20 Tips from Padre Pio for Those Who Are Suffering

Religión en Libertad – published on 05/20/15

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

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

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

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

Ideas to help in the face of suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. “Put all your trust only in God.”

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

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

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

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

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

13. “Happiness is only found in heaven.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

Both Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI preceded Pope Francis in beatifying and canonizing saints who were martyred during the Mexican Cristero War (1926-1929). The courage and holiness of these saints was proven in the circumstances of a religious persecution.

The Catholic Church was severely weakened by the Mexican government in the Cristero War. Church properties were seized, schools and other Church institutions were closed, and priests and sisters were exiled or murdered. But not just priests and sisters were martyred during this tragic period of history.  Many laypeople also suffered death  defending  the right to religious freedom, and one of the Church’s newest saints was among them — St. José Sánchez del Rio, canonized five years ago.

At first Jose was denied permission to join the Cristero rebel movement.  He was too young, but the boy wouldn’t give up.  When his mother expressed her opposition, he said, “Mama, do not let me lose the opportunity to gain heaven so easily and so soon.”  José’s persistent desire to give his life for Christ and for others won out, and the general permitted him to be the troop’s flag bearer.  Members of his troop gave him a nickname — Tarcisus — after the young early Christian saint who sacrificed his life to protect the Eucharist from sacrilege.

In late January 1928, José was captured by government officers. He had given his horse to the general of his troop, and he sought shelter to hide from the enemy, but he was found and captured.

The young prisoner of war was taken to a makeshift jail cell in the sacristy of a nearby church. According to the witness of childhood friends, while there, he prayed the Rosary throughout the day and prepared for his impending death. He was ready to do God’s will, emphasizing this in a letter he wrote to his mother.

My dear mother:

I was made a prisoner in battle today. I think I will die soon, but I do not care, mother. Resign yourself to the will of God. I will die happy because I die on the side of our God. Do not worry about my death, which would mortify me. Tell my brothers to follow the example that their youngest brother leaves them, and do the will of God. Have courage and send  me your blessing along with my father’s.

Send my regards to everyone one last time and finally receive the heart of your son who loves you so much and who wanted to see you before dying.

— José Sánchez del Río

His father attempted but failed to secure his release.

José never had a trial but was offered the chance to live if he would renounce his faith. He refused.  Hoping to weaken him in his determination, his persecutors brought him to witness the hanging of a fellow prisoner of war.  But instead of scaring him into recanting his faith in Christ, José encouraged the condemned man telling him, they’d soon see each other in heaven.

On the night of Feb. 10, 1928, only 14 years old, José was forced to walk through town in his own Way of the Cross. His Calvary would be the local cemetery. Before he set out, they cut off the bottoms of his feet, and as he walked, they inflicted several wounds upon him with a large blade. It was torture. He shouted in pain. He left a trail of bloody foot prints.  He shared in Christ’s passion and death, offering himself for the good of others and love of God. Again they tried to cause him to renounce his faith, “If you shout ‘Death to Christ the King,’ we will spare your life.” José had nothing of it. “I will never give in.  He said, Viva Cristo Rey!”

Finally, they reached the cemetery — the place of his death — and, with bayonets, his persecutors stabbed him repeatedly. Their commander, however, shot him, frustrated with the slow, agonizing death his soldiers had inflicted upon the boy. Just before dying, José traced a cross into the dirt, to which he bent down and kissed.

This is the story of a boy who knew Jesus.  This is the story of a boy who had a relationship with Jesus.  He was ready and willing to die for our Lord whom he knew and loved, who he knew and loved him.

Do we know Jesus?  Do we have relationship?  Is he someone we talk to and readily go to?  Many spiritual writers will say that until we meet him what we do here can end up becoming just an outward show, without heart.  Just words, external observances and no heart, just following the rules.

I think there is this perception out there that we are given a set of rules: here are the rules keep them, obey them, and that’s what it means to be a good Catholic.  Now don’t get me wrong we do need the rules.  They are a gift from our Lord.  Our Lord who is life, who is beauty, who is the happiest of all beings.  Who made us in his own image and likeness so that we too could be happy.  The rules are a gift and we need them because you and I have a problem, we’re born with a bent will and a rebellious heart.  We are inclined to put ourselves first.  And so we need our Lord to give us direction on the way to go.  He points us to the way of eternal life.

But our faith is more than just following the rules and saying the right words.  It’s also about a relationship with Jesus.  Without relationship the rules and words are empty and not the fullness of Christianity.  We need our Lord’s direction, we need our Lord’s guidance, and we need a relationship.  It’s both.

So our solution if we haven’t already, is to meet Him, to meet the one who is literally dying to be met.  And there are so many opportunities here at St. Joseph’s and St. Jerome’s for meeting our Lord. Daily Mass during the week, Eucharistic adoration, men’s group, CCW, Legion of Mary, K of C, Agape Latte, Lucernarium, small Christian communities, and book clubs, I’m sure I’m missing something but there are many opportunities in our parishes to join a small community, which are a great aid in meeting our Lord.

Our Lord wants to meet us, to have an encounter with us, to break into our lives, to help us understand why we’re restless, and thirsty, and unhappy.  He wants to encounter us in the Eucharist, to give himself to us so that he and I become one flesh, so that he and you become one flesh.

Now we don’t have to wait for an encounter by joining a group.  Ask for the grace to meet him right now, ask for the grace to be aware of his presence right now, ask for the grace to hear his voice, saying to him, “Lord I want to know you now.”  “I can’t find happiness on my own; I want you to show me the way.”

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

 

Dear Friends,

I want to write about two soon to be saints, a married couple, Blessed Charles of Austria and his wife, Servant of God Zita, both are on the pathway to canonization.  Blessed Charles was the very last Emperor of Austria.  Born in 1887 he was raised in a very devout royal family. They instilled in him a deep devotion to the Holy Eucharist and to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  He learned to always turn to prayer before making any important decision; it was one of his defining characteristics.   He married Zita on October 21st 1911 and over the next 11 years, they had 8 children.

In 1916 after a series of tragic deaths in his family he became the emperor.   This was not something he expected.  He was way down the line of succession.   This happened in the midst of World War I.  And as Emperor, world peace became his ultimate goal.  He was the only political leader of that time who wanted peace.  As we know the war wreaked havoc on Europe, millions died.  It also wreaked havoc on Blessed Charles and his family, in 1921 he was exiled to the Island of Madeira; he died a year later from pneumonia.

Charles and Zita were widely recognized for their good and holy marriage.  In fact Blessed Charles’ feast day is the day of his wedding.  Most saints’ feast day is the day of their death.  So there is something special about how they lived their married life.  Their hearts are reserved together in a reliquary in a small chapel in a Switzerland Monastery.   And so here are 5 points of advice based on their life.  Don’t worry about remembering the 5 points; I have a laminated copy for you to put on your refrigerator door.

  1. The primary goal of marriage is to get your spouse to heaven (children too). The day before their royal wedding, Charles said to Zita, “Now let’s help each other get into Heaven.”  As we know marriage is a sacrament and God grants married couples special graces to fulfill their state in life, aimed at the ultimate destination of Heaven.  Not always easy but with God all things are possible.  You don’t do it alone.

 

  1. Entrust your marriage to God and to the Blessed Mother. We need all the help we can get.  On the inside of their rings, Charles and Zita had this inscription “Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, sancta Dei Genitrix” (“We fly to thy protection, O Holy Mother of God”).  Before going on their honeymoon they made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Austria, entrusting their marriage to her.  We should never be afraid to ask God and his Mother for help.

 

  1. After the wedding day, it is no longer “me,” but “we.” Charles and Zita viewed themselves as a team.  They worked together as a royal couple, they worked together in governing the state, they were not afraid to give or ask advice of the other.  They both took an active role in raising and educating the children.  They took seriously the biblical ideal of “becoming one flesh” in all things. 

