From the treatise “Against the Heresies” by St. Irenaeus

The sending of the Holy Spirit

 

When the Lord told his disciples to go and teach all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, he conferred on them the power of giving men new life in God.

He had promised through the prophets that in these last days he would pour out his Spirit on his servants and handmaids, and that they would prophesy. So when the Son of God became the Son of Man, the Spirit also descended upon him, becoming accustomed in this way to dwelling with the human race, to living in men and to inhabiting God’s creation. The Spirit accomplished the Father’s will in men who had grown old in sin, and gave them new life in Christ.

Luke says that the Spirit came down on the disciples at Pentecost, after the Lord’s ascension, with power to open the gates of life to all nations and to make known to them the new covenant. So it was that men of every language joined in singing one song of praise to God, and scattered tribes, restored to unity by the Spirit, were offered to the Father as the first-fruits of all the nations.

This was why the Lord had promised to send the Advocate: he was to prepare us as an offering to God. Like dry flour, which cannot become one lump of dough, one loaf of bread, without moisture, we who are many could not become one in Christ Jesus without the water that comes down from heaven. And like parched ground, which yields no harvest unless it receives moisture, we who were once like a waterless tree could never have lived and borne fruit without this abundant rainfall from above. Through the baptism that liberates us from change and decay we have become one in body; through the Spirit we have become one in soul.

The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and strength, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of God came down upon the Lord, and the Lord in turn gave this Spirit to his Church, sending the Advocate from heaven into all the world into which, according to his own words, the devil too had been cast down like lightning.

If we are not to be scorched and made unfruitful, we need the dew of God. Since we have our accuser, we need an advocate as well. And so the Lord in his pity for man, who had fallen into the hands of brigands, having himself bound up his wounds and left for his care two coins bearing the royal image, entrusted him to the Holy Spirit. Now, through the Spirit, the image and inscription of the Father and the Son have been given to us, and it is our duty to use the coin committed to our charge and make it yield a rich profit for the Lord.

 

From a sermon by Saint Augustine

No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven

Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.

Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his body, have to bear. He showed this when he cried out from above: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? and when he said: I was hungry and you gave me food.

Why do we on earth not strive to find rest with him in heaven even now, through the faith, hope and love that unites us to him? While in heaven he is also with us; and we while on earth are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power and his love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity, but in him, we can be there by love.

He did not leave heaven when he came down to us; nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven. The fact that he was in heaven even while he was on earth is borne out by his own statement: No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven.

These words are explained by our oneness with Christ, for he is our head and we are his body. No one ascended into heaven except Christ because we also are Christ: he is the Son of Man by his union with us, and we by our union with him are the sons of God. So the Apostle says: Just as the human body, which has many members, is a unity, because all the different members make one body, so is it also with Christ. He too has many members, but one body.

Out of compassion for us he descended from heaven, and although he ascended alone, we also ascend, because we are in him by grace. Thus, no one but Christ descended and no one but Christ ascended; not because there is no distinction between the head and the body, but because the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head.

 

Dear Friends,

As a seminarian I regularly visited a couple of nursing homes, I visited Saint Patrick’s Manor and I visited the Lutheran Netherland home.  It was at this second place, the Lutheran Netherland Home, that I visited a woman by the name of Firminia, and she was neither Dutch nor Lutheran.  She was a Portuguese Catholic and she was 105 years old.  Firminia was born in Portugal where there wasn’t much opportunity, so after marrying she and her husband immigrated to the USA.  They landed in Boston and began to live the American dream.  This was back in the 1920s.

Firminia and her husband quickly added four children to their family.  Their son Johnnie came of age at the time of World War II.  And Johnnie, like many of the young men of his generation, felt it was his patriotic duty to enlist into the army.  And he did.  His mom did not want him to go, she had already left Europe and she had left for good.  She didn’t want her son going there.  Once overseas Johnnie experienced the terrors of war and in battle, he was lost very quickly.  He was killed by enemy fire within a very short time of setting foot on the continent of Europe.

As you can imagine Firminia was heartsick for her dead son.  He was gone, taken from her at such a young age. Firminia would never see him marry and never see him have children of his own.  There wouldn’t be any grandchildren from her son Johnnie.  And then about a month or so after his death a letter from an insurance company arrived in Firminia’s mailbox.  It contained a check; and the letter accompanying the check stated that she was the recipient of her son’s insurance policy.  Before going overseas to Europe, on an impulse Johnnie had taken out an insurance policy in case he should die.  On this insurance policy he named his mother, Firminia, as the beneficiary.  She was surprised.  She hadn’t expected this and it brought about another wave of sorrow and she started crying.  She didn’t know that more checks were to follow.  Every month year after year Firminia receive a check from this insurance company.  She received these checks every month for 64 years.  Until she died she received a monthly check and whenever a check would come, if someone was present she would say, “My son Johnnie still takes care of me.  Even though he’s been gone all these years he still takes care of me, I still feel his presence.”  Her sorrow had been replaced by joy.

Jesus promised not to leave us alone. In the Gospel He says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.”  He promised to send us the advocate, to send us the Spirit of Truth.  “He will remain with you, and will be in you.  I will not leave you orphans.”  He promised to continue to take care of us and to be present with and within us.  Leading us to truth, strengthening us and giving us the courage to say yes to God’s will.  From the catechism we have this; Jesus came to us to give us the Spirit, and by the Spirit we come to share God’s life.  This is the Catholic understanding of grace:  it is a sharing in divine life.  “As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power.”

At the seminary before every class one of my teachers, Fr. Moriarty, would begin each class with the short prayer, “Come Holy Spirit!”  Whether he said it for himself or for us, I’m not sure.  But it’s a good prayer to always have on our lips and in our minds. It’s a good prayer to begin each day.  Praying it in those difficult moments when we are in need of heavenly aid, when we are in need of the right words and the right actions in our home, our place of work, or school.

Saint Hilary a fourth century bishop and Doctor of the Church once wrote this about the Holy Spirit (It’s so good); “We receive the Spirit of truth, he wrote, so that we can know the things of God.”  He then used the example of our eyes, ours ears, and our nose in order to explain the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s relationship to our soul.  The eye does not work without light, the ear does not work without sound, and the nose does not work without a scent to smell.  Our organs of sense need light, and sound, and odor to work properly.  And it’s the same with the human soul.  Unless the soul absorbs the gift of the Spirit through faith, the mind won’t have the ability to know God it would lack the grace necessary for that knowledge.

This unique gift which is in Christ is offered in its fullness to everyone.  It is everywhere available, but it’s given to each person in proportion to his or her readiness to receive it. The more we desire the more we receive.

Firminia received a monthly gift from her son.  This gift supported her and gave her comfort and security.  How much more and in a more real way does the gift of the Holy Spirit support us giving us wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.  Never neglect the gift of the Holy Spirit, let these words always be on our lips, “Come Holy Spirit Come!”

Pax et Bonum,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

I want to tell you about a woman whose heart was troubled and restless. She was also a woman of great intelligence who searched for truth. She searched for truth in psychology and philosophy, once thinking that truth had nothing what so ever to do with God. This woman’s name was Edith Stein. Edith Stein was born in 1891 in Breslau Germany. She was the youngest of eleven children born into a very devout Jewish family. Edith’s fa-ther, who ran a successful timber business, died when she had only just turned two. Her mother, a very devout, hard-working, and strong-willed woman, now had to fend for herself and look after the family and their large business. Which she did, however, she did not succeed in keeping up a living faith in her children. As a teenager Edith lost her faith in God, she quit praying, and became an atheist and began her search for truth in the class-room.

Edith was a brilliant student and after High School she went on to the University of Breslau where she studied philosophy and women’s issues. “For a time,” she wrote “I was a radical suffragette.” She had planned on becoming a teacher. But after graduating she served as a nurse for a short time in an Austrian field hospital during World War I. When the hospital dissolved she went back to school to finish her doctorate which she earned summa cum laude, writing a thesis on “The problem of Empathy.” It was at about this time that one of her associates from the University had been killed on the battlefield. And this dead man’s young widow invited Edith to her home to help her get her husband’s academic papers in order. Edith hesitated; she had no belief in life after death so she wasn’t sure what she would say to this young Christian widow. She wasn’t sure she’d find the right words to console her. But what Edith Stein encountered when she met the widow struck her like a ray of sunlight. Rather than appearing crushed by her suffering, the young widow was filled with a hope that offered all the other mourners a sense of consolation and peace. Edith’s rational atheistic arguments crumbled in the face of the experience. Not any intellectual insight or argument convinced her. What convinced her was contact with the essence of truth itself. The light of faith broke in on her. And this light of faith, this transformation of faith, came to her in the mystery of the Cross.

Years later she would write about this incident, “It was my first encounter with the Cross and the divine power that it bestows on those who carry it. For the first time, I was seeing with my very eyes the Church, born from her Redeemer’s sufferings, triumphant over the sting of death. That was the moment my unbelief collapsed and Christ shone forth – in the mystery of the Cross.” In a search for truth Edith never dreamed she’d find it in Christ. She began to read the New Testament and the question became, would she convert to Lutheranism or Catholicism. Two events would help her make this important decision. First, while helping tutor a student she and this student out of curiosity went into a Cathedral for a few moments, just to look around, and as they stood there just taking everything in a woman came in with her shopping basket and she knelt down in one of the pews to say a short prayer. This was something new for Edith. In the synagogue, as in the Protestant churches she had visited, people only went in at the time of the service. But here was someone coming into the empty church in the middle of the day as if to talk with a friend. She was never able to forget that. And the second event that helped her in her decision to become a Catholic involved reading the life of St. Teresa of Avila. She had picked up the book while staying at a friend’s house. And once she’d begun reading it she couldn’t put it down. She read it through the night and after finishing it the next morning the very first words out of her mouth were, “This is the truth.” God is love. He doesn’t reveal his mysteries to deductive intelligence, he reveals himself to the heart that surrenders itself to him. It’s humility.

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

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

At her canonization Pope St. John Paul II said that, “Her heart remained restless and unfulfilled until it finally found rest in God.” The truth that she found was Truth in itself, truth without beginning or end. And from it springs all other truths, just as all love springs from this Love and all glory from this Glory.

Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” And as we know this way, this journey of our whole life, has its struggles and crosses and sometimes we even struggle with our faith itself. Sometimes we struggle in certain areas maybe finding certain truths that we profess hard to accept. But we don’t give up we continue that struggle to know and to understand, we continue to study, we continue to pray for that understanding of Christ and His Church. And in that struggle for Christ’s truth we pray asking to be taken by the heart as St. Theresa Benedicta once was grabbed by the heart.

For two thousand years, many have found Jesus to be the way. They have trusted him, staked everything on him and he has not disappointed: in him they have truly found life.

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

 

From a homily on the Gospels by:

Saint Gregory the Great, pope

 Christ the Good Shepherd

I am the good shepherd. I know my own – by which I mean, I love them – and my own know me. In plain words: those who love me are willing to follow me, for anyone who does not love the truth has not yet come to know it.

My dear brethren, you have heard the test we pastors have to undergo. Turn now to consider how these words of our Lord imply a test for yourselves also. Ask yourselves whether you belong to his flock, whether you know him, whether the light of his truth shines in your minds. I assure you that it is not by faith that you will come to know him, but by love; not by mere conviction, but by action. John the evangelist is my authority for this statement. He tells us that anyone who claims to know God without keeping his commandments is a liar.

Consequently, the Lord immediately adds: As the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep. Clearly he means that laying down his life for his sheep gives evidence of his knowledge of the Father and the Father’s knowledge of him. In other words, by the love with which he dies for his sheep he shows how greatly he loves his Father.

Again he says: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them; they follow me, and I give them eternal life. Shortly before this he had declared: If anyone enters the sheepfold through me he shall be saved; he shall go freely in and out and shall find good pasture. He will enter into a life of faith; from faith he will go out to vision, from belief to contemplation, and will graze in the good pastures of everlasting life.

So our Lord’s sheep will finally reach their grazing ground where all who follow him in simplicity of heart will feed on the green pastures of eternity. These pastures are the spiritual joys of heaven. There the elect look upon the face of God with unclouded vision and feast at the banquet of life for ever more.

Beloved brothers, let us set out for these pastures where we shall keep joyful festival with so many of our fellow citizens. May the thought of their happiness urge us on! Let us stir up our hearts, rekindle our faith, and long eagerly for what heaven has in store for us. To love thus is to be already on our way. No matter what obstacles we encounter, we must not allow them to turn us aside from the joy of that heavenly feast. Anyone who is determined to reach his destination is not deterred by the roughness of the road that leads to it. Nor must we allow the charm of success to seduce us, or we shall be like a foolish traveller who is so distracted by the pleasant meadows through which he is passing that he forgets where he is going.

