Inspiration

Turning to Mary in Times of Crisis

It’s easy to long for those childhood moments when we could turn to our mothers for comfort and strength, no matter what challenge we might be facing.

The good news is that we still can. Our Lady is with us even as we move through this particularly difficult time here in the United States, where next week’s election will determine the course the country will take, while at the same time we experience so much death and devastation as the coronavirus continues to spread through our communities.

Throughout Church history, popes have formally consecrated the world and nations to the Blessed Mother during other times of great distress.

This spring, Pope Francis went to the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome to pray before the icon of Mary, Salvation/Health of the Roman People housed in the Pauline Chapel of the Basilica. Following the pope’s example, numerous leaders around the world have entrusted their nations to Our Lady, including the United States, whose bishops reconsecrated the country to her on May 1.

The witness of the pope and Church leaders is clear: Mary is both the Mother of the Church and the Mother of all people. Even people with whom we disagree.

Fr. Greg Cleveland’s new book, Beholding Beauty: Mary in the Song of Songs, arrives just in time to assure us of the great love God shows us through the Mother he’s given to us all—Our Lady. She is clearly the Mother we can turn to with our fears and pain. At the same time, as divisions strike at the heart of our nation, she offers us a gracious example of how to live with others, even in times of crisis. Fr. Cleveland writes,

The favor of God often takes the form of mercy in our relations with others. We are called to imitate our Father, who “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Mt 5:45). We have many opportunities to offer forgiveness “seventy times seven” to those we love, as well as to those we might consider enemies. We experience something of God’s unconditional love toward us when we love others despite their faults and the ways they have hurt us. As we consider our own sinfulness and how the Lord has forgiven us so much, we find ourselves in solidarity with our neighbors who are sinners. Since Mary was without sin, she must have been extra sensitive to sin in others and to the hurt it caused. Yet she must have also been more compassionate in her response to sinners. As full of grace, she no doubt allowed God’s forgiveness to flow upon others, even the many who must have judged her for being pregnant before she lived with Joseph. Mary refused to go down the path of judging others in return, most likely returning a blessing instead (see 1 Pet 3:9).

In a 15th-century prayer called the Lament of Mary, Mary’s invitation to  “come weep with me” gives us permission to collectively grieve and turn to her in our time of need. Her enduring love and presence are an invitation to pray for those suffering from the virus, for those who are most vulnerable, especially our elderly community, for all essential workers risking everything for others, for those who have lost livelihoods and homes and food security. The history of most shrines throughout the world gives testimony to Mary’s special love for the insignificant ones, and even as we reconsecrate ourselves to her, we must share in her concerns.

Everyone knows the deep love St. John Paul II had for Mary. “In this grave hour, which gives rise to trepidation,” he writes, “we cannot do other than turn our mind with filial devotion to the Virgin Mary, who always lives and acts as a Mother in the mystery of Christ, and repeat the words Totus tuus (all thine).”

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

Photo Credit: Sinopsis Films

Christmas, Inspiration

Rejoice, for Emmanuel Comes!

This has been a year completely unlike any other year, hasn’t it? And it’s easy to react by feeling mentally, emotionally, and especially spiritually unmoored. Many of us have faced long months without being able to attend Mass or receive the sacraments. We have experienced doubt, loss, grief, and pain. And yet there is a light, shining brighter and coming closer, if only we can have the eyes to see it.

Our Church very wisely starts the liturgical year with Advent, the expectation of the coming of Our Lord, the beginning of new things: nothing less, in fact, than the salvation of humanity. And perhaps that’s the way to see Advent in this very difficult year: as a reset of sorts, a recommitment to our faith in Christ. If what we’ve experienced so far is about coming unmoored, then Advent and Christmas are here to moor us again. To help us reconnect, in the midst of confusion, with that which is never confused.

How can we do that?

We can, because we believe God is faithful. In this difficult year, despite all the signs to the contrary, we believe there is a point, and meaning, and purpose to our existence. We believe that despite the horrendous mess humanity manages to make, of the world and of itself, God loves and forgives—and even provides us the means to repair the chaos we have made.

God loves us so much he’s willing to offer us a way out of our selfishness, our violence, our lack of charity. That way out begins in a stable in a small insignificant town, on a night unlike any other night, a night of angelic ecstasy and unexpected visitors, a night when the stars dance with the One Star over the birthplace and the world for one holy moment catches its breath.

In response, we must rejoice. We are called to rejoice. To lift our exhausted gazes from the trauma of this year and breathe in the love of God.

I’m hearing from so many people that Christmas won’t be the same this time around; some even feel there’s no use in celebrating. And it’s true: this will be a different Christmas than others we’ve experienced. We cannot be with our beloved friends and relatives. We even have to order gifts early, as the post office is struggling. For many of us, this is our first Christmas after losing someone we love. That is all true.

But what a narrow view that reality gives us of Christmas, the Mass of Christ, the acknowledgment that centuries of waiting came miraculously together on that starlit night in that poor borrowed space! Emmanuel is here, God-among-us, to tell the real truth of this year: that despite sickness and unemployment, wildfires and hurricanes, even death and grief, God is here with us. He is beside us at the Zoom memorial service. He is beside us as we shutter a shop for the last time. He is beside us no matter what this year has brought; even on the worst days of our lives, he is with us.

We know that he is with us because of what started with an angel’s voice telling a young woman to rejoice. We know that he is with us because of her difficult journey to that nondescript town and the birth—surrounded by tired working animals and rough exhausted shepherds—that preceded the rest of our story of salvation.

Most of the Hebrew prophets brought God’s word to the people; Habakkuk, on the other hand, brought the people’s laments to God. He spoke of injustice, of misery, of evil, of tragedy; and yet his conclusion is clear: “yet,” he says, “I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.”

What he only knew was coming, we have experienced: Emmanuel, God-among-us. Through Emmanuel, we have become children of God. Through Emmanuel, we shall be part of the kingdom. Through Emmanuel, life has conquered death.

This is the start. The start of the new year. The start of the story that ends, not on the cross, but with Christ triumphant. That birth, that death, that resurrection are all for us, because God loved us so much he gave us something better than health, or riches, or careers, or even family: he gave us eternal life.

There is nothing greater than that gift, and to say it’s barely worth celebrating because we are hurt and confused and lonely is to deny it. We are called to rejoice. No matter what our circumstances, we are called to rejoice. No matter what our challenges, we are called to rejoice. To let the magic of that star-drenched night seep into our skin and our hearts and our souls. To prepare for it with hope and light and awe.

Rejoice, for Emmanuel comes!

By Jeannette de Beauvoir

Photo by Filip Bunkens on Unsplash

Inspiration

Pope Francis’ new Encyclical: A bold desire for us to achieve great things together

This Saturday, October 3, in Assisi, Pope Francis signed on the altar before the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi a landmark encyclical of hope for our times: On Fraternity and Social Friendship. “Fratelli Tutti,” the encyclical’s opening words, means “All brothers” in Italian. The phrase is taken from the writings of St. Francis, one of the major inspirations for the document.

The bishop of Assisi Domenico Sorrentino states that this encyclical “gives us new courage and strength to ‘restart’ in the name of the fraternity that unites us all.” Building on the Church’s long tradition of charity and social teaching, Pope Francis gives the reader a broad understanding of the current world situation and the language to engage in today’s issues in a way that unites us.

There is no way any of us can avoid facing the societal problems now affecting us all. Pandemic and lockdown. The killing of George Floyd and protests on our streets. Wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding. We’re in the middle of a contentious presidential election. Police both locally and internationally have rescued large groups of exploited and endangered children and brought them to safety. And the immediacy of these critical problems and issues has made us almost forget the people who are at our borders hoping for a new life, and those disadvantaged women, men, and children living in poverty and experiencing other forms of hardship within our country and throughout the world. And the list could go on.

So let’s take a moment and push pause….

Reading that list, what did you feel?

Well-intentioned people find themselves taking opposite approaches to these situations. If you’re like me, you have family and friends who fall on every side of these issues. Conversations about them can become contentious real fast. And depressing.

And I’ll be honest.

At different times, I have felt fear, guilt, anger, confusion in these conversations.

To jump into the midst of the public strife, holding one banner or other, I would find myself caught in a conceptual framework to which I can’t fully subscribe. And I have to admit, as strongly as I feel about these issues, I know in my heart of hearts that I haven’t had the opportunity to really study and pray about how the Church’s teaching about the dignity of every human life would apply in such complex situations, and how best to make a constructive contribution.

In this new encyclical, Pope Francis invites people to dialogue in such a way that they come “to know and understand one another, and to find common ground” (no. 198), no longer concerned about the “benefits of power or … ways to impose their own ideas. … The heroes of the future will be those who can break with this unhealthy mindset and determine respectfully to promote truthfulness, aside from personal interest” (no. 202).

Invest in Hope

To encounter others in this way requires an investment in hope. Pope Francis invites everyone in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, “to renewed hope, for hope … speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfillment, a desire to achieve great things, things that fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love … Hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile.’ Let us continue, then, to advance along the paths of hope’” (no. 55).

Encyclical Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship releasing early November. Order now and save with a pre-release discount. In the US $9.95. In Canada $14.50 CAD.

5 keys from the encyclical for engaging with others on difficult issues

Here are five concepts I chose from the encyclical that can make an immediate difference in the way I personally engage with others about issues that are so important and defining in society today. I hope that you will find them helpful:

  1. I need others and they need me

“In today’s world, the sense of belonging to a single human family is fading, and the dream of working together for justice and peace seems an outdated utopia. What reigns instead is a cool, comfortable and globalized indifference, born of deep disillusionment concealed behind a deceptive illusion: thinking that we are all-powerful, while failing to realize that we are all in the same boat.”

“If only we might rediscover once for all that we need one another, and that in this way our human family can experience a rebirth, with all its faces, all its hands and all its voices, beyond the walls that we have erected” (nos. 55 and 35).

2. I can rebuild others by lifting them up

“The parable [of the Good Samaritan] eloquently presents the basic decision we need to make in order to rebuild our wounded world. …The parable shows us how a community can be rebuilt by men and women who identify with the vulnerability of others, who reject the creation of a society of exclusion, and act instead as neighbors, lifting up and rehabilitating the fallen for the sake of the common good” (no. 67).

3. Wherever I am, with whatever I have, I can take an active part in renewing our troubled society

“Each day offers us a new opportunity, a new possibility. We should not expect everything from those who govern us, for that would be childish. We have the space we need for co-responsibility in creating and putting into place new processes and changes. Let us take an active part in renewing and supporting our troubled societies…. Like the chance traveller in the parable [of the Good Samaritan], we need only have a pure and simple desire to be a people, a community, constant and tireless in the effort to include, integrate and lift up the fallen. … For our part, let us foster what is good and place ourselves at its service” (no. 77).

4. Believe in the goodness present in others

“Good politics combines love with hope and with confidence in the reserves of goodness present in human hearts. Indeed, ‘authentic political life, built upon respect for law and frank dialogue between individuals, is constantly renewed whenever there is a realization that every woman and man, and every new generation, brings the promise of new relational, intellectual, cultural and spiritual energies.’ Viewed in this way, politics is something more noble than posturing, marketing and media spin. These sow nothing but division, conflict and a bleak cynicism incapable of mobilizing people to pursue a common goal” (nos. 196-197).

5. Think outside the categories and popular narratives for society’s problems promoted by the media and on social platforms

“Often, the more vulnerable members of society are the victims of unfair generalizations. If at times the poor and the dispossessed react with attitudes that appear antisocial, we should realize that in many cases those reactions are born of a history of scorn and social exclusion. The Latin American Bishops have observed that ‘only the closeness that makes us friends can enable us to appreciate deeply the values of the poor today, their legitimate desires, and their own manner of living the faith. The option for the poor should lead us to friendship with the poor.’… If we have to begin anew, it must always be from the least of our brothers and sisters” (nos. 234-235).

A way to open your heart to the world

My shorthand title for what Pope Francis is offering us in Fratelli Tutti is this:

From this moment on everyone is to be considered as a member of my immediate family, because they are.

When I started to write this article, I was going to write only two words: “READ IT.”

Fratelli Tutti is easy to understand. Read it yourself and don’t be satisfied with hastily-written headlines about the document. Simply by reading it, you’ll find yourself breathing in the teaching of the Church on the human dignity of every person and how it sheds light on the predicaments we are currently in. Pope Francis points to a way deep in the human heart that opens a path out of the power struggles, fragmentation, and violence that plague us. It describes how to restart our sense of social responsibility and to have a heart open to the world. It indicates a type of politics that would actually make a difference in our nations and in our international collaboration for the good of all peoples. And finally, in a straightforward way, it offers thoughtful reflection on what burdens us most as a people in the world today.

You can get the encyclical Fratelli Tutti at a special pre-sell discount. And if you don’t read it, you have all you need to start on the path Pope Francis marks out for us if you ask yourself this:

What would be different if from this moment on we all considered everyone as a member of our immediate family? Because they are.

by Sr Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP

Encyclical Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship releasing early November. Order now and save with a pre-release discount. In the US $9.95. In Canada $14.50 CAD.

Photo: Assisi, Italy

Image by Roland von Thienen from Pixabay

Inspiration, Listening to the Heart, saints

Accidental Parenting

I came to parenting a little backwards. I’d had not much intention of getting married, much less starting a family (“not my vocation,” as I’d often said), but I was enjoying getting to know Paul when in a phone conversation after our second date, he mentioned, almost in passing, that he had two children. Two. Children.

Okay, that pretty much was that. I remember pacing up and down the corridor in the apartment building where I lived (not much room for pacing in my studio!), and thinking, no, no, no.

God had other plans. Three months later I met said children—Jacob was five and Anastasia almost four—and a year later Paul and I were married. And I learned first-hand why parenting is not, but not, for the faint of heart.

Becoming a stepmother means walking into a house of grief. No matter whether the children’s mother has been lost through death or divorce, the loss is real and constant and the kids are not thrilled about someone being there in her place. Boundaries are tested. Decisions are second-guessed. Tears are shed. I felt that if God was calling me to do this thing, then I was going to do it the best I could—but he was going to have to help!

And he did. Those early years were tough years, I won’t pretend they weren’t. Later years were tough, too, though for different reasons. Jacob is now twenty-eight, Anastasia twenty-seven, and frankly these days I cannot imagine my life without them in it. Our marriage didn’t survive, but my parenting did, and in retrospect I am so grateful to have had the honor of helping raise these two beautiful young people.

I suspect many parents feel that same honor at the end of the day. And grandparents, too. It’s just what one does before that’s… tricky. There are hundreds of parenting manuals out there, and none of them offers a magic formula, a secret method for getting it right. Maybe there really is no one “right” way to parent. Are you too strict? Not strict enough? Should you allow them to read anything they want? Should you censor who they hang out with?

I know how difficult it was to parent my stepchildren through what might euphemistically be called a “normal” time; I cannot imagine it in the time of coronavirus, where the decisions you’re making are, quite literally, life-and-death decisions. What children crave as much as love is certainty: they like a routine, a schedule. They need to know what will happen next week. They have to be sure the blocks of their world will stay the same for the foreseeable future. And how can anyone promise them that—now? We don’t know what the next few weeks, or months, or years will bring; how can we communicate reassurance to our kids and grandkids?

When I’m feeling a little lost, I turn to the Church, because in the thousands of years of our existence, you can be sure there’s someone, somewhere, who has something to teach us. And in looking for parenting models, the most obvious choice are the parents of Our Lady: Anna and Joachim, the earthly grandparents of Jesus.

Like me, they were a little surprised by their foray into parenting. I had never wanted to have children; they were unable to have children; and yet by God’s design we all ended up doing his will. Joachim and Anna are not mentioned in the Bible, but other documents outside of the Biblical canon do provide some details. These documents outline some of the Church’s traditional beliefs about Joachim, Anne and their daughter.

One story says that, rebuked in the Temple for his fifty years of childless marriage, Joachim took his flocks and went to a high mountain, refusing to return home in shame. Meanwhile, Anna prayed in her garden. God sent the Archangel Gabriel to each of them, who gave them tidings of the birth of “a daughter most blessed, by whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed, and through whom will come the salvation of the world.” Each promised to have their child raised in the Temple as a holy vessel of God. The archangel told Joachim to return home, where he would find his wife waiting for him in the city gate. Anna he told to wait at the gate. When they saw one another, they embraced, and this image is the traditional icon of their feast.

This may or may not be exactly what happened. But what did happen, and this we know, is that they raised a young woman to fulfill her role in a story far bigger than their lives, to become the handmaid of the Lord and the mother of longed for Messiah. And while I expect they had as many bumps in their parenting journey as I did—it cannot be easy, bringing up a child when one is well into one’s grandparenting years!—they still kept faith. They still prepared her for what the future would bring. They had no way of knowing what that would be—just as we, today, really don’t know what the future holds.

But, trite as it is to say, we do know who holds the future. We know that God guided Anna and Joachim, just as he guided me, just as he is guiding mothers and fathers and stepparents and grandparents today.

The world is as uncertain now as it’s ever been. Our children crave stability, and we can give it to them. Not necessarily in the way we’d like to, but in a way that’s better, more profound, longer-lasting. We can give them the stability of a life in Christ, the certainty of the love of God, the protection of the Holy Spirit. That’s the best gift we can give our children, and the only certainty any of us ever really has, now or ever.

And… they do notice. On her 23rd birthday, Anastasia wrote me a letter, thanking me for giving her, among other things, the Mass, and a trust in God. But I knew that already, because I have the privilege now of watching how she lives. And that makes it all worthwhile.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

Image: Dimitris Vetsikas for Pixabay 

Inspiration, saints

What does St. Paul have to say to YOU?

St. Paul is one of those saints who speaks to people throughout the ages. His love for Jesus Christ, and his journeys to bring the message of Jesus to others, tell us of Paul’s commitment to him. What is remarkable is that Saul—his name before he became Christian—began his life as a very committed Jew. He was born into an observant Jewish family and was very well educated in both secular subjects and the Jewish law. He was so passionate about his religion that he searched high and low for Christians, arrested them, persecuted them, and threw them into jail.

But Jesus Christ powerfully intervened in his life when Saul was on his way to Damascus to arrest more Christians. Suddenly, a light from heaven flashed around him. He heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” What an eye-opening response!

As we reflect on the encounter between Jesus and Saul, we realize that Saul not only “encountered” Jesus in the sense that he met Jesus. St. Paul actually experienced Jesus. Jesus and Paul opened themselves to each other, deeply revealing themselves to the other. Paul’s mind and heart, therefore, experienced Jesus, he knew Jesus as a Person. This encounter changed his life. He became a believer, a Christian, and was baptized by Ananias. 

After Paul’s conversion, he went into the desert for three years, spending his time in prayer and being instructed by the Holy Spirit. He emerged filled with love for Jesus and his heart burned to bring the Good News of Jesus throughout the known world.

For about 20 years he traveled throughout much of the known world preaching about Jesus and founding Christian communities in Asia and Europe. Paul’s passionate love for and commitment to Jesus are evident in letters that he wrote to these communities. It is also clear that Paul’s love has reached the pinnacle of uniting him completely to Jesus. This is especially poignant and clear in his Letter to the Philippians 1:21 when he writes that “for me to live is Christ” and when from his experience he exhorts them to “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5).

St. Paul writes these words to us. We, too, are to be united with Jesus, so that gradually we are transformed into him. Then our thoughts resemble those of Jesus, our choices, and our love—for God, for ourselves, and for others—become those of Jesus Christ. This is a lifelong journey in which we continually seek to know Jesus, by prayerfully reading Scripture, especially the New Testament, and by spending time with Jesus in prayer. He speaks and we listen—and we speak and he listens.

St. Paul will accompany us in our spiritual journey toward transformation into Christ so that we too will one day be able to say, “For me to live is Christ.”

by Sr. Patricia Shaules, FSP
Image: Dimitris Vetsikas for Pixabay

Inspiration

As the economy opens up, let’s not forget each other

In this watershed moment for humanity—a global pandemic—we need more than a vaccine. We’ve all realized by now that things won’t return to normal, at least not any time soon, and maybe they shouldn’t.

I’ve been much more careful of what I consume, more caring of others, more concerned for the rest of the world whom I see in a new way as my family. We live together on this common earth we call home.

In a moment of fear I place my hopes on a vaccine that will keep me safe. In my better moments I remember that the problem is much more than a drug to keep away a virus. The situation is complex and the crux of the problem lies at the intersection of the failure of each of us. In little ways and on a larger scale, we harm others, the earth that supports us, and ourselves when we choose the “impulses that come from the flesh” over those that come from the Spirit. When we choose egoism over generosity. Domination over disinterested service. Discord, dissension and prejudice over living in a truly human and Christian way, in love.

Last week, Catholics around the world celebrated Laudato Si’ Week, marking the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical on the environment. The week focused on interconnectedness during a time when we are experiencing it more than ever on a worldwide scale in light of COVID-19.

We’ve seen how a virus that began with one person has spread globally, and how that has affected our collective health, economy, and environment. And yet in the midst of this, miracles have happened. Because of how we have all slowed down, we see pictures of clear water, clear skies, the return of wildlife where before there was smog, litter, and cloudy water ways.

We’ve also started to see how reliant we are on our healthcare workers, our grocery-store workers, and our community leaders. We see how much responsibility we bear for the most vulnerable among us, and how they are often the ones who feel the effects of our actions first.

This connectedness has always existed, and will hopefully be more a part of our thought and conscience after the virus has passed. Globalization means that the products I consume impact the conditions in which people live and work on the other side of the world. The challenge will be taking the lessons we learn in this time and using them to make those connections more prayerful, more deliberate, and more just. We have to remember how our actions impact each other, even after life gets busier and it’s easy to once more forget our interconnectedness once our economies “open up” again.

The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home (Pope Francis, Laudato si’, 13).

The Church is just now beginning a special Laudato Si’ Anniversary Year. Pope Francis sees this anniversary year—and the decade that will follow it—as a time of grace, a true Kairos experience and “jubilee” time for the Earth, for humanity, and for all God’s creatures. Perhaps during these days, when so many have stepped back from the normal rhythm of life, we’ve had more time to pause and examine the big picture. Hopefully, we can launch ourselves into this anniversary year reflecting on some lessons that are common to both this coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis.

As we saw during the Laudato Si’ week, there are direct links between the current pandemic and our lack of environmental response. The present crisis is an opportunity to start over again, and to make sure the world that arises after this crisis is sustainable and just.

The encyclical can indeed provide the moral and spiritual compass for the journey ahead, so we can create a more caring, fraternal, peaceful, and sustainable world. We have a unique opportunity to transform the present groaning and travail of creation into the birth pangs of a new way of living together, bonded together in love, compassion and solidarity, and a more harmonious relationship with the natural world, our common home. The pandemic has made clear how deeply we are all interconnected and interdependent. As we begin to envision a post-COVID world, we need above all an integral approach as “everything is closely interrelated and today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis” (LS, 137).

Let’s start with this prayer from the USCCB, based on Laudato Si’:

Father of all,
Creator and ruler of the universe,
You entrusted your world to us as a gift.
Help us to care for it and all people,
that we may live in right relationship–
with You,
with ourselves,
with one another,
and with creation.

Christ our Lord,
both divine and human,
You lived among us and died for our sins.
Help us to imitate your love for the human family
by recognizing that we are all connected—
to our brothers and sisters around the world,
to those in poverty impacted by environmental devastation,
and to future generations.

Holy Spirit,
giver of wisdom and love,
You breathe life in us and guide us.
Help us to live according to your vision,
stirring to action the hearts of all—
individuals and families,
communities of faith,
and civil and political leaders.

Triune God, help us to hear the cry of those in poverty, and the cry of the earth, so that we may together care for our common home.

Amen.

by Sr. Kathryn James Hermes, FSP

Image: Jakob Owens for Unsplash

Inspiration

What to do when you can’t go to confession

The old saying “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” rings especially true in this COVID-19 pandemic. Many Catholics feel the loss of not being able to attend  Mass and to receive Holy Communion due to the shutdowns. But many of us also miss the Sacrament of Penance, or Confession, especially since it’s Lent.

Some priests have found creative ways to offer the sacrament, such as drive-thru confessions. But if you don’t have this available, don’t despair. Here are some steps you can follow in prayer in  case confession is not available  in your area:

  1. Contrition—Be sorry for your sins. This is the essential act of the penitent when going to confession. Take some quiet time and make an examination of conscience. Consider how those sins have harmed yourself or others and then think about Jesus’ great love and mercy. You can look at a crucifix and think about his incredible love in giving his life to save us from our sins. We should never think of our sins apart from the mercy of Jesus. Jesus told Saint Faustina that he is love and mercy itself.

When we are sorry for our sins because of the love of Jesus and not just because we fear some punishment, this is called perfect contrition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about perfect contrition:

“When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called ‘perfect’—contrition of charity. Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible” (no. 1452).

An act of perfect contrition brings the forgiveness of sins, even mortal sins, outside of the sacrament of Reconciliation. You should also resolve to confess any mortal sin when the sacrament is available again. Even though reconciliation with God can happen before confession, by confessing our sins we are reconciled with the Church community, which has been damaged by our sin.

  1. Confession—Tell your sins directly to Jesus in prayer. By speaking our sins openly it’s easier to truly repent of them and be sorry. You can tell Jesus everything that happened and then listen for the healing word he may send you. Recall that he is looking at you with great love.

Conclude by praying an Act of Contrition:

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.

  1. Do a penance—Make a sacrifice to help make amends for our sins. You can give yourself some penance to do, whether it’s a prayer, an act of charity for someone, or some type of self-denial. By doing this you will be showing that you desire to repair the harm your sins have caused and that you desire greater configuration to Christ.

If you happen to know anyone who’s dying and can’t receive the sacrament, it would be very important and loving to walk them through the first two steps and assure them of God’s mercy and love. God is not bound by the sacraments and can make his grace available outside of them when necessary. But this does not diminish the importance of receiving the sacraments when we can, because they provide us with special sacramental graces.

by Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP

Inspiration, Lent

I Am Patrick: From Slave to Saint

Finally, a film on St. Patrick that’s not about snakes and shamrocks – not that there is anything wrong with that! Welsh actor, John Rhys-Davis (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Lord of the Rings) does a superb job as the older St. Patrick who tells us about his life and journeys. I wish I could say the same about Robert McCormack, the young Patrick, but thankfully his screen time is limited.

The film’s successful and accurate portrayal of Ireland’s favorite son relies on its heavy use of Patrick’s own words from his Confessions for the film’s narrative. As a young man in Britain, he comes from a wealthy family and though his father is a deacon, Patrick is not religious and prefers a life of privilege and dissoluteness. The turning point comes when, at sixteen, Irish pirates capture him and force him into slavery for six years to the point of near starvation. However, his imprisonment becomes a time of conversion, prayer and spiritual development. The Lord’s powerful mercy comes upon him as he repents for the sins of his youth and recommits to living his Catholic faith.

During this time of fervor, he receives what would be the first of many visions from the Lord telling him that he would escape and make his way back to Britain and his loved ones. But Patrick soon realizes that he is called to return to Ireland and that despite the many difficulties he would encounter, the Lord calls him to bring the Gospel to the inhabitants of this rough and wild land. He is seen as a foreigner who opposes the Celtic kings, takes no part in the Druid ceremonies, and when falsely accused by his own bishops who want him to return to Britain – his stance never waivers. Patrick converts thousands of Irish to Christianity. His trust is solely in Jesus Christ, His Lord and Savior.

I’ve seen other films about Patrick and none of them have told me how he converted all of Ireland – a task that seems almost impossible for just one man. This film reveals his “secret.” He formed small groups of believers and when he felt that they were strong enough to be on their own, he left to start anew on the next town or tribe. As he left, Patrick encouraged them to spread God’s word to all those around them.

A word of praise must be given to cinematographer, Colm Hogan. I found his shots of the Irish countryside to be a fitting tribute to the beauty of the Emerald Isle.

As Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of Providence, so nicely sums it up,In short, Saint Patrick was a good, courageous, and holy man whose entire life was informed by his encounter with God and his belief in the Gospel. His impact on the Christian Church and the whole Western World is enormous. That’s why his memory, celebrated on March 17th, deserves to be marked with much more meaning than can be offered by civic parades, green beer and shamrocks. Clearly, the movie I Am Patrick points us in the right direction.”

If you’re looking for something special to do for St. Patrick’s Day, here it is – a film on a great saint he entire family can enjoy! Click here for theatrical release locations.

 

By Sr. Christine Salvatore Setticase, FSP

https://www.fathomevents.com/events/i-am-patrick

[Photo credits: ©2020 The Christian Broadcasting Network Inc. All rights reserved.]

Inspiration, Listening to the Heart

I Feel Broken Inside… How Can I Heal?

Finding serenity in the midst of brokenness is a mighty task—and at some times it feels mightier than at others. Inner brokenness can come from a lot of sources—a painful past experience, a present response to current problems, a fear of an uncertain future—but no matter the source, the pain is always very real and very immediate. How can we find serenity in the face of that brokenness?

There are a lot of people who will say serenity’s unattainable. That working through our problems and traumas is an ongoing and never-ending process. But as Catholics, we know that healing isn’t just possible—it’s offered to us for free.

True healing such as this can only take place when we look first to the One who was wounded for our transgressions. Jesus carries the greatest brokenness of all, and he does it willingly for our sakes.

It’s always interested me that the three churches within Christianity have very different representations of the cross. For us Catholics, it is a crucifix, Christ dying. For Protestant churches, it is an empty cross, Christ resurrected. And for the Orthodox churches, it is a king, Christ crowned. All three are, of course, true. But I remember the words of writer Toni Morrison, who said of her work, “I’m just trying to look at something without blinking.” We’re looking at the cross without blinking. We’re seeing the very worst we can do to Jesus, and the consequent boundlessness of his love for us.

Encouraging others to reflect on the wounds of Christ, Pope Francis says,

“We are not asked to ignore or hide our wounds. A church with wounds can understand the wounds of today’s world and make them her own, suffering with them, accompanying them and seeking to heal them. A wounded church does not make herself the center of things, does not believe that she is perfect, but puts at the center the one who can heal those wounds, whose name is Jesus Christ.”

We believe that freedom from brokenness comes through Brokenness Itself, the cross of Christ. Freedom from brokenness means we can reach out to others who are in pain, searching, suffering. Freedom from brokenness is what makes us whole, allowing us to live holy lives that preach redemption instead of anger or insecurity.

One of my favorite spiritual authors, Caryll Houselander, writes that

“in the world in which we live today, the great understanding given by the spirit of Wisdom must involve us in a lot of suffering. We shall be obliged to see the wound that sin has inflicted on the people of the world. We shall have X-ray minds; we shall see through the bandages people have laid over the wounds that sin has dealt them; we shall see Christ in others, and that vision will impose an obligation on us for as long as we live, the obligation of love.”

Our inner spaces may be broken at times, but it’s not a permanent affair. We can find wholeness, and not just for ourselves, but for others as well. We can see through those bandages and reach out to others. Jesus died for us, and asked only one thing in return: love. And there’s no brokenness that love can’t transcend.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir, who works in the digital department of Pauline Books & Media.