 

  1. Continually fan the flame of love. Charles became emperor during World War I and that meant he had to travel and be away for long periods of time and this pained him a great deal.  And so he had a telephone line installed reaching all the way from his military headquarters to the imperial palace.  You can do this if you’re the Emperor. He called her many times to stay close to her and the children.   Charles’ marriage and family was his top priority.

 

  1. Love each other with an everlasting love that endures through any trial. Their love was more than a feeling; it was a choice to love each other, they willed it, they willed the good of the other.  After their exile they clung to each other stronger than ever.  Charles’ last words to his wife were, “I love you endlessly.”

 

That’s advice from two saints of the 20th century and now advice from a saint of the 1st century.  In our second reading St. Paul also gives us some marriage advice, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands.”  I know that when I was a kid and this reading came up my dad would always elbow my mom, and my mom would just roll her eyes.  And to our 21st century ears the word subordinate does sound oppressive, offensive, patriarchal, and just plain old-fashioned.  But many theologians will say that this passage is a sheep in wolf’s clothing.  It looks ferocious on the surface but it is in fact very beautiful on the inside.

St. Paul uses the word subordinate, he doesn’t say obey your husbands, he doesn’t say subject yourselves to your husbands.  He says wives subordinate yourselves to your husbands, meaning as someone absolutely equal in dignity to your husband, choose freely to entrust yourself to his loving care, that’s what it means.  And then the rest of the passage occupies itself with the husband.  The husband is commanded to love, and the original Greek uses the agape form of love.  This is a total selfless love.  Husbands must love their wives totally and selflessly.  The husband must love as Christ loves his Church, not as a boss, not as an oppressive master, and not as one who barks out commands, but loving at Chris loves.

For a husband to love as Christ loves is to take the initiative in being the Chief Servant.  Christ handed himself over for his bride the Church.  When the groom hands himself over for the bride, it is a joy for her to entrust herself into his loving care.

Marriage just like priesthood is a sacrament of service.  When a Harry marries a Sally he should be saying to himself, “I want to serve Sally, like no one else, I want to serve Sally like no one else can, I want to pour my life out for her.” In doing that he will find fulfillment.  For everyone, single, married, widowed, priest, sister, all made in the image and likeness of God, when we serve, when we pour ourselves out for the other, we find fulfillment.

If I want happiness I find it and get it in serving.  I find happiness by serving.  If I go looking for happiness I’ll never find it.  Happiness comes from loving and loving looks like laying down our lives.  And we never have to do this by ourselves; our Lord gives us the grace to do it.  So ask for the grace, we don’t do it by ourselves, stay connected to our Lord.

During Mass, lets beg God to pour out His grace on all our married couples at St. Joseph’s, especially those finding it hard to serve each other.

Pax et Bonum,

Fr. Christopher Ankley

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Friends,

St. Francis de Sales was a bishop and he’s a Doctor of the Church.  He lived in France and Switzerland during the 16th and 17th centuries.  He is the author of the classic book, “Introduction to the Devout Life.”  A spiritual director once told me to read it every five years.  Every five years we are in a different place spiritually and re-reading it you’ll draw something different form it.  St. Francis de Sales was very gentle with the souls he worked with.  His way of teaching brought many back to the faith after having left during the wave of Protestantism that swept through Europe.  He was gentle because of what he experienced as a young man in college.  At that time he was filled with anxiety and doubt, he was very hard on himself.  He was convinced he was destined for hell, even though everything about him said otherwise.  This anxiety and doubt plagued him for months and months.  He received some relief when at Mass and by receiving the Eucharist.  But the anxiety came right back to him as soon as he left church.

One morning during this time he entered a church to pray and he found himself in front of an image of Our Lady of Good Deliverance.  He prayed the Memorare and when finished with the prayer he felt his soul flooded with peace.  The anxiety and dread were gone.  A miracle.  He never forgot this moment, and because of that time of anxiety and dread he would often say, “God has good in store for us, for He is Love.”  It was in this state of mind he wrote his famous prayer on trust.  I’ve handed this prayer out many times.  It’s a longer prayer but it can be summarized in 8 words.

