Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Reluctant Sinner: St Raymond Nonnatus - a courageous son of Our Lady...

A Reluctant Sinner: St Raymond Nonnatus - a courageous son of Our Lady...: Many Catholics are aware of the fact that one of the titles bestowed upon the Blessed Virgin Mary is that of Our Lady of Ransom (also known ...

St Raymond Nonnatus - a courageous son of Our Lady of Ransom whose intercession can be a powerful aid in the work of converting England

Many Catholics are aware of the fact that one of the titles bestowed upon the Blessed Virgin Mary is that of Our Lady of Ransom (also known as Our Lady of Mercy and the Mother of Mercy). This title can be traced back to 1218, when the Virgin appeared to St Peter Nolasco and and asked him, together with St Raymond of Penafort and King James I of Aragon, to form a religious order specifically for the ransoming of Christian slaves - namely those captured by Muslim pirates who often raided European coastlines. As a result, the Order of Our Lady of Ransom (otherwise known as the Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of the Captives, or more simply as the Mercedarians) was founded, and countless Christian captives were subsequently saved from savage bondage.

The Order is still active today (here is its US website), and numbers over 700 friars, who are allowed to bear the coat of arms of James of Aragon and who have also taken a fourth vow "to give one’s life for someone in danger of losing their Christian faith."

One of the great glories of the Order of Our Lady of Ransom is St Raymond Nonnatus, whose feast is traditionally celebrated today. He was born (or "not born" as his name suggests - he was delivered by Caesarian section) at Portello, Catalonia, in 1204. His mother died during the birth, hence his patronage of pregnant women, childbirth and midwives. As a child, though, Raymond Nonnatus implored the Virgin Mary to adopt him as her own son - something that she was more than willing to do.

As a young man, St Raymond took over the running of his father's farm - the family was noble, yet relatively "distressed". It seems, though, that his heavenly mother had other ideas, as Our Lady asked him in a vision to ransom himself for captives. Although his father relied on Raymond's help, he willingly gave his consent for his son to renounce the world and take the habit of the Mercedarians. St Raymond Nonnatus was subsequently ordained to the sacred priesthood in 1222, and, due of his obvious piety, soon rose to become the Order's Master General.

Raymond was eventually sent to Algiers, where he liberated numerous captives - many of whom were being used in the most degrading of ways, or who had even come close to apostatising at the hands of the Saracens.  When his money eventually ran out, Raymond feared for the souls of those men that he could no longer ransom, especially those close to renouncing their faith. So, in order to save them, the holy man decided to offer himself as a ransom hostage (or slave) for their sake.

During his captivity, St Raymond Nonnatus preached the Gospel so effectively that many Muslims converted to faith in Jesus Christ. Needless to say, this displeased the Muslim authorities, who forced the young Catalonian to undergo tortures and indignities, such as running the gauntlet. Undeterred, his his zeal for the truth led to even more converts, and he continued to proclaim the Gospel. Eventually, Raymond's guards decided to bore a hole through his lips with a hot iron in order to padlock his mouth, which would prevent him from preaching. He continued, though, to give witness to Christ through his patience and loving deeds.

By 1239, and after having had his sentence of impalement commuted to lifelong slavery, Raymond Nonnatus was ransomed by his own Order. He returned to Spain in the same year, where, according to some disputed sources, he was created a cardinal by Pope Gregory IX. On 31 August 1240, Raymond set out to Rome to receive his red hat, but sadly died only six miles outside Barcelona. His body was taken to the church of St Nicholas, which lay near the farm he had once worked. A cult quickly developed and many miracles through his intercession were reported soon after his death.

St Raymond Nonnatus was canonised by Pope Alexander VII in 1657. He has since become the patron of the city of Baitoa in the Dominican Republic as well as the patron of childbirth, children, expectant mothers, falsely accused people, infants, midwives, newborn babies, obstetricians and pregnant women. He is also the protector of priests who refuse to break the Seal of the Confessional, especially those who are threatened with punishment if they refuse to speak. In that sense, then, it might be a good idea to invoke St Raymond's intercession at this time of crisis for the Irish Church, when the government of that nation is threatening to compel priests to reveal the secrets of the Confessional.

Our Lady of Ransom is the patron of the city of Barcelona, as well as the millions of Christians currently being persecuted in Muslim or Communist countries. She also intercedes on behalf of Christian slaves and those who are in danger of losing their faith. Her feast day is 24 September, which, of course, is kept in England and Wales as the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham. This is no coincidence, as the title "Our Lady of Ransom" was revived in England during the 19th century with the intention of imploring the Blessed Virgin to "ransom" the nation (known in the Middle Ages as "Our Lady's Dowry") back to the true Faith.The Guild of Our Lady of Ransom still exists, and was founded in 1887 with the aims of (re)converting England and Wales to the Catholic faith, rescuing apostates and those in danger of apostasy and offering prayers for the "forgotten dead" (i.e. isolated converts and those holy souls who, owing to the Reformation, have no one to pray for them). As the Virgin Mary's principal shrine in England is at Walsingham, it was recently decided that Our Lady of Ransom's feast day would be celebrated in England and Wales as the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Our Lady of Ransom, pray for us
Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us
St Raymond Nonnatus, pray for us
St Peter Nolasco, pray for us
St Raymond of Penafort, pray for us

[Images: 1 St Raymond Nonnatus ransoming Christian slaves; source: St Mary's Catholic Church. 2 St Raymond Nonnatus with his cardinal's galero on a table (as he did not get to wear it); source:St Mary's Catholic Church. 3 Our Lady of Ransom with some Mercedarians; source: (which contains several beautiful images of Our Lady of Ransom / Mercy) Catholic Harbor of Faith and Morals]

St. Raymond Nonnatus

St. Raymond Nonnatus

Feastday: August 31

Raymond was born at Portella, Catalonia, Spain. He was delivered by caesarean operation when his mother died in childbirth. Hence his name non natus (not born). He joined the Mercedarians under St. PeterNolasco at Barcelona. He succeeded Peter as chief ransomer and went to Algeria to ransom slaves. He remained as hostage for several slaves when his money ran out and was sentenced to be impaled when the governor learned that he had converted several Mohammedans. He escaped the death sentence because of the ransom he would bring, but was forced to run the gauntlet. He was then tortured for continuing his evangelizing activities but was ransomed eight months later by Peter Nolasco. On his return to Barcelona in 1239, he was appointed Cardinal by Pope Gregory IX, but died at Cardona a short distance from Barcelona the next year while on the way to Rome. He was canonized in 1657. He is the patron saint of expectant mothers andmidwives because of the nature of his own birth. Although his mother died in labor, Raymond miraculously survived the ordeal. His feast day is August 31.

I would also say that he is the patron saint for Muslim converts and for mothers not to abort their babies.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Here's another old news report I found about Medjugorje back in 1987 (pa...

Medjugorje 1983

Here's another old news report I found about Medjugorje back in 1987 (pa...


A beggar in Lisbon, Portugal  

 - prerequisitesplural of pre·req·ui·site
Noun: A thing required as a prior condition for something else to happen. 
A woman had a daughter who was very ill.  She had heard about all of the wonderful things that Jesus was doing in Palestine and she was convinced that he was her only hope.
Let us contemplate five beautiful qualities of the Canaanite woman.
First of all, the woman was humble “Have pity on me.”  Humility is the most basic virtue of the Christian way of life.  Humility allows us to believe and humility allows us to love.  Humility is the fundamental characteristic which marks our relationship with God.  Saint Augustine once wrote: “Man is a beggar before God.”  Like the centurion who was also a Gentile, the Canaanite woman approached Jesus with profound humility.
Secondly, the woman of this Sunday’s gospel passage was a woman of deep faith.  As we carefully read the gospel passage, we note that she first addressed Jesus as Son of David.  This title meant that she looked upon Jesus respectfully in terms of earthly power and glory.
Her profound humility and faith allowed her to experience Jesus for whom he really is.  Her encounter brought her to understand with her heart that Jesus is the Lord.  Her experience allowed her to worship as she knelt before him in supplication and adoration.  She came to experience the whole Christ: Jesus, true God and true Man.
Thirdly, the woman was persistent.  She would not be discouraged.  Jesus tested her faith and she passed the test with an A+.  She came to Jesus as her only hope.  She came to Jesus with a passionate hope and a refusal to be discouraged.  Her prayer of supplication was not ritualistic in form.  Her prayer was an expression of her personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Her need was great and she trusted him whom she believed would give her what she needed.
Finally, as she retorted that “True, Lord, but even the dogs eat of the pieces which fall from their master’s table,” we can see that the woman was joyful.  Within the circumstances of her need, she had a sense of humor.  Jesus could see in her eyes the light of hope and a smile which can dispel the gloom.
The Canaanite woman teaches us how our prayers can always be answered.  She brings to Jesus a profound love and a growing faith which allowed her to worship at the feet of the divine; an unconquerable persistence flowing from an invincible hope and a joyfulness which would not give in to discouragement.
Before we conclude our thoughts for this Sunday, let us consider some practical applications of this Sunday’s passage from the Gospel of Saint Matthew.
Faith is a gift from God.  “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11: 29).   Faith is a priceless gift which can be lost through our own personal negligence.  Faith must be nourished with a well developed spiritual life and with the continual study of our Catholic Faith.  Spiritual laziness, culpable ignorance and indifference can weaken our faith and even cause the loss of faith.
Parents have a solemn duty to pass on the gift of faith to their children. 


Monday, August 29, 2011

Beheading of, St. John the Baptizer

Monday, August 29, 2011, Beheading of, St. John the Baptizer
Jeremiah 1:17-19, Psalm 71:1-6, 15, 17, Mark 6:17-29
"Stand up and tell them all that I command you." -Jeremiah 1:17
John the Baptizer called the religious leaders of his time a "brood of vipers" (Mt 3:7). He said they would "burn in unquenchable fire" if they did not repent (Mt 3:12). John was the greatest prophet who had ever lived (Mt 11:11). He uncompromisingly preached a baptism in repentance (Lk 3:3). Nevertheless, John was tolerated until he "told Herod, 'It is not right for you to live with your brother's wife' " (Mk 6:18). When John condemned sexual sin, it was: "Off with his head."
Likewise, when Pope Paul VI repeated the Church's traditional condemnation of artificial birth control, he was virtually beheaded. The Vatican said that those involved in homosexual activity have the right to be loved and respected, but not the right to pervert society by their sin. When that memo was publicized, it triggered widespread Catholic-bashing and Pope-bashing. The Herods and Herodiases of the world also feel compelled to behead any Christian who opposes condoms and/or abortions. The world refuses to tolerate the truth about sex. Nevertheless, speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15), even if you may be beheaded.
"Do not deceive yourselves: no fornicators, idolaters, or adulterers, no sodomites, thieves, misers, or drunkards, no slanderers or robbers will inherit God's kingdom. And such were some of you; but you have been washed, consecrated, justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6:9-11).
Prayer: Father, may I love people enough to let them behead me.
Promise: "They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord." -Jer 1:19
Praise: St. John prophesied: "All mankind shall see the salvation of God" (Lk 3:6).
Cathedral of St. Jon the Baptist, Russia
(For a related teaching, order our leaflet "The Truth Will Set You Free".)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

He Taught Us Who We Are

He Taught Us Who We Are
He Taught Us Who We Are

In his letter marking the close of the Jubilee year, Pope John Paul II wrote, “I have often stopped to look at the long queues of pilgrims waiting patiently to go through the Holy Door. In each of them I tried to imagine the story of a life, made up of joys, worries, sufferings; the story of someone whom Christ had met and who in dialogue with Him, was setting out again on a journey of hope.”

He went on to relate: “As I observed the continuous flow of pilgrims, I saw them as a kind of concrete image of the pilgrim Church, the Church placed, as Saint Augustine says, ‘amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God.’” In part, this passage shows where Pope John Paul II got his energy to write speeches, encyclicals, letters, exhortations, greetings, etc., that fill volumes; to visit more places on earth than perhaps any other public figure ever; to be with his flock in endless long and often tedious ceremonies. For him all of this was an extended love feast; he loved each and every one of us and loved the fact that we are loved by Christ. Pope John Paul II was a true alter Christus; he wanted to touch us, to be with us, to rejoice with us, to console us, to guide us and to be inspired by us.

Pope John Paul II quite simply loved life and loved every human person, because he understood the true meaning of the human drama. When he looked over a crowd of people, he did not see a “sea of humanity,” or consumers, or polluters, or voters, but he saw souls, souls that God had willed into existence and souls that God wants with Him for eternity, souls that are filled with a longing that only God can satisfy. Each life is infinitely fascinating and infinitely interesting and infinitely important because it is the story of a soul’s journey to God.

I sometimes wondered if, when he looked out over the huge crowds, that amidst all his joy, Pope John Paul II experienced great sorrow at the thought that few people realize how precious they are to God, how loved they are. In his Letter to Families, I found some confirmation of this suspicion in the line: “Man must reconcile himself to his natural greatness.” 

It is profoundly sad that we don’t realize how great we are. The greatness of the human person comes from our ability to understand that we are made in the image and likeness of God and from our freedom to embrace that reality as a gift and to love the fact God that made us. The greatest responsibility of the human person, the greatest actualization of his innate dignity, is to live in accord with the truth, the truth about himself, about the world around him, about God. Pope John Paul II understood that all crimes against life are based on falsehoods, are a misuse of our freedom, are crimes against God, against the love that God has for each one of us; he also understood them to be signs of despair, to be instances of the failure to hope. 

Those who love life, who love the reality of the human person, wish to live their lives in service of life and to extend Christ’s love to all. They will know that “Love is...the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (FC 1). The natural place to learn these truths and these responsibilities is in the family, and Pope John Paul II never tired of extolling and explaining the importance of the family. What pained him greatly about the Culture of Death in which we live is that the crimes against life in our times are crimes of mothers and fathers against their unborn children, of sons and daughters against their ailing parents, of health-care professionals against their patients. It pained him that we have become so skeptical, so doubtful about the ability to know the truth, that we are comfortable calling evil good and good evil; we have developed the habit of calling crimes rights and considering efforts to protect life and to promote human decency acts of arrogance and intolerance.

When Pope John Paul II lay dying, a friend asked me how I was handling his death. A few years ago, when I thought of his dying, I froze with grief; I thought the day he died would be one of the darkest of my life since I so admired him and his pontificate. But I responded to my friend that I was really more joyous than sad, that I thought Pope John Paul II and God Himself seemed to have scripted a most beautiful ending to his life. The Holy Father had faced death several times; he survived an assassination attempt and forgave the assassin; he survived cancer; he went into public with his debilitating Parkinson’s and made us realize that even when all he could be was present to us, that presence, sometimes drooling, sometimes silent, was of great consolation to us. When Terri Schiavo was being starved to death, the Holy Father accepted a feeding tube. And then in his last days, he choose not to go back to the hospital, not to go on a respirator or kidney dialysis machine or powerful medication; he allowed the dying process to take over. 

Pope John Paul II was a man with a fierce love of life and will to live; he certainly did not “give up,” but he was certainly not afraid of death and he would have been right to have been confident that a legion of angels and saints and his beloved Jesus Christ were awaiting him with open arms. He showed us how to live, he showed us how to suffer, he showed us how to die, and most importantly he showed us how to love.

Friday, August 26, 2011


THIS IS BEAUTIFUL....(correction above should read elementary school)
"The foolish ones said to the sensible, 'Give us some of your oil. Our torches are going out.' But the sensible ones replied, 'No.' " -Matthew 25:8-9

Some things cannot be shared, no matter how much we might wish to share them. If a man has worked for years to reach peak physical condition, he cannot bestow his strength and endurance on someone else who asks for it. He can share his exercise regimen and dietary plan with another, but he cannot pass on his discipline and commitment to get in shape. That prime physical condition can only be attained through time and effort.
Jesus refers to this situation in the parable of the ten virgins. The wise virgins used their time to grow in faith and develop their spiritual gifts. They were "set aflame and burning bright" (Jn 5:35). The foolish ones squandered their time and did not mature sufficiently to keep their flame of faith burning brightly.
You must develop your own relationship with Jesus. You must cultivate it through an investment in prayer, Bible study, frequent Mass attendance, etc. If you haven't developed your relationship with Jesus, start today. "Now is the acceptable time" (2 Cor 6:2). Jesus never rejects anyone who comes to Him (Jn 6:37). He can bring you a long way spiritually in a short time if you're sincere in seeking Him (see Jn 6:21; Lk 19:1-10; 23:40-43). Nonetheless, God loves to work with you on a daily basis (see Acts 17:11; Mt 6:11; Ex 16:4). Seek Jesus daily in sincerity of heart. He will give you a solid faith that won't burn out.
Prayer: Father, You are the God Who answers by fire (1 Kgs 18:24). 
Send Your Holy Spirit to keep me aflame for You daily.
Promise: "It is God's will that you grow in holiness." -1 Thes 4:3
Praise: Thomas has found that the more he prays, the more he wants to.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Message, 25. August 2011
“Dear children! Today I call you to pray and fast for my intentions, because Satan wants to destroy my plan. Here I began with this parish and invited the entire world. Many have responded, but there is an enormous number of those who do not want to hear or accept my call. Therefore, you who have said ‘yes’, be strong and resolute. Thank you for having responded to my call.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Daily conversion of heart :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

Sunflowers from the Sidor farm in Mattituck, L.I., NY before Hurricane Irene of August , 2011
Daily conversion of heart :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

A child cannot prove, before jumping into her father’s arms, that he will catch her.  She knows he will do so. Jesus praises this childlike faith that casts one’s entire confidence into the hands of Providence. The dynamic flight from oneself to Christ is today viewed with skepticism, if not with ridicule, but this faith, practiced always and everywhere, demands nothing less than heroism.
Deep Satisfaction and Transforming Union
Personal and liturgical prayer deepens faith.  Prayer is the ideal place to be caught up in Christ, and with the Whole Christ, to the Trinity. The spiritual senses participate in this transforming union because prayer sensitizes our seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and especially touching the Word of Life.  Christians participate in the circular movement that goes out from God to us and returns to God.  In the process, the Christian is transformed into a beautiful creation. It gives indescribable joy. Von Balthasar cites the profound failure of empirical and historical-critical theologies “for their deeply anguished, joyless, and cheerless tone; torn between knowing and believing, they are no longer able to see anything, nor can they, therefore, be convincing in any visible way” (“The Glory of the Lord,” 174).

Thursday, August 18, 2011


This picture was taken at Lourdes, France in July of 2011 by my friend...notice the two rays of light coming from the two small windows at the back of the church where the tabernacle is kept.  Jesus from the tabernacle is beaming to His Mother, Our Blessed stops right at her statue in the grotto.  Also notice the 'open heart' in the rock just above Our Lady - Jesus and Mary share One Divine Holy Heart.
Papal Invite: Be Still and Think of Good Things
Benedict XVI Teaches on Meditation in Audience 
Series on PrayerCASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 17, 2011 ( 

Pointing to Mary as a teacher, Benedict XVI is recommending a time for silence and mental prayer so as "to feel how beautiful it is when God speaks with us."
The Pope continued today with his audience series on prayer, addressing a crowd gathered at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo. After a break in the general audiences during July, he has returned to the theme of prayer with addresses on Bible reading and monastic silence.

Today he asked: what is meditation.
"It means to 'remember' all that God has done and not to forget all his benefits (cf. Psalm 103:2b). Often, we see only the negative things. We also need to hold in our memory the good things, the gifts that God has given us; we need to be attentive to the positive signs that come from God, and remember these," he said.
The Holy Father acknowledged that there might be more familiarity with vocal prayer, but he explained that meditation, what "Christian tradition calls 'mental prayer,'" does not involve words, but is "rather a making contact of our mind with the heart of God."
In this, the Pontiff stated, "Mary is a true model." He noted how St. Luke speaks of her as "keep[ing] all these things and ponder[ing] them in her heart."

"In our own time," he reflected, "we are absorbed with so many activities and commitments, concerns and problems. Often, we tend to fill up all the spaces of the day, without having a moment to stop and reflect and to nourish our spiritual life -- our contact with God. Mary teaches us how necessary it is to find in our days -- with all its activities -- moments to recollect ourselves in silence and to ponder all that the Lord wants to teach us, how he is present and acts in the world and in our life: to be able to stop for a moment and meditate."
Benedict XVI suggested that there are many ways to meditate.
This prayer is "to create within ourselves an atmosphere of recollection, of interior silence, so as to reflect upon and assimilate the mysteries of our faith, and all that God is doing in us -- and not only the things that come and go," he said.
The Pope suggested drawing from a short passage of sacred Scripture, or a page from a spiritual author, or taking advice from a confessor or spiritual director. He also recommended the rosary as meditation. Or, "we can also dwell upon some intense spiritual experience, on the words that have remained with us from our participation in the Sunday Eucharist."
From there, he explained, it is about "reading and reflecting ... pausing to consider it, seeking to understand it, to understand what it says to me, what it says today -- to open our soul to all that the Lord wants to say to us and teach us."
Making time
Benedict XVI affirmed that "consistency in giving time to God is a fundamental element for spiritual growth."

But then, he said, "it will be the Lord himself who gives us a taste for his mysteries, his words, his presence and action, to feel how beautiful it is when God speaks with us. He will make us understand in a more profound way what he wants of us.
"In the end, this is the goal of our meditation: to entrust ourselves ever more to the hands of God, with trust and love, certain that, in the end, it is only in doing his will that we are truly happy."
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On ZENIT's Web page:
Full text:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Conversions to the faith :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

This picture was taken by my cell phone one morning at the beach.  The clouds show the Hand of God with the Eucharistic fingers that Jesus made on the cross.  The sun shines in the form of a cross and it looks like the tabernacle in Adoration.
AUGUST 17, 2011
Conversions to the faith
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *
Last week, we reflected on an essential aspect of active and lively faith.  As with the first disciples, the soul is transported by what it sees, hears, and touches, and by everything that Christ reveals in his very person.  In the process, the soul is filled with joy. Moved by love, the heart takes flight toward Christ and wishes to unite the self with him.  

This week, we will focus on conversions to the faith, and next week, we shall discuss daily conversion of the heart.

The Sculpture of Teresa of Avila, Transported in Ecstasy  
St. Teresa of Avila was caught up in the love of God, and this phrase is dramatically depicted in Bernini’s sculpture, for it says in marble what we as incarnate spirits seek in our ascent to God.  In 1645, Bernini sculpted this Baroque masterpiece, located in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.  In the sculpture, Teresa is poised in suspension resulting from having let herself go in an uninterrupted flight toward Divine Beauty.  The poem below, written by Nina Tassi, describes the saint’s flight to her Lord:
Woman of Avila
The wind sings to her
as a young girl softly sings
of the lover whom she knows not
yet knows will come to her
I am yours, for you I was born.

So gentle is this wooing
when the winds of Avila stir
that she neither sees nor hears her lover
lifting her high over the white hills
I am yours, for you I was born.

At times she finds herself
so crazed with love that words
fly from her mouth as ever they will
shattering the table of the world
I am yours, for you I was born.

The Conversion of St. Paul, the Holy Fool
On the road to Damascus to persecute Christians, Paul was suddenly struck by God’s blinding light.  The Voice then directed him to seek out Ananias as his guide to baptize him, to help him reflect on this experience, and to discern his new vocation (Acts 9: 10, 22).  Paul spent the next 13 years learning the faith, and during this time he often went into the Arabian desert to pray (Acts 11).

Although St. Paul was not an eyewitness to the Lord’s saving events, he shared a vision of faith based “not on having grasped (divine truth) but on having been grasped (by it)” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, 134).  This sudden revelation was to become the basic shape of his transformation in Christ, and he never ceased to proclaim this vision of God.  He preached Christ crucified, his highest beauty:
How else can we understand the least thing about Paul if one did not first acknowledge the fact that in Damascus he had seen the highest beauty, just as the prophets had seen it in the visions that called them forth (Ibid., 33)? 
Christ aroused in Paul, the holy fool, the fullness of pleasure and delight, but truth and goodness were also manifested and given to him.  
Every person knows who, for the sake of beauty, gladly becomes a fool without giving it a second thought.  . . . Both the person who is transported by the natural beauty and the one snatched up by the beauty of Christ must appear to the world to be fools, and the world will attempt to explain their state in terms of psychology or even physiological laws [as in the case of the supposed ‘inebriated’ apostles who preached on the first Pentecost].    But they know what they have seen, and they care not one farthing what people may say. (Ibid).

Slow, Gradual, and Painful Conversions
Most conversions to Christ and to the Catholic faith happen less dramatically and more gradually than Paul’s.  After the initial encounter with God’s grace, but prior to the act or assent of faith, one can experience skepticism and doubt. Some individuals have expressed their crises in various ways: "I felt that God was pulling me toward the truth, and I was trying to resist," "I didn’t want to become a Catholic, but I prayed for the grace to go where God wanted," "I was tempted to go in my own direction, but I felt pulled in another."

To help a prospective convert or one returning to the faith, guidance may take the form of systematic catechesis through instruction or the RCIA program.  Lapsed,   former, or so-called retired Catholics have returned to an active and lively faith through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

The conversion of St. Ignatius occurred as if by accident.  This cradle Catholic fell under the spell of God’s grace, “God’s better beauty” (G.M. Hopkins), well into adulthood.  Recuperating from a leg wound sustained in battle shattered his idyllic dream of a glorious military career.  He asked for romantic literature but instead was given lives of the saints to read. Gradually, God’s grace struck at his heart.  His interior was moved, his mind was illumined and his will was attracted to the good. What if he joined the army of Christ? Before the beautiful statue of the Black Madonna, located in the Benedictine Abbey of Montserrat, Ignatius transformed the ancient ceremony for the making of a knight into the new soldier of Christ. In pilgrim’s garb and in keeping with the chivalric code, he kept an all-night vigil. He placed his sword before the statue, stood, knelt, sang and prayed with other pilgrims. Then, like St. Paul, Ignatius withdrew from the world. For almost a year at Manresa, he engaged in the battle from within. In the solitude of a primitive cave, he experienced terror and fear. There was no escape from self, no flight into distraction. Gradually chaos was transformed into calm, darkness into light, and despair into hope. God became his “school master.”

In 1816 at age 15, John Henry Newman experienced a spontaneous conversion to Christ.  However his conversion to the Catholic Church some 30 years later was “slow, deliberate, and painful, but by no means half-hearted.” The Apologia Pro Sua Vita narrates Newman’s difficult journey from the Anglicanism to the Catholic Church.

The Jesuit, theologian and Cardinal of the Catholic Church, Avery Dulles sums up his own conversion in this way:
My path from this point (1937-38) while a student at Harvard University] to the Catholic Church was straight but long and steep. . . . Before I could make this final act of faith, a full year and a half were to elapse after I had accepted the divinity of Christ as probable. . . . Trained as I was in the habits of skepticism, the act of faith was for me a terrible stumbling block.  In a sense, it seemed to be the surrender of that which I valued more than anything else: intellectual honesty (Dulles, A Testimonial to Grace, 60).

Dulles made his act of faith with “subjective certainty” on “objective probability.” His intellect drew conclusions based on this probability and, with the dynamic movement of the will, assented with certainty to it.  Dulles writes: “That I did eventually make the act of faith is attributable solely to the grace of God.  I could never have done so by my own power” (Ibid).

One cannot demand or induce the light of Catholic faith but only pray for its grace or for its increase. Faith is possible only when it flows from the light of the Spirit expressed within the soul. We see this fact dramatized in Evelyn Waugh’sBrideshead Revisited.  His portrayal of Lord Marchmain’s death-bed re-conversion, expressed by his almost lifeless but determined sign of the cross, remains one of the most powerful of all literary scenes.
If God’s grace is lacking, the act of faith is not just less easy or less certain; it is impossible.
Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address

Friday, August 12, 2011

You Always Get What You Want

Mt. St. Michael, France
You Always Get What You Want

You Always Get What You Want


Christ said that in my father's house there are many mansions. The mansion we get is the one we build by the choices that we make.

The First Reading is one of my favorites in the Old Testament. The Lord appears to Solomon in a dream one night and says: "Ask something of me and I will give it to you".
It is significant that this occurred in a dream, because it is while in this state that we are alone with God in the depths of our unconscious mind and completely open and unable to interfere with Him. It is on this deepest level of the unconscious that the secret of what we ultimately want lies hidden from the world, but exposed to God. And when it is revealed what it is we ultimately want, we are revealed, that is, our deepest and truest identity. It all starts on that level. What is it you want, ultimately?
In this state, Solomon, like every one of us, discloses to God what it is he wants ultimately. He does not ask for a long life for himself, he does not ask for great wealth. He does not ask that he may conquer his enemies. He asks for wisdom. This is what Solomon loves above all things; wisdom. And notice the sense he has of his own limitations. He says: "I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act." So he asks God: "Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong".
That's Solomon. That's who he is. You are what you will. That is one of the most important truths that I try to get across to my students. You determine your character, your moral identity, by the choices that you make, and the choices that you make are ultimately rooted in a very general decision that each one of us has made, in the very depths of our subconscious mind, a general decision to be a certain kind of person.
You are not what you feel. A person might have all sorts of feelings that bother him, feelings that he does not want; perhaps feelings of anger, or sadness, or fear, or feelings of inordinate desire. Those are feelings, but you are not what you feel. And you are not necessarily what you think – a person might have all sorts of ideas floating around in his head, perhaps even very disturbing ideas. You might even have wrong ideas that you were not responsible for. You are not what you think. But you are what you will. The only time you are what you think is when what you think stems from what you will. And what a person wills ultimately is not always manifest to others, or even to himself.
But in the end, you always get what you want. God always gives you what you want. Solomon wanted wisdom, and he received it. He was given a heart that understands right and wrong. He wanted to understand right and wrong because he loved the good, he loved truth, he loved wisdom. As a result of that, the name of Solomon has been associated, throughout history, with wisdom.

If you are looking for a fascinating book, read the book of Wisdom in the Old Testament. In chapter six we read: "Resplendent and unfading is Wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her; one who watches for her at dawn will not be disappointed, for she will be found sitting at the gate. For setting your heart on her is the perfection of prudence, and whoever keeps vigil for her is quickly free from care; because she makes her rounds, seeking those worthy of her, and graciously appears to them on the way, and goes to meet them with full attention."
What this reading makes so clear is that if a person does not have wisdom, it is because the person simply does not want it. And there are many people who are indifferent to wisdom, indifferent to coming to a genuine understanding of the Law of the Lord, that is, the truth of what is good and what is evil.
A person's character describes what a person is. There is nothing that is more intimately yours than your moral identity, your character. And character is determined by our free choices. If I choose to lie to you, I am a liar. If I choose to commit adultery, I am an adulterer. That's my identity. If I freely choose to kill another, I have the moral identity of a killer, even if no one knows about it, that is, even if it is my deepest secret. That's what I am. It is only genuine repentance that brings about a change of my own moral identity.
And there are many people who are indifferent to wisdom, indifferent to coming to a genuine understanding of the Law of the Lord, that is, the truth of what is good and what is evil.
And character is not the same thing as personality. Our personality traits are inherited and in part determined by environment. But we are not going to be judged on our personality. You can have a very dull, drab, even cantankerous personality, but have great character. Conversely, you can have a great personality, but depraved character. Character is entirely yours, personality isn't. In fact, some of the most notorious psychopaths have very charming personalities – that's how they were able to deceive so many people. Being a nice guy is not the same as goodness, much less holiness.
Bad character begins with being indifferent to one's own character. Some people couldn't care less what kind of person they determine themselves to be by their choices; they couldn't care less. What these people care about primarily is how they feel. Feeling is more important than being. We know this is true in our case if we are willing to do something that is evil, thus corrupting our moral identity, for the sake of feeling good, for the sake of possessing some temporary good, like money, or position, or a feeling of pleasure. Money and position make a person feel a certain way. And some people are simply more interested in feeling good than they are in being good.
But when things shift the other way, when we begin to become more interested in being than in feeling, more interested in character than in possessing, then there are certain choices we simply will not make no matter how much enjoyment or security they bring to our lives, because in making this or that choice, I become a certain kind of person, and I don't want to be that kind of person, no matter how easy and enjoyable my life becomes from that point onwards. And some students are very honest. They readily admit that feeling comfortable and having a rather upscale lifestyle are more important to them than their own character, their own moral identity – more important than holiness. And so they "sell their soul", so to speak, for the sake of that temporary state of affairs. And that's what it is – temporary. They exchange the eternal for the temporary.

Solomon couldn't care less about riches, nor about the satisfying feeling of victory over his enemies, nor about a long life. He wanted a heart that understands good and evil in order to be able to serve the Lord well in the position in which the Lord placed him, namely, ruler of God's chosen people.
It all comes down to what we ultimately want. And it is possible to attend Mass week in and week out without ultimately wanting wisdom, without loving the Law of the Lord. I think that's why some Evangelical Churches in the U.S are doing so well, because some preachers have given a new twist to the gospel, which is known in Evangelical circles as the "gospel of prosperity". The idea is that if you accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, you will prosper, because the Lord wants you to prosper economically (Cf. 3 Jn), and if you embrace his name and immerse yourselves in the Scriptures, prosperity will follow. Most people today love their own prosperity above all things, and so if going to Church will open the flood gates of financial prosperity, Church is where you'll find them. That's why these Churches are bursting at the seams.
And some students are very honest. They readily admit that feeling comfortable and having a rather upscale lifestyle are more important to them than their own character, their own moral identity – more important than holiness. And so they "sell their soul". . . They exchange the eternal for the temporary.
But that's not a genuine love of holiness. Recently in a major U.S. city, a Church group put on a Passion play, and it was a Black man who was chosen to play the part of Jesus. After realizing this, many people walked.
I know a young lady from the U.S. who comes from a very wealthy family, and who is about to be cut out of the will because she is in a very serious relationship with a black man – of very good character, I might add. If she marries him, she will be left with nothing. And these parents are people who attend Mass weekly, including Eucharistic adoration.
Now that's the U.S., but Canada is just as bad; we are just hung up on other issues. There are parishioners who will write letters of complaint to the bishop if a priest were to preach a hard sermon on sexual morality, or abortion, contraception, or euthanasia. It happens all the time – which is probably why we rarely hear these topics preached from the pulpit. The fact is, some people come to Church to actually pray their way away from God. "If I go to Mass regularly, say my prayers, then I must be okay; I don't have to deal with this nagging voice in the depths of my conscience." This is self-deception. But on the deepest level of the subconscious, what we ultimately want is fully exposed to God's gaze.
We are what we will. We are what we love. And only God knows for certain if at our very depths we love ourselves above all things, or if we love God above all things. But if we love the self above all, and if we persist in that to the end, the Lord will give us what we want. He will leave us to ourselves for eternity.
Christ said that in my father's house there are many mansions. The mansion we get is the one we build by the choices that we make. It is the mansion of our own soul. Our soul is an interior castle, and its beauty and majesty depend upon us, on how much we cooperate with the grace of God offered to us, and if we neglect our soul because we are so preoccupied with this life, this world, with our own lifestyle, our house will be very dilapidated and small. It might even be a hell to live in, and it will be ours forever. But if we put the works of charity first, the kingdom of God first, the Lord's will first and above all and everything else second, we will have built a beautiful mansion that will be ours for eternity, and it is eternity alone that matters.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Don't hate me because I'm right :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

Don't hate me because I'm right :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

Relativism is the philosophy that there is no objective reality, but that truth is relative to what each person thinks. We’ve all encountered relativism in statements like, “Jesus is God for me, while Vishnu is God for someone else,” “You have your truth, and I have mine,” or, in regard to issues like the abortion debate, “You can’t impose your morality on another person.”

This “agree never to disagree” philosophy is considered necessary to guarantee peace, tolerance and equality in a pluralistic world. Conversely, people who think we can know the truth in moral or religious issues are considered intolerant, bigoted and maybe even downright dangerous.

In defense of those who have the audacity to claim to know the truth about who God is or how we’re supposed to live, myself included, I have to point out that nothing could be further from the truth. Some of the most intolerant people in history were not believers, but relativists!

Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy, is one clear-cut example. Early in his political career, he wrote:

"Everything I have said and done in these last years is relativism, by intuition. From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, that all ideologies are mere fictions, the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own ideology, and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable. If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and men who claim to be the bearers of an objective immortal truth, then there is nothing more relativistic than fascism (“Diuturna”)."
Since Mussolini didn’t recognize any objective reality—moral or religious—to which he should conform, he invented his own moral code and enforced it on everyone he could. If truth is really relative, why not?!

And while it might seem that if we could just “imagine there’s no heaven … no hell below us … no religion, too,” then we could “live life in peace.” The 20th-century proved John Lennon’s dream wrong time and again. People in the 20th-century who imagined that there was no “objective immortal truth”—no heaven, hell and no religion—made many of the crimes committed in the name of faith look like child’s play.

Take communism, for instance, with its strong commitment to atheism. In one small communist country alone, Cambodia, 1.7 million people died at the hands of the government from 1975 to 1979, with entire families, including infants, being put to death by the tens of thousands if they were a perceived threat to the Communist Party.

To be fair, the average relativist wouldn’t go as far as Mussolini or the communists of Cambodia, but the modern world is increasingly full of examples of relativist intolerance toward those who believe in objective truth. Take, for example:

• Regular lawsuits backed by the ACLU to forcibly squash any mention of God out of the public square to cater to a few intolerant atheists.
• The college student in California who was threatened with expulsion after she said a prayer for a sick teacher on campus with his consent.
• A civil rights organization that protested a statue of Jesus found on the floor of the ocean.
• The Christian print-shop owner in Toronto who was fined for choosing not to print promotional materials for a gay and lesbian group.
• The attacks on conscientious objection rights that currently allow Catholic doctors and hospitals to refuse to participate in providing abortions.

It seems that a new relativist inquisition is picking up steam. And, of course, it is being carried out in the name of “tolerance”!

Contrast these examples of intolerance with a “religious absolutist” whom most people remember: Mother Teresa. She believed beyond the shadow of a doubt that she was right and other faiths were wrong when it came to the divinity of Jesus Christ. But could you imagine new videos being found and released on YouTube of her kneeing a poor Indian in the face because he didn’t accept the message of Christianity? The idea is ridiculous. Her faith motivated her to a life of service to everyone regardless of creed or lifestyle—from feeding Hindus living in the slums of Kolkata to starting New York City’s first AIDS hospice and much more.

I’m not trying to rewrite history with this brief article. Atrocities have been committed by people of faith too. But an honest look at history shows that religious and moral absolutism doesn’t necessarily make a person intolerant, nor does a lack thereof. It depends on what a person believes, not if he believes.

So to all who would use the rod of “tolerance” to beat the faithful into submission for claiming truth, I make this humble request: please tolerate me. 
Christopher Stefanick is director of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver. His personal website can be found at