19 October 2018

Islamic State in West Africa (formerly Boko Haram) Ongoing Updates - October 2018

16 October 2018
15 October 2018

Islamic State Ongoing Updates - October 2018

18 October 2018
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9 October 2018
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08 October 2018

Homily - 7 October 2018 - The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Sacred Heart Convent
Springfield, Illinois

Dear Sisters,

A few moments ago, we asked almighty God to give us, in his mercy, “what prayer does not dare to ask.”[1] We know that God “wishes to give us more than forgiveness, more than our desires, more even than what we know to ask, or dare to ask.”[2] But what does this mean? What is it that prayer does not dare to ask?

The answer to this question is, I think, hidden within the text from the Letter to the Hebrews: “For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Hebrews 2:10). The Greek word translated for us as “leader” can also be translated as “pioneer” or “author.” This is why Mary Healy rightly says that “Jesus is not only the cause of our salvation but also the pioneer, the one who blazed before us the difficult trail from human fallenness to divine glory. We experience nothing on the path to salvation that he did not endure before us.”[3] If Jesus is our pioneer along the via dolorosa, does it not follow that we who are called to follow him must also make our way along the way of the Cross if we hope to be perfected in him? How often do we dare to ask for this perfect unity with Christ Jesus?

Two days ago, Mother Church celebrated the great witness of her sons who was brought to glory through perfection in suffering: Saint Francis of Assisi. (You will forgive me, I hope, for speaking of a Franciscan in a Dominican convent with so many Dominica Saints before us; having studied with Franciscans, I know more about Saint Francis than I do about Saint Dominic.) It was he, of course, who received the sacred stigmata – the five holy wounds of the Savior – upon his body just two years before he entered into the joy of his Master (cf. Matthew 25:23). What is perhaps less well known about Saint Francis is that his reception of the stigmata followed two requests he asked of God.

Because “Jesus Christ crucified always rested like a bundle of myrrh in the bosom of Francis’ soul, and he longed to be totally transformed into him by the fire of ecstatic love,” he ascended Mount La Verna for a period of prayer (cf. Song of Songs 1:13).[4] He was on Mount La Verna on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross when he said to God what few of us would ever dream of saying:

My Lord Jesus Christ, I pray you to grant me two graces before I die: the first is that during my life I may feel in my soul and in my body, as much as possible, that pain which You, dear Jesus, sustained in the hour of Your most bitter passion.  The second is that I may feel in my heart, as much as possible, that excessive love with which You, O Son of God, were inflamed in willingly enduring such suffering for us sinners.[5]

With these two requests, the Seraphic Father asked to share completely in the Cross of Christ. Is this not what, for most of us, prayer does not dare to ask?

It was after he made this prayer that “he saw a man with six wings like a seraph whose hands were outstretched and whose feet were joined together, and who was nailed to the cross.”[6] As Saint Francis contemplated this vision, Thomas of Celano tells us

MS 18851 f. 469v
…the blessed servant of the Most High was filled with admiration, but he was unable to understand the meaning of the vision. He was inflamed with joy by the loving sweetness of the Seraph’s glance, which was immeasurably beautiful, yet he was terrified by the consideration of the cross to which he was nailed and the bitterness of his passion. He got up feeling sad yet happy at the same time, if this is what we call it, and joy and sorrow were intermingled in him… He could not understand anything specific and was engrossed with the uniqueness of the vision, when the signs of the nails began to appear on his hands and feet, just like the ones on the man he had seen crucified above him just a short time before.

His hands and feet were pierced right through the middle by nails and the heads of these nails could be seen in the palms of his hands and on the upper part of his feet, whereas the ends came out on the opposite side…. Moreover, his right side looked as if it had been pierced by a lance and had a long scar that bled frequently…[7]

If we happened to muster up the courage to ask to feel in our bodies and in our souls all that Jesus experienced on the Cross, would we welcome these signs of the Savior’s love? The early followers of Saint Francis looked upon them “pearls, like most precious gems” that made him “more wonderfully rich in honor and glory than any other man…”[8] Even so, the Poverello kept the stigmata as secret as he could.

Dear Sisters, to be so closely conformed to Jesus Christ that we feel in both body and heart all that the Lord endured for us because of his love, is this not what prayer does not dare to ask? And yet, is this not precisely what you and I have been called to share? Is this not what we have promised to seek? Let us, then, not shy away from the Cross, but let us – with Saint Francis – seek to embrace it and so be perfected through the fire of ecstatic love. May the Lord, in his mercy, perfect us and bring us to glory. Amen.

[1] Collect of the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Roman Missal.
[2] Anthony Esolen, The Beauty of the Word: A Running Commentary on the Roman Missal (New York: Magnificat, 2012), 184.
[3] Mary Healy, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2016), 62.
[4] Saint Bonaventure, The Major Life of St. Francis, 9.2.
[5] The Little Flowers of St. Francis, 190-191.
[6] Thomas of Celano, The First Life, 2.94.
[7] Ibid, 2.94-95.
[8] Ibid, 95.

Homily - 7 October 2018 - The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

We have before us today the great mystery of marriage, “the one blessing not forfeited by original sin nor washed away by the flood.”[1] To our great detriment, we give too little consideration to the fundamental importance of marriage, both for the spouses and for society as a whole.
What the Lord Jesus teaches about the essential reality of marriage – that it is between a man and woman, that it is open to the gift of children, and that it is faithful and indissoluble – is openly rejected today, even by those who claim to follow him (cf. Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:6-9). He is too strict, too severe, people say; a single person, some say, he cannot possibly understand marriage. Let us be honest:

By the very fact of referring to humanity before the fall, Jesus is implying that from now on, God’s original intention is the true standard for marriage and all other human relationships. He is saying, in effect, that the concession in Deuteronomy no longer applies because humanity is no longer captive to sin, hardness of heart, and the resultant family breakdown. Now there is a new reality at hand – the kingdom of God – with a new power to live and experience what God intended from the beginning. As Jesus has already suggested (Mark 8:31-9:1), this new possibility will come about through his paschal mystery.[2]

Marriage, then, is intimately connected with the mystery of the Lord’s Cross, something too infrequently considered by spouses.

Saint Augustine noted this connection of marriage to the Cross when he noted that

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Even in the beginning, when woman was made from a rib in the side of the sleeping man, that had no less a purpose than to symbolize prophetically the union of Christ and his Church. Adam’s sleep was a mystical foreshadowing of Christ’s death, and when his dead body hanging from the cross was pierced by the lance, it was from his side that there issued forth that blood and water that, as we know, signifies the sacraments by which the Church is built up.[3]

Put more simply, just as the wife of Adam was brought forth from his side, so, too, was the Bride of Christ, the Church, brought forth from the side of Christ, the second Adam. This is what Saint Paul speaks of as “a great mystery” (Ephesians 5:32).

Because the mystery of marriage is so closely joined to the mystery of Christ, marriage enjoys a high and lofty dignity. Together, husband and wife are called to reflect for all the world the love of Christ for the Church.

By the Sacrament of Matrimony Christian spouses signify and participate in the mystery of unity and fruitful love between Christ and the Church; therefore, both in embracing conjugal life and in accepting and educating their children, they help one another to become holy and have their own place and particular gift among the People of God.

Through this Sacrament the Holy Spirit brings it about that, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, Christian spouses also strive to nurture and foster their union in equal dignity, mutual giving, and the undivided love that flows from the divine font of charity. In this way, uniting divine and human realities, they persevere in good times and in bad, faithful in body and mind, remaining complete strangers to any adultery and divorce.

The true development of conjugal love and the whole meaning of family life, without diminishment of the other ends of Marriage, are directed to disposing Christian spouses to cooperate wholeheartedly with the love of the Creator and Savior, who through them increases and enriches his family from day to day. Therefore, trusting in divine Providence and developing a spirit of sacrifice, they glorify the Creator and strive for perfection in Christ, as they carry out the role of procreation with generous, human and Christian responsibility.[4]

From the example of Christ Jesus, we know that there is no perfection without suffering, without the Cross.

Just as it was in the days of the Apostles, people today what to hear a Gospel that promises a life of ease and prosperity, but that is not what Jesus promises. He promises to those who “have left everything and followed [him]” that they will “receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:28, 30). This is why

It is no wonder that the disciples, as often happens, find it difficult to digest the radical change Jesus has just instituted (see Matt 19:10). On his own authority Jesus has just taken away a concession given in the law of Moses. Why would he set this stricter standard? Surely it is not to make life more difficult for his followers. Rather, it is because through his cross and resurrection he is now giving them a new power to live according to God’s original plan for human love. They can no longer settle for less.[5]

What is more,

With this pronouncement on marriage, Jesus brings his teachings on suffering, self-denial, humility, and service into the most intimate sphere of human life. It is in the daily challenges of family relationships, in the struggle to live out God’s design for human love – especially in lifelong fidelity to another fallen and imperfect person – that ‘taking up the cross’ (Mark 8:34) has its most concrete application. But equally it is here that those who obey Jesus’ new law will be able to experience the coming of the kingdom with power.[6]

Let us, then, never doubt the truth of Jesus’ words or question their practicality. Let us instead trust that he will give us the strength to follow his teachings if we but seek and cooperate with his grace. Let us ask him to give us so great a love for his Cross that we embrace it however it comes to us, so that, united with his sufferings, we, too, may be perfected and brought to glory (cf. Hebrews 2:10). Amen.

[1] Nuptial Blessing, Roman Missal.
[2] Mary Healy, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2008), 197.
[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, City of God, 22.17.
[4] Introduction, The Order of Celebrating Matrimony, 8-10.
[5] Mary Healy, The Gospel of Mark, 198.
[6] Ibid.

30 September 2018

Homily - The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - 30 September 2018

The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Moments ago, we asked Almighty God to make us worthy, by the gift of his grace, to be found “heirs to the treasures of heaven” (Collect). What are these treasures of heaven?

When we think of treasure, we often think of the storehouses of kings and the mountains of wealth accumulated by dragons. The treasures of heaven, however, cannot consist in these works of precious metals and jewels because Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Moreover, he also warned us, saying, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). If we attempt to store up such treasures for ourselves, we have no way to know when a band of dwarves might be overcome with the dragon sickness and rob us of our hoard, or when we might ourselves fall prey to the dragon sickness and we come to be possessed by the things we seek to possess. What, then, are the treasures of heaven?

We can find some glimpse of the treasures of heaven in the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After she and Saint Joseph lost the Boy Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem and after they found him again, the Evangelist Saint Luke tells us that Mary “kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51). Other translations tell us she “pondered” or “treasured” all these things in heart. But what sort of things did she keep in her heart? Surely, she kept the words of her Holy Child and of Saint Simeon and Saint Anna in her heart. The treasures of heaven, then, are the words and deeds of Jesus, indeed, his very person. Is he not himself the “pearl of great price” for which a wise merchant “goes and sells all that he has and buys it” (Matthew 13:46)? Is it not the Lord Jesus who is that “treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys the field” to acquire that treasure (Matthew 13:44)? How, then, can you and I find this treasure? How can you and I have the joy of obtaining the treasure of Jesus?

Yesterday, the Holy Father Pope Francis indicated one important way for us to do so. The Press Office of the Holy See announced that

the Holy Father has decided to invite all the faithful, of all the world, to pray the Holy Rosary every day, during the entire Marian month of October, and thus to join in communion and in penitence, as the people of God, in asking the Holy Mother of God and Saint Michael [the] Archangel to protect the Church from the devil, who always seeks to separate us from God and from each other.[1]

In doing so, Pope Francis has also asked us to conclude the recitation of the rosary in the month of October with the ancient invocation to the Blessed Virgin: “We fly to your protection, O Holy Mother of God. Do not despise our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O Glorious and Blessed Virgin.” He has also asked that we follow this invocation with the Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel. 

Lamentably, the Holy Rosary has fallen into disuse in recent decades, with many Catholics no longer even knowing the basics of how to pray this time-honored and beloved prayer of the Church. Forty-five years ago, Pope John Paul I suggested a few reasons why many Catholics no longer pray the rosary:

They say: ‘It is an infantile prayer, superstitious and unworthy of adult Christians.’ Or else: ‘It is a prayer that is robotic, one that ultimately comes down to a cold, monotonous and boring repetition of Hail Marys.’ Or else again: ‘It is a custom from a bygone age. Today we can do better: reading the Bible, for example, which is to the Rosary what fine flour is to bran.’[2]

Before he addressed these criticisms, Pope John Paul I rightly said, “the crisis of the rosary is not the main issue. What takes precedence today is the crisis of prayer in general. People are wholly taken up by their material interests, they think very little of their souls. Noise has gradually invaded our existence.” Not much has changed these past few decades.

At its heart, the rosary is prayer in a simple form. It is not an childish form of a prayer, but one that springs from the heart of a heart. John Paul I put it this way, in very moving and honest words:

Personally speaking, when I talk to God and the Blessed Virgin alone, I prefer to feel like a child rather than an adult. The mitre, the skullcap, the ring disappear; I send the adult off for a walk and even the bishop with all his grave and ponderous dignity, so that I might abandon myself to God, even if it be for a short half hour, I prefer to be what I am in reality, with all my wretchedness and any merits I might have. To feel the child I once was being reborn from the depths of my being, the child who wants to laugh, chatter, to love the Lord, who sometimes feels the need to cry so that he may obtain forgiveness – all this helps me to pray. The Rosary, a simple and easy prayer, also helps me to become a child again, and I am not ashamed of it.[3]

If this is the case, why do so many Catholics today have difficulty praying the rosary? It might be because they do not to adopt the lack of control so characteristic of children.

Those who have grown fond of the passing of beads through the fingers know that “the Rosary does not require any special preparation, and the petitioner does not need to generate thoughts of which he is not capable at the moment or at any other time. Rather, he steps into a well-ordered world, meets familiar images, and finds roads that lead to the essential.”[4] Of itself, the rosary “has no goal but a depth. To linger in it has great compensations.”[5] Too many people overlook this simple fact:

The Rosary is a prayer of lingering. One must take one’s time for it, putting the necessary time at its disposal, not only externally but internally. One who wants to pray it rightly must put away those things that press upon him and become for a time purposeless and quiet. This is necessary, whether he has thirty or ten minutes at his disposal. Neither should he attempt too much. It is not necessary to ramble through the whole Rosary; it is better to say only one or two decades, and to say them right.[6]

It is through the rosary that we sit at the feet of our Blessed Mother and learn in her school of love.

Within her quiet school, Mary teaches us “to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love.”[7] She shows us how to ponder the treasures of Jesus’ words and deeds and to acquire them for ourselves. This is why Pope Saint John Paul II said the rosary “belongs among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation.”[8]

To look upon the Face of God is the deepest longing of every human heart and the prayerful recitation of the rosary can help prepare us to look upon so great a treasure. It is through the rosary that we learn

To look upon the face of Christ, to recognize its mystery amid the daily events and the sufferings of his human life, and then to grasp the divine splendor definitively revealed in the Risen Lord, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father: this is the task of every follower of Christ and therefore the task of each one of us. In contemplating Christ’s face we become open to receiving the mystery of Trinitarian life, experiencing anew the love of the Father and delighting in the joy of the Holy Spirit.[9]

Let us, then, both as individuals and as families, pray the rosary each day of October. May Holy Mary show us the face of her beloved Son and teach us to imitate him in all things. Following her example and turning our gaze away from the enticements of the Enemy and toward Christ, may we become heirs of the treasures of heaven. Amen.

[1] “Pope Francis invites the faithful to pray the Rosary in October,” Vatican News, 29 September 2018.
[2] Pope John Paul I, Homily, 7 October 1973.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Romano Guardini, The Rosary of Our Lady (Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 1998), 44.
[5] Ibid., 45.
[6] Ibid., 58.
[7] Pope Saint John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 1.
[8] Ibid., 5.
[9] Ibid., 9.