Dear Friends,

I have two images for us to consider.  First image:  a candle, set on fire, sitting on top of a stand.  Second image:  same candle, set on fire, sitting on top of a stand but with a basket over it.  And with these two images in mind I have a question for us to consider:  which candle are you?

Now you might be wondering why I’m talking about these two images today, seeing as how they don’t seem to relate directly to the readings of today.  And it’s true they don’t relate directly to our readings, but today happens to be a special celebration in the Church throughout the world.  Today in every Catholic Church across the globe we are celebrating World Mission Sunday.

Now, typically, when we hear the word, “mission” in the Church we usually think of men and women going off to some distant and remote country, where they have to learn a foreign language so as to proclaim the Gospel.  And that’s true.  The most common understanding of mission relates to these efforts.  And it is fitting for us today to both pray for and support those men and women who go to foreign lands to preach the Gospel.

But whether or not we ever go to Africa, or China, or India, or where ever, we are all called to be missionaries.  To be a missionary, in its most literal sense, means to “be sent.”  Missionary comes from the Latin word “missio” meaning to send.  Some of us probably remember the end of the Mass when it was said in Latin.  That ending was, “Ite missa est.”  It was from that ending that we get the word Mass.  Ite missa est means, “She is sent.”  The “she” in “she is sent “is the Church.  And as you know you and I are the Church.  At every Mass you and I are sent by our Lord Himself to go out into the World, beginning with our homes, to speak about the One we meet. The One we meet at the ambo, at the altar, and in the assembly.

And this brings us back to  the candle.  Jesus says in the Gospel, “No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket.”  Because that would make no sense.  It would serve no purpose.  Our Lord says, you “Light a lamp and put it on a stand for all the house to see.”

“The house” is the world in which we live.  And “the lamp” is us, you and me, every single one of us.  He has lit us; He’s set us on fire.  And we have been lit to shine.  At confirmation our Lord, through the Bishop, used sacred chrism to sign us with the cross on our forehead.  In that gesture our Lord was saying to us, “You are mine.  I love you with an infinite love, go be my witness and I will give you every bit of wisdom, grace, and courage you need.” 

I want share a little bit about St. Gianna Molla, canonized in 1994.  Gianna was born in Italy in 1922.  She was a regular Catholic and as a young adult she studied medicine specializing in pediatrics and it was her dream to go to Brazil, as a missionary, where she intended to offer her medical expertise in gynecology to poor women.  However, her chronic poor health made this impossible, and so she remained in Italy practicing medicine.  In 1954 she met her future husband Pietro, they married the following year.  Three children quickly followed.  In 1961, Gianna was again expecting.  During the second month, she developed a fibroma on her uterus.   The doctors gave her three choices:  an abortion with surgery later to remove the tumor; a complete hysterectomy; or removal of only the fibroma, with the potential of further complications.  Abortion was out of the question and wanting to save her child’s life, she opted for the removal of the fibroma.

There were many complications during that pregnancy.  But Gianna was quite clear about her wishes, saying to her family, “This time it will be a difficult delivery, and they may have to save one or the other – I want them to save the baby.”  On April 21, 1962, Good Friday of that year, Gianna went to the hospital, where her fourth child, also named Gianna was successfully delivered via caesarean.  However, Gianna continued to have complications and she died of a severe infection 7 days later.  At her canonization Mass, Pope St. John Paul II called Gianna, “A simple but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love.” 

Gianna’s daughter once read a letter to Pope Francis at a public gathering.  This letter was one her mom had written to her dad soon after their engagement.  In it St. Gianna highlighted the Christian virtues of marriage, writing that God had called herand Pietro together as a couple to serve God in a saintly way, by marriage, the sacrament of love.

St. Gianna shined not as a missionary to Brazil as she had hoped but as a wife and mother and physician.  She was sent.  We’re all missionaries, we’ve all been sent by God.  And thinking about my own life, especially my youth, no priest, deacon, or sister taught me nearly as much about what it means to be a Christian as did my mom and dad.  They were my best teachers. It was their example I saw every day.  My folks let their light shine by the example of daily prayer, of going faithfully to Mass every Sunday, of giving generously, and by their joy.  Parents have a great and privileged mission in the Church.  They introduce their children to Jesus.

As Christians it’s a great honor to be sent by God, out into the world.  To tell the world of our Lord’s wondrous deeds.  In prayer today, especially after receiving the Eucharist, ask Him to show you one concrete way, this week, in which you can let your light shine.

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

 

MONTH SEVEN – Developing Baby

 

“I can look around!”

 

Beginning this month the baby uses all four senses. His eyelids open and close, and the eyes look around. The baby can hear, taste, touch, cough, yawn and hiccup. He now recognizes his own mother’s voice. His grip is even stronger now than it will be after his birth. The hair on his head is growing longer and the downy covering on the rest of his body is disappearing. During this time the baby will receive antibodies from his mother providing him immunity to a wide variety of diseases.

 

From the Homily of Blessed John Paul II, Pope,
for the Inauguration of his Pontificate

Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ.

Peter came to Rome! What else but obedience to the inspiration received from the Lord could have guided him and brought him to this city, the heart of the Empire? Perhaps the fisherman of Galilee did not want to come here. Perhaps he would have preferred to stay there, on the shores of Lake of Genesareth, with his boat and his nets. Yet guided by the Lord, obedient to his inspiration, he came here!

According to an ancient tradition, Peter tried to leave Rome during Nero’ persecution. However, the Lord intervened and came to meet him. Peter spoke to him and asked. “Quo vadis, Domine?” — “Where are you going, Lord?” And the Lord answered him at once: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” Peter went back to Rome and stayed here until his crucifixion.

Our time calls us, urges us, obliges us, to gaze on the Lord and to immerse ourselves in humble and devout meditation on the mystery of the supreme power of Christ himself.

He who was born of the Virgin Mary, the carpenter’ Son (as he was thought to be), the Son of the living God (as confessed by Peter), came to make us all “a kingdom of priests”.

The Second Vatican Council has reminded us of the mystery of this power and of the fact that Christ’ mission as Priest, Prophet-Teacher and King continues in the Church. Everyone, the whole People of God, shares in this threefold mission. Perhaps in the past the tiara, that triple crown, was placed on the Pope’ head in order to signify by that symbol the Lord’ plan for his Church, namely that all the hierarchical order of Christ’ Church, all “sacred power” exercised in the Church, is nothing other than service, service with a single purpose: to ensure that the whole People of God shares in this threefold mission of Christ and always remains under the power of the Lord; a power that has its source not in the powers of this world, but instead in the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection.

The absolute, and yet sweet and gentle, power of the Lord responds to the whole depths of the human person, to his loftiest aspirations of intellect, will and heart. It does not speak the language of force, but expresses itself in charity and truth.

The new Successor of Peter in the See of Rome today makes a fervent, humble and trusting prayer: Christ, make me become and remain the servant of your unique power, the servant of your sweet power, the servant of your power that knows no dusk. Make me a servant: indeed, the servant of your servants.

Brothers and sisters do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’ power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind.

Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows “that which is in man”. He alone knows it.

So often today, man does not know that which is in him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you, therefore, we beg you with humility and with trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of life eternal.

 

Dear Friends,

Sometimes when the topic of religion comes up its sometimes stated, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you’re good.”  I’m sure we’ve heard this before, when I hear it, it always makes me cringe inside.  What luke-warm sentiment, how boring!  It misses the point completely.  This statement reduces our faith to just a list of ethical practices, and our faith is so, so much more than that.  Our faith is about relationship, relationship with our Lord and all the good that we do is the fruit of that relationship.  The purpose of our existence is not to be good.  It’s so much more than that.  And the rich man in the Gospel helps us to see the more.

The rich man came to Jesus, asking life’s most important question, he asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  In other words, “How do I get to Heaven?”  But it doesn’t only mean that.  He’s also asking, “How do I live the fullness of life now?”  “How do I find the answer to the restlessness in my life?” Jesus answers him by telling him to keep the commandments, to be faithful to what God has taught us.  This is the God who is infinitely happy and who made us for eternal happiness.  But the man has kept God’s commandments and is still not satisfied.  He’s still restless.  He’s still hungry.  He’s still looking for something more.  He’s restless, hungry, and looking for something more because the purpose of life, the goal of life, the reason why God created us and brought us into existence is not just to be good.  The purpose of life, the goal of life, and the reason why God brought us into existence, as some might remember from the Baltimore Catechism is “To know God, love God, and serve God in this life and to be happy with Him forever in Heaven.”  Or maybe today we might simply put it this way:  God made us for true friendship with Himself.  He is the purpose of life.  To know Him is the goal of life.  The reason why He brought us into existence is to experience His love and to love Him (and each other) in return, in that order.

The rich man of the Gospel, despite his keeping the commandment, despite being good, is still wanting more.  And the more, is Jesus.  That’s why he came running up to Him.  He sensed Jesus to be the answer to his restlessness and the answer to all his deepest questions and desires.  But there is a problem. The man is rich and he’s unwilling to part with his wealth to follow Jesus despite the fact that his money didn’t and couldn’t satisfy his restlessness and he knew it.

The first commandment in part says, “You shall not bow down to or serve idols.”  It can also mean, “You shall not let idols make you bow down and serve them.”  In this man’s case riches had become his idol, his little god, despite the fact they didn’t satisfy his restlessness and couldn’t.  He was a slave to his riches; they kept him from real happiness, because they kept him from following Jesus.  This man was attached to his things.  They became an obstacle to his friendship with our Lord.  Nothing wrong with possessions, money, hobbies, or activities but they shouldn’t come between us and our friendship with God.

October 4th was the feast day of St. Francis and he too was a rich man.  But over time he learned not to let his possessions own him.  Before his conversion Francis would think nothing of spending large amounts of money on parties, buying the best food, the best wine, and the best music.  But with his conversion he began to divest himself of anything that might be a roadblock to his relationship with God.  So he began ridding himself of all the trappings of wealth knowing them to be his temptation.  The problem was, he was also getting rid of all of his dad’s property as well.  Going into his Dad’s warehouse, loading up the cart with all sorts of things and then selling it all and giving the money to the poor.  Dad was not amused; this was his livelihood being given away.  So he brought a law suit against his son.  In those days civil law cases were decided by the Bishop.

The father brings Francis before the Bishop explaining the situation.  And the Bishop sides with the father telling Francis to return everything to his father.  Francis promises to return everything and he even goes one step further.  Removing all the clothing he’s wearing and giving it back to his father.  So there he is standing in the Church courtyard in all his nakedness.  If you go to the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi you can see this scene depicted in a PG rated fresco.

Not everyone is called to a life of radical poverty like St. Francis.  In his case possessions would have been too great a temptation; keeping him from full friendship with Jesus.  That’s not the case with everyone.  And so today we ask ourselves; is there something that I value more than a relationship with the God who made me and who loves me so much that He would rather die than live without me?  Is there something keeping me from following Jesus?  Is there something that gets in the way of our friendship?  We know that possessions, activities, and gifts we receive in this life can bring us legitimate joy.  But it is the ultimate giver of these possessions, activities, and gifts who is able to bring us much more joy.

To be a friend of Jesus means to become a saint.  And so we work at this friendship:

  1. Spend time with each other, prayer and adoration
  2. Share a meal, Eucharist
  3. Saying sorry when we need to, Act of contrition, Sacrament of Reconciliation
  4. Getting to know his family, St. Joseph the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Saints.

With God’s grace we can all achieve deep friendship with Jesus and become a saint.  May the Body and Blood of Jesus we receive at Mass give us the wisdom to distinguish the truly important things in life from the not so important, and the courage to choose wisely.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

A letter from St. Francis of Assisi to all the faithful

We must be simple, humble and pure

It was through his archangel, Saint Gabriel, that the Father above made known to the holy and glorious Virgin Mary that the worthy, holy and glorious Word of the Father would come from heaven and take from her womb the real flesh of our human frailty. Though he was wealthy beyond reckoning, he still willingly chose to be poor with his blessed mother. And shortly before his passion he celebrated the Passover with his disciples. Then he prayed to his Father saying: Father, if it be possible, let this cup be taken from me.

Nevertheless, he reposed his will in the will of his Father. The Father willed that his blessed and glorious Son, whom he gave to us and who was born for us, should through his own blood offer himself as a sacrificial victim on the altar of the cross. This was to be done not for himself through whom all things were made, but for our sins. It was intended to leave us an example of how to follow in his footsteps. And he desires all of us to be saved through him, and to receive him with pure heart and chaste body.

O how happy and blessed are those who love the Lord and do as the Lord himself said in the gospel: You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and your whole soul; and your neighbor as yourself. Therefore, let us love God and adore him with pure heart and mind. This is his particular desire when he says: True worshippers adore the Father in spirit and truth. For all who adore him must do so in the spirit of truth. Let us also direct to him our praises and prayers saying: Our Father, who art in heaven, since we must always pray and never grow slack.

Furthermore, let us produce worthy fruits of penance. Let us also love our neighbors as ourselves. Let us have charity and humility. Let us give alms because these cleanse our souls from the stains of sin. Men lose all the material things they leave behind them in this world, but they carry with them the reward of their charity and the alms they give. For these they will receive from the Lord the reward and recompense they deserve. We must not be wise and prudent according to the flesh. Rather we must be simple, humble and pure. We should never desire to be over others. Instead, we ought to be servants who are submissive to every human being for God’s sake. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on all who live in this way and persevere in it to the end. He will permanently dwell in them. They will be the Father’s children who do his work. They are the spouses, brothers and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Dear Friends,

Everyone loves babies, especially the baby’s Mother and Father.    However, no matter how much they love their tiny baby, as he or she is at that moment, they expect and want that baby to grow and mature.  God our Father loves us too.  He even loves us more than our own earthly parents.  And in the same way that parents expect their babies to grow and mature God our Father also expects us to grow and mature.  However, the area of growth and maturity he’s looking for is in our spiritual life.  He doesn’t want us to stay where we are at.  It’s a pity that so many adults have the spiritual life of a second grader.

Today’s Gospel is quite graphic and it really gets our attention, its meant too, millstones around necks, the cutting off of hands and feet, and the plucking of eyes.  In a literal sense it’s not a body part that causes sin.  It’s the human will that’s responsible for sin.  Before sin ever happens it first occurs in our will, when we consent to sin.   Sin happens first within our will.   Jesus isn’t advocating physical self-mutilation what he is advocating, however, is a ruthless action against all our sinful drives, a ruthless action against our temptations, and a ruthless action against our attachments.  Sin is not to be entertained; it’s to be rooted out of our spiritual life.  Our Lord is advocating a deep conversion; he’s advocating a call to holiness.  And so strong is his call to holiness he uses this graphic language to get our attention.

At the Second Vatican Council, in one of their documents, the Council Fathers devoted a whole chapter on our call to holiness, our call to be saints.  They wrote, “Each of the faithful must willingly hear the word of God and with the help of his grace carry out his will with good and just deeds; each of the faithful must also take part in the weekly liturgy; they must constantly apply themselves to prayer, self-denial, active brotherly service and the practice of all virtues, each of the faithful must also frequently partake of the sacraments.”  Especially the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation.  Sometimes we refer to this call to holiness as a battle, a spiritual battle.

And it is a battle, but we don’t do it alone.  We have the grace of the sacraments, the very life of God within our soul.  We have the Church; we have our brothers and sisters, in the Confiteor we ask for each other’s prayers.  And we have the heavenly aid of angels.  This week we celebrate two great Angelic feasts of our church calendar.  Thursday is the Feast of the Archangels and Saturday is the Feast of the Guardian Angels.  The Catechism tells us that, “The Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels.  In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore God.  The Church invokes their assistance in the Eucharistic prayer; in the funeral liturgy we call on the angels to lead the deceased into Paradise.  And from infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession.  Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to eternal life.”

As we know the angels are spoken of often in Holy Scripture.  At the birth of Jesus all heaven breaks loose.  A multitude of angels bursts into ecstatic song and praise, extolling the goodness of God who has descended not only to forgive the sins of humanity but to even raise humanity up to God’s own divine life.  They must have marveled at how low God stoops to save man and woman, their song of praise and adoration rose to Heaven with the words, “Glory to God in the highest!”  Words we sing at every Sunday Mass.  These words remind us of that marvelous moment of the angels’ joyful wonder at our salvation.  God raises us up to His own divine life and glory, to a place that’s even higher than the angels.

That the angels rejoice in the gift of salvation given to us is a testimony to their great humility.    In saving us, God raises us higher than the angels.  According to the natural order of creation, angels are vastly superior to us.  As pure spirits, their intellects far surpass our own.  Yet God wants to divinize us, and not the angels, he has destined us to partake of his own divine nature.  We receive the Eucharist, Angels do not.  We take God into ourselves, the Angels do not.

Some theologians believe that our glorious destiny was a scandal.  They say that the revelation of man’s destiny is what caused at the beginning of time, the fall of one-third of the angels.  Theologians speculate that before the creation of humanity, the angels were given a test.  They were shown that the Word would become flesh, that he would become man, and that by doing so, he would raise up human nature even higher than that of the highest angels.  This struck the pride of the greatest of the angels, we know him as Lucifer.  Isaiah in the Old Testament writes:

“How have you fallen from the heavens,

O Lucifer, son of the dawn! 

How are you cut down to the ground,

you who mowed down the nations!

You said in your heart:  I will scale the heavens;

Above the stars of God I will set up my throne: 

I will take my seat on the Mount of Assembly. 

I will ascend above the tops of the clouds:

I will be like the Most High!

Yet down to the nether world you go to the recesses of the pit!” (Isaiah 14: 12-15)

In this passage from Isaiah Lucifer keeps repeating in his Heart, “I…I…I.”  He is saying not humanity but me!  I want to be the one to ascend to the divine nature, I want to exalt my throne above the angels, and I want to be the raised up to take part in the divine action.  And then according to one tradition of the Church, Lucifer made one further “I” statement before being banished to hell:  “I will not serve.”  He wouldn’t humble himself to serve a creature of a lower order of creation than himself, even if that creature were really the Incarnate God himself.  And a third of the angels (who are now demons) went down with Lucifer (who is now Satan).

The lesson of the fallen angels is a gift for us.  It should help us realize just how good and generous God is to us fallen human beings.  It should remind us that Satan and his demons hate us with hellish envy.  It should remind us that in their rebellious rage, they would like nothing more than to have us lose the gift that they once coveted.  It should remind us that they would like nothing more than to drag us down with them “into the depth of the pit,”  that they’d like nothing more than to get back at God by preventing him from raising us up to the thrones of glory.  It is part of Satan’s strategy to make us never realize the good that God offers us.

Our call to holiness is a spiritual battle, and our Lord wants us to grow in our Spiritual life, to grow in holiness, to root out sin, but we don’t have to be afraid, we have God on our side, we have His grace, we have His Mass, we have His sacraments, we have His Scripture, we have His saints as examples and intercessors, and we have His angels.  Develop a relationship with your Guardian Angel.  Your Angel is right there with you, always.  Talk to him, ask for advice, ask for guidance, and ask for prayers.  They are our companions forever.  I call my angel, “Angelo.”  The very first prayer I learned was the “Angel of God” prayer.  I was probably 3 or 4 when I learned it.  Every night after reading to us Mom would kneel us down, me and my brothers, in front of the crucifix and we prayed it together.

Angel of God

My Guardian dear

To whom God’s love

Commits me here

Ever this day be at my side

To light

To guard

To Rule

And Guide.

Amen.

Let your Guardian help you grow in holiness.  They are our friends and they will see us home safely.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

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20 Tips from Padre Pio for Those Who Are Suffering

Religión en Libertad – published on 05/20/15

If your hope is weakening and slowly dying, you should read this

Every now and then, God sends extraordinary people to our world who act as a bridge between earth and heaven, and they help thousands of people to enjoy eternal Paradise. The twentieth century gave us an especially unique one: the Capuchin friar Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, who was born in that small town in the south of Italy and died in 1968 in San Giovanni Rotondo. Saint John Paul II raised him to the altars in 2002 during a canonization ceremony that beat all attendance records. Today, it can be said that he is the most venerated saint in Italy.

Padre Pio received special gifts from God, such as the discernment of souls and his capacity to read consciences; miraculous healings; bilocation; the gift of tears; the fragrance of roses that he gave off; and, above all, the stigmata in his feet, hands and side that he suffered for 50 years.

Throughout his life, he wrote thousands of letters to those to whom he gave spiritual direction. Those letters are a source of practical Christian wisdom that is very relevant today.

Ideas to help in the face of suffering

We offer our readers this small selection of ideas from Padre Pío regarding suffering, taken from those very letters. They go straight to the point. They give us hope and lift up our soul:

1. “If you can talk with the Lord in prayer, talk to him, offer him your praise; if, due to great weariness, you cannot speak, do not find displeasure in the ways of the Lord. Stay in the room like servants of the court do, and make a gesture of reverence. He will see you, and your presence will be pleasing to him. He will bless your silence and at another time you will find consolation when he takes you by the hand.”

2. “The more bitterness you experience, the more love you will receive.”

3. “Jesus wants to fill your whole Heart.”

4. “God wants his omnipotence to reside in your powerlessness.”

5. “Faith is the torch that guides the steps of the spiritually desolate.”

6. “In the uproar of the passions and of reverses of fortune, we are upheld by the comforting hope of God’s inexhaustible mercy.”

7. “Put all your trust only in God.”

8. “The best consolation is that which comes from prayer.”

9. “Fear nothing. On the contrary, consider yourself very fortunate to have been made worthy to participate in the sufferings of the Man-God.”

10. “God leaves you in that darkness for his glory; here is a great opportunity for your spiritual progress.”

11. “The darkness that sometimes clouds the sky of your souls is light: by means of it, when it arrives, you believe you are in darkness and you have the impression that you are in the midst of a burning briar patch. It’s true that, when brambles burn, it gets smoky all around and the disoriented spirit is afraid of not seeing or understanding anything anymore. But then God speaks and makes himself present to the soul, that glimpses, understands, loves and trembles.”

12. “My Jesus, love is what sustains me.”

13. “Happiness is only found in heaven.”

14. “When you feel despised, imitate the kingfisher, who builds its nest on the masts of ships. That is to say, raise yourself up above the earth, elevate yourselves with your mind and heart to God, who is the only one who can console you and give you strength to withstand the trial in a holy way.”

15. “Be certain that the more the attacks of the devil increase, that much closer is God to your soul.”

16. “Bless the Lord for your suffering and accept to drink the chalice of Gethsemane.”

17. “Be capable of bearing bitter sufferings during your whole life so you can participate in the sufferings of Christ.”

18. “Suffering born in a Christian way is the condition that God, the author of all grace and of all the gifts that lead to salvation, has established for granting us glory.”

19. “Remember that we cannot triumph in battle if not through prayer; the choice is yours.”

20. “Prayer is the best weapon we have; it is a key that opens God’s heart.”

Article originally published by “Religión en Libertad.” Translated by Matthew Green.

 

Dear Friends,

Every Friday all the priests of the diocese receive an email from the Bishop.  Bishop Bradley calls it the B-mail.  In one of those B-mails he once talked about visiting St. Mary’s school in Bronson.  He visited on the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross.  Now Bishop Bradley always likes to ask the students questions during his homily so he asked them for the definition of “Exultation.”  And they came up with a good answer they told him it meant “Yeah for God, Yeah for God’s love of us.”  That’s pretty good, not what you’d find in the catechism, but pretty good.

This Tuesday’s feast commemorates the discovery of the relics of Christ’s crucifixion.  These relics of the true cross were discovered by the Roman Empress, St. Helena.  Early in the fourth century St. Helena, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine went to Jerusalem in search of all the holy places of Christ’s life.    She wanted to build churches at all the holy sites.  When she got to the site of Christ’s tomb she found that a pagan temple to the goddess Aphrodite had been built over it.  And being the empress she had the power to have the temple destroyed.  And so she did, as Mel Brooks might say, it’s good to be the empress, and below the temple wreckage according to Tradition the True Cross of Christ was found.

This feast of the Cross celebrates the event of Christ’s Passion, that awe filled event in which God, in Christ, accepted the experiences of suffering and death, allowing himself to feel what we feel, even the terror of the sense of being abandoned by God.  Jesus accepts death on the cross so that he might use it as the means by which he would unite his divine life to us in all things, even in suffering and in death.  He died in body through a love greater than anyone has known.  For Christians, because of God in Christ, suffering and death are not just sad and inevitable facts of human existence, but they have become, in Christ, potential routes of access to God.  Even in these experiences, God is present and working, and even through these experiences; God can accomplish his will to save and to redeem.

Through the Cross Christ shows us the willingness of God to forgive us in the most astounding way.  The cross reveals that the great covenant that God makes with us in Christ offers us the possibility of another chance.  The grace is not deserved, but it is still given.  Now we receive this grace in all of the sacraments, which are the fruits of the crucifixion.  And once we have received this grace Christ asks that what we have been given, we pour into the relationships we have with others, imitating what Christ has done for us in the forgiveness and the charity we share with one another, forgetting about ourselves and focusing on the other.  As our Lord said in the gospel, “Whoever loses himself for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

 In our second reading St. James says that we demonstrate our faith from the good that we do, we demonstrate our faith by the way we love.  As we know faith is the door to the spiritual life.  It’s a gift from God and it comes first from God’s own initiative.  Our response, our good works, comes second, all of which is inspired and supported by his grace.  St. James is telling us that faith is perfected by love; faith is perfected by the gift of our self.  When we help someone, we – if only for a moment – deny our own importance, acknowledging the other person’s importance.  When we help someone, we are giving our life – if only a small portion of it – for them.  Perhaps, this seems exaggerated to say that I gave my life to someone, but what is life other than a series of minutes?  To give a few minutes to help someone is to give a little bit of your life for them. To give years to a spouse, a child, a church community is to give your life for them.  This is how we imitate Jesus, who gave his life for us.  This is how our faith is perfected, by our practice of love.  And it takes a lot of practice and if we mess up we go to reconciliation and start again, and again, and again.  God is so good.

St. Catherine of Siena describes our faith, as expressed in love in three stages.  And she uses the image of Christ’s body hanging on the Cross as the image of our spiritual faith journey.  These three stages are not exclusive of one another and all three stages can be present in the same person.   At the first stage our affections begin to undergo a conversion we begin to turn away from sin.  At this stage we embrace  Christ’s feet.  At this point our love for God and others may still be self-centered and maybe fear based.  A major motivation for our conversion is to save ourselves and to avoid the pain of sin and eternal damnation.  This is a great place to start.  And even if we’ve made great strides in our spiritual life we sometimes fall back to His feet.

The second stage of the spiritual journey is where we begin to understand important truths about God and ourselves and this is symbolized by the wounded side of Christ.  The purification of the soul continues and there is growth in virtue and understanding.  Our love at this stage is that of a servant.  We love the Lord and are willing to serve Him, but we very much expect a reward both now and in eternity; there is still self-centeredness to our love.

The third stage is symbolized by the mouth of Christ.  At this stage there is a profound and abiding union with Christ.  Our love has grown and become purified to that of a truly loving, faithful son or daughter, or friend, or spouse.  We see our Lord face to face.  At this stage we love the Lord and others with a purified and unselfish love that truly cares for the well-being and interests of the other.  The focus now is not on what we are getting from the relationship but on what we can give.  Our focus is on the other and how to please Him.

Whoever loses his life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel will save it.  The only way to preserve oneself to attain the ultimate fulfillment for which we are created- is to be willing to give oneself away in love.

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

I begin with a rhetorical question posed by St. James, “Did not God choose those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom he promised to those who love Him?”

At this time, late summer, 21 years ago two women died.  And their deaths dominated the news throughout the world.  These two world-renowned women were about as unlike as any two persons could be.  An article in the newspaper captured the contrast well when it wrote:  “Diana, tall, glamorous, rich and young, was a romantic figure who won the affections of first a prince and then finally a playboy.  Mother Teresa was short and plain; purposefully poor, dressed always in a cheap cotton sari, and pledged to a man who died 2000 years ago.”

Now it’s very easy to understand why the British princess achieved such fame.  She had all the qualities needed to fascinate us:  wealth, youth, and stunning good looks.  But how do we explain Mother Teresa’s appeal to a worldwide audience from heads of State, to people of all faiths and no faith, to the poor and to the powerful?   She was old and frail, wrinkled and worn, a woman who vowed to be chaste and celibate, obedient and poor.  She had been born to wealth, but chose to be poor.

And yet this tiny woman wielded more influence than many presidents, parliaments, and politicians who work hard to project a perfect image.  Ironically, Mother Teresa never tried to project an image or to give a spin to what she did with carefully crafted words.  Both she and her message were genuine, authentic and consistent.  When she spoke, her words were not “tailored “to suit the audience. She never watered down her opposition to abortion, doctor-assisted suicide, or contraception, in case anyone in her audience might take offense.

But neither did she ever insult, demean, or vilify those who disagreed with her.  Her strong respect for all human life wouldn’t permit her to treat with disrespect those who did not share her convictions.  Mother Teresa had the rare ability to promote a cause without alienating, and to disagree without demeaning or insulting.

On February 3, 1994, Mother Teresa addressed an audience of 4000 at the National Prayer Breakfast in our nation’s capital.  The audience included President Clinton, Vice president Gore, their wives and many members of congress.  She spoke plainly about the evils of drug abuse, abortion, violence and contraception.  She spoke strongly in support of adoption and natural family planning.  She spoke simple words to the leaders of the richest, most powerful nation in the world.  She said, “The great destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of an innocent child, murder by the mother herself.  And if we accept that a mother can even kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?  By abortion the mother does not learn to love, but kills her child to solve her problems.  And by abortion, the father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world…Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but uses violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion…We cannot solve all the problems in the world, but let us never bring in the worst problem of all, and that is to destroy love…The poor are very great people.  They can teach us so many beautiful things.”

How did Mother Teresa get away with such plain speaking without offending or insulting?  Perhaps it results from her being such an authentic advocate of the weak, the poorest of the poor, the most vulnerable.  She together with other Missionaries of Charity, the religious community founded by her, have taught the world the true meaning of compassion by their quest for the poor, the dying, the victims of AIDS, the unwanted children.

Compassion is from two Latin words that mean “to suffer with” and Mother Teresa shared the suffering of the poor, the world’s rejects.  She and her followers lived in poverty even as they alleviated the poverty of others.  They told desperate mothers considering abortion, “Come to us, please don’t destroy the child, we will take the child.  Come to us we will take care of you, we will get a home for your child.”  And even to hurting post abortive women she would say the same thing, “Come to us, we will take care of you, our good God is rich in love and mercy.  He knows your pain, he knows your sorrow, and he forgives.”

One of the dying, abandoned, unfortunates she took from the slums of Calcutta to her home for the dying told Mother Teresa, “I have lived like an animal in the street, but I am going to die as an angel, loved and cared for.  Sister, I am going home to God.”  He died with dignity and a smile on his face.

With such practical love and caring Mother Teresa answered St. James rhetorical question, “Did not God choose those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom he promised to those who love Him?”

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley