Readings & Reflections: Monday of the Second Week of Lent & St. Agnes of Bohemia, March 2,2015
“Lord, your love brings freedom and pardon. Fill me with your Holy Spirit and set my heart free that nothing may make me lose my temper, ruffle my peace, take away my joy, nor make me bitter towards anyone”
“Lord, great and awesome God,
you who keep your merciful covenant toward those who love you
and observe your commandments!
We have sinned, been wicked and done evil;
we have rebelled and departed from your commandments and your laws.
We have not obeyed your servants the prophets,
who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes,
our fathers, and all the people of the land.
Justice, O Lord, is on your side;
we are shamefaced even to this day:
we, the men of Judah, the residents of Jerusalem,
and all Israel, near and far,
in all the countries to which you have scattered them
because of their treachery toward you.
O LORD, we are shamefaced, like our kings, our princes, and our fathers,
for having sinned against you.
But yours, O Lord, our God, are compassion and forgiveness!
Yet we rebelled against you
and paid no heed to your command, O LORD, our God,
to live by the law you gave us through your servants the prophets.”
The word of the Lord.
Responsorial Psalm Ps 79:8, 9, 11 and 13
R. (see 103:10a) Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.
Remember not against us the iniquities of the past;
may your compassion quickly come to us,
for we are brought very low. R. Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.
Help us, O God our savior,
because of the glory of your name;
Deliver us and pardon our sins
for your name’s sake. R. Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.
Let the prisoners’ sighing come before you;
with your great power free those doomed to death.
Then we, your people and the sheep of your pasture,
will give thanks to you forever;
through all generations we will declare your praise. R. Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins. Gospel Lk 6:36-38
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”
The Gospel of the Lord.
Reflection1 – Mercy
If we are merciful to our neighbor then mercy will be ours.
One day all of us will stand before God and He will evaluate the kind of life we have led, the time when rewards will be given. It will likewise be the time when God’s wrath will be upon those who never had the heart to be loving, merciful and compassionate upon a defective and imperfect brother. This will be a point of no return when mercy will be upon us or merciless will our judgment be. James 2:13 says: “Merciless is the judgment on the man who has no mercy; but mercy triumphs over judgment.”
There will be no hiding from the truth. No one will be able to shield us and protect us from God’s judgment. The kind of person that we were, the thoughts, words and actions we had on our neighbor which never really embodied love, mercy and compassion will all be revealed to us. That will be the day when nothing will make a difference-friends, money, power and influence-will all be useless to us. The life we led will speak for itself. It is the only thing that will count.
I believe what will be most important when we face God in judgment are not only our good works of love and mercy but the motivations behind them and what brought us to do such acts. We should show mercy to all and not only to a chosen few, not only to those within our inner circle, not only to those who agree with us and to those who we say are deserving. God is telling all of us not to delude ourselves by placing ourselves outside the circle of human frailty and begin to believe that we are better than the next man. He wants us to believe and act that we are all equally broken and sinful, yet forgiven mercifully.
When Jesus said “Stop judging and you will not be judged,” He was not discouraging us from making judgments but from condemning our neighbor. One always has to judge between right and wrong. That is why judgment is appropriate and necessary for a person’s spiritual well being. But God’s law is founded on love and one who speaks ill of one’s neighbor in judgment with the intention of bringing him down has broken God’s law.
The key is the attitude and motivation with which we make our judgments. The issue is not whether one has judged but how one has judged. Even if our neighbor needs to be corrected for the wrong he has done, God wants the correction to be done in love, with the goal of restoring a neighbor to fellowship with God and His people. And the only time we can do this effectively is when we have removed the log from our own eye, which requires quite an amount of humility.
When we commit slander and wrongful judgment, we set ourselves up as judge, jury and executioner. We are playing god but there is only one God Who is able to render righteous judgment perfectly. When Jesus said, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” He gave all of us the very thesis of His teaching on love from which every relationship flows.
One way we can develop mercy and give it to our neighbor is to be able to know ourselves, face and accept our own sins and mistakes (self awareness). Being able to accept the shameful state of our lives, the truth behind us which God sees-all on our own, with no comparisons and no useless judgments- will only enable us to share God’s love and mercy with all men. This way, we begin to think and see like God as we look at one another.
In place of those judgmental thoughts, God will bless us and we will have the grace to be fully merciful to all. Accepting our own brokenness and sinfulness (acknowledgement) will only enable us to realize that we are no better than our neighbor. Instead of pulling others down, we can push each other up. We will be able to say to all without any discrimination: How can I support you, my brother/sister, as you struggle to grow into all that God wants and hopes for you?
A forgiving and merciful state of heart will free us from judging others and make us reconcilers, builders of man as God is. If in prayer we ask God to deliver us and pardon our sins for His Name’s sake and not to deal with us according to our sins, we too should be able to intercede for our neighbor and seek God’s mercy and compassion on them.
Forgive as the Lord forgave us. Not as others treated us but as Jesus treated us. If Jesus forgave us for all we have done to hurt Him despite our undeserving state then we too should be able to freely forgive. When we forgive, we are able to take off our judge’s robe and let God be the one to take care of the person who hurt us. His justice will be far superior to any revenge we could have.“God is the Lawmaker and Judge. He is the only One Who can save and destroy. So it is not right for you to judge your neighbor.”James 4:12
Let us always remember that whatever we sow, we will reap! If we are merciful to our neighbor then mercy will be ours. “For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”
Give the option of judging to our Lord. Ours is nothing less than to have love and mercy on God’s people.
“Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.” In Jesus, I pray. Amen.
Reflection 2 – St. Agnes of Bohemia(1205-1282 A.D.)
Agnes had no children of her own but was certainly life-giving for all who knew her.
Agnes was the daughter of Queen Constance and King Ottokar I of Bohemia. At the age of three, she was betrothed to the Duke of Silesia, who died three years later. As she grew up, she decided she wanted to enter the religious life.
After declining marriages to King Henry VII of Germany and Henry III of England, Agnes was faced with a proposal from Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor. She appealed to Pope Gregory IX for help. The pope was persuasive; Frederick magnanimously said that he could not be offended if Agnes preferred the King of Heaven to him.
After Agnes built a hospital for the poor and a residence for the friars, she financed the construction of a Poor Clare monastery in Prague. In 1236, she and seven other noblewomen entered this monastery. St. Clare sent five sisters from San Damiano to join them, and wrote Agnes four letters advising her on the beauty of her vocation and her duties as abbess.
Agnes became known for prayer, obedience and mortification. Papal pressure forced her to accept her election as abbess; nevertheless, the title she preferred was “senior sister.” Her position did not prevent her from cooking for the other sisters and mending the clothes of lepers. The sisters found her kind but very strict regarding the observance of poverty; she declined her royal brother’s offer to set up an endowment for the monastery.
Devotion to Agnes arose soon after her death on March 6, 1282. She was canonized in 1989.
Agnes spent at least 45 years in a Poor Clare monastery. Such a life requires a great deal of patience and charity. The temptation to selfishness certainly didn’t vanish when Agnes walked into the monastery. It is perhaps easy for us to think that cloistered nuns “have it made” regarding holiness. Their route is the same as ours: gradual exchange of our standards (inclination to selfishness) for God’s standard of generosity.
“Have nothing to do with anyone who would stand in your way and would seek to turn you aside from fulfilling the vows which you have made to the Most High (Psalm 49:14) and from living in that perfection to which the Spirit of the Lord has called you” (Clare to Agnes of Bohemia, Letter II in Murray Bodo, O.F.M.,
There are few authors that are trustworthy on the topic of Buddhism and Catholicism. Because Dr. Clark is both a faithful Catholic and a Chinese scholar (he reads Chinese fluently) his work is well researched, solid, and trustworthy. Joined with Carl Olson, an excellent theologian, there is no better combination of authors to shed light on this topic. We are grateful for their efforts to mitigate the common confusion found in many Catholic authors on this topic.
CATHOLICISM AND BUDDHISM BY ANTHONY E. CLARK AND CARL E. OLSON
Near the end of his life the Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton said that he wanted “to become as good a Buddhist as I can.” A contemporary priest, Robert E. Kennedy, S.J., Roshi (Zen master), holds Zen retreats at Morning Star Zendo in Jersey City. He states on his web site: “I ask students to trust themselves and to develop their own self-reliance through the practice of Zen.” Meanwhile, the St. Francis Chapel at Santa Clara University hosts the weekly practice of “Mindfulness and Zen Meditation.” Similarly, there are a growing number of Buddhist retreats and workshops being held in Catholic monasteries and parishes.
Today there is a proliferation of resources and retreats dedicated to combining Zen Buddhism and Catholicism, suggesting that the Catholic Church has finally “awakened” from its “outdated” and “exclusivist” ecclesiology. While Buddhism has not been in the news recently as much as Islam, its influence and attraction has steadily increased in the West.
Is Catholicism really “parallel” to Buddhism? Can Catholic doctrine be reconciled with Buddhist beliefs and practices?
The Coming of Buddhism
Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world, with about 370 million adherents, or about 6% of the world’s population. Although less than 1% of Americans identify themselves as Buddhist, interest in this ancient belief system is growing. Sections on Buddhism in major bookstores usually dwarf those dedicated to Islam or Hinduism and there has been a steady stream of articles and books about (and by) the Dalai Lama in recent years. Some stores even display the Dalai Lama’s works beside those of Pope John Paul II, hinting at the “similarities” of the Buddhist and Catholic faiths.
The influence of Buddhist thought in some Catholic circles has been evident since the 1960s. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council’s call for respectful dialogue with other religions, many Catholics, including many priests and religious, dove headlong into studying Buddhism. Much was made (and still is) of the many “common characteristics” of Catholicism and Buddhism, especially in the realm of ethics. External similarities, including monks, meditation, and prayer beads, seemed to indicate a newly discovered closeness between the followers of Christ and Buddha. While some helpful interreligious dialogue and study was accomplished, some Catholics mistakenly concluded that Buddhism was just as “true” as Christianity, and that any criticism of Buddhism was “arrogant” and “triumphalistic.”
This attitude still exists, of course, as do attempts to combine the two faiths. It’s not uncommon for Catholic retreat centers to offer a steady diet of classes and lectures about Zen Buddhism, Christ and Buddha, and even “Zen Catholicism.” Their bookstores feature titles such as Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit,Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings, and Going Home: Jesus and Buddha As Brothers. Comparisons are often made between Christian mysticism and Buddhist mysticism, at times suggesting that the two are essentially identical in character and intent.
The Attraction of Buddhism
In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, the Holy Father notes that the Dalai Lama has worked to bring “Buddhism to people of the Christian West, stirring up interest both in Buddhist spirituality and in its methods of praying.” He points out that, “Today we are seeing a certain diffusion of Buddhism in the West.” So what makes this diffusion possible and so influential?
Buddhism is attractive for numerous reasons. Among them is the desire for spiritual vitality in the midst of the emptiness of secular life, the promise of inner peace, and the need for an explicit moral code. In his classic study, Buddhism: Its Essence and Development, Edward Conze writes, “To a person who is thoroughly disillusioned with the contemporary world, and with himself, Buddhism may offer many points of attraction, in the transcending sublimity of the fairy land of its subtle thoughts, in the splendor of its works of art, in the magnificence of its hold over vast populations, and in the determined heroism and quiet refinement of those who are steeped into it.”
Another key appeal of Buddhism is its non-dogmatic and seemingly open-minded character. For those who reject the dogmatic and objective claims of Christianity, or who believe that Christianity should avoid an “exclusive” or absolute approach to truth, Buddhism offers an easier alternative. In addition, some Christians find solace in believing that their faith in Christ and Buddhism are compatible.
As the Dalai Lama stated in a Beliefnet.com interview, “According to different religious traditions, there are different methods. For example, a Christian practitioner may meditate on God’s grace, God’s infinite love. This is a very powerful concept in order to achieve peace of mind. A Buddhist practitioner may be thinking about relative nature and also Buddha-nature. This is also very useful.” In other words, Christianity and Buddhism are two ways to the same end; Jesus and Buddha are two enlightened teachers who help man to that end. Or, as one reader on a Christian discussion forum states, “Buddha was just a philosopher who urged men to be selfless. Jesus was just a philosopher who urged men to be selfless. Love is just another word for selfless.” Such easy parallels between Christ and Buddha are, in the end, misleading and distort the teachings of the Church.
The Basics of Buddhism
Since Buddhism appears less concerned with dogma or doctrine than right living, is it compatible with Catholic doctrine? A glance at Buddhist basics will help answer this question.
Buddha (c. 563-c. 483 B.C), born Siddhartha Gautama, was the son of a king in India. Around the age of thirty he left his privileged life in court to became an ascetic, and spent several years traveling and meditating on the human condition, considering especially the reality of suffering. One day, meditating beneath a bodhi tree, he became enlightened (Buddha = “enlightened one”), and afterward began to teach his dharma, or doctrine, of the Four Noble Truths.
The Four Noble Truths are that (1) life is suffering, (2) the cause of suffering is desire, (3) to be free from suffering we must detach from desire, and (4) the “eight-fold path” is the way to alleviate desire. The eight-fold path includes having right views, intentions, speech, actions, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. The final goal of Buddhism is not merely to eradicate desire, but to be free of suffering.
Buddha also taught the “three characteristics of being”: that all things are transitory, there is no “self” or personality, and this world brings only pain and suffering. To accept the existence of anything involves giving birth to its opposite (i.e., love and hate, joy and fear, etc.), which results in a duality of “good” and “bad.” Nirvana, literally, “putting out a fire,” is the extinction of self and the escape from the cycle of reincarnation. A Buddhist might allow one to believe in an afterlife, but such an allowance is called upaya, an expedient means to a real end. That is, upaya allows belief to exist as a means to an end; all religious belief, including Buddhism itself, is merely a construction. According to Buddhist upaya, Christianity is allowable as long as it is viewed as a stage of spiritual progression, leading eventually to the extinction of self — nirvana. In the two major forms of Buddhism, Hinayana and Mahayana, the latter teaches that man is already “extinguished,” he just needs to realize it.
It is sometimes said that Buddhism is atheistic. Yet Buddhism is not interested in the question of God, so it is more accurate to describe it as agnostic. Buddhism “works” whether or not there is a God. A Buddhist allows others to believe in a God or gods, but such beliefs are merely convenient means to the final end, which has nothing to do with a God or gods. “God is neither affirmed nor denied by Buddhism,” wrote Merton in Mystics and Zen Masters, “insofar as Buddhists consider such affirmations and denials to be dualistic, therefore irrelevant to the main purpose of Buddhism, which is emancipation from all forms of dualistic thought.”
Important Distinctions and Deep Divides
Despite many external similarities, Buddhist meditation and contemplation is quite different from orthodox Christianity. Buddhist meditation strives to “wake” one from his existential delusions. “Therefore, despite similar aspects, there is a fundamental difference” between Christian and Buddhist mysticism, wrote John Paul II. The Holy Father continued: “Christian mysticism . . . is not born of a purely negative ‘enlightenment.’ It is not born of an awareness of the evil which exists in man’s attachment to the world through the senses, the intellect, and the spirit. Instead, Christian mysticism is born of the Revelation of the living God.”
Catholics believe that the Church is the Body and Bride of Christ, the seed of the Kingdom of God, and the conduit of God’s grace and mercy in the world. Buddhists believe that Church, or Sangha, is in the end, upaya, nothing more than the expedient means to ultimate extinction. Rather than the Beatific Vision, Buddhist teaching holds that non-existence is the only hope for escaping the pains of life.
The Catholic Church teaches that while suffering is not part of God’s perfect plan, it does bring us closer to Christ and unite us more intimately with our Suffering Lord. Buddhism teaches that suffering must be escaped from; indeed, this is a central concern of Buddhism. Christianity is focused on worshipping God, on holiness, and the restoration of right relationships between God and man through the Person and work of Jesus. The Buddhist, however, is not concerned with whether or not God exists, nor does he offer worship. Instead, he seeks after non-self (anatman).
Catholicism believes that truth, and the Author of Truth, can be known rationally (to a significant, yet limited, extent) and through divine revelation. In contrast, Buddhism denies existential reality; nothing, including the “self,” can be proven to exist.
Dialogue and Danger
Romano Guardini, in his classic work The Lord, stated that Buddha would be the greatest challenge to Christ in the modern age. In an age of terrorism, such a statement may appear to be an exaggerated concern, but Buddhism offers Christianity serious and subtle challenges. Because it appears to be peaceful, non-judgmental, and inclusive, its appeal will undoubtedly continue to grow. Because it offers a spirituality that is supposedly free of doctrine and authority, it will attract hungry souls looking for fulfillment and meaning. “For this reason,” the Holy Father states, “it is not inappropriate to caution those Christians who enthusiastically welcome certain ideas originating in the religious traditions of the Far East — for example, techniques and methods of meditation and ascetical practice.” As he correctly observes, “In some quarters these have become fashionable, and are accepted rather uncritically.”
Nostra Aetate, Vatican II’s Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, states that “Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination.” It continues to note that, “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions” and believes that other religions, in certain ways, “often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.”
But, the document insists, the Church “proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself” (par 2). While the Council affirms that Buddhism may contain a “ray of Truth,” it does not endorse appropriation of Buddhist beliefs into Christian practice. Rather, the Council insists that non-Catholic religions can be fulfilled only through the truths held exclusively by the Church.
In Buddha’s final words to his disciples under the sala trees, he said, “Make of yourself a light. Rely upon yourself; do not rely upon anyone else. Make my teachings your light. Rely upon them; do not depend upon any other teaching.” When the Fourth Evangelist described John the Baptist, he said, “He was not himself the light, but was to bear witness to the light” (John 1:8). He continued by proclaiming that Christ “is the true light that enlightens every man who comes into the world” (John 1:9). Christ, the “true light,” did not teach His followers to extinguish their fires, such as is [the] meaning of nirvana, but to illuminate the world with His love, and to reflect the light of His truth.
Christ and Buddha compared
In his Fundamentals of the Faith, Peter Kreeft writes that “there have only been two people in history who so astonished people that they asked not ‘Who are you?’ but ‘What are you? A man or a god’ They were Jesus and Buddha.”
He then contrasts the striking differences between the two men: “Buddha’s clear answer to this question was: ‘I am a man, not a god'; Christ’s clear answer was: ‘I am both son of Man and Son of God.’ Buddha said, ‘Look not to me, look to my dharma [doctrine]': Christ said, ‘Come unto me.’ Buddha said, ‘Be ye lamps unto yourselves'; Christ said, ‘I am the light of the world.’”
It is presently common to find Christ brought down to the level of “philosopher” or “great teacher,” just as Buddha is sometimes elevated to a state of divinity. Yet there remain profound differences between the two.
– Christ claimed to be the one and only true God who came to suffer, die, and rise again, establishing a unique and everlasting covenant with man. Buddha is believed to be one of manythatãgata (thus-come-one). The historic Buddha is just one of several thatãgata who come in various ages to teach man that life is an illusion and to strip away human desires and attachments.
– Christ taught that He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Buddha teaches that every person must find their own path to enlightenment, or nirvana, the extinction of self.
– Christ preached the reality of sin, the nature of God the Father, and the need for repentance and salvation. Buddha preached the untenable nature of existence and the means to escape suffering.
– Christ taught that God is completely Other, but also taught that God wishes to share His divine life, given through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Buddha taught individuality must perish and that everything is One.
– Christ established a Church, with a structure of authority, based on His words and Person.Buddha left a teaching in which each person must find his own path.
– Christ rose from the dead, once and for all, and is returning as King of Kings. He claimed divinity by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” (John, 8:58). For Buddhists,Buddha is a model, regardless of whether or not he was a historical person. Buddha suggests that, “There is no ‘I'; there is no ‘self’.” At his death, when he experienced pari-nirvana, or “final extinction,” he stated that the question of the afterlife was, “not conducive to edification.” What’s important is that man escapes desire by being extinguished.
This post originally appeared in Ignatius Insightin February 2005, and in a slightly different form in the May/June 2005 issue of This Rock magazine [now Catholic Answers]
Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of East Asian history at Whitworth University. Hisresearch centers on the history of Western missionaries in China, especially during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He received his doctorate from the University of Oregon, where he studied Chinese history, philosophy, and religion. He is author of several academic and popular works, including books and articles on Chinese historiography, cultural interaction between China and the West, and his primary interest, the history of Sino-Western religious and cultural re-presentation during China’s late imperial to early modern era. He has also been researching the history of Catholic martyrs in China and has recently  finished writing a book on that subject. Dr. Clark has presented papers at numerous academic conferences and has also been a guest on “EWTN Live” and “Catholic Answers Live” to talk about Catholicism in China. He is also a contributing editor for This Rock magazine [now Catholic Answers]
Readings & Reflections with Cardinal Tagle’s video: Second Sunday of Lent B & St. David of Wales, March 1,2015
God wants to share his glory with us. We get a glimpse of this when the disciples see Jesus transfigured in glory on the mountain. Mark’s account tells us that Jesus’ garments became glistening, intensely white. When Moses met with God on Mount Sinai the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God (Ex 34:29). Paul says that the Israelites could not look at Moses’ face because of its brightness (2 Cor 3:7). In this incident Jesus appeared in glory with Moses, the great lawgiver of Israel, and with Elijah, the greatest of the prophets, in the presence of three of his beloved apostles. What is the significance of this mysterious appearance? Jesus went to the mountain knowing full well what awaited him in Jerusalem – his betrayal, rejection and crucifixion. Jesus very likely discussed this momentous decision to go to the cross with Moses and Elijah. God the Father also spoke with Jesus and gave his approval: This is my beloved Son; listen to him. The cloud which overshadowed Jesus and his apostles fulfilled the dream of the Jews that when the Messiah came the cloud of God’s presence would fill the temple again (Ex 16:10, 19:9, 33:9; 1 Kg 8:10; 2 Mac 2:8). Peter, James, and John were privileged witnesses of the glory of Christ. We, too, as disciple of Christ are called to be witnesses of his glory. We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18). The Lord wants to reveal his glory to us, his beloved disciples. Do you seek his presence with faith and reverence?
“Lord, draw me near to you and let me see your glory. May I never doubt your love and saving help.”
God put Abraham to the test.
He called to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am!” he replied.
Then God said:
“Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love,
and go to the land of Moriah.
There you shall offer him up as a holocaust
on a height that I will point out to you.”
When they came to the place of which God had told him,
Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it.
Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.
But the LORD’s messenger called to him from heaven,
“Here I am!” he answered.
“Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the messenger.
“Do not do the least thing to him.
I know now how devoted you are to God,
since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”
As Abraham looked about,
he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket.
So he went and took the ram
and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son.
Again the LORD’s messenger called to Abraham from heaven and said:
“I swear by myself, declares the LORD,
that because you acted as you did
in not withholding from me your beloved son,
I will bless you abundantly
and make your descendants as countless
as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;
your descendants shall take possession
of the gates of their enemies,
and in your descendants all the nations of the earth
shall find blessing—
all this because you obeyed my command.”
R. (116:9) I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.
I believed, even when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted.”
Precious in the eyes of the LORD
is the death of his faithful ones.
R. I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.
O LORD, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your handmaid;
you have loosed my bonds.
To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
R. I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.
My vows to the LORD I will pay
in the presence of all his people,
In the courts of the house of the LORD,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
R. I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.
Brothers and sisters:
If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son
but handed him over for us all,
how will he not also give us everything else along with him?
Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?
It is God who acquits us, who will condemn?
Christ Jesus it is who died—or, rather, was raised—
who also is at the right hand of God,
who indeed intercedes for us.
Fr. Robert Barron’s Homily on 2nd Sunday of Lent B: The Mystical Transfiguration of Christ. To listen click below:
Jesus took Peter, James, and John
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses,
and they were conversing with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!
Let us make three tents:
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
from the cloud came a voice,
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone
but Jesus alone with them.
As they were coming down from the mountain,
he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone,
except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
So they kept the matter to themselves,
questioning what rising from the dead meant.
The Lenten season continues with another story of testing. Last Sunday, we heard the trial of Jesus in the desert. In this week’s First Reading, we hear of how Abraham was put to the test.
The Church has always read this story as a sign of God’s love for the world in giving His only begotten son.
In today’s Epistle, Paul uses exact words drawn from this story to describe how God, like Abraham, did not withhold His only Son, but handed Him over for us on the cross (see Romans 8:32; Genesis 22:12,16).
In the Gospel today, too, we hear another echo. Jesus is called God’s “beloved Son” – as Isaac is described as Abraham’s beloved firstborn son.
These readings are given to us in Lent to reveal Christ’s identity and to strengthen us in the face of our afflictions.
Jesus is shown to be the true son that Abraham rejoiced to see (see Matthew 1:1; John 8:56). In His transfiguration, He is revealed to be the “prophet like Moses” foretold by God – raised from among their own kinsmen, speaking with God’s own authority (see Deuteronomy 18:15,19).
Like Moses, He climbs the mountain with three named friends and beholds God’s glory in a cloud (see Exodus 24:1,9,15). He is the one prophesied to come after Elijah’s return (see Sirach 48:9-10; Malachi 3:1,23-24).
And, as He discloses to the apostles, He is the Son of Man sent to suffer and die for our sins (see Isaiah 53:3).
As we sing in today’s Psalm, Jesus believed in the face of His afflictions, and God loosed Him from the bonds of death (see Psalm 116:3).
His rising should give us the courage to face our trials, to offer ourselves totally to the Father – as He did, as Abraham and Isaac did.
Freed from death by His death, we come to this Mass to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and to renew our vows – as His servants and faithful ones.
Reflection 2 – The story of the Transfiguration
The story of the transfiguration brings into my heart glimpses I have of the fullness and greatness of God. However, amidst my brokenness and my sinfulness, there are a lot of times when I feel low and spiritually dry. I feel so detached from our Lord that I find it quite difficult to see the great things I have in our God.
These are the times when my circumstances in life are bathed with darkness that to get myself out of such state, I have to reminisce and re-live the good times and the high moments I have with our Lord, the times when I felt His loving embrace, His compassion and understanding, the time when He renewed my life and literally picked me up from the gutter and brought me a new life in the Spirit.
God is good all the time. He turned me from a deserter into a believer and an obedient follower. He gave me the grace to go back and start life anew and live up to the expectations of being baptized in His Name. He made sure that I was able set aside my conventional ideas about Him and empowered me to slowly detach myself from my self-centeredness so that I could live more and more for Him, through Him and in Him. This new life I received from our God meant following in Christ’s steps and taking up my Cross to bring His kingdom of love, healing and compassion to the world. It meant giving up the comfort of my very private life as I worked in His vineyard. It meant living by a certain standard of discipleship and giving more and more of myself. God transformed me into what I should be and not into what I want myself to be.
Today, as I ask our Heavenly Father, “why do it?” He responds to me and says: “This is My Son, my Beloved. Listen to Him.”
As I try to listen and be one with our Lord Jesus, there are times when trials and opposition from all sides come into my life that giving up my servanthood for the Lord occupies my heart and mind. These past weeks have not been far different from this, as my life has once more been marred by heartaches, which I know can only be removed by God’s loving assurance. The only thing that mattered and kept me spiritually alive was my faith that God loves me despite the kind of person that I am.
God is always on my side that is why I trust that our Lord will heal me of all the hurts and bad feelings that have plagued my heart. God made me and loves me the way I am. Whenever love of others and even love of self cannot seem to work, it is only God’s love that prevails. It is only God’s love that has kept me whole! “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us, who will condemn? Christ Jesus it is who died–or, rather, was raised–who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.”
The closer we allow Jesus to come to into our lives and become part of our whole being, the more we, individually and communally, are changed, transfigured and made whole and healed. Our intimacy with Jesus eventually leads us to our transfiguration beyond everyone’s expectation because we are so loved and we experience Him in great lengths. Indeed, only by His grace can we live…only by His grace can we enter the Father’s kingdom!
Let us give our life to our Lord totally and without reserve. He will bless us and transform us into His likeness.
O LORD, I am your servant. You have loosed my bonds and have set me free. To You will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving and I will call upon your Name forever! Amen.
Reflection 3 – Are you crazy?
A small kingdom was ruled by a great king. All his subjects were happy and contented. In that kingdom there was only one source of drinking water: the open well in front of the palace. Everybody drinks from that well. One night, while everybody was asleep, an evil witch came and cast a spell on the well so that anyone who drinks water from it will become crazy. The next morning, as usual, everybody, except the king, drank water from the well. Everybody became crazy. When the king woke up, he looked out the window. He was surprised to see all his subjects acting funny. But what really surprised him most was that, when they saw him, everybody laughed at him, and they all shouted: “The king is crazy!”
This scenario has been repeated time and again in the Scriptures. Noah, for example, was ridiculed by the people for building an ark and warning them about the great flood. All the prophets, in fact, were killed because they acted differently from the rest. Jesus himself suffered the same fate. He came preaching about love, forgiveness and mercy. He did miraculous cures out of pity for the sick and the suffering. But his own people of Nazareth rejected him, and his relatives said: “He is out of his mind.” In the end, the people for whom he came to save shouted with one voice: “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
One of the greatest dangers of our time is the political principle “Majority rules.” However, we should be warned that the majority is not always right. Jesus was condemned to die by the decision of the majority. In many democratic elections, the majority voted into office unworthy leaders. The majority has been proven wrong on many occasions. But since it is the majority, it carries a lot of influence and pressure on the rest of the population, especially when it is backed up by the powerful mass media of communication.
And this is what is happening now. Gradually, people begin to change their beliefs and moral principles simply due to the prevailing mood and opinion of the majority. What used to be called killing an unborn baby is now called right of choice. What used to be perversion is now called creative self-expression. What used to be called homosexual union is now called meaningful relationship. What used to be called chastity is now called neurotic inhibitions. What used to be called modesty is now called psychological hang-up. What used to be called self-mastery or self- control is now called unhealthy repression. What used to be wrong and immoral is now being justified and even considered acceptable. And those who insist to stick to the truth and do not want to join the bandwagon of moral decay are branded as crazy, out of their minds, ignorant, outdated, and many other nasty adjectives they can think of.
But the truth does not depend on the decision of the majority. It is not a matter of personal taste or opinion, or a result of a survey. In Epistemology, a branch of Philosophy, truth is defined as the conformity of what is in the mind with the external object being perceived. There is truth, not because the majority of the people said so, but because the object is perceived by the mind as it truly is. Even if all people will say that the four-legged creature is an elephant, when in fact it is a dog, what they say cannot make a dog an elephant. The same is true with morality. Something intrinsically evil cannot become good just because people say it is good. Abortion is murder, and it is evil. It cannot become something good because many people are doing it, or because it is declared legal by an act of Congress.
My brothers and sisters, where do we find the source of truth? It cannot be found in the majority. It can only be found in God, for He is the Absolute Truth. He does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. As Jesus declared, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” The example of Abraham in the first reading should inspire us to obey God to the point of total sacrifice. The words of St. Paul in the second reading should give us hope and strength when we are faced with oppositions and persecutions: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Let us not fear being ostracized by the world and be called crazy, as long as we are on the side of God. Let the words, then, of Peter in the Acts of the Apostles be our constant guiding principle: “Better for us to obey God rather than men.”
On this second Sunday of Lent, the Gospel is about the Transfiguration of our Lord. In the presence of the disciples Peter, James and John, Jesus changed in appearance. His face became bright as the sun and his clothes turned dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appeared conversing with him. And the voice of the Father was heard from the cloud: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” This very brief but supremely profound experience convinced the disciples that Jesus is the true Messiah, the Son of God. Later, when they themselves were persecuted, they readily chose death rather than deny Christ. Indeed, they followed the instruction of the heavenly Father: “Listen to him!”
As we again gather together in this sacred celebration, we express our belief in the truth that Jesus is God, the true Messiah, our only Savior. There is no question about that in our minds. But the question we have to ask ourselves is, “If Jesus is the Truth, do we truly listen to him?” If it is Jesus we listen to, then why do some of us question his teachings? Why do we still believe in horoscopes, feng shui, fortune telling and superstitions? Why do we continue to entertain those highly immoral issues such as abortion, assisted suicide, divorce, same sex marriages, live-in relationships?
During this season of Lent, may the words of the heavenly Father continually ring in our minds and hearts: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” And may the words of Jesus transform us and lead us to our conversion and personal transfiguration so that we begin to live as true children of God (Source: Fr. Mike Lagrimas, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Palmera Springs 3, Susano Road, Camarin, Novaliches, Caloocan City 1422).
Reflection 4 – The Voice: Listen to Him
As a general, Scriptural rule of thumb, dramatic things happen on mountain tops. There are about five hundred references in the Bible to mountains and hills. Sometimes mountains are described as places of hiding and refuge; sometimes they are presented as desolate and barren, hostile to the living. They are depicted as places of false pagan worship; they are also celebrated as sites of authentic worship of the true God.
And in some of the most significant events presented in Scripture, mountains are where man encounters God in transforming, stunning fashion. In such instances, man’s faith is tested; he is drawn outside of his comfort zone and into a place—a relationship—that is holy, other-worldly, even terrifying.
Today’s Old Testament reading is, along with Moses’ encounter with the burning bush and his reception of the Law on Mount Sinai, one of those incredible mountaintop encounters. It is also one of the most perplexing and baffling stories in the Old Testament: how could a good and loving God ask Abraham to sacrifice his own son?
Jean Cardinal Danielou (1905-1974), a great Scripture scholar and spiritual writer, contemplated this unsettling mystery in The Advent of Salvation (Paulist Press, 1962). He described the event as “a high point in the Old Testament” Why? “In the first centuries of the Christian era,” he wrote, “the rabbis taught that Abraham merited all the graces given later to his people by sacrificing Isaac, and that Isaac, by submitting to be sacrificed, was the cause of his people’s salvation.”
When St. Paul wrote, in words heard in today’s Epistle, that God “did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all” (Rom 8:32), surely he was very mindful of Abraham’s trek to the mountaintop with his beloved son, Isaac. Danielou emphasizes that the Old Testament, in this story and many others, provides a promise and foreshadows a fulfillment. The sacrifice of Isaac was not consummated, but pointed to the sacrifice of the Son of God, which was. The fulfillment of the covenantal promises made to Abraham did not come about in his lifetime, but in and through the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“The passion and death of Christ,” Danielou observed, “were the supreme test of faith: from death came the Resurrection wherein the promise was fulfilled.” This brings us to today’s Gospel and St. Mark’s account of the Transfiguration. That blinding event also, of course, took place on “a high mountain”; only Peter, James, and John—the inner core of the disciples—were present. Like Isaac, they weren’t sure what to expect. They didn’t expect to be granted “a glimpse of the Godhead,” in the words of St. John Chrysostom, seeing, as it were, the veil of this world pulled back to reveal the dazzling glory of Christ’s divinity and the holiness of Moses and Elijah.
Peter, terrified and shaken, but still impulsive, wished to immediately commemorate the event by setting up tents, perhaps thinking of the Feast of Tents (or Booths) that recalled the forty years in the desert (cf., Lev. 23:39-43). A cloud, the presence of the Holy Spirit, overshadowed them (cf., Lk 1:35) and the Father’s voice declared, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Whereas Jesus’ public ministry had commenced with his baptism in the Jordan—the heavens torn open, the Spirit descending, a voice saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mk 1:9-11)—his Paschal mystery commenced with the Transfiguration.
Moses, the Lawgiver, and Elijah, the Prophet, pointed to the One who fulfilled perfectly the Law and the Prophets. But he fulfilled it by entering into the heart of sorrow and death, becoming a holocaust, the burnt offering, given in our place. The dark hours of the Passion did, for a while, overcome the disciples. But the Resurrection tore apart the veil that had only been pulled back on the mountaintop.
And now we—listening to the Son, guided by the Holy Spirit—can encounter God in transforming, stunning fashion.
Purpose:This Sunday’s readings focus on the idea of sacrifice. Abraham offers the greatest sacrifice of thanksgiving possible, his only son Isaac. This sacrifice prefigures the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Jesus is the new Isaac, bound, and offered up to the Father. Our Lord was a suffering Messiah before he was a glorified Messiah. The cross came before the crown for Jesus and for us. Before he carries his Cross, the Lord ascends the mountain with his closest disciples and reveals his glory to them. The experience strengthens and encourages them before they must experience his passion and death.
This coming August marks the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. The attacks, using the world’s first atomic bombs, devastated those communities, killed or injured tens of thousands of people, and ended the Second World War. Twenty years after those bombings, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote:
The development of armaments by modern science has immeasurably magnified the horrors and wickedness of war. Warfare conducted with these weapons goes far beyond the bounds of legitimate defense. Indeed if the kind of weapons now stocked in the arsenals of the great powers were to be employed to the fullest, the result would be the almost complete reciprocal slaughter of one side by the other, not to speak of the widespread devastation that would follow in the world … Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation. (Gaudium et Spes, no. 80)
The light of the atomic bomb contrasts sharply with the light of the Transfiguration, which is commemorated twice a year: on August 6th, the feast itself, and on the Second Sunday of Lent. The light of the atomic bomb was a destructive light, a terrifying light, a devastating light, which took tens of thousands of lives. The light of the Transfiguration, on the other hand, is a light of hope, a light of love, and a light of glory. It was a key moment in the life of Christ.
Each year on the Second Sunday of Lent, many homilists choose NOT to talk about the Gospel account of the Transfiguration. We figure that everyone already knows the story, or that it is too difficult to understand, so many speak on something else, like Abraham’s sacrifice. This particular year we hear Saint Mark’s account of the Transfiguration. The event took place a few weeks before Jesus would travel to Jerusalem to suffer and die. The Transfiguration has a three-fold purpose: it was intended for Jesus himself, for the Apostles, and for each of us.
For Our Lord himself, the Transfiguration was his early preparation for his own Passion and Death. The Agony in the Garden, recounted in Mark 14:32-42, was his immediate preparation. Luke tells us that Our Lord was praying, probably in the evening. Then something happens instantaneously: Jesus is “transfigured.” His Body changes and his clothing became “dazzling white.” His divine nature, which he has kept carefully hidden until now, shines through his human nature.
Then, Moses and Elijah appear. It was the consistent Jewish belief that when the Messiah appeared, he would be accompanied by these two historical figures. Why them? Because the Jews at the time of Christ believed that Moses and Elijah were the only two people whose bodies had been assumed into the next life. Elijah’s body was taken up to Heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kgs. 2:11). An ancient book, titled “The Assumption of Moses,” told of the devil trying to use Moses’ body for some sinister purpose. As a result, St. Michael came and snatched Moses’ body away from the devil and took it to Heaven. In addition, Moses and Elijah stood for things. Moses was the great Law-giver, bringing God’s law to men. Elijah was the great Prophet, the voice of God providing direction, guidance, and wisdom. These two men were the greatest figures in Israel’s history, and they came to speak with Our Lord during the Transfiguration. They spoke to Jesus of his departure—in Greek, his exodus—which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem (Lk. 9:31). As he approaches Jerusalem, the great Law-giver and the great Prophet appear to encourage Jesus so that he will completely fulfill all the law-giving and prophecy in the Old Testament.
As God, Our Lord needed no encouragement. As man, however, he needed encouragement. His sacrifice, his Passion and Death, were going to be bloody, excruciatingly painful experience. Not even the God-Man would want to endure it. These two Old Testament figures came to offer consolation and encouragement for the upcoming trial of his life.
After Moses and Elijah encourage Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit appear in a cloud. The cloud is one way God frequently appears to people in the Old Testament (remember the cloud that led the Hebrews out of Egypt in Ex. 13:21). And the Father called Jesus his “beloved Son” from the cloud. The cloud often represents the Holy Spirit (See The Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 697).
The Transfiguration was also for the Apostles. Peter, James, and John were the leaders of the Twelve. Jesus will also bring these three closest to him during the Agony in the Garden. None of the Apostles had been happy, hearing a few days earlier that their Lord was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. They complained about it, but to no avail. So Jesus took them up the mountain to witness his transfigured glory. The Transfiguration gave Peter, James, and John greater insight into Who Jesus really was. God himself told them to listen to Jesus. The Transfiguration also gave these three Apostles hope by providing a window into the future. And they, in turn, reassured the rest of the Apostles about what was to come. Although no one really knew how painful Our Lord’s agony would be. It would take the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost—fifty days after the Resurrection—to help the Apostles really understand everything that happened to Jesus and to them. Finally, the Transfiguration account is meant for all of us. It shows us that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of everything God did for his people, especially through the Law and the Prophets of the Jewish religion during the thousands of years between the creation of Adam and Eve, and the Annunciation, at which the Blessed Mother said, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38).
The Transfiguration also teaches us that Our Lord Jesus is not just a man, not just a teacher, not just a great moral leader. He is also God himself, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, God-in-the-Flesh. But as a man, in his human nature, with human beings, he underwent a tremendous sacrifice to die for us so that each of us could share in his life and glory forever, after our earthly lives are ended. He wants to transfigure every one of us, too, if we cooperate with him. So we need to heed the Lord’s voice, and obey his commands.
We do that by listening, by being active members of his Mystical Body, the Church; by obeying his teachings and morals; by living our faith—the seven sacraments, especially the Eucharist—our personal Mt.Tabor experience—prayer, and carrying our crosses with him. And we don’t just do that one day a week, occasionally when we feel like it, or when it’s convenient or easy.
The Transfiguration reminds us that our Catholic religion is not just for special occasions, like Sundays, or when we are in serious need; not just up on the mountain, like Midnight Mass at Christmas, Easter Sunday, or an ordination to the priesthood. Catholicism is supposed to permeate every part of our live, and touch everything we say and do. We may fail from time to time, but we have to keep trying to live as Jesus taught.
If we have lived by the teachings of Jesus, after our lives on earth are ended, we will get our own transfiguration. And we are going to change to “dazzling white” like a very bright light, too. We will be beautiful and handsome, without spot, wrinkle, blemish, or any disfigurement; we will be in perfect shape, like an Olympic athlete, only to a greater extent than we can possibly fathom.
May the Blessed Mother, who bore the Light of the world in her womb, pray for us that we will open our minds and hearts to the Light. Amen.
Further reading fromThe Catechism of the Catholic Church: §554−56, 568, 1003, 2600.
Reflection 6 – St. David of Wales(d. 589? A.D.)
David is the patron saint of Wales and perhaps the most famous of British saints. Ironically, we have little reliable information about him.
It is known that he became a priest, engaged in missionary work and founded many monasteries, including his principal abbey in southwestern Wales. Many stories and legends sprang up about David and his Welsh monks. Their austerity was extreme. They worked in silence without the help of animals to till the soil. Their food was limited to bread, vegetables and water.
In about the year 550, David attended a synod where his eloquence impressed his fellow monks to such a degree that he was elected primate of the region. The episcopal see was moved to Mynyw, where he had his monastery (now called St. David’s). He ruled his diocese until he had reached a very old age. His last words to his monks and subjects were: “Be joyful, brothers and sisters. Keep your faith, and do the little things that you have seen and heard with me.”
St. David is pictured standing on a mound with a dove on his shoulder. The legend is that once while he was preaching a dove descended to his shoulder and the earth rose to lift him high above the people so that he could be heard. Over 50 churches in South Wales were dedicated to him in pre-Reformation days.
Were we restricted to hard manual labor and a diet of bread, vegetables and water, most of us would find little reason to rejoice. Yet joy is what David urged on his brothers as he lay dying. Perhaps he could say that to them—and to us—because he lived in and nurtured a constant awareness of God’s nearness. For, as someone once said, “Joy is the infallible sign of God’s presence.” May his intercession bless us with the same awareness!
Readings & Reflections: Saturday of the First Week of Lent & Bl. Daniel Brottier, February 28,2015
Being “perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” means loving those who do not love you. We can do so because God has made us “to be a people peculiarly his own.” When we give God’s love to those who deserve it least, God raises us high “in praise and renown and glory.” Love shared makes us a sacred people.
“Lord, your love brings freedom and pardon. Fill me with your Holy Spirit and set my heart ablaze with your love that nothing may make me lose my temper, ruffle my peace, take away my joy, nor make me bitter towards anyone.” Amen.
Moses spoke to the people, saying:
“This day the LORD, your God, commands you to observe these statutes and decrees. Be careful, then, to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. Today you are making this agreement with the LORD:
he is to be your God and you are to walk in his ways and observe his statutes, commandments and decrees, and to hearken to his voice.
And today the LORD is making this agreement with you:
you are to be a people peculiarly his own, as he promised you; and provided you keep all his commandments, he will then raise you high in praise and renown and glory above all other nations he has made, and you will be a people sacred to the LORD, your God, as he promised.”
The word of the Lord. Responsorial Psalm Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 7-8 R (1b) Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
Blessed are they whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD.
Blessed are they who observe his decrees,
who seek him with all their heart.
R Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
You have commanded that your precepts
be diligently kept.
Oh, that I might be firm in the ways
of keeping your statutes!
R Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
I will give you thanks with an upright heart,
when I have learned your just ordinances.
I will keep your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me.
R Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord! Gospel Mt 5:43-48
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The Gospel of the Lord.
Reflection 1 – To love one’s enemy
The order of Jesus to love one’s enemy is difficult to follow, a precept which I have most often ignored amidst the hurt and animosity that I entertain within my heart. As a follower of Christ, it is in this area of my life where I really struggle. Most often, I end up with thoughts of getting even and somehow retaliation becomes the focus of my heart. When this happens, I know I failed God and I have become a slave of my own emotion. My self-centeredness flows in to my affairs and my relationships and therefore trouble sets in.
However, if I allow God’s Word to prevail on me and I decide to let go and decide to forgive and ask for God’s grace to forget, I begin to have peace in my heart. God’s love and His mercy become foremost in my heart and I begin to remember that I am also a sinner. I begin to realize that just as God was compassionate, forgiving and loving to me as a sinner, then I should do exactly the same thing.
If Jesus came upon this world to love and save sinners, then I should be able to imitate Him and love those who have sinned against me. 1Timothy 1:15-16 says: “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.”
The Holy Scripture does not encourage anyone from embracing those who are committed to do harm to us and our families. However it has made a lot of references on those who will not be forgiven. And in today’s gospel reading Jesus is telling us to forgive one another in love.
Then what are we to make of the Lord’s call to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us?
When Jesus taught us to love our enemy, He meant that we should hope for what is best for them- their conversion. We should pray for the salvation of their souls. We are required to be good to them and sincerely pray that they will renounce their evil deeds and commit themselves to righteousness. Unpleasant and difficult as it may be,we are required as Christians to forgive our enemies and be one with them in the Name of our Lord!
Today’s gospel brings into our hearts the right action we should take when someone oppresses us, persecutes us or even unfairly takes what is ours. Counterattack – get him before he gets us is not answer. Jesus’ response to this is for us to try to do good to them with the hope that we are able to convert them. We should do what is necessary to possibly get them to realize what they have done with the hope that they will change their minds and disposition.
Our task is to convert our enemy and pray that they relent. We have to start with a sincere attempt to convert our adversary. It won’t always work. But sometimes it will. It would be a shame to miss that “sometime.” When we give our enemy a chance and try to draw him to our Lord, we become truly children of the heavenly Father. As such He will make the sun rise on us and cause rain to fall on us for indeed “blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!”
In our respective ministries and even in our community as a whole, love and forgiveness should be the core and heart of all our relationships. Amidst social and cultural differences and prejudices, we should be able to relate with love. We should have the vision to see and engage others to achieve their full human potential, where everyone is given an opportunity to improve himself and serve God. We ought to enable everyone to meaningfully contribute to a cause that is greater than one’s own interests-one focused on God and His people.
In God’s time if we open our hearts to our Lord, He will enable all of us to be vessels of love that seeks reconciliation, forgiveness and peace in all relationships.
Let us love those who hate and persecute us by imploring God’s mercy on them through prayer and intercession.
Heavenly Father, give me the grace to be obedient and faithful to your precept of love. In Jesus, I pray. Amen.
Reflection 2 – The Power Of Love
Love your enemies, . . . and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. —Matthew 5:44
Fyodor Dostoevsky tells the story of brothers Ivan and Alyosha Karamazov. Alyosha is a devoted follower of Jesus; Ivan is a skeptic.
As the story unfolds, Ivan meets his brother at a café. In an effort to undermine the faith of Alyosha, he recites a lengthy poem he has written about the Grand Inquisitor. In it the Inquisitor rails at Jesus for His decision to grant free will to human beings and thus bring so much pain and suffering into the world.
As the Grand Inquisitor finishes his argument, Ivan portrays Jesus as having no answer. Instead, Jesus walks up to the Inquisitor and kisses him. Ivan hopes Alyosha will see this as an irrational act. But as he finishes speaking, Alyosha, imitating Jesus, leans forward and kisses Ivan.
Alyosha’s profound gesture completely changes the tenor of the scene, for it represents the triumph of love over doubt and skepticism. Love overrides every objection. No logical argument can overthrow it.
That’s why Jesus calls us to love our enemies, and to do good to those who spitefully use us and persecute us (Matthew 5:44). Love, not rational argument, overcomes hatred. The goodness of God revealed in our love draws people to repentance.
— David H. Roper
Open my eyes, Lord, to people around me,
Help me to see them as You do above;
Give me the wisdom and strength to take action,
So I may show them Your wonderful love. —K. De Haan
It’s better to give others a piece of your heart than a piece of your mind (Source: Our Daily Bread, RBC Ministries).
Reflection 3 – The Revisable Edition
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable . . . for instruction in righteousness. —2 Timothy 3:16
Randall Peterson, a retired autoworker, thinks there could be an interest for a new kind of Bible. He sarcastically says that a publisher ought to create an electronic Bible that would allow for editing from the pew. That way individuals and churches could make the Bible say what they want it to say. He says it could be called the “LAME” Bible: “Locally Adaptive Multifaith Edition” and “could be sold to any church regardless of what it believes.”
He’s making a point, of course, but we might be tempted by such a product. Jesus gives us some hard teachings! As believers, our desire is to be obedient to Him in our choices and attitudes, but at times we resist the Word of God and may wish we could soften His commands.
Some of Jesus’ hard teachings are found in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5, He says: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (v.44). That’s what He tells us to do, so we know we can’t just delete it. We need to apply it to our personal situation with the Holy Spirit’s enablement.
God’s Word is to be obeyed by His people. We’re the ones who need to be “revised”—not the Scriptures. — Anne Cetas
The laws of God are true and right;
They stand as firm today
As when He put them in His Word
And told us to obey. —Fasick
To love God is to obey God (Source: Our Daily Bread, RBC Ministries).
Reflection 4 – Becoming perfect as the Father
The purpose of prayer is perhaps less to obtain what we ask than to become someone else. We should go further and say that asking something from God transforms us, little by little, into people capable of sometimes doing without what they ask for.
Let us not attempt to state too quickly and a priori the laws regarding the transformation of our desires and the orientation of our lives. It will be different for each person. The stages will be as diverse as the movement of a river, where everything depends so much on the territory traversed. On each man’s journey, there will be meanderings, those times when we do not seem to be moving ahead, and also huge gaps and the call of the estuary. Let us not be surprised that there are “ages” in the life of prayer as there are in the life of man. Here and there, the interplay between desire and a sense of the real and the situation at hand that varies according to the past and future, shape the major parts of a man’s life, just as graces and temptations do. But whatever his age, true prayer will always be effective in preserving the infinite that man desires and the image he has of a God who calls him, by protecting him against the illusion of false haste and against a retreat occasioned by pessimism and a feeling of abandonment.
Now we understand why God seems to delay: not in order to test us arbitrarily, but to compel our desire to become more intense and to become truly like his. While we judge such delays with our eyes and according to our defeats, God judges them according to reality.
This is why only he is effective. The education he gives, his pedagogy, is not an unjustifiable sport, which is gratuitous and of no value. If God takes his time, he does so for our sake. Because of the unusually delicate nature of his love, he does not want to effect our happiness without us, but wants to produce it from within, to make us work at it and to give it to us only after exhausting the possibilities of our waiting. “God fashions us with our help.” Because of love, God cannot fail to take into account that desire which he placed in us to serve as an paid to his giving.
The purpose of prayer is to bring this desire, which leaves a man restless and disturbed, to becoming a feeling of hope, guaranteed… but by an infinite effectiveness since it comes from God himself.
Source: Fr. Bernard Bro, O.P., Magnificat, June 2012, Vol. 14, No. 4, p. 286.
Reflection 5 – Be perfect as the Father
But what is the holiness which is proposed to Christians as a model? No other than that of God Himself: “Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect”; it is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, it is God made man, to teach us the way of holiness, who addresses these words to us… Holiness in person has come down to earth as man; holiness was revealed in mortal flesh; holiness spoke and acted as a Man; nothing remains for us but to study the Spirit of Jesus Christ, to conform ourselves to his maxims, to walk in his footsteps. If we do this we shall become perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect.
But Jesus Christ is not only the model of our holiness; he is its principle, and its first efficient cause. We can do nothing without his grace; and this grace must act upon our liberty to the utmost of its power if we would become holy as he is. He offers this grace to us continually, and he has promised to increase it in proportion as we correspond with it. But our good use of his grace depends even more upon him than upon ourselves; and if we well understand our own interests, the wisest and safest plan we can adopt is to give and consecrate to him our liberty; to beg of him to dispose of it as his own, and to assure him that we wish only to act under his direction and only to be guided by his inspiration. Happy are those who give themselves to him like this, and who never take back their gift! Their holiness will be the work of Jesus Christ; they will have no other part in it than that of allowing him to do with them according to his good pleasure, of never resisting him, and of dying with all their heart, to their own spirit, and their own will, that they may live with the true life of Jesus Christ. (Fr. Jean Grou, SJ).
Reflection 6 – Blessed Daniel Brottier(1876-1936 A.D.)
Daniel spent most of his life in the trenches—one way or another.
Born in France in 1876, Daniel was ordained in 1899 and began a teaching career. That didn’t satisfy him long. He wanted to use his zeal for the gospel far beyond the classroom. He joined the missionary Congregation of the Holy Spirit, which sent him to Senegal, West Africa. After eight years there, his health was suffering. He was forced to return to France, where he helped raise funds for the construction of a new cathedral in Senegal.
At the outbreak of World War I Daniel became a volunteer chaplain and spent four years at the front. He did not shrink from his duties. Indeed, he risked his life time and again in ministering to the suffering and dying. It was miraculous that he did not suffer a single wound during his 52 months in the heart of battle.
After the war he was invited to help establish a project for orphaned and abandoned children in a Paris suburb. He spent the final 13 years of his life there. He died in 1936 and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in Paris only 48 years later.
SAINT OF THE DAY Catholic saints are holy people and human people who lived extraordinary lives. Each saint the Church honors responded to God’s invitation to use his or her unique gifts. God calls each one of us to be a saint.
Last year, the mass kidnapping of more than 200 girls from a Christian school in northern Nigeria shocked the world. After an international outcry, the story was quickly forgotten. The fate of the girls never came to light. Boko Haram, a Nigerian Islamic terrorist group, carried out the kidnapping.
Their violent campaign hasn’t stopped: This January, they killed more than 2,000 people.
Monsignor Martin Uzoukwu is the bishop of the Nigerian Diocese of Minna. Three years ago, terrorists bombed the door of his parish. He called on Muslims in his country to stand against Boko Haram.
MONS. MARTIN UZOUKWU
Bishop of Minna (Nigeria)
“It’s a group from Islam. So what is it, if Islam is not gaining from it, why do they not stand up and condemn it? We have appealed to our own leaders, Islamic leaders in Nigeria to come out boldly and condemn it.”
Boko Haram’s attacks have become bolder and more frequent. The group’s name means “Western education is a sin,” and they primarily target Christians. Their arsenal is becoming more sophistcated and comes from outside Nigeria.
MONS. MARTIN UZOUKWU
Bishop of Minna (Nigeria)
“So some people are gaining materially, maybe money they are giving them to buy the weapons, to come and kill us. So it’s a vicious cycle. That’s why we need the international community because the weapons they are using in Nigeria are not made in Nigeria.”
However, Monsignor Uzoukwu has not lost hope that peace will come. As in the early days, they know that while they suffer just for being Christians, they must still pray for their persecutors.
MONS. MARTIN UZOUKWU
Bishop of Minna (Nigeria)
“This is our belief, that if Jesus did that many years ago, he can still do it today. So we are praying for the conversion of the Boko Haram and all the people who are sponsoring them”.
Boko Haram’s influence spreads beyond Nigeria. They have also carried out attacks in Niger, Chad and Cameroon. The jihadist terror threat has hit the heart of Africa.
From Darkness to Light
As a Muslim imam, Mario Joseph was well-versed in the Koran and in the teachings of the Islamic religion. In fact, it was precisely the Koran that brought him to an encounter with Jesus Christ and with the truth of the Catholic faith. But his conversion did not come without difficulties; as a consequence, he has undergone grave persecution. How has he attained his intense love toward the Church, the Cross and Heaven? He himself tells us in this week’s impacting episode of Changing Tracks.
One of the most alarming things about the Islamic State and similar groups is their appeal to young Muslims who have grown up in the West, and even to Western youths with no Islamic background. By June last year an estimated 2500 Westerners had joined the civil war in Syria, most fighting with rebel groups, a lot of them young, even teenagers. Some are converts to Islam.
Increasingly they include teenage girls who desert their families and peaceful lives in London, Paris or Colorado for the anticipated drama and unknown hardships of fighting a holy war in the Middle East. They leave behind parents, friends and experts who are racking their brains to discover why.
The trend has been highlighted this week by three schoolgirls from London who, police say, have succeeded in getting to Syria. Kadiza Sultana, 16; Amira Abase, 15; and Shamima Begum, 15, told their families on February 17 that they would be out for the day and headed to Gatwick airport where they boarded a Turkish Airways flight to Istanbul. Eight British girls have tried this in the last seven months.
At least one of the latest trio was in contact through Twitter with Aqsa Mahmood, 20, who left her home in Glasgow to join Isis in November 2013 and is now one of the most active recruiters of other young British women. Girls from other parts of Europe are also volunteering for the Islamic State’s bloodthirsty campaign, but its appeal runs even wider.
Late last year three Denver teenagers ran away from home in an attempt to join Isis. They were apprehended in Frankfurt after the father of one girl had a call from school about her absence and found that her passport was missing. In October another Colorado teen, Maureen Conley, a would-be jihadist, was stopped at Denver airport before she could carry out her plan. And, of course, the boys are still trying too.
Why? Their families are shocked, their neighbours flabbergasted, their school friends amazed. No-one could have predicted that these young people would fall for the propaganda of the most feared and hated terrorist group on the planet. They are not, typically, alienated and hopeless youths from urban ghettos but studious, ambitious youngsters from middleclass homes.
Why on earth are they ditching career prospects in the wealthy West to go and drudge for the jihadists? Why do girls want to marry zealots who, as they certainly know by now, are prepared to decapitate, crucify and immolate other human beings for a propaganda advantage?
Here are my guesses.
An ideal worth dying for: Adolescents are idealistic, but in an increasingly relativistic and morally confusing world they find it difficult to identify an object for their idealism and it is often squandered. Isis represents an apparently high ideal: a pure Islamic state with a well-defined way of life that conforms to the will of God. The fact that people are willing to die for this project impresses serious minded young Muslims and converts. Martyrdom confirms the nobility of the cause and those fighting for it. Slaughter can be excused. “Stethoscope round my neck and kalash on my shoulder. Martyrdom is my highest dream,” runs one famous tweet from a Malaysian woman recruit.
By comparison, what does Europe or the Anglo world have to offer? Saving the whales? Crusading against carbon emissions? Martyrdom for the sake of freedom to mock and defame? Sainthood for promoting sodomy?
Purity: A common theme in the discourse and twitterings of Isis sympathisers is the decadence of the West. “We are all witness that the Western societies are getting more immoral day by day,” wrote Chicago teenager Mohammed Hamzah Khan in a letter to his family as he made a bid for Syria last October. “I do not want my kids being exposed to filth like this.” So what if it came straight from @isismorality; it rings true.
Responsibility: Young people have greater capacity for responsibility than they are given credit for in Western societies. Brought up in a permissive environment they find the most that is demanded of them is to try and keep themselves “safe” while experimenting with drugs and sex. They are heroes if they use a condom every time or call an ambulance if a friend falls down drunk.
The Isis recruits are up for an altogether different challenge: the call to serve something bigger than themselves. They network, they save (and sometimes steal), they get themselves onto planes and across borders, embrace the prospect of both dangerous and routine jobs in war zones… In short, they display a maturity that, imperfect as it is, doesn’t easily find an outlet in the places where they have grown up.
Faith and Identity: This is not just a question of ethnic origin and specific religious beliefs but of the very idea of God and one’s duty to him. The religious instinct is natural but in the West it is starved, stifled and trampled upon from an early age. Believers hide their faith and are often lukewarm. The jihadists brandish it like a flag. It is something to be proud of. Young people see that their faith gives the fighters purpose and courage, raising the business of living to a heroic level. Wouldn’t that be worth a try?
Community: The foreign fighters and sympathisers refer to their colleagues as brothers and sisters. Their common ideal and purpose brings a sense of community, even family, that exists only in a watered down state among the Islamic populations of big Western cities. The individualism of the European/Anglo world might be good for clawing your way to the top of the economic ladder, but it leaves ardent young people cold.
Romance vs feminism: For boys it’s the romance of heroic action; for girls the romance of marrying a bearded young hero, a martyr in the making, and supporting his work. True, infatuation is driving much of the online activity among girls (Dutch jihadi “Ylmaz”, who is said to spend his time taking moody selfies and posting pictures of kittens, has had more than 10,000 marriage requests from lovestruck Muslim girls around the world) but even that has a message: marriage is what the adolescent girl in her natural state dreams of, not a couple of decades of career slog, with sex on the side, before embarking on the dual task of finding a husband and starting IVF.
Anyway, Isis even seems to offer something to feminists: the Al-Khanssa Brigade, an all-woman moral police force. Al Khansa’s rules for others of their sex, however, are (even) less appealing.
Family failure: The most astonishing feature of the stories of the young Isis recruits is that no-one could see what was brewing. Parents don’t know their own kids. The latter live online with a substitute family and do not confide in their parents. Sadly, this phenomenon is not confined to would-be warriors and jihadi brides. Are Muslim families failing more than others in this respect? Probably not. The trouble that can come from such lack of communication and trust within the family is more drastic and sensational when kids run away to Syria, but it is also pretty damaging when teenagers find “friends” at school and online who provide them with porn, sex and drugs.
Maybe the parents are working too hard and lack time and energy; maybe they are simply not equipped to deal with technology-driven cultural forces; but isn’t parental deficit the root of the whole teenage terrorist phenomenon?
A challenge for parents and society alike
Teenagers will always rebel against their parents and the “system”, and it’s possible to see Western jihadi volunteers in that light. But in a healthy family young people will let their rebellion hang out. They will care enough about having your affection to explode with rage against your restrictions or insensitivity; in a healthy culture they will march on the street or splash slogans on walls to let the powers that be know how detestable their politics and morality are. They won’t suddenly turn from being model daughters and sons and students into zealots who would rather join the slaughterers of Isis than spend another day in the patronising, cynical, aimless and decadent West.
So, if we want to beat Isis to hearts and souls of young people, here is what we have to offer them: high ideals, responsibility, moral purity, faith, fellowship, marriage and, above all, mums and dads who see the nurturing of their children as their main mission in life. Isis can only give youngsters a sick parody of those things. We must care enough to give them the real thing.
From Darkness to Light
As a Muslim imam, Mario Joseph was well-versed in the Koran and in the teachings of the Islamic religion. In fact, it was precisely the Koran that brought him to an encounter with Jesus Christ and with the truth of the Catholic faith. But his conversion did not come without difficulties; as a consequence, he has undergone grave persecution. How has he attained his intense love toward the Church, the Cross and Heaven? He himself tells us in this week’s impacting episode of Changing Tracks.
As the Church’s captivity in Babylon continues, the Modernists are attempting to launch an all-out war on anything faithful to the Catholic faith and tradition. Here are just a few examples:
Since 2013, Fr. Fidenzio Volpi, an Apostolic commissioner of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, has launched an attack on the Tridentine Mass, under the guise that the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate are “crypto-lefebvrian” and have a “traditionalist drift”. (source)
In late 2014, Archbishop Bruno Forte has launched an attack on the Church’s morals by sneaking the sodomite agenda in the mid-term Relatio report, issued by the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. (source)
In the middle of February, 2015, Fr. Thomas Rosica launched an attack on the faithful by threatening to sue a lay Catholic blogger who exposed the fact that Fr. Rosica is using his position in the Vatican to promote the Kasperian proposal. (source)
In late 2014, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldiserri launched an attack on the Church’s morals, particularly concerning the Sacrament of Marriage, when he sabotaged the Extraordinary Synod on the Family by tampering with the mail sent to all of the Synod Fathers, mail that included a refutation of the Kasperian Proposal. (source)
Why Is This Happening?
The Church is reliving the passion of Christ. There is a teaching in the Catholic Church which states that what is done to the head of the Church is done to the body of the Church. This teaching is illustrated by the following papal documents:
Miserentissimus Redemptor, Pope Pius XI
“the expiatory passion of Christ is renewed and in a manner continued and fulfilled in His mystical body, which is the Church. For, to use once more the words of St. Augustine, “Christ suffered whatever it behoved Him to suffer; now nothing is wanting of the measure of the sufferings. Therefore the sufferings were fulfilled, but in the head; there were yet remaining the sufferings of Christ in His body” (In Psalm lxxxvi). This, indeed, Our Lord Jesus Himself vouchsafed to explain when, speaking to Saul, “as yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter” (Acts ix, 1), He said, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” (Acts ix, 5), clearly signifying that when persecutions are stirred up against the Church, the Divine Head of the Church is Himself attacked and troubled. Rightly, therefore, does Christ, still suffering in His mystical body, desire to have us partakers of His expiation, and this is also demanded by our intimate union with Him, for since we are “the body of Christ and members of member” (1 Corinthians xii, 27), whatever the head suffers, all the members must suffer with it (Cf. 1 Corinthians xii, 26).”
Salvifici Doloris, Pope John Paul II
“Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering. . . . Christ has accomplished the world’s redemption through his own suffering. For, at the same time, this redemption, even though it was completely achieved by Christ’s suffering, lives on and in its own special way develops in the history of man. It lives and develops as the body of Christ, the Church, and in this dimension every human suffering, by reason of the loving union with Christ, completes the suffering of Christ. It completes that suffering just as the Church completes the redemptive work of Christ.“
“Christ does not answer directly and he does not answer in the abstract this human questioning about the meaning of suffering. Man hears Christ’s saving answer as he himself gradually becomes a sharer in the sufferings of Christ. The answer that comes through this sharing, by way of the interior encounter with the Master, is in itself something more than the mere abstract answer to the question about the meaning of suffering. For it is above all a call. It is a vocation. Christ does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering, but before all else he says: “Follow me!” Come! Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering! Through my cross. Gradually, as the individual takes up his cross, spiritually uniting himself to the cross of Christ, the salvific meaning of suffering is revealed before him.”
Thus, as Christ had to suffer on the cross, so does His mystical Body. Likewise as Peter doubted Christ, so too the Church militant, in part, is doubting the claims of Christ. Pope Pius XII spoke of this when he said:
“A day will come when the civilized world will deny its God, when the Church will doubt as Peter doubted.” 
Lastly, as Christ was betrayed by Judas, so too His mystical Body is being betrayed by many of her clerics. In light of this, none of these recent scandals should come as a surprise.
The Wrong solution to the War
Instead of suffering alongside of Christ on the cross, as did the Blessed Virgin Mary, many in the Church today are becoming scandalized, even to the point that they have left, or plan to leave, Holy Mother Church. This is no more legitimate of an option than when the Apostles abandoned Christ during His crucifixion. Period.
The Right solution to the War
As the Blessed Virgin Mary remained with Christ during His crucifixion, so should we remain in the mystical Body of Christ, during its crucifixion. It is especially in these most turbulent times that we must remain faithful by remaining in the bosom of the Catholic Church.
What can a faithful Catholic do, other than remain in the Catholic Church? Our Blessed Mother gave us a solution to these dark and dreary times in the life of the Church. When she prophesied, in the Third Secret of Fatima, about the mass apostasy that would take place in the Church, even by those in the hierarchy, she didn’t leave us without hope. What is this hope? It is the daily Rosary! In fact, the last visionary of Fatima, Sister Lucia explicitly told us:
“Let people say the rosary every day. Our Lady stated that repeatedly in all her apparitions, as if to fortify us against these times of diabolical disorientation, so that we would not allow ourselves to be deceived by false doctrines.”
“The Most Holy Virgin in these last times in which we live has given a new efficacy to the recitation of the Holy Rosary. She has given this efficacy to such an extent that there is no problem, no matter how difficult it is, whether temporal or above all, spiritual, in the personal life of each one of us, of our families, of the families of the world, or of the religious communities, or even of the life of peoples and nations that cannot be solved by the Rosary. There is no problem I tell you, no matter how difficult it is, that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the Holy Rosary.”
Thus, brothers, let us take up our arms in battle against the wickedness and snares of the Devil by the daily recitation of the Holy Rosary!
Michael Lofton is a Latin Rite Catholic in the Diocese of Shreveport, Louisiana and is also a member of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. He is a Catholic convert from Protestantism (his conversion story can be found here) and is an author of over a dozen books on Sacred Scripture, Catholic Theology and Apologetics as well as the editor of the St. Jerome Study Bible, found here. He is occasionally a guest on Radio Maria and is the author of the website www.consolamini.org
False Teachings on Meditation & Contemplation: Sts Peter of Alcantara & Teresa of Avila
In 1577, St. Teresa of Avila completed what is heralded as her seminal work on mental prayer, meditation, and contemplation in the Interior Castle. This guidebook to the most profound depths of prayer has become the standard against which all serious inquiries into interior progress must be measured. This is the reason that it is to St. Teresa that the Catechism of the Catholic Church poses the question, “What is contemplative prayer?”
It is in the fourth mansion of the Interior Castle that the author of this work, the holy Franciscan Friar, Peter of Alcántara, through his writings and relationship with St. Teresa, collaborates with her in an important exchange that should impact the way we view prayer today.
This collaboration arose from a dispute involving individuals positing to St. Teresa that a soul seeking to advance in prayer should work to manage thoughts or guide the mind to silence or stillness during prayer. Those advancing this idea cited St. Peter’s writings as proof of the veracity of their claims.
Owing to her knowledge of and respect for St. Peter, as he was one of her spiritual directors, St. Teresa desired to ensure that her thinking on the matter was correct. She turned to the text you now hold to resolve the dispute.
After her investigation, St. Teresa, not known for timidity of expression and emboldened by her union with St. Peter, attacked these false teachings with a notable force that should elicit our careful attention.
St. Teresa, in the third chapter of the fourth mansion of the Interior Castle argued four key points against using any method that is excessively focused on thought management during prayer. In summary, she argues that recollection is a loving awareness of the Lord that comes in the form of a gift and not as a result of spiritual gymnastics. Teresa argues that, as we become absorbed in the Lord, it is insufficient, stifling, frustrating and even dangerous to strive for some inert state of consciousness in which we act against our desire to understand. Instead of a state of consciousness, she encourages us to seek a loving friendship with God:
1) Deeper prayer does not require that we manage our thoughts (which she calls “human industry”) but that we seek to simply and humbly yield to the work of the Lord. Otherwise, she argues, the result will be that we further exacerbate the normal challenges of prayer.
2) Deeper prayer comes through a resignation to the will to God. This resignation brings peace, whereas human efforts bring frustration. Psychologically coercing ourselves to inactivity disturbs the true peace that the Lord wants to grant. Peace is a matter of bringing our created will into harmony with the loving Will that created it. Teresa, who understands the delicacy of spousal friendship with the Lord, is aware that on this point true peace requires a completely free response of the heart to the Lord’s self-disclosure. When we do not give space to the heart to make such a free response through petitionary prayer and meditation, we are trying to surmount the movements God Himself has inspired in it. Such coercion always does more harm than good.
3) “Because the same care which is employed for thinking on nothing, will, perhaps, excite the imagination to think much” instead. The effort to achieve a state of thoughtlessness can exacerbate the soul into thinking in even more distracting ways than otherwise would have been the case. We become aware that we are thinking not to think or else that we have achieved a state of thoughtlessness. But this awareness of our own mental activity or inertia, whether self-congratulatory or condemning, attends not to God or what He discloses but to self. It is locked in an orbit around one’s own big fat ego, unable to break free of its self-awareness even when it is not self-aware.
4) “Because the most pleasing and substantial service we can do for God is to have only His honor and glory in view, and to forget ourselves, our own benefit, delight, and pleasure.” Pursuing a psychic state can be a preoccupation and distraction when our attention should be on the Lord and on responding to His Presence. This is the same problem addressed in Teresa’s third point, but presented from the perspective of our friendship with God, the perspective out of which she begins her critique. If we are self-occupied with self-awareness or lack of self-awareness, thinking or not thinking, understanding or not understanding, we have already lost sight of the Lord. Our prayer is not a response of love to the One who loves us. Rather than the devotion of friendship and awareness of the otherness of God, rather than being vulnerable to adoration before the wonder of the Lord, we have fixated on things that will never expand the heart or allow it to be humble before Him.
Teresa continues her argument with the admonition that we should not seek to “charm our faculties” into some false state of readiness for God, but that if our mind or faculties are ever to be suspended or managed, then the valid impetus or force to achieve such an end comes from God alone. We need do nothing but simply turn our attention to Him and occupy our minds with Him in prayer, which is the central thrust of this book and of the practice of authentic Christian meditation.
Why was this so important to Teresa then, and why is it important to us now? We live in a period that is just as obsessed with methods of prayer and false teaching on prayer as it was then. In keeping with our lower nature, we look for secret, easy formulas to success; five ways to a better this, and four quick and easy ways to a better that. As with modern weight loss schemes, these methods leave the wallet thinner and the soul no closer to the fulfillment of what it truly needs and desires. St. Peter of Alcántara’s work is as sure an antidote to much of the false teaching of our day as it was in his own.
St. Peter’s insights on prayer are far more profound and far reaching than the size of this text might suggest. The reader will find not only help in satisfying the short-term need for insight on how to grow in prayer, but also a window into perspectives on prayer that should challenge and enrich the reader for years to come.
In particular, St. Peter is not afraid to call us to a deeper commitment to self-denial and ascetical practices as we pursue a deeper life of prayer and devotion. Many in our time criticize or downplay traditional asceticism, but if we believe St. Teresa’s account of St. Peter’s appearance to her after his death, it seems that God also approved of his approach. We also have affirmation of his ascetical counsels affirmed and even more deeply explored in the writings of St. John of the Cross.
One of the greatest benefits of our time with respect to theological clarity is St. John Paul II’s gift of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In part four entitled Christian Prayer, we have a beautiful and concise summary of all of the most important aspects of the Church’s understanding of prayer. Here, in the Catechism, we see distinctions made between three expressions of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplation. This clarity allows us to better understand the progressive nature of the development of prayer and corrects a number of past and present errors. It also sheds light on and reinforces St. Peter’s use of the terms “meditation” and “contemplation.”
St. Peter’s use of the term “meditation” falls squarely in line with the Catechism wherein it reveals:
2705 Meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking. The required attentiveness is difficult to sustain. We are usually helped by books, and Christians do not want for them: the Sacred Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, holy icons, liturgical texts of the day or season, writings of the spiritual fathers, works of spirituality, the great book of creation, and that of history—the page on which the “today” of God is written.
2706 To meditate on what we read helps us to make it our own by confronting it with ourselves. Here, another book is opened: the book of life. We pass from thoughts to reality. To the extent that we are humble and faithful, we discover in meditation the movements that stir the heart and we are able to discern them. It is a question of acting truthfully in order to come into the light: “Lord, what do you want me to do?”
2707 There are as many and varied methods of meditation as there are spiritual masters. Christians owe it to themselves to develop the desire to meditate regularly, lest they come to resemble the three first kinds of soil in the parable of the sower. But a method is only a guide; the important thing is to advance, with the Holy Spirit, along the one way of prayer: Christ Jesus.
2708 Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. This mobilization of faculties is necessary in order to deepen our convictions of faith, prompt the conversion of our heart, and strengthen our will to follow Christ. Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ, as in lectio divina or the Rosary. This form of prayerful reflection is of great value, but Christian prayer should go further: to the knowledge of the love of the Lord Jesus, to union with him.
St. Peter also clearly acknowledges meditation as a transitional form of prayer (as do all faithful spiritual theologians) that draws us ever more deeply into relationship with God. With God’s grace, we eventually transition out of this mode of prayer, into a more simple prayer, and then to what is known as infused contemplation. St. Peter clarifies this process. In his discussion of contemplation, he uses the term “contemplation” to refer to either acquired/natural contemplation or affective meditation. However, he is particularly clear on this matter in his eighth counsel on meditation, where he reveals the right understanding of a kind of contemplation that is much different than what can be known in meditation and is in keeping with St. Teresa’s understanding of contemplation.
The importance of this clarity is a matter of significance in our time. As Ignatian spirituality has emerged as a dominant expression today, a particular form of Ignatian meditation has become very popular. This approach to prayer has and will continue to bear much fruit in the lives of those who diligently engage with the practice, especially in the manner proposed by St. Peter. It is a form of prayer that is important to help beginners emerge through and then out of the purgative phase of spiritual growth into the illuminative phase. This transition, most clearly revealed in the writings of St. John of the Cross, is one whereby the pilgrim, once deeply blessed by meditation, leaves it behind in favor of a contemplation wherein God rewards their diligent ascesis and devotion by drawing them into a form of prayer that has little to do with human will or action and much more to do with God’s work of transformative grace in the soul.
Much more can be said about the value of this great gift of meditation to the Church. This text is so clear that the reader should have little trouble finding the gems that God has in store for all who truly desire to grow in relationship with Him in prayer.
Note from Dan: This excerpt is taken from my newly published version of St. Peter of Alcántara’s great work on Prayer and Meditation entitled “Finding God Through Meditation.” If you would like a signed copy of this book (by me, not St. Peter), CLICK HERE. Your donation for the book will go to the formation of priests, religious, and the faithful poor. If you would just like to buy a copy from Emmaus RoadPublishing, CLICK HERE.