Dear Friends,

In today’s Gospel Jesus reveals one of the great treasures of Christianity.  When we were baptized, God himself, the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, came into our souls and took up residence. “We will come to him and make our dwelling with him,” as our Lord tells us.  Our Lord dwells body and soul in heaven, but at the same time He can be present to each one of us at all times, through the Holy Spirit, dwelling deeply within our soul.

Since the three Persons of the Trinity share the same nature, where one is, all three are.  And for the sake of our understanding, the Church has long attributed God’s presence within our soul especially to the Holy Spirit, the most hidden of the three Persons of the Trinity.  Tradition calls the Holy Spirit the “sweet guest of the soul”.  He is the Gift that brings all gifts.  The Holy Spirit is like our own personal trainer, he hones our capacity to love like Christ, and he hones our virtue and holiness. “The Holy Spirit,” Jesus reminds us, “…will teach you everything.”

In seminary I had a teacher by the name of Fr. Moriarty.  He told us often that we are saved by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; where faith is the condition and good works are the fruit.

I have a story; Mariano Soldevila was born in 1897 in Tarragona, Spain.  He was the 6th of 7th children born into a very devout Catholic family.  Mariano was a very smart man and he earned his medical degree at the age of 24.  He married the following year and set up practice in the town of Arbeca.  In addition to his office practice Dr. Mariano also made house calls to the poor families in the surrounding areas.  He never charged them for his services.  And he made sure they got three things:  the medicine they needed, food for their pantry, and a priest who would visit to give them the sacraments.  He looked out for both the body and the soul of his patients.

Dr. Mariano and his wife Dolors had five daughters.  He was also elected mayor of Arbeca.  While he was mayor, a transformation took place in that town.  The Sacred Heart of Jesus was given a place of honor at city hall.  The clergy and the Church were defended by the mayor’s administration.  The Catholic faith was always evident in the doctor’s actions, words, and behavior.  You could not miss the fact that he was a faithful Catholic.

The Second Spanish Republic came into power in 1931 and revolution spread across Spain.  Within two years churches and other religious places were being burned and destroyed.  Priests, religious, and lay faithful were also being killed.  The government soldiers arrived in Arbeca in August of 1936.

Dr. Mariano was urged several times to save himself by leaving the country.  He always refused.  He believed that he was meant to carry on his medical mission for the needy.  Always telling them, “he was needed where he was.”

On August 13th the militiamen came to Dr. Mariano’s home and dragged him away.  He was put into the back of a truck with other prominent Catholics.  As the truck bounced over the rough road, a woman ran out and had them strop.  She told the driver that her son was ill and asked if the doctor could help him.    Surprisingly they agreed and she brought the child to the doctor.  He examined the child and prescribed some medication.  He assured the woman her boy would be fine.

Before getting on their way the doctor noticed a wound on one of the militiamen; he asked if he could look at it.  The soldier showed him a deep cut in his leg and the doctor bandaged it and told him how to treat it.  Dr. Mariano’s last patient was one of his executioners.

A witness told Dr. Mariano’s wife that his last words were, “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.”

We are saved by an indwelling of the Holy Spirit where faith is the condition and good works are the fruit.  But sometimes we forget and that forgetfulness puts up a blockade to God’s power in our lives.

The Holy Spirit is polite.  He respects our freedom. He chooses to be a guest within our soul and not a dictator.  He resides within our souls, loving us, eagerly waiting for us to put away our distractions, our cell phones, to shut down our computers, and pay attention to him, to listen to him, to ask him for guidance and strength.  And whenever we do, he is able to increase what is good in us and cleanse what is bad.

So why don’t we pay attention more often? Is his voice really that hard to hear?  If it’s hard to hear, that’s not his fault.  He knows how to speak in the depths of our hearts, beyond the need for words.  He speaks by inspiring us to choose what is right and good for ourselves and for those around us.

We all hear those good inspirations. We know we do.  The problem is, they usually demand some self-sacrifice.  They demand following Christ on the way of the Cross in order to have a bigger share in his resurrection.  And so we pretend not to hear.  But today the Church reminds us that the peace, meaning, and fruitfulness that we long for, search for, and try to manufacture in a hundred different ways – can only come from following Christ:  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” Jesus tells us. “Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” God dwells in our souls, eager to guide us to that peace. Will we trust him? Will we be open and docile to his inspirations? To that inspiration he has been insisting on right now within your soul?

Every baptized Christian soul is a Temple where God truly dwells.  There is a story about a Roman soldier from the first centuries of Christianity.  He went off on a long military campaign, leaving behind his pregnant wife.  While he was gone, she gave birth.  Soon thereafter, she converted to Christianity, was baptized, and had her child baptized as well.  Meanwhile, the soldier also met some Christians and heard their explanations of what it meant to be baptized into this new faith.  But he was not able to receive baptism before the campaign ended.  When he returned home his wife was overjoyed to see him, but nervous about what his reaction would be to her baptism.   She decided to break the news gradually.   First she showed him their child, mentioning in an offhand way that he had been baptized as a Christian.  The husband looked shocked and became quiet.  He looked again at the child, thoughtfully, then knelt down beside the crib.  He bowed his head, closed his eyes, and, silently, began to pray.  His wife was puzzled.  She knelt next to him and asked what he was doing.  He looked at her and said, “I am praying to the one, true God, for if our son has been baptized, he has himself become a holy place. Christ the Lord, his Father the Creator of all, and the living Holy Spirit has made their home in his heart, so we can pray to God there.”

We are saved by an indwelling of the Holy Spirit where faith is the condition and good works are the fruit.  Every baptized Christian soul is a temple, where God truly dwells, don’t forget, and don’t let forgetfulness become a blockade to growing in holiness.

You are a marvel of creation you possess God deep within your soul, you are a marvel!

