Month: December 2019



“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been outwitted by the wise men, flew into a rage. He gave orders to massacre all the male children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, in keeping with the time he had learned from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16)

I have to admit that I have a special fascination with obscure devotions in the Church that have largely fallen out of practice. It is like discovering a hidden mine, full of gold! After all, these children of Bethlehem – these murdered children – were the first Christian martyrs. That has to mean something. That has to mean a lot. The Church thinks so – the feast of the Holy Innocents is celebrated on December 28.

Some biblical scholars have questioned whether the massacre of the Holy Innocents (as related in Matthew’s Gospel above) is more of a midrash than literal history, and yet we know from genuine historical sources that Herod was a ruthless madman who even killed his own sons. “Extrabiblical history paints a similar [Biblical] portrait of Herod; he murdered his favorite wife, three of his sons, and others who threatened his throne” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, p.10). “The number of these children was so small that this crime appeared insignificant amongst the other misdeeds of Herod” (Catholic Encyclopedia). Scripture scholar Scott Hahn adds that Herod “slaughtered Jerusalem priests whose scriptural interpretations made him anxious, and his other sporadic purges claimed victims by the hundreds” (Joy to the World, p.138).

“The two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel devoted to the infancy narratives are not a meditation presented under the guise of stories, but the converse: Matthew is recounting real history, theologically thought through and interpreted….” (Pope Benedict XVI).

Add to this the testimony of a great saint regarding the efficacy of this particular devotion and you have ample reasons to practice it! A gifted spiritual writer, F.W. Faber, relates the following: “The revelations of the Saints also tell us of the singular power now accorded in Heaven to these infant Martyrs, especially in connections with death-beds, and St. Francis of Sales died reiterating with marked emphasis and significance the invocation of the Holy Innocents” (Bethlehem, p.198).

Of these infant martyrs Faber states: “They were [Jesus’] companions in nativity, His mates in age and size; and though it was no slight thing to have these natural alliances with Him, by grace they were much more, for they were likenesses of Him, and they were His Martyrs” (Id). “The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1258).

Faber relates that this devotion has a special relationship to Mary and to growth in the virtue of purity.

“A twofold light shines in the faces of this infant crowd, the light of Mary and the light of Jesus. They resembled Mary in their sinless purity; for even if our Lord had not constituted them in a state of grace before, their Original Sin would be more than expiated by their guileless blood, when it was shed for Him. It was a fearful font, a most bloody sacrament…. They were like Mary in their Martryrdom for Jesus, as all the Martyrs were; but they were like her also, in that their Martyrdom was as it were the act of Jesus Himself….It is only more remotely so with the other Martyrs. This is one of their distinctions. They resembled her also in their nearness to Jesus. They were among the few who were admitted into the hierarchy of the Incarnation” (Bethlehem, p. 198).

Finally, these infant martyrs remind us that meritorious suffering has a special place in a Christian’s life. Father Faber reminds us that the “law of the Incarnation is a law of suffering. Our Blessed Lord was the man of sorrows, and by suffering He redeemed the world….Calvary was not unlike Bethlehem….This same law of suffering, which belongs to Jesus, touches all who come nigh Him, and in proportion to their holiness, envelops them, and claims them wholly for itself” (The Foot of the Cross, p. 13, as edited). Pertaining specifically to these Holy Innocents, Faber states:

“These infant Martyrs represent also what must in its measure befall everyone who draws near to Jesus. Suffering goes out of him, like an atmosphere. The air is charged with the seed of crosses, and the soul is sown all over with them before it is aware. Moreover, the cross is a quick growth and can spring up, and blossom, and bear fruit almost in a night, while from its vivacious root a score of fresh crosses will spring up and cover the soul with the peculiar verdure of Calvary. They that come nearest to our Lord are those who suffer most, and who suffer the most unselfishly” (Bethlehem, p.198).