 

Dear Friends,

A few years ago I went on a pilgrimage to Rome.  I went with a group of priests from my seminary and we went for the canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.  My seminary was named for Pope John XXIII.  I was able to celebrate Mass in some very beautiful Churches including St. Peter’s Basilica.  As for the canonizations I didn’t get as close as I wanted.  The crowds of mostly young people were in the way, and we were edged out.  Only Bishop Uglietto who travelled with us and two of the priest faculty at my seminary were able to concelebrate Mass. We had to watch the Mass from a screen, still an awesome experience.

Now we began our Pilgrimage in Assisi and we started by visiting St. Clare’s Monastery of the Poor Clares, founded way back in the 13th century.  St. Clare was the first woman to write a rule of life for a religious community.  She was very adamant about being the one to write the rule, and the pope of the time eventually gave in and accepted her written rule.  This monastery was at the top of a hill that overlooked a valley of fields.  It was about a 90 degree angle walk, going up the hill to see the monastery.

In this monastery we were shown where St. Clare ate, and slept, and prayed.  Our tour guide also showed us a statue of Clare positioned on the edge of the hill.  It overlooked the valley below.  This statue showed St. Clare holding a monstrance.  As we know a monstrance is used to display the Eucharist during adoration.  Our tour guide went on to tell us why the citizens of Assisi had commissioned this statue.

In her 80’s towards the end of her life Clare was very sick and was confined to her cell, which she rarely left.  This time of the 13th century was also a very dangerous time.  That region of Italy was at war with the Saracens.  The Saracens were looking for territory to conquer and to plunder.  The men of Assisi had left the town to fight.  Only women and children were left behind.  One of the Poor Clare Sisters who was keeping watch at the wall surrounding the monastery saw down in the valley a group of Saracens making their way up the hill.  The wall at that point was very low and easily scaled, it was an easy access into Assisi.  This sister was worried and scared about what would happen to them if the Saracens made it over their wall and entered the monastery.  She’d heard the rumors of what had happened to the other woman who had met the Saracens.  And so to Mother Clare she ran.

She found Clare sleeping on her mat of straw so she woke her up to tell her that they were about to be overrun by an army.  “Tell us what to do Mother Clare!” the nun yelled.  So St. Clare told her, “Go to the chapel and get the Eucharist, get the Blessed Sacrament.  Put Him in the monstrance and bring Him to me.” And so the sister did as she was told, and brought the monstrance back containing our Lord, the Blessed Sacrament.

So Clare held the monstrance and asked for two sisters to help her up and to take her to the top of the wall overlooking the valley. So there, on top of the wall she stood praying, praying full of confidence. Here was an 80 year old woman standing on top of a wall praying.   And as she prayed she held the monstrance as high as she could, pointing it towards the advancing army.  And what happened next has been noted in history books.  The advancing army stopped, turned away, and retreated.  We might ask ourselves, “What did they see when looking at an aged nun holding aloft the Blessed Sacrament?  What Divine power and strength did they recognize?  Did they see the power of Heaven?  The prayers of a Saint are a powerful thing, but even more powerful is the Eucharist.  When the priest elevates the Sacred Host that is our window into Heaven.  As we know the Mass joins Heaven and Earth, we all worship together.  We all look upon the same Sacred Host.  We see what looks to be bread, but in faith, we know that it is Jesus.  Those in Heaven look upon the same Host, but instead of what looks to be bread they see Jesus, they see Jesus offering Himself to the Father on our behalf.  The Mass makes present to us the one saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

From the gospel today the two disciples on the way to Emmaus at first didn’t recognize our Lord.  It was only in the breaking of the Bread that they really saw Him.  And after receiving the Eucharist they knew Him, their eyes were opened.  Thirteen centuries later on the plains of Assisi the Saracens saw something they didn’t fully understand, they experienced a power they didn’t understand and they retreated, running in the opposite direction.  They ran from the Eucharist.

My prayer for us today is that we are always doing the exact opposite of what the Saracens did, they ran from the Eucharist, let us, instead, run to the Eucharist, always running to that Divine power and strength, in moments of sorrow and anxiety but also in moments of joy and thanksgiving, always running with our eyes wide open always praying for the grace to recognize our Lord in every Holy Eucharist we receive.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

St. Vincent de Paul lived in 17th c Paris France.  And sometimes in the afternoon he liked to take a walk to clear his head.  On one particular afternoon a crying woman ran up to him.  She was inconsolable.  In between the outbursts of tears and sobbing he was able to piece together what had happened.  Her husband, that morning, had jumped form a bridge into the river.  He had taken his own life.  The woman was broken with grief.  She feared the worst for her husband’s soul.  But in a moment of Heavenly grace, St. Vincent de Paul was given a bit of knowledge of what had happened that morning on the bridge.  He said, “Madam, do not be afraid, in that time and distance from the railing of the bridge to the water’s surface your husband repented, he is saved.”  Go and pray for him!