I can’t

You can

You promised

Please do

Addressing this prayer to God we say to

Him, I can’t. You can. You promised. Please do.  In this prayer we not only see trust but also humility, faith, hope, and charity.

1st line, I can’t.  In praying this we are saying to our Lord, “I can’t figure this out, I can’t do this alone, I can’t deal with all of this, I can’t.

2nd line, You can.  In praying this we are saying to our Lord, “Your power can do anything, you can love me right now, you can bring light, you can strengthen me, you can protect me.”

3rd line, You promised.  In praying this we are saying to our Lord, “You promised your love, you promised to protect me, you promised to send your Holy Spirit to help me, you promised to be with me always.”

4th line, Please do.  In praying this we are saying to our Lord, “Lord I know you can do anything, do what is your will, help me feel your comfort, do a mighty work, do what leads me and others to your.”

I can’t

You can

You promised

Please do

This is the prayer of a Christian, a Christian who puts his/her trust in God and is docile to the will of God.  Mary the Blessed Virgin is the first Christian, the first to receive the Sacred Body and Blood of Jesus, the first to receive the Eucharist.  She heard the word of God and observed it.  She lived this prayer.

We know Mary pondered many things in her heart.  She pondered the many mysteries of Christ that happened right before her, the Annunciation , the birth of a King in a stable, the quiet life of the Messiah hidden at Nazareth, the three public years of our Lord’s teaching, preaching, and miracles, and our Lord’s crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection.  She pondered all of these things.  Probably thinking over and over, “I can’t understand this right now I don’t know what all of this means.”  I can’t.

But then in great faith our Lady would also pray, “But I know that one day I will understand, because you can do all things Lord.  You can.

 And in our Lady’s Magnificat found in Luke’s Gospel at the Visitation she sings of our Lord’s promise, “Has had come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our Fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.”  You promised. 

And finally the last line of the prayer, “Please do.”  Our Lady is very docile to the will of God.  At the Annunciation she says, “Let it be done unto me according to your will.”  Please do Lord.  And at the Wedding Feast at Cana she makes a request of Jesus.  So filled with trust in how he will respond she tells the waiters, “Do whatever He tells you.”  Please do.

I can’t

You can

You promised

Please do

In moments of contradiction, anxiety, stress, or fear let us pray in the way of Mary and the Saints, praying with trust, humility, faith, hope, and charity.

I can’t

You can

You promised

Please do

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

Question:  In our Lord’s own words why has he come? So many possible good answers, but I have just one answer in mind right now.  It’s from John 10:10, Jesus says, “I have come that you might have abundant life.”  Is that possible now?  Is that abundant life possible now?  Right now? Or do we have to wait until we die?  We don’t have to wait; abundant life is possible now, our Lord says, “He who believes in me has eternal life.”  Present tense “has.”  And that eternal life is abundant life.  What does this look like?  What does this abundant life look like?  I have a couple of stories.

First, I have a friend by the name of Sr. Maria Francisco, a Dominican Sister of Mary Mother of the Eucharist.  She is my prayer sister.  I pray for her she prays for me.  I’ve known her for 7 years now.  I knew her before she entered the convent.  Back then she was an engineer with Eaton, a graduate of the University of Minnesota, she had her pilots license.  She’s the flying nun now. ☺  She had it all, money, success, career, and a great future.  She is a very talented young woman.  But she gave it all up to make vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, an absurd choice in today’s world.  In a letter she once wrote to me she said this:

“I’m doing really well.  I’ve never been happier.  Canonical year was such a blessing.  It was a year dedicated to building up a strong prayer life and the study of the vows and our Rule and Constitutions.  This whole year I’ve realized how God is truly an intimate friend, a friend in the true sense of the word, a friend who wants me to share His life and share mine.  In our studies I learned a lot about the vows and I think my favorite one is obedience.  I learned that in serving someone you already love, you deepen that love.  All of the vows are a means towards this end:  perfect love of God and neighbor.  It is love that makes them easy.”

