUCHARIST

 

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THE HEALING OF BITTERNESS AND RESENTMENT

 

                                     “Get rid of all bitterness”  (Ephesians 4:31)

“When he was insulted, he did not answer back with an insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but placed his hope in God….It is by his wounds that you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:23-25)

The goal of this note is to help you purify your heart of bitterness and resentment. “The true Christian,” says Father Garrigou-Lagrange, “ought as far as possible to exclude from his heart all resentment, all animosity.” Easier said than done!

Right from the start see clearly that you cannot take bitterness and resentment with you into Heaven. The saint that God is fashioning you to be does not include a person with a bitter heart. You are going to have to get this mess out of the way! It’s not going to be easy. But you have to do it. This is a good start.

An immediate remedy, whenever you feel the movement of bitterness and resentment escalating in your heart, is to severely check it, and then pray, “Create in me a clean heart, Oh Lord, and renew in me a right spirit” (Psalm 51:10). This will work, if your prayer is sincere, and you commit to doing this each and every time you feel bitterness welling up in your heart. This can’t be a two week thing; it’s a lifetime commitment. But you will quickly discover that this little prayer from Psalm 51 is powerful!

A long time ago I planted a vine of some sort in the bed in my front yard. The vine was so prolific that it grew seemingly everywhere in no time. I cut it back, but it grew back with a vengeance! The vine was covering up the beautiful flowers in the bed, so I ultimately had to pull the vine up by its roots to save the garden from the tyranny of the vine. Scripture says that bitterness can become an evil vine in your heart and defile you. It says: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled….” (Hebrews 12:15).  At Deuteronomy 29:18-19, 23 we read: “Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit . . . saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike . . . nothing growing . . . no plant can sprout . . .” (ESV).

And at Ephesians 4:31 we are directed to “Get rid of all bitterness….” But how are we going to do this? We can even see that bitterness has become part of our very personality, part of the description of who we are. Once when I was driving home I heard the “radio preacher” say: “Lord, you have saved me from hell’s dark abyss – now Lord, save me from the tyranny of bitterness!” Prayer is a very good start. We have to bring this problem directly to God. But it has to be persevering prayer. Prayer means that we are willing to be severe with our self when those feelings of bitterness crowd our mind and demand approval.

Here are SEVEN STEPS I put forth to assist you in your battle to overcome bitterness and resentment. I do not say they are “seven easy steps,” but rather seven steps requiring diligence and perseverance. I do believe, however, that they will be very helpful to you.

 

FIRST STEP: The keen and acute realization that you need to get the ruin of bitterness and resentment out of your life.

“Bitterness is just resentment that has been held on to. It has become rancid and rotten. It is kept in and it gets worse. The links in the chain continue. There is a connection between bitterness and hatred….” (Jim Wilson).  And frankly, what is hatred, unless checked, but the raw material of mortal sin.  “Psychology Today blogger, Stephen Diamond, Ph.D., defines bitterness as ‘a chronic and pervasive state of smoldering resentment, and deservedly regards it as ‘one of the most destructive and toxic of human emotions.’ I’d add that if we repeatedly ruminate over how we’ve been victimized, our ‘nursing’ our wrongs may eventually come to define some essential part of who we are. Take hold of our very personality. And so we’ll end up becoming victims not so much of anyone else but, principally, of ourselves” (Mike Jones at psychologytoday blog).

The great F.W. Faber adds: “Look what an amount of bitterness we have about us! What is to become of it? It plainly cannot be taken onto heaven. Where must it be left behind? Certainly one important feature of heaven will be the absence of all bitterness and criticism, and the way in which our expanded minds will be possessed with thoughts of the most tender and overflowing kindness” (edited from Spiritual Conferences).

Finally, as a post from the Mayo Clinic states, “Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for improved health and peace of mind. Forgiveness can lead to:
  • Healthier relationships
  • Improved mental health
  • Less anxiety, stress and hostility
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • A stronger immune system
  • Improved heart health
  • Improved self-esteem (Mayo Clinic)”

The physical and psychological consequences, then, of harboring bitterness and resentment are not good.

SECOND STEP: Making the healing of bitterness and resentment a special object of your prayers.

I must emphasize here persistence in prayer! Persevering prayer goes to the essence of prayer. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17).  You could pray every morning: “Dear Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto yours. Oh Jesus, Savior of the human race, remove all bitterness and resentment from my heart. Let me live in the newness of life given to me in baptism. Let me be healed through the power of your wounds.” Naturally, you are free to enter into personal conversation with Jesus about your life and the problems you are trying to overcome, and this intimate conversation with Jesus is very helpful.

At the end of each day you are going to make an examination of conscience. This examination of conscience will be very helpful to you. In this examination you will simply review your day in the presence of the Lord noting any instances where you failed to mortify the inclination to entertain bitterness and resentment (refer to the third step on the practice of purity of heart regarding how to do this). Tell the Lord of your sorrow for having entertained bitterness or resentment, and ask him once again for the grace to overcome these vexing inclinations. Of course, if you are making progress, rejoice with the Lord in the good he is accomplishing in your soul.

THIRD STEP: The practice of purity of heart.

One of the great advocates of the practice of purity of heart was the gifted spiritual writer, Father Louis Lallemant, whose students included Issac Jogues and Jean de Brebeuf, both of whom became canonized saints. Father Lallemant stresses that so much good in the spiritual life is accomplished by the practice of purity of heart. By the practice of purity of heart you become a keen and diligent observer of our own thoughts.

By the practice of purity of heart we keep a very careful watch over all the thoughts being presented to our mind and over all the affections and passions being presented to our heart. By this careful watch, we almost immediately intercept and delete the thoughts and affections which violate purity of heart. Thus, as a very simple example, should I suddenly feel the desire to gossip about someone, I check out this movement of my heart, examine it, and ultimately suppress or delete it since it violates purity of heart. Or, as another example, should I suddenly feel swelling up in my heart ill-will towards a certain person, the practice of purity of heart obligates me to take a close look at this movement of my heart, and to mortify it, and to replace it with Christian charity and forgiveness. Gradually, by steadfastly and diligently practicing purity of heart, our heart becomes cleaner and cleaner. What do we want more in our lives than purity of heart?

Purity of heart is a mechanism of introspection whereby we carefully look at our thoughts and affections, even moment by moment, to place them under Christ’s law of charity. As soon as we observe that our mind or affections are tending in a sinful direction, we immediately mortify such thoughts or affections, giving them no chance of growth within our souls.   Its sort of like we’ve installed security software in our brain that immediately detects and deletes bad stuff (God’s given us the software and all we have to do is learn how to use it!!). 

Thus, says Father Lallemant, “one of the greatest graces which God bestows upon us in this life…is to be so watchful over our heart as that the least irregular movement shall not secretly arise in it without our perceiving it and immediately correcting it….” We ought to pray to God for the grace to practice purity of heart, which will be so helpful to us in purifying our thoughts, remembering the biblical admonition to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

FOURTH STEP: The regular use of sacramental confession.

The power of the Sacrament of Confession cannot be overstated. Saint John Paul II drew attention to the healing power of Confession, saying:

It [sacramental Confession] also performs an authentic ‘spiritual resurrection,’ restores the dignity and the good of the life of the children of God, the most precious of which is friendship with God.

It would be illusory to desire to reach holiness, according to the vocation that each one has received from God, without partaking frequently of this sacrament of conversion and sanctification,” that, together with the Eucharist, “accompanies the path of the Christian towards perfection.”

“[Sacramental]Penance, by its nature,” he explained, “involves purification, in both the acts of the penitent who lays bare his conscience because of the deep need to be pardoned and reborn, and in the effusion of sacramental grace that purifies and renews.”  (summary by Catholic New Agency, May 29, 2004)

If bitterness and resentment have captured your heart, being something akin to a venial sin virus in your moral anatomy, touching upon the possibility of mortal sin, let the power of Sacramental Confession eradicate this illness and set your heart at peace! Remember, this was a sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ (see John 20:21-23). Jesus is there when you go to Confession.

FIFTH STEP: Forgiveness.

“The one and only thing that can prevent these adverse developments is the timely act of one’s will, namely forgiveness. I am convinced that when Jesus taught us to pray the Our Father, He had in mind our psychological well-being as much as our spiritual wholeness. He knew that every one of us would repeatedly be in situations in which he had “every right” to feel anger and resentment as natural reactions to ill treatment by others. Wanting us to be happy even in those circumstances, He gave us – in addition to reason and common sense to be used for the purpose of defense and attainment of justice – the ultimate “tool,” so to speak, to be saved from the consequences of chronic, unresolved anger and resentment. That particular “tool,” of course, is the act of forgiving” (Catholic psychiatrist Conrad W. Baars).

SIXTH STEP: Growth in the Gift of Piety.

By a supernatural elevation – that is, by the Holy Spirit’s Gift of Piety received in baptism – a hardened and bitter heart can be made loving and tender towards someone who has deeply hurt him. The great spiritual writer and mystic, Tauler, so often praised by other spiritual writers, calls the Gift of Piety the “gift of tender-hearted gentleness.” He indicates that this gift, among other things, “takes away all meanness and hardness of heart, all interior bitterness.”  Father Faber talks about Piety as “softness to God and to others,” and Father Lovasik states that this softness extends all the way to the “most abandoned on earth.” The “gift of piety further extinguishes in the heart those fires of tension and division which are bitterness, anger and impatience, and nourishes feelings of understanding, tolerance, and pardon. Such a gift is, therefore, at the root of that new human community which is based on the civilization of love” (Pope John Paul II).”

To attain a deepening of this Gift of Piety, Saint Pope John Paul II recommends prayer to Mary, saying: “Let us ask the Holy spirit for a renewed outpouring of this gift, entrusting our prayers to the intercession of Mary, sublime model of fervent prayer and maternal tenderness.” See also Father Lovasik’s small book, Favorite Novenas to the Holy Spirit, as a means to deepen and harness this Gift of Piety.

SEVENTH STEP: Regular Eucharistic Adoration.

See my post:

HEALING BAD MEMORIES | Catholic Strength

 

CONCLUSION: As Christians we are called to remove the roots of bitterness and resentment from our hearts. What a painful, difficult obligation! But we must do it. I feel confident that the seven steps mentioned above will greatly assist you – with God’s grace – in accomplishing this noteworthy goal. “Oh Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto yours!”

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

Ref. In addition to the sources listed above, I see that the tone of my note is influenced by F.W. Faber. He’s the one who says that you are going to need “to get this ruin out of the way,” or something close to that.

 

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VERITATIS SPLENDOR CONTINUES TO HAUNT THE FRANCIS PAPACY

“The encyclical on moral problems ‘Veritatis Splendor’ took many years to ripen and remains of unchanged relevance.” (Pope Benedict XVI)

The Vatican recently released a letter written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI which was proferred as proof that the Pope Emeritus was content with the Francis Papacy. The letter didn’t even mention Veritatis Splendor, the encyclical written by Pope John Paul II, which numerous theologians have cited in support of moral theology errors in Pope Francis’ very controversial Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Just today I see that a prominent theologian has written an open letter to the Bishops of the world drawing attention to serious errors in Amoris Laetitia in consideration of Veritatis Splendor. See the following link for that story:

An Open Appeal to the Catholic Bishops of the World

BUT WAIT A MINUTE!! It turns out that Pope Benedict did in fact make mention of Veritatis Splendor in his letter, but someone at the Vatican chose to cut that portion of the letter out of the official version released to the public. Here (in the italicized quote which follows) is the portion of the letter of Pope Benedict which was initially omitted:

“Only as an aside I would like to note my surprise for the fact that, figuring among the authors is also Professor Hunermann, who during my pontificate came to light for having headed  anti-papal initiatives. He took part significantly in the release of the “Kolner Erklarung,” which, in relation to the encyclical “Veritatis splendor,” attacked virulently the magisterial authority of the Pope, especially on questions of Moral Theology. Also the “Europaische Theologengesellschaft,” which he founded, was thought by him initially as an organization in opposition to the papal magisterium. Then the ecclesial thinking of many theologians blocked this orientation, rendering that organization a regular meeting instrument among theologians.”

In light thereof – that is, in light of the full letter, one can see that Pope Benedict XVI vigorously defends the magisterial authority of Veritatis Splendor in his recent letter to the Vatican (the very thing the Vatican was hoping he would not do!). In fact, in the letter the Pope Emeritus singles out in a very unfavorable manner a theologian who attacked Veritatis Splendor, and Benedict seems to be chastising the Vatican for having sent him a small book by the theologian, a book apparently favorable to the Francis Papacy (Professor Hunermann).  Here is a link to the full letter: https://zenit.org/articles/entire-letter-of-pope-benedicts-letter-to-vatican-communications-prefect-msgr-vigano/

Veritatis Splendor has been a thorn in the Vatican’s side ever since the beginning of the Pope Francis Papacy. As Father Raymond J. De Souza points out:

“The drafters of Amoris Laetitia knew that the teaching of Veritatis Splendor posed a serious challenge. That is why, astonishingly for one of the longest papal documents in history, including some 400 footnotes, there is not a single reference to Veritatis Splendor. It is the equivalent of writing an apostolic exhortation on Catholic social doctrine and never referring to Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, or on biblical studies and never referring to Divino Afflante Spiritu by Venerable Pius XII.” (Quote from Father Raymond J. De Souza’s article, “When the Splendor of Truth is Hidden”)

Veritatis Splendor is like the tell-tale heart in Edgar Allan Poe’s famous short story. Although hidden away, Veritatis Splendor continues to beat louder and louder each day. It is a scary and odious noise to those in the Vatican, and it won’t go away, no matter how much they try to conceal it. The Splendor of Truth cannot be silenced.

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

 

P.S. See my previous post:

SAINT JOHN PAUL II WARNED THAT AN AMORIS LAETITIA-LIKE …

 

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WE SHOULD DESIRE AN IMMENSE DEVOTION TO SAINT JOSEPH

“This is precisely the mystery [of the Incarnation] in which Joseph of Nazareth ‘shared’ like no other human being except Mary, the Mother of the Incarnate Word. He shared in it with her; he was involved in the same salvific event; he was the guardian of the same love, through the power of which the eternal Father ‘destined us to be his sons through Jesus Christ’ (Eph 1:5)” (Saint Pope John Paul II).

 “…an angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save the people from their sins’.” (Matthhew 1:20-23

Consider for a moment the infinite blessedness of the child Jesus. Consider, as well, the “colossal sanctity” of the Virgin Mary. Now, contemplate in amazement that Joseph was entrusted by the Eternal Father with the care and custody of Mary and Jesus. How precious Joseph must be to Jesus and Mary! Who can fathom the depth of their love for Joseph? How pleasing it must be to Jesus and Mary when we honor Saint Joseph.

Devotion to Saint Joseph is prudent not only in light of the fact that he is the Patron Saint of a happy death (the moment of death is the moment that determines everything – all that we will be for all eternity), but also because Joseph is an image of the tender and loving Eternal Father, and thus devotion to Saint Joseph – as Father Faber points out –  smooths out a harsh or even melancholy view of God the Father. What is more crucial in our spiritual lives than to view God as our tender, loving Father? Only then can we truly trust in God and have that confidence in the Father that made the saints saints.

We know that Saint Teresa of Avila was a great mystic, so much so that even in this life she journeyed to that unspeakable seventh mansion where a soul is united in mystical marriage to the Blessed Trinity (she actually experienced an intellectual vision of the Blessed Trinity when she reached that depth of union with God), and yet this dear saint was always practical and she exercised an immense devotion to Saint Joseph. Here is something she wrote about her relationship to Saint Joseph:

“I took for my patron and Lord the glorious St. Joseph …. I cannot call to mind that I have ever asked him at any time for anything he has not granted. I am filled with amazement when I consider the great favors God has given me through this blessed saint.”

Oh how Jesus is praised through his Saints! Next to Mary, Joseph must be the greatest of all the saints. To think that in his earthly life he received the love of Jesus and Mary, day by day, moment by moment, is to realize that he received love beyond anything we can imagine! It is the type of love we will receive in Heaven, when our hearts will be big enough to receive such love. Yet, as it appears, when Mary took Jesus in her womb to see Elizabeth, and John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb as if sanctified by the presence of Jesus (Jesus subsequently calling him the greatest of all the prophets!), how much more was Joseph sanctified by Jesus from the moment of the Incarnation and Mary’s “Yes” until the day he died in the arms of Jesus and Mary.

One of the great advocates of devotion to Saint Joseph was the gifted spiritual writer, Father Louis Lallemant, whose students included Issac Jogues and Jean de Brebeuf, who both became canonized saints! Father Faber relates that Father Lallemant “was gifted with an extraordinary grace for inspiring every body with a devotion to St. Joseph ; and his advice to persons who desired to enter on the ways  of spiritual perfection was to take as their model of humility Jesus Christ, as their model of purity the Blessed Virgin, and as their model of the interior life St. Joseph. It was after these divine patterns that he labored at his own perfection ; and it was easy to perceive how happily he had wrought them out in his own person. Every day, in honor of St. Joseph, he observed four short exercises, from which he drew wonderful profit.

The two first were for the morning, and the two others for after dinner. The first was to raise himself in spirit to the heart of St. Joseph, and consider how faithful he was to the inspirations of grace, then turning his eyes inward on his own heart, to discover his own want of fidelity, he made an act of humiliation, and excited himself to perseverance. The second was to reflect how perfectly St. Joseph reconciled the interior life with his external occupations. Then, turning to observe himself and his own occupations, he perceived wherein they fell short of the perfection of his model. By means of this exercise he made such progress, that towards the close of his life he remained in an uninterrupted state of interior recollection and the attention which he paid to external things, instead of weakening his union with God, served rather to strengthen it.

The third was to accompany in spirit St. Joseph, as the spouse of the Blessed Virgin, and to meditate on the wonderful knowledge which he had enjoyed of her virginity and maternity, in consequence of the humble submission with which he received the announcement of the Angel respecting the mystery of the Incarnation. By this exercise he excited himself to love St. Joseph for his love of his most holy spouse. The fourth was, to figure to himself the adoration and homage of love and grati tude which St. Joseph paid to the Holy Child Jesus, and to beg to participate therein, that he might adore and love this Divine Infant with all the sentiments of the deepest reverence and the tenderest love of which he was capable.

He wished to carry with him to the grave some tokens of his devotion to this great Saint, and requested that an image of his beloved patron might be put with him in his coffin. It was observed on many occasions that St. Joseph never refused him any thing he asked ; and whenever he wished to induce persons to honor him, he used to assure them that he did not possess a single grace which he had not obtained through his intercession” (from the Introduction to Father Lallemant’s great treatise on the spiritual life, The Spiritual Doctrine).

You can petition the Holy Spirit for the four great graces mentioned above through Father Lallemant’s famous Novena to Saint Joseph at the link below:

http://www.catholictradition.org/Joseph/joseph12.htm

I believe it was in the final apparition of Fatima that Joseph was seen by Sister Lucia, holding the child Jesus, and blessing the world. Dear Jesus, thank you for sharing your virginal Father with us. Is there anything that you will not share with us? For you told us that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom ( Luke 12:32) and the Kingdom of the Incarnation begins with the Holy Family, and its head, Good Saint Joseph.

Saint Teresa of Avila once again impresses on us the power of devotion to Saint Joseph, saying:

“To other Saints Our Lord seems to have given power to succor us in some special necessity – but to this glorious Saint, I know by experience, He has given the power to help us in all. Our Lord would have us understand that as He was subject to St. Joseph on earth – for St. Joseph, bearing the title of father and being His guardian, could command Him – so now in Heaven Our Lord grants all his petitions. I have asked others to recommend themselves to St. Joseph, and they, too, know the same thing by experience . . .” (Autobiography).

Nothing less than an immense devotion to Saint Joseph is justified. He is the Patron of the Universal Church. He is the Patron of a Happy Death. Don’t you dare lie down to die – when the time comes –  without having Saint Joseph close to your heart!

Dear friend, your love for Jesus and Mary will most certainly increase the more you draw nearer to Saint Joseph.

Saint Joseph, pray for us!

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus by Guido Reni, around 1620(Public Domain, U.S.A.)

References: Favorite Prayers to Saint Joseph (TAN), a highly recommended devotional to Saint Joseph which includes Father Lallemant’s famous novena mentioned above. Father Faber says somewhere, “but nothing short of an immense devotion.” I am indebted to Father Faber for the tone and content of the first two paragraphs of this note.

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THE VIRGIN MARY’S SAINT PATRICK’S DAY MIRACLE

The beautiful picture you are looking at is known as “The Irish Madonna of Hungary.” The portrait itself is from Ireland, but it was brought to Hungary by an Irish priest, Bishop Lynch, who was fleeing English persecution in Ireland around the year 1652. Bishop Lynch worked for ten years among the faithful in Hungary, and just before he was about to return to Ireland he fell ill and died, bequeathing  on his deathbed the portrait in question to the Bishop of Gyor in Hungary who hung the painting in the Cathedral of Gyor. The awesome miracle I am about to discuss involves this picture.

The miracle in question did in fact occur on March 17, 1697 (St. Patrick’s Day) while “thousands were attending Holy Mass in the Cathedral of Gyor” (the year 1697 is highly relevant because in 1697 all priests were expelled from Ireland).

Suddenly “the eyes of the Madonna [in the picture above] began to shed tears and blood which ran down the canvas to the image of the sleeping Jesus. The Irish Madonna was weeping for her suffering children [in Ireland]. The people who had been attending [Mass], as well as those summoned to witness the miracle, took turns in gathering around the portrait while the priests repeatedly wiped the face of the Madonna with a linen cloth that is still preserved in the Cathedral. The miracle continued for more than three hours.”

Every lawyer knows the value of credible witnesses! Here then we see that this miracle was witnessed by a whole contingent of extremely credible witnesses. Joann Carroll Cruz relates the following: “Before long not only Catholics, but also Protestants and Jews flocked to see the miracle. Thousands witnessed the event, and many of these gave testimony of what they saw. A document signed by a hundred people bears the signatures of the governor of the city, its mayor, all its councilmen, the bishop, priests, Calvinist and Lutheran ministers as well as a Jewish rabbi. All volunteered their signatures to the document stating they had witnessed an undeniable miracle.”

Our Lady of the Irish Madonna of Hungary, pray for us!

Saint Patrick, Patron of Ireland, pray for us!

Thomas L. Mulcahy

 

Reference: For this note I am relying on pages 130-132 of Joan Carroll Cruz’s book, Miraculous Images of Our Lady (TAN), as edited.

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WHAT REALLY IS THE PURPOSE OF PENANCE?

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’.”(Matt. 16:24)

“Taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1435)

A great spiritual writer once said that “we should never forget the sufferings of the Lord.” In view of the tremendous graces we have received through the merits of Jesus Crucified, we are called to live penitential lives in a love for God which has its foundation in forgiveness. How do we lead this penitential life? – through acts of the virtue of penance nourished by our contact with Jesus, our mediator, in the Eucharist. “Daily conversion and penance find their source and nourishment in the Eucharist, for in it is made present the sacrifice of Christ which has reconciled us with God. Through the Eucharist those who live from the life of Christ are fed and strengthened. ‘It is a remedy to free us from our daily faults and to preserve us from mortal sins’ (CCC 1436).”

Frankly, I believe that one of the primary purposes of penance is to remind us that we owe everything to God – our ongoing acts of penance showing how grateful we are for His merciful love, and how much we wish to avoid offending God in the future. And this penitential mindset helps to keep us in the presence of God as we meet head on the challenges and difficulties of the day.

Penance is a manifestation of our attitude towards sin and God’s mercy. Penance means we dislike sin. Penance means we are grateful to God for His forgiveness. Penance means we don’t want to loose our distaste for sin. Penance serves as an antidote to worldliness. Penance keeps a check on avarice. Penance means we want to make reparation for the injustice of sin. Penance means our love for God is manifested by an abiding sorrow for sin.

I think of penance as being similar to football practice. If you don’t practice and work hard in preparation for the game you’re most likely going to perform poorly on game day. Saint John Paul II says, “To do penance means, above all, to re-establish the balance and harmony broken by sin, to change directions at the cost of sacrifice” (Reconciliation and Penance, 26). Developing a spirit of penance, a spirit of sacrifice, a spirit of ongoing sorrow for our sins, therefore has a very important role to play in the Christian life. As Saint Paul says, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).

But what is penance? Does penance mean that I eat spinach instead of carrots, that I sleep on the floor rather than my bed, that I wear a heavy chain around my waist?  “Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, ‘sackcloth and ashes,’ fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance” (CCC 1430).

In trying to understand what penance is, let me make three important distinctions which should prove to be helpful. Let us distinguish between repentance, penance and The Sacrament of Penance.

Repentance, in the Biblical sense, involves a “conversion of heart,” a turning away from sin and towards God. “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Repentance involves a profound sorrow for our personal sins and incorporation into the life of Christ which begins with baptism (where all our sins are forgiven and the life of grace is poured into our souls).

But how are we to maintain this conversion since the strong residual effects of sin still remain in us even after baptism? It is here that acts of penance have a helpful role to play. Penitential actions play an important role in maintaining our conversion, and in protecting us from falling back into sin. In Luke’s Gospel we read, “Bear fruits that befit repentance” (Luke 3:8). Exterior actions of self-discipline help us to achieve this goal. Indeed, acts of penance can be a profound sign of a deep, inward conversion (they certainly were in the lives of the saints).

But what is penance? According to Catholic theology, penance is a virtue. “St. Thomas Aquinas… says that penance is a special virtue which labors to efface sin and its consequences, inasmuch as sin is an offense against God. Wherefore penance is a part of justice, and, inspired by charity, it commands other subordinate virtues, in particular temperance, as exemplified in fasting, abstinence, [and] vigils…. Mortification, properly so called… depends on the virtue of penance, and mortification in the broad sense… depends on each virtue, inasmuch as each one rejects the vices that are contrary to it” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange). Repentance, then, is an act of conversion, whereas penance is a virtue (closely associated with justice, temperance and mortification) that helps – among other things –  to maintain our conversion and sorrow for sin lest we be tempted back into a life of sin.

“There exists…an efficacious means of removing those scars of sin, scars which do not permit God to communicate His life to us in abundance. This means is the virtue of penance. What is that virtue? A habit which, when it is well-rooted and a lively one, disposes us continually towards expiation for sin, and towards destruction of the results of sin….[I]t is above all an habitual attitude of the soul that keeps alive in us a regret at having offended God and a desire to make amends for our sins. It is this, as an habitual feeling, that ought to prompt our acts of penance” (Blessed Columba Marmion).

“To resist the enemy’s temptation, which leads first of all to light faults and then to graver ones, Christ Himself told us that we must have recourse to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  And then the temptation will become the occasion of meritorious acts of faith, confidence in God, and love of God” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange).

But what if we do fall back into serious sin? It was for this possibility that Jesus established the Sacrament of Penance so that mortal sins committed after baptism could be forgiven through the ministry of the priest, following a profession of our contrition for such sins and a firm purpose of amendment. At such time the priest normally prescribes a specific penance (often in the form of certain prayers) for the penitent. Obviously, the Sacrament of Penance is a huge ally in our fight against sin. Even vexing venial sins can be placed under the powerful light of purification this sacrament provides.

Besides protecting us from sin, the virtue of penance can also be exercised as an act of charity towards our neighbor. “In virtue of our incorporation into Christ…we are all members of the same body of Christ. Since our works of satisfaction can contribute to the welfare of others, will not our charity help us to do penance, not only for ourselves but likewise on behalf of our brethren? Is not this the best means of obtaining their conversion or, if they have turned to God, their perseverance? Is not this the best service we could possibly render them, a benefit worth infinitely more than all the temporal goods we could confer upon them? Thus, to atone for our neighbor’s faults is but to carry out the will of God who having adopted us as His children commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves” (Father Adolphe Tanquerey).

Finally, acts of penance can reduce or even eliminate our period of purification in Purgatory. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains” (CCC 1473). “[E]very sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin” (CCC 1472).  “A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain” (CCC 1472). As Father Tanquerey explains, a “prompt and wholehearted penance” assists us in this life to make satisfaction for the “temporal punishment” that remains after sin is forgiven. He adds that “expiation on earth is easier since this is the acceptable time for mercy” and it is “more fruitful” since our acts of satisfaction are also “meritorious,” and therefore “a source of grace and greater glory.”

It seems to me a distinction can also be made between involuntary and voluntary penances. All the suffering and hardships, all the trials and tribulations, that come our way each day, if accepted with patience and resignation, out of love for God, out of sorrow for our past sins, can be considered involuntary – but nevertheless very meritorious –  penances. The Catechism states: “Taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance” (CCC 1435). But to those involuntary penances, we can add our own planned penances, such as kneeling for thirty minutes before the Blessed Sacrament, fasting, a work of mercy, or some other sacrificial act of penitential value (see the partial list at CCC 1437). Every sacrificial act done for the love of God, attesting to the good fruit of a repentant heart, is a meritorious act of penance, supernatural in value, advancing us on the path to the Eternal Life merited by Jesus Christ for us.

Beautiful penance, says Father Faber, planet earth is the place for beautiful penance. Everything we do can be offered up to God as an act of loving penance, as reparation and atonement for our sins, as a manifestation of our sorrow for sin, and as a means to root out the disorders in our soul. “Penance is,” says Father Adolphe Tanquerey in his monumental work The Spiritual Life, “the most effective means for cleansing the soul of past faults and even for guarding it against future ones.” Penance can also greatly assist our neighbor! As the angel at Fatima proclaimed, “PENANCE, PENANCE, PENANCE.”

In summary, we are called to lead penitential lives in order to break any attachment to sin. According to the great Father Olier we should pray to the Holy Spirit for the spirit of penance. In union with “the atoning Christ within us,” says Father Olier, we can become quite proficient in making meritorious acts of penance of great value for ourselves and our neighbors.

May you be blessed with the peace that comes from practicing the virtue of humble penance.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References:

  1. Catholic Bible Dictionary (Doubleday). See entry on Repentance.
  2. Our Sunday Visitor’s Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine.
  3. Theological Dictionary (Herder and Herder). See entry on Penance and the attitude proper to penance.
  4. The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life by Father Garrigou Lagrangr, Vol. I. See Chapter 20.
  5. Christ, The Life of the Soul by Blessed Columba Marmion, Chapter 4.
  6. The Spiritual Life by Adolphe Tanquerey (TAN). A comprehensive discussion on penance, pages 340 -361. The quotes from Father Olier contained herein.

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MEMO TO SELF: GRATITUDE FOR THE ROCK

  • “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it”  (Matthew 16:18)

    I said to myself the other day, “self, what is on your mind?” Self responded, “I’ve been thinking about how important the rock has been in my life.” “What rock is that,” said self-reflective self? “The rock of Peter,” said self in a sort of self-less way. And then self went on to explain what he meant to his self-reflective and thoughtful companion.

    “Remember that day when we were walking down the road and we bumped into Mr. Moral Relativism. That guy was slick. He told us he was sure that there were no universal moral truths, and he even introduced us to a few of his friends: Mr. Fornication, Mr. Contraception, Mr. Pornography, Mr. Abortion, and Mr. Anything Goes. We were really taken in by his arguments, and his friends assured us he was right – relatively speaking, they said.”

    Self continued, “We might have followed Mr. Moral Relativism and his friends down that wide path which said, ‘Untruth: Unknown and Dangerous,’ but then I noticed a much narrower path just a short distance away which said, ‘The Way, the Truth and the Life’, so we walked over to that path and encountered a kind looking man wearing a white hat, a white robe and holding on to a large staff.”

    We asked the man who he was, and he said, “I am the Successor of Peter, and Peter was the rock upon whom Jesus built his church.” This man, whom we came to know as John Paul II, explained to us that there is an objective moral order in the world precisely because the world is an image and reflection of God – its Creator. He told us that he had written and promulgated an encyclical, The Splendor of Truth, in which he not only refuted the theory of moral relativism but reaffirmed with the authority of Christ’s Vicar the universality and objectivity of the moral law.

    This kindly man handed me a copy of his encyclical, and I saw that at paragraph 115 he had written the following:

    “Each of us knows how important is the teaching which represents the central theme of this Encyclical and which is today being restated with the authority of the Successor of Peter. Each of us can see the seriousness of what is involved, not only for individuals but also for the whole of society, with the reaffirmation of the universality and immutability of the moral commandments, particularly those which prohibit always and without exception intrinsically evil acts” (paragraph 115 of Veritatis Splendor).

    Wow,” said self (to himself), “we almost made a wrong turn. Thank goodness that Jesus established this office of Peter. I mean all of that untruth looked attractive. But I knew deep in my heart something wasn’t right, or rather that something was wrong. Jesus was very wise to set-up the Petrine ministry.” And then self said a prayer, as he walked down that narrow path, “thank you Lord Jesus for protecting me from untruth by building your church on the rock.”

    Tom Mulcahy  (see commentary below)

     

    Inspiration: For format: Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.

    Link to encyclicalVeritatis splendor – Ioannes Paulus PP. II – Encyclical Letter 

    Commentary: It is hard to imagine that a Pope could now write a document touching profoundly upon Catholic morality without setting forth the principles in Veritatis Splendor. Nevertheless, I quote from Father De Souza:

    “The drafters of Amoris Laetitia knew that the teaching of Veritatis Splendor posed a serious challenge. That is why, astonishingly for one of the longest papal documents in history, including some 400 footnotes, there is not a single reference to Veritatis Splendor. It is the equivalent of writing an apostolic exhortation on Catholic social doctrine and never referring to Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, or on biblical studies and never referring to Divino Afflante Spiritu by Venerable Pius XII.” (Quote from Father Raymond J. De Souza’s article, “When the Splendor of Truth is Hidden.”)

    See my previous post:

    SAINT JOHN PAUL II WARNED THAT AN AMORIS LAETITIA-LIKE …

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