On this Divine Mercy Sunday we are reminded that our Lord is always reaching out to us.   Even in that millionth of a second between life and death, he still reaches out to us. In that short span of time, in that millionth of a second this is what the conversation may have sounded like:

From St. Faustina’s Diary, Jesus speaking with a despairing soul:

Jesus:  O soul steeped in darkness, do not despair.  All is not yet lost.  Come and confide in your God, who is love and mercy.

-But the soul, deaf even to this appeal, wraps itself in darkness.

Jesus calls out again:  My child, listen to the voice of your merciful Father.

-In the soul arises this reply:  “For me there is no mercy,” and it falls into greater darkness, a despair which is a foretaste of hell and makes it unable to draw near to God.

Jesus calls to the soul a third time, but the soul remains deaf and blind, hardened and despairing.  Then the mercy of God begins to exert itself, and without any co-operation from the soul, God grants it final grace.  If this too is spurned, God will leave the soul in this self-chosen disposition for eternity.  This grace emerges from the Merciful Heart of Jesus and gives the soul a special light by means of which the soul begins to understand God’s effort; but conversion depends on its own will.  The soul knows that this, for him, is final grace and, should it show even a flicker of good will, the Mercy of God will accomplish the rest.

My omnipotent mercy is active here.  Happy the soul that takes advantage of this grace.

Jesus:  What joy fills My Heart when you return to me.  Because you are weak, I take you in My arms and carry you to the home of My Father.

Soul:  (as if awaking, asks fearfully): Is it possible that there yet is mercy for me?

Jesus:  There is, My child.  You have a special claim on My mercy.  Let it act in your poor soul; let the rays of grace enter your soul; they bring with them light, warmth, and life.

Soul:  But fear fills me at the thought of my sins, and this terrible fear moves me to doubt Your goodness.

Jesus:  My child, all your sins have not wounded My Heart as painfully as your present lack of trust does – that after so many efforts of My love and mercy, you should still doubt My goodness.

Soul:  O Lord, save me Yourself, for I perish.  Be my Savior, O Lord, I am unable to say anything more; my pitiful heart is torn asunder; but You, O Lord…

Jesus does not let the soul finish but, raising it from the ground from the depths of its misery; he leads it into the recesses of His Heart where all its sins disappear instantly, consumed by the flames of love.

Jesus:  Here, soul, are all the treasures of My Heart.  Take everything you need from it.

Soul:  O Lord, I am inundated with Your grace.  I sense that a new life has entered into me and, above all, I feel Your love in my heart.  That is enough for me.  O Lord, I will glorify the omnipotence of Your mercy for all eternity.  Encouraged by Your goodness, I will confide to You all the sorrows of my heart.

Jesus:  Tell me all, My child, hide nothing from Me, because My loving Heart, the Heart of your Best Friend, is listening to you.

Soul:  O Lord, now I see all my ingratitude and Your goodness.  You were pursuing me with Your grace, while I was frustrating Your benevolence, I see that I deserve the depths of hell for spurning Your graces, Jesus (interrupting):  Do not be absorbed in your misery – you are still too weak to speak of it – but, rather, gaze on My Heart filled with goodness, and be imbued with My sentiments.  Strive for meekness and humility; be merciful to others, as I am to you; and, when you feel your strength failing, if you come to the fountain of mercy to fortify your soul, you will not grow weary on your journey.

Soul:  Now I understand Your mercy, which protects me, and like a brilliant star, leads me into the home of my Father, protecting me from the horrors of hell that I have deserved, not once, but a thousand times.  O Lord, eternity will hardly suffice for me to give due praise to Your unfathomable mercy and Your compassion for me.

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His Mercy endures forever.

