From the Catechesis by St. John Chrysostom, bishop

The power of Christ’s blood

If we wish to understand the power of Christ’s blood, we should go back to the ancient account of its prefiguration in Egypt. Sacrifice a lamb without blemish, commanded Moses, and sprinkle its blood on your doors. If we were to ask him what he meant, and how the blood of an irrational beast could possibly save men endowed with reason, his answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ. If you desire further proof of the power of this blood, remember where it came from, how it ran down from the cross, flowing from the Master’s side. The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood. Now the water was a symbol of baptism and the blood of the holy Eucharist. The soldier pierced the Lord’s side, he breached the wall of the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own. So also with the lamb: the Jews sacrificed the victim and I have been saved by it. There flowed from his side water and blood. Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized baptism and the holy Eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit, and from the holy Eucharist. Since the symbols of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam. Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh! As God then took a rib from Adam`s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and water after his own death. Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat? By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life

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“Do not conform yourselves to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may discern what is the will of God.” (Rom.12:2)

September 21, 2022
St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

As People of Faith, we know first-hand that the “ways of the world” in which we live are not always consistent with the “ways of God”; more often than not, they contradict God’s ways. Jesus has come into the world to save the world from sin, and to lead us to “the more abundant life” of Eternal Salvation.

In Michigan, we are faced with making a very significant decision as we approach the November elections and must consider what is known as “Proposal 3-Reproductive Freedom for All”, a Ballot Initiative to amend the State Constitution. While it is being presented by its proponents as enshrining access to abortion as a constitutional right, which would be immoral, “Proposal 3” would do so much more than that. It would allow for abortions, the killing of an unborn baby in his/her mother’s womb, any time (up to the time of delivery), anywhere, for anyone (including minors, since there are no age limitations on “every individual”), by anyone, for any reason. In addition, the proposed amendment defines this constitutional right of “reproductive freedom for all” as “all matters relating to pregnancy, including but not limited to prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion care, miscarriage management, and infertility care.” It will likely also overturn laws requiring parental consent for medical treatment of a minor, the informed consent of the women having the abortion, clinic safety and health regulations, will remove the requirement that a doctor be the one to perform an abortion, and will allow taxpayer funding of abortions.

If this Constitutional Amendment is successful, Michigan would have the most extreme anti-life position in the country, and, indeed, most of the world. This is not only a contradiction of God’s ways; it’s an assault on the precious Gift of Human Life which comes from God, Who alone determines when life begins and ends. I want to make very clear that contrary to popular and mass media claims, this is not a partisan issue; rather, this is clearly the most significant moral issue of our day.

I have asked our priests and deacons to provide educational information and other helpful resources to you over these next seven weeks leading up to the election on November 8, 2022. I also urge all our Faithful to become as informed as you can be about the grave implications of “Proposal 3”, if passed. I urge all of us to pray fervently, so that we can remember the basic tenet of our Faith that God is the Author of all Life, and that His Son Jesus has come to bring us into the “fullness of Life”.

At this critical time, let us stand up for Life; let us protect every human life, from the moment of conception until natural death, and at every point in between. Let us unify in prayer and fasting for an end to all misguided efforts to think that we have a right to destroy those whom God has created in His image. Let us pray that God’s Holy Spirit will “renew our minds”, so that we “may discern what is the will of God.”

Guided by our Faith, and united in the Truth that every human life is sacred, please “Vote ‘No” on Proposal 3”.

Faithfully yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Paul J. Bradley
Bishop of Kalamazoo

Dear Friends,

“No servant can be the slave of two masters.” (Luke 16:13) Our Lord doesn’t give us a third option.  There are only two paths in life, only two options.  One that leads closer to Christ or one that leads away from him.  A few chapters earlier in Luke’s Gospel, he put it like this:  “He who does not gather with me scatters” Luke 11:23.  In other words we can’t be morally neutral in life.  We can’t just sit on the fence.  We have to choose, to live for Christ or to live for self, to build up the kingdom of Heaven or the kingdom of devilish selfishness.

But our Lord also reminds us that we don’t just make this decision once, we make it every day, in small matters and large matters.  God give us chances to exercise our love for him, over and over and over.  The Christian life is an ongoing series of decisions in which we reinforce or undermine our basic choice to follow Christ.

In this Gospel parable Jesus is warning us; that we have been affected by sin, we’ve squandered the gifts God has given to us and sooner or later the Master will return to render a judgment.  But in the meantime, right now, we have the golden opportunity to put our lives and talents at the service of the Kingdom of God.

When we focus on serving Christ, instead of trying to serve two masters, our lives take on that heroic meaningful dimension that we long for.  As we know we can see this clearly in the lives of the saints.  The example of the 16 Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne is especially moving.  These religious sisters lived during the French Revolution.  At the very start of the war the revolutionaries came to their convent and invited them to abandon their vocation and join the New France.  In the eyes of the revolutionaries prayer and religious life was useless it’s not the way to build up the New France they envisioned.  The women should be out there working, doing something productive, something visible to the eye.  But the sisters refused, they didn’t want to abandon their vocation.  They continued serving Christ in prayer and penance.

This was unacceptable to the new regime.  This convent along with many others was forcibly closed and the sisters were dispersed.  They were forbidden to live in community or to even wear a religious habit.  They were not to be a reminder of God by the way they dressed.  And so the sisters wore regular lay clothing and lived in separate houses.  But even living this way they still somehow managed to come together for prayer, during which they offered themselves to God as a sacrifice for peace.  As a result of their resistance they were eventually arrested and imprisoned.  And soon they were all condemned to death.  Every single sister in that community was to be beheaded.

On the day of the execution all 16 sisters were loaded into a cart and brought to the guillotine.  On the night before someone had brought them their habits.  And so they went to their death dressed as they lived.  As the cart made its way slowly through the streets of the town the sisters sang Veni Creator Spiritus (Come Holy Spirit), the same ancient hymn sung whenever a young woman professes her vows in the Carmelite Order.  One by one the sisters mounted the gallows and laid her head on the block without any executioner having to touch her.  As the sixteen martyrs sealed their love for Christ with their blood, the usually frenzied mob of onlookers was utterly silent.  The only sound to be heard was the sisters’ singing the Salve Regina, a hymn to Mary.   Their bodies were thrown into a common grave with 1,300 other victims of the Revolution.  Two days later the Reign of Terror came to an end.  These 16 women were beatified in 1906 by Pope Pius X and many poems, plays and books have been written about these brave sisters.

They faithfully served only one Master, they didn’t even try to serve the world, and the fruits of their sacrifice proved that our Lord was the right one to serve.  Each of us here today is called to serve the one master, maybe not in this spectacular way of martyrdom, but each of us in our own God given vocation can give witness to the way of Heaven.

One way to keep our hearts undivided and focused on Heaven is to plant visual reminders in key places.  A rosary hanging from the review mirror doesn’t have to be just a decoration; it can be a powerful reminder of the road we have chosen.

Those of us who have offices can keep a small crucifix on the desk, reminding ourselves that our work, when we do it responsibly and offer it to Christ, can be a channel for God’s grace to spread in the world.

I know of one man who takes a few minutes every Sunday to come up with a phrase that will remind him of what struck him the most during Mass.  He has a notebook, he brings it to Mass.   Maybe its word from the readings, or the homily, or something that came to him while he was praying after communion.  He writes that phrase down and then he uses that phrase all week.  He puts it in his screen-saver at work. He programs it into text messages that he sends to himself.  He writes it on a note card to use as a bookmark.  It’s a way to make sure that he keeps focused on serving Christ in all his day-to-day activities.  He is reminded of Mass all week long.

In the Old Catholic countries of Europe, you still see what are called “wayside chapels.” These little chapels are built along the country roads.  These are wooden crucifixes or statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary erected under a protective wooden awning. They are placed at intersections or roadsides as a way to remind travelers of their true destination, and to encourage them to pray as they travel.

This week, our Lord wants us to experience afresh the meaning that comes from serving him in everything we do.

Let’s erect some wayside chapels in our life.  I want to end with a prayer written by the famous Carmelite St. Teresa of Avila.  It’s about following the way of our Lord in all circumstances.  His way is the only way that will truly make us happy!

I am yours I was born for you.

What is your will for me?

Let me be rich or poor.

Exulting or repining

Comforted or lonely

O Life! O sunlight shining

In stainless purity!

Since I am yours, only yours

What is your will for me?

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

This weekend Bishop Boyea issued a pastoral letter to be read at all Sunday Masses across the Diocese of Lansing in which he warned of the extreme nature of the proposed Reproductive Freedom for All constitutional amendment which will appear on ballots in November’s election as Proposal 3.

“I want to be clear,” said Bishop Boyea, “The Reproductive Freedom for All initiative is the most extreme abortion proposal this country has ever witnessed.”

Bishop Boyea noted that the Governor of the State of Michigan has said repeatedly that she, and her allies in the pro-abortion lobby, will, quote, “fight like hell” to prevail on the matter of abortion.

“How then do we respond to those who fight like hell?” asked Bishop Boyea, “Simple: We fight like heaven. What does that entail? First: We have to employ the three great spiritual weapons of the Christian life: Prayer, fasting and almsgiving.”

“Second comes action,” he added, “The most important frontline in this battle for life and love, however, will be the local parish. It will be you. If each of us does what we can – including prayer, sacrifice and action – we will overcome this attack on life. It’s as dramatic and as simple as that.”

“We have less than two months before voting on November 8th. Time is short. Our task is great. The Lord, however, always provides. Therefore, let us work cheerfully and unstintingly knowing that His grace is sufficient.” Here is the text of Bishop Boyea’s pastoral letter in full:

 

Pastoral Letter by Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 10-11, 2022

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In 1931 the State of Michigan enacted strong pro-life legislation. This is our present law. In 1972, supporters of abortion brought that 1931 law before voters in a statewide ballot initiative. The people of this state rejected abortion. This is the last time the issue was tested at the ballot box.

Today, I call to our attention a new and grave threat to our children and to our culture of life. It is called the Reproductive Freedom for All initiative.

The Reproductive Freedom for All initiative will be on our ballots this fall where it will appear as Proposal 3. It seeks the approval of the people of this state to amend the Constitution of this State to include a so-called “right to abortion”. This effort is spearheaded by Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union. To tinker with the Constitution is very serious business. We should reject this proposal on that basis alone.

However, I want to be clear. The Reproductive Freedom for All initiative is the most extreme abortion proposal this country has ever witnessed. Based on the wording of the proposed amendment, this initiative seeks to enshrine abortion up to, and including, the day of birth in our state constitution. It also seeks to eliminate dozens of Michigan laws that presently regulate abortion. These include parental consent and notification laws; laws that prohibit partial-birth abortion; informed medical consent laws; 24-hour waiting periods; taxpayer funded abortion; laws that require abortion facilities to be licensed and inspected by the State of Michigan; laws that prosecute anyone who injures or kills a woman during an abortion; and laws that protect the conscience rights of persons who refuse to participate in abortion such as doctors and nurses.

What is more, the scope of the Reproductive Freedom for All proposal is not limited to the issue of abortion. It will also likely prohibit parental consent rights if your child wishes to pursue – or is being pressured into pursuing – medical procedures or chemical treatments intended to change the outward appearance of his or her biological sex. These include puberty blocking drugs and cross-sex hormones. Such invasive treatments for children who are gender-confused can inflict irreversible physiological damage coupled with long-term psychological, emotional and spiritual damage upon an already vulnerable young person.

It is likely that the Reproductive Freedom for All campaign will place Michigan at the national epicenter of the abortion debate. The pro-abortion lobby has already spent an estimated $10 million collecting the needed signatures. Significantly more money will be spent during the campaign with pro-abortion elected officials and advocacy groups across the country ready to bombard Michigan voters with their propaganda in the weeks to come. As the Governor of this State has said repeatedly, both she and her allies in the pro-abortion lobby will, quote, “fight like hell” to prevail on this matter.

How then do we respond to those who fight like hell? Simple: We fight like heaven. What does that entail? First: We have to employ the three great spiritual weapons of the Christian life: Prayer, fasting and almsgiving. As Saint Peter Chrysologus wrote in the 5th century:

“Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing.” Saint Peter assures us that, “Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives.”

Hence, on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Thursday, September 15, I am calling upon all within the Diocese of Lansing, both clergy and laity, to begin a 54-day Rosary Novena that will conclude upon the eve of polling day on November 8.

This will be 54-days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving in union with the Blessed Virgin Mary who is Queen of the Family, the mother of all mothers and the patroness of the unborn. You can sign up for a daily text providing information and inspiration across each of the 54 days by texting FightLikeHeaven to 84576.

Second comes action. The Diocese of Lansing is cooperating with the Michigan Catholic Conference and Right to Life of Michigan to oppose and defeat this ballot proposal. They have created an umbrella campaign group called Citizens to Support MI Women and Children.

The most important frontline in this battle for life and love, however, will be the local parish. It will be you. If each of us does what we can – including prayer, sacrifice and action – we will overcome this attack on life. It’s as dramatic and as simple as that.

In all we do, please remember this: The pro-abortion lobby will do everything it can between now and polling day to hide the extreme elements of this proposal. That is also why we each have the happy duty of telling our family, our friends and our neighbors the truth about this ballot initiative. At present, most Michiganders don’t know about the Reproductive Freedom for All initiative but when they do know about it? They won’t like it.

We have less than two months before voting on November 8th. Time is short. Our task is great. The Lord, however, always provides. Therefore, let us work cheerfully and unstintingly knowing that His grace is sufficient. Thank you.

Assuring you of my prayers, I am sincerely yours in Christ,

+Earl Boyea

Bishop of Lansing

 

 

 

Dear Friends,

In our Gospel today we are reminded of two truths of our faith.  First, God created us in love, He created us in an ecstatic love, and in this love He created us to participate in his divine life by being in friendship and union with him.  Second, with our God-given free will we sinned and rejected God’s love choosing instead to trust in ourselves rather than trusting in Him.  However, God constantly reaches out to us, to bring us back, into a right relationship with Him.

A few years ago I read the book, Brideshead revisited.  It was written by Evelyn Waugh a British Catholic convert from the first half of the twentieth century. This book is about a wealthy British Catholic family, the Marchmains.  And a few members of this family, if they had been living at the time of Jesus, they’d be eating at the table with him in today’s Gospel.  They were sinners spending their lives trying to get as far away from God as possible. Eventually, however, these wandering Marchmains responded to God’s ever pursuing grace because as we read in the second truth; God constantly reaches out to us.  And a priest character in the book describes this grace of God reaching out to us, in a way that I’ve never forgotten.  This is God talking about someone who finally responded to his grace, “I caught him with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”

God lets us live in freedom and sometimes in that freedom we wander away maybe even far away, but He always pursues, tugging on that line and hopefully we eventually respond to that tug of grace.  In today’s Gospel we heard three examples of God’s grace at work.  And this grace has a logic that is so very different from the logic of this world.

The logic of the world is about control and division. It’s about who’s in and who’s out.   This logic of the world tells us, if you hurt me I’ll hurt you back and if you do something for me I owe you.  But the logic of God’s grace is totally different because grace is a free gift.  And if we were to think with the logic of grace we’d have to say instead, “Even though I don’t owe you anything I’m going to give you something,” and “Even though you’ve hurt me I’m not going to seek revenge,” and “Even though you won’t forgive me, I’ll forgive you and give you a gift.”  It’s this logic of grace that we see in today’s Gospel, a logic that looks to the other instead of looking inward at self.  The shepherd leaves ninety-nine valuable sheep in search of one whom he may not even find.  This goes against the logic of the world.  Why risk so much for one sheep worth so little compared to the rest?  And then there’s the woman who diligently tears apart her house in search of a coin that’s only worth about a penny.  Would we do the same?  Do we think with the logic of grace, seeking the lost and the estranged, giving and forgiving without expecting anything in return?

Our Gospel today ends with the famous parable of the prodigal son but it could also be called the prodigal sons because both sons have turned away from their father.  They think with the logic of the world.  The younger son says in effect, “I’m unwilling to wait for you to die, so give me what is due to me.”  And the older son says to the Father, “I’ve been like your slave all these years and you owe me.”  These two sons think only of themselves and the father responds to this greed not with the logic of the world he instead responds with the logic of grace telling them, “Everything I have is yours.”

The younger son eventually comes to repentance and there’s a line that always moves me.  “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.  He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.”  An elderly wealthy man, at the time of Jesus, would never run out to meet his son, especially one who had left him and squandered all his money.  It wouldn’t be dignified he would lose all respect and social standing in the community.  But the father loves his son and as we heard in the second truth, God always reaches out to us to bring us back into a right relationship with Him.

Father Hoppough one of my professors at the seminary used to tell us that we are like the prodigal son whenever we stand at the door of the confessional.   At the sight of us God the Father is filled with compassion, He sees our heart, and He is ready to forgive, He runs to us, He embraces us, and He kisses us.  This is a consoling thought that comes to me whenever I go to confession because going to confession is not fun even for a priest.  It’s a humbling experience, but also a very good experience.

Two truths, God created us in love to participate in his life, and if in sin we stray from that love he pursues us and when we turn back to him in repentance there is much rejoicing among the angels of God in Heaven.   

“I caught him with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

At this point in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 14: 25-33), Jesus is steadily making his way to Jerusalem, where he knows that he can expect nothing but betrayal, condemnation, humiliation, torture, and death, but then; on the third day he will rise.

He also knows that everyone who wants to be his follower, everyone who wants that incomparable meaning and deep joy of his Kingdom, will have to follow the same path, he tells us, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.“  Every Christian has to die with Christ in order to rise with him.

Death in this sense will not necessarily take the form of physical crucifixion, although for many of his closest followers (the martyrs) it has.  But whatever form the cross does take in a particular Christian’s life, it will always require a painful renunciation of something dear to us.  Christ’s exhortation to hate father and mother and brothers and sisters simply points out that a true Christian can prefer nothing to Christ.  These demands may sound harsh, but they flow from Christ’s love. He doesn’t want us to have any illusions.  Christ reminds us from the very start that following him will be demanding, because he knows that real friendship is always built on the truth.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini was the first United States citizen to become a canonized saint.  Her deep trust in God gave her the strength to carry her cross and to do great good for our country.    She was born in 1850 in Lombardy Italy.  She was the youngest of 13 children.  Mother Cabrini was born 2 months premature, and for the rest of her life she lived in a fragile and delicate state of health.  Mother Cabrini received her education from the Daughters of the Sacred Heart.  And after graduation she applied to join the order, but they wouldn’t take her because of her poor health.  So she got a job teaching at an orphanage and there she formed her own community.  When the orphanage closed a few years later her bishop asked her and her order to care for poor children in schools and hospitals.  In her first five years she founded 7 homes and a school.  At this point she asked the pope to let her order go to China.  He said, “No, not to the East but to the West.”  And so she ended up going to New York City to serve the growing Italian immigrant community.  When she got there the house that was promised to her was gone, the Bishop told her to go away, go back to Italy.  She didn’t, she found other housing and began her work.  Frances was known for being as resourceful as she was prayerful.  She was always able to find people to donate their money, time, and support for her institutions.

She encountered many disappointments and hardships and crosses but they never kept her down.  Filled with a deep trust in God and gifted with an administrative ability, over 35 years, Frances Cabrini founded 67 institutions, including orphanages, schools, and hospitals, always dedicated to caring for the poor, uneducated, sick, and abandoned, and especially the Italian immigrant.

Mother Cabrini died on December 22, 1917 at the age of 67.  She was canonized in in 1946.  In her papers we have this letter she wrote to one of her nuns, it’s a letter to encourage the sister in bearing the cross.

“Why, dearest daughter, do you waste time in sadness when time is so precious for the salvation of poor sinners?  Get rid of your melancholy immediately.  Don’t think any more about yourself.  Do not indulge in so many useless and dangerous reflections.  Look ahead always without ever looking back.  Keep your gaze fixed on the summit of perfection where Christ awaits you. He wants you despoiled of all things, intent only on procuring his greater glory during this brief time of your existence.  For the short time that remains, is it worthwhile to lose yourself in melancholy like those who think only of themselves, as if all were to end with this life?  Ah no.  We must not even desire that our pilgrimage on this earth be a short one because we do not yet know the infinite value of every minute employed for the glory of God.  Carry your cross then but carry it joyfully, my daughter.   Jesus loves you very much.  And in return for such love, don’t lose yourself in so many desires, but accept daily with serenity whatever comes your way.  May the heart of Jesus bless you and make you holy, not as you want but as he desires.”

Some of us may already know what our cross is.  Maybe it is weighing heavily on our shoulders even right now.  If that’s the case, then we can be sure that God is speaking directly to us today.  He is reminding us that we aren’t carrying that cross alone.  Every one of our crosses is a small piece of his cross, a small part for each one of us to play in the great drama of redeeming the world.

He can remind us of that, as he does today, but that reminder in itself doesn’t lessen our load.  For that to happen, we pay attention to the reminder.  We have to consciously, deep in our hearts, unite our crosses to Christ’s, to exercise that essential virtue of hope.  Hope is the assurance of things unseen.  Hope is the assurance, the deep conviction, that Jesus Christ shares our cross and that blessings and graces will surely follow.

This week, when we feel the weight of the cross digging into our shoulders, let’s lift our gaze to heaven, confident that whatever we suffer here on earth in union with our Lord is a storing up of treasure in Heaven, that will gain eternal reward for us and for those we love.  And if even that thought is not enough to give us strength,  if even today’s reminder doesn’t keep our hope alive,  we can always come and kneel before the Tabernacle, where Jesus is truly with us in the sacrament of the Eucharist.  He has stayed here precisely because he knew that there would be times when the troubles of life put our faith and hope to the test.  When they do, he will be right here, ready to strengthen us, if only we will come to be strengthened.

In the words of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, “Jesus loves you very much.  And in return for such love, don’t lose yourself in so many desires, but accept daily with serenity whatever comes your way.  May the heart of Jesus bless you and make you holy not as you want but as he desires.”

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

In today’s readings we seem to be hearing quite a bit about humility.  And to live the virtue of humility means to see ourselves through God’s eyes. To see ourselves the way God sees us, both the good and the bad.  Humility is not a false self-deprecation, where you beat yourself up verbally only so others can say otherwise.  Humility never denies the truth.    If you’ve been gifted in some way say so, acknowledging at the same time the gift comes from God.

To belittle the gifts God has given us would actually be a subtle form of pride.  St Benedict used to say that if a monk had a wonderful singing voice and downplayed his own ability; by saying he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.  That would be displeasing to God. So we recognize the good, and thank God for it.  Saying instead, yes God has blessed me with a good voice.  Give God the credit.

Now, as humble people in the making, we also recognize what is evil in us, the pride, the vanity, the laziness, the lust, and the selfishness that we give in to.  All these things should bring us to our knees before God asking for his mercy.   When St Theresa of Avila asked Jesus what true humility meant, He said to her: “To know what you can do, and what I can do.”

In our first reading from the Book of Sirach, we are told:  “Conduct your affairs with humility… Humble yourself the more, the greater you are and you will find favor with God.”  And Jesus adds to it in the gospel saying “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Our Lord is calling us to see ourselves as God sees us: sinners infinitely loved by God, and in desperate need of his mercy. To know this is true humility.

Scott Hahn, a famous Catholic convert, speaker, author, and professor once wrote about humility and he used the example of a down and out priest.  One of Dr. Hahn’s priest friends visited Rome, and on the steps of one of the churches he saw a beggar with a familiar face. With a thrill of horror, he realized that it was one of his classmates from seminary, and he rushed over to him.  “Didn’t we go to the seminary together,” he asked. “Yes,” the beggar affirmed. “You’re a priest?” “Not anymore,” the beggar replied, “I fell off the deep end.”

A short time later Scott Hahn’s friend had an audience with Pope St. John Paul II. He told him the entire story, and asked him to pray for his friend. John Paul II assured him that he would, and then whispered something to an aide.  Later that day the priest received a phone call inviting him to come with the ex-priest to have dinner with the Pope. He rushed off to the church where he had seen him, and by God’s grace, he was still there on the steps. Upon hearing about the invitation, he said, “I’m a mess. I haven’t showered in a long time, and my clothes are filthy.” But his friend took him back to his hotel room and helped him get cleaned up, and then they went to dinner with the Holy Father.

At the end of a very enjoyable dinner, the Holy Father asked to be alone with the ex-priest. After a long while, the down and out priest emerged with tears in his eyes. “What happened in there?” his friend asked?  “The Pope asked me to hear his confession,” choked the beggar. After regaining composure, the man continued, “I told him, ‘Your Holiness, look at me. I am a beggar. I am not a priest.’”  “The Pope looked at me and said, ‘My son, once a priest always a priest, and who among us is not a beggar. I too come before the Lord as a beggar asking for forgiveness of my sins.’ I told him I was not in good standing with the Church, and he assured me that as the Bishop of Rome he could reinstate me right then and there.”

After he heard the Holy Father’s confession, the beggar-priest asked the Pope to hear his, and then he received an assignment to minister to the beggars on the steps of the very church from which he just came.

Through the humility of Pope St. John Paul II, who humbly saw himself as God saw him; this man received a new lease on life.

How do we grow in humility, how do we grow in this ability to see ourselves as God sees us? St Catherine of Sienna, a doctor of the Church, gives us advice on how to do that and it’s this: persevere in prayer, keep praying, even if it’s hard, distracting, and dry; keep praying.

Anyone who has prayed knows that distractions and dryness are common obstacles.  We try to pray, and we start thinking about the bills or the soccer game or the person who cut us off in traffic earlier in the day. St Catherine tells us that these distractions and dryness are allowed by God to help us to grow in humility and trust.  We persist through them continually drawing ourselves back to God.  God revealed to St. Catherine that he permits them “out of love, to preserve the soul and make it grow in the virtue of humility… receiving with humility the consoling prayer and the dry prayer, accepting with love the love with which He gives His graces…God went on to reveal to her that the person “should be humble therefore…and receive joy or the lack thereof according to my will, not according to its own will.”

Given our human woundedness, distractions are to be expected.  St. Theresa of Avila said to her sisters, “When one of you finds yourself in a sublime state of prayer but then wanders off after the most ridiculous things in the world you should laugh at it and treat it as the silly thing it is and remain in your state of quiet.”

A priest received a visit from a very good friend who had two small children.  She brought the children along for the visit.  The children demanded a lot of her attention during their time together, there was a diaper change, one asked for a glass of water, and the other wanted a toy out in the car.  After leaving, the young woman thought the visit had gone terribly. The priest on the other hand only remembered the good time he had visiting with his friend.  Prayer with God is like that.  He’s not bothered by our distractions, as long as we keep bringing ourselves back to Him, those distractions are nothing.  He only wants to spend time with us.

When we persevere in prayer even when we’re distracted, we come to a greater humility. We know our weakness, and we will know how much God loves us, and wants us to be with him in prayer.

Pax et Bonum,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

“Go out to all the World and tell the Good News!”

I have a story about a man I visited in the hospital a few years ago.  I was there to anoint him.  He was an elderly man who on that day was in a very talkative mood.  The man’s name was Al and we had a very nice visit.  And he told me about his life when he was just five years old, a story from over 80 years ago.  I hope my memory is that good, when I reach that age.

When Al was 5 he lived in Cambridge MA, right next to Harvard University.  His other next door neighbor was an elderly woman by the name of Mrs. Healy.  And on nice days Mrs. Healy would come out onto the front porch and sit in her rocking chair.  And then she would take out a string of shiny beads. And begin to run them through her fingers.  Her lips would be moving too.  But Al couldn’t hear what she was saying.  This fascinated the 5 year old Al.

So every time that Mrs. Healy came out to her porch with that string of beads Al was there too, just sitting on the corner of her porch staring.  I’m sure it was very cute.  There she was, rocking back and forth, lips moving, beads running through her fingers, with little Al looking on.  Not really knowing what it all meant.

Mrs. Healy didn’t say much to Al but one day after getting up from the chair she walked over to where Al was sitting and she gave him the string of shiny beads.  She died not long after that day.  Al later found out that the beads were a Rosary, but he still didn’t know how to use them.

Not long after that Al and his parents moved to New York City and close to their new home there happened to be a Catholic Church.  So one afternoon the whole family went into the church to speak with a priest: to ask him about the Rosary, how do you use it?  Very soon after that encounter with the priest the whole family was baptized and received into the Church.

That man I anointed who gave me this story was Deacon Al Patrick, he died on May 21st in 2019.  He died after living a rich Catholic life.  He was a Deacon for 50 years and a Catholic husband, father, and grandfather.  He was an evangelizer of the faith.  He baptized, he preached, he taught the faith.  He touched countless lives, bringing the light, and the peace, and the love of our Lord into many people’s lives.  And it all began when an elderly woman, by the name of Mrs. Healy, without embarrassment prayed the Rosary in front a curious little boy.

In today’s Mass we pray, “Go out to all the World and tell the Good News.”  And Mrs. Healy did just that, and she did it with her simple prayer, out in the open, for all the world to see.  She was a missionary of the Catholic Faith.  And it made a difference, what a difference it made.

This past Friday (19th of August) was the Feast Day of St. John Eudes.  He was a French priest who lived in the 17th century.  He was the founder of the Eudists, and did a lot of work in reforming priesthood and he was a great promoter of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  The missions he ran in parishes would go for months at a time.  Nobody tired of hearing him talk.  He said something that has become my new favorite quote,  “Our wish, our object, our chief preoccupation must be to form Jesus in ourselves, to make His spirit, His devotion, His affections, His desires, and His disposition live and reign there.  All our religious exercises should be directed to this end.  It is the work which God has given us to do unceasingly.”

To do this is to have the very life of Jesus Himself in me and in you.  This is the supernatural life of faith, hope, and love.  By this life, Jesus imparts His Spirit to me and to you.  So that everything we do, we do with Him, in Him, through Him, and like Him.

As lay people you have a lot of opportunity and power to bring Jesus out into the World, to show the world Jesus, our Gate and Narrow Way, to show the world the reason for your joy.  Be bold about it, don’t hide your faith, it’s a beautiful thing, it’s rich and inexhaustible.  After this hour of Mass we still have 167 hours this week to fill with prayer.

Your homework for this week is to be caught praying.  Like Mrs. Healy be caught praying.

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

Jesus tells us, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”  Now this is not the fire of a warm cozy fireplace, nor is it the fire of the stake for burning opponents of the faith.  This fire is the fierce love of the Holy Spirit and in those who are receptive it burns away the sin of the heart.  Jesus then tells us, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.”  Why is there division?  There’s division because we have to decide for ourselves:  are we for Christ or against Christ.  Do our hearts belong to Him or to the world, the flesh, and the devil?  Our heart cannot belong to both sides, we have to choose.  And that can bring division, even within a family, when one person decides in favor of Jesus and the Church, and another against.

As we know God is love.  God is love through and through but that love is perceived by us in the context of a fallen world with fallen minds.  In those who hate sin and are trying to rid their life of sin God’s love is perceived as gentle, forgiving, and always there.  However, for those who love sin, and want to justify it they see God’s love as demanding and judgmental.  “Who is God to tell me what sin is they may say.”  It’s the same love but perceived differently.

Just at the turn of the 20th century in Paris France Elizabeth Arrighi and Dr. Felix Leseur married.  Both had been raised in the Catholic faith.  However, at the time of their marriage Elizabeth was at most a lukewarm Catholic. And Felix while studying to be a doctor had abandoned the faith totally.  He was an atheist.  Their marriage was a happy one.  The Leseurs were well-to-do and they were part of a social group that was very cultured, very educated, and very antireligious.  Dr. Leseur eventually became the editor of an atheistic newspaper that was very anti-Catholic.

At the age of 32, Elizabeth felt that something was missing from her life, everything seemed so shallow and so she went searching.  And that search ended with the rediscovery of her childhood faith.  She had a reversion to the Catholic faith.  From that point on she organized her spiritual life around a disciplined pattern of prayer, meditation, Mass, the sacraments, and writing.  She kept a spiritual journal, writing down everything.  But with this new found faith Elizabeth’s friends and her husband Felix especially ridiculed her mercilessly.   They teased her and talked down to her.  But she always responded with patience and a gentle smile.  She wouldn’t let their comments dissuade her.  And every time her husband tried to convince Elizabeth of her errors it only made her more determined to go deeper into the faith, to study it more, and to strive for greater holiness.  Even with this division in their life they still loved each other.   But they always tried to persuade the other of his or her side.

For the last nine years of her life Elizabeth’s health deteriorated.  She was in constant pain and was mostly confined to a chair or to her bed.  But even with this she still received visitors and she kept to her disciplined spiritual life and she grew in holiness.  Many people would visit because they were drawn by her peace and love and they wanted her advice and spiritual guidance.   As Elizabeth was dying she said to her husband, “Felix, when I am dead, you will become Catholic again and a Dominican priest.”  His response was, “Elizabeth you know my sentiments that will never happen!” He dismissed this as the whims of a dying pious woman.  Elizabeth died of cancer in 1914.  She died in her husband’s arms.

Later as Felix was going through his wife’s papers he came across a letter.  It was addressed to him, and in it she wrote, “In 1905, I asked almighty God to send me sufficient sufferings to purchase your soul.  On the day that I die, the price will have been paid.  Greater love than this no woman has than she who lay down her life for her husband.”  Elizabeth had offered her pain to God over the past nine years.  She did this for the conversion of her husband.  Again Felix passed it off as the fancies of an overly pious woman.

Following Elizabeth’s funeral Felix was scheduled to visit Lourdes where he was planning to write an expose for his newspaper. Lourdes is the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette.  It’s a place of many miraculous healings.   He planned on writing of the fraudulent nature of the place; he reasoned that there were no true miracles taking place at Lourdes.  Lourdes was a big fraud.  But once there and standing in the grotto, in an instant, he received the great gift of faith, a miracle.  Felix quickly reverted to the faith of his childhood.  When he got home he began to read all of Elizabeth’s many journals and as he read them he understood for the first time the divine source of her love, peace, and silent endurance of physical and emotional pain which she offered for his conversion and the conversion of non-believers.  God made it all possible.

Dr. Leseur did become a Dominican priest.  Fr. Leseur died in 1950.  All of Elizabeth’s diaries are now available in a book and her cause for canonization is underway in Rome.

Elizabeth once wrote, “Our outer life is the reproduction of our inner life, and the visible part of us reflects what is unseen; we radiate our souls, and when they are centers of light and warmth, other souls need only to be brought into contact with them in order to be warmed and enlightened.  We give out what we carry within.”  A soul that is burning with the fire of Jesus will try to enkindle others.

Our Lord came to set the earth on fire.  My prayer for us today is that our souls become ever brighter and warmer and that other souls around us will be warmed and enlightened by us, breaking down divisions in both family and community.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

St. John Vianney had a way with stories, always trying to use vivid and sometimes shocking images.  He once talked about a man who had an excessive love of money.  “And at the end of that man’s life” he said, “He was without a heart.  He died a heartless man!”  “His chest was empty!”  “But when the banker opened up the vault the next day, there was his heart.  His heart was found there in the midst of a pile of money.”

At the beginning of our Gospel we heard this, “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”  I have a story about a woman who made the heart of Jesus her treasure.  It didn’t start out that way; however, she began her life with a heart that was troubled and restless.  She was a woman of great intelligence who searched for truth.  She searched for truth in psychology and philosophy, once thinking that truth had nothing what so ever to do with God.   This woman’s name was Edith Stein.  Edith Stein was born in 1891 in Breslau Germany.  She was the youngest of eleven children born into a very devout Jewish family.    Edith’s father, ran a successful timber business, he died when Edith was 2 years old.  Her mother, a very devout, hard-working, and strong-willed woman, now had to look after the family and their large business.  Which she did, however, she did not succeed in keeping up a living faith in her children.  As a teenager Edith lost her faith in God, she quit praying, and became an atheist.

Edith was a brilliant student and after High School she went on to the University of Breslau where she studied philosophy and women’s issues.  “For a time,” she wrote “I was a radical suffragette.”  She had planned on becoming a teacher.  But after graduating she served as a nurse for a short time in an Austrian field hospital during World War I.  The hospital dissolved and she went back to school to earn her doctorate.

It was at about this time that one of her associates from the University had been killed on the battlefield.  And this dead man’s young widow invited Edith to her home to help her get her husband’s academic papers in order.  Edith hesitated; she had no belief in life after death so she wasn’t sure what she would say to this young Christian widow.  She wasn’t sure she’d find the right words to console her.  But what Edith Stein encountered when she met the widow struck her like a ray of sunlight.  Rather than appearing crushed by her suffering, the young widow was filled with a hope that offered all the other mourners a sense of consolation and peace.  This experience changed her.  The light of faith broke in on her.  And this light of faith came to her in the mystery of the Cross.

Years later she would write about this incident, “It was my first encounter with the Cross and the divine power that it bestows on those who carry it.  For the first time, I was seeing with my very eyes the Church, born from her Redeemer’s sufferings, triumphant over the sting of death.  That was the moment my unbelief collapsed and Christ shone forth – in the mystery of the Cross.”   In a search for truth Edith never dreamed she’d find it in Christ.  She began to read the New Testament and the question for her became, would she convert to Lutheranism or Catholicism.

Two events would help her make this important decision.  First, while helping tutor a student she and this student out of curiosity went into a Cathedral for a few moments, just to look around, and as they stood there just taking everything in a woman came in with her shopping basket and she knelt down in one of the pews to say a short prayer.  This was something new for Edith.  In the synagogue, as in the Protestant churches she had visited, people only went in at the time of the service.  But here was someone coming into the empty church in the middle of the day as if to talk with a friend.  She was never able to forget that.  And the second event that helped her in her decision to become a Catholic involved reading the life of St. Teresa of Avila.  She had picked up the book while staying at a friend’s house.  And once she’d begun reading it she couldn’t put it down.  She read it through the night and after finishing it the next morning the very first words out of her mouth were, “This is the truth.”  God is love.

She soon sought baptism and after being received into the Church she pursued scholarship and study as a service to God.  Teaching, writing, and learning all she could about her new found Catholic faith.  It wasn’t until eleven years later that she eventually entered the Carmelite Convent of Cologne, this was the year 1933.  “Henceforth my only vocation is to love,” she would say, praying to God for everyone.  She was now known as Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and while in the convent she pursued more studies and wrote more academic papers.

With World War II, Edith was moved from convent to convent across Europe trying to evade the Nazi forces.  In 1942 she found herself in Holland and at last she thought she was safe.  However, on August 2nd she was arrested by the Gestapo.  All Jewish converts to the Catholic faith were rounded up in retaliation for a statement put out by the Dutch Bishops in which they condemned the pogroms and deportation of Jews.  On August 9th she was killed at Auschwitz.  A fellow professor later wrote, “She is a witness to God’s presence in a world where God is absent.”

At her canonization Pope Saint John Paul II said that, “Her heart remained restless and unfulfilled until it finally found rest in God.”  For the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus we read this from the Gospel of Matthew, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give your rest.”  St. Teresa Benedicta found rest in the heart of God.  She rested there.  The heart was her treasure.  The love of God became her treasure.  She wrote, “In the heart of Jesus, which was pierced, the kingdom of heaven and the land of earth are bound together. Here is for us the source of life. This heart is the heart of the Triune Divinity, and the center of all human hearts… It draws us to itself with secret power; it conceals us in itself in the Father’s bosom and floods us with the Holy Spirit. This heart, it beats for us in the tabernacle where it remains mysteriously hidden in that quiet, white host.” 

The heart of our Lord beats for us in the Eucharist.  In the June Magnificat three years ago there was a series of stories about saints devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  And there was a story about a saint named Elzear and his wife Delphine.  They had a very good marriage but sometimes Delphine would worry about her husband’s virtue when he went to Paris on business trips.  To reassure her he would say, “Don’t worry, but if you have any concern go to church and sit before the Blessed Sacrament, go sit before the Eucharist and there enter into the Heart of Jesus and that’s where you’ll find me.  So even if many miles separate us, we can still meet within the Heart of Jesus.”  St. Elzear and his wife Delphine made the heart of Jesus their treasure.

St. Teresa Benedicta’s once restless heart rested in the Heart of Jesus.  May our hearts too rest in the Heart of Jesus.  May his charity become our charity.  Because at the end of our life this is how we will be judged, judged on our charity.  May our heart not be found in the midst of power, pleasure, possessions, or prestige but in the Charity of our Lord.   Not long ago Sr. Laura Toth, one of our parishioners who is now a fully professed Franciscan sent me a beautiful note and she ended with this phrase, “May Jesus draw you more and more deeply into the inferno of His most Sacred Heart.”  She writes the best letters.

And so I say the same to you, “May Jesus draw you more and more deeply into the inferno of His most Sacred Heart.”  May your treasure be the Heart of Jesus.  May your treasure be the love of Jesus.

“For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley