Saturday, May 27, 2017

Thoughts on the Ascension and the New Evangelization from Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio
Excerpt from “The Ascension of Christ and the New Evangelization”
by Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio

The Solemnity of the Ascension celebrates many things, among them the Great Commission to preach the gospel to all nations. Thus, it is a fitting time to ponder the call of Pope John Paul II to a “new evangelization.”

…the Ascension… is about sharing in Jesus’ joy… rejoicing that his crown of thorns has been replaced with the kingly crown, that the mocking crowd at Calvary has been replaced with myriads of adoring angels. The Ascension is about Jesus’ triumph and glorification… It is also a feast of hope.  Yes, there is something in it for us.  He goes to prepare a place for us (John 14:2).  We will also one day wear crowns made of gold instead of thorns… For us to endure until that blessed moment, we need divine power.

…As he ascends, he tells the disciples to wait for this power. But notice that he does not tell them to wait passively for the rapture. He does not instruct them to pour over Bible prophecies, debating about how and when he will return… The waiting is not to be a squandering of precious time. It is waiting for a purpose, nine days of prayer (the first novena!) leading to empowerment. Why empowerment?  Because they have challenging work to do.  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”

We used to think that evangelization was something that happened… far away, carried out by priests and religious. But… every single Catholic is called to be an evangelist. Pope John Paul II proclaimed this as the “New Evangelization” because the place is new–right next door–and the missionaries are new since they include all us all.

…You may not called to preach on street corners, but… we all must be ready to articulate what Jesus has done for us, what he means to us, and why he is the answer to the world’s problems…. pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to move in and through you, and… keep learning more about your faith so that you can share it with ever greater confidence.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Four Steps on the Path to Divine Intimacy

Four Steps on the Path to Divine Intimacy

Whoever loves me will keep my word, says the Lord,
and my Father will love him and we will come to him. –Jn 14:23
There is much talk these days about meditation, mindfulness, and such things. These sound like wonderful pathways to lead you to closeness with the Lord, and are sometimes practiced even in Catholic settings. But we should always be careful to practice only Christian meditation as it has been handed down through the centuries in the Catholic tradition. Eastern meditation is quite different, because its primary focus is on “Nirvana,” which is nothingness. Mantras are repeated and the mind emptied. Christian meditation, on the other hand, is focused on communion with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the prayer of Christian contemplation known as Lectio Divina, the focus is on the Word and the Person of God. The goal is not to empty the mind, but to fill both mind and heart with God’s holy presence.

Catholics are blessed with the gifts of scripture, tradition, and Jesus Christ, truly present in the Eucharist, and our prayers and meditations should always lead us to closer intimacy with our Lord. It is worth taking time, each day if you can, to enter into the presence of God in prayer. If you find time this week, find a peaceful corner at home or church, in a park or your own backyard, and meditate on the beautiful words we’re given in scripture, using the ancient prayer of Lectio Divina. This Latin phrase means “Divine Reading” and it consists of reading scripture (lectio), praying (oratio), meditating (meditatio), and contemplating God (contemplatio). This prayer of the heart helps lead you into God’s presence.

Begin with the Creed, or your favorite prayer to the Holy Spirit.

Breathe in me O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy, act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work too may be holy, draw my heart O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy, strengthen me O Holy Spirit to defend all that is holy, guard me then O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy.  Amen

“Come,” says my heart, “seek his face”; your face, LORD, do I seek! Psalm 27:8


Get comfortable in a quiet, peaceful place. Choose a biblical passage and, if possible, read it aloud slowly. Allow the Holy Spirit to quiet your mind and bring you to a place of peace. Read it again, or continue to read further until you come to a word or line that stands out as meaningful to you. 

When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart,
I will let you find me.. Jer 29:14


Meditate on what this verse means for you personally. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and allow God’s word enter your heart. Let your imagination take you into the scripture, as if the Lord was speaking directly to you. Listen for the voice of the Lord to reply spiritually to the prayers you have lifted up to Him with all your heart. Jesus is with you, He hears you, and loves you more than you can imagine.

Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer,
believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours. Mk 11:24


Reflect on the passage you’ve read, especially on the line, word, or idea that speaks to you most deeply. Using those words and ideas, pray with that scripture. What is it about that verse that relates to your own life? Pour out your thoughts, prayers, needs, and desires, whatever is brought to mind by that verse. Do you wish to draw closer to God, to follow Him more faithfully? Do you worry for straying children or parents nearing the end of life? Don’t hesitate to bring all your concerns to God in prayer.
My soul, be at rest in God alone, from whom comes my hope. Ps 62:6


Finally, just remain quiet and listen. God speaks in the silence of our hearts. What does He want to tell you? Be at peace in His presence, and listen for His voice. His Holy Spirit dwells within you; Jesus and the Father love you and promise to remain with you. Gaze into His eyes, contemplate His glory, and remain in His presence for a little while.

Jesus said to his disciples: "… whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” Jn 14:15,21

At the end of your meditation, pray the Lord ’s Prayer slowly, paying attention to each word.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  Amen.

May the time you spend in prayer bring refreshment to your soul and strength to face life’s many trials. And may God bless you with His peace.

Psalm 63
O God, you are my God— forever will I seek you!
For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts,
In a land parched, lifeless, and without water.
I gaze upon you in the sanctuary, to see your power and glory.
For your love is better than life; my lips shall ever praise you!
I will bless you as long as I live; In your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul shall be filled as with a banquet, my lips shall praise you with joy!
I think of you upon my bed, I remember you through the watches of the night
You indeed are my savior, and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
My soul clings fast to you; your right hand holds me fast.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Seeking the Truth and Finding the Way to Life

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father's house there are many dwelling places." Jn 14:1

Jesus fills us with hope with every word of today’s Gospel. He knows how often our hearts are troubled; He knows our doubts and fears. The troubles of life can sometimes lead us to take the wrong way, but God’s mercy is endless.

I often pray for those who have died far from the Church, some seemingly far from the Lord. But I believe we can entrust these souls to the mercy of God, remembering Jesus’s beautiful image of His Father’s house with its many dwelling places. Even those who did not know Jesus in this life may, in their last moments, come face to face with our merciful Lord, who will lead them home.

There is a beautiful scene near the end of C.S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia.” As the world ends, a soldier, a loyal servant of the evil “god” Tash, meets Aslan, the glorious lion who symbolizes Jesus. Realizing he has always served a false master, the young man says sadly, “Alas, Lord, I am no son of Thine but the servant of Tash.”

But Aslan answers, “Child, all the service thou has done to Tash I account as service done to me… For… no service which is vile can be done to me, and none that is not vile can be done to him…”

Does this mean it doesn’t matter which “god” we follow? No, says Aslan, it matters very much. But as our Church teaches, “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try… to do His will… through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation” (Catechism §847).

Aslan reassures the young soldier with similar words, saying, “Unless thy desire had been for me, thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”
Trust in God to lead all who sincerely seek the way, the truth, and eternal life, to Jesus. Pray, hope, and believe that even those who seemed lost may be saved.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Message of Fátima for Today

Image result for jacinta marto wiki commons
L-R Lucia Dos Santos, Francisco Marto, Jacinta Marto
Attributed to Joshua Benoliel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A few years ago, the story of little Colton Burpo and his visit to heaven was told in the book and movie, “Heaven is For Real.” Many people were inspired by this astonishing story, but also wondered whether to believe it.
In Catholic history and tradition, many such stories have been reported over the centuries. The Church teaches that “public revelation” (scripture) ended with Jesus Christ and the death of the last Apostle. However, recognizing that God can speak to His people in many ways, major reports of visions and private messages are studied by the church. Messages found to be fully in keeping with scripture and church teachings are approved, and Catholics are free (but not required) to believe in the visions.
One of the most well-known of these heavenly visits occurred in Fátima, Portugal a century ago to three shepherd children, Jacinta, age 6, her brother Francisco, age 8, and their cousin Lucia, age 9.
It began in 1916, when the children, while watching over their family’s flocks in the mountains near Fátima, encountered a beautiful angel who said he was the guardian of Portugal. He taught the children this prayer, “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You. I beg pardon for all those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You.” The angel visited twice more, teaching them to adore Jesus in the Eucharist and to pray for sinners.
On May 13th, 1917 the children saw a “lady dressed in white, shining brighter than the sun.” She was Mary, the Mother of Jesus. She appeared each month, giving the children a series of messages for the world over the next six months. This was during the First World War, and she warned that if people did not repent, another terrible war would follow, and the “errors of Russia” (communism) would spread to many nations, causing much suffering. The children saw visions of both heaven and hell. She asked them to pray for the conversion of sinners, to save souls from hell.
Soon, people learned of the visions and the children suffered much opposition from those who did not believe them. Crowds began to gather for the apparitions. On October 13th, 1917, a crowd of 70,000 people was present when Jesus, Mary, and Joseph appeared to the children, blessing the people. Suddenly, the sun began to twirl, emitting a rainbow of colors, and then seeming to fall towards the earth. The miracle of the sun was seen for miles around, and reported in secular newspapers by eyewitnesses. But the world did not listen. Tragically, the predicted wars and suffering came upon the world in the century that followed.
Jacinta and Francisco died from influenza soon after that final vision. Lucia became a Carmelite nun and lived until 2005. Recently, Pope Francis announced that on the 100th anniversary of the first apparition, May 13th, 2017, Jacinta and Francisco will become the youngest saints (other than the martyrs) ever to be canonized.
The messages of Fátima still inspire prayer and conversion a century later, all because God sent His Mother to warn us of danger, point us to Him, and tell us how much He loves us. Colton Burpo, now 18 years old, said much the same about his vision: “I hope that my story continues to point people to Jesus. He really, really loves you.” That’s what messages from heaven should always teach us. And remember, anytime the Lord is concerned enough about the world to send His Mother to admonish us to pray, we should listen to her!
Originally published in the Tri-City Herald Spiritual Life Column, May 6, 2017

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Lord is My Shepherd

Bernhard Plockhorst [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“The Shepherd calls His own sheep by name…
and the sheep follow Him because they recognize His voice.”

The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is a comforting one. In today’s readings, Jesus tells His disciples that He is both the shepherd and the gate; He is both the way to life and the source of all nourishment and protection. He calls each of us by name, and leads His little flock to verdant pastures, to rest beside tranquil waters that bring refreshment to our souls. 

Because of His great love for us, Jesus desires to be the “shepherd and guardian of your souls.”  The Good Shepherd protects us from harm and gives us courage; He spreads the banquet table of the Eucharist before us and anoints us with the oil of blessing, so that we “might have life and have it more abundantly.”

What does it mean to be part of Jesus’s flock? To know that He loves us so much He will even lay down His life in our defense? Sheep possess no natural means of defense. They are simple creatures who must depend completely upon their shepherd, the one whose voice they recognize, the one they trust.

Let us also listen for the voice of Jesus calling our names; let us follow Him faithfully, depend on Him completely, and trust in Him always. He will provide all that we need.

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