Sunday, November 29, 2015

The December Fast: Advent

I love the expectant feeling that Advent imparts (and of course is meant to impart!).

We seldom hear about the penitential aspect of Advent…at least, I seldom do. I read about it, though, as the Divine Office reminds us of it explicitly in the readings for Matins last night. Readings 4, 5, and 6 are from Pope St. Leo the Great, and there is a note that this particular excerpt is from a sermon “on the December Fast, and almsgiving”.

These notes on not letting our belly become our God seem quite appropriate following the recent Thanksgiving feast! ;-)

From the Sermons of Pope St Leo the Great,
8th on the December Fast, and almsgiving.

Moon over my chapel
Our Saviour Himself instructed His disciples concerning the times and seasons of the coming of the Kingdom of God and the end of the world, and He hath given the same teaching to the Church by the mouth of His Apostles. In connection with this subject then, Our Lord biddeth us beware lest we let our hearts grow heavy through excess of meat and drink, and worldly thoughts. Dearly beloved brethren, we know how that this warning applieth particularly to us. We know that that day is coming, and though for a season we know not the very hour> yet this we know, that it is near.

Let every man then make himself ready against the coming of the Lord, so that He may not find him making his belly his god, or the world his chief care. Dearly beloved brethren, it is a matter of every day experience that fulness of drink dulleth the keenness of the mind, and that excess of eating unnerveth the strength of the will. The very stomach protesteth that gluttony doth harm to the bodily health, unless temperance get the better of desire, and the thought of the indigestion afterward check the indulgence of the moment.

The body without the soul hath no desires; its sensibility cometh from the same source as its movements. And it is the duty of a man with a reasonable soul to deny something to his lower nature and to keep back the outer man from things unseemly. Then will his soul, free from fleshly cravings, sit often at leisure in the palace of the mind, dwelling on the wisdom of God. There, when the roar and rattle of earthly cares are stilled, will she feed on holy thoughts and entertain herself with the expectation of the everlasting joy.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Loved Ones Who Die Outside the Faith

Not a great photo (over-exposed),
but I love how happy she looks
The other day, I was praying the Rosary and thinking about Mary in her role as our Mother. I often think I've transferred my feelings for my own biological mother to Mary, and when I think of "Mom", I usually think of Our Lady. On this particular day, though, as I was praying, all of a sudden I was seeing my mom in my mind's eye. Usually, I have a hard time picturing her any more (she died in 1992), partly because my last memories of her were of how she looked as she was dying, and who wants to remember that? Today, it was like she was right there in front of me, smiling and looking radiant and happy.

I started to pray for Our Lady to intercede for her, and sneak her into Heaven, because my mom wasn't Catholic; I don’t know if she was a baptized Christian. But Mom did fervently affirm her belief in God on her death bed, and she listened to me read some Scriptures to her. If I'd been Catholic at that time, I would have known what to do towards the salvation of her soul. But I wasn't Catholic, and all I knew was to make sure she believed in God, and that Jesus was His Son. Now, as a Catholic, I know I can't assume she's in Heaven, like I did back then at the time of her death.

It's one of those things that I think is hard for converts, or potential converts: what about the people we love who have died and who weren't Catholic, or maybe were only just barely "Christian"? It is painful to think about the people you loved most in your life not being in Heaven (at least eventually).

This is the first time in a long, long, long time that I have really thought about my mom. I found myself missing her, which I haven't done in ages. I found myself feeling sad at the thought of not seeing her in Heaven (if I make it there myself!). But I still felt like I was actually seeing her in my thoughts, and that was kind of comforting. I also saw that I have sort of become her in relation to my own daughter.

I know a woman locally who is a devout Christian. Her husband died several years ago, and she often says that she knows he's in Heaven because he "knew Jesus", etc. We have had some minimal comment-trading about Catholicism via Face Book, but I know that it would be a hard teaching for her to even entertain the idea that he might not be in Heaven waiting for her. I have thought about this a time or two and wondered how a person would talk to a potential convert about such things. Well, no one talked to me about it before I became a Catholic, so maybe that's the way to go.  

Just some thoughts. I am still wishing I could talk to my mom for a few minutes.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"Pray For..."

The terrorist attacks in Paris surely make everyone think…though what we think about depends, I imagine, on one’s orientation (or lack thereof) toward God.

One thing that bothers me is the immediate outpouring on Facebook of memes and whatnot exhorting everyone to “Pray for Paris” or “Pray for Roseburg” or “Pray for Whatever Crisis Has Caught Your Attention Today”. Of course I’m not saying that praying for the people involved in these horrific events is not a good thing; it most certainly IS a good thing.
But these “Pray for” campaigns seem to me to trivialize prayer.

Just what are people praying for? For comfort for the survivors? For the salvation of souls of those who were killed? For the conversion of the survivors? For divine retribution? For the conversion of terrorists? For the salvation of the souls of the killers? And how many people say “I’m praying for Paris” (or whatever), and really have no idea what they are praying for?

And why are people praying for this situation? Why this particular catastrophe? It was pointed out in several places that 40-some people died in a terrorist attack in Beirut the day before. I didn’t see “Pray for Beirut” memes and hashtags arising from that event.

Every day, every hour, maybe even every minute, someone dies. The death of the person who dies in a car crash caused by a drunk driver is no less tragic than that of the person who died in the Paris massacre. Any death that occurs suddenly, taking life like a thief in the night, is tragic, because the victim has died without the sacraments. We should keep this possibility before us always. Our death can occur at any moment, and we should always have that thought in our minds.

Someone will die today, this hour. We can keep our own death in mind while we pray for others. Here’s a prayer that I find useful, from my little Blessed Be God prayer book:

O My God, I offer Thee all the holy Masses which will be said this day throughout the whole world for poor sinners who are now in their death agony and who will die this day. May the Precious Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ obtain for them mercy. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Cardinal Sarah's Book

I’ve been reading Robert Cardinal Sarah’s book, God or Nothing. It’s been slow going, since I’ve been so busy, and I’m only 75 pages into it. But I have found a new hero!

Cardinal Sarah’s childhood circumstances are fascinating (he was born in one of the most remote villages in Guinea); his call to the priesthood is inspiring; his journey through seminary (both physical and psychological) is practically unimaginable to my Western mind. Cardinal Sarah is one of those bishops I thought didn’t exist anymore: he has experienced hardship and persecution, and while he had good reason to fear for his life, he stood on the firm ground of Christ’s truth, and persevered.

I wish every Protestant (and Catholic, for that matter) who thinks that Catholics don’t have a “personal relationship with Jesus” would read at least the first few chapters of this book. They will find a very Catholic version of what that “personal relationship” looks like as Cardinal Sarah’s story unfolds.

Here’s an excerpt that I read last night, revealing a little of Cardinal Sarah’s spiritual depth:

…[I]t was the internal struggles that I had to face [as Archbishop of Conakry], that shattered me by showing me with increasing clarity that I was objectively incapable of leading the Church of Conakry.

In order to address the situation, I established a program of regular spiritual retreats. Every two months, I would leave, alone, for a completely isolated spot. I would subject myself to an absolute fast, with no food or water for three days. I wanted to be with God, to speak with him in private. When I left Conakry, I would take nothing with me except a Bible, a small traveling Mass kit, and a book of spiritual reading. The Eucharist was my only food and my sole companion. This life of solitude and prayer helped me to recharge and to return to battle. (p. 69-70)

I think this man would make a good pope.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.