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There she is, just moments after getting the news that she is miraculously pregnant and, that too pregnant with the Son of God who is going to save the world. This girl of about sixteen decides to head out on her own to travel on a dangerous, nearly ninety-mile journey. Does this make any sense? No, it does not. She should be taking it easy and have a stress-free environment and someone—perhaps her husband, Joseph???—should be around her at all times. She should go directly to the doctor and get the best medical attention. Better yet, a doctor should be coming regularly to her house. Throw in a few security guards and some special home cooking. Why is she putting everything, including our salvation, at such risk? Why does she head out into such dangerous conditions when she is carrying heart. There is something about our hearts that never fail and it is this: whatever we carry in our hearts that is what carries us in life.
We have different levels in our hearts, from the more superficial to the most intimate, a place deep inside us where God can live. We carry things in our hearts because they carry us in our life. My first car was a 1984 Chevy Monte Carlo. It was maroon and big and I loved it. It cost me $300 and moved like small aircraft carrier while spitting burned oil out the tailpipe at people who tailgated me. It carried me around and took me back and forth to school so I was able to finish my master’s degree.
I have a little musical instrument called a charango. It is a cousin of the ukelele. Wherever I go I like to carry it in my arms and play it. It is not because it gets me attention. It is because it has carried me in my solitude so many times late at night and still does when I am alone in Ecuador.
Now all of that is great, and we have a lot of things that carry us in life. Money carries us through life, so we like money. Friends and family carry us through life and we carry them inside us. Work, sports … well, you get the point.
Only God can carry us through death. See, that is why Mary can go alone as a young girl on a dangerous, life-threatening journey, carrying God inside her. God is carrying her. He can carry her through everything, even death.
Last time when I was in Ecuador, one of the local men, a founder of the neighboring village in the mountains, got cancer in his foot. The doctors told him that the only option for him to survive would be to amputate the foot. He said no.
He moved down from the mountain and his wife and youngest daughter began to take care of him. I was able to visit him. I brought my charango and tried to learn some music from him. He would brighten up; Get his guitar off the wall and go on playing it. Not only was he the founder of the community, but he was a great guitar player, as well. When he was a young man, he played at the annual fiestas all night, playing more than 200 songs from pure memory, without repeating a single one. Almost no one in the community plays instruments anymore, so we had the idea of bringing some kids to his house to learn guitar and these songs.
Only a few months later, his condition worsened and he could not play anymore. The cancer quickly spread and by the time he could put his trust in God, it was too late to amputate the foot. He passed away on Easter Sunday morning.
At the funeral, there was no music. No one talked about his life. His wife felt lost and abandoned, the adult children did not know what to say. A weight hung over the family. He left his family, the music, his community—all for his right foot. His foot had carried him his entire life. But, it could not carry him through death. The church puts the feast of the Assumption as a holy day of obligation, because it puts in front of us the event of Mary literally being carried by God through death itself into heaven. We have a day dedicated to the reality that if we have God in our hearts, if we let Him delve deep in our hearts, then surely He will carry us through everything. Even death.
Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah (Luke 1:39).
© JEROME KILEY is a lay missionary who lives in Boston and Ecuador. A former engineer and basketball coach who was won over by the mercy of Jesus, Jerome dedicated himself to a broad array of lay pastoral and outreach ministries in the Catholic Church before reaching Ecuador in 2010. He loves the people of Ecuador and is happy living the Gospel and sharing it. You can find his reflections at www.ALivingmonstrance.wordpress.com and, in 2017, you will be able to discover more about his mission to Ecuador at www.barriers2bridges.com.'
How do you put years of discernment on a single piece of paper or within a single write-up? As I was praying about it, the reality of its simplicity struck me: God called and I said, “No,” until Mary softened my heart. Well, actually it was more like, God called and I said, “No.” God called again and I said, firmly, “NO!” God asked yet again and I said, “No! Marriage, Lord, marriage.” God drew me to Himself, got His mom involved and asked me once more and I said, “Well … maybe.” God, in His infinite patience, asked a final time and I answered with a resounding, “Yes!”
The first time I heard God call me was in the fifth grade. Our English class was learning how to write business letters. For our assignment we were supposed to write a formal letter to any company in which we could see ourselves working “when we grew up.” I thought for a while on it and realized that the only thing that sounded interesting and exciting to me was being a religious sister. So I wrote to a missionary sister who graciously responded to me. As part of the assignment, we were to share any responses we received with the entire class. I remember feeling embarrassed as I read her response out loud. That was enough to snuff out the desire to be a sister (I was a very sensitive kid).
Throughout grade school the idea of being a sister was always in the back of my mind. I still heard God’s gentle voice calling me. But at that age, I did not want to confront it and so I dealt with it by saying flat out, “No.” Then, as a freshman in high school, my mom, sister and I took a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. Now Jesus was pulling out the big guns and getting His Mom to help Him in His “little scheme.” He knew I had a soft spot for her and He played that card well. While in Medjugorje I felt, through Mary, the tug of the Lord growing stronger, asking me to devote my life to Him. My response was, “Sounds great, Lord, but I can devote my life to You without wearing a habit.” But Momma Mary softened my heart and helped me to be open to the idea of a marriage to Her Son. I went on through my high school years with this idea very much in the forefront of my mind.
Being the stubborn person that I am, I told God that I was not going to commit until I tasted the dating life even though I knew in my heart of hearts that it would not bring me the fulfillment or satisfaction I desired and that it would not make me truly happy. Humoring me, God sent a very holy young man into my life. Through a youth group program I met my first real boyfriend, Anthony. He was everything I wanted in a husband (God covered His bases, making sure I would have no doubts): he was a gentleman, generous, self-sacrificing, not passive, considerate, mature, respectful to me, always upholding my dignity, funny, desired to be a saint, and challenged me to be holier. As a cherry on top, he was cute as well. While we dated I felt a separation between my heart and my body. It did not feel right. Something was off. It was like my mind and my heart hit a fork in the road and went in opposite ways: my heart was going toward religious life and my mind toward marriage. In my stubbornness I was attempting to lasso my heart and pull it over to the side my mind was on. I took it to prayer and (rather stupidly, since I knew the answer) asked God what was going on. He made it very clear to me (He is so patient with us) that in order to feel whole and in order to be at peace I was to give my entire life to Him, to be a bride of Christ. With that imagery, to be Jesus’ bride, I said, without a doubt and with such joy, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
Now I will not say that I did not have any doubts later or any struggles along the road. Heavens…no! How could there not be when society sees you as a strange person because you are not following the norm and getting married? I still struggled with the desire to date. I found it hard to be wooed by Someone who is not tangible in the form you want Him to be or present to you physically in body. I struggled with telling people and admitting out loud that I wanted to dedicate my life to Jesus by being a Sister. But God remained faithful to me and He kept renewing His proposal to me in various ways. He knew my heart and wooed me in ways no earthly man could. I had so much love and support from family and friends which encouraged me, kept me focused and strengthened me in times of temptation, By the grace of God I had the perseverance and commitment to remain faithful to my call throughout grade school and high school. Now, twelve years after that initial call in the fifth grade, I have joined this religious community where Jesus is continuing to woo me and pursue my heart in ways I never thought possible. In turn, I am growing so much more in love with Him!
© SISTER ELIZABETH BEUSSINK is the vocations coordinator of the Franciscan Sisters, T.O.R. She has completed her Bachelor of Arts in Catechetics and Theology from Franciscan University of Stubenville. It was there that she met the Sisters of T.O.R. Having entered the community in the year 2007, Sister Beussink made her perpetual profession in 2014. She had a position in the Office of Evangelization in Franciscan University of Stubenville and served as Head of Women’s Ministry for a few years. Now the Lord has given her the privilege of journeying with women in a whole new capacity as she helps them discern the Lord’s call in their heart.'
In 1986 the Sea of Galilee receded during a drought, exposing an ancient fishing boat, 27 feet long by 7.5 feet wide. It was taken to a nearby kibbutz where it was carbon dated. As it was proved to be approximately 2,000 years old and designed to carry between 12 and 15 fishermen, the locals called it the “Jesus boat.”
When a group of tourists were being shown the boat, a young man asked if he could touch it. The archaeologist on duty explained that it was not permitted. However, when he admitted that he had touched the boat himself in the course of his work, the young man immediately touched him, and his fellow pilgrims followed suit. It all happened so naturally and spontaneously and in turn demonstrated a deep belief that something precious can be communicated by touch.
It is a conviction that the heart of the Gospel story, begins with a very special touch—the touch of God. When the “finger of God’s right hand” touched the Virgin Mary, she conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit so that the love of God Himself was made flesh within her womb. As He grew “in wisdom and understanding” under the influence of the love that had conceived Him in the first place, He was able to communicate to others something of what He had received by His own sacred touch. It enabled Him to heal, make whole and even rise from the dead. Although He was moved by compassion to help people in their physical need, the power of His love that could be seen by all, symbolized a far deeper spiritual power—one that could bring not just physical but spiritual healing along with inner transformation. This spiritual power was handed on to the first Apostles so that they also could hand on to others what they had received from the Lord Himself.
The love that had been received by Jesus in the fullest possible way on the first Easter day was passed on to the Apostles and used by them and their successors—as a sacred and holy touch to be handed down to successive generations. This is why touch is so important in the rites of Christian initiation. It means that the love of Christ that was communicated to us at baptism has been literally handed on for almost 2,000 years. In short, the priest whose hands were laid on us at Baptism had received the sacred touch himself from the Bishop who ordained him, and he had received it from the Bishop who had ordained him and so on in an unbroken line that goes back to Jesus Himself. Through this sacred touch we are given the very love of God that can be transposed into an ever more perfect way of loving that reach out from us to others.
The loving touch of married couples then becomes the means by which the divine is communicated through the human to each other and then onto their children. The power of this love is dependent on the selflessness with which it is both given and received as their lives unfold. There is no other sacrament that so embodies the mystery of the incarnation as the sacrament of marriage, to which most of us are called and in which the majority of us are first formed.
I only came to understand this properly myself when my mother died. Every morning before the funeral, my father woke me up with a cup of tea, sat on my bed and began to tell me a story that I had never heard before. It was a love story— the story of my father’s love for my mother and her love for him. He told me that they had received help and understanding through the first major crisis in their marriage from a childhood friend, Dom Aidan Williams (Abbot of Belmont Abbey from 1940 to 1948).
By the time I was born, my father said he had entered into what he could only describe as an emotional limbo land where the feelings, the emotions, the passions that had once been so important in their relationship seemed to have all but disappeared. My mother seemed to find herself in a similar plight. Dom Aidan Williams was a deeply spiritual man who was able to show my parents that their love had not come to an end but to a new beginning. Love, he taught them, can never be judged in this life by feeling, but by giving—by giving even when you do not feel. In fact, giving without asking for anything in return is the most perfect expression of love. This is the highest form of loving possible on earth. This is the meaning of the Cross—it is a symbol not just for Christians but for all men and women who want to enter into the fullness of life. Only through a spiritual dying to self through selfless giving can a person open himself or herself fully to love, without which life has no ultimate meaning. He showed them how, with the best will in the world, the most idealistic of men and women will always come to an impasse in their spiritual journey, when the poverty of their own imperfect love suddenly becomes a barrier to receiving, in ever-greater measure, the love they want to receive without measure.
As they came through that first major crisis in their married love, my father discovered, in the months and years that followed, how a new dimension gradually began to open out in their life together. Precisely because they had suffered and sacrificed together they became surer and securer in each other’s love. There were moments when they were bonded together more perfectly than ever before, when they were united in mind, heart and body in an experience that bordered on the ecstatic—an experience that is completely unknown to the person whose idea of love never rises above the purely physical.
This new understanding of their married love did not mean that all their troubles and problems were over—far from it! What it did mean was that because of this new development, all the troubles, all the problems which they did have to face, could be faced because they could be faced together, with an inner strength from God, whose love they had ministered to each other.
They met Dom Aidan later when he was posted to Sant’Anselmo, Rome, as the Procurator General of his Order. He told them that the way they had been living out their married life has been an inspiration to him and many others—so impressed by the way they had lived and loved each other, and brought up such a fine family. He explained to them a theological theory close to his own heart, more common in the Eastern Church than in the West—the theory of “physical redemption” that had been developed particularly by the Greek fathers, the short of which is that redemption, or salvation, is brought about by touch, the touch of God. Christ is the touch of God, whose physical presence sanctified a world of matter and form, of flesh and blood, by entering into it. Then through touch, He communicated the love that filled Him to others, who would go out and—by their physical presence, their touch—would communicate to others what they had received.
This then, Dom Aidan explained, was the meaning of the laying on of hands that has characterized the Sacraments from the beginning. Love is communicated by touch. This is the tradition that literally hands on the faith that is not a body of facts but a body full of love, raised up on the first Easter to enter into all who would receive the touch of life. The Apostles, already touched by the Holy Presence, were penetrated through and through on the first Pentecost and went out to communicate what they had received to others. The hands, then, that touch and transmit the life of God to you at baptism were themselves the recipients of a touch that can be traced without break all the way back to Jesus.
Dom Aidan explained to them how the physical and intimate loving that was at the heart of their married life was a profound continuation of this process, and not just a continuation but a celebration, in which the love they both received in the sacred touch of baptism was progressively brought to perfection. Not only did their physical marital loving bring Christ’s life to take birth again in each other, but it overflowed to the children who had been the fruit of their loving—a love that was now literally embodied in their sons, who in their turn would communicate to others what they had received from the touch of their parents.
© DAVID TORKINGTON (www.DavidTorkington.com) is a Spiritual Theologian, Author and Speaker, who specializes in Prayer, Christian Spirituality and Mystical Theology. He was educated at the Franciscan Study Centre, England, and the National Catholic Radio and Television Centre, Hatch End, London, where he was later appointed to the post of Dean of Studies. He was extra mural lecturer in Mystical Theology at the Dominican University in Rome (The Angelicum). In addition to giving Retreats and lecturing all over Europe, he undertook five prolonged lecture tours to Africa, mainly Equatorial Africa, speaking on Prayer and Spirituality to Religious, Monks, Diocesan Priests and lay people. His personal spirituality is predominantly Franciscan, his Mystical Theology Carmelite, all welded together with a solid blend of Benedictine moderation. He has sold over 300,000 books in more than twelve different languages. His most successful book is “Wisdom from the Western Isles,” the popular “Peter Calvay Trilogy” (Hermit, Prophet, Mystic) re-edited in one volume in which he teaches the reader how to pray, from the very beginning to what Saint Teresa of Avila calls the Mystical Marriage. He is at present working on his latest book, “Wisdom from the Christian Mystics” which will be followed by his autobiography “Injured Innocence.” When not writing, he spends time on his boat on the peaceful Beaulieu river in the New Forest, Hampshire, and exploring the Jurassic coast, Dorset. He is a member of The Athenaeum, Pall Mall, London.'
Forgiveness is at the heart of the teaching and ministry of Our Divine Saviour and yet, as the song goes, “sorry seems to be the hardest word.” Why is it that many people have such great difficulty going to confession when the TV and radio chat shows endlessly indulge audiences with the often less than-edifying lives of their rich and famous guests? “Celebrity gossip” they call it. It is as if there is a built-in human need to tell our story, warts and all. This is why confession is sometimes understood as a natural Sacrament. Even the non-believer knows that for any relationship to last it is necessary to be able to say, “I am sorry.” Yet, how quick we are to excuse ourselves! “At least I am not that bad,” we might say. Perhaps you have heard the story about the penitent who said to the priest, “Sure, I have no sins to confess” to which the priest wryly responded, “Well, in that case, do you know what you have to do? Go out into the Church and take the statue of Our Lady down from the pedestal and let yourself stand up there instead, and we will all light candles in front of you!” By all accounts, this is a true story.
“But, I do not like going to confession!” Ah, now that is a bit better! At least it is a more honest approach to the question. Confession is humiliating. Well, if that is so, then, perhaps, as Saint Teresa of Calcutta says, “humiliation is a path to humility.” Maybe herein lies the answer. Pride blocks me from grace and mercy. Pride fools me into thinking that I have not committed any sins. Pride, that original sin, darkens my intellect and weakens my will, prevents me from coming into the light of God’s grace. Is this not what Hell is all about—refusing to come out of my own selfish world—remaining in the dark? How miserable is that?
This explains why the only sin that cannot be forgiven is the one that is not confessed. This is “the sin against the Holy Spirit”—the denial of mercy. There is no such thing as a sin that cannot be forgiven, but God will not bestow His unfathomable love and mercy upon us unless we ask for it. Love cannot be forced upon someone who does not want to receive it. God’s grace is always there—all we have to do is ask.
Perhaps this also clarifies why Jesus instituted confession by way of a personal encounter with Him through the priest. In this way, it demands authentic humility. Not only is it extremely therapeutic to “tell” my sins to another person, thus unburdening myself, it allows me to honestly face up to them, to begin to account for myself, to obtain good counsel and seek to make amends. Like the doctor, I am not there as a priest to embarrass or make penitents feel guilty—our merciful God has already built that into our nature to prompt us to confess. All I want to do is heal in the name of Jesus. But how can I heal you, in His name, if you will not come, or you do not show me all your wounds?
Did you ever notice the interior effect of a good confession? Just as a ray of morning sunlight in the window catches the plethora of dust and motes in the air so, also, a ray of God’s grace enlightens the soul to see so many areas in need of attention. We begin to see things differently when we are open to the light of God’s grace. Seeing others in that same light, it becomes easier to excuse and even forgive where previously we had so easily found fault. The words of Jesus take on a new meaning for the enlightened soul: “the measure in which you forgive is the measure in which you will be forgiven,” so, also, with the other fruits of frequent confession—healing, peace, strength and growth.
Deliverance from evil brings physical and spiritual relief. Letting go of some hurt or some addiction brings real bodily relief. How much lighter we feel in spirit when we have honestly shown our wounds to the divine physician in this grace-filled sacrament!
Jesus is the author and source of peace. At the Last Supper, He told His disciples, “My peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give.” The world longs for peace. In hearing those words of absolution, “I absolve you …” the heart of Jesus reaches out to your heart. Going in peace, we praise afresh the Divine Mercy, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
Is there any sincere Catholic who is not battle-weary against the world, the flesh and the devil? This fighting of the good fight is impossible without supernatural help. Regular confession gives us real strength and stamina to continue running the race to the finish. When our wills are more closely attuned to the Divine Will, there is an assurance there. The truth sets us free. Others will begin to notice the difference it is making in us. They will want a share in this joy that comes by living the Gospel.
Like any beautiful garden that demands constant weeding and cultivation, so also the life of the soul demands regular attention. Fortnightly or monthly confession turns over that soil. The beautiful flowers of virtue, which take time and patience to cultivate, will bloom by God’s healing grace in the soul of those who are faithful to this sacrament. Who does not like to stop and admire a beautiful garden? Such are the lives of the saints who, by regular weeding and fertilizing, were enabled to bear such great fruit and become part of the Lord’s rich harvest.
Put it off no longer. Now is the time to allow the Lord to lavish His gifts of grace upon you. Drink from the fountain, bathe in its waters, come and be healed!
© FATHER EAMONN MCCARTHY is a priest of the parish of Macroom in the Diocese of Cloyne, Ireland. Prior to entering the priesthood, he spent seven years in England working as a Civil Engineer and this year he celebrates his nineteen years of priestly ministry. Father McCarthy has been recently featured in two episodes on SHALOM WORLD TV’s original series “Luminous”: one on Confession and the other on the temperance movement known as The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart.'
Scenario: You have a job offer and you are not sure whether or not you should take it. You need a little help deciding and so a natural thing to do is call a close friend. The two of you talk it over; your friend helps you weigh the pros and cons and you get off the phone call perhaps still not 100% certain of your decision but you feel like you have at least a little more clarity on the matter.
Now, what if instead of calling your friend, you just sent a brief text: “Have job offer. Send flowers if you think I should take; disregard if I shouldn’t.” Crazy as that sounds, is this not sometimes how we approach our prayer when faced with a big decision?
Of course, God is more than just a good buddy with helpful advice—He is the one who actually KNOWS how things will turn out whether we choose one road or the other. It would be so helpful if God could just beam down a ray of light illuminating which path we should take at every major crossroad, but often that is not the way it works.
The Way It Works
As my father-in-law puts it: “God is not a cosmic slotmachine.” Prayer is a conversation—a conversation with the Creator of the Universe, but a conversation nonetheless. When you are faced with decisions, however big or small, God wants to talk with you about them. How else are we supposed to grow in relationship with God other than talking through our thoughts and feelings with Him? God put that brain in your head and it is weighing all those scenarios. Your faculty of reason is one way in which God talks to you. Another way He talks to you is through your desires and longings.
“Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” —Psalm 37:4
When that Psalm popped into my head while I was driving one day, I nearly pulled over so I could look it up to be sure it was actually in Scripture. Did God really promise me the desires of my heart? Is not prayer and this whole Christianity thing supposed to be about conforming my will to His? Of course it is, but the Christian life is not meant to be a drudgery of “I’m doing this because God says so.” It is supposed to be a joyful union of our will and our desires to the Creator’s, so that we can confidently proclaim with the Psalmist, “Take delight in the Lord, and He WILL give you the desires of your heart.”
Our desires and longings are another way that God reveals Himself to us. If this sounds controversial it should not, because it is relatively simple to keep in check—if my desires are immoral or somehow not keeping with the teachings of the Church, then they are not of God, plain and simple. But, if I am weighing two options—neither of which appear to lead me away from God and His church—and one stirs a longing deep within me or, conversely, maybe one produces feelings of anxiety or just an overall sense of not sitting right, then perhaps those feelings are God speaking to me.
“Ask a Sign of the Lord Your God” —Isaiah 7:11
I am all about praying novenas and being specific in prayer intentions. Asking for signs is not necessarily a bad thing (it is actually Biblical!). However, asking for signs is never a stand-alone thing. God will give you signs, but only in the context of a relationship and as the result of a conversation. In fact, you probably will not even recognize the signs God sends your way if you are not in the habit of talking to Him.
So start talking! Regularly open up the Scriptures to get to know God and to familiarize yourself with His voice. Spend regular time in silent, personal prayer. God wants to help us in both the big decisions and the little things—not as some guidance counselor, but as the most important person in our lives.
© Mary Pearson (@marypearsonblog) is a stay at home wife and mother with a passion for sharing the faith through writing. She has published two books (“Letters From a Young Catholic” and “A Young Catholic’s Guide To The Family”) and blogs regularly at marypearsonblog.com.'
Two steps into the sanctuary and I could feel a surprising weight. It was as if the air was pushing down on my body. The smell of lilies filled the medieval church and evoked memories of Easter, water and fire!
My eyes searched the ornate altarpiece for the famous Eucharistic miracle of Santarem. Since 1247, the host of Jesus’ body has bled.
High above the altar in a small golden monstrance, the host of Our Lord is on display. A golden tabernacle protects this divine miracle.
Almost as soon as I found a place to kneel, relieving the pressure of the air, the small golden door on the tabernacle closed. My knees ached against the bare wooden kneeler and my heart sighed. Could I not get closer? Could I not see with more than my heart? Like all good and true desires of my heart, God was about to exceed my expectations and delight both my eyes and my heart!
Adoration of God in the Eucharist proceeds from the belief/truth of the real presence of Jesus, body, blood, soul and divinity under the appearance of bread and wine. No reflection on the Blood of Jesus would be complete without recalling the mystical intimacy Saint Catherine of Siena had with Christ’s passion and blood.
Saint Catherine spoke incessantly of Christ’s blood. She asserted the need to drink in the grace of Christ’s blood and become “drunk” on the love poured out in the shedding of this Sacred Blood. In one rather remarkable gift of grace, she was permitted to drink the blood of Christ directly from His side!
Catherine, reflecting on her spiritual children, declared, “Indeed, they go into battle filled and inebriated with the blood of Christ crucified … they will pass through the narrow gate drunk, as it were, with the blood of the spotless lamb.”
By partaking in the blood of Christ, her thirst was awakened, not quenched. The more she drank of Christ, the more she desired. Her soul was intoxicated by the love found in Christ’s blood!
Almost in mid-thought, a Portuguese woman in broken English interrupted my contemplation of Saint Catherine. The woman bid my group of pilgrims approach the altar, revealing a side staircase. The marble floor surrounding the altar gave way to a set of wooden stairs. The walls inside the staircase were covered in religious art and statues of our lady and various saints were tucked into every corner. An eclectic assortment of religious items was displayed in glass cases. Somewhere from behind the wall men’s voices were suddenly raised in Gregorian chant.
I climbed the hidden staircase only to find another narrow metal set of stairs at the top. One by one each member of our group ascended and returned. No one spoke. No one looked at each other.
Finally, it was my turn to climb the narrow stair. Up, up I climbed and then I saw Him! Almost six inches from my eyes, separated by merely a pane of glass, I gazed on my beloved Creator. The consecrated Host (the same consecrated at every Mass) was before me! This time the Host was covered in bright red blood! The clotted blood looked as if today His flesh had been torn open for my sins! Torn open for love of me!
Stupefied, I said and did nothing! For several moments I forgot to pray or how to pray! His love on display, I felt the thirst and intoxication Catherine spoke about. So all I could do in that moment was to whisper through the glass, “I love You.”
© SHANNON MAG BALON is a wife and mother of four. She is a breast cancer survivor. With a doctorate in psychology, she writes with a view of both psychodynamic and theological. God’s love compels her to write. The blog www.amazingnearness.com is her “yes” to God.
At age eight, little Bogdan Mandić knelt miserably in the center of his Catholic parish. After committing what he considered a slight fault, he had been scolded by his sister. To make matters worse, she hauled him over to the pastor, who suggested a humble posture as penance. It was then that the boy decided that when he grew up, he would become a friar—a confessor, specifically—but one who would treat sinners with goodness and mercy.
Bogdan did go on to become a Capuchin friar, taking the name Leopold. And he spent a majority of his life inside a tiny room in Padua, Italy, hearing confessions twelve hours a day. It is this dedication to the ministry of Reconciliation that caused Pope Francis to choose the relatively obscure Saint Leopold Mandić, along with household names like Saint John Paul II and Saint Teresa of Calcutta, as representatives of the Year of Mercy. Along with that honor, Pope Francis requested that Leopold’s body—still intact seventy-four years after his death—be displayed in Rome this past February.
When I visited Leopold’s cell in Padua, almost by chance, it still had the sparse feel of a confessional. But what dropped my jaw was the room next to it filled with gifts and offerings. They are all tokens of thanksgiving brought by people who have turned to Leopold for help and believe they have been healed through his prayers. It got me wondering, “Who is this man?”
A LARGELY UNEVENTFUL LIFE
As I looked into Mandić’s life, I realized that there really is not much to say. He did not travel much. He did not found a new religious order or perform dramatic miracles. He never wrote a book. But what did strike me was his profound understanding of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and his creative, but deeply faithful, grasp of God’s mercy. No wonder he got my attention! No wonder too that two of our greatest modern-day popes have felt drawn to him.
Leopold Mandić was born in 1866 on the Adriatic coast of what is now Montenegro. He was the youngest of twelve children in a Catholic family of Croatian origin. His parents, Petar and Dragica Mandić, made a living with their fishing fleet.
He was baptized Bogdan, a name that means “given by God.” From an early age, Leopold dealt with poor health. It stunted his development so that when he was fully grown, he stood four foot six. A form of arthritis gave him a slow lurching stride, and stuttering made it difficult for him to read aloud. But what he lacked in health, he made up for in studiousness and prayer. By age sixteen, he was ready to enter the seminary, and by twenty-four, he was ordained a priest.
Mandić’s superiors quickly assigned to him the task that would define his life: hearing confessions. Pope John Paul II noted the importance of this vocation at Saint Leopold’s canonization in 1983, saying, “His was a largely uneventful life. . . . Then came his assignment to the friary in Padua.” This was where he would spend almost fifty years listening to sinners cast off their burdens.
A CALMING CONFESSOR
On a regular day, the hall outside Father Leopold’s room was besieged. People of all kinds, from all over Italy, lined up to confess their sins. Every penitent was different to Leopold, and each needed his attention and tact. But Leopold’s main principle as a confessor was his confidence in God’s mercy. There was no sin too big for God to forgive. And it was his job to share that message with sinners.
Even after long hours in the confessional, he continued to make himself available. One doctor who often visited Leopold after grueling hours on the late shift recalled, “Not once did he tell me to come the next day; not once did he show signs of tiredness.” Just the opposite, Leopold welcomed anyone coming for confession with smiling kindness. He regularly sought the friendship of his penitents, knowing that one can accept everything from a friend, even an occasional admonishing.
Leopold’s welcoming nature disarmed one nervous man who had come far to see him. Heart racing, the man stood a ways off, afraid to enter the confessional. Leopold opened his door and, seeing him, called out, “That man over there! Come on in! Come on in!” The man followed him and introduced himself with these words: “Father, I’m a wicked man.” Leopold replied, “Here you are not anymore. You and I are brothers, and we will become very good friends. Let’s start off with a sign of the cross.” He listened to the long confession, offering a kind word here and there. By the end, tears of joy glistened in place of the man’s tears of shame.
“PUT EVERYTHING ON MY SHOULDERS”
Leopold’s fellow friars sometimes thought he was too lenient. He replied that if that was the case, the first to give a light pardon was Jesus Himself, dying on the cross to erase sins. He asked them what the point was of further humbling the souls who came for confession. “Aren’t they humiliated enough?” he asked. “Did Jesus humiliate the tax collector, the adulterous woman, and Mary Magdalene?”
And he meant it, so Father Leopold would never give harsh penances. If more reparation for sin was necessary, he offered to take on a share of the penance himself. When people were distressed by the weight of their sins, he reassured them. “Don’t worry; put everything on my shoulders. I will take care of it.” Taking care of it meant extra time in prayer at night.
Despite his defense of sinners, Leopold took pains to make sure penitents were not abusing the Sacrament. On rare occasions when people refused to reject sinful ways, they left his confessional without absolution. This was mercy too, he believed.
HIS OWN PATH TO SAINTHOOD
Although Leopold’s gifts as a confessor were renowned across Italy, serving in this capacity could be a struggle as well. He was reclusive by nature, but his work meant hours of conversation every day. He was known to be touchy and irritable around the friary. In the confessional, those who tried to justify their sins risked provoking his short temper.
Because of his physical ailments, Leopold was sensitive to embarrassment. If he thought someone was eyeing him with too much pity, he would defend himself proudly. But there were some humiliations he could not protest. Because of his speech impediment, for example, he was passed over in the friary for the reading of the daily liturgy and preaching.
Leopold’s solution was to nourish his relationship with God—whom he said was both doctor and medication. Through their close friendship, he learned to accept his lot and forgive trespasses against himself generously.
A DREAM REDEFINED
Part of accepting his duties involved rethinking a dear wish: to be sent as a missionary to Eastern Europe. The desire had originated from his earliest days growing up in an area of cultural and religious crossroads. The thought of uniting Catholic and Orthodox factions there remained with Leopold long after it became clear that his superiors would keep him in Padua. But rather than giving up the dream, Leopold decided to shorten the distance and adjust his method.
Creatively, he offered up his ministry as a confessor in Padua for the reconciliation of the Eastern Church with Rome. Leopold wrote repeatedly in his personal diary, “Every person who will ask for my ministry will be my East.” Although he did not accomplish reconciliation on such a large scale, he devoted his life to individuals’ reconciliation with God, for the sake of unity. Because of this, Leopold is seen as a forerunner of ecumenism and an intercessor for all who work to bring Christians together.
You may find you relate to Saint Leopold in unexpected ways. He was a man who slept only five hours a day and spent an enormous amount of time in one room. He had unrealized dreams of traveling the world and preaching. He found his vocation in listening to other people’s miseries and speaking God’s forgiveness. Some might call this drudgery, but Leopold looked upon it as a high privilege.
Leopold Mandić was a tremendous gift to the Church. His ability to practice the mercy of God serves as an inspiration to many confessors today. His determination to be an instrument for God despite his limitations is a lesson in humility. And he is one of us, reminding all Christians that God’s will is in the smallest of jobs. To me he is a personal friend, whom I can turn to for any kind of need. Go talk to him, and find out yourself; his door is always open.
© FEDERICA PAPARELLI THISTLE writes for “La Croce” magazine and lives in Maryland with her husband.'
While Nancy waited in the doctor’s office for her appointment time, she noticed an elderly woman across from her. Mid-seventies, Nancy guessed. Maybe five feet tall. She looked well-put together in her nicely tailored pink pant suit—until she stood up and shuffled behind her walker to the receptionist. It was then Nancy noticed the woman’s pant legs were so long that she had rolled up about a foot of material to keep it from dragging on the ground. Nancy wondered if she had no one to hem them for her, or to take her to a seamstress. (more…)'
Anyone who has ever received an unexpected diagnosis of cancer or some other serious disease knows the power of the experience to suddenly and radically change the inner world in which we normally live. Anyone who has lost a loved one especially without warning, experiences the same thing. Perception, understanding, the hierarchy of what we have up to then considered important suffers a seismic shock and shifts the plates of our current existence into a completely changed landscape which can seem foreign and strange and certainly frightening in many ways. (more…)'
I guess you never know how little faith you have until it is tested. Faith never grows, unless it is tested. I have found it to be a vicious lifelong cycle. I think I have faith, it gets tested, and I realize how little faith I have after all.
I have been praying for something for what seems to be a long time. A “long time” in human terms is anywhere from fifteen minutes to decades. In actuality, when I have the benefit of hindsight, I can see where God may have been working in the background lining everything up, but I did not notice because I was too preoccupied thinking He was not listening or doing anything. “Doing anything” meaning, what I wanted, how I wanted it, and when I wanted it done.
I am pathetically impatient.
Currently, I am seeing the fruit of what I consider to be about twelve years of praying coming to fruition in a series of unexpected rapid fire events. Okay, truth be told, it was really eight years of whining and four years of determined praying, but you get it. Unpredicted circumstances have netted us a new pastor, new possibilities, and a renewed sense of hopefulness. Issues that had been stomped down, or placed in a permanent holding pattern are quickly seeing life. New energy and a real sense of leadership have taken a hold of the community. It is refreshing and at the same time, nothing we could have imagined. God’s ways often take us by surprise!
Things can turn on a dime; we all know that. It seems like we wait ages for something to happen and then, boom it happens out of nowhere. I was reminded of that when a year ago an encounter with a car almost ended my life. Each day when I drive to work I glance at the very spot where I laid on the pavement unconscious. I thank God, in His mercy, for giving me another chance to learn important life lessons, like patience, which I apparently will need three additional lifetimes to advance past even the most rudimentary lessons. I am impatient even when learning patience.
I want to see things change now. I think I know the best case scenario and of course, share my perspective of this with the Lord. I know He has a sense of humor because He does not entertain any of my ideas. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways…” Just last week he reminded me of that passage from Isaiah 55:8. I did not think that He was listening. Apparently He was.
What I am beginning to realize is that life is like a playground. It is the place where we can play out possibilities, make mistakes, skin our knees, and get put in time out as we work out life. God can make lessons out of mistakes, heal the wounds of bad choices and open doors that were previously shut. Pope Francis likes to say, let God surprise you.
I like surprises. I just hate waiting for them.
As I pray the Rosary or read the Gospels it has occurred to me how much joy and sorrow are intermingled. Life, in reality, is bittersweet. There are times to wait, to celebrate, and to mourn. For example, teenage Mary is pregnant with the Son of God! Scary but great news. The Son is born and with it, the limitless joy of holding your newborn. Then the news about a sword of sorrow piercing her heart. While you are at it, pack with haste and head to Egypt for the child’s life is in mortal danger. All this just in the first couple of years, and did not get better for long from there. Over and over there is good news and great joy, coupled with immense sorrow, and pain.
God does not ask us to endure anything that He did not ask of His beloved Son and His family. There is a lesson in this for us all and reminds me of one of my favorite prayers by Saint Teresa of Avila:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
“Patience obtains all things.” Thank you Lord for loving me enough and giving me the time to learn the hardest lessons which grow my tiny molecule-sized faith. Teach me patience and trust in you.
© BARBARA LISHKO works full time as a Lay Catholic Marriage Minister. She and her husband Mark, an ordained Deacon, have been married for thirty-five years and are blessed with five young adult children, whose lives grow and expand through marriage and grandchildren. Through the inspiration of her family, work in the Catholic Church and wacky life experiences her dream of writing was born. She is the recipient of the Diocese of Phoenix St Terese of Lisieux award.'
The invitation to say the “Our Father” is one of the most beautiful, glossed-over treasures in the Holy Mass: “At the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say.”
Unworthy as we are to utter such intimacy—and when Christ first taught us to do it, what a foolhardy notion it must have seemed—we call Him Father; we call Him ours.
What could be more daring?
Perhaps to say, “I have no heavenly father.”
These were the words I heard from my youngest brother in an e-mail titled, “I don’t believe in God.” It hit me like a punch to the gut.
There is nothing noteworthy about one more dejected, misanthropic millennial. But it is noteworthy when he is my brother, because I have seen God’s paternal hand leading him through life, endowing him with grace. My brother was called for a special purpose, even from his youngest years.
At three years old on Christmas Eve, his furrowed brow peered over construction paper while his pudgy fist scribbled furiously with a magic marker. While the rest of us had sugarplums and Legos dancing in our heads, he had the Birth in mind. And it was with gentle conviction that the youngest of us would demand to go to the nativity set at church to lay a newspaper-wrapped birthday card for baby Jesus, lying in the manger.
Two years later, my family was rifling through possessions my mom was prodding us to collect for the homeless; I was pettily hoarding my clothes that no longer fit, while Keegan, with the authentic purity that could only come from someone who had just learned of homelessness, pulled his baby blanket off his bed, and sent it to those who clearly needed it more.
And later that year when we entered my mom’s hospital room, as she lay sutured after a mastectomy, it would once more be tiny Keegan, moved by a holy haste and a divine knowledge, who would find a small scrap of skin untouched by tubes and tape and gently pat her while tears rolled down her cheeks.
The stories are many and precious to me: him rolling out of bed on summer mornings for daily Mass, his desire to be a priest, his visits to the adoration chapel, his beautiful voice singing “Ave Maria” at my wedding. They gnaw at me like a painful reminder of how God sees him.
When graduating from high school, I impishly asked him what the most important piece of advice he could give me was, and without a beat he said, “Ask without reserve.”
How those words haunt me now; like an echo from the past they reverberate over the moments when De Sales and Aquinas were replaced with Nietzsche and Hume. The trips to the chapel replaced by coffee with fellow skeptics. The sweet drawing of Jesus the Shepherd in his bedroom stared at through increasingly ironic eyes. The fidgeting hands during family prayers and rosaries. The discomfort. The smirks. The silence.
It is difficult to reconcile the memories of my baby brother with the man in front of me saying, “I don’t believe in God”; difficult to hear him come to such a conclusion when his whole existence has been a stark contrast to godlessness.
But my memories are God’s whispers to me of the way He sees my brother still, His beloved son.
When we were given a filial relationship with our Creator, it was not by our merit. It was Christ interceding, “Here am I and the children You gave me.” It is Christ who died on our behalf, who gave us the gratuitous incarnation and intimacy with the Father. We do not earn His fatherhood; He just is our Father.
So while my brother is telling me he no longer believes in God, God’s hands are on both our shoulders as the news is shared.
While he strengthens his self-mastery through yoga, every breath in and out will still be the ruah that God breathed into him on his first day. And while he reads Nietzsche and every other philosopher on the planet, God will be still watching over him in his earnest pursuit. And God-willing, someday when he has stumbled on Augustine, and he is out in his garden and has his falling-over conversion, God will lift his head up, look him in the eyes and say, “You are my son, you have always been my son. Come home.”
And we will say “Our Father” once again.
© CASEY MCCORRY is a Digital Associate at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and a Documentary Filmmaker.'
Jesus has a special relationship with the Jordan River. At the beginning of His ministry, He goes to the Jordan to get baptized. And then at the end of His ministry, to make His way to Jerusalem, He chooses to go from the Sea of Galilee south to Jerusalem by the Jordan River. He has an affinity for the river. The name “Jordan” in Hebrew means, “The One Who Descends.” It is the world’s steepest river.
When Jesus was conceived, He came down from God’s world into ours. He descended. When it was time for Him to be born, He does not go to the hospital or a comfortable, safe place with a lot of people and help around, where He would get a lot of great attention. No, He is out in a cave alone with His parents, placed in a feeding trough. He descends.
Then, He is found in the Temple, having a deep discussion with the teachers there and they are all amazed. With talent like that, you would think that those teachers would offer Him a free education in the best place to learn religion in the world. He could have had a high place in the Temple, maybe been a scribe or educator with a comfortable lifestyle and a nice family. But no, He goes home to a small village, to learn from His simple family and neighborhood. Descend.
Being divine and all, He could have had huge business success, as it is obvious that He knows human nature inside and out. His marketing success would have been unsurpassed. But He did not. He mastered a simple craft and had a small family business. Descend.
Now, the Bible says that since being a kid, He increased in favor with God and people. He was really respected by people who knew Him, and He could have had a lot of popularity and political influence in His life. Yet, He spent His time with the most avoided people in society: tax collectors, prostitutes, drunks, lepers and sick people. Descend.
And when it is time to take up the cross, He could have gotten out of it. He says that He could call on a whole army of angels to get Him free. But He does not. He descends. And then afterwards, we read in the Creed that He descended to the dead.
So, why is he always descending? Why is He not making a business success of Himself? Why turn down one of the greatest educations in the world? Why not the big home and set-for-life retirement? Where is the wife and kids and big family with all the love and the relatives over for parties on the holidays? Or, at least, why not the successful business that does great things for people, making use of all His gifts and talents? Or why not be a doctor, or have some political role making the world a better place from above? Why does He turn down all these opportunities to get ahead in life? He could have done any or all of those things.
Because His mission is to reveal His Father.
He descends. And His Father is going to raise Him up.
Jesus descends into the water of the Jordan, and then His Father lifts Him up to the highest place in the world: “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)
Now we know God.
If you are baptized, if you are Christian, if you are a disciple of Jesus, you have the opportunity to be raised up by God. You have the opportunity to reveal God to others, so that everyone would be able to know Him through you.
You have a special relationship with the Jordan River.
Do not be afraid to be one who descends.
© JEROME KILEY (www.ALivingMonstrance.wordpress.com)'