Happy Easter,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

There’s a book entitled, “On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ.”  It was written by St. Maximus the Confessor way back in the 6th century.    It seems that St. Maximus had a very interesting mind because in this book there is a very curious Easter analogy.  Fishermen, I think will like this.   In this Easter analogy Maximus sees Satan as a great slimy fish; I picture a snake like eel.  Now this fish swims in the deep dark abyss of the sea.  He terrorizes the ocean bottom.  In this analogy St. Maximus sees Jesus as the bait on the end of a very sharp hook.  This hook attached to a line on a fishing rod is tossed into the deep.  Satan takes the bait and swallows and begins to dive down into the abyss of death.  He thinks he’s won; our Lord, within the tomb of this fish’s belly is in the abyss of death.  But God the Divine Fisherman has the last laugh.  He gives the line a fierce tug and the hook bites deep into the fish’s stomach.  And with another divine tug Satan the slimy fish is hauled up to the shore.  Satan is conquered, sin is conquered, and death is conquered.  Jesus on the end of the hook has been raised from the abyss of death, He lives once again.   And finally, very importantly because of our Lord’s resurrection Heaven has been opened.

Until his resurrection Heaven had been closed to all men and women.  In the preface just before the Holy, Holy, Holy, the priest prays these words, “Through Him the children of light will rise  to eternal life and the halls of the heavenly Kingdom are thrown open to the faithful; for his Death is our ransom from death, and in his rising the life of all has risen.” And with heaven open we all have the opportunity to become a saint.  When we get to heaven we are a saint.  Most saints go unrecognized but sometimes the Church, after much scrutiny, canonizes some of those saints, canonizing certain men and women to hold up as examples of holiness.  Six years ago I went to Rome to witness the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.  It was a crowed and noisy experience, and very Polish.  Many people from Poland has traveled to Rome for the big day.  These two men like all the other canonized were infallibly declared to be in Heaven, adoring and praising God and praying for us.

These two men are very different from each other.  Yet both exhibited heroic virtue and holiness.  St. John Paul was born into a middle class Polish family being the youngest of three.  While St. John was born into a poor share-cropping Italian family being born the fourth of fourteen.  St. John Paul was a globe-trotting pope while St. John tended to stay put.  St. John opened the second Vatican Council from which we are still learning.  St. John Paul played a major role in ending communist rule in Europe.  There is no one pattern of holiness, no one way to be a saint.

When we look at the saints in all their diversity it’s very difficult to find one pattern of holiness.  There is St. Thomas Aquinas, the intellectual, and St. John Vianney who barely made it through the seminary.  There is St. Vincent de Paul, a saint in the city, and then there is St. Antony who found sanctity in the harshness and loneliness of the desert.  There is St. Bernard kneeling on the hard stones of Clairvaux in penance for his sins, and there St. Hildegard of Bingen singing and throwing flowers, madly in love with God.  There is St. Joan of Arc, leading armies into war, and there is St. Francis of Assisi, the peacenik.  There is the grave and serious St. Jerome, and there is St. Philip Neri, whose spirituality was based on laughter.

They say that God is an artist and that the saints are his masterpieces and like any artist he likes to change his style, painting his saints in different colors, different styles, and different compositions.  Each saint reflects some aspect of the divine reality.  So what does that mean for us?  It means we should find that specific color, style, and composition of sanctity that God wants to bear through us.  As St. Catherine of Siena once said, “If we become what God has in mind for us we will set the world on fire.” 

At the beginning I spoke of God as the Divine Fisherman.  And with us too he fishes.  Some spiritual writers will say that there is an invisible line with an unseen hook set within our hearts.  And with a gentle tug of this line our Lord calls us to himself.  Now we can respond to this tug of grace on our heart or not, it’s up to us, we have free will.  Do we always respond to that tug, do we always respond to that inspiration to do good, do we always respond to that inspiration to pray, do we always respond to that inspiration to visit someone who needs help. Our Lord has a plan of sanctity for each one of us.  And nothing can interfere with that plan as long as we respond to those tugs on our hearts.  We are free to respond or not.  Those tugs invite us to let Jesus help us to trust more, to love more, to hope more, and to begin again quickly if we fall.

The Easter Resurrection means an elevation of this life to a new heavenly level, a new heavenly perfection, and a new heavenly beauty, a newness that we can’t even begin to imagine.  St. Paul wrote of this in his letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, is what God has prepared for those who love him.”

I have one more fishing story, this time you are the fish, swimming in a murky cloudy dark pond.  Then imagine being hooked by a fisherman and being pulled up out of the water and for one moment you see a world of light and color, light and color that you never imagined possible.  You then wriggle off the hook and fall back into the pond.  Later at dinner you tell your fish friends, “I saw the world up there, a world which I never knew existed.  Yet now compared to that, this ordinary world seems like nothing to me.”

Because of the Easter Resurrection of our Lord, the glory of an unimagined heaven awaits us.  My prayer for us today is that we always respond quickly to those divine tugs on our heart.  If we let Him our Risen Lord will make us a saint and lead us to the glory of Heaven.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

Today is Palm Sunday and palms were the ancient world’s symbol of triumph.  Christians see them as a symbol of our Lord’s triumph and definitive victory over sin, and death, and hopelessness.  That’s why we place them on our crucifixes.  Today is also known as Passion Sunday where Catholics throughout the world once again turn their hearts and minds to the suffering and death of Jesus.  Now in all Catholic Churches you will see the different images of the passion.   In the fourteen Stations of the Cross we see the passion played out.  And right now I want to focus on station number six; Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

Now in the movie, “The Passion of the Christ” by Mel Gibson the actress who imitated the actions of St. Veronica had a conversion experience, right there in the midst of filming the scene.  Sabrina Impacciatore is an Italian actress and although she had grown up Catholic, she had long ago stopped practicing her faith.  At the time when they began filming, she was at a spiritual low point in her life.  She later explained that she really wanted to believe in Jesus, but she just couldn’t do it.

Her scene in the movie is quite memorable.  Jesus is carrying his cross to Calvary and he falls again for the third or fourth time.  The crowds surge in around him, abusing him as he lies on the ground.  Without much success the soldiers try to control the crowds.    And gliding through the middle of all this confusion is Veronica.  She looks at Jesus with love and devotion.  She kneels down beside him and says, “Lord, permit me.”  She takes a white cloth and wipes his face which is covered with blood, dirt, and sweat.  She then offers him a drink.  It’s a brief moment of intimacy in the middle of violent suffering.  Sabrina said it was a very hard scene to film.  The churning crowd kept bumping into her and disrupting the moment of intimacy.  And so they had to film it over and over again.  Twenty times they had to film it before getting it right.

And that was providential.  Because after twenty times of kneeling before the suffering Christ, looking into his eyes, and calling him Lord, the actress felt something start to melt inside her.  She wasn’t seeing the actor pretending to be our Lord; she was seeing our Lord himself.  Later, she explained that while she looked into his eyes, she found that she was able to believe.  “For a moment,” she said, “I believed!”  That experience lit the flame of hope in her darkened heart.

Sabrina finally understood the words Jesus spoke from the Cross when he said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” The brutality of the scene made a big impression on her.  She found herself thinking, “Jesus is someone I can trust, he went through this for me.”  Even when we reject him, scourge him, crown him with thorns, betray him, and finally crucify him, our Lord still continues to love us.  The Passion is God saying to us, I will keep loving you.

The name Veronica comes from the two words vera and icon and these two words mean true image.   This true image refers to the image of Jesus’ face that was left on the cloth that was used to wipe his face.  This relic is kept at the Vatican and scientists can’t explain it.  Vera icon, the true image, eventually became Veronica, the name given to the anonymous woman who loved Jesus.  As Christians all of us are supposed to be a Veronica, a true icon, a true image of Jesus.  Because it’s only in him, only when we live in his image, living as a true icon of our Lord, that we can truly be happy.

When we pray the Stations of the Cross, right before station number six we sing of Veronica.  We sing, “Brave but trembling came the woman, none but she would flaunt the Roman, moved by love beyond her fear.”  So as we enter into Holy Week, like Sabrina that actress, like St. Veronica herself, let us look into the eyes of our Lord, giving ourselves to him in all things.  Praying for the grace to not be afraid to love.  To pray for the grace to not be afraid to bring Him all of our sins, to bring to him our hurts, our doubts, our troubles, our hardness of hearts, our everything.  Trusting Him in everything.  In doing this our Lord will transform us, making us into a true image of Himself.

Let us be Great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

There once lived in a German village a very wealthy and leisurely couple.  They were Catholic but rarely if ever stepped into a Church.  They never made time to pray.  They rarely received the sacraments, and hardly ever served their neighbors.  They just weren’t developing a friendship with Christ.   They were more interested in their social life.  After many years God blessed them with a child, whom they loved dearly, they even had him baptized.  But, as we all live in a fallen world of free will, while he was very young, there was a terrible accident and the baby died. The couple was devastated.  Their sorrow soon turned to anger and  hopelessness, and so they came to speak with a priest.

“If God loves us,” they asked “Why did he do this to us?”  The priest answered, “God does indeed love you.  But he didn’t do this to you.  He didn’t cause the accident, but he did take your son to heaven. And his taking of your son to heaven can be seen as a sign of that love.”  They didn’t like that answer.  So the priest told them a story.

A good shepherd prepared a delicious feast for his sheep.  The feast was made of the best alfalfa hay and oats and most sheep would’ve drooled at the sight of it.    But when the shepherd opened the sheep pen, his sheep wouldn’t come in and eat it.  He called and whistled and sang, but they just kept wandering farther and farther away.  Finally the shepherd went out and picked up a little lamb, carried it into the pen, and set it down beside the food.  When the other sheep saw the lamb eating hungrily, they all made their way into the pen to enjoy the feast.

“This is what Jesus has done for you,” the priest said to the couple.  Until now you’ve always refused to prepare yourself to come to the great feast he has prepared for you in heaven, no matter how many invitations he’s sent you.  You’ve been giving so much attention to earthly comforts that you’ve neglected the care of your souls.  And now our Lord has brought your son to heaven.  Did you consider that maybe God is using his death as a way of drawing you in?  In this act of taking your child to heaven, whom you love so much, our Lord hopes you will find yourselves inspired to follow Him in the Christian way here on earth so that you can follow your son into Heaven.  Our Lord is saying to you, “Come to me I am the resurrection, I am the life.  Your son lives here with me in Heaven. If you believe in me, even if you die, you will live.  Come to me.”

Now in our Gospel today Martha and Mary are bit like this German couple.  They are both stunned by the death of their brother Lazarus, probably a young man who died a rapid death.  They’re not only in grief but a bit angered that Jesus didn’t come more quickly to prevent Lazarus from dying.  Both Martha and Mary say to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here our brother would not have died.” 

So Jesus leads these sisters to authentic faith and hope by asking two questions.  First he asks a question about hope, he says, “Do you believe that your brother will rise?”  And Martha does answer in the affirmative saying, “Yes, I believe that my brother Lazarus will rise from the dead on the last day.”  This response is typical for a pious Jew of that time period.  They believed that there was some sort of survival after death and that there is some sort of judgment at the end of time.  But this hope of life after death was kind of vague and impersonal, not much to grasp onto.

The second question that Jesus asks is about faith; the first question was about hope and the second about faith.  He asks, “Do you believe that I am the Resurrection and the eternal life you are looking for?  Do you believe that in and through me you will have life beyond death?”  And Martha answers, “Yes.” And making an act of faith she says to Jesus, “You are the Christ the Son of God, come into the world to save us from sin.”  Her hope for life after death is no longer a vague concept.  Her hope for life after death now has a name, and this name is Jesus.

These two questions posed to Martha about hope and faith still confront us today.  If Christ were to ask today the average American about life after death, the vast majority of Americans would still answer in the affirmative.  Yes, there is something beyond death, and it has something to do with the moral choices we make in this life.  But again this hope is vague; God is imagined to be a lenient Judge where everyone goes to Heaven.  This answer gives no concept of living deep within the life of Jesus, a life given to us in baptism and maintained by prayer, Sunday Mass, good works, and all the sacraments.  Christ also asks us the second question, “Do you believe that in Christ alone we find the resurrection from the dead and that in the risen Christ we see our own future communion with God?”

It’s a yes to these questions, a yes to Jesus Christ that guides us to real Christian hope.  It’s the hope of freedom from the corruption of sin and death made possible through the gift of our Lord’s passion and resurrection.  It’s the hope of that great feast in Heaven.

Now the risen Lazarus confirms the truth that Jesus can conquer death.   But his rising from the dead prefigures and points us to the perfect conquering of death in Jesus.  Lazarus points us to the glory of Christ raised forever.  In Lazarus we see the beginning of Christian hope where all faithful disciples will one day share God’s glory, a heavenly glory that is beyond the tomb and beyond our deepest earthly and momentary grief.

The Good Shepherd still beckons to us today, “Come to me,” he says, “I weep too, I have entered into your pain, I have entered into your fear, I have entered into your loss, I am not far from you, I am very close, come to me and live.”

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley