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In connection with an academic project of mine, I’ve recently been poring over the book of Exodus and numerous commentaries on it. The second most famous book of the Old Testament is concerned primarily with the manner in which God shapes His people, so that they might become a radiant beacon, a city set on a hill. On the biblical reading, Israel is indeed chosen, but it is never chosen for its own sake, but rather for all the nations of the world.
I would say that this formation takes place in three principal stages: first, God teaches Israel to trust in His power; secondly, He gives Israel a moral law; and thirdly, He instructs his people in holiness through right praise. The lesson in trust happens, of course, through God’s great act of liberation. Utterly powerless slaves find freedom, not by relying on their own resources, but rather upon the gracious intervention of God. The moral instruction takes place through the Ten Commandments and their attendant legislation. Finally, the formation in holiness happens through a submission to an elaborate set of liturgical and ceremonial laws. It is this last move that perhaps strikes us today as most peculiar, but that has, I will argue, particular resonance in our strange COVID period.
That education in religion involves moral instruction probably seems self-evident to most of us. And this is because we are, willy-nilly, Kantians. In the eighteenth century, the philosopher Immanuel Kant contended that all of religion is reducible to ethics. What the religious thing is finally all about, Kant argued, is making us more just, loving, kind, and compassionate. In contemporary language, Kantianism in religion sounds like this: “As long as you’re a good person, it doesn’t really matter what you believe or how you worship.”
Now, there is no question that the book of Exodus and the Bible in general agree that morality is essential to the proper formation of the people of God. Those who would seek to follow the Lord, who is justice and love, must be conformed to justice and love. And this is precisely why we find, in the great Sinai covenant, injunctions not to steal, not to commit adultery, not to covet, not to kill, etc. So far, so Kantian.
But what probably surprises most contemporary readers of the book of Exodus is that, immediately following the laying out of the moral commandments, the author spends practically the rest of the text, chapters 25 through 40, delineating the liturgical prescriptions that the people are to follow. So for example, we find a lengthy section on the construction of the ark of the covenant: “They shall make an ark of acacia wood; it shall be two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside you shall overlay it.” And as an ornament on the top of the ark, “You shall make two cherubim of gold. . . . Make one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other. . . . The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat.” Next, we find instructions regarding the elaborate furnishings inside of the tabernacle, including a lampstand, a table for the so-called “bread of the presence,” pillars and various hangings. Finally, an enormous amount of space is given over to the description of the vestments to be worn by the priests of Israel. Here is just a sampling: “These are the vestments that they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a checkered tunic, a turban, and a sash. When they make these sacred vestments. . . . They shall use gold, blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine linen.”
No indication whatsoever is given that the moral prescriptions are somehow more important than the liturgical prescriptions. If anything, the contrary seems to be the case, since Exodus is followed immediately by the book of Leviticus, which consists of twenty-eight chapters of dietary and liturgical law. So what are we post-Kantians to make of this? First, we should observe that the biblical authors do not think for a moment that God somehow requires liturgical rectitude, as though the correctness of our worship adds anything to his perfection or satisfies some psychological need of His. If you harbor any doubt on this score, I would recommend a careful reading of the first chapter of the prophet Isaiah and of the fiftieth psalm. God doesn’t need the Ark and the Tabernacle and priestly vestments and regular worship, but we do. Through the gestures and symbols of its liturgical praise, Israel is brought on line with God, ordered to him. The moral law directs our wills to the divine goodness, but the liturgical law directs our minds, our hearts, our emotions, and yes even our bodies to the divine splendor. Notice how thoroughly the ceremonial instructions of Exodus involve color, sound, and smell (there is an awful lot about incense), and how they conduce toward the production of beauty.
I said above that Exodus’ stress on the liturgical and ceremonial has a profound relevance to our time, and here’s why. For very good reasons, we abstained completely from public worship, and even now our ability to worship together is very limited. In most dioceses in our country, the obligation to attend Sunday Mass is, again for valid reasons, suspended. My fear is that when the propitious moment arrives, when we are again able to return to Mass, many Catholics will stay away, since they’ve grown accustomed to absenting themselves from worship. And my concern takes a more specifically Kantian form: Will many Catholics say to themselves, “You know, as long as I’m basically a good person, what’s the point of all of this formal worship of God?”
Could I recommend that you take out your Bible, open to the book of Exodus, especially chapters 25 through 40, and consider just how crucially important to God is the correct worship offered by his holy people? Liturgy has always mattered. The Mass— involving vestments, ritual gesture, smells and bells, song and silence—still matters, big time. Isn’t it enough that you’re a good person? Not to put too fine a point on it: no.'
What’s the greatest antidote to loneliness?
It was an ordinary Sunday evening at the students’ boarding house where I was staying. Most of my friends had gone home for the weekend. After finishing my chores and studies for the day, I got ready to attend evening Mass at the small convent Chapel nearby. By the time I headed towards the Chapel, a heavy feeling of loneliness was overwhelming me. Besides the fact that I was miles away from family, something else was burdening me, but I could not quite place my finger on it. Loneliness was nothing new to me. I had already spent more than 6 years in college/university boarding, only able to visit my parents, who were working in another country, during semester breaks.
When I reached the chapel, I was surprised to see it full of people, which was unusual. However, I managed to find a spot in the front pew and settled down, still engrossed in my thoughts. The Mass progressed, but I was unable to concentrate on the prayers. As the time for Communion approached, the ache inside had grown. I joined the Communion line and on receiving Jesus, came back to kneel down in thanksgiving.
The next moment, I realized that the intense feeling of loneliness and sadness had vanished! It was as though a heavy weight was lifted off my shoulders in an instant. I was totally taken by surprise at this transformation because I had neither prayed anything much during the Mass, nor said anything to Jesus about what I was feeling. But the Lord was looking down on me from the altar. He knew I was struggling and needed help.
The small incident etched a deep mark in my memory. Even after several years, I remember how the Lord showed his tender care. The Eucharistic Lord has been my refuge during all the difficult moments of my life. Not once has He failed to help me with His grace and mercy. When we feel battered by the storms of life, uncertain how to find the right direction, all we have to do is run to Him. Some of us spend a lot of money to speak with a clinical psychologist, but we often do not realize that the greatest Counsellor is always ready to hear our problems at any time, without an appointment!
There is no greater antidote to loneliness than the presence of God. If you ever feel that no one really understands you or cares about you, go confidently before the Blessed Sacrament. Our Lord Jesus is waiting for you to experience His comfort, strength and overwhelming love!
“The time you spend with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the best time you will spend on earth.” – Saint Teresa of Calcutta.
My Jesus, who is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, help me to confide in You all my worries about the future. I trust in You and firmly believe that there is nothing impossible for You. Let me be comforted and strengthened by Your overwhelming love. Amen'
Does God really care about what’s happening in your life? This story, fictional or not, is sure to change your perspective. During the Second World War, a soldier got separated from his unit. The fighting had been intense, and in the smoke and crossfire he had lost touch with his comrades. Alone in the jungle, he heard enemy soldiers approaching. In his desperate search for cover, he scrambled up a high ridge and found some small caves. Quickly he crawled inside one of them.
Although safe for the moment, he realized that if they followed him up the ridge and searched the caves, they would find his hiding place. As he waited anxiously, he prayed, “Lord, please spare my life. Whatever happens, I love you and trust you. Amen”. The heavy tread of enemy boots drew closer and closer.
“Well, I guess the Lord isn’t going to help me out of this one”, he thought dejectedly. Morosely, he watched a spider building a web in front of his cave. “Hah”, he fretted, “What I need is a brick wall and the Lord sends me a spider web. God does have a sense of humour”. As they neared his cave, the soldier prepared to make his last stand, but then he heard someone say: “There’s no point looking in this cave…he couldn’t have entered without breaking that web!”
To his utter amazement, after a cursory glance, they moved on. The fragile spider web had saved him after all. “Lord, forgive me” he prayed. “I had forgotten that You can make a spider web stronger than a brick wall.
“God chose what is foolish in the world to confound the wise! God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:27)'
Wondering how to respond to those comments about your witness to life? Here are 3 best comebacks just for you!
Just last week, I parked our large van out the front of the local shop. After quickly grabbing a few grocery items, I returned to find my children conversing with the occupants of the vehicle parked next to us—a father and his young son.
In a small town such as ours, there are always tenuous links to other people. In this case, the young boy in the utility had attended preschool with our fourth child and wanted to say hello.
The door to our van was opened to accommodate such a greeting.
I could see the father’s mind boggling as he took in the number of children in my vehicle—six—and then noticed the now unmistakable bump announcing the expectation of number seven.
His comment was one of those common ones large families encounter with annoying regularity: “You should get a TV.”
He added an, “or something”, to his comment and an awkward laugh that only proved that he had recognised the rudeness of his comment. But it was too late to take it back.
Smiling a very forced smile, we made our goodbyes and headed home. This was not the first time I had encountered such comments, and it would not be the last. The truth of the matter is that the size of my family is somehow confronting to a large proportion of society.
“They just can’t understand,” says a friend, and mum of six, “what joy we experience in being blessed with a large family.”
She is right. Being blessed with a large family is something very different to adhering to the 2.1 children per family and, from the outside, appears very counter cultural.
Of course, it is counter cultural, but it should not be. Not all of us are called to have a ‘large’ family but we are called to be open to life. For some, this does mean a large family, but for others it means a small family, dealing with and encountering pregnancy and infant loss, struggles with fertility, fostering, or adoption.
Regardless of the size or make-up of our family, we can all witness to the profound blessing of being open to life.
1. Radiate Joy
The news of a new pregnancy should be a time of great joy. There are some times and some situations, when this news might be more subdued.
Regardless, a new life should always be celebrated.
When you encounter others, whether they share your open-tolife outlook or not, let them see the joy that this announcement carries with it for you.
Joy is infectious—and something often sadly lacking in our world today.
Maybe they still cannot understand why you would want to have your fourth, sixth, seventh or eleventh child, but they should still be able to leave their encounter with you knowing that you are delighted to be expecting another bundle of joy.
2. Respond with humor, not anger
There are any number of rejoinders one could give to those clichéd phrases: “Don’t you have a TV?” or, “Don’t you have your hands full?” and so on. But some are probably not charitable.
We are not going to change hearts with our angry response. Or, let us be honest, with whatever response we give. But, perhaps we can sow a seed.
A mother within my acquaintance likes to tell the following story of one mother’s response to the following questions: “Why do you have so many children? Or, you’re having another one?”
The cheeky response: “We’ll keep going until we get one we like!” Or, alternatively: “We’re just making sure we have plenty of children to look after us in our old age.”
Maybe these quips are not for everyone. But humor can be a great tool in responding to the more puzzled queries of the more secular among us.
Saint John Cantius encourages us to: “Fight all error, but do it with good humour, patience, kindness, and love. Harshness will damage your own soul and spoil the best cause.”
Maybe adding a dose of humor will be just the thing.
3. Witness without words
Although I have been on the receiving end of less than ideal comments about our family size, I have also been on the receiving end of the most beautiful ones too.
One older lady in particular began with the clichéd: “Haven’t you got your hands full?” and added, “and aren’t you blessed?”
Of course she is right. We are incredibly blessed and those who know us, know that our openness to life extends much further than our own home.
We have had people come to us for help, guidance and support in the face of unplanned pregnancies, difficult post-birth periods, undertaking fostering or adoption, and the general ups and downs of parenting. Often acquaintances who are not Catholic seek our counsel. By the virtue of our family size, we somehow broadcast our sincere belief that all lives are precious.
This has been an unintended consequence of having a large brood. In and of itself, it has been an immense blessing for us to support others.
Without deliberately intending to, we are following the advice of Saint Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”
So, although you can expect impertinent comments, that does not mean that you should tone down your own enthusiasm when sharing the news of a pregnancy—whether it’s yours or anyone else’s.
Respond with joy and humor, continuing to witness to the preciousness and dignity of all human life.'
When I look into the future, I am frightened,
But why plunge into the future?
Only the present moment is precious to me.
As the future may never enter my soul at all.
It is no longer in my power,
To change, correct, or add to the past;
For neither sages nor prophets could do that.
And so, what the past has embraced I must entrust to God.
O present moment you belong to me, whole and entire.
I desire to use you as best as I can
Although I am weak and small,
You grant me the grace of Your omnipotence.
And so, trusting n Your mercy,
I walk through life like a little child,
Offering you each day this heart
Burning with love for your greater glory.'
When it is hot and humid, cold and windy, or during an epidemic, people often resort to expressions like: How unbearable the heat! How piercing the cold! What a tragedy!
Is this the right way to deal with situations that are beyond our control?
Saint Alphonsus Ligouri in his book, “Uniformity with God’s Will”, narrates an incident that happened in the life of Saint Francis Borgia:
Late one night Father Francis Borgia arrived unexpectedly at a Jesuit house during a snow storm. He knocked several times on the door but to no avail. They were all asleep. In the morning all in the community were greatly distressed and embarrassed to know that he had to spend the whole night in the open. Father Francis comforted them saying that he enjoyed the greatest consolation during those long hours of the night by imagining that the Lord was showering snowflakes upon Him from Heaven.
Saints are full of imagination!
How often have we lamented over natural weaknesses of body or mind? If only I had a brilliant mind, or a more robust body, I would have done wonders. But perhaps if I were more talented, athletic or attractive, I may have lost my soul! Great talent and knowledge have caused many to be puffed up with the idea of their own importance and, in their pride, they have despised others. How easily those who have these gifts may fall into sin and gravely endanger their salvation! On the contrary, how many who suffer poverty, infirmity or physical deformity have become saints! Let us be content with what God has given us. Only one thing is necessary and it is not beauty, not strength, not talent. It is the salvation of the immortal soul.'
Answer: Loneliness is a painful, but common, part of life. A recent study published by pharmaceutical giant Cigna found that 46% of Americans feel “sometimes or always” lonely, and the highest rate of loneliness is in young people (ages 18-22). So, if you are lonely, know that you are not alone! (Pun intended).
All of us, at times, feel loneliness. As a priest, there are certainly times when I feel the ache. For me, Sunday afternoon is when I feel loneliest. The Sunday morning Masses are always imbued with such joyful encounters with devout, lively parishioners, but when they all go home to be with their families, I return to an empty rectory.
But when that happens, I try to turn my loneliness into solitude. What’s the difference? Loneliness is the pain of lacking connection with other human beings. Solitude is the peace of being intimately connected to the Lord. As painful as it may be, loneliness can be an invitation into a deeper intimacy with the Lord. When we feel that ache, that longing for human contact, we can readily invite the Lord in to fill that emptiness. He is our closest Friend; He is the Lover of our souls.
And He knows what it is like to be lonely! During His Passion, almost all of His friends abandoned Him, causing immense pain to His Sacred Heart. We can share our loneliness with Him.
But, at the same time, “it is not good for man to be alone!” (Genesis 2:18). Thankfully, we are part of a larger community: the Body of Christ, the Church. We are surrounded by our Church family at all times—not just the earthly community of believers, but the angels and Saints (“The Church Triumphant”). Their lives can inspire and comfort us. There are many Saints who I feel personal connected to: St. John Bosco, St. Pancras, Mother Teresa. They are my friends, although at this time our friendship is on the level of “pen pals”. When I petition their intercession, they reciprocate with insights as they pray for me! But some day, I hope to meet them face-to-face and enjoy their company forever.
When we pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory (“The Church Suffering”), we also connect to our loved ones who have gone before us, and those who have no-one to remember and pray for them because they suffered loneliness on earth. By offering up the pain of our loneliness for them and entreating their prayers in return, we transform our misery into merit.
In addition to our heavenly friends, “The Church Militant” (members of the Church here on earth) should also provide a community for us. Get involved in your church and you will meet inspiring, friendly people. Perhaps there is a Bible study to join. You could participate in a group for people in your stage of life (or start a group if there isn’t one). Maybe you could find friends by helping others with the Knights of Columbus, St. Vincent de Paul, Care and Concern or another service-oriented group. Sometimes we have to look outside our own parish.
Are there other Catholic churches in your town with vibrant activities and a community more relatable to you? I have been in some parishes where the community atmosphere is warm and loving, and other places where it was lacking. One particular parish, where I was assigned, was a place of very little community. Parishioners would come to Mass and leave immediately. So, in search of a community, I began to volunteer at a local Catholic school where I met some wonderful families who are still my friends today. I guarantee the community is “out there”, if we only have the courage to look!
For those who are homebound, connections can be forged in other ways. Perhaps begin writing letters to Catholic prisoners who need support and encouragement. We could always pick up the phone and initiate the contact with family members or old friends. Sometimes just sending an unexpected thank-you card can re-establish or deepen a friendship.
Although loneliness can be the catalyst which activates a deeper relationship with God, He also desires that we live in fellowship with others, supporting each other. We are made to show our love for God by developing a community of family and friends to love and care for. Seek them out—and you will find them.'
Have you ever felt lost, alone, unsure of who you are, why you are here or what God’s plan is for your life? As a well-known model, actress and TV host, it looked like Joelle Maryn had it all, until she hit a spiritual rock bottom during a dream come true trip to Hollywood. Read on to know how she took a drastic return to Christ!
When I was 6 years old, my family was devastated by a terrible tragedy. Just a week before Christmas, somebody forgot to blow out the candles on the Advent wreath and it caught fire. The real Christmas tree next to it went up in flames, followed by the whole house. I barely made it out while my father tried to save my 11 year old sister, Maria. Unfortunately, he could not get to her in time.
Lifeline Cut Off
As we all grieved her death and the loss of everything we owned, people generously gave us things to help us. I was thrilled to receive many beautiful dolls, but my prized possession was a doll belonging to my sister that had somehow survived the inferno with burn marks and a curious smell. I was a prayerful little girl and knew that the Bible said Jesus could raise the dead. So, l laid all these dolls on my bed, in the shape of my sister, and prayed, “God, I will give you everything I have, if you can just give me back my sister”. I waited for God to respond but nothing happened. Still hopeful and firmly believing that God could bring her back to me, I prayed again without result. I persisted in prayer, with the addition of a couple of magic words, but when nothing happened, doubt entered my heart. “Maybe God doesn’t love me”. If He truly knew the trauma my entire family was feeling, He would bring her back. I think that’s the moment I decided to cut my phone line to God and stopped praying.
Glittering in the Limelight
Since my mother had a theatre company, I started acting so I could be with her. When I took on a role, I would get so involved in the character that I would completely forget who I was. Sometimes, I would hide myself in this ideal, perfect life where I could pretend that everything was okay.
As I grew up, it seemed like the illusion was becoming a reality. I was modelling across the nation for Jergens and Target; on a billboard in Times Square; acting in independent films; featuring on book covers and hosting a TV show. I started a cosmetic company which was popular with celebrities and featured in magazines. I owned three houses. It looked like I had it all. But no matter what I achieved, or how much I possessed, nothing seemed to satisfy me. I was always reaching for the one more thing I needed to be happy.
High on a Hollywood rooftop for a glamorous photo shoot, I seemed to have reached the pinnacle of my life as I posed in my $4000 dress, with the sun hitting me just right but all I felt inside was so much emptiness. I had no idea who I was or why I was here. I had completely lost my own identity. I was certainly far from Christ.
Column of Love
I spent that night weeping on the shower floor of the fancy hotel room, praying for the first time in many years. “Lord, I need you. I don’t have this anymore”. That fervent prayer for help opened my heart for grace to rush in. My whole life flashed before my eyes, highlighting every sin I had ever committed. It was excruciating to see the effects of my bad example—for those who followed me, who followed them and so on.
It hurt to see how much I had failed to love. I was shown two columns. The good column contained all my acts of love—how I had used the gifts and graces that God gave me to build His kingdom. That column was nearly empty, but I saw that column weighed more. Why did the good column weigh more than the worst sin? I did not even know the scripture at that time, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
If we are filling up our good column, being the person God created us to be and loving one another, then we are not sinning. God did not show me this to condemn me, but as an act of mercy. I did not deserve this grace, God gave it to me because I was so far lost, but it comes with a responsibility— to share His message with others. There is nothing that we have ever done that could ever separate us from the love of God, nothing so bad that He cannot take us back. If God can help and save me, He can help and save anyone.
After this experience, I changed my life. I read the whole Bible in just 2 months. I was so excited to hear the truth. When I reached the part where Jesus gets lost in The Temple, I said, “Lord where this temple is? I want to find your temple”. Then, the Catholic Church came to my mind, so I started going to daily Mass. I felt that I was home. Although I did not realize the necessity for Reconciliation, before receiving Communion, especially if you have committed mortal sin, God started to convict my heart. I had not been to Confession since my grandmother pushed me there when I was in College. That was a great act of love. We need strong people in our lives to encourage us—to tell us, it is time.
After confessing, I felt a lot better but the priest warned me, “If the enemy whispers that you are not forgiven, ignore him and just believe that you are.” He was right. I was attacked. “That seemed too easy. How could Jesus forgive my sin just like that?” I still felt this darkness covering me, but I made an act of faith that I was forgiven. So I decided to confess again the next week after fasting and praying. When I related all this in Confession, Father recommended prayer in the Adoration Chapel. I did not know what it was, but I researched it at home. When I discovered that the Blessed Sacrament was the true presence of Jesus and sought Him in the chapel, I felt like the whole room stood still.
I wanted to rebuild who I was and discover my purpose. Persistently in Adoration I would ask, “Lord who do you say I am? Who am I in your eyes? What do you see when you look at me? Why am I here?” A big, booming voice did not come out of the sky, but thoughts started coming. “You are loved. You are mine. You are my child”. If we spend time in silence, we will be surprised by how God constantly communicates with us.
In Adoration one day, I asked Jesus to reveal all the lies in my heart which stood in the way of knowing myself as a loved child of God. When I started writing, I could not believe how many there were—nearly 80! I also realized that the only way to Joy was doing God’s will. Surrender was so difficult at first. God wants us to constantly let go of things that do not lead to him. It felt like my life was burned down to the ground again, but there is something so healing, when darkness is brought into the light of Christ.
I want to shine like the star that led the wise ones to Christ. I may be a different kind of star now, but I have no regrets. I am a daughter of the king. There is a purpose for my life that I am burning to share with others. We are all called to be stars that draw others along the right path guided by the fire burning within us. Now is not the time to be lukewarm. We are called to be on fire with our faith, not hiding our lamps, but letting them shine brightly with His Light through the darkness.
We are called to be Eucharistic, called to be bread for others. The sense of community when I came back to the Catholic Church was huge for me. We do not need to suffer alone. How do we become His Light in this dark world? We are created for communion with each other, united by our love for Christ. The love of Christ makes us Eucharistic. Jesus became bread for us. He is the living bread which comes down from Heaven.
With all that is going on in the world, it can seem that the fires we are fighting are too big for us to survive, but if we share His living water these flames cannot destroy us, He will carry us through the flames. If we are living in misery it is because we are not connected to God. We need to get vulnerable. We need to get down on our knees and tell God, “I don’t have this”. That’s what humility is.
One fire nearly took my life, but another fire saved it. It felt impossible to start again, but with God all things are possible. He welcomed me home and gave me a new identity, rooted in His eternal love. Today, I teach the certification classes on the ‘Catechesis of Human love’ for the diocese of Austin. I find it redemptive in so many ways because I have finally learned what love is. Now, I know that God loves me. I know how to bring that love to other people, so that they can share the Good News. I have given up unhealthy relationships that led me away from Christ and now I have joy in my heart that does not depend on what I look like, or what I possess.'
“Look. Look at the wounds. Enter into the wounds. By those wounds we were healed. Do you feel bitter and sad, or feel life just isn’t going the right way or you’re ill? Look there. In silence.”
With these words Pope Francis tells us how we can be restored through Jesus’ five Holy wounds—His pierced hands, feet and side. Many Catholics are familiar with the devotion to these five wounds. But have you heard of the sixth wound of Jesus?
In the 12th century a French Abbott and mystic, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, asked Jesus what was His greatest unrecorded suffering and the Lord answered: “I had, a grievous wound on My shoulder while I bore My Cross on the Way of Sorrows, that was more painful than the others, and is not recorded by men.”
In the 20th century, another saint confirmed this sixth wound: Saint Pio of Pietrelcina. Popularly known as a living saint, for more than 50 years he bore the wounds of Christ on his body. Padre Pio once had an interesting conversation with Karol Wojtyla, the future Saint Pope John Paul II, wherein Father Wojtyla asked which wound of his stigmata caused him the most pain, expecting Padre Pio to say it was the wound in his chest. Instead Padre Pio replied, “It is my shoulder wound, which no one knows about and has never been cured or treated.”
After the death of Padre Pio, Brother Modestino who was assigned the task of taking an inventory of all the saint’s belongings, discovered that one of Padre Pio’s undershirts bore a circle of bloodstains in the area of the right shoulder. On that very evening, Brother Modestino asked Padre Pio in prayer to enlighten him about the meaning of the bloodstained undershirt. He asked for a sign that Pio truly bore Christ’s shoulder wound. Brother Modestino woke up in the middle of that night with an excruciating pain in his shoulder, as if he had been sliced with a knife up to the shoulder bone. He felt that he would die from the pain if it continued, but it lasted only a short time. Then the room was filled with the aroma of a heavenly perfume —the sign of Padre Pio’s spiritual presence—and he heard a voice saying, “This is what I had to suffer!”
Consider this: Jesus allowed his feet to be pinned to the cross. He willingly surrendered his hands. And he allowed his side to be ripped open. But his shoulder that carried the crushing weight of the cross, that bruised and bloody shoulder which, according to John’s gospel, bore the weight of our sins without any help or relief, that shoulder remained available throughout his agony.
And today it is still available, to us and to all who need His consolation.
So, “Look there. In silence,” as Pope Francis suggests. Look and listen to the voice of Jesus inviting you to lean upon His shoulder and rest your head there and feel the love that enabled him to endure the excruciating pain from all the terrible wounds for the sake of us all.
To foster devotion to the Shoulder Wound of Christ, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux penned this prayer to the Shoulder Wound of Christ:
Most loving Jesus, meek Lamb of God,
I, a miserable sinner, salute and worship
the most Sacred Wound of Your shoulder, on which You bore
Your heavy Cross which so tore Your Flesh and laid bare
Your Bones so as to inflict on You an anguish greater than
any other wound. I adore You, O Jesus most sorrowful;
I praise and glorify You, and give You thanks for this most sacred
and painful Wound, beseeching You by that exceeding pain,
and by the crushing burden of Your heavy Cross,
to be merciful to me, a sinner, to forgive me
all my mortal and venial sins, and to lead me on
towards heaven along the Way of Your cross. Amen..'
Did you know that worrying works? 90% of the things you worry about never happen!
Before You Choke
The last time I saw my father alive, we were talking in his hospital room. He had been fighting cancer for many months and was nearing the end of the battle. Having led many Bible studies and given many talks in his life, he told me, “If God gives me one more opportunity to teach about His Word, I’m going to talk about what I call the 11th Commandment—’Thou Shalt not Worry.’” This was a favorite theme of Dad’s. He was a man of great faith and trust in the Lord, who loved to teach people about how to gain victory over worrying by trusting in God’s providence.
Well, the Lord called Dad home six weeks later, so he never gave that final talk, but I would like to share the gist of it here.
In the short passage from Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus tells us three times, “Do not worry.” He tells us not to worry about our life, nor about what we will eat or drink, nor about our body, what we will wear. “Indeed, your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things,” Jesus assures us.
Worry shows a lack of trust in God. However, worry is so much a part of our culture and society that we look on it as normal.
We think a woman is just being a good mother when she worries about her children. Or a person is a good business owner when he or she worries about their company or work. We do not see worry as disobedience. But it is.
The word “worry” comes from an old English term “wyrgan” which means to “choke” or “strangle.” That is what worry does to our faith. It chokes or strangles it. We begin by praying for someone—a child, a sick relative, a troubled marriage—and before we know it, we are distracted with worries, then fear grips us and our faith gets choked.
It is hard to pray or even think clearly when we are worried. If you have ever seen a garden overgrown with weeds, you’ve seen how those weeds strangle any flowers or vegetables that are trying to grow alongside them.
So how do we stop our tendency to worry? There are two good places to start attacking the bad habit of worrying.
First, plant the Word of God in your heart. Learn God’s promises and write them down. Read them again and again until the Word of God takes deep root in your soul. Philippians 4:6-7 is a good place to start: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Second, go before the Blessed Sacrament. Bring your troubles before the Lord and lay them at His feet. Admit your inability to fix things and ask Jesus to take over. A wise and holy man once told me, “People’s troubles often melt away when they are in Adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament. They don’t know how or why, but their troubles start getting taken care of when they Adore the Lord in the Eucharist.”
It’s All Going to Be Fine
A few months after Dad died, something occurred that made a deep impression on me and reminded me of his teaching about worry.
He had been a loyal Boston Red Sox fan for many years. During the 2003 baseball playoffs – the last ones he watched – the Red Sox lost to their arch-rivals, the New York Yankees, despite seeming to have a good chance of making it to the World Series. It was a bitter defeat for all Red Sox fans, including my dad.
A few months later, right before Dad died, my younger sister, also a huge Red Sox fan, told him, “Dad, when you get to Heaven, make sure the Red Sox will beat the Yankees this year!” He smiled.
After he died in 2004, we watched the Yankees and the Red Sox face each other again in the playoffs. I am not a sports fan, but I was following this season of baseball in memory of Dad. With great confidence, I told my friends who were loyal Red Sox fans, “The Red Sox are going to win this year.”
Then they proceeded to lose the first 3 games in a row! Things did not look good.
After that third loss, I was walking on the ranch where I live,; feeling sad, missing my dad and disappointed that his team was losing. One of my friends was upset at me for falsely getting his hopes up. As I was reflecting on all of this, I suddenly had a mental picture of my dad smiling widely and reassuringly, as he declared, “Ell, why are you worried? It’s all going to be fine.” I had heard Dad say words to that effect to Mom hundreds, if not thousands, of times, growing up. She was the worrier, but no matter how bleak things looked, my dad would counsel her not to worry, that God was going to work everything out. And time and time again, God came through in surprising ways.
Shockingly, the Red Sox went on to win the next four playoff games in a row—something that had never happened before in baseball history. Not only did they beat the Yankees, but they went on to win the World Series in a four-game sweep, ending the 86-year-drought since their last World Series win in 1918.
Through this relatively unimportant sports victory, I knew Dad was focusing me on something much bigger. He was reminding me of his favorite theme: Do not worry! Trust in God. Things are going to work out…even when it seems impossible.
Life brings problems — big and small. But no matter what problems you are facing right now— financial difficulties, health issues, stressful relationships—remember that your Heavenly Father knows what you need and delights in taking care of you. Leave the worrying aside and give Him room to work. “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).'
Did God the Father possibly desire the death of His Son in order to draw good out of it?
Ally of the Virus!
While he was painting frescoes in Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, the artist, James Thornhill became so excited about his fresco that he stepped back to see it better, unaware that he was about to fall over the edge of the scaffolding. His horrified assistant understood that crying out to him would only hasten the disaster. Without thinking twice, he dipped a brush in paint and hurled it at the middle of the fresco. Appalled, the master sprang forward. His work was damaged, but his life was saved.
God does this with us sometimes. He disrupts our peace and our projects to save us from the abyss in front of us. But we need to be careful not to be deceived. God is not the one who hurled the brush at the sparkling fresco of our technological society. God is our ally, not the ally of the virus! He himself says in the Bible, “I have…plans for your welfare and not for woe” (Jeremiah 29:11). If these scourges were punishments from God, they would not strike the good and the bad equally. Nor would the poor suffer the worst consequences. Are they worst sinners? No!
Jesus, the one who wept after the death of His friend, Lazarus, grieves with us today for the scourge that has befallen humanity. Yes, God “suffers”, like every parent when their child is afflicted. When we learn this one day, we will be ashamed of all the accusations we made against Him in life. God participates in our pain to overcome it. “Being supremely good”— wrote Saint Augustine—“God would not allow any evil in His works, unless in his omnipotence and goodness, he is able to bring forth good out of evil.”
Did God the Father possibly desire the death of His Son in order to draw good out of it? No, he simply permitted human freedom to take its course. However, He made it serve a greater purpose for the benefit of all human beings. This is also the case for natural disasters like earthquakes and plagues. He does not bring them about. He has given nature a kind of freedom as well, qualitatively different than that of human beings, but still a form of freedom. He did not create a world as a programmed clock whose movements could all be anticipated. It is what some call “chance” but the Bible calls instead “the wisdom of God.”
Does God perhaps like to be petitioned so that He can grant His benefits? Can our prayer perhaps make God change his plans? No, but there are things that God has decided to grant us as the fruit of both His grace and our prayer. It is as if He shares with His creatures the credit for the benefit received. God is the one who prompts us to do it: “Seek and you will find,” Jesus said; “knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).
When the Israelites were bitten by poisonous serpents in the desert, God commanded Moses to lift up a serpent of bronze on a pole. Whoever looked at it would not die. Jesus appropriated this symbol to Himself when he told Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). At this moment, we have also been bitten by an invisible, poisonous “serpent.” Let us gaze upon the one who was “lifted up” for us on the Cross. Let us adore Him on behalf of ourselves and of the whole human race. The one who looks on Him with faith does not die. And eternal life is promised to the person of faith when death does come.'