Let us become great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

History’s greatest leaders influence people from the outside in.  With their speech, their ideas, their example, and even their presence they move and motivate those around them, drawing others and stirring them to action.  Jesus, however, goes much deeper, influencing us also, but from the inside out.  He not only calls us from the outside, through the voice of the Church, the actions of Providence, and the example of his faithful disciples but he also unites Himself to us so intimately, so inside of us, that his very life flows through our veins.

Our Lord says, “I am the vine, you are the branches,” and through the sacraments, the Eucharist especially, his divine life, his divine sap, flows through our veins.  Our Lord then goes on to say, “Remain in me and you will bear much fruit.”  After receiving the Eucharist, do you ask, “Make me fruitful Lord.”  I have a story of a man who through the power of the Eucharist remained in our Lord and as a result bore much fruit.

His name is Manuel Garcia born in Seville Spain in 1877.  His vocation to the priesthood came very early in life.  He entered the seminary when he was just 12 years old, and later on in life he would often say, “If I was born a thousand times; a thousand times I would be a priest.”  Manuel was an excellent student.  He excelled at his studies and was held in high regard by his teachers.  He went on to earn two doctorates.  He was ordained at the age of 24.

Manuel’s first assignment was to preach a mission in a small remote village.  As he made his way to this far away site on the back of a horse he dreamed of what the mission would be like.  The church would be packed with men, women, and children all eager to hear his learned preaching.  There would be standing room only at all the Masses he would celebrate.  Lines to the confessional would stretch out in to the street and down the block.  Such were his dreams.  But when he got to town and found the church no one was there.  No crowd of children to welcome him as was the Spanish custom of the the time.  He was all alone.  So he went inside.

The church was dark and dirty, the windows so grimy that very little light entered.  The murals on the walls were un-recognizable due to the flaking, and mildewy plaster.  Statues were cracked and peeling and falling apart.  The pews were splintered and broken down.  Fr. Manuel made his way to the high altar.  It was no better.  The sanctuary lamp had leaked oil all over the floor.  The altar linen was torn, scorched and covered in wax.  And finally, the tabernacle was tarnished and covered in dust and cobwebs.

No one came to Fr. Manuel’s very first mission, no heard him preach, no one received absolution, and no one received the Holy Eucharist.  Fr. Manuel would later write that as he kneeled in front of the tabernacle and as depressing as that moment was, it was also a mystical moment of grace. He would later write, “My faith was looking at Jesus through the door of that tabernacle, so silent, so patient, so good, gazing right back at me…His gaze was telling me much and asking me for more.  It was a gaze in which all the sadness of the Gospels was reflected; the sadness of “No room in the Inn”; the sadness of those words, “Do you also want to leave Me?”; the sadness of poor Lazarus begging for crumbs from the rich man’s table; the sadness of the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, of the soldier’s slap, and the abandonment of all.  All of this sadness was there in that tabernacle.”   Kneeling in front of that dusty tabernacle a vocation was born, a vocation within a vocation.  Then and there Fr. Manuel decided to dedicate himself to Eucharistic works in praise of Jesus Christ.  His personal motto became, “Here is Jesus! He is here! Do not abandon him!”

Fr. Manuel would go on to write many beautiful books about the Eucharist, and to found the Eucharistic Missionaries of Nazareth, the Children of Reparation, and the Disciples of Saint John, all groups dedicated to teaching and promoting Eucharistic adoration, and still going strong today.  Fr. Manuel would eventually become a Bishop.  He died in 1940; he had asked to be buried next to a Tabernacle saying, “So that my bones, after death, as my tongue and my pen in life, are saying to those who pass; “Here is Jesus!  He is here! Do not abandon Him!” This wish was carried out; he’s buried in the Cathedral of Palencia Spain, right below the tabernacle.  Fr. Manuel was canonized in 2016.  Much of his beautiful works remain to be translated from the original Spanish.

St Manuel made the Eucharist the center of his life and he became a saint.  When you look at the lives of all the saints there is this one common factor.  The Eucharist is always the center of their life.  And making the Eucharist the center of one’s own life is something that we can all do.   And it doesn’t have to be difficult.  And it doesn’t mean spending all of our time here in Church, not everyone is called to that way of life.  But for most of us, to make the Eucharist the center of our life, to make Jesus the center of our life, means receiving Communion regularly and worthily, going to confession regularly.  It means trying to get to Mass more than just on Sundays.  It means including Mass and Holy Communion on birthday and anniversary celebrations and other special occasions.  It means carving a few minutes out of our busy schedules to come and sit with our Lord, to drop by the Tabernacle, where Jesus is always waiting for us, our Divine Prisoner, keeping the gifts of His grace, ready just for us.

In our Gospel today Jesus repeats five times, “Remain in me.”  And to receive the Eucharist is the easiest way to do this.  But in doing this we have to know the person we are receiving.  We have to pay attention.  When I was first ordained I was told to celebrate each Mass as if it were my first Mass and at the very same time to celebrate it as if it were my last Mass.  In these two instances a priest pays attention to what is happening, he’s totally aware of what is happening and who is present and who is received.  We could say the same about Holy Communion.  Receive every Communion as if it were your First Holy Communion and at the very same time receive it as if it were your last Holy Communion.  Know who you receive.  Never taking for granted this divine life, this divine sap that flows through our veins.  The Eucharist is life giving, without Him we wither.

May we become great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

Cardinal Dolan of New York once related a story from a time when he was part of a study group on tour in the Holy Land.  One day while hiking, the group encountered two shepherds enjoying conversation and a smoke.  And while these two shepherds had been talking their two grazing flocks had become completely mixed together.  Through their guide, the group asked how the hundreds of sheep would sort themselves out and follow the correct shepherd.  Eager to impress these tourists and hoping for a gratuity, the two men stood at a distance from one another, yelled something incomprehensible, and began walking in opposite directions.  Immediately, the sheep fell in line behind the proper shepherd.  And then the two shepherds began to show off, they exchanged clothing and once again stood apart and shouted.  So familiar were the shepherds’ voices to the sheep that these animals ignoring the disguised outward appearance again followed their own shepherd.