CONCLUSION: An intense, mysterious, supernatural aroma hovers over our devotion to the Holy Innocents, teaching us to “manage our sorrows” and sufferings according to “supernatural principles”. Certainly this devotion teaches us that there is “no solid peace to be found among the perishable things of this life.” This devotion seems to focus light and grace in three areas: it has a special efficacy for the dying; it helps us to grow in purity and in devotion to Mary; and finally it teaches us to value and see all our sufferings in a supernatural light. All of the Holy Innocents lived less than three years, but now they live in the glorious splendor of an untiringly joyous eternity! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and forever. Amen.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

References: All the quotes in the conclusion are from Faber, so you can see I am relying on him for the conclusion; and it is Faber who writes in one of his books about an “untired eternity.” Pope Benedict XVI defends the historicity of the Infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke in his series of books, Jesus of Nazareth. See page 119: “The two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel devoted to the infancy narratives are not a meditation presented under the guise of stories, but the converse: Matthew is recounting real history, theologically thought through and interpreted, and thus he helps us to understand the mystery of Jesus more deeply” (The Infancy Narratives, Image).

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           “You see, George, you’ve really had a wonderful life”

It’s that time of year again! Time to watch one of the most meaningful movies of all time – a movie which gets more meaningful each time I watch it. I understand Frank Capra made It’s A Wonderful Life after an experience of deepening faith that would ultimately (under the influence of his wife) lead him back to the Catholic church. There is more good theology in this movie than in some theology texts!

The movie starts off with people in the town praying for George Bailey – one of the prayers is to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. It is through prayer that God is going to transform George Bailey’ life and show George all the good he has done in the world. In fact, just before George is about to commit suicide, he makes a short prayer to God, saying, “SHOW ME THE WAY.” It’s hard to imagine a more powerful prayer. And God hears George’s prayer and begins to unveil to him (George Bailey) the rich tapestry of his life.

Everything is accomplished through PRAYER.

The key point in the movie is that every person’s life touches the lives of many others – either for the good or bad. This is all about the solidarity that exists between human beings. Our sin hurts others, but our personal holiness and good works “put into motion powerful spiritual forces” that help out other human beings (and thus help to create a good and just society). If George Bailey hadn’t lived, Bedford Falls would have been Pottersville – a corrupt and immoral town (as George Bailey was allowed to see). When George prays for his life back, the town changes back to Bedford Falls (and the movie theater, as one example, reverts to showing The Bells of St. Mary’s, whereas in Pottersville it was a place to watch 20 show girls). We will never know this side of Heaven how much our good works and love of neighbor help out other people, but we can rest assured that they are helping out many souls. I think the guy who authored #1475 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church must have had It’s a Wonderful Life in mind when he said:

“In the communion of saints,  ‘a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.’ In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin.”

George didn’t realize that through his mundane and hum-drum life in Bedford Falls, God was accomplishing much good. When the veil was lifted from his eyes, and he was allowed to see how different things would have been without him, he was filled with the deepest gratitude for all the great things in his life – most especially his family and friends.


Let us rejoice and be thankful for all the good things God has given to us. By the way, The Bells of St. Mary’s is also a powerful movie (and my second favorite Christmas movie is The Bishop’s Wife).

Merry Christmas!

Tom Mulcahy

Ref. Images at Wikipedia, Public Domain, U.S.A.  See “The Catholic Vision of Frank Capra” via Google. “Puts into motion positive spiritual forces” : a phrase borrowed from Cardinal Ciappi he used in the context of Marian consecration (see CCC 1477). In his great spiritual classic, Abandonment to Divine Providence, Father de Caussade wrote something which applies very well to George Bailey:“Faith, piercing the superficialities, disclosed that God was accomplishing very great things [in his life].” Let us pray for a great spirit of faith.

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“We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

There comes a time when we get stuck in our wounded feelings, and we simply must bring them into the light and heal them.

Advent is a wonderful time to forgive and heal – as we prepare for the Prince of Peace to bring God’s forgiveness and reconciliation to the world (and to each person, in particular).

Sensitivity can be like a virtue, as in a mature sensitivity to sin, or as in sensitivity to those in need of emotional or material help. A sensitivity to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit is a pathway to great holiness. But in this note we are addressing over-sensitivity as a hindrance to spiritual growth and well-being. We are talking primarily about superficial wounds that should have been healed a long time ago, but wounded feelings gave a seemingly small hurt a much longer life than it deserved as it was magnified, day in and day out, completely out of proportion to the harm it should have caused. Hopefully, we will find a remedy to this problem!

Oh those wounded feelings – we give such power to them to become much more than they ever should have been! A great spiritual writer of keen psychological insight, F.W. Faber, states that oversensitivity manifested in wounded feelings “is the secret cause of one-half of the disedifying inconsistencies of religious people. It rules us more powerfully than any of our passions. It absorbs our character into itself, until it alone almost becomes our character.” He adds: “We behold every day into what depths of incalculable meanness it can plunge” otherwise “affectionate hearts” (Spiritual Conferences, p.230, as edited).