Sister’s face, whenever I see her, is always beaming with a grin.  It just lights up, I can imagine Jesus’ face looked the same at the Transfiguration.  This is abundant life, to look at her is to know she has abundant life, to look at her is to be provoked, to be provoked that God can be known, and that God wants to be known.  Sister Maria Francisco knows our Lord.  This is abundant life.

Second story, David died a few years ago and this was after battling cancer for two years.  It was a tough fight but it was fight he didn’t do alone.   He had the support of his wife, children, their spouses, and his grandchildren.  And it was during those two years that his faith just really deepened.  He studied, he read the Bible, he received the sacraments more often, he prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and he really concentrated at Mass.  And as the cancer progressed his peace of mind and trust in God increased.  The worse the cancer got, the more he trusted.  Towards the end he was confined to a bed at home.  I was able to go and celebrate Mass at the foot of his bed with his whole family there.  He died the next day surrounded by his wife and kids; they sang hymns to him from the missalettes they’d taken from church.    They sang to him all his favorite hymns over and over.  That room was filled with the grace of God and to look at David is to be provoked, to be provoked that God can be known, and that God wants to be known.  David knows our Lord.  This is abundant life.  Even as he neared heath he had abundant life.

God wants a deep relationship with you.  He’s not interested in us just checking off the box, went to Mass, I’m done.  He wants that of course, He wants us at Mass every Sunday, but he also wants something much more.  He wants a relationship; he wants a deep and abiding relationship. He wants to be an intimate friend.   Fullness of life, abundance of life is a relationship, a relationship with the one who is life, the one who is love, the one who can never die.  God wants to be your intimate friend.

If I know Him I have life, if I don’t I’m just existing.  What to do with this?  To be in the presence of God is to know Him.  And He is nowhere like He’s here hidden under the appearance of bread. He is the Bread of Life, the bread of abundant life. And so we come and spend time with Him, whatever is happening is in His hands, He has a plan, He knows what He is about, and He will bring it to fulfillment.  Spend time with Him, Him who alone can give an abundance of life, and see what a difference it can make.

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher Ankley

Dear Friends,

Blessed Carlo Acutis was an Italian who died of leukemia on October 12, 2006.   He was 15.  He was a well-loved teenager who had a knack for computers.  He programmed computers, edited film, created websites and lay out, and edited comics.  He was gifted at anything related to computers, even adults with computer engineering degrees, considered him a genius.

One of his most significant computer ventures was to catalogue all the Eucharistic miracles of the world.  He started the project when he was 11 years old.  At that time he told his parents, “The more Eucharist we receive, the more we will become like Jesus, so that on this earth we will have a foretaste of Heaven.”  He then asked his parents to take him to all the places of the Eucharistic miracles.  After two and half years the project was completed.  Carlo researched over 136 Eucharistic miracles that have occurred over the centuries in different countries around the world, and have been acknowledged by the Church.  He collected them all into a virtual museum creating a website to house it.

Carlo was a normal teenager who was joyful, sincere, helpful, and loved having friends.  He also prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament and went to Mass.  His biographer has written that he remains an inspiration to those who aren’t sure you can be both holy and normal.

Have you ever asked yourself, what does God want from me?  Maybe in a moment of frustration or darkness.  We sometimes forget that God wants faith, and trust, and reliance on Him.  Carlo knew this, the Israelites, however, didn’t know this.  The Israelites had been rescued from slavery.  They had experienced miracles.  They saw with their own eyes what God had done for them.  They had seen and experienced the 10 plagues; they had seen and experienced the parting of the Red Sea, walking between walls of water on dry land.  They had seen the miracles, but yet they grumbled and complained and wanted to go back to slavery.  They grumbled complaining, “Does God know what he’s doing?  Does he have a plan?  Did he bring us out here to kill us?”

Do we ever ask these same questions?  What is God doing?  Does He have a plan?  We are like the Israelites, we are on a pilgrimage, this is the desert, this is not home, do not get comfortable this is not our home.  We are on a pilgrimage just like the Israelites in the desert.

Now to remind the Israelites of his presence and to feed them he gave them the daily gift of Manna, that miraculous bread from Heaven.  The word Manna in Hebrew means, “What is it?”  Now there are two things to note about Manna.  First, once the Israelites reached the Promised Land the Manna stopped.  No more Manna, once they were in the Promised Land they didn’t need it.  And second, the Manna was not just to eat, but also to be adored, they had a tent called the tabernacle, and inside Manna was kept, they called it God’s presence in our midst.

The Israelites had Manna for their pilgrimage in the desert and we have the Eucharist.  The Eucharist is our pilgrim food for the journey, when we get home, we will no longer need it.  But here we need it.  Someone once said, to not go to Mass is to die of hunger while sitting next to an ever available banquet.   The Eucharist is to be consumed and adored.   Carlo wrote on his website, “Our aim has to be the infinite and not the finite.  The Infinite is our homeland.  We have always been expected in Heaven.”  This is not our home, Heaven is our home, Heaven is our Promised Land.

If ever we are tempted like the Israelites to ask, “God what are you doing?  Do you have a plan?”  Look to the incarnation and life of Jesus, born a man into poverty, suffering and dying on a cross and then resurrecting three days later.  That was not the end, God has a plan, he is not weak, He knows what he’s doing.  Then beg for an increase in faith, beg for an increase in faith.

I want to end with two things to do and three things to be.

Two things to do:

  1. Come to Sunday Mass every week, our Lord gives to us Himself in the Eucharist, when we don’t feed on Him we become weak and we struggle in our faith.
  2. Come to Mass during the week, this is a way to grow in faith, something changes in us the more we feed on God.

And now three things to be.

  1. Be daily in the presence of the Crucifix, a reminder of what God has done for us.
  2. Be daily in His word, a reminder of what he has promised us and not promised us.
  3. Be weekly in the presence of our Lord in the Eucharist, St. Joseph is open until 5 everyday, St. Philip has the adoration chapel. We have adoration all day Friday, Monday night (St. Joseph), and Thursday night (St. Joseph).

Carlo Acutis once wrote, “To always be close to Jesus, that’s my life plan.”  As Christians to always be close to Jesus that’s our life plan too.  Let us pray for the grace to not forget.

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

Not long ago I visited the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration down in Mishawaka.  Their adoration chapel is open to the public and if you haven’t visited them I highly recommend that you do.  While I was there I spent some time talking with one of the older sisters, Sr. Dorothy, and she was telling me about their foundress Blessed Maria Theresia Bonzel.  Mother Maria was born in Germany back in 1830 and by the time she died in 1905 her order was 1500 strong.  There were 1500 sisters spread across Europe, the United States, and South America.

Mother Maria had a strong devotion to St. Joseph and she credited St. Joseph for many miracles in her life.  And if you visit the sisters’ chapel in Mishawaka you’ll notice that all the windows depict some aspect of St. Joseph’s life.  At one time Mother Maria was paying a visit to all of her sisters spread out across the United States.  At the first convent she visited, however, things weren’t going so well, there was very little food to eat.  So she asked the sisters, “Where is your shrine to St. Joseph?”  “Oh he’s in the closet” they answered.  Mother Maria didn’t like that answer.  So she said, “Let’s fix that.”  So they quickly made a shrine to St. Joseph and dragged him out of the closet and began to pray to God through his intercession.  They soon heard a knock on the door and when they opened the door there was a man loaded down with groceries.  He gave them the food and after bringing the bags into the house they went to the door to thank him but he was gone.  There was no sign of him.  There wasn’t even anyone walking down the street.  They never went hungry again.

