The former things have passed away… Behold, I make all things new (Rev. 21:4-5)

Archive for July, 2012

What Is in Your Heart?

The heart has always been the chief concern of God, for it is the center of our being, and it manifests our true self more than any outward actions.  We might praise Him with our mouths, but it may be that our hearts are far from Him (Mt. 15:7-8).  We might refrain from committing adultery with our bodies, but it is still possible to commit adultery in our hearts (Mt. 5:27-28).

The Bible says that God knows our hearts, knows what makes us tick, knows our sorrows and sufferings, capacities and incapacities. The fact that God knows our hearts is, however, a two-sided coin, as the Scriptures reveal. Let’s take a look first at what we might call the negative (though still salutary) side of this divine knowledge of our innermost selves.

God knows our bad will, our secret sin, whatever darkness or duplicity there may be within us and, to use a phrase of St John of Kronstadt, whatever “unrighteous movements of the heart” He may find as well. In one of his stern rebukes to the Pharisees, Jesus said: “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). So the fact that God knows our hearts means that we cannot hide anything from Him. We cannot pull the wool over his eyes: “You have kept…our hidden sins under the light of your scrutiny” (Psalm 90:8). Nor can we appease Him with merely external acts or rituals when we are unreconciled to Him within. His harshest criticisms were leveled at those who presented a righteous exterior but who were interiorly corrupt: “You outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matthew 23:28).

On the other hand, we find consolation in God’s thorough knowledge of us, because we can “reassure our hearts before Him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts and He knows everything” (1John 3:19-20). Often we don’t even know what is in our own hearts, and our inner life is in turmoil or confusion. After lamenting the inexplicable dark mystery of the human heart—“the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt”—Jeremiah cried out: “Who can understand it?” But God immediately replied: “I, the Lord, search the mind and try the heart” (Jer. 17:9-10). We are not stuck forever with the limitations and defects of our hearts, if we confidently entrust them to Him Who Is Greater Than Our Hearts. They may need a lot of healing, a lot of changing, but we can still rest in his providence and mercy.

Rare is the heart that is either all good or all bad. St Marcarius, the author of the famous Spiritual Homilies, tells us that both the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil can exist in the same heart: “Within the heart is an unfathomable depth. There are reception rooms and bedchambers in it, doors and porches, and many offices and passages. In it is the workshop of righteousness and of wickedness. In it is death, in it is life…. The heart is Christ’s palace…There Christ the King comes to take His rest, with the angels and the spirits of the saints, and He dwells there, walking within it and placing His kingdom there… The heart is but a small vessel; and yet dragons and lions are there, and there likewise are poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness; rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. There also is God, there are the angels, there life and the Kingdom, there light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace: all things are there” (Spiritual Homilies 15:32-33 and 43:7).

All things are there, but not all things are supposed to be there.  The main work of the interior life is the purification of the heart, through prayer and self-denial, through the sacraments and meditation on the word of God, preparing its joyful reception into the Kingdom of Heaven.  Through divine power and the intercession of Our Lady and the saints and angels, coupled with our own unceasing vigilance and adherence to the truth and love of God, the dragons and lions and poisonous creatures must be driven out of every dark corner of our hearts—lest we fall prey to them.  So the Apostle exhorts us (this is prescribed reading, by the way, every night at Compline, in the Latin tradition): “Be sober; be watchful.  Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith” (1Peter 5:8-9).

It may take a long time before we discover what is really in our hearts, but it behooves us to be about this business as diligently and consistently as possible. We need to keep lifting up our hearts into the presence of God, that the Light of his Face will shine upon them to reveal both the good and the bad, and to guide us in cultivating the former and cutting out the latter.  This work is not easy, as Alexandr Solzhenitsyn trenchantly remarked: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Let us pray and labor for a pure heart, with which we can see God (Mt. 5:8).  He can make all things new within us, preserving our hearts in his grace and thus despoiling the devil of what he arrogantly claims as his own.  Ask Our Lady to walk the labyrinthine corridors of your heart, crushing serpents as she goes.  Only make sure to remain on the side of God’s righteousness and truth and holiness, for the adversary will continue to prowl, looking for a chink in the “armor of God.”  The human heart may be impossible to understand fully, but it is still within the power of our free will to offer it to God for cleansing, healing, enlightening, and sanctification.  And we can still consecrate our battered little hearts to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, that ours may rest in theirs, taking comfort and strength as we are invited to share in the continuous exchange of love between the King and Queen of Heaven. For love covers a multitude of sins and restores our hearts to their long-lost likeness to God.

To Love is to Give

I had some notes written for a potential blog post way back in September, after the Sunday before the feast of the Holy Cross, which is already approaching again.  So it’s high time I try to say something about it.

The Gospel contains the passage which is known to anyone who knows any passage of the Gospel at all: “For God so loved the world that He sent his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Now I don’t mean to give yet another commentary on that passage, but I quote it here because it also turns up in the anaphora (Eucharistic prayer) of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom.  It is that to which I now turn, to reflect on the love of God expressed in the giving of his Son.  The text reads:

“With these blessed powers, O Master, Who love mankind, we too cry out and say: Holy are You—truly, all holy—You and Your only-begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit. Holy are You—truly, all holy—and magnificent is Your glory. You so loved Your world that You gave Your only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life. After He had come and fulfilled the whole divine plan for our sake, on the night He was given over—or rather, gave Himself for the life of the world—He took bread into His holy, most pure, and immaculate hands, gave thanks, blessed, sanctified and broke it. He gave it to His holy disciples and apostles, saying…” [immediately come the words of institution of the Holy Eucharist]

The “blessed powers” mentioned in the beginning are the angels.  This refers to the “Holy, holy, holy…” which was sung immediately before this.  But what I want to reflect on here is the mystery of giving, of sacrificial giving, which is the essence of love.  To love is to give, and nowhere is this more powerfully manifest than in the Father’s giving of his Son for our salvation, for He so loved the world.

It could hardly be clearer as we read that God so loved the world that He gave his Son.  He loved, so He gave.  And this giving came at a great cost: the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As in many great musical pieces, there comes a dissonance in this prayer that is quickly resolved.  For we learn of a certain “giving” that has nothing to do with love: the “giving over” of Jesus to death by his betrayer.  This was not an act of love but evidently a combination of avarice, cowardice, ambition, and perhaps a bit of misguided zeal intended to force Jesus to use his power against the oppressors of the Jews.  This dissonance is resolved as the liturgical text “corrects” itself: “on the night He was given over—or rather, gave Himself for the life of the world…”  So what was on one level a callous betrayal (the “giving over”) was transformed by the Lord into an act of the most profound love (He “gave Himself”).  This is in perfect harmony with something Jesus said as He was predicting his Passion: “I lay down my life for the sheep… No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (Jn. 10:15, 18).

So the greatest act of love ever made was the giving of the Son.  The Father gave the Son—incarnate in the womb of Mary, and then sacrificed on the Cross—and Jesus gave Himself.  This double and simultaneous giving—the Father giving Jesus, and Jesus giving Himself—found the response of all humanity in the Heart of Mary.  She represented us when she said “yes” to God for the incarnation of the Son, and she offered Jesus to the Father on our behalf when she stood suffering with Him on Golgotha.  Thus God’s divine love was met by the human love of Mary, representing us as a whole, even though many individual persons may not have loved God in return.

There is another most precious giving, one that expresses the love of the Lord in a unique and most intimate way, which mystically manifested the gift of our Redemption at the Last Supper and which makes perpetually present Him who said, “I am with you always.”  So, on that night, before He gave Himself on the Cross, Jesus took bread, gave thanks—another giving, an offering of gratitude for all that Father would do through Him for his beloved people—blessed the bread, broke and sanctified it, and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take, eat; this is my body…”

The love which was manifested in God giving his Son to us as man in the incarnation, and in God giving his Son to us as the atoning sacrifice that would re-open the gates of paradise for all who would embrace Him through faith and baptism—this same love was manifested as Jesus gave Himself as spiritual food and drink to his disciples of all times and places.  This most precious Gift is often called the Sacrament of Love, for it contains the essence of the sacrificial love of the Lord.  Jesus’ Body and Blood are the fruits of our redemption, and blessed are those who are called to this mystical anticipation of the heavenly wedding feast of the Lamb.

God gave his Son; Jesus gave Himself; He gave thanks as He gave his disciples bread and wine and transformed them into his sacrificed Body and Blood.  There is no greater love than this.

One of the egregious failures in our mostly self-centered society is that people have forgotten that to love is to give.  When you love someone, it is not supposed to be for your own self-fulfillment, pleasure, or happiness, though these may be among the fruits of love, but they must not be what are primarily sought.  You love for the sake of the fulfillment, pleasure, and happiness of the other, and so you are concerned to give and not merely to receive.  Jesus Himself said (quoted by Paul, though not found in the Gospels): “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

The last couple of generations have evidently been brought up to seek only what pleases themselves, to “love” only insofar as one finds it fulfilling, pleasurable, or otherwise beneficial to oneself.  So we have skyrocketing divorce rates, the refusal of children through abortion and artificial contraception, the getting rid of burdensome elders through euthanasia.  No one wants to give, no one wants to understand love as sacrifice, and so we seem to be entering into that prophesied age when “the love of most will grow cold” (Mt. 24:12).  Everyone wants to be happy, but they don’t mind if it is at another’s expense.  Everyone talks about love, but all too often it is nothing more than sin and selfishness.

If we want to learn about love, let us look to what God has done for us, to what Jesus has done for us—and still does through his abiding presence in the sacraments and in the depths of our souls.  Let us look to the example of Our Lady and the Saints, and seek their help in learning how to love in a manner that pleases God.  If we love God we will seek to please Him, even to the point of sacrifice.  Jesus said that the one who loves Him is the one who keeps his commandments (Jn. 14:15, 21), not the one who merely seeks benefits for himself.

“Let us then love one another, for love is of God… He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest… that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins… If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another… this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments… let us love, not [merely] in word or in speech, but in deed and in truth” (1Jn. 4:7-11; 5:3; 3:18).

Wake Up! Be Converted!

[This is a homily I wrote some years ago for the auspicious occasion of the "sixth Sunday after Pentecost." There are a few things in here which you perhaps would like (or need) to see...]

The first thing that we see in the story of the healing of the paralytic [Mt 9:1-8], the first thing that we are confronted with, is sin: the sins of the paralytic, which Jesus immediately forgave.  You would think after such a wonderful thing happened—that this man’s sins were instantly forgiven—that the crowd at that point (instead of after the healing, at the end) would have given praise to God for what He was doing in their midst.  Rather than giving praise, the scribes, at least, accused Him of blasphemy—or they accused Him in their hearts of blasphemy.  But Jesus, the reader of hearts, immediately picked that up and then asked them a question: “Why do you think evil in your hearts?”

Now, when questions are asked of somebody in the gospel, we should realize that questions are asked of us.   We’re not really concerned about Pharisees who have been dead for 2,000 years and what was in their hearts.  But the Word of God is asking us, today, to look at ourselves and see if there’s evil in our hearts—and, if there is, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?”  Why do you, like the Pharisees, judge something, when you don’t have all the facts?  The Pharisees certainly thought they were in the right, the way that they always did: by external appearances, and by their own prejudices and presuppositions.  “Why do you judge?  Why do you think evil in your hearts?”   Jesus was doing the work and the will of God in their midst, doing wondrous things, and they said, “No; you’re blaspheming.”

Well, this has been going on since before Christ, and ever since Christ people have been doing the same things, but He calls us not to be like that.  So that’s the first thing that we have to do, examine ourselves.  If we think evil in our hearts of somebody, or of anything—especially when we don’t really know what we’re talking about—we have to repent of that, and listen to that gentle question and reproach of the Lord, and respond in the right way.

Now, going back to what He started with:  “Your sins are forgiven.”  People in the world criticize Christianity for many things; one of them is that there is too much focus on sin and all the bad stuff.  A lot of Christians—even in the Church these days—don’t like to hear about that.  They don’t like to hear that part of the Gospel, to recognize that we are sinners and that we have to repent of our sins if we expect to find salvation.

Both the Old and the New Testaments would probably be about half the size they are now, if you were to cut out all the references to sin.  That’s because it’s the existential situation of mankind; that’s why the Son of Man, the Son of God, had to come into the world: to take away the sins of the world, and to suffer and to sacrifice Himself so that sins might be forgiven.  That comes up in many places in the Gospel.  St. John pointed Him out as the Lamb of God—who does what?   Who takes away the sins of the world.  When Jesus was going to his Passion, He said, “I’m giving my body and my blood for you, broken and poured out…”—why?  “…for the forgiveness of sins.”  This was an important part of Jesus’ preaching, which eventually led to his death; and He said very explicitly, in John, “The world hates Me.”   You know why?  “Because I testify to it that what it does is evil.”  You can’t really get more clear than that, and pretty soon He was on the Cross.

Jesus and his preaching, and his focus on uprooting and forgiving sin, put him in the camp of those annoying preachers that Bishop Oscar Romero wrote about when he said, “A preaching that does not point out sin is not the preaching of the Gospel.  A preaching that makes sinners feel good, allowing them to stay in their sin, betrays the Gospel’s call.  But a preaching that awakens, a preaching that enlightens, as when a light turned on awakens—and of course, annoys—the sleeper, that is the preaching of Christ, calling:  ‘Wake up!  Be converted!’”  This is Jesus’ mission in the world, and we see it, over and over, in the Gospels.

Now, this “Wake up! Be converted!”—that call to a soul in sin—is kind of the same thing as are the words, “Get up and walk!”  to a body in paralysis.   Jesus says to the man who is physically sick, “Get up and walk!” and he walked.  And He also said, in effect, in Romero’s words, “Wake up and be converted!” and so his soul also got up, through the forgiveness of his sins.   We’re called to wake up and be converted, to get up and walk.

What does it mean to walk, and how do we walk?   “To walk,” in Biblical idiom, is to live; the manner of your life is how you walk.  St. Paul says that when we’re baptized, we’re given the grace “to walk in newness of life,” and so he exhorts us “to walk by the Spirit, and not by the flesh.”  And we’re told, in other places, “to walk in the Light.”  St. Paul also reminds us of “the sins in which you once walked.”  That’s a common term in the Scriptures: how you live is how you “walk.”

In the epistle reading today [Rom. 12:6-14], St. Paul gives us some instructions on how to “walk.”  Once we recognize our sin, and repent of our sin, and get the wake-up call to rise and walk—then what?  Then we have to know how to walk! The Apostle speaks of a way of walking in the Spirit that is meant for everybody.  He starts with the bottom line: “Let love be genuine.”   Everyone is called to that, and that’s where we start.  After that, he explains what it means, though it doesn’t come across so well in the English prose, but in the Greek it’s almost a little poem or rhyme, mostly given in participles: it’s something like an action that you’re supposed to be doing all the time, an ongoing thing.   So this is your “walking in Christ”—it goes like this:

In zeal, not slothful:
In spirit, burning; the Lord, serving.
In hope, rejoicing; in affliction, enduring.
In prayer, steadfastly continuing.

That’s the way we “walk in Christ.”

Finally, he says, “Bless!   Bless your persecutors, and don’t curse them!”  He says it in several ways; in the next few verses he goes in and out of the same theme:  “Bless those who persecute you.  Bless, and do not curse them.  Repay no one evil for evil, and overcome evil by good…” but then he says, “…as far as it depends on you,” because there may be enemies or evil-doers or people who hate us who are just going to go on hating us, and we may not be able to find reconciliation in this life, but we have to be, in our hearts, willing to forgive.

We cannot return evil for evil—but that does not mean to welcome evil into your life, either.  If someone who hates you and who is intent on destroying you comes to your door, you’re not required by Christian charity to open your door and say, “Oh yes. Please do come in and destroy my home and my family.”  We’re not required to do that.  We can keep enemies “at arm’s length.”  But pray for them!  Pray for their salvation and conversion, and do not have the same evil attitude towards them as they have towards you: our ways have to be different than the ways of the world.

So, this is the call to “get up and walk.”  As Oscar Romero said: “A preaching that does not point out sin is not the preaching of the Gospel.”  Now, “pointing out sin” does not mean just picking on everybody else’s faults that you don’t like!  That’s not the evangelical pointing out of sin.  It’s mainly for things that are public evils, which are threatening to disrupt the Christian and human society.  We see today that there are many people, even leaders in this country, who are promoting public evils.  If you see someone or hear of someone publicly promoting abortion, homosexual activity, and several other “hot” issues right now (moral issues that have become political ones), you have to say, “This is wrong!  This is against the Gospel!”

You might have to suffer for that.  I read that a pastor in Sweden was actually jailed because he dared, from his own pulpit, to say that homosexual activity is a sin.  And because he said it was a sin, he was thrown in jail for a month.  You know, this is the beginning of some hard times in this world, I think, but too bad: we have to “preach the Gospel, in season and out.”  But we also have to realize that we don’t return evil for evil, but pray for their repentance and salvation.

And so today, now, as we come to Holy Communion, listen for those words of Christ, for those words both of forgiveness and of the calling to get up and walk, to wake up and be converted, to change your life—not just to receive forgiveness once and then fall back into your old paralysis, but to get up and start walking in newness of life.

It’s an important thing that happens at Communion: Jesus Christ Himself is coming into us now.  He is coming into our body, soul, and spirit, into our consciousness and unconsciousness.  Like the word of God, mentioned in the Letter to the Hebrews, He goes right down to the joints and marrow of our bones, like a sword, cutting through and discerning the intentions of the heart and soul.  He’s in us, and radiating through us, filling us, sanctifying us, giving us Himself, and giving us that call to rise and live the new life.  So let us approach Him with great love, with passion.  Let this moment of Communion be your passion for Christ, because his Passion made it possible for you to receive Him.  Let us be passionate for Him, listen to his word as He calls us, as He so often does in the Scriptures:  “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” Then receive his Body and Blood. Wake up, be converted; get up and walk!

God and god

I received an email recently from someone I know and love, with this disturbing information: “Something you may not know about me is that I have much experience in helping souls who are stuck for whatever reason in that dimensional space, the astral planes above the Earth.  I started this quite some time ago when I embarked on my own spiritual journey of healing and growth.  I found that it came somewhat natural to me and since have learned that during dreamstate I work with the souls on their turf in the astral planes.  Like a shaman or soul rescuer.  So I move in between worlds helping souls to heal so that they may move on to the higher spirit realms where they are meant to go… I trust 100% in my spiritual mentors and guides and all the loving Beings of the Light to assist me in this lovework…”

She used to be a practicing Catholic; I’m not sure what she is now. I guess some sort of an astral-plane dreamstate-shaman soul-rescuer who moves in between worlds and helps souls move on to higher spirit realms.  It would have been much better if she had remained a practicing Catholic and didn’t decide to start trusting in demons disguised as “Beings of Light” (see 2Cor. 11:14).  This sad (and dangerous) state of affairs is unfortunately not uncommon.  Such New Age nonsense tends to appeal to people who do not wish to be accountable for their actions and hence do not believe there is such a thing as sin and hence do not believe that they need a Savior to atone for their sins.  There’s no place for the Cross in this happy and light-bearing spirituality (remember that “Lucifer” means “light-bearer”).  So they think they are moving on to higher spirit realms, when in fact they are drawing ever closer to the infernal abyss, to which they will be introduced by their “guides” who are finally unmasked, but all too late.

She recommended a book, one of a popular series of “channeled” messages from “God” (henceforth “god,” in the interests of truth), by the charlatan—OK, let’s be charitable, the unwittingly deceived and deluded author—Neale Donald Walsch.  This one is called Home with God.  I found a site that reproduces the whole thing (probably to the chagrin of the author and the interest of his attorneys), so I thought I’d just present a few sample passages here, so you know what god is saying to those who would become evolved spiritual beings:

“Let us be clear. Hell does not exist. There simply is no such place. Therefore, there is no such place for you to go… There is no suffering of any kind in the Afterlife.

“There is no such thing as THE truth. We’ve already gone over that. Let it be enough that you get in touch with YOUR truth.

“There is no such thing as “good” and “bad.” They do not exist in Ultimate Reality. Good and bad are judgments made in the mind.

“You do not have to be “ordained” to be a minister in the world. God has ordained you by virtue of your being alive.

“No one religion and no one teaching is more “right” than another.

[Here’s a little dialogue exemplifying the “divine” doubletalk that characterizes the book]:

–That was a wonderful reply [which the author wrote to a friend]. I am sure that Sheila found it very, very comforting.

–Yes, but was it true? Or am I just making it all up?

–Yes.

–Yes, what?

–Yes to both questions. It is true because you are making it all up. You may have it any way that you wish.

–You keep telling me that, and I keep wanting to have it be a certain way because that’s the way it really is.

–But that is the way it really is. That is the way it “really is” because you keep creating it that way. If you wish to create it another way, it will be another way. This can be said, incidentally, about the whole of your life, on earth as it is in heaven…

Such passages are obvious hogwash to any Christian, or even any intelligent person.  Some other passages are more subtle and will probably appeal to those who are looking to find a reason to deny that God will judge us for our actions, and to those who are quite content to create reality any way they wish, so they can include all their sinful pleasures and console themselves that there is no such thing as good or bad. So there are no objective standards for morality or even truth itself.  Hey, everything is what you want it to be, you are the creator of your own reality, your own truth. If it feels good, do it, if it smells good, eat it; you can be your own god!

The combination in this book of half-truths, subtle and seductive reasonings, “enlightened” re-interpretations of the Bible and Christian faith and morality, along with outright lies, bears the clear signature of satan and the ever-helpful “guides” he offers to take us to new realms of the (evil) spirit.  The devil is still taking it hard that he couldn’t be a god and that St Michael threw him out of Heaven, so now he gets to be a best-selling co-author—and to his sinister, sneering delight, many people now believe that he is in fact God!  St Paul does sort of give the devil the nod by calling him “the god of this world,”  though only to denounce him as the one who has “blinded the minds” of gullible people “to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ…” (2Cor. 4:4).  The devil is the “god” to whom the channelers listen and by whom they are blissfully deceived.

I’ve written here in a sort of tongue-in-cheek style, but the issue is dead serious.  People are placing their immortal souls in danger by buying into all this new-age pseudo-spirituality, thinking they have transcended the taboos and commandments of outdated religion.  Somehow it’s not enough that God sent his only-begotten Son to die for us to take away our sins and make it possible for us to enjoy eternal life in Heaven.  Evidently God made a big mistake and Jesus died for nothing, because we have no sin in the first place.  Poor God! He should have waited until all these good books were published, so He could have learned something and spared his Son a whole lot of trouble!

We need to fight the good fight, and pray that the true God will unmask the demon guides who pose as beings of light, drawing unsuspecting people toward eternal darkness and misery.  Let us invite the holy angels into this fight, for it is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual hosts of wickedness (see Eph. 6:12) in the upper regions, or shall we say, in the “astral planes.”

I’m tired of seeing people fall for this cheap deception, especially since the consequences are so dire, but they are very hard to talk to, because you see, all I’m saying to them is my truth, which is very fine for me, but they are living by their truth, which they have created just for themselves, and which makes them very happy.  They really do not wish to know what is true and what is not, what is right and what is wrong (“god” has instructed them to dismiss these matters, anyway); they just want pleasant spiritual experiences.

I must confess, though, that I am going to follow one of the counsels of “god,” which I was a little surprised to find there, but which just confirms the confusion of the chaotic counsels of the rest of the book.  Here it is: “Don’t believe a single thing I say…”

Let’s get the holy angels to unmask and rout the demons, so that people may be turned to God and away from the devil who likes to call himself “god” and deceive unsuspecting and undiscerning souls. I recently came across this prayer to Our Lady, which was given from Heaven in the 19th century to Fr Louis Eduard Cestac, the founder of a religious order:

“O sublime Queen of Heaven, exalted Lady of the Angels, thou hast the power and the commission given by God to crush the head of satan.  Therefore we humbly beseech thee, send to our aid thy heavenly legions, so that, under thy command and by thy power, they may pursue the hellish spirits, fight them everywhere, ward off their impudent attacks, and fling them back into the abyss.

“Who is like God?  You holy Angels and Archangels, defend and protect us!

“Good, kind Mother, you remain always our love and our hope!  O Mother of God, send us the Holy Angels to defend us and keep the evil one far from us. Amen.”

A Sign of Hope

A little while back I helped lead a day of recollection with Fr Vito, the superior of the Contemplatives of St Joseph, where I’m living out my vocation now, in hopes of getting permanently established eventually.  This is one of the elements of my new vocation. We live the contemplative life for most of the week, but then on weekends we do some active ministry like retreats, talks, even helping out occasionally at local parishes.  I haven’t done much of that yet, but it won’t be long, I think.

I hear from people, and read about things here and there, that there still are a lot of discouraging things happening in various parishes, where the pastors and/or the people still don’t seem to get it about “acceptable worship, with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28), which is what our liturgies are supposed to manifest and communicate.  I was concelebrating a Mass a couple weeks ago, and while people went up to receive the Body and Blood of the Son of the living God, a jazz guitarist was making the church sound something like an upscale nightclub.

But my hope was revived after doing the day of recollection at a Catholic nursing home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor in San Francisco (they only hosted the event; it was not for the residents, though we did manage to talk with a few of them—one of whom had spent almost 30 years in a prison camp in China because of her Christian faith).  It was for about 100 members of the Legion of Mary, who are very good, devout people, who love God and the Blessed Mother, and who also love to pray and worship according to the beautiful traditions of the Church.  Aside from the talks we gave, we celebrated Mass, the priests heard confessions while others went to the grotto to pray the Rosary, and we concluded with Benediction and more prayers.  The spirit was very good, the people were open and interested, fervent in their prayers and sincere in their repentance.

It was a lovely day, and the confessions were heard outdoors near the grotto.  The sky was clear, the light breeze refreshing, carrying the scents of flowers gently by.  The people came up one by one to receive the mercy of the Lord, the cleansing of their sins, so that their souls could breath the freshness of divine grace once again, and the air seemed that much sweeter with each absolution.

The closing benediction with the Blessed Sacrament was especially powerful.  Christ was sacramentally in our midst, enshrined in a beautiful monstrance, and all were singing his praises in worshipful tones, some hymns in Latin, some in English.  I intoned the Divine Praises, one by one, and the people repeated my words:

Blessed be God.
Blessed be His Holy Name.
Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true man.
Blessed be the name of Jesus.
Blessed be His Most Sacred Heart.
Blessed be Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Blessed be the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.
Blessed be the great Mother of God, Mary most holy.
Blessed be her holy and Immaculate Conception.
Blessed be her glorious Assumption.
Blessed be the name of Mary, Virgin and Mother.
Blessed be Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse.
Blessed be God in His angels and in His Saints.

I felt I was at the heart of the Church, touching the essence of what it means to believe in the Lord, to love Him and to worship Him.  There was a spiritual Presence and Power there, veiled, but just barely, waiting to be manifested as light and glory, calling us all to “take hold of the life which is life indeed” (1Tim. 6:19).  This was all the more poignant as that weekend happened to be “gay pride weekend” in San Francisco, so the city, while apparently full of color and laughter, was in fact shrouded in spiritual darkness and oppression as sin and perversion were glorified as the gods of a society that has largely rejected the truth.  We, however, felt safe in this little temple of the Lord, and we went forth with new courage and grace and joy.  For, as I mentioned in a previous post, the words of the Scripture became all the more clear to us, that “godliness is more powerful than anything” (Wis. 10:12).

Some of the Legion of Mary people wanted us to come for future events as well, for it was hard for them to find priests: both because there aren’t so many available and because some of them aren’t interested in the traditions and devotions of the Catholic Church (go figure!).  Some are quite disparaging about the piety of the faithful, and they refuse even to hold certain services in their churches (like the Divine Mercy devotion).  They ought to read what the Bible says about those who scandalize (literally, place stumbling blocks before) the little ones!  They think they will be rewarded for their “sophisticated” and secularized ideas of what the Church should be, but they will given millstones as necklaces instead!

Despite the bad stuff, there’s good stuff, and the good will triumph in the end.  But we still need more people to keep the Faith, to live from the heart of the Gospel and the Church, to live from the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, to stand firm against the storms from Hell that threaten not only the Church but the whole of society as well.  Our houses must be built on Rock.  Christ has promised that Hell will not prevail over his Church—and when you offer the Divine Praises before the Blessed Sacrament, when you receive forgiveness of sins and the Bread from Heaven, when you invoke the prayers and protection of the Mother of God, when you see deep faith and love in the eyes and hearts of the simple, devout believers, you know that the Lord’s promise is true.

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