“Thus the mortification of it becomes one of the primary duties of the spiritual life; and the intense suffering which this causes is the ladder by which we climb higher” (p. 232). The “mortification of sensitiveness is a peculiar process. It is not a blunting…or putting to death of sensitiveness, as it is with vices. But it is a brave making use of the torture of our wounded feelings to get nearer God and kinder to men.”

“Sensitiveness affects us in various ways. We imagine offense has been intended where it was never dreamed of. It constructs entire imaginary histories upon what is often no foundation at all . It magnifies and exaggerates things. It puts the wildest construction upon innocent actions. It throws a monstrous significance into a catch phrase, and then broods upon it for years. Our mind is crowded with suspicions. We are hardly able to distinguish between what is shadow and what is substance. We forget God. We give shadows the power to harm us. We grow moody and bitter. Now, what grace, what conceivable Christ-like thing, can grow in such an atmosphere as this” (pages 233-34, as edited)?

This “morose brooding” over our wounded feelings can become “almost incurable.” The judgment is “burned into our mind” that this person has been so unkind that we simply cannot forgive him. “We have now gone very far. We have come in sight of hatred. It is possible now for us to hate. These “ugly developments of our sensitiveness” must be overcome. We must get this “ruin out of the way” (pages 234-35, as edited).


Because of all the harm oversensitivity can cause to our life in general, and to our spiritual progress, it is ALL-IMPORTANT that we find the grace and strength to overcome it. Contance Hull relates that Saint Therese became overly sensitive at a very earl age secondary to her sister’s death. “She became overly-sensitive and cried easily. This would be her battle for ten years, when at fourteen, she found the grace and strength to overcome this oversensitivity and truly began to live her journey of spiritual freedom.”

The first step toward the healing of oversensitivity would seem to be an honest recognition of all the harm oversensitivity is causing in our life, together with a strong desire to overcome it (or to moderate it). In modern psychology the recognition of distorted thinking patterns is essentially curative. Our conscious thoughts, when exaggerated or magnified, become distorted and this can become the source of much unhappiness – especially for an oversensitive soul. When we learn to check these distortions, essentially keeping them down so to speak, we are on the road to recovery! This proper management of our thoughts, this “cognitive therapy,” is very helpful.

Father Faber, who lived well before the advent of cognitive behavioral therapy but seemingly anticipated its value, urges us to suffer bravely in this mortification of oversensitivity. He says: “There is abundance to mortify in all this. We must be very unsparing of ourselves. A touch will not cure the matter. We must hold the caustic firmly, and press it hard, and keep it long on the place….” We must overcome “the quickness to feel an unkindness” and the “subtlety which causes us to fancy unkind intentions when there were none.” Further, “we must check ourselves sharply whenever we have caught ourselves brooding on the matter [in our mind]” (pages 236-37, as edited).

Now in the spiritual life mortification of oversensitivity is aided by prayer and sacramental life. The call of the spiritual life is toward the love of God and neighbor. When we keep this primary call in mind – that we are under a profound obligation to love God and neighbor – it brings a proper perspective not only to all our relationships but also to all our thoughts. If to fulfill this duty we must thicken our skin a bit, and mortify our unkind thoughts, and keep a forgiving heart, all of these acts are supernaturally meritorious, causing us to grow in holiness. Let us therefore contemplate, as Faber says, “the magnificent fruits of wounded feelings when they are consecrated by grace.”

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: I am relying primarily on Father Faber’s essay, “Wounded Feelings,” in Spiritual Conferences (TAN Books). The essay is about thirteen pages long.

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“The aesthetic value of creation cannot be overlooked. Our very contact with nature has a deep restorative power” (Saint Pope John Paul II)

I was out on Paint Creek Trail today, walking at a fairly brisk pace, although I stopped for a few minutes to look at the adjacent river at a point where a small rapids is created by fallen trees and other circumstances. It was somewhat cold out, around thirty-two degrees, but it wasn’t windy, but it was overcast and somewhat dreary. At one point I saw a few white-tailed deer who scampered away when they heard me coming. Suddenly, on the walk back, it began to snow! It was a beautiful, fluffy kind of snow and as I looked down the trail I could see the ubiquitous snowflakes falling gently to the ground in a panoramic, picture-like splendor! At that moment the mundane was turned into the beautiful and the ordinary into something extraordinary. I should have cried out, like Whitman, “All seems beautiful to me.” Feeling good about the moment, I even took a very rare selfie of myself!

Once again, winter is upon us here in Michigan. The trees are leafless and the amount of sunlight has drastically declined. By dinner time it seems that we are already engulfed in physical darkness. And as it gets colder it seems as if we spend most of our time indoors. Under all of these circumstances it probably is not that unusual that some of us begin to experience a type of mild depression or malaise known as “seasonal affective disorder” (a/k/a the winter blahs).

I believe it is important and helpful under these circumstances to maintain contact with the beauty of nature, and that such contact with God’s creation enhances our mental well-being and outlook.  Father Irala, in his popular book, Achieving Peace of Heart, tells us that “we must live beauty.” He maintains that we need to be “reeducated” to “receive the external world.” This priest tells us that we need to learn to let “beauty enter deep into us.” Please refer to my previous post:

Contact With Nature is Very Healing and Very Necessary …

It just so happens that a few days ago I came across a copy of Norman Vincent Peale’s famous book, The Power of Positive Thinking. In Chapter Three of that book Peale tells the story of a very popular university professor who was experiencing  radical burnout. Ultimately, a solution was designed by a member of the board of trustees to send this professor on a six month sabbatical out into the wilderness where he would live in a simple cabin and spend his time walking, fishing, doing some manual labor, and reading the Bible every day. Peale relates that the professor discovered that “outdoor living… had an immense appeal for him,” and that daily Bible reading helped him to find “faith, peace and power.” In six months, says Peale, the professor “was a new man” and a person of “compelling power.” In other words, contact with nature, and contact with the word of God, are very essential to our well-being!

Now maintaining this essential and curative contact with nature is fairly easy in spring, summer and fall, but how do we carry it out in the dead of winter? Some people head down to Florida for a while!, but many of us have to endure the cold and dark winter season.

My basic recommendation is that we should become highly cognizant of the fact that we need to maintain contact with the beauty of nature during the dead of winter. Some people ski, or snow-mobile, or do other outside activities that place them directly in the beauty of winter. But many of us look at winter as something to endure, to get through, until finally the weather becomes more bearable. If, like me, you fall into this latter category, then you run the risk of being cut off from the mental well-being contact with nature provides. Thus, it is essential that we hibernating types take positive steps to maintain contact with nature during the winter months. Here are some ideas that may help.

The other day (here I am reflecting back a few years back) it was dark and only 12 degrees Fahrenheit as I stepped outside at 6 am to get into my car, but I stuck to a ritual I have of momentarily looking up at the sky to glance at the stars. I probably spent less than 25 seconds looking up at the beauty of the firmament (yes, some days there are no stars, but most days there are!), and I then said a short prayer praising God for His Infinite Beauty, and then I got into my car and turned the heat on! But there you go: even though it was very cold I made some minimal contact with the beauty of God’s creation.

Another ritual I utilize in the winter is to open the top half of an upstairs window and to peer out meditatively – as the cold air brushes up against my face – at the sky, or at an evergreen covered with snow, or merely at the breadth of the world outside as it presents itself. The point is that this simple exercise assures me of some contact with the beauty of nature in a palpable, less attenuated, manner. Keep in  mind that the sky is an eminent (though frequently overlooked) source of beauty. Today (here again I am reflecting back) the sun was out, along with a beautiful blue sky and billowing white clouds. The sky – even in winter – can be a source of profound beauty, a reflection of God’s grandeur (and yes, I realize that there are many days when the sky is dreary and depressing, so we must take advantage of the good days!). And since the winter blues seem directly related to a lack of sunlight, be sure to get outside when the sun is shining! Sunshine makes us happy.

But most importantly (even if the sun isn’t shining): get outside! Snow is very beautiful. Look at the snow. Study its beauty. As Father Irala says, train yourself to receive in the influx of nature’s beauty. If you walk a trail in summer, why not give it a try in winter (assuming it can be safely done; I forego walking trails that are icy, preferring a crunchy kind of snow for walking, and good boots)! And when the snow falls and lands like countless ice-cycles on the barren trees, making them shine like a festival of heavenly lights, you can say in those immortal words of the poet: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

Glory be to God for winter!

Tom Mulcahy

P.S. Here is a very helpful link:

5 Reasons to Spend More Time Outside — Even When It’s Cold

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