Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization

"Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization"

Check out the revised edition of this exciting and unique prayer book, filled with prayers that are sure to nourish the soul as we undertake the New Evangelization.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Christ ascends into Heaven and sends the promised gift of the Spirit

On May 5th, the universal Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension.  Out of obedience, many of us celebrated the Mass of the Ascension on the nearest Sunday. 


I have become convinced, after much reflection, that the Holy Days of Obligation are an indispensable opportunity for the faithful to learn about and celebrate the faith beyond the Sunday obligation.  The Holy Days in the universal Church calendar honor our Lord (Christmas, Ascension and Corpus Christi), the Blessed Mother (Mother of God, Assumption and Immaculate Conception) and the Saints (Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary and Patron of the Universal Church, and All Saints).  It is reasonable that Corpus Christi be transferred to a Sunday since it is not tied to a specific day and a Solemnity of the Lord can pre-empt a Sunday celebration in the table of feasts.  However, because of the scriptural basis of the Ascension taking place 40 days after the Resurrection, transferring “Ascension Thursday” to the following Sunday makes no sense.  The uniqueness of the Ascension demands a unique celebration.  Accommodating convenience is a poor reason for making decisions about Church practice.  A better reason is facilitating a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.  Taking time out of our routine to honor significant events and persons in the story of salvation is absolutely worth our time.  People today need more time with Jesus, not less; a more radical living out of their faith instead of minimalism.  Furthermore, in a world where healthy masculinity and virtuous fatherhood are lacking, we need to “Go to Joseph” for inspiration and intercession.  Therefore, I am convinced that the salvation of souls would be further enabled by a commitment on the part of our Church hierarchy to celebrating more Holy Days of Obligation and doing so with greater zeal.  Asking the baptized to commit to Mass on seven Holy Days throughout the year is not too much to ask, considering all the activities for which families today manage to find time.  These seven holy days should thus be celebrated as obligatory without exception: Immaculate Conception, Christmas, Mother of God, Saint Joseph, Ascension, Assumption, All Saints.  The circumstances under which one incurs the penalty of mortal sin for missing Mass on these days could be modified.  For example, work that is necessary to support the family could be a legitimate excuse to miss Mass.  The bottom line is to undertake a campaign of encouraging people to see the eternal spiritual benefit of celebrating these feasts with the Church community.


We recall this moment in which Jesus returned to the Father’s right hand because it signifies the end of His earthly ministry and opens the way for the spark of the Spirit of the Lord to ignite the kindling which was the early Church into flame – the fire prophesied by Joel, the fire Jesus came to cast on the earth and longed to see burning, the fire which spreads its light and warmth throughout the world as the Gospel is proclaimed.  Jesus told the Apostles that He had to leave them in order for the Spirit to come.  The Church could not hope to flourish without the Spirit.  In the meantime, Jesus tells the Apostles to stay put in Jerusalem, waiting and praying for the promise of the Father to come upon them.  With the power of the Spirit to encourage them, the Apostles would have the wisdom and courage, in fact all the gifts of the Spirit, they need in order to be Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth.


Having ascended through the clouds, Jesus enters into the heavenly sanctuary accompanied by the blare of trumpets.  Each time we enter into the celebration of the Holy Mass, we are drawn up into the heavenly liturgy.  We sing with the angels and join in their unceasing worship of God.  On Calvary, Jesus offered the one perfect sacrifice for the salvation of the world.  Rising from the empty grave, He trampled the power of sin and death.  The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two when Jesus breathed His last, so there is no more daily sacrifices in the temple at Jerusalem.  The Lamb is the light of the heavenly Temple, the New Jerusalem.  The Spirit is the light of the earthly Jerusalem, where the Apostles suddenly discover they are given the power to speak the one faith in the language of all peoples.  The Church, she who was born from the saving tide of blood and water flowing from the side of Christ as He surrendered to death on the Cross, is christened at Pentecost with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  In the epicenter of the Upper Room an explosion of grace occurs whose shockwaves have been felt across the continents and down through the centuries. 


The moment of Pentecost – the driving wind and the tongues of fire – is often conceptualized in a pious manner, especially in sacred art.  The fact is that the Apostles were ordinary blue-collar men, who never expected to venture outside Galilee and Judea before they met Jesus.  All of a sudden their best friend rises from the dead, they are compelled by their love for Him to travel to the ends of the earth preaching the Gospel and they discover they can speak languages they have never even heard before.  So, the wind and fire of the Spirit shook them to the core.  The Apostles’ Baptism in the Spirit was as knock-your-socks-off powerful an experience then as it is for those who are prayed over in a charismatic retreat today.  Rather than little flames on the heads of iconic figures frozen in prayer, the Apostles were blown over by what they felt.  The story of Pentecost took place because the Mary and the Eleven were obedient to Jesus and gathered for nine days of intense prayer.  Jesus asks the same of us: enter into frequent and sincere contemplative prayer, seeking to experience a deeper indwelling of the Spirit.  Jesus desires to share an outpouring of the Spirit with every human person, in order that we all can become His witnesses. 


Saint Paul exhorts us in Romans and Galatians to live by the Spirit and not by the flesh, to exemplify the virtues of the Spirit rather than be held prisoner by the vices of the flesh.  Often these war within us in spiritual battle.  I am fond of this old Native American legend:


An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”


The world tells us to feed the flesh: to eat, drink, use, abuse and indulge as much as we want.  God tells us to nourish our spiritual life, through prayer, celebrating the sacraments, practicing the virtues and studying the teachings of the faith.  We need to choose every day, sometimes hour by hour, to starve the flesh and feed the soul. 


The Spirit offers us His gifts: the knowledge of the things of God, a deeper understanding that surpasses the world’s false values, wisdom to perceive life through the mind of Christ, counsel to make healthy choices and virtuous decisions, fortitude in the face of opposition to our faith, reverence for all that is sacred and a healthy fear of the Lord that compels us to be totally devoted to God.  These gifts form us into disciples, even saints – but only if we accept them and put them into action in our lives.  For this Jesus ascended into Heaven and sent the promised gift of the Father.  The same precious gift awaits us, too, whenever we sincerely knock at the treasury of grace. 


Come, Holy Spirit!  Fill us with all the gifts of your love that we need to nourish our spiritual life and be witnesses to Jesus in the world. 

Saturday, May 07, 2016

In Christ we are free: the Apostle and a famous convert

Saint Paul on Freedom
Galatians 4
God’s Free Children in Christ.
Do Not Throw This Freedom Away 
An Allegory on Christian Freedom
21 Tell me, you who want to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the freeborn woman.  23 The son of the slave woman was born naturally, the son of the freeborn through a promise. 24 Now this is an allegory. These women represent two covenants. One was from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; this is Hagar. 25 Hagar represents Sinai, a mountain in Arabia; it corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery along with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is freeborn, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written:
break forth and shout, you who were not in labor;
for more numerous are the children of the deserted one
than of her who has a husband.”
“Drive out the slave woman and her son!
Galatians 5
The Importance of Faith.
1 For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.
2 It is I, Paul, who am telling you that if you have yourselves circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 Once again I declare to every man who has himself circumcised that he is bound to observe the entire law. 4 You are separated from Christ, you who are trying to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we await the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Freedom for Service.
13 For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. 16 I say, then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want. 18 But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, 21 occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ [Jesus] have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. 26 Let us not be conceited, provoking one another, envious of one another.
In these splendid words, Saint Paul teaches us that God the Father ransomed us from slavery to sin by offering up His Son, who freely sacrificed His life in our place on the Cross.  Therefore, we possess the freedom of God’s children.  Christian freedom is not license to do whatever pleases our whims but liberty from sin to pursue excellence and place ourselves at the service of others.  We are free because of Jesus and our lives are meant to be a freely offered sacrifice to Him and to others in His name. 

Malcolm Muggeridge
In the conversion story of the British journalist Malcom Muggeridge, recorded for history by the man himself in the book titled Conversion: The Spiritual Journey of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim, there are several instances of the theme of freedom and its implications for Christian discipleship.  Let us explore five.
  1. Through the story of an encounter with a French woman whose German lover is captured and executed, leaving her a widow before she could be a wife or mother, Malcolm teaches the lesson that liberation comes through suffering and self-giving love.  She is shaved and marched through the streets as a traitor in humiliating fashion.  She even suspects her brother to be among the executioners.  Malcom concludes from his meeting with her that “What is remarkable is that her love for her lost lover, and joy in the child she will bear him, swallows up her suffering and grief.  That is to say, she is Liberated….”  (p. 115)  For Jesus Christ, sin and death were swallowed up in love through the suffering He embraced.  This story portrays vividly for Malcolm what the Passion of Christ demonstrated, that “the only way to be truly liberated is through suffering and the dynamic of love rather than through exaltation and the dynamic of power.”  Just think how liberating and fulfilling it feels when we have reached outside of ourselves and done something good for another instead of wallowing in the complaints we might have about our own life.  For us, accepting suffering as the royal road of the Cross in our own lives and diving deeply into every opportunity to love no matter the cost to ourselves means being truly free.
  2. The words of Saint Augustine’s Confessions – the Doctor’s own conversion account – describe with “clarity and force” the battle with sinful impulses and the struggle to seek fulfillment in God and not in self-pleasure.  “Self surmounting self” is the phrase Augustine uses.  By not thinking of our own Pelagian efforts to master our vices and attain perfection – to surmount ourselves – Augustine says that the tumults of the flesh are hushed and we can hear the Very Voice of God.  Freedom from sin requires admitting that sin exists in us and surrendering ourselves and our sinfulness to the Lord.  We cannot do it alone.  We need Him.  When we fill our time, our thoughts, our whole day with the good things of God, then His Very Voice crowds out the sirens which call us to false promises of happiness.  Humility and surrender to God allow us to experience freedom from sin and authentic blessedness.  When we are bound to God we are truly free.  Self-control and kenosis exemplify true freedom not self-indulgence. 
  3. Of all the places where Malcom has seen the face of Jesus – from country churches to city streets – the place where he found himself “nearest to You, Jesus” was “in the land where for half a century past the practice of the Christian religion has been ruthlessly suppressed…  How infinitely preferable it is to be abhorred, rather than embraced, by those in authority.”  In every age and on every inhabitable continent, Christians have suffered for their faith.  Today, they are murdered in droves by Muslim terrorists in the Middle East.  Yet, as often as there is persecution, there are signs of joyful confidence – hymns of praise erupting where one would expect shrill cries of agony.  The youths in scripture endured the fiery furnace for the sake of their faith and were met in their suffering by the Son of Man.  When a disciple has rejected the need to please others or to be popular for the sake of remaining true to Christ at all cost, then he is truly free.  The oppression of unjust authority will have no power over him.  His soul is in the hand of God. 
  4. In his encounter with Mother Theresa, Malcolm discovers a remarkable woman of faith, who divests herself of all earthly comforts – television, radio, newspapers, fancy clothes, money and the conveniences of modern technology.  She writes her letters in her own hand personally, refuses to hold fundraisers for the order and travels in the most economical way.  This radical version of living out the Gospel – her simplicity, humility and austerity – leaves her totally free of all earthly cares to spend her time worshipping God and serving the lowliest of His people.  It is a contagious spirit as well – the wealthy ladies of India join her in serving the poor, the convent is overwhelmed by girls wanting to enter and Mother’s legacy has made hers a household name.  “Mother Theresa” is the trademark for Christian discipleship.  She made herself free of all burdens in order to be the slave of the Body of Christ.
  5. In reflecting on the concept of death and his own impending passing from this world, Malcolm finds inspiration in the example of the Lutheran theologian-pastor and courageous member of the opposition to the Third Reich Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  When two Nazi guards approached to take Bonhoeffer to his execution, “with his face shining in joyful expectation,” “For you it is an end, for me a beginning.”  Indeed, for the one who has embraced costly discipleship in life and dies a disciple, “life is changed, not ended” (Preface I of the Mass for the Dead, Roman Missal) and death has no power, no sting, no victory.  We are free to live life to its fullest, using the good things God has made for us on earth for his glory and our human flourishing.  Malcolm concludes his chapter in death, the final one of the book, by committing to live just for each day.  Indeed, having experienced the merciful love of God, we are free to live and free from fear of death.  Christ is alive and He is among us always!
    With Malcom and the Apostle to guide us, may we always seek to honor God in our lives and so be free from selfishness, fear and sin.  For this purpose God has created and redeemed us.  Whenever and wherever God is the first priority, then the Spirit is alive and freedom reigns. 

Monday, May 02, 2016

Pope Saint Pius V

This past Saturday was the feast of Pope Saint Pius V.  As a member of the Order of Preachers, he exemplified Dominican life.  He knew the power of prayer and experienced victory through the Rosary and Mary's intercession at the Battle of Lepanto.  He shared the fruits of his contemplation in the administration of the Church and in his role as teacher of the faith. 


Following the Council of Trent, Pius V undertook the publication of the Roman Catechism, Missal and Brievary, and codified the practices of the universal Church.  This meant that various liturgical rites celebrated in different countries and in religious orders (e.g. Sarum Rite, Mozarabic Rite, Gallican Rite, Dominican Rite) were suppressed and the Roman Liturgy was mandated universally.  This change had the benefit of preserving continuity in the Church but also eliminated much beauty and variety in liturgical expression.  The Mass established by Pius V remained essentially unchanged until 1970 - 400 years. 


Interestingly enough, this past week we heard that Pope Francis has extended an olive branch to the Society of Pius X and that reconciliation is more possible than ever before.  The Society remains convinced of the authenticity of the Tridentine Mass - the Mass of Trent and of Pius V - and believes strongly in preserving the true faith against perceived innovations by the Second Vatican Council.  The conflict and division stem from the actions of Archbishop Lefebvre, who ordained priests and bishops without permission a number of years ago.  There is another group, even more radically traditional, called the Society of Saint Pius V.  They have also performed their own ordinations without permission and remain in schism. 


Regarding the Society of Saint Pius X, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication against their members and, in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, opened the way for universal celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.  However, beyond liturgical spirituality, theological questions remain, which need to be ironed out before authentic reconciliation can take place.  SSPX members are hesitant to assent to all the teachings in the documents of Vatican II.  In the commentaries on the ongoing discussions, I have not so far seen mentioned the importance of distinguishing between the teaching of the council and its inconsistent and inauthentic implementation.  To this day, fifty years later, I hear people say that Vatican II eliminated or mandated things when these claims find no basis in the 16 documents.  If the council is understood in the context of a "hermeneutic of continuity," as Benedict XVI so remarkable taught us, there is necessarily less about which anyone needs to be concerned.  It appears, however, that there is an openness in the Vatican to "lowering the bar" concerning that which needs to be assented to in order to be reconciled to Christ and the Church.  That would be a mistake.  "Getting along" at the expense of vigorous orthodoxy is not authentic unity. 


This feast day of a great pope gives us an opportunity to reflect on the significance of consistency and continuity in the life of the Church.  May we always listen to the voice of Christ in prayer and defend what He has revealed to us. 


For Pius V, the Holy Rosary was a powerful weapon against evil.  Along with his living example of praying the Rosary as the Christian army battled the Turks at Lepanto, he codified the original 15 mysteries we know today.  Before he was able to do so, a rich tradition of prayer had developed. 


There are three stages of development to the history of the Rosary.  The first consists of two separate tracks, developing simultaneously.  On the one hand, the prayers of the Rosary are compiled and, on the other hand, the use of beads to count prayers is invented. 


1. The Hail Mary

By the 7th Century, prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary is common practice all over the world. 

By 1050, the "Hail Mary" has been compiled from the words of Mary and Elizabeth in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, with the addition of the petition "Holy Mary, pray for us..."

In the 1100s, there is evidence of people praying the Hail Mary 50x per day in 5 sets of 10 or 150x per day, as a means for the illiterate to pray alongside the monks, who chanted the 150 psalms from the Bible. 

Saint Louis (1214-1270) prayed the Hail Mary 50x per day with a genuflection at each one.

Others prayed it 150x per day, 100 with a genuflection and 50 with a full prostration. 


2. Beads

The use of beads to count prayers transcends the Rosary. 

A regular discipline of prayer throughout the day existed in the Christian life from the time of the Apostles and people used beads to help the count their prayers in order to maintain a consistent rule of prayer. 

In the East, the Jesus Prayer (Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.) was prayed using the 33 or 100 "chotky beads" as early as the late 3rd Century. 

In 1075 there is a record of Lady Godiva threading stones on a cord to count her prayers. 

These two tracks, the writing of prayers and the use of beads, which spring organically from the human desire to praise God and seek His help, blend together as the Rosary becomes a regular part of the Church's prayer. 


The second stage of development is initiated by Heaven.  In 1208, Saint Dominic receives a vision of Mary, who presents to Dominic the Rosary and promises him it will be a powerful weapon of prayer. 

Heaven itself confirms the Church's writing of the Hail Mary and the use of beads to count prayers in a numbered pattern.  From then on, devotion to the rosary flourishes. 

In 1514, Gaspar Loarte wrote the first instruction for Catholics on how to pray the Rosary. 


The third stage brings us back to Pius V, who established the mysteries and made the Rosary as we know it today popular throughout the whole Church.  The mysteries make the Rosary a "Compendium of the Gospel," in the words of Pope Saint John Paul II, because they focus our attention on the principal events in the lives of Jesus and Mary.  The word "Rosary" itself is coined by 1597.  The essence of the devotion is established. 


As time has passed, additions are made which expand the richness of this great prayer.

The Fatima Prayer is added in 1917 at the request of Mary herself.

Pope Saint John Paul II adds the Luminous Mysteries in order to include the stories between Jesus' adolescence and Passion.

All of this came to pass because Pius V saw the importance of promoting the growth of the Rosary, which itself began in the hearts of the faithful and was confirmed by Heaven in the vision of Mary to Saint Dominic.