“My sheep hear my voice,” says Jesus in today’s Gospel, “I know them, and they follow me.”  A few verses earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus states that sheep follow the shepherd “because they recognize his voice,” whereas “they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”  The focus of today’s liturgy is hard to miss:  in addition to the Gospel, the opening prayer, the responsorial psalm, the second reading from Revelation, and the prayer after Communion all speak to us of the Good Shepherd.

It’s interesting to note that Judaism and Christianity are the only two major World religions that describe God as a Shepherd.  A shepherd is one who walks closely among his sheep.  He’s so close he smells like his sheep.  He’s covered in their grime.  He knows them well; he knows them individually and can tell when something is just not right.  He knows when they’re sick and need attention.  He knows when they’re tired/distressed and need rest.  He knows when they’re hungry and need food.  He tirelessly searches for the straying and lost.  He protects them from predators. And finally he knows when his sheep are just too exhausted and need to be carried.  This is our Lord this is our Good Shepherd.

As Cardinal Dolan experienced, sheep are very good at knowing the voice of their shepherd and following it.  Now I’ve had this experience myself.  Today is the perfect day to talk about Buck, the “wonder lamb.”  When I was a kid Grandpa Ankley gave to my brother Matt and me a newborn lamb.  I remember the night he gave it to us, he brought it right into the kitchen and set it free.  Matt and I, with great excitement, chased it all over the house, we chased it until it peed under the kitchen table.  Mom was not smiling.  Buck went to the barn.  Buck was very young and needed to be bottle fed, which we did.  He attached to us quickly, he knew our voices.  He followed us everywhere, when we walked, when we ran, and even when we rode our bikes, Buck followed closely behind.  Everywhere that Chris went that lamb was sure to follow.  Now sometimes in his ovine exuberance he would race ahead of us.  In those moments he’d lose sight of us and become disoriented and frightened.  He’d begin to baa loudly.  But all we’d have to do is call out to him, call him by name, and he’d come running with his tail wagging behind him.  He knew the voice of his shepherd.

Today Good Shepherd Sunday is also known as World day of Prayer for Vocations.  The Church gives us this day to remind us that the Good Shepherd is constantly calling out to us, constantly calling us each by name.  the word vocation comes from the Latin word vocare which means to call.  Each of us was created out of a unique Divine love.  Our Lord loves us each in a unique one of a kind way.  If he were to stop thinking of us and to stop beholding us with His Divine gaze, even if only for a nanosecond, we would cease to exist.  And so with great love, at all times, our Lord sweetly calls out to us.

Now our good shepherd calls us not only to the big things of holiness and vocation, but he also calls us to follow him in the little everyday things we do.  Now sometimes we listen like those sheep in the Middle East and we follow but sometimes we ignore and let the noise of the world interfere.  But the good shepherd continues to pursue, and search, and call.   Using that crook of grace to bring us back.  Today I think, however, it’s more difficult to hear that call to hear that voice with all the noise, destructive voices and forces of our modern culture.  So we need to set aside time every day for silence.  We need a bit of silence every day; no TV, no radio, no phone, no whatever noise making distracting device we may own.

In that regular and repeated silence we pray, we pray in order to hear that voice of our Shepherd.  In the Old Testament we read of the prophet Elijah and he heard the voice of the Lord but he only heard the voice in a tiny whispering sound.  Elijah didn’t hear our Lord’s voice in earthquakes, or winds, or fire.  He didn’t and couldn’t hear our Lord’s voice in the noise of the world.  He only heard it in the silence.  This Church is the perfect place for silence, the perfect place to know, to learn, and to listen for the voice of our Shepherd.

Every Friday we have Eucharistic adoration until 5:00pm.  Spending a holy hour here in adoration, will be the second best hour of your week.  After Sunday Mass it will be the second best hour of your week, I guarantee it.  More need to take advantage of this time to sit at the feet of our Shepherd, learning to better recognize His voice.  Our Shepherd’s way is not just a way, but The Way, our Shepherd’s truth, is not just a truth, but The Truth, and our Shepherd’s life is not just a life, but The Life.

The last line of our second reading was this, “For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd us and lead us to springs of life-giving water, and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.”  Our Lord does not love us because we’re so good, He loves us because He’s so good.  And He’s not attracted to our gifts, virtues, and talents, but rather, He’s attracted to our weakness, brokenness, and sin.  And He loves us and calls us to Himself, not because we deserve it, but because we need it.

If ever we stray, may we quickly recognize His voice and come quickly back to Him.

May we become great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

From the first apology in defense of the Christians by Saint Justin, martyr

The celebration of the Eucharist

No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he believes that what we teach is true, unless he is washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of his sins, and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.

We do not consume the Eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we have been taught that as Jesus Christ our Savior became a man of flesh and blood by the power of the Word of God, so also the food that our flesh and blood assimilates for its nourishment becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus by the power of his own words contained in the prayer of thanksgiving.

The apostles, in their recollections, which are called gospels, handed down to us what Jesus commanded them to do. They tell us that he took bread, gave thanks and said: Do this in memory of me. This is my body. In the same way he took the cup, he gave thanks and said: This is my blood. The Lord gave this command to them alone. Ever since then we have constantly reminded one another of these things. The rich among us help the poor and we are always united. For all that we receive we praise the Creator of the universe through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members, whether they live in the city or the outlying districts. The recollections of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time. When the reader has finished, the president of the assembly speaks to us; he urges everyone to imitate the examples of virtue we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray.

On the conclusion of our prayer, bread and wine and water are brought forward. The president offers prayers and gives thanks to the best of his ability, and the people give assent by saying, “Amen.” The Eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates, and the deacons take it to those who are absent.

The wealthy, if they wish, may make a contribution, and they themselves decide the amount. The collection is placed in the custody of the president, who uses it to help the orphans and widows and all who for any reason are in distress, whether because they are sick, in prison, or away from home. In a word, he takes care of all who are in need.

We hold our common assembly on Sunday because it is the first day of the week, the day on which God put darkness and chaos to flight and created the world, and because on that same day our savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead. For he was crucified on Friday and on Sunday he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught them the things that we have passed on for your consideration.

 

Dear Friends,

At the time of World War II Coventry England was an industrial town of some 320,000 residents.  And because it was home to many factories Coventry was frequently bombed by the Germans.  But on November 14, 1940 it was targeted for an especially devastating bombing.  That night over the course of several hours more than 500 German bombers pummeled the city by dropping over 36,000 bombs, setting everything on fire.  More than 60,000 buildings were destroyed in the attack and it was such a brutal attack that the Germans even invented a new word as a result.  From that night on whenever an attack was especially devastating, it was said that the target was “coventried.”

Now among the buildings destroyed was St. Michael’s Cathedral.  After the bombing raid only a few walls, of the once grand Cathedral were left standing.  One of the walls left standing was behind the main altar, and it remains standing today.   After the war a workman took two beams of charred wood that had fallen from the roof of the Cathedral and he formed them into a cross planting it into the ground where the main altar once stood.  And on the wall behind the cross two words were etched into the stone.  Those two words were, “Father forgive.”  Of all the words that could have been carved into the ruins of a church destroyed by an attack that aimed to not only devastate buildings but to kill people, the survivors chose these two words, “Father forgive!”

Today in the Church throughout the world we are celebrating what is known as the Feast of Divine Mercy.  This Feast was given to us by Pope St. John Paul II.  He gave it to us on April 30th in the year 2000. This Feast was instituted as the result of a series of visions that a Polish sister, named St. Faustina Kowalska, had of Jesus back in the 1930s.  In these visions, Jesus made known to her in a very powerful way that His mercy is beyond anything we can conceive, and that it’s His great desire for all men and women to come to Him, regardless of what is in their pasts, and to trust in His Infinite Mercy.

Jesus also revealed to St. Faustina that it was His desire that on this 2nd Sunday of Easter in the Church across the world this Feast would be celebrated.  And so it is today.  And at the very center of this great Feast are the words that are carved into the ruined wall of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry:  “Father forgive!”

Because, of course, 1900 years before these words were carved into that stone, they rang out from the lips of Jesus, lifted high on a cross on Good Friday.  With a crown of thorns piercing His Sacred Head, His sinless and pure flesh shredded by the Roman scourging, and His hands and feet held fast by nails pounded into Him by men He had created out of love for friendship, Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive!” 

St. Aelred, a British saint from the 12th century once commented, that not only does Jesus cry out for forgiveness, but He even goes above and beyond to make excuses for those wounding and crucifying Him.  St. Aelred wrote this about the manner of our Lord’s forgiveness from the Cross.

“Father, he says, forgive them.  Is any gentleness, and love, lacking in this prayer?  Yet he put into it something more.  It was not enough to pray for them: he wanted also to make excuses for them.  Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.  They are great sinners, yes, but they have little judgment; therefore, Father, forgive them.  They are nailing me to the cross, but they do not know who it is that they are nailing to the cross; if they had known, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory; therefore, Father, forgive them.  They think it is a lawbreaker, an impostor claiming to be God, a seducer of the people.  I have hidden my face from them, and they do not recognize my glory; therefore, Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.”

That cry of forgiveness was uttered for the Roman soldiers who tortured Him to death.  That cry was uttered for the Jewish leaders who mocked Him and handed Him over to Pilate to be crucified.  That cry was uttered for the Apostles, all of whom except John, ran away and left Him alone.  That cry was uttered for Judas, who for 30 pieces of silver betrayed His Creator and the Creator of the universe.  That cry was uttered for me and for all of my sins.  That cry was uttered for you and for all of your sins.

So, what is it were supposed to do today, as we call to mind the extraordinary mercy we have received from God?  Two simple things come to mind.  First, let us make sure we take and make some time today to praise God for the fact that He is rich in mercy and forgives us.  Let’s not be ungrateful or take for granted all that Jesus has done for us.  His mercy endures forever.  Second, let’s pray today for those in our parish family who have not yet personally experienced God’s mercy, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Let’s pray for those who are discouraged or even despairing because of a poor choice they made, maybe many years ago now.  Let’s pray for those who are afraid to draw near to Jesus.   Lets pray that God will draw them to Himself, that He will bring them back to the beautiful Sacrament of Reconciliation, that they will know that the words, “Father, forgive” aren’t just some words carved into a wall of a ruined church, but a cry from the heart of their Savior, uttered for them.

Pax et Bonum,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

Not long ago with a group of people I visited St. John Cantius, an old Polish Church in Chicago.  It’s operated by a group of priests called the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius.  St. John Cantius is a beautiful church, built in the very early 20th century.  It’s very decorative with side altars; stain glassed windows, and statues, lots of statues.  No square inch of space was left untouched by beauty.  Visit the church if you get a chance.  We were given a tour by one of the priests and every few feet he’d stop and tell us a story about a certain saint.  I loved it.  He knew stuff I’d never heard of before.  And one story involved St. Anthony.

Some time ago there was a woman, who was greatly troubled.  Nothing ever seemed to go right for her.  It was one failure after another and her husband never let her forget it.  Her husband treated her poorly, verbally abusing and belittling her whenever he got the chance.  Her faith was greatly shaken, “What’s the use,” she would often think, “why bother.”  And so eventually she didn’t.  She stayed away from church and from God.  She was a lost soul.  After one particularly bad week the woman decided that she wanted to end it all.  She’d jump off the bridge and end her life.  No one would care.  Her husband wouldn’t even miss her, she thought.  And so on a dark evening she made her way to the bridge.  Now next to the river at the entrance of that bridge there was a church.  And on a whim as the woman passed by, she went in.  She told herself she was just going in to sit for a while to wait until it got really dark.   And in the darkness no one would see her jump from the bridge.  It seemed like a good plan.

And so into the church she went sitting in the very last pew.  She was so tired that she quickly fell asleep.  She ended up sleeping the entire night on that hard wooden pew.  During the night the woman had a dream and she dreamed about St. Anthony.  She didn’t remember the particulars of the dream just that St. Anthony was in it.

St. Anthony was a 13th century Franciscan priest.  He was a gifted orator and teacher.  And as many of us know St. Anthony is the patron of lost things.  We’ll say a quick prayer when we lose our keys or our remote control.  We say, “Tony, Tony look around something’s lost and can’t be found.”  With God’s grace he never fails but much more importantly St. Anthony is also the patron of lost souls.  He prays to God for the return of lost souls.  The return of lost souls to the Sanctifying Grace of God.

When the woman awoke the next morning something was different, the darkness in her soul had lifted, and there was hope.  And then she noticed there on the pew right next to her someone had left a note.  She would later say it was from St. Anthony himself, but no one knows.  On that sheet of paper there was some writing and as she read she realized that it was a prayer.  And then she noticed that on the very top of this piece of paper there was a cross.  Someone had drawn a beautiful cross at the top of the note.  The note said, “Behold the Cross of the Lord!  Fly all hostile powers!  The lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has conquered. Alleluia,
Alleluia!” 
It was an Easter prayer proclaiming the triumph of our Lord over the dark forces of sin and death.

The woman just stared at the prayer and she prayed it over and over and over.  “Behold the Cross of the Lord!  Fly all hostile powers! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has conquered.  Alleluia, Alleluia!”  In that moment of prayer the woman’s heart was lifted up to God.  Her heart next to His.  The woman had a renewed sense of hope she quickly sought out a priest to make things right with the sacrament of reconciliation.  Her problems didn’t disappear but she now knew hope.

Before Jesus the cross symbolized all the dark power that the world could throw at you:  violence, oppression, injustice and indifference to suffering.  The cross was meant to terrify.  On Good Friday we remembered that the world had thrown its worst at Jesus.  Yet He was more powerful.  Before Jesus the Cross represented the powers of sin, violence, and death.  But now after the resurrection the cross stands as a challenge to those very same powers of sin and death.   As the prayer said, “Behold the Cross of the Lord! Fly all hostile powers!”   Go away!  Sin and death don’t have the last word, Jesus does.  When Christians look at the Cross today we don’t see death, we see eternal life.

Because of her baptism, that woman who fell asleep in church was joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Her Good Fridays of suffering were joined to the Good Friday of our Lord; she didn’t have to do it alone.  And through the power of the cross her Good Friday gave way to Resurrection Sunday, a new day of Hope.

In our Gospel we hear of the empty tomb.  The disciples took this fact of the empty tomb as the first indication of the reality of the Resurrection.  A further assurance that Jesus was alive came about after a series of appearances.  There were many encounters with the Risen Jesus.  Even today there are many encounters with the living Lord.  Jesus Christ lives.

It’s interesting to note that with the exception of St. John, who died in exile, all the Apostles, those first eyewitnesses, were put to death defending the truth of the Resurrection.  They chose death rather than denying the Resurrection.    “Behold the Cross of the Lord!  Fly all hostile powers! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has conquered.  Alleluia, Alleluia!” 

Happy Easter,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

 

Dear Friends,

One day, a great prince from a faraway kingdom came to a very remote and poor village.  There was great rejoicing at his arrival.  The people of the village welcomed him warmly and arranged a great feast.  The prince stayed with the people of that village for some time; loving them, caring for them, eating with them, and sharing stories of his Father’s Kingdom with them.

He shared one last meal with the villagers.  He explained that the time had come for him to go back to his Father.  He promised to prepare a place for them, and invited each one to follow after Him.  He explained that there would be great rejoicing in His Father’s kingdom upon their arrival.

Before He left, He gave instructions to the village’s wise man, instructions for the people to follow, in order to enter His Father’s Kingdom.  The Prince also left a supply of crosses, and told the wise man that anyone who would come and follow after Him, would need to carry a cross with them in order to enter the kingdom.

After sharing a final meal with the people of the village, He left them and returned to His kingdom.

After a time, an elder of the village decided he would make the journey to the Prince’s kingdom.  He went to the wise man who explained the path he had to follow, and gave him one of the crosses, explaining that he would need the cross with him in order to enter the kingdom.

The man began his journey, dragging the heavy cross into the woods along the path.  It was very difficult for him to travel with the cross.  After several hours of struggle, he came upon a woodcutter’s hut.  And he devised a plan to make the journey easier.  He went inside, grabbed an axe and used it to chop off a length from each beam.  The shorter cross was easier to handle, and so he continued on his way.

It was late in the day when he reached the edge of a great river.  He could see a beautiful kingdom on the other side.  People there spotted him and began rejoicing at his arrival.  They instructed him to place his cross over the river and use it to cross over into the kingdom.  They would prepare a great feast for him.  The man lay his cross down, but it was too short to reach to the other side. He fell with it into the water and disappeared in the current.

Some days later, another villager felt called to make the journey to the Prince’s kingdom.  He went to visit the wise man and get instruction for his journey.  The wise man gave him careful instructions for the journey and explained that he must carry a cross with him, because it would be required to enter the kingdom.

The man began his journey early the next morning, dragging the cross with him into the woods.  He too found it very difficult to move forward while carrying the heavy cross. It was several hours before he came to the woodcutter’s hut.  He came up with a plan to make his journey more bearable.

He went inside, found an axe, and split the beams of his cross to lighten its weight.  He continued on his journey, much relieved about the less burdensome cross he carried.  Finally, he came to a great river.  He could see a great kingdom on the other side.  Servants working in the fields there spotted him and began rejoicing.  They shouted instructions to him to place his cross across the river and use it as a bridge to pass over the water.  He lay the cross down, and began to walk over it, but the split beams were too weak to hold his weight.  The cross broke and he was swept away in the current of the great river.

Several days later, a very frail old villager felt it was her time to make the journey to the Prince’s kingdom.  She went to visit the village wise man.  She carefully received the instructions and obediently accepted the cross.  But it was all she could do to move the cross forward inch by inch.  She began her journey at dawn the next day, and after many stops for resting she reached the woodcutter’s hut a day later.  She went inside the cabin and saw all the axes and saws.  And she was very tempted to shorten her cross, but then she reasoned, saying to herself, “No, I was given this specific cross for a reason.  The wise man deliberated long and hard to choose just the right cross for me.”

She rested there for the night, and started out again the next morning.  The cross was still heavy but she was refreshed from the night’s rest.  And that day she even met a hiker who helped carry her cross for a time, she didn’t do it alone.   It was late afternoon when she came to the edge of the great river.  She could see a beautiful kingdom on the other side.  The people who had been working in the fields saw her and began to rejoice.  They called to her and told her to place her cross over the river, and use it to come over to their side.  The frail woman laid the cross over the river and walked over it to reach the other side.  There, they wrapped her in fine robes and prepared a feast for her.  The Prince and His Father welcomed her and gave her a place that they had prepared just for her.

Pick up your cross and follow the way of Jesus, His cross, our cross is the bridge to Heaven.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

A woman was caught in the act of adultery.  In Jewish law the three gravest sins were murder, idolatry, and adultery.  All three were punishable by death.  So this woman is dragged into the Temple courtyard, dragged, probably half-naked, through the streets of Jerusalem.  A crowd begins to gather around her.  The punishment for someone caught in the act of adultery was stoning, a very barbaric way to die.  In these executions the condemned person is left alone in front of a crowd.  And everyone in the crowd is armed with rocks.  These are big, sharp, and heavy rocks.  And according to the Law the witnesses of the act were always given the privilege of throwing the first stones.  The first stones were usually thrown at the head or face of the victim. As you can imagine this was a brutal, bloody, and noisy way to die.

So imagine this woman being dragged into the midst of a large crowd.  Imagine the noise, the mob mentality, and the frenzied thirst for blood.  She knows what she’s done and she knows the penalty.   The woman doesn’t deny anything, she can’t.  She was caught in the act.  She’s done this. She’s guilty.  She’s expecting death.  And according to the Law, she deserves it.

And so now here she is totally helpless, helpless before the crowd, helpless before the Scribes and Pharisees, and helpless before the Law.   There is no way out.  She knows for certain that in a matter of minutes her life will be painfully over.  She is a dead woman.

Until all of sudden this Man says something and does something that silences the mob.  The noise, and the thirst for blood, is somehow drowned out by His challenge to them and the most wonderful thing happens.  She is still alive, the crowd is gone, and the rocks that were once viciously aimed at her face are now lying harmlessly on the ground.  Her life has been rescued and it’s all because of this Man now standing alone with her.

As she was being dragged into the Temple her only expectation was death, yet somehow, miraculously, she is able to walk out of the Temple alive, forgiven and with hope for the future.  And it’s all because of our Lord.  Jesus did not condemn her.  He forgave her; He sees what St. Paul says in Ephesians 2:10, You are God’s masterpiece.”  Her misery met His mercy.

Now what do you think this woman did in response?  Do you think she just picked herself up, nodded to Jesus, saying “Thanks pal,” and then went back to her old way of life?  Or do you think her whole life changed as a result of Him?  The way to answer this question, I think, is to put yourself into the scene.  Imagine you’re the guilty one.  Imagine you’re the one facing death.  Imagine you’re the one being rescued.  What would you do in response?

Now in actuality you are that woman.  Regardless of whether we’re guilty of the same sin or not, we are that woman.  In fact we were, each and every one of us, dead in our sins.  We had no hope.  By our own actions we cut ourselves off from God and as a result we were cut off from the life that comes from God.  But that’s not the end, because all of us, has been dramatically rescued and forgiven.  And it’s happened by the Precious Blood of Jesus.  Which was violently, abundantly, freely, and lovingly shed for us on the Cross.  And right now, the question before each of us, is what should we do in response?  How should we now live?

I have a story about forgiveness and hope.  St. Angela of Foligno, recently canonized by Pope Francis, lived in the 13th century Italy.  There’s not a lot that’s known about her background, but we do know that she was a beautiful woman who married into a wealthy family of cloth merchants.  And that she enjoyed every comfort and luxury.  Her passions were expensive clothes, jewelry, extravagant meals and rare wines.  She dressed and acted in ways to provoke envy among women and desire from men.  She was at times a cruel woman with a vicious temper.  But there were also moments when she could be very kind.

When Angela was 37 she writes that she did something so bad that for the first time she began to fear for the life of her soul.  She had committed adultery.  It filled her with guilt and shame and so she resolved to go to confession.  But once in the confessional she got scared and couldn’t confess the sin and so she didn’t.  Even the saints sometimes have a hard time in the confessional.  And so she prayed to be able to make a good confession, to be able to confess everything.  A few weeks later she was able to do it.  She found a “non-scary” priest who helped her through the confession.  That was a turning point.  Like the woman of the Gospel today encountering Jesus, she was now fully alive, forgiven, and filled with hope.  She writes, however, that those first 5 years after her conversion were very hard.  Her spiritual life progressed, “Only small steps at a time.” She would later write her advice to us:

“The more you pray”, she said, “the more illumined you will be and the more profoundly and intensely you will see the supreme Good, the supremely good Being; the more profoundly and intensely you see Him, the more you will love Him; the more you love Him the more He will delight you; and the more He delights you, the better you will understand Him and you will become capable of understanding Him. You will then reach the fullness of light, for you will understand that you cannot understand”

Holy week will soon be upon us.  Holy Week is also known as the Great Week because it’s really the most important week of the year.  I’d like to suggest that in the days ahead we bury ourselves in the Lord’s Passion.  Read the Gospel accounts, come to the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral on Tuesday, come to the Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, pray at the altar of repose in the school gym on Thursday night, come to the Good Friday services, and maybe even come to the Easter Vigil.  Give our Lord the chance to show Himself to you.  His is the greatest friendship we can ever know.

Pope St. John Paul II once said, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son.  When we meet that love in Jesus, it moves us to change in response.  This is why Jesus says to the woman, “Go, and sin no more.”  We are called to an ever new relationship with God. We come as sinners, but we leave forgiven.  Our Lord is always with us.  He heals us, fills us with joy, and challenges us to be a saint, a great saint.

Pax et Bonum,

Fr. Christopher Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

Today is Laetare Sunday. And Laetare means rejoice.  It’s a Latin command to rejoice.  Half way through the season of Lent, as we make our way towards the Passion/Resurrection, the Church invites us and reminds us to rejoice.

Now, Christian joy is different than normal earthly happiness.  Normal happiness goes away, it goes away because the things that cause it, like basketball championships, new possessions, and snow days, go away.  But Christian joy is based on something that never goes away, God’s love for us.  Loving God and being loved by him is friendship with God. And it doesn’t change with the seasons.  He is always faithful.  This explains why Christians can sing hymns inside concentration camps, because prisons can’t take away God’s love.  There can be joy even in the midst of sorrow.

This consistent joy of friendship with God is what the Church invites us to renew and deepen today.  Because if we are honest, we have to admit that we don’t always know the joy that comes from a Divine friendship. Both sons in our Gospel today have missed out on that joy that comes from a relationship with the Father.

At first the younger son wants nothing to do with the father.  He’s searching for happiness, but he’s searching in all the wrong places.  He looks to pleasure, money and power.  He has no idea of the joy that’s derived from a relationship with the Father.  He’s looking for his happiness in sin, a happiness that never lasts.  But then he comes to his senses and comes back to the source of true joy.  And the Father greets him with open arms, clothing him, putting a ring on his finger, sandals on his feet, restoring him, and finally telling him to dance with joy.

The eldest son too misses out on the joy of relationship with the Father.  He does everything the Father asks but he does it without relationship and there was no joy.  The oldest does everything perfectly; maybe he’s searching for happiness by trying to be perfect.  He obeys the rules; he does everything the Father asks of him.  But he’s let the routine of life embitter his heart.  He’s forgotten that his father wants only to give him everything; he’s lost sight of his fathers’ goodness.  Even though they live together and see each other every day there is no deep and abiding relationship, the older son is not receiving from the Father.  He’s not receiving the love offered by the father.  There is no joy only bitterness.

I have a story of St. Drithelm and it’s a story of how one man became a saint when God broke through his routine.  Drithelm went through the motions of being a good Catholic, he did everything that he was supposed to, but there was no deep relationship with God and no real joy.  Drithelm was a normal guy living in England in the middle ages.  And one day he got very sick, so sick that to everyone around him it appeared that he had died.  It didn’t look like he was breathing and his heart beat was so faint that it just couldn’t be heard or felt.  The next morning while his family was gathered around his body praying, he woke up, freed from all signs of the illness that had made him appear dead.  And he woke up a changed man.   That day he immediately liquidated his property, dividing it equally among his family and the poor.  He then presented himself to the local monastery and asked to join their community.  From that day forward he lived only for God and neighbor, giving such good example and such good spiritual advice that conversions multiplied all around him.  Real Christian joy is attractive.

Many times Drithelm was asked about his sudden conversion.  What happened to you on the night of your supposed death? They would ask.  And he would answer, “God broke me out of my mediocre hum drum routine by having my angel give me a tour of the afterlife.”  This is how he described it.

First he was taken to a valley burning on one side and frozen on the other, with souls being tossed back and forth between the sides.  The angel explained that this was where souls who had repented on their deathbed were being purified for heaven.

Then he was given a glimpse of a burning pit, filled with countless people and gross demons.  It emitted a disgusting stench and bloodcurdling screams.  That was hell.

Next he was brought to a lush, green valley where thousands upon thousands of people danced and laughed in little groups.  Plentiful flowers wafted a delightful aroma.  He thought it was heaven, but his guide informed him that it was where souls who were living a decent, but not excellent Christian life went after they died.  There in that valley they learned the perfect love of the saints so that they could eventually enjoy heaven.

His last stop was on the outskirts of a place full of light and even more beautiful music and laughter, it made the other valley seem dark and boring.  The angel wouldn’t let him in there; it was heaven, and he had to be satisfied with only a whiff.

When he returned to consciousness, he resolved to take on a life of prayer and penance, for the sake of winning as many souls as possible for the eternal Kingdom.

The routine of life had stifled Drithelm’s potential.  God had created him to be a great saint, to do great things for the world, but until that special graced vision he was just mediocre just going through the motions with little thought or focus.

God has created each one of us to be a saint, to do great things for his kingdom and for those around us.  He wants us to experience and spread true Christian joy, but our potential can be stifled if we fall into a hum drum routine in our friendship with God, just taking Him for granted, just going through the motions.

So what can we do?  How do we receive  all that the Father wants to give us?  How do we receive all the love and joy the Father wants to give us?  There are many ways but let me offer a few suggestions that can help to make these final weeks of Lent meaningful, a few things that can help to open up our eyes to the Father’s love and joy.

First this is the time of year when the Church begins to zoom in on the Passion of Jesus, on His final days before His glorious Resurrection and Ascension.  So let us resolve to make a little time each night to read through the stories of the Passion in Gospels, starting with Matthew.  Don’t worry about finishing them all.  Just start.  To say that Scripture is inspired not only means that the Holy Spirit breathed into the Word of God; it also means that when we read the Scriptures the Holy Spirit breaths out onto us.  So, read the Passion and allow the Lord to confront you with His wondrous love, and to help you know that all of this happened for you.

Second, let’s go out of our way to help someone, spouse, sibling, parent, or stranger.  It could be something little as helping to set the table without being asked.  Or taking time to help someone at the grocery store.  Or giving up a good parking space for someone else.  It could be something big like visiting a nursing home or a hospital.  Resolve to help someone every day, doing something out of the ordinary.

Third, lets resolve to spend some time each week until Easter, and hopefully, forever after, praying in the presence of the Eucharist, either in the tabernacle or within the Monstrance. Look upon Him, consider Him, contemplate Him, and imitate Him.   I am convinced that nothing can so open our eyes to God’s love and joy as praying in His presence in the Blessed Sacrament.

And finally, if you haven’t already make use of the sacrament of reconciliation.  Let yourself be restored and renewed.  It gives our Heavenly Father great pleasure when we meet him in the sacrament of reconciliation.   Let the Father embrace you, let Him clothe your soul with a new robe, let him put a ring on your finger, let him put sandals on your feet, and let him tell you to dance for joy.

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

I recently read this article about a priest who recounts his visit to a sick man in the hospital.  He went to the hospital many times and would sit and talk for an hour or so with the man just to keep him company.  In the same room with this sick man was another man, a burn victim, who was severely disfigured from head to foot.  Most of his face had been burnt and disfigured.  The priest recounted how he tried to avoid looking at this severely burned man.  One day, the sick man who the priest was visiting asked the priest if the burned man made him uncomfortable.  “You know,” said the priest, “I’m ashamed to say it, but yes.  I don’t like looking at the man and his wounds, the wounds are very sickening.” “Would you like to know what happened to him?”  Asked the sick man.  “Sure” replied the priest.

This man and his wife lived in a house nearby with their four children.  One night the house caught fire and the whole family quickly ran outside to escape.  The father of the house gathered his family together in the front lawn, but noticed that their youngest daughter, only about two years old, was missing.  Frantically, the father ran back into the burning house.  No one knew that the youngest daughter was in the house next door.  When the fire started and everyone ran out the front door, the young girl went out the back door.  The next door neighbor, wanting to protect the child and not seeing the rest of the family, brought the girl inside as she called 911.  The father not finding the daughter, stayed in the house looking for her.  And he stayed in there. And he stayed in there.  And he stayed in there longer.  Eventually the roof collapsed on top of him.  When the firefighters found him he was so badly burned that they thought he was dead.  The doctors say it was a miracle that he lived.

As we know an earthly fire consumes and destroys and disfigures anything in its path but today in our first reading we hear about another type of fire.  A heavenly fire and this is a fire that does not consume, or destroy, or disfigure.  Moses on Mount Horeb sees fire flaming out of a bush and yet the bush is not destroyed.  This fire is the presence of God making himself seen and felt.   That bush represents creation; it represents one of God’s own creatures, one of his own creations.  And when God comes close the bush is set on fire, but it’s not consumed or destroyed.  And the same can be said about us too, when God is close to us nothing of his Earthly creation is destroyed or consumed.  God’s presence in us makes us radiant.  I’m sure we all know the person who always seems to glow with God’s grace, a person filled with the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit.  That person has let herself/himself receive the heavenly fire (grace).   When we let God come close, when we let Him into our soul, we are made more beautiful, more radiant, more perfect, and more fully ourselves, and like that burning bush we become a source of light for those around us.

Now in our first reading God also tells us, “I am who  am” and in this statement He is telling us that He is not just one being among many, but that He is Being Himself, sheer Being itself.  There is no category for God he is above all categories.  He’s not animal, vegetable, or mineral.  He’s infinitely above all these labels.  If He were just some being, if we could put a label on God, then He could never come close to us without competing with us.  I’m a being and I can’t come near you without violating or competing for your space.  A wolf can’t enter into the space of a deer without violating the deer.  But because God is beyond, and because God is Being Himself, He can enter into our being without consuming or destroying or competing with us, and in the process of entering our being he makes us radiant.

Now all of this goes against what the modern world is telling us.  The world tells us that the more we give to God the less we have for ourselves.  Saying no to God is saying yes to me.  But this is the exact opposite of what we believe, St. Irenaeus, from the second century, once said, “The glory of God is man and woman fully alive.”  Meaning that the more we give glory to God the more we let God into our lives the more fully alive we become.  When  God comes close to us when we invite him into our hearts 24/7 the more fully alive we become.  His grace, his fire, doesn’t consume it only enlightens and makes us free.

Now back to the man rescued from the burning house, that man survived, but from the fire he was left with many physical scars and disfigurements that just couldn’t be fixed with surgery.  From outward appearances some may have called him ugly.   His soul, however, and his outlook on life is a different story.  His soul is filled with heavenly fire and there is no ugliness there, like Jesus he loved until it hurt and to that young girl her father’s wounds are not hideous.  After growing up and learning the significance of the scars, she will forever look upon her father and see not ugliness but only see the glory of a total and selfless love.  Those wounds that he bears are a permanent physical reminder of his love.

Throughout his pontificate Pope Benedict called us to an authentic and deep personal relationship with Jesus.  He’s been quoted as saying many times, “Do not be afraid of Christ!  He takes nothing away and he gives you everything … Open wide the doors to Christ and you will find true life. “Our Lord is waiting to set us on fire with his grace.  This heavenly fire does not destroy but only perfects and gives life.  This fire awaits us in the Eucharist; this fire awaits us in the sacrament of reconciliation, waiting to burn away our sins and imperfections revealing the child of God that we truly are.  Right now we are in the midst of Lent, a season that gives us the chance to change our minds and our hearts.  We don’t have to be afraid of God, the God of the Burning Bush.  He wants to set our soul on fire.  He wants us all to be fully alive.  So go to Him, go to Him often, give Him your heart and soul, let His fire transform you and find a life you never thought possible.

If you are what you should be you will set the world ablaze.  St. Catherine of Siena.

Pax et Bonum,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley