We Can Learn From Our Temptations

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“Temptations are very profitable to man, troublesome and grievous though they may be, for in them a man is humbled, purified, and instructed.” (Imitation of Christ, Book 1, Chapter 13)

Sometimes I get discouraged when I experience temptation. Pride creeps in my heart as I imagine myself holier to be than I actually am. Temptation reminds me that I’m very human and incredibly weak, which I hate to admit to myself or anyone else.

It takes a lot of prayer for me to see the truth about temptation — that it is actually an opportunity to choose what is right. In this sense, it is a gift. Instead of believing I have reached perfection, temptations test my faith and ability to fight my inclination toward pleasure and selfishness.

When I read the introductory quote during my Marian consecration renewal, temptation as a gift suddenly made so much more sense. The fact that God intends for us to profit from temptation — to grow in virtue, to strengthen our will — is incredibly helpful when I am facing my own defects. Here is a reflection about how we can benefit from temptation.

Humility

There are some temptations that humble us. We realize that we are capable of great sin but also great holiness, and as a result, we know we truly aren’t superior or inferior to the worst of sinners.

My husband, Ben, used to be a reserve sheriff’s deputy. He would often share with me incredibly pitiful stories of otherwise ordinary people getting entangled in criminal activity related to their addictions. At first, I would scoff and make judgments about how heinous their behavior was. There was a haughtiness in my words.

But over time, I came to see that I’m really not that different from them. I, too, have the potential to commit immoral acts. It’s all about combating temptation when it begins in the mind, and none of us do this perfectly all the time (which is why we’re not yet saints).

In this regard, temptation is spiritually beneficial, because we grow in profound humility about who we really are and what our humanity means. In turn, we realize the need for total dependence on God’s grace and increase our desire to cooperate with it.

Patience

Shortly after our second daughter, Sarah, was born, I was overwhelmed at the prospect of having more children in the future. I was terrified of the life we were forced into with doctor’s appointments and surgeries, and I simply didn’t believe I could handle the demands of yet more infants. For the first time in my life, I understood why couples choose contraception or sterilization as “options” for controlling their fertility. And this temptation terrified me, because I had always been staunchly pro-life.

Yet acknowledging the temptation and succumbing to it are entirely different. Of course, I knew immediately that I would not choose either of those two “options,” but they did make sense to me because of the exhaustion and demands of parenting small children.

Temptation in this instance helped me grow in patience. I knew that my years of fertility would likely span the course of a decade or more and that Ben and I would continue to traverse that very arduous path of monitoring my reproductive health while also conversing about our openness to new life.

You might experience certain temptations that visit you incessantly, which can be very frustrating. Be assured, though, that God wants you to grow in fortitude – to continue fighting the allurements of what seems easier but is morally deadly. Patience strengthens your will to fight the devil, the flesh, and the world.

Purification/Perfecting Virtue

Temptation purifies our souls when we choose what is right. Because I mostly write about the value of suffering, people ask me all the time why God allows such things as temptation or trials. I’ve thought about this through the years, and it occurred to me not long ago that love isn’t love unless you choose it.

If we never encountered struggles or faced our vices, then we wouldn’t necessarily see the value of what is good, beautiful, and true. I can’t really love God unless I choose to reject what I know offends him and what will separate me from him. Temptation, then, can aid us in acquiring the virtues that are most lacking in our lives.

Father Jean C D’Elbee wrote, “The more we love Jesus, and the more we draw near to him, the more we reject what does not belong to him, whatever he condemns…” The greatest virtue we acquire when we refuse to commit sin is an increase in love for God. When we love, we never want to hurt the one we love.

Instruction/Discipline

God disciplines those whom he loves. We read about this in Hebrews 12:6, but discipline still feels like punishment to us. Chastisement stings, because it bruises our egos and wounds our pride. Still, consider the following thought from the Imitation of Christ: “In temptation and tribulation, it is proved what progress man has made, and there is also great merit and virtue is made more manifest.” (Book 1, Chapter 13)

Consider what spiritual progress happens when you are instructed by God through temptation. Each time you resist evil, you’re strengthened to do what is good. Your heavenly Father is the benevolent parent who looks out for your welfare, and resisting temptation is simply one means by which you inch closer to your eternal reward. We can look to Fr. D’Elbee again for the final word about temptation: “Humiliating as it is, temptation is an occasion for victory.”

By Jeannie Ewing

Jeannie Ewing believes the world ignores and rejects the value of the Cross. She writes about the hidden value of suffering and even discovering joy in the midst of grief.  As a disability advocate, Jeannie shares her heart as a mom of two girls with special needs in Navigating Deep Waters and is the author of From Grief to Grace , A Sea Without A Shore , and Waiting with Purpose.  Jeannie is a frequent guest on Catholic radio and contributes to several online and print Catholic magazines.   She, her husband, and three daughters live in northern Indiana. For more information, please visit her website jeannieewing.com.

How Christianity is like one big Thai cave rescue

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Could today's feast of St. Benedict be any more Providential?

Just in time for St. Benedict’s feast day, the Wild Boars boys’ soccer team has been rescued from the Tham Luang cave in Thailand.

The boys probably won’t be celebrating St. Benedict, but I will on their behalf. St. Benedict is the patron saint of cavers. More to the point, he is one of the reasons you can see the whole of Christianity as a cave rescue.

First, you have to go all the way back to the cave man.

At the summer Napa conference two years ago, Father Robert Spitzer made a modern, scientific version of an argument G.K. Chesterton made in Everlasting Man.

To explain the proof we have for an immaterial soul, Father Spitzer cited research that 70,000 years ago something happened to early human beings that caused an intellectual explosion of art, complex language, abstract mathematics, religion and morality.

“I would submit that this ‘something’ is a transcendent soul,” Father Spitzer said. When the first couple, and their children after them, received a soul, humanity began asking “What?” “Why?” “Where?” “When?” “How?” and “How many?” he said. “This led to a tremendous explosion of exploration, discovery, art, and religion.” After this, humanity started spreading over the globe.

In other words, the art the “cave men” drew on walls was one of the first expressions of the soul — and that same soul led humankind to leave the cave behind.

“Leaving the cave” became the perfect metaphor for learning.

Plato, in The Republic, compared the human condition to being imprisoned in a cave where we never see the light, but only shadows. Philosophers are those who make their way out of the cave and see the real world — but they have to be careful how they talk about their experience, because people in the dark don’t like the light.

Then God himself did something very strange: He entered our caves to save us, twice.

After Altamira and Plato’s cave came the two most important caves in history: The one at Bethlehem and the one outside Jerusalem.

Justin Martyr (100-165) wrote how “since Joseph could not find a lodging in that village, he took up his quarters in a certain cave” near Bethlehem. Jesus’ burial place was hewn out of a cave, too, one we are learning more about to this day.

Thus, Jesus himself followed this trajectory of humanity, entering our caves and then emerging from them victorious. He also neatly reversed Plato’s cave analogy — in the manger and in the empty tomb, the Light of the World shone out from the cave.

The catacombs are the next significant caves of Christianity.

Early Christians almost literally followed Jesus Christ’s example. Under early Roman persecution, Christians descended into the Rome’s cavernous underground burial tunnels to honor the martyrs with the sacraments that connected them to God.

In the catacombs, vast necropolises of the dead, Christians once again expressed their humanity through art — this time connecting humanity and divinity in cave drawings of Christ.  

Again, when we emerged from the catacombs we were ready to spread throughout the world, this time teaching Christ.

Which brings us to St. Benedict.

Next, around the year 500, Benedict, a young Italian nobleman, went to Rome to be educated. There, he was disgusted by the casual sin he saw all around him and became a hermit living in a cave near a monastery 40 miles from Rome.

With the same results.

“The small, obscure grotto of Subiaco,” wrote St. John Paul II, “became the cradle of the Benedictine Order. From it a bright beacon of faith and civilization shone out which, through the example and work of the holy Patriarch’s spiritual sons flooded the West and East of Europe and the other continents.”

He became the patron saint not only of cavers, but of religious orders, and Europe.

We all need to be rescued from caves.

In mythology, caves are symbols of mankind’s reawakening. From Beowulf to Batman, from Aeneas to The Empire Strikes Back, caves are places where we confront our demons and emerge remade.

The Church helpfully offers us many such places. Confessionals, which often look like coffins, are dark places we enter to obliterate our sins and leave renewed. The tabernacle, like the manger and the Holy Sepulcher, is a dark place that shines with the light of God.

Like St. Benedict, each of us needs to let God enter the darkest corners of our soul and rescue us from the stagnant airless deeps, out into the light of the world.

Just like the Thai soccer team.

St. Notburga – The Skeleton Saint of Social Justice

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I did a double-take upon spying a sharply dressed female skeleton raising a shiny sickle with her right hand. Positioned center stage on the altar of St. Rupert’s Church in Eben, Austria, the impeccably tailored skeletal saint appears to be Mexican folk saint Santa Muerte, but she is not. Saint Death’s Austrian doppleganger is St. Notburga, a peasant woman who lived in the Tyrolian region of Austria from 1265 to 1313 and because of her acts of charity with the poor was canonized in 1862 and is known as the matron saint of peasants and servants. Thus, it’s not only that she’s a female skeleton dressed to kill that approximates her to the Mexican death saint but also her special appeal to those who occupy the lowest rungs of societies plagued by acute socioeconomic inequalities, namely contemporary Mexico and feudal Europe.

For those of you surprised that the skeleton of the Tyrolian saint is the main attraction at the church in Eben, it should be pointed out that the sickle-wielding bony lady is but one, albeit one of the most impressive, of scores of skeletal saints housed at monasteries and churches throughout Catholic Germania, namely Austria, Switzerland, and most importantly Germany itself. While one might expect to encounter these beautiful bejeweled skeletal saints in more heavily Catholic nations such as Italy and Spain, it’s the Teutonic regions that were on the front lines of the Protestant Reformation, spearheaded by Martin Luther, and the subsequent Counter-Reformation in which the exquisitely adorned skeletal relics were manufactured. The Reformation, of course, led to violent campaigns in Germania against the cult of the saints and holy relics in which images and body parts of Catholic holy women and men were destroyed as symbols of “Roman idolatry.”

While significant swaths of Germania joined Luther’s religious revolution, the southern region became one of the epicenters of the Counter-Reformation in which the cult of the saints did not only continue but was revitalized with the importation of the skeletal remains of putative saints and martyrs from the Roman catacombs. The term putative applies here because during the Middle Ages there was a robust black market in bogus relics that were bought and sold by unscrupulous merchants who misrepresented the blood and bones of deceased commoners as those of certain saints. This is why, for example, the more prominent saints would appear to be miraculously endowed with extra body parts, such as the various heads of St. John the Baptist that can be found in different European countries.

So bones and skeletons of mostly unknown origin were traipsed from the Roman Catacombs across the Alps where nuns lovingly transformed them into regally bejeweled and attired “catacomb saints.” The opulence of these skeletal saints stood in stark contrast to the austerity of Lutheran churches where such eye-candy was considered a distraction from worshiping God. The regal opulence of the skeletal saints did double duty in the Counter-Reformation campaign to shore up the faith in the battle for souls with Lutheran “heretics.” The life-size skeletal memento mori reminded Catholics to lead a Christian life during an era in which life expectancy was about half of what it is today – in the 80s. And the reward for a life of Catholic piety could be the treasures of heaven symbolized by the bling and fine threads worn so regally by the catacomb saints.

But the story of skeletal Notburga is not only one of a “weaponized saint” (in the words of my colleague, the anthropologist Dr. Kate Kingsbury) in the battle with Lutherans over Germanic souls but also one of social justice. The hagiographical account of her lifeposits Notburga as a cook at the estate of Count Henry of Rattenberg who was in the habit of giving food from the noble kitchen to the poor. Upon discovery of this, the lady of the estate ordered Notburga to feed the leftovers to the pigs instead. Undeterred by the temporary setback, the saint-to-be continued her mission to the poor by donating some of her own rations to the needy in the area.

One day on her way to deliver a food donation Notburga was surprised by the count who demanded to see what she was carrying. Miraculously, he saw vinegar and shavings instead of the actual wine and victuals she had in her sack. The suspicious Lady Ottilia nonetheless had Notburga fired for insubordination. Shortly after dismissing the determined Notburga, the lady of the estate fell deathly ill, and despite having been sacked, Notburga stayed on as a death doula, caring for her mistress until she died.

The generous cook then found employment with a peasant in the town of Eben on the condition she be allowed to attend church Sunday evenings and participate in Catholic festivals. In violation of the terms of her employment, Notburga’s boss commanded her to keep working in the fields one Sunday evening to which she responded by tossing her farm tool in the air saying “let my sickle be judge between me and you.” The sharp blade miraculously remained suspended in the air.

Meanwhile Count Henry had suffered a serious reversal of fortune, which he attributed to Notburga’s departure. In an attempt to rectify the situation he rehired the angel of the poor, which naturally led to renewed prosperity on his estate. Shortly before her death, the humble friend of the poor requested that the count have her corpse placed in a wagon pulled by two oxen, and that wherever the beast of burden should stop was where she was to be buried. The oxen came to a stop at the Chapel of St. Rupert where her skeleton has apparently remained for the past seven centuries.  It’s not clear at what point her skeleton was elegantly attired and displayed front and center at the magnificent Tyrolian church, but as an eye-catching memento mori St. Notburga is a compelling call to make the most of our brief time on earth remembering the plight of our less fortunate sisters and brothers.

Communicating by Listening

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Jeff Cavins

The goal of a debate or a discussion about the Faith should not be to win; the goal should be to share Christ. This involves more than just telling people what Scripture says, it involves listening to where they are coming from and then giving them an answer that meets the pain and angst that they are experiencing in their life. Today, Jeff gives you ten points on how to become a better listener to others so that you can touch people’s hearts and answer their questions with the message of the gospel.

Ten Ways to Become a Better Listener

  1. Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. (James 1:19)
  2. Look into their eyes. Don’t be distracted. Don’t look around or beyond them.
  3. Love them by listening to their heart.
  4. Ask the Lord to help you listen to where they are coming from.
  5. Recognize that your response may not come all at once, but in stages.
  6. Avoid being offended by what they say, don’t take it personally.
  7. Be willing to change if they have a good point.
  8. Don’t formulate thoughts when the other person is speaking. Just listen.
  9. Remember their name and use it often.
  10. You don’t need to cover every point.

Other Tips

  1. Ask follow up questions and repeat back to them what they said in your own words.
  2. Your body language is important. (e.g. Your eyes and mouth can give away that you are ready to interrupt.)
  3. Avoid any “why” questions, instead, look for information with “what” questions.

Judging Others Or Constructive Criticism

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What's the difference between judging others and constructive criticism? 

GOD'S RESPONSE 

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend's eye when you have a log in your own? Matthew 7:1-3

Don't speak evil against each other, my dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize each other and condemn each other, then you are criticizing and condemning God's law. James 4:11

† One coach berates a player publicly for making a mistake in a game. Another coach waits until the game is over and tells the player privately how to avoid making the same mistake again. Though no one likes criticism----even when it is constructive-we sometimes need it. But it is much easier to receive criticism when it is offered gently and in love, rather than in a harsh or humiliating way. A judge criticizes with no effort to see the person succeed or improve. One who offers constructive criticism invests in building a relationship and helping the other person become who God created him or her to be. 

GOD'S CHALLENGE

You must make allowance for each other's faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Colossians 3:13

The One Year Men's Mini-Devotional

Are Some Problems Too Big?

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It’s easy to be optimistic in opportunity, and it’s natural to see a silver lining when everything is super. But it’s a bit tougher to keep your chin up when life knocks it down, and while you’re sinking in the waves of adversity you find it hard to stay afloat on faith. Just being honest. And you can repeat to yourself over and over, “God’s got this,” yet feeling like you believe it is hard. Because you can have faith in your heart to move a mountain, but in your mind, even molehills stay stationary. Hope is easy to hang on to in intention, but remaining hopeful in reality tougher. I can say, “no matter what, I trust you, Lord,” and truly mean it, yet it won’t keep the dismay at bay. Not completely. Sometimes human nature sucks.

I’ve found myself lately going through some changes. Change is always hard. It’s easier when it’s brought on by the Lord’s urging, but not without difficulty. So as we’ve found ourselves adjusting to new situations, and especially as we’ve found ourselves waiting for the glorious next step, it’s been a season of growing pains. I say, “ok, Lord, I’m ready,” but that doesn’t make it go by any quicker. I’m still in the waiting.

Ugh. The waiting. I hate the waiting. I know it brings growth. That’s what everyone says. But gosh, it’s awful. Can we all just agree it’s awful?

And then there’s the whole enormity of the issues you face. The world whispers words like “unlikely, unrealistic,” or even the dreaded “impossible.” The world will say you can’t, that the odds are stacked too much against you, but then the Lord will whisper, I can.

The reality of life will say I can’t sell my house in this market. It will say the dreams are too lofty, and that perhaps some mountains can’t be climbed. It will say the numbers don’t add up, you’re not brave enough to do something new and scary, and that your plans are too unconventional to work. But I suppose if God is leading you to something then even apparent logic doesn’t matter.

I was reminded last night of an obstacle I faced as a young woman. I felt the Lord leading me to leave my comfort zone, leave the man I loved, leave the country! I was being led to the mission field, but I had a problem in my way. It wasn’t my folks or even college before me. It was Epilepsy.

Since the age of eight, I had been medicated for abnormal brain activity and the accompanying migraines. I took medication twice a day to keep the seizures away, and I saw my neurologist at least every three-six months for extensive testing. Every EEG I endured always came back the same (all wrong), and whenever I was anxious or stressed I would fall down in tears at the impending aura. A pressure would build in my ears, and a harsh sound like the muffled voices of hundreds of people speaking too fast for me to understand their words would fill my head. All the soft sounds were loud, and it was like the scratching of a pencil on paper was a thousand nails on a massive chalkboard. Yet in these moments a voice of someone addressing me sounded like it was a million miles away. This burden I bore was my obstacle. How could I travel into the jungles of Guyana with seizures, and how could I manage the logistics of medications needed and unfilled prescriptions while overseas?!

The world would say it just wasn’t going to happen for me. Not everyone could go into the mission field. But God would say, “nothing is too big for me.”

He would miraculously heal me a month before I was to depart.

He would somehow take abnormal brain waves and make them right, and even the neurologist would be stunned.

“It’s a miracle,” he said.

God would answer my prayers and not just try and fix it where I could get an extended amount of anti-seizure medication like I hoped. He went beyond working with the insurance companies. Instead, He removed my obstacle completely.

When the world would say impossible, He would say, done.

Whenever I face impossible or worrisome situations in this life, God is good to remind me of the things He has already done. He’s a healer and mountain mover, and just because an obstacle looks different, it doesn’t mean He isn’t faithful to make things happen. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Waiting is hard. Problems harder. But God is an excellent problem solver. The wonderful thing is that even when my faith wavers, and when my emotions betray me, He is the same. He is constant, and despite my laborious stumbles He always makes the way. His way. No problem is too big for our God.

Posted By Brie Gowen
Brie Gowen is a 30-something (sliding ever closer to 40-something) wife and mother. When she’s not loving on her hubby, chasing after the toddler or playing princess with her four-year-old, she enjoys cooking, reading and writing down her thoughts to share with others. Brie is also a huge lover of Jesus. She finds immense joy in the peace a relationship with her Savior provides, and she might just tell you about it sometime. She’d love for you to check out her blog at BrieGowen.com.

Taste and See

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This beautiful Eucharistic hymn, written by James Moore, is a familiar modern hymn with a gentle, meditative melody.

The words:  

Taste and see, taste and see
the goodness of the Lord.
Oh, taste and see, taste and see
the goodness of the Lord, of the Lord.

1 I will bless the Lord at all times.
Praise shall always be on my lips;
my soul shall glory in the Lord;
for God has been so good to me. (Refrain)

Glorify the Lord with me.
Together let us all praise God’s name.
I called the Lord, who answered me;
from all my troubles I was set free. (Refrain)

Worship the Lord, all you people.
You’ll want for nothing if you ask.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
in God we need put all our trust. (Refrain)

It’s not easy to find good choral performances of it online, but here’s a lovely solo rendition:

Daily Gospel Reflection Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Friends, today’s Gospel develops a theme that is uncomfortable. It tells how the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus. Authentically religious people, authentically spiritual people, will almost always be opposed. The logic behind this is simple and unanswerable: we live in a world gone wrong, a world turned upside down; therefore, when someone comes speaking the truth to us, we will think that they are crazy and dangerous.

Think for just a moment what would happen to you if you consistently and publicly spoke the word of God to our culture. If you spoke out against abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, human trafficking, rampant materialism, and ideological secularism, what would happen to you? If you presented, in a full-throated way, the full range of Catholic social and moral and spiritual teaching, what would they do to you? Today’s Gospel offers a clue.

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Going With Jesus To His Native Place

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Today I am in Jerusalem on a solo pilgrimage following the footsteps of Jesus and Mary. Travelers often hear and ask the question, “Where are you from?” because each person has a unique story and a place they call home. The disciples in today’s Gospel return with Jesus to His native place. On this pilgrimage, I am uniting myself with the disciples and returning with Jesus to His native place.

I came here to Israel to learn Jesus’ story more deeply. These are some of the questions I bring to Him in prayer:

Jesus, where are You from?
What did it feel like to live here?
What did You think about as a child in Nazareth?
What did You like to do with Mary and Joseph?
Where did You stay?
What did You teach?
Why did You heal some and not others?
How did You get from place to place?
Which disciple made You laugh the most?
Where was Your favorite place to pray near the Sea of Galilee?
How did You handle the misunderstandings?
How did You feel when you suffered?
When did You experience the Father’s closeness?
How did You endure the Crucifixion?
What did the Resurrection feel like?
What did the faces of the disciples look like when You ascended into Heaven?

Yes, God entered directly into human history and lived in a particular place, at a specific time, in a unique culture. Many people misunderstood Jesus and the Gospel today says that, “He was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:6) I can also imagine hearing Him say these words today.

What would happen if we took the time to get to know Jesus even more? What if we went with Him everyday in prayer to His native place? Imagine what would happen if we kept our eyes fixed on Him!

Picture Jesus calling the names of each Blessed is She sister who is reading this devotional today. What if He was amazed by our abundance of faith?

Rose Coleman is a contemplative in action who delights in all things beautiful. Her adventurous heart has traveled many places—from circumnavigating the globe on a ship during college to some years in the convent as a religious sister. Exuberant from her childhood, she is an elementary school teacher who learns so much from her students. You can find out more about her here. She is the author of our Blessed Conversations: Ways to Pray study found here

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Pope’s Morning Homily: Bishops Must Be Able to Discern When Being Spoken to By God or By Spirit of This World

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During Morning Mass, Francis Reminds Bishops’ Love Must Be Christ and Flock, Not Career

MAY 15, 2018 DEBORAH CASTELLANO LUBOV

Bishops’ loves are to be Christ and their flock, not their career.

According to Vatican News, Pope Francis stressed this during his daily morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta as he reflected on today’s Gospel reading where the Apostle Paul, “compelled by the Holy Spirit,” takes his leave from the Church Elders at Ephesus to go to Jerusalem.

In the homily, the Pope expressed his hope that all bishops follow the example of the Apostle Paul with his obedience to the Holy Spirit and his love for his flock.

The Holy Father also called on them to discern properly the voice of God from the voices which come from the spirit of the world.

Reflecting on Paul’s decision, the Pope said: “It’s a decisive move, a move that reaches the heart, it’s also a move that shows us the pathway for every bishop when it’s time to take his leave and step down.”

The Apostle, the Jesuit Pope pointed out, made an examination of his conscience, telling the Elders what he had done for the community and leaving them to judge his work. While Paul seemed “a bit proud,” the Pope noted, he clarified that Paul, in fact, was “objective,” as he only boasted of two things: “his own sins and the Cross of Jesus Christ which saved him.”

Reflecting on how the Apostle listens to the Holy Spirit, Francis said Paul felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem.

“This experience by the bishop, the bishop who can discern the Spirit, who can discern when it is the Spirit of God speaking to him and who knows how to defend himself when spoken to by the spirit of the world,” the Pontiff noted, is essential.

Paul, in a way, the Pope observed, knew he was going “toward trials, towards the cross and this recalls for us Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, doesn’t it?”

The Apostle and bishop ‘obediently offering himself up to the Lord,’ and going forward according to the Holy Spirit, the Pope said, is Paul.

The Pope noted how Paul takes his leave amidst the pain of those present by giving them advice in a testament which is not a worldly testament “about leaving belongings to this person or that person.”

Paul’s great love, said the Pope, is Jesus Christ, and his second, is his flock.

“Take care of each other and of the entire flock. Keep watch over the flock: you are bishops for your flock, to take care of it and not in order to advance your ecclesiastical career.”

Paul, Francis reminded, entrusted the Elders to God, knowing that He will take care of them.

Paul’s testament as “a witness, as well as an announcement and a challenge,” the Pope said, was no worldly testament. Paul had nothing to leave to others, but “the grace of God, his apostolic courage, Jesus Christ’s revelation and the salvation that Our Lord had granted him.”

The Pope, according to Vatican News, continued: “When I read this, I think about myself,” he declared, “because I am a bishop and I must take my leave and step down.”

Pope Francis concluded, noting he is thinking of all bishops and praying: “May the Lord grant all of us the grace to be able to take our leave and step down in this way, like Paul, with that spirit, with that strength, with that love for Jesus Christ and this faith in the Holy Spirit.”

No Excuses

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If only I had more money, more time, more assistance, more talent. We all have a pretty impressive laundry list of why we can’t be of more service to God and to others. Even Saint Paul had his “thorn in the flesh,” some private difficulty that seemed to hold him back from being the apostle he sought to be. Paul kept praying for its removal so he could be free of this impediment. Finally he reinterpreted the thorn: not an impediment, but an opportunity to let God be God. Maybe it’s time to stop protesting and start serving!.

The Wounded Healer

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Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not "How can we hide our wounds?" so we don't have to be embarrassed, but "How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?" When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.

Jesus is God's wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus' suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.

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Jesus Returns to Nazareth

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He Is Rejected by the People, Which Leads Him to Say: “A Prophet Is Not Without Honor, Except in His Own Country”

JULY 08, 2018

Here is a ZENIT translation of the address Pope Francis gave today, before and after praying the midday Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

Today’s Gospel reading (Cf. Mark 6:1-6) presents Jesus, who returns to Nazareth and, on the Sabbath, begins to teach in the synagogue. From the time He left and began to preach in the neighboring hamlets and villages, He had not set foot in His homeland. He returned. Therefore, the whole country was ready to hear this son of the people, whose reputation as wise Teacher and powerful healer now spread throughout Galilee and beyond. However, what could have been a success, turned into a resounding rejection, to the point that Jesus was unable to work any miracles there, but only a few healings (Cf. v. 5). The evangelist Mark reconstructs in detail the dynamic of that day: at first, the people of Nazareth listened and remained astonished; then, perplexed, they asked “where did this man get all this,” this wisdom? And, in the end, they were scandalized, recognizing in Him the carpenter, son of Mary, whom they saw grow up (vv. 2-3). Therefore, Jesus ended with the expression that became proverbial: ”A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country” (v. 4).

We wonder: how did Jesus’ countrymen go from wonder to incredulity? They made a comparison between Jesus’ humble origin and His present capacities: He is a carpenter; He hasn’t studied, yet He preaches better than the scribes and works miracles. And, instead of opening themselves to the reality, they are scandalized. According to the inhabitants of Nazareth, God is too great to lower Himself to speak to such a simple man! It’s the scandal of the Incarnation: the disconcerting event of a God made flesh, who thinks with the mind of a man, works and acts with the hands of a man, loves with the heart of a man, a God who gets tired, eats and sleeps like one of us. The Son of God overturns every human scheme: it’s not the disciples that washed the Lord’s feet, but it’s the Lord who washed the disciples’ feet (Cf. John 13:1-20). This was a motive of scandal and incredulity, not only at that time <but> in every age, also today.

The overturning wrought by Jesus commits His disciples of yesterday and of today to a personal and communal verification. In fact, it can happen in our days also that prejudices are fuelled, which impede accepting the reality. However, the Lord invites us to assume an attitude of humble listening and docile expectation, because God’s grace often presents itself to us in surprising ways, which don’t correspond to our expectations. We think, at the same time, of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, for instance.  A small, little Sister – no one gave 10 lire for her – who went through the streets to pick up the dying, so that they would have a dignified death. With prayer and her work, this little Sister did wonders! The littleness of a woman revolutionized the work of charity in the Church. She is an example of our days. God doesn’t conform Himself to prejudices. We must force ourselves to open our heart and mind to receive the divine reality that comes to meet us. It’s about having faith: the lack of faith is an obstacle to God’s grace. Many baptized persons live as if Christ didn’t exist: the gestures and signs of the faith are repeated, but they do not correspond to a real adherence to the person of Jesus and His Gospel. Every Christian — all of us, each one of us — is called to reflect further on this fundamental belonging, seeking to witness it with a coherent conduct of life, whose thread is always charity.

Through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, let us ask the Lord to soften the hardness of hearts and narrow-mindedness, so that we are open to His grace, to His truth and to His mission of goodness and mercy, which is addressed to all, without any exceptions.

Turn It Back To God To Regain Your Peace

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Several times during the day, but especially in the morning and evening, ask yourself for a moment if you have your soul in your hands or if some passion or fit of anxiety has robbed you of it. Consider whether you have command of your heart or whether it has slipped into some disorderly passion of love, hatred, envy, covetousness, fear, uneasiness or joy. If you have gone astray, quietly bring your soul back to the presence of God, subjecting all your affections and desires to the obedience and direction of His Divine Will. Just as men who are afraid of losing a precious pearl hold it firmly in their hands, so we must keep a close watch on the precious pearl of our soul. 

Saint Francis de Sales

From Our SJN Green Team: Don't bag plastic bans

Whether we like it or not, this is the one planet we have. There is no Plan B. Pope Francis’s Encyclical Laudato Si (“Praised Be”) on the Environment asks us to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home. 
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As with most things now jeopardising the balance of natural environments, plastic is not in itself evil. It is malleable and therefore versatile, cheap to produce at scale, and generally impervious to leakage.

Modernity is unimaginable without the products that can be made from plastic. Its synthetic (or semi-synthetic) polymer material is found in every room in the house, as well as in offices and commercial spaces.

For people in poorer parts of the world, the plastic option is often more affordable than ceramic, wood or steel.  

But the ready convenience of plastic has left us in a stupor, manufacturing and disposing products at much faster rates than compounds can break down. This includes inexplicably over-packaging things like fresh fruit, toys and electrical appliances.

An alarming portion of this waste finds its way into our waterways. In 2010 alone, eight million tons of plastic went into the sea. Scientists expect plastic pollution in our oceans to treble from 2015 levels in 2025.

It goes without saying that the degradation of marine environments poses a threat to creatures in them, and by extension to humans who make a living and take food from there.

This is the backdrop to the ban on disposable plastic bags now in place in major Australian supermarkets and some retailers. It is no secret that this transition was coming.

South Australia, Canberra, the Northern Territory and Tasmania banned these bags in quick succession from 2009. Victoria plans to do so by the end of this year. Aldi and Bunnings customers have been coping without free plastic bags for years.

Around 40 countries have also introduced a ban on single-use shopping bags or imposed levies. It is not some radical scheme devised overnight.

Yet it has been met with 'bag rage' in recent weeks as the policy was rolled out at Coles and Woolworths. Checkout staff have been abused; customers have taken to pilfering baskets and trolleys rather than purchasing a reusable bag. Conservative commentators have weighed in on how stupid it all is.

We can speculate on the reasons for this resistance, much of which boils down to human nature. We don't like change. We don't like being told what to do and being unable to refuse. We don't like having to make an effort or think about alternatives and solutions.

For those suspicious of fads, the ban against plastic bags would certainly seem like one, and perhaps it is reasonable to wonder about benefits.

But at the heart of it, being mad about this particular inconvenience is about refusing to accept one's part in improving the collective lot. Whether we like it or not, this is the one planet we have. There is no Plan B.

The logic that what does not get used is not then disposed — to find its way into the bellies of hapless turtles and whales — is simple enough. It is six billion plastic bags less per year that won't end up in landfill, rivers and oceans.

If personal preference for free, convenient plastic bags were to trump the prospect of curbing environmental damage, we can look to a really rubbish future.

Fortunately, the switch from plastic bags seems to be only part of a growing awareness, not just about waste but our general attitudes to consumption.

The optimistic view is that most people want to do the right thing and are only looking to be validated, through a combination of disincentives, social rewards and moral argument.

In a time when environmental challenges can feel so overwhelming — even paralysing — reorganising behaviour around reusable shopping bags is a rare, concrete thing that people can do in their daily life. It does not make sense to begrudge them this.

There are also grassroots groups encouraging modest habits like taking reusable cups to the barista, declining straws at bars and restaurants, packing washable cutlery, and offering a non-disposable container for takeaway food.

Whether we participate in shifts like this or not, those who do are responding to the state of a shared environment, which means that all of us ultimately benefit. The question then is not whether we can be bothered, but how dare we not?

Fatima Measham is a Eureka Street consulting editor. She hosts the ChatterSquare podcast, tweets as @foomeister and blogs on Medium.

Being nourished by the mission

Gospel reflection for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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On this day, Jesus returned to where he came from. Everything appears to begin well.

His listeners in the synagogue are impressed by his teachings and by the power of his actions. This child of their own country should surely be celebrated, here in his “place of origin.”

Don’t we often see a sense of pride grow among those who have known a famous person when they were growing up? They often relish the contrast between their humble beginnings and the fame they have later achieved.

Exaggeration is not infrequent, and sometimes bold claims are made that emphasize nationality and highlight the prodigiousness of one who has blossomed from unlikely roots.

How will things turn out for Jesus here? He carries within him a well of wisdom, without anyone knowing where it came from.

His hands can perform miracles. Is he not the carpenter, this son of Mary? Yet the fascination that greets him, perhaps combined with jealousy and surprise, is not to be confused with faith!

Admiring this son of Nazareth is not the same as believing in him. Being intrigued by his popularity does not mean receiving him in one’s heart. There is test of truth, which brings an undeniable human and spiritual shock for Jesus.

In the Gospel of Mark, he says he is “amazed by the unbelief” of those who knew Jesus as a child.

St. Francis de Sales also underlines this point in one of his homilies: “Having witnessed so many amazing acts, those who should have been the most receptive did not convert. Oh how astonishing, it astonishes even the Lord!”

This touches an important aspect of Christian spirituality: the more we profess a God who is incarnate in Jesus, the more we discover his freedom with regard to others, starting with those closest to him.

As Paul IV insists, “Jesus is the son of Mary, his mother in the flesh and our mother through our acceptance of the Spirit of the mystical body. Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of nations, the ultimate, mysterious explanation of our history.”

This child who came from a specific time and place is not restricted to a local or private narrative; his destiny is not appropriated. God gave us the gift of humanity through his Son, and a prophetic legacy was born.

It must have been a challenge for Jesus not to be received by those closest to him, but this did not hinder his path. He was nourished by the mission his Father gave him. 

He came to give life to the world, not for others to appropriate his splendor. Did his compatriots neglect to receive Jesus appropriately? He remarks: “No prophet is accepted in his hometown!”

Let our prayers dwell on this. Jesus’ path and his actions are validated by his disciples.

In varying cultural and emotional contexts, aren’t we living, in our own humble ways, the same test of a certain kind of vanity, when the proximity of our human history confronts us and threatens to undermine our freedom?

It is important that we consent, just as Jesus duly acknowledged the non-reception of his message.

God is free to choose the way he manifests himself in each of us. God stirs in us our most fundamental liberty.

For example, at first, the parents of this young man met their son’s vocation with hostility. Then they gradually realized that their son, a son of flesh and blood, did not belong to them. He was full of joy and filled those around him with joy.

This unexpected spread of joy meant that, although they may not have been entirely reconciled, they at least admitted to the presence of a prophesy of a higher order.

More often than we think, it is Nazareth that visits our hearts today!

 

 

Why God wants to break your heart; And why sports helps us understand this

Tom Hoopes | Jul 05, 2018

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Last Sunday, the readings showed how God hates suffering and death. This Sunday, the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, the readings explain why Jesus embraces suffering anyway and asks Christians to do the same.

It’s a paradox: God knows suffering and death will break our hearts — but he also knows our hearts need to be “broken.”

Sunday’s Gospel shows how those closest to him treated Jesus.

Jesus comes to his hometown and begins to teach, but his townspeople, and even his relatives, don’t believe — Mark helpfully names Jesus’ brothers here, so we know they are not sons of the Virgin Mary but a different woman.

“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house,” Jesus comments.

His own family  “took offense at him” and “he was amazed at their lack of faith.”

The same thing happens to us — we experience Jesus as commonplace and mundane instead of radical and fascinating.

The first reading tells us why this happens: Our hearts are calloused.

In the First Reading, the prophet Ezekiel is sent to preach a message of repentance to the Israelites who have rejected their faith.

“They and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day. Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you,” God says.

Ezekiel’s task is a thankless one. He is to announce a hard message such that “whether they heed or resist,” says the Lord, “they shall know that a prophet has been among them.”

This is the problem God has faced throughout time: He has to deliver a message to people who have grown accustomed to tuning him out.

Moses faced Israelites who were happy with slavery; Jesus faced a Jewish community that had made its peace with oppression.

It is like trying to convince an alcoholic that they can live without a drink — or convincing a young lover that the person they are dating is not good for them.

God has to deal with us the same way we have to deal with people like that. The alcoholic has to hit a low point; and the clueless lover has to experience a broken heart.

St. Paul describes how this process works.

The second reading describes how, after showing him a vision of heaven, God gave Paul a very odd gift.

“That I, Paul, might not become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated,” he writes.

He begged for the Lord to take away this mysterious suffering. God refused — “for power is made perfect in weakness.”

By allowing him a “thorn in his side,” God is sparing Paul from the fate that Jesus’ family suffered. The thorn won’t let him get too comfortable with Jesus; he can’t fit Jesus nicely into an easy life. He has to learn that life with Jesus in a fallen world is suffering, but life without him is worse.

From sports, we all know how this principle works.

Watching Saturday morning soccer once with a Benedictine philosophy professor brought this point home.

“The real value of sports is learning that pain is not the worst thing that can happen to you,” Dr. James Madden told me. “It’s better to be in pain than to be dishonorable.”

To win at sports, you have to be willing to force yourself out of comfortable routines, work hard and run hard, pushing through pain.

We do this not because we love suffering, but because we want glory more than we fear pain.

It’s the same in the Christian life. We know where a comfortable life will lead — to a life devoted to comfort. A life that doesn’t recognize Jesus Christ as the greatest good on earth.

Embracing the cross, on the other hand, changes everything.

As St. John Vianney puts it, a Christian’s crosses “unite him to Our Lord; they purify him; they detach him from this world; they remove all obstacles from his heart; they help him to pass through life, as a bridge helps us to pass over water.”

He also said the fear of the cross is worse than the cross itself. After your heart breaks, God fills it up.

How Time Heals

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"Time heals," people often say. This is not true when it means that we will eventually forget the wounds inflicted on us and be able to live on as if nothing happened. That is not really healing; it is simply ignoring reality. But when the expression "time heals" means that faithfulness in a difficult relationship can lead us to a deeper understanding of the ways we have hurt each other, then there is much truth in it. "Time heals" implies not passively waiting but actively working with our pain and trusting in the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation. 

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Divine Mercy: Do Not Despise God’s Graces

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Do Not Despise God’s Graces

Meditation:

There are souls who despise My graces as well as all the proofs of My love. They do not wish to hear My call, but proceed into the abyss of hell. The loss of these souls plunges Me into deadly sorrow. God though I am, I cannot help such a soul because it scorns Me; having a free will, it can spurn Me or love Me. You, who are the dispenser of My mercy, tell all the world about My goodness, and thus you will comfort My Heart (Diary, 580).

My Prayer Response:

Lord Jesus, help all apostles of Divine Mercy to reach souls who despise Your graces and proofs of Your love. Help us to save souls from choosing the abyss of hell — and so comfort Your Heart.

We Are Constantly Striving

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The response of Junipero Serra and his followers to the call to share the Gospel is a complex reflection of who we are and have always been as a Church: a sinful yet holy people constantly striving to follow God’s will as best we can in light of our weaknesses and our strengths, with both our blindness and our zeal to be missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. As we follow the Camino of Saint Junípero Serra today, let us work for healing, lamenting what went wrong in the past and acknowledging the real pains that remain. But let us also recognize the heroism of great men and women, native and Hispanic, who sanctified the missions of California and bear witness to their history.

–from Saint Junipero Serra's Camino: A Pilgrimage Guide to the California  Missions