Our Lord satisfies our hunger.  He will sometimes satisfy a physical hunger, sometimes in a miraculous way.  But how much more; does our Lord always want to feed us spiritually, to satisfy, and fill us with contentment.

When was the last time you walked out of Mass feeling really well fed, satisfied and content?  Is it an every week occurrence (or every day for those of us who go everyday)?  If not something is wrong.

This is not about the homily or the music.  Homilies and worship and music are crucial parts of the Mass.  We should do the best we can with the homily and the music, they should help us to enter into the courts of Heaven, so that we can join in the worship of the angels and saints around God’s throne.  But we don’t go to Mass, or at least we shouldn’t go to Mass, for the homily or the music.

The Gospel this Sunday tells us that the crowds were pressing in around Jesus.  They were men and women just like you and me here at Mass.  They had cares and fears and anxieties.  They

had jobs that they were concerned about and family members who were sick; they were dealing with the loss of loved ones they missed greatly and some had a sense of meaninglessness in their lives; they were men and women, like you and me, who could get stuck in a rut and they wanted more out of life.

And so they pressed in around Jesus, eager to hear Him, to see Him, and to meet Him.  They came to Him expectant and hungry, not just for food but for meaning in their lives, for a sense of purpose.  And Jesus breaks open the bread, feeds them, and they are stuffed, they are well fed.  And there’s lots left over.

That scene in the Gospel is supposed to be happening at Mass.  The miracles that we hear about all through the Gospels continue to happen in our midst today through the sacraments.  The sacraments aren’t empty rituals; they’re powerful encounters with our Lord, the One who created us and wants us to find happiness.

But if we come to Mass primarily for what God wants to give us, and what He wants to and does give to us is Himself, so then if we are not leaving full, the burden must be on me and you to change that.  Our Lord does His part, we have to do ours.

For the next few weeks at Mass we’re going to be hearing from the Gospel of John.  In these weeks ahead we’re only going to hear from John chapter 6.  John chapter 6 is a key part of the Gospel.  It’s the chapter often referred to as the “Bread of Life discourse.”  It’s where Jesus speaks to the crowds and to us now, about the extraordinary gift of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the center of our life.  Objectively speaking, there is nothing that we can ever do in this life that can compare with what happens when we receive Communion.  That’s because, by the power of the Holy Spirit, ordinary bread and wine are changed into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus, so when we receive the Eucharist, we feed on God, we feed on His divine life, we feed on His power, and we feed on His love.  That’s why we don’t chew gum when we come to communion, that’s why we wear nice cloths when we come to Mass, because nothing can compare with this.  And yet often times for many of us we don’t leave full and feeling well fed, amazed and transformed.  How can we change that?

Since we are going to be reading from John chapter 6 for five weeks, hearing over and over again about the Eucharist let me suggest we try an experiment.  Let me suggest we all make an effort to do three things and see if Mass changes for us.  First, let’s try to get here a few minutes early.  And when we get here, let’s take time to pray, to ask God to help us understand the Mass; let’s ask Him to help us to encounter Him; let’s ask Him to reveal Himself to us with all of our cares and our concerns.  Second, don’t leave Mass before I do.  What could possibly be more important than saying “Thank You” to the One who made you, loves you, and has just given Himself to you to eat?  Take a minute or two to say thanks, and to reflect on what has happened and Who has just entered into you.  And third, make an effort to read the Gospel before you come to Mass.  Come prepared, come both hungry and expecting to be fed. Our Lord heard the prayer for food of those Franciscan sisters.  How much more does He want to satisfy our spiritual hunger?  Ask for it.  Our Lord is saying to you right now, “Draw from my Body and Blood given to you all the graces of which you stand in need.  So many receive little from their daily communion at My altars because they expect so little.  Ask and you shall receive.  Consult the saints.  Learn from them what it is to ask great things of Me, to ask boldly, confidently, and joyfully.  And thank Me for the effect of my and Body and Blood in your body and blood, in your soul, in your mind, in your heart of hearts.  The Eucharist is transforming for all who receive Me with faith and with confident devotion.”

God has so much more for us than what many of us are settling for.  He always does His part.  Let’s try in the weeks ahead to work more on our part.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

Our Lord’s voice has power, his voice has healing and so the people were drawn to his voice and they listened.  As we read in the Gospel, “They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at that place.”  And when our Lord saw them his heart was moved with pity for them for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them, and they listened.

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 probably hoping for a big tip, the two shepherds 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 cute (but not so bright) animals ignoring the disguised outward appearance again followed their own shepherd.  They knew the voice even in disguise, and they listened and they followed.

Do we know our Shepherd’s voice?  He’s still speaking to us.  How do we hear Him?  Can we hear Him in the noise of the world?  Or are there conversations, books, shows, movies, songs, images, blogs, or videos that drown out the voice of our Divine Shepherd.  Our Shepherd can speak to us anytime or anywhere but to hear him best we need silence.  The prophet Elijah never heard our Lord in all the noises of the world.  He didn’t hear Him in the wind, or the earthquake, or in the fire, it was only in the silence that Elijah was able to hear our Lord’s still small voice.  So we need silence; and in that silence we need contemplation.  I believe that all Catholics are called to be contemplatives, this is not something just for the nun in the convent or the monk in the monastery, contemplation is for everyone.

So, what is contemplative prayer?  The Catechism tells us that, “Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2715).  Contemplation is the prayer of the heart.  Contemplative prayer may focus on a word or a saying or one may simply be in the presence of God.   It is the prayer of the listening heart.  The goal of contemplative prayer is to enter into the presence of God where there are no words, concepts or images.  It is the prayer of being in love.

How then do we actually do contemplative prayer? , here are some suggestions that may help you.

In Church before the Blessed Sacrament – sit or kneel.  Gaze into the Tabernacle or look into the Monstrance.  Be still.   Ask Mary to help you to pray.  Pray to the Holy Spirit.  Then peacefully repeat a word or a phrase:  saying Jesus; or Jesus I love you; or Jesus I trust in you; or Father; or Father, into your hands I commend my spirit, etc.  Don’t continue to repeat the word or the words over and over again.  Only use the word or the phrase when your mind begins to wander.  Focus your gaze on the Eucharist.  Be open to whatever Jesus is asking of you.  Listen.

At home – sit or kneel.  Close your eyes.  Again, be still. Ask Mary to help you to pray.  Pray to the Holy Spirit.  As before, repeat a word or a phrase, rooted in the scripture, the creed, a prayer or an aspect of our Christian faith.  Do not repeat the word or words over and over again.  Remember to use the word only when your mind begins to wander.  Focus your gaze on the loving presence of God.   If you begin to feel embraced by God, be still and be silent.  Just allow the Holy Spirit to pray within you.  Listen.  Do this for 10, 15, or 20 minutes a day.

A Contemplative Catholic is not made in a day; it takes practice; to be a truly deep contemplative Catholic is the work of a lifetime.  It requires solitude, silence, sacrifice, and study.  It requires the obedience of faith.  But it’s something we can all do. St. Teresa of Avila once said that contemplation is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.

I end with a story.  It’s about St. Peter Julian Eymard.  His feast day is August 2nd, and his life is one that revolved around the Blessed Sacrament.  He would often say, “Without the Blessed Sacrament I should have been lost.”  St. Peter Julian was born in France in 1811.  When he was 5 years old he wandered away from home.  His family searched for hours.  They looked everywhere.  Finally, after many hours, they found him in the church.  Somehow he had dragged a stepladder to the front of the tabernacle.  And there he sat on the top with his ear pressed to the door of the tabernacle.  When they saw this, they asked, “What are you doing?”  And he simply answered, “I’m listening to our Lord.”

May we be as intent on listening to our Lord. His voice has power His voice has healing, may we be that good sheep who knows the voice of his shepherd.

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley