To Whom Shall I Go?

My brain has been on overload for the last week. As a Catholic, I, along with so many other faithful, have been rocked by the news regarding cover-ups, lies, sexual perversity and assault, by those in positions of power within the Catholic Church. My heart hurts and I know Our Lords heart has been wounded by those with whom He called to lead His sheep.

I’m not sure if I’m more angry at those who committed the atrocities or saddened for those who were victims. So many people are voicing their opinions about the way to seek justice, punish the perpetrators, “clean house,” and or leave the Catholic Church altogether. I decided I wasn’t able to sort all of this out in my brain so, I went to Adoration and turned it all over to Jesus.

Adoration is probably the best place to be at this time. Our Church needs the faithful to continue praying for it, for those Holy Priests, Bishops and Cardinals who will have a very difficult time through all of this. They will be confronted with anger, threats, and a shaking-up of their own faith and commitment to God. I’ve already heard of a good, Holy priest being verbally accused of being a child molester and other priests wondering if they should go travel in their clerics or not, just so they don’t get harassed. It’s sad to know how a few, terribly bad men, can cause the whole lot to be blanketed with such hatred by the public.

Bishop Fulton Sheen once said that about every 500 years or so, the Catholic church will experience a scandal that will rock it to its very core. Well, it’s been about 500 years since the Reformation and while I would have preferred not to have to live though this; we now have one of our worst scandals.

While I was sitting before the Blessed Sacrament, I was pondering what it was that I could do. I knew about the traditions of prayer and sacrifice; however, one word kept popping up into my head, love. I am to love. When we love, we are letting that part of God fill us; because, what is God other than love itself? He chose us before he created the Universe, before He created the earth, and before He even thought of a raindrop.  He loves us so much He wants us to be with Him forever, in eternity. It’s hard to imagine that kind of love. Even when we try to compartmentalize and think of our greatest love; such as, the love of our children, spouse, and parents, God’s love for us is so much greater than that, we just can’t fully comprehend or even imagine it!

God wants us to love. In order to do that, He laid out guidelines, just as a parent would set boundaries for their children, because they love them; He created the commandments for us. In Matthew 22, 34-39, the Pharisees asked Jesus which commandment of the law is the greatest and He replied, ” You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Jesus also spoke of the second commandment which is like it: ” You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

When we love God, we turn to him in thanksgiving and in sorrow. God never stops loving us; He never leaves us. We have to remember this when it comes to the Church that Jesus founded. He has promised that the gates of Hell will not prevail against it; however, He did not say the Church would be uncorrupted. Man is corrupt and if a mere mortal is placed in the seat of Peter, as a Cardinal, Bishop or priest, he is still just a man. The evil one can infiltrate his thoughts and actions if he allows it. Satan tempted Jesus after his 40 days in the desert with power and prestige; however, unlike Jesus who cast Satan away, men can be lured by the sin of pride, rather than forgetting oneself for the sake of another.

Now, more than ever, we must pray for our Church. We must purge the prideful, arrogant, and sinful men from our ranks and build a Holy, Apostolic Church which has LOVE at its foundation. We can’t abandon the Church which Jesus founded; as a matter of fact, we should be praying harder, fasting, and sacrificing more, so we may offer to the Father our love for His Son and the sacrifice He gave of himself for us. I keep thinking of the words of Saint Peter, in John 6, 67-68 when Jesus asked his Apostles, ” Do you also want to leave?  Simon Peter answered him, ” Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

God’s love never leaves us no matter what we do, say or neglect. I can’t let my love for the Church Jesus founded just go away because of the sins of man. Where would I go? I choose to stay, pray and love more. Do you?

Sign Off and Listen For the Whisper

You have to be made of tough stuff if you want to become holy. I was going to add, ” in this day and age;” however, when I read about the Saints and Martyrs of long ago, they also endured tough times – even more so than today. They were often trying to avoid physical torture, imprisonment or even death for their beliefs, whereas today, (at least in the United States) we have laws and rights allowing us our religious liberty without fear of governmental punishment. Unfortunately, our country is starting to become one in which our freedom of religious expression is being put on trial.

We hear about minority groups being “offended” or insulted by someone’s particular beliefs and usually, these groups are ones who have infiltrated large organizations who have some kind of influence on the media. It used to be that media reported news fairly and impartially; that is far from the truth in today’s world. Whatever particular agenda these groups have, they are able to manipulate those in their control to get that message out there to the public. Media, politicians, Universities and even religious sects can bombard us with so many versions of “the agenda” we become immune or worse, start to believe what they are “selling.” Being told things like moral relativism should be embraced, everyone can believe and live however they feel is right, and seeing violence, poverty, sexual impurity and hate, on a daily basis, is Satan’s way of manipulating our thoughts and minds. Those of us, who are trying to become holy, do not have to deal with the threats and punishments saints of the past had to; however, today, we are fighting with the torturing of our minds and death of our souls if we aren’t careful. With all of these influences, there is no way we can achieve holiness by our own power.

God created us to be saints. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2013) states, ” All are called to Holiness.” Only with God’s grace can we become saints. We must cooperate with God and follow where he leads, even in our ordinary ways of life. God is interested in our friendship and love. We must spend time with God in order to develop that friendship and love he so desires of us. Tuning out, turning off, and letting go of our technologically driven life for a few minutes each day will allow us to draw closer to Him. How can we expect to develop a friendship if we don’t give our undivided attention to Our Loving Father and His Son each day? It is often said that God speaks to us in a whisper. If we have everything “turned on,” how can we expect to hear that whisper amidst the chaos? Many times, people say they cannot be alone or they cannot stand the silence, I wonder why. Learning to be alone, not always having to be “doing” something, embracing the silence, and allowing yourself to be open to drawing closer to God and listening for that whisper will change your life. With these little changes in our behavior,  we learn that, “To be a saint requires nether extraordinary actions or works nor the possession of exceptional charisms.” Pope Benedict XVI  We only have to let God work through us – who’d have thought it would be that easy!

Once we have allowed God to work through us, truly guiding our lives, we can begin to grow in holiness and understanding that God has always been with us. We begin to understand that there isn’t a single moment God is not communicating with us in some way. He may use nature, interior thoughts, a loved one or friend or any particular event. As we grow deeper in our Spiritual life, we will realize that every event is a word of God to us. He is in everything that happens and it requires a deep faith to recognize Him in everyday, ordinary incidents. It is difficult to think that the God of the Universe can be present in our individual daily lives. We expect to see a heavenly Christ who reigns above all; however, to believe God can be so human and involved in our mundane lives is not only difficult for us, it was difficult for those during the early Church.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus returns to his native land and those who knew him couldn’t accept that he was truly the Son of God. They questioned how he gained his wisdom, how he could perform his mighty deeds, wasn’t he just a carpenter, a relative of many and was born the son of Mary? They had Jesus right in front of them and couldn’t see Him for what he is! They couldn’t accept his humanity and the influence he could make upon their lives. We may do the same thing by not recognizing someone who is saintly among our acquaintances unless they do something extraordinarily holy. We have difficulty believing someone we know could be so ordinary could be so holy; unless of course, they suffer piously or we discover something about them after they die that elevates them to “sainthood” in our eyes. We must remember that our faith teaches us that Christ lives within our hearts and we should pray for our eyes to be opened to seeing Christ in others, even those who may bother us, annoy us or even be related to us! Let us remember to take the time to tune out Satan’s distractions and  develop the friendship and love for God our Father and Jesus Christ his son. Once we can do that, we will see the world and God’s people in a whole new way!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Science and God – do they go together?

There are so many new, technological, advances happening, almost every minute of every day, that most of us aren’t even aware of. There are ways an artist can utilize a computer to “paint” images, artificial intelligence is progressing rapidly, and the medical field is advancing in its use of robotics, research and stem cell therapies.

I could just imagine my grandfather shaking his head in disbelief, if he knew some of the ways our modern culture uses technology. The first thing we think of is how everyone has to stay “connected.” Everyone is so technologically connected; however, we couldn’t be more disconnected from each other. So many young people these days (and some adults) don’t even know how to have an intimate conversation with another human being. They are so used to abbreviating their thoughts to everyone and no one, they become uncomfortable if a conversation lasts more than 5 minutes and heaven forbid, has a little substance to it. It makes me wonder, how are people conversing with God?

We don’t have the ability to send little text messages to God when the feeling moves us; however, when Jesus advised his followers to “pray constantly,” it kind of reminds me that our recognition of God, in the little things of our day, can be “mental” text messages to Our Loving Father. Reminding our children, young adults and other relatives that sending these little messages is a fantastic way to stay “connected” to Our Loving Father, as well as, Jesus, Mary and the Saints.

One of the wonderful things about texting, computers, and social media, is the fact that people are doing a lot of reading. I overheard some people in the bookstore talking about how they love the new technology of being able to receive books electronically; yet, they were IN A BOOK STORE. Apparently, there was something about being able to hold and turn the pages of a book that still attracted them to purchasing a printed form of a story. For me, the Bible is one book I need to be able to hear, see and feel as I read the Word of God. I believe the Bible was made just for those senses of ours. We can feel the thinness of the paper but know what powerful words they contain. We hear the rustle of the pages and know God speaks to us softly through His words. We see the gold lined pages and know they hold within them, the treasure which we seek. The Bible is an experience and I hope technology lovers don’t abandon it.

I know I’ll have some tech-y folks tell me how much good our society is for having it and I’d have to agree and disagree. I watched 3 out of 5 grandchildren be born via caesarean section and am so thankful we’ve got the technology to have those mother’s lives ( and most likely baby’s) saved through this procedure. I’ve also witnessed my Aunt’s heart transplant and survival, my Father’s open heart surgery, as well as, my own surgeries which have saved or improved my own life. We have stem cell therapies which use your own blood, extract the stem cells from it, and re-inject those cells back into areas of the body which can be strengthened, repaired or improved in some way; however, nothing is every guaranteed. Science sometimes goes too far. They’ve used DNA to clone animals, used stem cells from aborted fetuses, and are working on a type of artificial intelligence that will mimic a human and learn from the interaction and cues we present to them. Scary stuff. Some would argue that God has allowed us to progress in our scientific minds so we can achieve these wonders; doesn’t that mean it’s alright?

One of the definitions of science is, “The systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.” Those of us who believe in God, know that He created everything and has given us tools to discover his creations. Modern science is not only compatible with Christianity; it in fact, finds its origins in Christianity. Nothing that God has created is untrue. There is no square-circle, up-down, or male-female. Science helps us discover these truths in nature. When science starts to go down the slippery slope of twisting the truths of nature, that is where we start to have problems and begin to get out of control. I can’t even imagine how many failed clones were “created” before scientists “discovered” how to perfect it. What science cannot quantify, examine, or calculate is the conscience, the faith, and belief of said clone. So, then what? We have an animal who represents the one cloned; however, there is absolutely nothing that can analyze the interior of that being. Who knows if that particular animal has an interior torment.  So many failed scientific experiments have shown us that there is no such thing as an EXACT science. Even today, studies are being reproduced with more technologically advanced  techniques that disprove theories that were once considered error-proof.

God is error-proof. He doesn’t make mistakes. We, as Catholic Christians, have to remember this when discussing topics which the mainstream want to designate as humanistic or humanism in general. These terms refer to any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity predominate. Those with the humanistic agenda believe what a person thinks or feels is most important and disregards religious beliefs or values that doesn’t allow a person to create their own set of values and ethics in which to live by. This is seen more and more in today’s culture and the underlying cause of this is relativism. If everyone can believe what they want, do what they want, and ignore the truth and values set for us by God, we will continue to spiral down that slippery slope of technology, until we don’t recognize that person next to us; because who knows….they might be a man-goat, just because that is what they identify as. Lord help us!

Thank goodness Jesus came to earth to save us from ourselves! This month of  July traditionally honors the Most Precious Blood of Jesus. It is the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, which cleanses from sin, therefore the Church developed a devotion to Jesus’ physical blood and its mystical power, just as it did for his Sacred Heart from which his blood poured out on the Cross. The most brilliant mind cannot explain the saving power of this Most Precious Blood. We do know that this Precious Blood is the truth of the Father, come down to us, in human form. We are blessed, as Catholics, that the Precious Blood of Jesus courses through the Church spiritually, giving eternal life to the Body of Christ through the sacraments. For this, we need no scientific explanation, we have received Grace through these sacraments which help us to believe and accept all the truths of the Catholic Church, science or no science!

 

Unexpected Time Out for God

In the last year, my life has changed pretty significantly. I’ve had to deal with a physical issue that has caused my professional career of 29 years to come to a screeching halt. I enjoyed my career; however, like most people, was looking forward to the day I didn’t have to wake by an alarm and could do what I wanted. I have to tell you, it’s a lot different when you are planning on retiring from your profession versus having to quit.

I’ve come to realize that God wanted me to take time out for Him, and He probably wasn’t going to get the time He deserved from me, without having to physically stop me in my tracks, because I’m one of those people who have always had something going on. I love to hike, bike, explore, try something new, learn and in general, be active. I had always thought I would have time for “being more Holy” later on, when I couldn’t do all those active things I was doing. Apparently, God decided that time was sooner than later.

Mentally, I was upset that my body failed me. I was always proud of the fact that I could quickly pass younger people on a hike or really get my speed up on a bike ride at my ripe old 50-something age. I didn’t want to face the fact that 29 years of a very physical job did me in and not only would I have to stop working, I could no longer do some of the active outdoorsy things I loved. I could sense myself starting to get a little depressed, down or frustrated, especially during my recovery period and I can fully understand how some people could spiral downward if they didn’t have a relationship with God. Now, I’m not saying I had the best relationship; however, a couple of years earlier, I had made the commitment to attend Adoration every week and I believe that was the catalyst that started me on my journey into learning more about my faith and wanting to become as Holy as I could be with my time here on earth.

When thinking about what it takes to become Holy, one might think they are to pray constantly, attend daily Mass, give to the poor, feed the hungry and on and on. I know that is pretty much what I thought becoming Holy was all about. When you look at it like that, the majority of people who are working or attending school, wouldn’t have time for everything “required” to becoming Holy, and I knew that physically, I wouldn’t be able to do much of anything except prayer for a while. The Catholic Church says that we are all called to be Holy and this Universal Call to Holiness is based upon Matthew 5:48 – “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” From the very first pages of the Bible, we see the call to holiness expressed in the Lord’s words to Abraham: “Walk before me, and be blameless”.

When God stopped me in my tracks and I had the time to sit and reflect, I discovered that the Council of Vatican II stated, “Holiness is first of all a gift of grace, the gift of love by which we love God above all things and our neighbor for God’s sake. But in order for love to grow, we must cooperate with this grace, completing what God has begun in us.” We first receive grace through Baptism and the Holy Spirit. Allowing the Holy Spirit to work through us depending on our situation or obligations will allow us to grow in Christ’s love for one another.

Using our specific strengths or talents, each one of us can become more like Christ; thus, becoming more Holy. We need to remember to accept our specific gifts with love, know they are from Christ and use them for God’s will, out of love for Him. This is what so many people (including myself) need to understand. Many of us may not be able to physically do for others; however, we may actually be doing more for someone’s soul by praying for them, seeking reparation for souls who are in purgatory, or offering your sufferings for others. I’ve read about many a saint who, while confined to their sickbed, asked not for a cure to their ailment(s) because they were doing more good for souls by offering up their sufferings for them. We have to remember that it is out of charity and love for others we do these things.

Some people, many Protestants and even some Catholics, mistakenly think we Catholics are all about doing good deeds. They believe we are tallying up a list of our good deeds to present at the gates of Heaven, as our ticket to get in. The Catholic Church teaches that our moral life, the righteous life that God desires from us and is one we need to live to become Holy, is precisely fulfilled in our interior disposition toward God and neighbor. If I love God and love neighbor, my heart toward God has changed from opposition and animosity, to one of faith, love, trust and filial dependence on God. Through this gift of love for others and to live a virtuous life as Christ did, we are called to do good deeds. This is just an extension of the gifts we are given through faith in Christ. We can recall St. James 2:17 saying, “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” and in James 2:22, “You see that faith was active along with his works and faith was completed by the works.”  We must have both to fulfill God’s will for our lives.

Deepening our Faith through scripture, the Eucharist, prayer and other sacraments, will allow us to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit more fully and recognize the times we can be more charitable, virtuous and Holy in our lives. For those of us who have physical limitations, it is wonderful to know that God made us able to help the souls of others through the offering of our sufferings to Him. We may not be aware of all we do for others in this lifetime; however, one day we will be shown just what our prayers and offering up has done for souls. I, for one, am looking forward to that day.

Dialoging with God

I don’t know about you but for me, praying was very difficult. Sure, I’d mutter little prayers now and then during the day; however, rarely did I make prayer something I committed to and never did I volunteer to pray in front of people, heaven forbid!

To tell you the truth, I didn’t really know how to pray. At Mass, we have many prayers and at home we have our prayers before meals, maybe before bedtime, and we might fit in a rosary or an Our Father, here and there, but typically you’d catch me falling asleep before I remembered to pray, or I’d get sidetracked when I intended to say the Rosary. I never really committed to a certain time, place or type of prayer, it was something I knew I should do, I knew it was good for me; yet, I felt like it was a duty and never really got anything out of it. The habit of prayer reminded me of my dental patients who would complain how hard it was to get into the habit of flossing every day. They knew flossing was good for them, it wasn’t hard to do, and they were glad they did it after they finished; however, it was just something that took a little extra effort to get established into their daily routine. Sounds very similar to establishing a pattern of daily prayer.

I learned there are 3 expressions of prayer: Vocal, Meditative and Contemplative. Vocal prayer is anything we express out loud and can be something simple as, “Thank you God for the rain,” to a prayer we recite out loud at Mass. Sometimes, we can be sort of disengaged if we pray a prayer we’ve said numerous times so, it is important to re-focus our minds on what we are saying. Meditative prayer is a wonderful way to place ourselves into the prayer we are reciting or if we are reading the sacred scriptures, writings of the Church Fathers, or other spiritual writings,  it is a way we allow the Holy Spirit to bring to life the words that are before us. Finally, contemplative prayer allows us to be silent and let the Holy Spirit work within us and unite ourselves with God. This is a time to be still and just let God come into us so we may be joined more fully to Him.

I’ve heard so many people complain or question if God really hears our prayers and if so, why doesn’t he answer them. I used to have those same questions until one day I either heard or read that God hears and answers all our prayers in one of three ways: yes, not yet, or I have a better plan. I learned that most of the time God had a better plan that I hadn’t even considered (imagine that) and it was far superior to what I was asking for at the time.

God wants us to encounter Him and have a relationship with Him. God is love and if you love, you should seek God through prayer. Prayer is always initiated by God. We need to listen first because God speaks to us through His word. Trying to pray without the word of God is much more difficult because we aren’t listening. Prayer can be hard because we start at the wrong step in the process of praying. When we feel that our praying is boring, tedious, one-sided, it is basically a monologue because we aren’t listening. When we listen, talk, listen again with God, a relationship develops and we have a dynamic dialog within our prayer.

There is an ancient method of praying called Lectio Divina. While this may sound like something only priests and religious do, it is something very simple and profound. Lectio Divina means Divine Reading or Praying with Scripture. Using this method of prayer allows us to begin to have a dialog with God. Saint Augustine said, “When you read the Bible, God speaks to you; when you pray, you speak to God.” We must first listen to the word of God. “The secret of the saints is that they hear the word of God afresh and how they apply it to themselves now. The saints hear the word spoken to them.” Dr Tim Grey

Praying the Lectio Divina method might sound kind of daunting; however, the steps are quite simple. First you read scripture in a particular way, not just zooming over a passage just to finish a verse or chapter. You will read a short passage, think about it, pray about it, meditate on it through out the day and let it penetrate your heart/life. When you are praying about it, you are speaking to God after He has spoken to you through His word. This conversation will help you begin the dialog with him, allow you to meditate on the word and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you through your silent contemplation.

Now sometimes you may not hear, feel, or sense anything and that is okay; however, as you grow closer to God through this form of prayer, you will get those soft whispers of Gods voice answering you. Sometimes, actually, many times, he uses other people to answer your prayers. God doesn’t just speak words to us, he give us the word in flesh through His son Jesus. We, as Catholics are blessed as, “the wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water; there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is He who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us.” Catechism of the Catholic Church 2560

I love knowing that Jesus meets us where we are and seeks us out. Like most people, I’ve had my share of hard times and prayers of petition were all I could think to do and other times where prayers of thankfulness just rolled off my tongue. I’ve been ever so aware of the blessings I’ve received by listening first and having to place all my trust in God. At times, I would say I trusted in God, but deep down, if I had any way of having an impact on an outcome, I’d rely on myself. Of course, that is when the outcome of a certain petition was not answered in a way I thought I wanted. When I truly came to trust in God, He answered my prayers in ways that always blew my mind. Now, when I say I trust in God, I had it over to Him, totally. Praying is no longer a chore, or a relief when I can get it out-of-the-way. I find I am building my relationship and working toward a fuller union with God as I listen to His word and incorporate it into my day through meditation and contemplation. God is love and I love seeking Him.

 

 

Holiness-We are All Called, but are You Listening?

I love late-Spring mornings; not too early mind you, but early enough that I can see the dew on the grass, hear the birds chirping and feel the peace of quiet stillness as the world wakes up.

Usually, it’s at this time of day when I feel the closeness of Jesus. I may not be praying in the “normal” sense of the word, but I acknowledge the presence of Our Lord in the stillness, the birds and the beauty of the world I get to observe, and I’m thankful.

Of course, in my quest of becoming a holy person, I try to have times of prayer, reading of the scriptures or spiritual books and even listening to Catholic radio or podcasts during the day; however, I need to remember to ask Jesus for help in achieving the holiness he wants out of me, and everyone for that matter. I realize making a plan to cultivate the interior life, of love for Jesus, requires me to do the same things I would do if I were making a goal of losing weight or starting an exercise routine, and that is a critical part of growing in holiness.

We hear from the Vatican that there is a Universal Call to Holiness, but what does that really mean? Basically, it is to imitate Jesus by allowing his life to transform ours. Pope Benedict and Pope Francis both mentioned how Jesus’ life could be described in the 8 Beatitudes described in the Gospel of Matthew. In the Beatitudes, they give us a basic outline for living as Jesus did and echo his mercy, spirituality and compassion for others. When we practice the virtues of humility, charity and brotherly love, we transform our inner person because love is the motivation and God is love, itself.

Imitating Jesus and allowing his life to transform ours can be difficult. We have the initial struggle due to the stain of original sin, our tendencies toward sin, and the pressures of the outside world to contend with. Often, we struggle with what we want to do and what we should be doing, or we don’t feel like we are progressing on our spiritual journey because we aren’t sensing any consolation after a trial or we dont have any feelings of closeness from Our Lord.  In the book, ” The Fulfillment of All Desire,” Ralph Martin says, ” When we start looking for or seeking a certain feeling or sensation in our spiritual activities rather than God Himself, we have departed from the straight path of faith and have begun to seek ourselves rather than God.”  Likewise, Saint John of the Cross mentions those who are beginning on the spiritual path to holiness, “often want God to desire what they want and they become sad if they have to desire God’s will and feel an aversion toward adapting their will to God’s.” It didn’t occur to me right away that part of my road to holiness would take the turns that God willed and not the turns I mapped out. That was a pretty significant lesson for me; however, my little twists and turns were hardly worth mentioning compared to some saints I’ve read about. These holy men and women often had to undergo tremendous external and interior trials on their path to holiness and they all accepted it as God’s will for them and bore the physical and spiritual trials willingly. We have the recent Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta who went through decades of “the dark night of the soul,”  where she didn’t have the sensory delights or affirmations of the Lord but knew she was being lead by God to a deeper trust and abandonment to His will. There were also numerous saints who suffered terrible physical ailments and even torture but never lost their faith. I’ve questioned my own faith at times after reading about so many brave saints and wonder if I’d have been just as faithful.

We know that for most people, with age comes wisdom, and we can also conclude those who are seeking to become holy require many years, if not a lifetime, to reach some level of holiness, if they are lucky. Even Jesus chose disciples who at first glance were flawed men that abandoned Him in his time of need. Yet, they were chosen and perfected through time and had moments of success as well as failures. They ultimately achieved such a high level of sanctity they were willing to die for the love of the Lord. So, if these flawed, ordinary men could be chosen and perfected why not us?

We, as chosen members of the Body of Christ, have been given the chance to grow and be “perfected” through faith and Baptism in order for us to reach Heaven. We know that the Bible tells us nothing unclean shall enter heaven and Jesus calls us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. This perfection isn’t something related to our everyday life in the sense of being a perfectionist about everything, it is the perfection of the soul. We are called to a higher standard even though we are imperfect, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can apply the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles to love one another and grow in that love. Saint John talks about this love by saying, “In this love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.” (1 Jn: 4:17) And I love this quote by Ralph Martin when he said,  “Holiness begins with the fear of the Lord and ends in a love without fear.”

My goal in growing in holiness is to achieve the love of God insomuch that I go through the times of trials and sufferings without desolation and know there will be a purification of my soul and in that I will find joy. It is hard and I think as I grow closer and allow the will of God to become my will; I will be challenged even more as my faith is tested. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I think I’m up to the challenge….are you?

 

 

 

 

Good or Virtuous, That is the Question

Lately, I’ve been trying to read something about the “Saint of the Day,” or a particular Saint that pops into my head when I wonder how on earth someone could be “saintly” when they dealt with war, poverty, or death of family members. Usually, or rather, in every case, I read that they were virtuous or was raised by a person of virtue. I made the general assumption that “virtue” was another word for “good.” Little did I know there was a lot more to it than just being good.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only the ability to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself.” (CCC 1803) I can’t remember the last time I truly gave the best of myself to something. If the saints are virtuous people, that means they are giving the best of themselves ALL THE TIME. Boy, do I have a long way to go; but I guess that is the goal, to lead a virtuous life so, we can become saints and be more like God.

The Catholic Church says we have basically three types of virtues: Human, Cardinal and Theological. All of these Virtues have Gifts and Fruits – things we receive from them and things we see working through us, as a result of attaining these virtues.  Within the Human Virtues, we have Moral Virtues and these are basically achieved when one does morally good acts and allows us human beings to use all our skills and senses to be in communion with divine love; after all, God is the moral law giver. Our human effort is required to obtain these moral virtues, and anyone can do so. It makes you wonder why Atheists are moral, if the creator of Moral Virtues/Law is God, and they have no belief in such a being; but then again, we call ourselves Catholic Christians and sit in churches all the while lacking in Moral Virtues and steeped in sin. But I digress, all I know is that morality exists outside of humanity and it was created by God who wants us to be more like Him in all things.

Cardinal Virtues are virtues all other virtues are grouped around. There are 4 Cardinal Virtues which are: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. In layman’s terms I’ll attempt to define them.

Prudence is allowing our reason to discern true good in every situation and to choose the right way of achieving it. Basically, using our conscience to guide us in moral principles and others virtues by setting up rules and guidelines which will help us avoid evil.

Justice is a moral virtue that requires a man to respect the rights of others and to treat each other justly and fairly. Also, to “Give God justice through the ‘Virtue of Religion.'” (CCC 1807)

Fortitude can also be described as courage and it requires one to have a firm resolve during difficulties in the pursuit of good. It helps us in the big and small trials of life and allows us to resist temptations, overcome fear, face persecution and even death in defense of a just cause.

Temperance allows us the ability to resist desires of pleasure and to moderate our appetites and maintain levels that are good and honorable.

The more we practice virtues, the more we are purified and elevated by God’s divine grace. “The virtuous man is happy to practice them.” (CCC 1810) We receive God’s grace by Christ’s gift of salvation. We should ask for this grace to be able to be more virtuous and if we are more virtuous, the more graces we shall be granted! I can attest to this. Once I started practicing ( often getting back up and trying again) to be more virtuous, I noticed the “fruits” of the gifts of virtues being given to me.

The last of the virtues are Theological Virtues which are Faith, Hope and Charity. Those of us Catholics recognize these three words as we pray for an increase of these virtues every time we recite the Holy Rosary. We find the very foundation of a Christian’s moral life must begin with these virtues because they directly relate to God. One cannot claim to be a Christian without believing in God, believing all He has said, and doing His will through the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.

We have to remember that being a member of a “Religion” which only believes in one of these Theological Virtues, or separates the virtues into individual categories without the need of uniting them, is a false religion. You cannot have faith alone or hope alone or charity/love alone – they must be intertwined.

To clarify, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “If faith is deprived of hope and love, faith does not fully unite the believer to Christ and does not make him a living member of his Body.” (1815) For “By Faith, man freely commits his entire self to God.” (CCC 1814) “Service and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation.” (CCC 1816) You might recognize this as the beginning of the Faith and Works disagreement we have with our separated brothers in Christ. They often are taught that Faith alone is sufficient for salvation and are diminishing the necessity of the virtues of Hope and Charity.

The virtue of Hope is when we desire eternal life in the kingdom of heaven and place all our trust in Christ’ promises. We cannot rely on our own strength to achieve hope eternal and that is why Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit, to strengthen us. Through the graces given to us by the Holy Spirit, we aspire to happiness through the virtue of Hope and can have faith in Jesus’ preaching, promises and love for us. We nourish our hope through a relationship with Our Lord through prayer, charity and doing his will.

Charity is “The virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake and  our neighbor as ourselves, for the love of God.”  (CCC 1822) The Apostle Paul often spoke of the virtue of Charity and said, “Out of the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity, the greatest of these is Charity.” ( 1 Cor 13:13) “Charity binds everything all together in perfect harmony.” (Col 3:14) Charity helps us to love one another as God loves us. It is the command that Jesus gave to us when He implored us to love our enemies rather than just those who love us in return. “We experience a purifying of our human ability to love and raise it to the supernatural perfection of Divine love” (CCC 1827) when we reach this goal of Christian life.

We are so lucky that our Catholic Faith teaches us these concepts of virtue and how they should be woven into our daily thoughts, feelings and actions. I feel that those outside our faith aren’t told about the necessity of infusing the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity/Love together into their lives. For those who are taught that all they need for salvation is Faith alone, they aren’t able to rely on the Spiritual freedom we receive from God when we practice these virtues so, they often use the Calvinist theory of being hidden (from the wrath of God) by the blood of Christ in order to be “saved.”

“If we turn away from evil out of the fear of punishment, we are in the position of slaves. If we measure the enticement of wages, we resemble mercenaries. Finally, if we obey for the sake of the good itself and out of love for him who commands it, we are in the position of children.” (St. Basil) “If children, then heirs, heirs of God, and fellow heirs with Christ.” (Rom 8:14, 17) Thus, there is no need to be hidden in the sight of God. God is love itself. St. Augustine once said, “We enjoy the “fruits” of Charity which are joy, peace and mercy. Love is itself fulfilled in all our works. There is the goal; that is why we (Catholics) run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest.”

Saints really get it. Often, they have gone through both physical and spiritual trials and without the Holy Spirit to strengthen them, they might not have made sainthood. We are given the “Gifts of the Holy Spirit” to help us complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. Those “gifts” are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. “When we receive these gifts, we can achieve perfections which the Holy Spirit from in us through ‘fruits.’  These ‘fruits’ are charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity.” (CCC 1832)

As we practice the virtues of a moral life, we may begin to notice the “gifts and fruits” of the Holy Spirit and grow in holiness. For some of us, it may take longer than others; however, if we persevere, we shall surely be rewarded when we stand before our Loving Father and hear the words we long to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant.” (Matt 25:23)