Monday, October 20, 2014

DEATH AND THEN WHAT???


 At funerals all too often you hear:  “Well, he is no longer suffering!” And, “Now he is in a much better place.”  And another common saying:  “Now he is in heaven with the Lord in glory!” Although the persons who have expressed these common niceties were most probably moved with good will and the best of intentions, they could be far off the target! Why this straight-forward and possibly startling remark? It is for this reason: the reality of PURGATORY!

Among the many heresies floating around in many catholic circles is that everybody goes to heaven and right away! In other words, simply being a baptized catholic and nothing more is a sure passport to heaven. No need for any intermediate state of purification; with death, the gates of heaven are open and the flight is non-stop and one way! The pearly-gates are opened and the Lord is ready to embrace forever!

Not only is this a false theology, but it is highly dangerous and damaging for the state of the deceased. Why? If all are totally convinced that “Uncle Harry” is rejoicing with God, the angels and saints meriting the fruits of his faith in God and earthly labors, then what is the purpose and reason for praying for him? No sense in praying for the saints in heaven, nor the condemned in hell, but only those detained in Purgatory.

Souls in the fire of Purgatory
 
It has been sound and solid Catholic teaching over the centuries that only those who are perfect in charity, have no impurities and imperfections on their souls and have done due reparation for the sins of their past will have access to  their Heavenly abode.  The Book of Revelation expresses this with the utmost clarity: “Nothing impure can enter the Kingdom of God.” Jesus reiterated this in the Sermon on the Mount, in one of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure of heart; they will see God.” (Mt. 5:8)

The point is this: none of us have the authority to canonize unofficially any person that has passed from this life to the next life! By doing so in proclaiming that such a person is in a better place, is no longer suffering, is in the eternal and everlasting hills of peace and joy is presumptuous, wrong, and simply  false-compassion. Worse yet, we are taking over the role of the Holy Father, the Pope. Only the Pope himself has a right to canonize or to declare that such a person is definitely in heaven.  And there is only one Pope—it is not you nor is it me!

Pope Saint Gregory the Great
 
Speaking about Popes and Purgatory, there is a story very apropos of the topic of Purgatory and the importance of much prayer for the dead.   The story can be found in the life of one of the greatest Popes in the history of the Church. In fact, rarely does the church add to the name of the Pope “The Great”. The Pope that we are referring to is POPE SAINT GREGORY THE GREAT! (540-604)

On one occasion the Pope was talking to one of his friends on the topic of the after-life and the importance to pray for the dead!  The substance of their talk was the following: whoever died first, then the survivor would make it a point to pray for the deceased.

It happened that the friend of Pope Saint Gregory passed away first. Shortly after his death, his friend appeared to Gregory suffering intensely the pains of Purgatory.  He certainly did not seem to be in “a better place” or was “not suffering” as so many presume today!!! Quite the contrary his suffering was very intense to put it mildly!

That being the case, Pope Saint Gregory made a concerted effort to pray for his friend so as to alleviate his pains and to deliver him as soon as possible from Purgatory!

By far the most powerful prayer in the universe is the HOLY SACRIFICE OF THE MASS! Therefore, Pope Saint Gregory the Great, being of course a priest started to offer Masses for the intention and purification and relief of his dear friend. This the Pope did with the best of intentions!

What do you think happened?   This holy Pope, canonized and known to be one of the greatest of all Popes in two millennia, offered a Mass, Masses, weeks of Masses, and finally a whole month of Masses for the delivery of this one soul—who probably was not such a bad guy according to world criteria.  However, it was only after a full month in which the Pope offered Masses for him every day that he was finally delivered and had full access to heaven.

True, after the month, the Pope’s friend appeared to him in glory, thanking him profusely for the many prayers offered that served to purify him of his sins, diminish his intense suffering and gain full entry to the Kingdom of Heaven.

GERGORIAN MASS.  This is the history and origin of what we call THE GREGORIAN MASS.   This Mass, or rather a long line of consecutive Masses, is offered for the deceased (it can also be offered for the living…) for the purpose of purifying the soul of the deceased, alleviating his intense suffering, and gaining for him access to heaven as soon as possible. Indeed it is a great act of charity to pray for the dead. They can no longer merit for themselves and are totally dependent upon the mercy of God, but also the prayers, sacrifices, fasting, and Masses that could and should be offered on their behalf.

 
An Augustinian saint, Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, is often depicted in art as celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. However, the religious art-work displays the saint consecrating the Chalice—the Precious Blood of Jesus. Then Purgatory can be seen below and the angels descending into the fiery pit of Purgatory and leading them to their heavenly abode. It was noted that one of the primary reasons why Saint Nicholas wanted to become a priest was because he wanted to deliver as many souls from Purgatory to heaven through the celebration of the most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

In conclusion, let us pray fervently for the dead; let us pray fervently and constantly for the souls in Purgatory. Let us not fall into the modern theological error in believing that everybody goes immediately to heaven. This is dangerously erroneous and false-compassion as well as presumptuous!

Our Lady's power to help the souls in Purgatory
 
Finally, pray, and pray and pray for the souls in Purgatory. However, offer the greatest prayer in the universe for the souls in Purgatory—the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.   The Prayer in the Chaplet of Divine Mercy connects us directly to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and its power to purify and save: “Eternal Father, I offer you the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world…”  May Our Lady, Mother of mercy, attain for us all a quick entrance into Heaven!

Monday, October 13, 2014

WHAT TYPE OF CATHOLIC ARE YOU???



Jesus gives us the Parable in which the King sends the invitation the wedding feast of his son and many make up excuses to beg out of the Banquet. Apparently they have other obligations more important and pressing, they insult the Kings servant and even kill some of them.  The King, infuriated, kills them and then destroys their cities. Not giving up and tenaciously persistent, the King sends out more servants, but this time he goes out to the hedge groves and allies and brings them in to the banquet. One is not properly dressed and has no justification; he is cast out of the Banquet hall. Jesus ends with these stark words: “Many are called but few are chosen.”  Parables of Jesus are human stories with divine messages. They challenge us to leave our complacency and to follow Jesus all the more authentically.

Let us look objectively at the society and the Catholic Church today and see where we are at. True there are a big number of Catholics, at least “baptized Catholics”, more than a billion. However, how many are really living out their faith.

Being a priest for more than 28 years and having worked in various countries—Europe, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and USA I would like to make these observations as to the reasons why so many Catholics, like the Parable above just cited, have almost countless excuses for simply not coming to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which in terms of the Parable is bowing out of the Wedding Banquet of the King and His Son!

Invite even from the streets!
This pastoral observation will serve to help us who are laboring strenuously in the Vineyard of the Lord to work zealously but in the right direction to save souls for the Eternal King.   In other words for us to bring back the wandering and lost souls we must know them, the reason why they have left and give a remedy or solution to the problem. Of course a deep reading of Pope Francis’
“Joy of the Gospel” will be of immense help in our work in bringing back the wandering sheep into the fold.   Remember the challenging words of Jesus, the Good Shepherd of the flock and our Model and example: “The harvest is rich, but the laborers are few.”  

Not properly dressed for the Wedding Feast!
Following are reasons why the sheep have wandered away from the flock—why these have left the practice of the faith and reception of the life-giving Sacraments!

1.    BAD EXPERIENCE.   Some wandering Catholics complain of having left the Church because they had an ugly experience with some other catholic that deeply hurt him. Priests (themselves), Deacons, Parish Secretaries, catechists, and simply practicing Catholics who have given bad example can alienate other Catholics that might be fragile or weak in the faith. A harsh and cutting word, a snide remark, a sarcastic gesture, being aloof and cold, a sharp rebuke—any one of these gestures done to a fragile soul could be the last straw that broke the camel’s back! This could be sufficient to expel this person from the practice of the faith. How to remedy this fatal flaw? Kindness and charity! Saint Augustine was once asked three times on what should be practiced towards others and the great saint said these words: Kindness, Kindness, and once again Kindness! Saint Francis de Sales coined a classic:  “You can catch more flies with a tea spoon of honey than with a barrel of vinegar.”
Catholic asleep at Mass!
 

2.    SCANDAL IN THE CHURCH.   It cannot be side stepped the painful and true reality of scandals in the Church that have been brought to light, especially over the past 10 to 15 years, that those who have chosen to serve the Lord as priests, some Religious and even Bishops have failed the Lord! Instead of giving example as Good Shepherd to the Sheep have been transformed into ravenous wolves to the flock! Obviously this scandal pierces the Sacred Heart of the Good Shepherd and has wreaked havoc in the flock. What can we say to repair for and to remedy such a serious blow to the Church? First, we beg for pardon and forgiveness to the world at large as the past recent Popes have done clearly and publically. Also, we must pray for future priests, but only those who are firmly committed to celibacy 100%, to love for Jesus as the center of their lives and to a fiery apostolic zeal to save souls and to go in search for the lost sheep.
Addictions-- internet!

3.    DISTRACTIONS IN THE MODERN WORLD.   On one occasion a Pastor came from Africa to the USA and he was asked what he thought was the greatest impediment in USA for the spreading of the Word and the Kingdom and the African Pastor, even without much thought, blurted out one word: DISTRACTIONS!  Interesting observation from a foreigner! What exactly did he mean? The following: T.V., radio, sports, movies, parties and picnics, the Mode, the Internet and the Electronics media, casinos and horse-races and gambling, and finally: “It is Miller time!” Not that all of these pursuits and entertainments are down- right sinful. However, how easy it is to be so totally absorbed and immersed in these diversions that on Sunday Holy Mass has been forgotten or relegated to a secondary place of importance. As one well-known priest put it:  “In the USA Sundays have become like another Saturday.”
Couples living together in sin!
 

4.    IMMORAL LIFE-STYLE.  Frequently disgruntled and angry Catholics will point their condemning finger of judgment against the Catholic Church for the church’s many failures, but in the heart of hearts of all too many today there is a serious personal problem. It is this: an inability to come to terms with and live out the demanding sexual morality that the Church has taught the past 2000 years! Our Lady of Fatima said in 1917 that many marriages are bad, modes will enter the world (most likely referring to dress codes) that will gravely offend God; finally, Our Lady said that most souls are lost and go to hell because of sins against the virtue of purity. With respect to leaving the Church, Mass and the Sacraments, many young people (and some not so young!!!) have decided to simply live together in free union or to simply have a civil-marriage. In the eyes of Jesus and His Bride the Church this is objectively wrong and choosing to live in a permanent state of mortal sin. This being the case, this couple has willfully severed themselves from the life-giving Vine. Jesus said: “I am the Vine and you are the branches; my Father cuts off the branches that do not bear fruit.” (Jn. 15) These couples, due their living condition that they freely chose, can no longer receive Jesus, the Bread of Life, in Holy Communion. This being the case, when going to Holy Mass and Communion time has arrived, many other people are getting up to receive Holy Communion and they are forced to stay in the pew—like spiritual “bench-warmers” (Sports image) and watch the others receive Jesus, the living Bread who came down from heaven to give us life and life in abundance. In time, feeling uncomfortable not being able to receive, this couple decides to either leave the Church or possibly go to some Protestant Church, where they can have free access to receiving  in the Communion service that may be available once a month. “Bye, bye Catholic church!  Welcome Protestant Church!” A possible remedy?  Why not invite this estranged couple to meet with a priest who could outline the conditions to have their marriage blessed in the Church so that they can be in full-communion with the Church. Also, invite them to some dynamic and well-prepared weekend marriage retreat to get the ball rolling down the right hill!!!
Honey, come' on!  Let's go to Mass!!!

Conclusion, we have just explained a few reasons for the enormous exodus from the Catholic Church in the past few decades. Our intentions is with this article to encourage fervent and zealous followers of Jesus to seek out these lost sheep and bring them back to the arms of the Good Shepherd. God-willing another article will follow to explain other reasons why many leave the Catholic Church and how we can bring them back to the loving embrace of the Father!

 

 

Monday, October 6, 2014

THE MARVELS OF SAINT TERESA OF AVILA


THE MARVELS OF SAINT TERESA OF AVILA

There are two weeks apart every year in the Church Liturgical Calendar that separate two marvelous, inspiring, and most loveable saints, who truly love us and want us to love them: SAINT THERESE OF LISIEUX AND SAINT TERESA OF AVILA.

Saint Therese Lisieux we celebrate October 1st; Saint Teresa of Avila we celebrate October 15th.  What do they have in common? Both are women, both are in the class  of the few women Doctors of  the Church, both were great contemplatives, both were Carmelite nuns, but most important both were and are and will be for all eternity great lovers of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In this short essay we would like to pay tribute to Saint Teresa of Avila and highlight ten of her great contributions to the Catholic Church and to us as a model of holiness, that we are all called to attain.  Remember the words of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the context of the Sermon of the Mount: “Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy.”(Mt. 5:48)   Being holy, arriving at sanctity of life, is not conditional, wishful thinking nor something that only a select group is called to, but all. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta challenges us with these stirring words: “Holiness is not the privilege of the few, but the duty of all.” Now let us lift our gaze to Saint Teresa of Avila who will point us to Jesus, our Lord, God, Savior and Faithful Friend.

1.    PRAYER. One of the key hallmarks of the spiritual heights of Saint Teresa of Avila is the importance of prayer. Even though she struggled for many years she teaches us this basic but indispensable spiritual truth--- PERSEVERANCE IN PRAYER! Meditate upon her immortal words of wisdom and memorize: “We must have a determined determination to never give up prayer.” Jesus taught us this supremely important truth in the Parable of the insistent would and the Judge.  This widow, due to her dogged and tenacious insistence finally gained the assistance of this cold-hearted Judge. (Lk. 18:1-8). St. Teresa insists that we must never give up in prayer. If you like an analogy: what air is to the lungs so is prayer to the soul. Healthy lungs need constant and pure air; healthy soul must be constantly breathing through prayer—the oxygen of the soul!

2.    DEFINITION OF PRAYER.  Saint Thomas Aquinas gives us simple but very solid advice: define your topic before you start to talk about it. By doing this you can avoid much confusion. Saint Teresa of Avila gives us one of the classical definitions of prayer in the history of Catholicism.  “Prayer is nothing more than spending a long time alone with the one I know loves me.” A short summary? Two friends loving each other! Jesus Himself called the Apostles friends—so are you called to be a friend with Jesus!

3.    LOVE FOR JESUS.   Saint Teresa gives us a hint to prayer growth! This woman Doctor of the Church said that she found many graces by meditating upon the Humanity of Jesus. By spending time with Jesus, the Son of God made man and entering into colloquy with Him is a sure path to growth in prayer. Try it! Saint Ignatius of Loyola, in the Spiritual Exercises insists upon us in begging for this grace: “Intimate knowledge of Jesus  that we love Him more ardently and follow Him more closely.”

4.    LOVE FOR JESUS IN HIS SUFFERING.   It seems to be a common denominator in many saints—the call to contemplate the love of Jesus through His sorrowful passion—Padre Pio, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Faustina and Teresa of Avila.  For Teresa, she had a mystical experience of “Ecce Homo”; she saw Jesus with His crowned Head and this moved her to a greater love for Jesus.

5.    HOLY SPIRIT: THE DIVINE TEACHER OF PRAYER.  On one occasion the saint was really struggling with prayer and she talked to a Jesuit priest for advice on overcoming her struggle. His advice was simple and to the point, but changed her life! The priest insisted on praying to the HOLY SPIRIT! From that point on, following this great advice to rely on the Holy Spirit, Teresa’s prayer life improved markedly!  Saint Paul to the Romans reiterates the same point: “In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” (Romans 8:26) Let us be led by the best of all teachers, the Interior Master of prayer, the HOLY SPIRIT!

6.    SPIRITUAL DIRECTION.   To attain constant growth in the spiritual life, we must have some form of spiritual direction.  Spiritual blindness, we all experience.  The devil can disguise or camouflage as an angel of light. And the higher we climb in the spiritual life the more subtle are the tactics and seductions of the devil—“who is searching for us a roaring lion ready to devour us.”(I Peter 5: 8-9) During the course of her life, Saint Teresa of Avila had recourse to several spiritual directors and some of these are now canonized saints: Saint John of the Cross (Carmelite), Saint Francis Borgia (Jesuit), Saint Peter of Alcantara (Franciscan), and finally, Jerome Gracian—a well-known Dominican scholar and theologian. True, all of us cannot have three canonized saints and a brilliant Dominican theologian to guide us, but we can and must all find some form of periodic spiritual direction.  Saint John of the Cross put it bluntly: “He who as himself as guide has an idiot as a disciple.”  Bingo!

7.    CONVERSION AND REFORM.  A major highlight in the life of Saint Teresa of Avila was the whole concept of conversion or reform. With Saint John of the Cross, she was the primary instrument that God chose to reform the Carmelite Order. However, Teresa was keenly aware of this truth: to convert others we must start with ourselves—this she worked on during the whole course of her life on earth! Jesus’ first words in preaching were: “Be converted because the Kingdom of God is ate hand.”(Mk.1:15) May we constantly strive for a deeper conversion of heart through the intercession of Saint Teresa of Avila!

8.    SPIRITUAL MASTERPIECES—HER WRITINGS.  Without doubt, one of the major contributions to the Church as well as to the world at large are the writings or spiritual masterpieces of Saint Teresa of Avila. One of her basic themes is that of the importance of prayer, and striving to grow deeper and deeper in prayer until one arrives at the Mystical Union of the spouse with Jesus the Heavenly Spouse. Anybody who takes his or her prayer life seriously should know of Teresa’s writings and spend some time in reading some of her anointed writings. What are her classics? Here they are: “Her life”, “The Way of Perfection”, “The Interior Castle”, “Foundations”. In addition to these texts/books, she also wrote many inspiring letters.  Want to become a saint? Read and drink from the  from writings of the saints, especially the Doctors of the Church!

9.    THE CROSS AS A BRIDGE TO HEAVEN.  Jesus said:  “Anyone who wants to be my follower must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Another common denominator in the lives of the saints is the reality of the cross. Saint Louis de Montfort would bless his friends as such: “May God bless you and give you many small crosses!” Saint Teresa lived with a constant friend—the cross of Jesus. Her health was always very fragile; she almost died while very young. Furthermore, for Saint Teresa of Avila to carry out the Reform of the Carmelite, she suffered constant attacks and persecutions from many nuns in the convent who preferred a more comfortable lifestyle, from priests (Carmelites) and from other ecclesiastics. Instead of becoming discouraged and losing heart, she joyfully trusted in the Lord all the more--- anyway, it was His doing!

10. OUR LADY AND SAINT JOSEPH.  During the whole course of her Religious Life, Saint Teresa of Avila loved the Blessed Virgin Mary—as is common in the lives of the saints, and hopefully your life! The title of her specific Marian devotion was OUR LADY OF MOUNT CARMEL.  Never forget, in your love for Our Lady, to wear the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This is your external sign of consecration to Mary. Furthermore, Saint Teresa of Avila cultivated a tender and filial love to SAINT JOSEPH. She attributed her recovery from a sickness that almost ended her life to the powerful intercession of Saint Joseph.  Also, every new convent that she established she gave the name of   SAN JOSE—Saint Joseph!

In conclusion, may the great woman Doctor of the Church—the Doctor of prayer—Saint Teresa of Avila, be a constant inspiration to you in your own spiritual pilgrimage to heaven. May she encourage you to pray more and with greater depth, arrive at a deeper conversion of heart, and finally love Jesus s the very center and well-spring or your life!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

TEN WAYS TO FALL IN LOVE WITH THE BIBLE!


 

At the end of September, the very last day of the  30th, the Church always celebrates the memory of SAINT JEROME. Born a saint, he was not!  A fiery and explosive temper that brought him many enemies, fierce and long temptations against chastity that he battled with prayer and prolonged fasting, and long prayer vigils—this was Saint Jerome.

Despite his temperamental defects and frequent assaults from the enemy, Jerome had a keen intellect, a love for study, but especially a love for the Bible, the Word of God.

The Church owes a huge debt of gratitude to Saint Jerome especially for his great love for the Word of God and his work in studying it. However, most important is that Saint Jerome, after many years, finished translating the Bible from Greek and Aramaic into the Latin—which we call the “Vulgate” and from the Latin Vulgate the Bible would eventually be translated into our own languages—English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, etc.  All thanks to the strenuous work of Saint Jerome.

The Second Vatican Council published four famous Dogmatic Constitutions, the pillars of the Church in the Modern world: Sacrosanctum Concilium, Gaudium Spes, Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum.  In the later, Dei Verbum, which deals with Divine Revelation and the Word of God, Saint Jerome, is cited.  This has become one of the key citations in this Document and a key for appreciating the importance of the Bible, the Word of God. Here it is:  “Ignorance of Sacred Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”  How true!  If we do not read the Bible, especially the Gospels, then we cannot know who Jesus is; then we cannot really love Him; then consequently it will be hard to follow Him as His friend and disciple.   With this being said, let us offer our Lord homage, love and respect for His Word the Bible, by carrying out and implementing at least some of the following.
                  
1.    PURCHASE A CATHOLIC BIBLE.  There are many Bibles, but you should try to purchase a good Catholic Bible. A suggestion?  The Navarre Bible or the Jerusalem Bible are two Bibles with excellent translations. Check them out and buy one of them; maybe buy two!

2.    GIVE A CATHOLIC BIBLE AWAY! Weddings, Birthday parties, anniversaries, Confirmations, family gatherings—why not give a Bible, the Word of God? What could be better?

3.    BLESSING.  Take the Bible to the priest and let the priest, who represents Jesus, to bless it. This will be your friend and companion the rest of your life. Your Light, your shield, your Rock—good names for the Word of God.

4.    REVERENCE AND RESPECT. Enthrone your Bible in a special place. Never treat it irreverently. This means, never throw it, place it on the floor, place a beer mug on top of it. Remember!  This is the Word of God and should be respected with the greatest of reverence.
              
5.     READ AND MEDITATE.  The Bible is not a Christmas decoration or a collector’s item, or a souvenir!  Quite the contrary: the Bible is meant to be read, meditated, day and night. Remember Psalm 1:  Happy those who do not follow the counsel of the wicked, nor go the way of sinners, nor sit in the company of scoffers. Rather, the law of the Lord is their joy; God’s law (Bible, Word of God— my own interpretation) they study day and night.” (Psalm 1: 1-2). May we cherish reading and meditating on the Word of God day and night!
            
6.    MEMORIZE KEY VERSES!  Jesus is our example!  Fasting for forty days and nights, the devil tempts Jesus. The first of the temptations of the devil was to turn stones into bread. Jesus responded with these words: “It is written: One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” (Mt. 4:4).

7.    DEFEND YOUR FAITH WITH THE WORD OF GOD.   Saint Paul says that the Word of God is like a two-edged sword separating bone from marrow. Obviously, Saint Paul means that the Word of God, the Bible, is powerful and should be used for spiritual warfare to fight the enemies of the truth- Satan and his minions and those who promote lies! Read Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Summa Theologica and how this great saint defended doctrine relying heavily on the Word of God!

8.     HOLY MASS AND THE WORD OR GOD.   Attend Daily Mass—the greatest prayer underneath the heavens! The Dogmatic Constitution, Sacrosanctum Concilium—which explains the Mass and the Liturgy, states that there are two tables that nourish us at Mass: the table of the Word of God and the Table of the Body of the Lord—namely, the Eucharist! Go for this double nourishment—indeed a heavenly banquet!

9.     SPIRITUAL EXERCISES AND THE WORD OF GOD.  When you have the chance, try to make the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. This might be the retreat lasting a month, or eight days, or a weekend, or what is common today, retreat in daily life which can last from six months up to a year, done with an able Director. The bulk of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola is the meditation or the contemplation of the Word of God!  Try it! You will never regret it!

10.MARY AND THE WORD OF GOD.   Finally in your growing pursuit of love for the Word of God never forget to turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary carried the Word made flesh within her sacred womb for nine months. But the New Testament teaches us that Mary meditated upon the Word of God in her Immaculate Heart. After the Shepherds came to visit her Infant Child, the Evangelist points to a key activity of Mary: “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Lk. 2:19). May Our Lady encourage us to do the same—to daily meditate upon the Word of God in our hearts by reading the Bible, praying over the Bible, assimilating the Bible and like Mary living out the Word of God!

Monday, September 29, 2014

ARCHANGEL GABRIEL: “The strength of God”.




Loneliness? Many in the modern world complain and suffer due to an intense loneliness.  This crushing loneliness has often led many to the brink of despair and ultimately suicide! This loneliness has been so intense and pervading that life seems excruciatingly unbearable—better not to live and have existence then to live in a world all alone, all alone, all alone!!!

Wrong perspective of reality!  We are never alone even a second of our existence—not even a split second! Why are we never alone? The response is very simple: God as well as His works of creation that we call angels are always with us!

Saint Paul, in the Acts of the Apostles, quotes one of the poets with this immortal phrase:  In Him we live and move and have our being.” Some of God’s primary attributes are the following: His omnipotence, omniscience, eternity and infinity and also God’s omnipresence.

Actually we can never escape from God’s presence. The Psalmist attests to this by saying that if we go to the heights of the mountain, God is present. If we go to the depths of the sea; God is present. Even in the depths of  utter darkness, God is present as if it were the noon-day sun!

In addition to God always being present in every breath we take and every heart-beat of our entire life, He also becomes acutely present in His creation—especially through the presence of His angels! Let us mention one of these great angels—actually Archangels—that God has created to be with us now, and the hour of our death and even into heaven for all eternity.  This angel is the Archangel Gabriel.

Meaning of the name Gabriel?  In the Liturgy of the Hours for the Feast day of the three Archangels, St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael, on September 29th every year we read and meditate a spiritual masterpiece written by Pope Saint Gregory the Great. This saintly Pope calls Gabriel “The strength of God”. In other words, God is omnipotent (All-powerful), but He manifests His power in creation and in the Archangel Gabriel. Through this Archangel Gabriel may God grant us power to overcome our human weaknesses, frailties and sins!

Where in the Bible can the Archangel Gabriel be found? It is very interesting that the Archangel Gabriel can be found in both the Old Testament and New Testament. In the Old Testament he can be found in the Book of the Prophet Daniel---chapters 8 and 9. He comes to the aid of Daniel to help him to interpret a vision!  Let us pray to Gabriel also so that he can help us to penetrate the deep meaning of Sacred Scripture and put the Word of God into practice!

In the New Testament the Archangel Gabriel is found two times, back to back! First, he appears in the passage Luke 1:5-25.   In this passage Zechariah is carrying out his priestly duties in the temple offering incense. The Archangel Gabriel appeared to him, standing at the right of the altar of incense. He announces to Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a child whom, they would name “John”.   He will be a source of great joy to both Zechariah and Elizabeth. However, Zechariah doubts and due to his doubt he is chastised by being struck dumb. 

There are some very important messages in this encounter between man and angel.

1.    Good News. God sends his angel as a source of great and joyful news. The Angels of God are present to console us in our moments of desolation and crushing loneliness. We are never alone, but in communion with our angel friends, especially Gabriel!

2.    TRUST.  God wants us to trust His plans even though we cannot always understand them completely. Our God is at times a very mysterious God, but he always works for our good and eternal salvation.

3.    CONTROL TONGUE.  We learn a hard lesson here!  We should always consider thinking before we speak.  Saint James reminds us with these clear and cutting words: “We should be slow to speak, but quick to listen.” The Imitation of Christ asserts: “There are very few who regret remaining silent, but many for having spoken when they should not have.”
 

The most important presence of the Archangel Gabriel is of course the passage of the Annunciation or sometimes called the Incarnation, which is the first Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary. (Lk. 1: 26-38)

This encounter between the Archangel Gabriel and the Blessed Virgin Mary can be considered one of the most important encounters in the History of all of humanity—world-changing, until the end of time, the effects felt even into eternity!

This passage, most likely, is familiar to many of us. However, at times some of the most sublime and sacred of events can easily be skipped over, read flippantly or superficially without giving too much thought or importance to it. This should not be the case with the account of the Annunciation of the Archangel to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Let us beg for the grace to never trivialize the sacred! May God save us! Let us unpack the eternal importance of this life-changing, historical event  that took place in the humble abode of Nazareth.

1. MARY’S FREEDOM. Mary is free to accept the offering of God or she is free to say “No” as did Eve in the very beginning. Mary teaches us to use our freedom properly and to say “yes” to God and His divine plan of redemption.

2. GABRIEL—GOD’S AMBASSADOR. God chose to send one of His ambassadors from Heaven to announce the Good News of salvation.    Saint Paul says that we are also “Ambassadors of Christ”.  Through Baptism we are sons and daughters of God, but also ambassadors who represent the King of King and Lord of Lords.” We should always strive to live up the heights of this call from God!

3. GREETING OF ARCANGEL GABRIEL.   The Archangel cordially greets Mary:  “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…”  We eternally thank the Archangel Gabriel for this greeting because this is the very first part of the prayer that Our Lady loves most the Hail Mary…. May we pray the Hail Mary with greater attention, love and devotion through the intercession of the Archangel Gabriel.

4. HOLY NAME OF JESUS.  It was the Archangel Gabriel who was sent by God the Father to announce the Good News to Mary that she would be the Mother of God, but also even to announce His NAME.   It was the Archangel Gabriel who actually gave the Holy Name that Mary would give to her child, the Holy Name of JESUS! At this name every knee will bow in heaven, on earth, and even under the earth…” May we learn to have the greatest respect for the name Jesus. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that saying the Name of Jesus with reverence and faith is already a prayer.

5. SALVATION.  Gabriel even explains the meaning of the name of Jesus—“He will come to the people to save them of their sins!”   What an important message: explaining that all of humanity would be saved by this Heavenly Child with the name of JESUS—meaning Savior! Come Lord Jesus, come, come and save us!

6. VIRGINAL CONCEPTION.  Mary had made a vow of virginity and asks the Archangel Gabriel how she would become a mother if she had no relations with man. Once again, it was the Archangel Gabriel who was chosen to explain to Mary the means by which she would maintain her vow of virginity and still have a child and actually be the Mother of God.

7. HOW?  The Archangel Gabriel gives a sign, actually a miraculous sign. Mary’s elderly cousin Elizabeth—way beyond the age of child-bearing—was already in her sixth month because nothing is impossible with God! The virginal conception would come about through the overpowering of the Holy Spirit. How sublime and wonderful this announcement made by the Archangel Gabriel!

8. OUR GOD IS A GOD OF POWER AND MIRACLES!  As was just mentioned the Archangel Gabriel said: “Nothing is impossible with God.”  Our God is a mysterious God, but also a God of power and miracles! Through the intercession of the Archangel Gabriel may we carry out the miracles in our lives that God may ask each and every one of us!

9. ANGEL’S SILENCE AND WAITING FOR MARY’S CONSENT.   The Archangel Gabriel after delivering this heavenly message of Good News waits in silence for Mary to think, ponder, reflect, pray and respond. May this holy angel grant us the grace to think and pray and then respond like the Blessed Virgin Mary! May we have a contemplative spirit and be “contemplatives in action.”

10. MARY’S YES!  Mary responded to the Archangel Gabriel and to God the Father with her “Yes”—this YES of Mary would change the history of the world. Indeed this moment of Mary’s YES was one of the most important moments in the history of the world. Mary said: “I am the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done to me according to thy word.”   In that moment Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Yes! Jesus descends from heaven into the womb of Mary. The consequences of this “Yes” of Mary--- SALVATION!!!         Through Mary’s “Yes” Jesus comes into the world, lives among us, suffers, dies and is buried and is raised from the dead—the gates of heaven are burst asunder and we can be SAVED!!!!! Heaven can be ours for all eternity. Thanks be to God! Thanks be to Mary!  Thanks be to the GOOD NEWS announced to Mary through the Archangel Gabriel. For that reason Pope Paul VI named the Archangel Gabriel the Patron of Communications. Why? Because he communicated the most important Good News of our salvation: the Incarnation and birth of JESUS, Our Lord God and Savior.

Conclusion, we hope and pray that you have met a new friend, an angel friend, an Archangel friend—THE ARCHANGEL SAINT GABRIEL. We pray and hope that this great angel will empower you to avoid sin and practice virtue. We pray that he will help you to understand and live Sacred Scripture.  Furthermore, we pray that he will help you to be thankful to God for the Good News of salvation come about through the mystery of the Annunciation and the Incarnation. Also we pray that he will help you to be a true herald of Good News by your words and life. Of course never forget that when you feel sad, depressed, in a state of deep desolation to turn to your Archangel friend and he will walk with you, talk with you, console you and help you realize that your are really never alone in life! Finally, may the Archangel Gabriel inspire you to love the HAIL MARY. It was Gabriel that gave us the first words and part of the Hail Mary. May he be with us in this life and all eternity to praise the Trinity along with the angels and the Queen of Angels—Mary most Holy, the Mother of God!

 

Monday, September 22, 2014

RAPHAEL: OUR JOYFUL ANGELIC FRIEND!

Raphael is companion in life
Couched in between the Book of Nehemiah and Judith can be found an endearing, heart-warming, uplifting and inspiring short Book of the Bible with the title Tobit.  Composed of only fourteen short chapters, the story runs smoothly and quickly with simple but profound messages for the whole world and at all times. The Word of God is like a two-edged sword that pierces bone from marrow. Jesus reminds us that man does not simply live on bread alone but on every word that issues forth from the mouth of God.  The Psalmist calls our attention to the fact that the word is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.

In this short essay we would like to focus upon one person present in this brilliant Biblical short-story and literary masterpiece—the person of an angel, whose name is Raphael.  Our prayer and hope is that after reading and prayerfully  reflecting upon the Book of Tobit and becoming familiar with this simple and humble composition, that you will be comforted with meeting, knowing, and loving a new friend that already knows you and loves you—the Archangel Raphael.

Indeed this Archangel greatly desires to walk with you, accompany you in this life so that he will be present with you for all eternity, absorbed in the love of the Blessed Trinity for all eternity.

TWO SERIOUS PROBLEMS: GOD’S POWERFUL INTERVENTION THROUGH AN ANGEL….

Raphael and healing of the blind Tobit
The Book of Tobit presents us with two very serious problems from the outset! Two families are suffering excruciating pains that do not seem to have an easy solution!

PROBLEM ONE: in the family of Tobit.  There are two Tobits—the father and son.  The father is a very good man! During a meal, he leaves the table to help to bury the dead. But as it happens, exhausted due to his strenuous work of burying the dead, he falls asleep, but with his eyes open. Unfortunately, birds passing left their droppings that fall into his eyes. To make a long story short, despite the intervention of the doctors and their various remedies, the poor man ends up blind—not able to see the light of the day, the color of the rainbow or the smiling faces of his family members. Imagine his suffering and all because he sacrificed himself to exercise a corporal work of mercy—to bury the dead!

Prayer before marriage consummation
PROBLEM TWO:  Not too distant from the residence of the two Tobits lived Sarah, a distant relative to the family of Tobit. The suffering of this young woman was beyond limits! Her most earnest desire was to marry a young man and to form a wholesome and God-fearing family. However, the devil, whose name was Asmodeus, intervened in a terrible fashion. Every time that Sarah would marry, the wedding night Asmodeus would visit the room and slay her new husband, leaving him dead and the poor young woman a widow.  This did not happen once or twice, but six times! The end result for Sarah was nothing less than total despair! The thought came to her that the best solution would be to simply go up in the upper room, get a rope and hang herself to end her endless misery!

Therefore, we are confronted with two very serious family problems; on a human level, seemingly beyond solution!  However, all things are possible for God if there is faith. Indeed God can even move mountains. God will intervene in a surprising, but very powerful way, not directly, but indirectly through the mediation of one of His chief emissaries—an angel, better yet an Archangel, whose name was Raphael. Actually the translation of “Raphael” could be rendered “Medicine of God or “God heals”.

In short, Raphael is sent by God to accompany the younger Tobit to the home of Sarah for the purpose of sealing a marriage and avoiding future tragedies. On the way to the home, Tobit Jr. being led by Raphael, as they walk along the shore of the sea, they grab hold of a fish and cut out the liver of the fish which Raphael insists be brought with them to the home of Sara and her parents—which is done!

Raphael watches over couples
Upon arriving Tobit asks for the hand of Sarah in Holy Matrimony. The parents consent to giving up their beautiful daughter, who has suffered so much for having lost her previous six prospect husbands. However, before retiring that night and consummating the marriage, both Sarah and Tobit burn some of the gall of the fish—to ward away the evil spirits. But even more important, they both pray that God will protect them and bless their marriage. This being done in the name of God, the two are united in holy Matrimony and the evil spirits take flight. Most likely the other prospects died because they sought her for lustful motives rather than noble motives of pure love!  A great message today for our youth!  Thanks be to God and thanks be to the intercession of the Archangel Raphael, “God Heals”, Sarah’s problem was brought to a successful conclusion.

Raphael as patron  of eyesight
Now what about the problem of the elderly blind man—Tobit Sr.? Upon returning from his wedding and arriving home with his wife, accompanied by the Archangel Raphael, the angelic doctor insists on prayer and also to taking the fish  gall that was used earlier before the wedding night, but this time to apply the fish gall to the eyes of the  blind—father. Done with humility and obedience something consoling happened to the father of Tobit.  Something like scales that were covering his eyes peeled off and he was able to see once again! Another major victory and triumph over human evil—sickness, manifested by blindness! How kind, loving and good God truly is!

Therefore, before our eyes this Biblical passage manifests God’s loving and healing presence in healing two families with almost unsolvable predicaments—blindness and the loss of prospect husbands. Sadness to the point of despair was transformed into overflowing light for the eyes and joy to the young romantic hearts! 

We would invite all of you to choose today a new friend—the Archangel Raphael, “God heals”.  We will present a list of the specific areas that this great angel can help you, come to your aid and lead you on to the path that leads to holiness, happiness, and heaven!

SAINT RAPHAEL, THE ARCHANGEL AS PATRON OF:

Raphael walk with us too!
1.    TRAVELLERS.  He led young Tobit safely to the home of his future bride and spouse Sara. May Raphael accompany us and save us from the many dangers we experience on our journey to heaven.

2.    FUTURE SPOUSES.  It was Raphael that brought both Tobit Jr. and Sarah together as future spouses.  Today more than ever let us consecrate our young people to Raphael so that he might help them to make the right decision with respect to their marriage vocation. One wrong choice can prove catastrophic. May this holy Angel give them light and wisdom on this all-important choice.

Raphael as patron of the engaged
3.    PURITY.  Before they married they prayed together, expressing their desire not to marry due to lust but for the noble purpose of forming a family. May our young people, through the intercession of Saint Raphael, pursue holiness of mind, feelings, body, thought and action!

4.    HAPPY MEETINGS.  Furthermore, St. Raphael is the patron of happy meetings or encounters.  He was the one that presented the young couple to each other by travelling with Tobit Jr.  How often do we have meetings and encounters on a daily basis?  How often these meetings start with tensions and end worse? Why not make it a common practice to invite the Archangel Raphael to be with you in your daily encounters with people.  Beyond a shadow of doubt the meetings will be more peaceful and bear more abundant fruit. Try it!

5.    JOY!  Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, insists on being missionaries to the whole world, in bringing the Good News of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to all people. However, the Pope insists that we cannot be walking around with a funeral face, but must radiate the joy of the Risen Jesus! The Archangel Raphael, by his powerful intercession and will of Almighty God, transformed tragedy and utter despair into an overflowing and exultant joy! Blindness into sight and death into the joy of married love! May you choose the Archangel Raphael to be your travelling companion in life and he will preserve you in a constant state of joy of heart. Saint Paul exhorts us:  “Rejoice in the Lord; I say it once again: rejoice in the Lord!” (Phil. 4:4)

Raphael means God heals!
6.    PATRON OF EYES.  It was through the intercession of the Archangel Saint Raphael that this poor blind man, Tobit Sr. recovered his sight, by the application of the remains of the fish. How important today in our modern society to consecrate our eyes to Saint Raphael, Saint Lucy, and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In a pornographic society where so many people are addicted to the impure image—TV., internet, movies, indecent magazines, billboards, etc.—we must have some powerful intervention. May Saint Raphael help us to walk on the path of holiness and purity. May he help us to avoid the near occasion of sin; may he help us to control our eyes which are truly the mirror of our soul. May this great angel help us to live out the Beatitude:  “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.” (Mt. 5:8)

7.    PATRON OF PRAYER—THANKS AND PRAISE.   At the end of this heart-warming story, the Archangel Raphael does not attribute the triumphs and successes to himself. On the contrary, the angel points to God and praises and thanks God and invites Tobit, the family as well as all of us to render praise and thanksgiving to God who is the author of all good gifts—sight, health, healing, marriages and vocations. May this Glorious Archangel foster in our hearts an attitude of perpetual gratitude and a desire to constantly praise the good God for all the gifts He has so generously bestowed upon us.

Raphael teach us the art of prayer
In conclusion, you are never alone! Starting today, why not embrace a new friend, and angelic friend, an Archangel—Raphael. Ask him to walk with you, to accompany you, to be with you, to guide and protect you, to fill you with both purity and over-flowing joy. He longs for your friendship. If accepted he will be your strong and faithful friend on earth in time and for all eternity in heaven. Saint Raphael, be with us; walk with us; pray for us; be our dear and constant friend!

Our Lady as the Queen of angels