Advent Expectation, Hope, and Healing

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In the season of Advent each of us may ask ourselves: what do I expect? Advent starts a new liturgical year full of possibilities to deepen our spiritual perspectives and closeness with God. Advent season invites us to awaken new hope in God’s plan and promises. Advent can be a season of healing through deeper awareness that the Christ Child desires to be born anew in you. The Savior arrives to save, heal, and deliver you. His coming is profoundly personal. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

The Incarnation was the fulfillment of the ancient expectancy of a Messiah, healer and deliverer of his people. The Catechism teaches, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming” (524).

First, let’s consider the experience of expectation and preparation. Think of a couple expecting a child, a person waiting for the results of an exam, someone expecting the arrival of a friend, the anticipation of someone meeting a loved one. According to Pope Benedict XVI, “We could say that man is alive so long as he expects, so long as hope remains alive in his heart. Men and women can be recognized by their expectations, and that our moral and spiritual stature may be measured by what our hopes are.”

Advent is an opportunity to renew our commitment to Christ as Lord of our life. Oftentimes in the lives of the saints we read of how they made “acts of oblation” during Advent or Lenten retreats. I find this to be very efficacious because with each passing year, I’m changed, and circumstances of my life are different also. Therefore each “act of oblation” or “re-consecration” of myself to the Lord, brings a fresh offering with new perspective of self- offering. In preparing for Christmas we have weeks to reset our spiritual life. Likely, this won’t happen if we don’t prioritize our time spent with the Lord. The Church’s liturgy certainly helps us to focus.

 

The liturgical readings of the First Sunday in Lent remind us of three points: 1) In those days, my people will live in safety (Jer. 33:14-16, 2); Paul prays for Christians to grow in fervor and holiness (I Thes. 3:12-4:2); 3) Preparing for the final day when Christ will come as a Judge (Lk 21: 25-28). It is beautiful to reflect on how, with Christ, we can live in the safety of divine love, grow in holiness, and therefore, be prepared for the final day when we will give an account to God, and hopefully be with him eternally in heaven.

Secondly, let’s consider the experience of hope. Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (C 1817). The arrival of the Christ Child moves us in a uniquely human and mystical way. The gift of the Incarnation awakens us to the transcendence of God; the beauty of Incarnate Love. Saints such as St. Theresa of Avila speak of our need to love the humanity of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word. The Christ Child touches our humanity as only a little baby can.

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, “The Child Jesus points us to this primal truth of human existence: we must be born again. We must be accepted, and we must let ourselves be accepted. We must transform our dependency into love and become free therein. We must be born again, laying aside our pride and becoming a child. In the Child Jesus we must recognize and receive the fruit of life. This is what Christmas brings to us: new life!”

The expectancy of any child requires due diligence, practical, and spiritual preparation. The expectancy of the Christ Child requires the same so that we may deeply experience the Nativity as a joyful, liberating conversion of heart. To the degree that we make room in our hearts, and order our lives to Christ, we will experience His birth as new life within. He alone is the fulfillment of all our desires.

Thirdly, let’s consider how Advent season presents an occasion for healing. Advent is considered a penitential time with an opportunity to turn away from any darkness (sin, vice) in our lives. It’s the coming of Christ as the light of the world that overcomes the darkness. Advent invites us to ponder the past, present, and future so we become more aware, and grateful for the Child Jesus who redeems our past, present, and future. His Presence means that our Divine Physician has come. If you are in need of healing, physical or spiritual, bring your desire to the Crib and the Cross. They are joined mystically together by the scarlet love of the Lamb of God whose life and blood wash you clean.

Reflecting on the Christ Child can awaken the child within us. Healing can occur when we strive for spiritual childhood. The Christ Child comes to identify with human limitations and makes himself dependent upon a human mother and father. He teaches us how to trust in the Eternal Father and the divine will that is all goodness.

Meditating on the beauty of the details of the Nativity can also be a healing exercise if we conclude that the Holy Family is our family too. Yes, you are a cherished member of their family and their mission includes you.

Silence, prayer, Eucharistic life, Confession, lectio divina, all of these can lead to inner healing. Often it happens that when a person seeks the Church’s  help for a diabolical disturbance in his or her life, part of the process of deliverance and healing is what is called a “thirty day prescription” which is basically a rule of life, a regimen of spiritual exercises. Oftentimes, after thirty days of living an intentional spiritual life, the person is delivered without the need of the exorcist. It’s not surprising because Christ is the chief exorcist; the closer you are to him, the freer and happier you become. The Christ Child is the undoing of the devil.

The vulnerability of the Christ Child often allow us to become more vulnerable and thus, the closed, guarded chambers of our hearts are pried open by the rush of divine love. We can’t contemplate the Christ Child without thinking of His Mother—her yes, her total gift of self.

Pope Benedict XVI called Mary “the woman of Advent”. He declared, “learn from her” in order to “live a daily life with a new spirit, with feelings of profound expectation which only the coming of God can satisfy.”

Through the ancient expectancy of Messiah, no one could have imagined that the Messiah would be born of a humble girl like Mary, who had been promised in marriage to Joseph. Pope Benedict said, “Neither could she have imagined it; yet in her heart the expectation of the Savior was so great, her faith and hope so ardent, that in her He could find a worthy mother.”

Let us pray for one another –that we not be robbed of the transformative possibility that Advent holds. Let us enter into this new liturgical year with holy daring, and expectations of miracles, divine surprises, transformation. Let us prepare well that our joy may be complete when we receive our newborn King, and celebrate His birth. Let us draw closer to the Christ Child through dedicated spiritual preparation and expectancy.

image: St Ambrose Church, West Cliff Road by Alwyn Ladell / Flickr

The Sorrowful Mysteries: A Prayerful Response to Clergy Scandals

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Every Holy Thursday, Pope John Paul II would address all priests of the universal Church by letter. In his message dated 17 March 2002, the Saintly Pontiff wrote the following:

At this time, as priests, we are personally and profoundly afflicted by the sins of some of our brothers who have betrayed the grace of Ordination in succumbing even to the most grievous forms of the mysterium iniquitatis at work in the world. Grave scandal is caused, with the result that a dark shadow of suspicion is cast over all the other fine priests who perform their ministry with honesty and integrity and often with heroic self-sacrifice. As the Church shows her concern for the victims and strives to respond in truth and justice to each of these painful situations, all of us — conscious of human weakness, but trusting in the healing power of divine grace — are called to embrace the “mysterium Crucis” and to commit ourselves more fully to the search for holiness. We must beg God in his Providence to prompt a whole-hearted reawakening of those ideals of total self-giving to Christ which are the very foundation of the priestly ministry. (no. 11)”

On the subject of scandal, the Catechism teaches, “Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death” (no. 2284).

Pope Francis once assured diocesan priests: “Sanctity is stronger than scandals.”

Please consider a prayerful response to recent painful scandals by praying the Rosary of Reparation. 

The Sorrowful Mysteries of Reparation

First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden

For Victims of Priest Abuse

Matthew 26:38: “Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.’ ”

Reflection from Salvifici Doloris, no. 9

“Within each form of suffering endured by man, and at the same time at the basis of the whole world of suffering, there inevitably arises the question: why?… But only the suffering human being knows what he is suffering and wonders why, and he suffers in a humanly speaking still deeper way if he does not find a satisfactory answer. This is a difficult question, just as is a question closely akin to it, the question of evil. Why does evil exist? Why is there evil in the world? When we put the question this way, we are always, at least to a certain extent, asking a question about suffering too. . . . Man can put this question to God with all the emotion of his heart and with his mind full of dismay and anxiety; and God expects the question and listens to it, as we see in … the Book of Job.”

Prayer Petition

Eternal Father, Your Son agonized in Gethsemane when the weight of all sin pressed upon His Innocence causing Him to sweat blood. He endured the terror of human suffering, the tyranny of injustice and the horror of all sin to redeem sinners. He revealed His mercy by suffering His Passion. We beg You to heal and bless the victims of priestly abuse who have shared a portion of Christ’s Passion. We ask You to restore what was unjustly taken from the victims and their loved ones. We implore You to open the floodgates of mercy on all victims for renewal of their scarred memory, broken hearts, dishonored bodies, and inconsolable spirits. In your loving grace, restore their lives. We entrust all victims of clergy abuse to our Sorrowful Mother who held her crucified Son.

Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar

For Priests Who Hurt Others

Matthew 27:24-26: “So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this righteous man’s blood; see to it yourselves.’ And all the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.”

Reflection from Salvifici Doloris, nos. 12-13

“Suffering must serve for conversion, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognize the divine mercy in this call to repentance. The purpose of penance is to overcome evil, which under different forms lies dormant in man. Its purpose is also to strengthen goodness both in man himself and in his relationships with others and especially with God. But in order to perceive the true answer to the ‘why’ of suffering, we must look to the revelation of divine love, the ultimate source of the meaning of everything that exists. Love is also the richest source of the meaning of suffering, which always remains a mystery; we are conscious of the insufficiency and inadequacy of our explanations. Christ causes us to enter into the mystery and to discover the ‘why’ of suffering, as far as we are capable of grasping the sublimity of divine love.”

Prayer Petition

Eternal Father, the righteous blood of Your Son was not spared. For sinners, He suffered unto death. We bring before You the priests who have hurt others by all forms of abuse. All men have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), but when a priest falls into sin and hurts a person entrusted to him, some goodness dies in the entire Body of Christ. Although the transgressions of some priests may be horrific and people cry out for vengeance, we entrust them to Your fatherly providence for only You can judge the heart of man. We trust that your mercy and justice intertwine. We entrust fallen priests to the heart of our Sorrowful Mother.

Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning with Thorns

For Falsely Accused Priests

Matthew 27:27-30: “Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the praetorium, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him they mocked him saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they spat upon him, and took the reed and struck him on the head.”

Reflection from Salvifici Doloris, no. 16

“Christ drew close above all to the world of human suffering through the fact of having taken this suffering upon his very self. During his public activity, he experienced not only fatigue, homelessness, misunderstanding even on the part of those closest to him, but, more than anything, he became progressively more and more isolated and encircled by hostility and the preparations for putting him to death. Christ is aware of this, and often speaks to his disciples of the sufferings and death that await him: ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise.’ Christ goes towards his Passion and death with full awareness of the mission that he has to fulfill precisely in this way. Precisely by means of this suffering he must bring it about ‘that man should not perish, but have eternal life.’ Precisely by means of his Cross, he must strike at the roots of evil, planted in the history of man and in human souls.”

Petition

Eternal Father, we lift up the priests who have been wrongly accused; who, although innocent, are treated like outcasts and forsaken. Mercifully look upon the priests who suffer false accusations and see their resemblance to Christ who was stripped of everything until He hung on the Cross, a victim of love. We ask Your paternal solicitude for those priests who have been set apart like lepers though they are innocent of the charges against them. Graciously heal the wounds  — especially anger, depression, anxiety, loneliness, rejection, and fear. Console them by Your loving Presence. We entrust all priests to Mary, our Sorrowful Mother.

Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus Carries His Cross

For Healing

Matthew 27:31-32: “And when they [the Roman soldiers] had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe, and put his own clothes on him, and led him away to crucify him. As they were marching out, they came upon a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; this man they compelled to carry his cross.”

Reflection from Salvifici Doloris, no. 16

“Christ severely reproves Peter when the latter wants to make him abandon the thoughts of suffering and of death on the Cross. And when, during his arrest in Gethsemane, the same Peter tries to defend him with the sword, Christ says, ‘Put your sword back into its place. . . . But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?’ And he also says, ‘Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?’ This response, like others that appear in different points of the Gospel, shows how profoundly Christ was imbued by the thought that he had already expressed in the conversation with Nicodemus: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’ Christ goes toward his own suffering, aware of its saving power; he goes forward in obedience to the Father, but primarily he is united to the Father in this love with which he has loved the world and man in the world. And for this reason St. Paul will write of Christ, ‘He loved me and gave himself for me.’ ”

Prayer Petition

Eternal Father, as Your beloved Son was one open wound as He carried His Cross to Calvary, the Church today is wounded also by repeated scandal. The Body of Christ experiences the weight of sin and persecution. We have corporately sinned against the greatest commandment of divine love. The Church is in need of the healing power of divine mercy. Graciously bring about a movement of medicinal reparation. Enkindle the hearts of the faithful to seek the healing balm of sacramental life. We know that You will bring the greater good from the Church’s immense pain as we humble ourselves. Mercifully cure our sin-sickness; take away our darkness, blindness, deafness, stubbornness, divisions, depression, sloth, vice, and pride. Restore our baptismal innocence that we may glorify You. Through the Eucharist, may the Divine Physician manifest His healing power. We entrust this petition to the heart of Mary, our Sorrowful Mother.

Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion of Our Lord

For Forgiveness

“And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means the place of the skull), they offered him wine to drink, mingled with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots; then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head, they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus the King of the Jews.’ ”

Reflection from Salvifici Doloris, no. 30

“One could certainly extend the list of the forms of suffering that have encountered human sensitivity, compassion, and help, or that have failed to do so. The first and second parts of Christ’s words about the Final Judgment unambiguously show how essential it is, for the eternal life of every individual, to ‘stop,’ as the Good Samaritan did, at the suffering of one’s neighbor, to have ‘compassion’ for that suffering, and to give some help. In the messianic program of Christ, which is at the same time the program of the Kingdom of God, suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a ‘civilization of love.’ . . . At one and the same time, Christ has taught man to do good by his suffering and to do good to those who suffer. In this double aspect, he has completely revealed the meaning of suffering.”

Prayer Petition

Eternal Father, before Your Son Jesus expired on the Cross, He offered the greatest gift, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Help the faithful to offer Christ-like forgiveness from the heart. Aid the Church in applying the healing salve of love to the deep wounds inflicted by scandal and persecution. Heal the anger and frustration of Your people who are mystified by what has happened in the Church, especially through Her leaders. Only by Your grace can we be reconciled to one another and forgive as does Jesus. Thank You for the many good servants who are working to heal those who suffer the pain of abuse. We implore You, O God, to transform the wounded Church into a healed family of sacrificial love. Cleanse Your house of prayer of what is defiled. Through the grace of forgiveness, make us healthy and holy. We entrust this petition to the heart of Mary, our Sorrowful Mother.

 

Author’s note: These reflections are slightly edited and reprinted from the book, Praying for Priests: A Mission or the New Evangelization, which available from Sophia Institute Press.
SPIRITUAL ADOPTION OF PRIESTS
VIANNEY CENACLES

Prayer with Sisters in Christ

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Note: This article is authored by Pia de Solenni and posted on Catholic Exchange website April 13, 2018

Because I grew up as the only girl in a family of boys, my notion of what it meant to have a sister was, shall we say, limited. To be honest, many of my experiences of sisters involved watching them fight over even the most ordinary matters; so I was generally grateful that I was sisterless.

In high school, I was on the debate and speech teams. The former routinely placed me in a mostly male environment with which I was quite comfortable, given my family experience. Still I had very little experience of being around other women. Then I went to college, where I lived in an all-women dormitory for four years. Even with the challenges of sharing closets and kitchens, it was nowhere near as bad as what I had anticipated.

Despite the good friendships I had with women, I still had no experience of what it meant to have a sister. Or at least I thought I didn’t.

Recently, I asked several women friends to pray for another woman who was in a very difficult situation. Their generosity moved me. Not only were these prayer warriors committed to spiritual sustenance, but they also wanted to provide a tangible witness of their support: quickly they proposed to send her a care package. As one of the women put it, “We want her to know that she has sisters in Christ who are praying for her.” Keep in mind that they did not know this woman’s identity, nor she theirs. When I picked up the care package, it contained various comfort items and several hundred dollars in gift cards, a welcome surprise for the recipient, who was touched by both their spiritual and material generosity.

My friends’ response gave me a retrospect through which to understand my spiritual life. While I’m blessed to have male friends, I realized that it is through my shared prayer life with many women friends that I’ve come to have a sense of what it is to have a sister and to be a sister to a woman.

And while every soul has an essentially feminine response to God, my experience suggests that there’s something uniquely feminine, even maternal, about the way in which women pray.

In 2004, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published the document On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the World, in which Cardinal Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) wrote that one aspect of the vocation of women is to model what it means to be the bride of Christ. After all, the Church is the bride, and Christ is the Bridegroom; so everyone in the Church, whether male or female, is invited to be the bride. Obviously, this presents a challenge for men, who all have vocations as fathers, including spiritual fathers, and some as husbands. Despite these fundamentally masculine roles, as members of the Church they are called to a feminine response to God. Such has been the longstanding tradition of the Catholic Church to refer to the soul in feminine terms and to describe union with God in terms of a mystical marriage.

Mary’s Focus on God

The first chapter of Luke’s Gospel introduces us to the Mother of God, in large part by contrasting her behavior with that of Zechariah. We see Zechariah greeted by the archangel Gabriel, who tells him that the prayer of him and his wife, Elizabeth, has been granted: they will have a son. Even though Zechariah and his wife had indeed prayed to be blessed with a child, Elizabeth was now beyond childbearing years, and so at first he refused to believe that their prayer had been answered. He asked the angel how it could be possible.

 

Dr. de Solenni will be speaking at the Avila Summit. Click image to learn more.

Many (if not all) of us look for signs that our prayers have been answered. And all too often, we refuse the obvious signs, even a messenger from God, as Zechariah did.

Luke then recounts how the same archangel appeared to Mary. Now, presumably she had not been asking God the Father to become the mother of His Son. In fact, Mary’s Canticle (Luke 1:46–55) generally confirms this. Like Zechariah, she is told some­thing that exceeds her imagination. In Zechariah’s case, though, he couldn’t imagine that his longstanding petition had been an­swered. Mary questions the angel in the same way, “How can this be?” Upon hearing his response, she gives her consent.

In her yes to Gabriel, Mary allows herself to be taken into something greater than herself. The incredulous person might see in her a woman who would buy anything — sand in the Sahara Desert, the Brooklyn Bridge, that one secret food that will take off all the belly fat, and so on.

But as we see salvation history unfold, Mary’s example becomes our model. Would that we could say yes to the unimaginable things that God asks of us at times, not to mention the merely mundane. This woman stands in stark contrast to the man Zechariah, with whom most of us probably identify more readily than with Mary.

As Monica Migliorino Miller writes, “Woman confirms the goodness of creation. The freedom of man is manifested in Mary as she stands in for liberated mankind precisely as a woman.”

Almost as if to underscore this great drama, Gabriel gave Mary almost the same message he gave to Zechariah. He tells her that her cousin Elizabeth is pregnant. Mary responds not by resting and simply wrapping her head around what has just happened, but by going to visit her expectant cousin. She has embraced what has happened and acts because of it.

I’ve long relished this passage. It illustrates a beautiful syn­ergy between the contemplative life and the active life, between prayer and the things that fill our busy lives.

To bring this back to the witness of my friends and many other women in my life, I see that when women pray, there’s a certain strength. Maybe it’s not a strength that the world recog­nizes, but it’s a strength that we all experience and draw upon. I find it uniquely feminine in light of the response of the Mother of God to God Himself. In our busy lives we try to stay focused on God and keeping His presence in the middle of our activity, just as Mary did.

Hearts Anchored in Christ

Scripture offers us many examples of holy women. I’ll focus briefly on two, who were also biological sisters — Martha and Mary — to develop further my thoughts on women as sisters in Christ. We know that with their brother Lazarus, they were close friends of Jesus. When Jesus wanted to relax with friends, He went to them. They were so close that Martha even chided Jesus about her brother’s death, going so far as to say that Lazarus would not have died had Jesus been there (John 11:21). (Only someone who’s almost like family could lay on a guilt trip like that!)

And yet Martha manifests her faith in Jesus, her conviction that He is the Messiah, the Son of God. Perhaps we forget this deep faith when we read Luke 10:38–42, in which Jesus has come to their home and Martha gets upset that Mary is sitting at His feet, listening to Him, rather than helping her with the preparations, a predicament experienced in most households. When Jesus admonishes Martha, we see the apparent contrast between her activity and Mary’s contemplation.

But another aspect of the passage can be highlighted. Mar­tha says to Jesus: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” Jesus responds to her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Go back and read that carefully again. At any point do you see Jesus telling her to not be active? He’s telling her to not be anxious. The better part that Mary has chosen is the peace that comes from being united with God.

After the death of Jesus, when Mary meets the risen Christ (whom she first mistakes for a gardener), instead of resting with Him, she is sent by Him to tell the disciples that she has seen Him and that He is going to the Father (John 20:1–18). Because of this mandate that she fulfilled, St. Thomas Aquinas called her the apostle to the apostles.

In both episodes, something about Mary stayed the same: she was focused on the Lord. Whether sitting at His feet or witnessing His Resurrection, she was not anxious or troubled. Her heart was anchored in Him.

When Mary first discovers the empty tomb, she runs to tell Si­mon Peter, who comes back with her and another disciple. They, too, see the open tomb. They are in the same place where Mary stays and eventually encounters the risen Lord. For whatever, reason, Jesus chose not to appear to them, but to Mary. And He chose her to spread the word to them.

In both Mary the Mother of God and Mary Magdalene, we see an openness to receive a truth greater than themselves, greater than anything that anyone has ever imagined. And we see this also in Martha, who tells Jesus that she sees He is the Messiah, the Son of God. In all three women, we see how their belief and conviction shape their activity. In contrast with the apostles, who are closest to Jesus and overcome with fear at times, Scripture never indicates fear on the part of these women.

To my mind, there’s no doubt that we see in the Gospels and in the Christian tradition the lived example of the gift of self, even in the fearful apostles, men with whom most of us would have probably identified more than with the women I’ve put forth.

The Spiritual Symbolism of the Body

While all women and men are called to the gift of self, I wonder how much the gift of self is shaped by our sexually differentiated bodies? Throughout conception, pregnancy, childbirth, and her children’s early years, a woman’s body gives of itself in a most concrete manner. From the very beginning of the child’s existence, his mother sustains and nourishes him literally by giving (even if unwillingly) through her maternal body.

Insofar as every woman’s body reflects this reality, whether she has become a biological mother or not, I see our bodies as formative of our psyches and our souls. After all, every soul comes to know through the sexually differentiated body with which it is united to create a specific human person. Each human soul needs its human body until parted by death. Until that point, that soul is informed through a specific body. It makes sense to me, therefore, that the female nature of my body would inform my soul in a specifically female way even though I’ve never been pregnant, much less given birth. And I would argue similarly that all women and men are influenced by their respective sexually differentiated bodies.

St. John Paul II wrote, “Perhaps more than men, women acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts.” Could this not refer to the way in which a woman’s body disposes her to see and interact with human life in its very beginning?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to make generalizations about the sexes to suggest that all women are wonderful examples of humanity and men . . . well, not so much. Rather, I’m trying to get at a fundamental (and, I hope, complementary) way of looking at sexual differentiation, to the point that it affects even our spiritual lives.

Recall that earlier in this chapter, I cited Ratzinger, who stated that it was the vocation of women to witness what it means to be the bride, specifically the Bride of Christ.

Being a Sister in Christ

For myself, I see that most clearly in my experience of prayer with other women. Whether I am offering prayer or am the recipient of prayer, there is a unique feminine response. Again, this is not to say that men don’t respond quickly and effectively with prayer. The witness of countless saints, canonized or not, manifests that they can and do. Yet perhaps their response might be called feminine insofar as they model the Mother of God and many other holy women.

In my women friends, I see and learn from the example of Mary at Cana upon discovering that the wedding party has run out of wine. She doesn’t go to her Son and say, “I think it’s time to go home and get away from this noise.” No, she goes to Him and points out the problem to Him: “They have no wine,” as if she expects Him to do something about it. When He asks why it’s His concern, she merely turns to the servers and says, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:1–10). Problem solved.

In the three women I’ve put forth for our brief reflection here, we see this perfect blend of the contemplative and the practical. They remain in the presence of God while also tending to the realities of the world.

On a most practical level, that’s what I’ve learned from the prayer lives of so many women I know. A quick text message can launch a spiritual avalanche of prayer. And although I know men who respond in kind, I’d say that we women are gifted insofar as it might be easier for us to connect immediately with human need, since we are gifted with bodies that are disposed to the most vulnerable of human needs.

I see among women a more ready expression not only of the need for prayers but also of the response of prayers, prayers that don’t disregard our basic human needs. This was what I saw in my friends who responded with prayers and a substantial care package. And I realized that I’ve learned from them how to be the sister in Christ that I grew up seeing in my mother: someone who spends countless hours praying through her ordinary work while also making sure that the person for whom she’s praying also has other basic human needs taken care of.

Blessed Pope Paul VI closed the Second Vatican Council saying, “Women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling.” To my mind, these are the women we can all become when we pray as sisters in Christ, modeling our prayer after that of Mary, the Mother of God, bridging the gap between humanity and God as we unite our contemplative efforts to our very ordinary and practical day-to-day activities.

Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from When Women Praywhich is available from Sophia Institute Press. Dr. de Solenni will be among several speakers at the 2018 Avila Summit, which you can learn more about on their site.

Note: This article is authored by Pia de Solenni and posted on Catholic Exchange website April 13, 2018

Uniting Your Suffering to Christ’s Passion

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It is love “to the end” that confers on Christ’s sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction. He knew and loved us all when he offered his life. All of our suffering, prayers and penances are empty if it were not for the passion and death of Christ.

What do we do when we pray for another person? We become co-redeemers with Christ.

On their own, our prayers have no power, it is the power of Christ that makes them efficacious.

Throughout Sacred Scripture, we can see co-redemption. Moses, Noah and Abraham are three Old Testament examples and in the New Testament there are other countless examples like the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation, the Apostle in healing the sick and working all kinds of miracles. The prophets, apostles and Our Lady did nothing on their own, it was the power of God using them as collaborators in His work of redemption.

5 Things To Know About the Offering of Suffering

Suffering is a trial that reveals our vulnerability yet, if we allow it, also opens the door to the power of Christ.

1. Suffering, in fact, is always a trial—at times a very hard one—to which humanity is subjected.

“The gospel paradox of weakness and strength often speaks to us from the pages of the Letters of Saint Paul, a paradox particularly experienced by the Apostle himself and together with him experienced by all who share Christ’s sufferings. Paul writes in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: ‘I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me’. In the Second Letter to Timothy we read: ‘And therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed’. And in the Letter to the Philippians he will even say:  ‘I can do all things in him who strengthens me'” – St. John Paul II

2. Human suffering united to the Cross of Jesus has supernatural value.

“Those who share in Christ’s sufferings have before their eyes the Paschal Mystery of the Cross and Resurrection, in which Christ descends, in a first phase, to the ultimate limits of human weakness and impotence: indeed, he dies nailed to the Cross. But if at the same time in this weakness there is accomplished his lifting up, confirmed by the power of the Resurrection, then this means that the weaknesses of all human sufferings are capable of being infused with the same power of God manifested in Christ’s Cross.”- St. John Paul II

3. Suffering united to Jesus can be accompanied by spiritual comfort, love and even joy.

God releases great spiritual power through our co-redemptive suffering. Like the saints, we contribute to the conversion of souls, and bring many people to Christ through the offering of our daily sufferings—especially for priests who are charged by God to give the sermons that transmit the faith.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux once wrote, “Sufferings gladly borne for others convert more people than sermons.” Once we understand how co-redemptive suffering can help souls and build up the Kingdom of God, we can experience consolation, love and even joy:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” – St. Paul (2 Corinthians: 3-7)

4. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of Sorrows and a source of tremendous consolation as we face the crosses of our lives.

Nobody knew Jesus and his sufferings better than his mother. She accompanies us as a spiritual mother over the course of our lives as we confront various sufferings and challenges.

This has been the case throughout history for many generations of Christians, including St. Philomena, a Greek princess martyred by the Roman Emperor Diocletian:

“My captivity lasted thirty-seven days. Then, in the midst of a heavenly light I saw Mary holding her Divine Son in her arms. ‘My daughter,’ she said to me, ‘three days more of prison and after forty days you shall leave this state of pain.’ Such happy news renewed my courage to prepare for the frightful combat awaiting.

The Queen of Heaven reminded me of the name I had received in Baptism saying, ‘You are Lumina, as your Spouse is called Light or Sun. Fear not, I will aid you. Now, nature, whose weakness asserts itself, is humbling you. In the moment of struggle, grace will come to you to lend its force. The angel who is mine also, Gabriel, whose name expresses force, will come to your succor. I will recommend you especially to his care.’ The vision disappeared leaving my prison scented with a fragrance like incense. I experienced a joy out of his world. Something indefinable.” – St. Philomena

5. In the “school of Christian suffering,” our primary textbook is Sacred Scripture.

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, can be viewed as a school of both suffering and love. We also enter into this dynamic school at our baptism, when we are plunged into the water symbolizing Christ’s death before emerging regenerated and renewed by the Holy Spirit, on the journey toward resurrection and eternal life in the Holy Trinity.

“At our current stage in the school of Christian suffering and love, we have recourse to the life-giving words of Sacred Scripture, “a great book about suffering” (St. John Paul II):

“Resist [the devil], firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you.” – St. Paul (I Peter 5:9-10)

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” – St. Paul (Romans 8:18)

Prayer to Unite Your Suffering to His Passion

Lord Jesus Christ, my Redeemer, the extravagance of divine love is boldly proclaimed in Your passion and death. From the pulpit of the Cross You have spoken to me personally. When I gaze upon You in the midst of Your agonizing passion, I read a love letter written in Precious Blood. You call to my heart in love’s unspoken language that is more deeply understood than words.  You lay down Your life for me with total liberality. My heart suffers and longs to be consumed by Yours that is opened wide by the Roman soldier’s sword. As I venerate the Cross, and Your five holy wounds, I place my suffering inside of Yours. With confidence I unite my suffering to Yours knowing that all human suffering is absorbed into Your holy wounds by which I am healed. Amen.

The Spiritual Battle: Victors, Not Victims

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“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3).”

Recently EWTN’s “Women of Grace” television ran a five-part series titled “How to be Freed from the Influence of the Demonic” in which the host, Johnnette Benkovic, interviewed me about the Church’s ministry of healing, deliverance, and exorcism. Please understand that I am not an expert, rather, a poor servant who has witnessed intense battles between darkness and light since I am a member of an exorcist’s team. “The battle is the Lord’s” (Samuel 17:47). The only expert is Christ, the Chief Exorcist. Those who serve in the deliverance or exorcism ministry are Christ’s ambassadors in the school of divine mercy; always pupils.

The Lord confers upon His priests the authority to “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” (Matthew 10:8). The priest’s ministry is a collaborative one in which he engages with the laity, medical professionals, and brother clergy.

When the television program aired on the global Catholic network, my inbox was filled with inquiries for help; many heart-rending stories. In this brief reflection, I hope to address some of the inquiries since it is beyond my jurisdiction to respond to individuals.

First, being deeply moved when I read the personal stories of pain, I ardently interceded for each person. What is common among all stories of men, women, and families who suffer diabolical affliction is their “broken-heartedness.” I empathize because I know the pain of being brokenhearted. It’s a dark place where hope fades. But I want to assure those who are in this place that there is healing and hope in Christ Jesus, our Victor. Please persevere to seek Jesus, the Divine Physician for “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Crushed in Spirit

The devil is often empowered when he observes someone who is “crushed in spirit.” An opportunist, he redoubles his attacks with seductive false promises and then crushes the soul even more. The evil spirits tempt us to sell out Christ; lose faith in Him completely. “Where is your Jesus now?” Demons are bullies aimed at the eternal destruction of souls. When we are brokenhearted, we are more easily worn down and can easily slip into agreement with the temptation.

We can’t imagine the hatred that Satan harbors against human beings who are destined by God to eternally exist in the very place from which he was banished: Paradise. He is jealous of our inheritance. That is why its wise to focus as much as possible on our eternal goal: Heaven. But we are not meant to do this alone. And we can’t manufacture faith, hope, and love. We must receive God’s infilling. Often I cry out, “Come, Holy Spirit, possess me!”

My first experience of being brokenhearted occurred when I saw the ugliness of the murder of a loved one. It was a dark path for a time when I questioned everything and everyone—especially God. I experienced a great spiritual battle with temptations to deny Christ who did not prevent this gut-wrenching tragedy in our family. A demon of death pursued us. Death is the preoccupation of the devil.

When you are brokenhearted or crushed in spirit there is a greater need for spiritual accompaniment. Holy Mother Church provides. I know by experience. To heal my wound, to overcome the wild temptations, and to forgive the murderer, I deposited my pain into the wounds of Jesus Christ whose pain was “unto death on a Cross”— and I was healed (not instantly; it was a process). I experienced healing through the Cross and Eucharist.

As stated during the EWTN program, one of the greatest temptations of the devil is, “Put down the cross; get off the cross; reject the cross; hate the cross.” Of course! By the sacrifice of divine love on the cross, Satan was, is, and always will be, defeated. Christians don’t run from the cross. We unite with Christ on the cross. We raise it up! We proclaim Christ’s victory over evil and darkness. We are victors, not victims. When the devil perceives that we won’t reject the cross, that we cling to it as our victory weapon, he is weakened (cf. James 4:7).

Seek Help

Many inquired as to where to begin when one believes that he or she is afflicted by evil spirits. Please start with your local parish priest. Why? Because the Catholic priest is ordained to be a spiritual father with God-given spiritual authority.

Of this I am sure, your desire for liberation from evil and sin is God’s grace because He desires it all the more. He will not abandon you unto sin and evil. He will lead you to the place of healing, conversion, and restoration. The journey to liberation is not unlike the Exodus experience of the Israelites fleeing the slavery of the Egyptians (cf. Exodus 14). Sometimes we grumble because we want quick fixes, not true conversion of life.

It takes courage to seek help, to entrust your broken heart to a priest. Catholic priests have a special anointing conferred upon them for the liberation of God’s people. Ideally, you will be welcomed and met with compassionate understanding. Remember that you are not seeking a perfect personality fit, you are seeking the healing power (authority) of the universal Church through a person who is on a journey toward holiness (a work in progress).

Some people wrote about the disbelief of their priests regarding diabolical affliction. I acknowledge that according to a publication of the “Association of International Exorcists” some priests have ceased to believe in the existence of the devil. Pray for our priests please (foundationforpriests.org). Most clergy do believe according to the teaching of the Church. Please do not be discouraged, rather, keep seeking help within the Church and do not go outside of the Church. Too many people suffer terrible spiritual, emotional and physical consequences from so-called healing practitioners outside of the Church.

Let us imitate the entrustment of Jesus who places His Body and Blood into the imperfect, anointed hands of His priest in the sacrifice of the Mass to become our spiritual food. Christ is vulnerable first so that when we are “crushed in spirit” we can entrust the little pieces of our heart to Him. He collects, cherishes and re-constructs the broken parts into something quite beautiful and new.

On the EWTN program, we mentioned that deliverance is often accelerated with the help of medical professionals. A medical, psychological evaluation is prudent, not because the Church denies the diabolical; rather, because the Church acknowledges the whole person: body, mind, and soul. My best friends are psychiatrists on the deliverance team and I check in with them regularly.

Praying for Yourself

Exorcist priests explain to the diabolically afflicted person that while he and the team can help toward liberation, the big extent of the work will be done by the person. The Exorcist has the authority to pray the Rite (powerfully effective), but the hard work of conversion, of cultivating a sacramental prayer life, and renouncing evil practices, is done by the person. Praying for oneself, putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6), is necessary. You can find Catholic prayer books with authorized deliverance prayers for the laity, ideally with the Church’s Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat. The most powerful reading for liberation is scripture; the Word of God is living and effective. Insert your name into the scripture. Pray with the Psalmists; insert yourself into the scenes of healing and liberation, personalize scripture passages.

Sacramental Confession

For Catholics who experience diabolical affliction, I encourage you to run to the confessional. It is one of the Church’s most powerful sacraments of healing; a hundred times more powerful than a sacramental such as the rite of exorcism (according to exorcists).

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are:

– reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace;
– reconciliation with the Church;
– remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;
– remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin;
– peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;
– an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle.

Recourse to Mary

Here’s an account that best illustrates what I want to convey about the Virgin Mary. It is told by a renown Rome exorcist priest.

One day, while I was saying to the demon, “in the name of our Most Immaculate Mother, leave this body!”, The demon yelled, “That is the word that I hate the most!” And I responded, “Immaculate?” And the demon said, “Yes!”

One time during the novena of the Immaculate Conception, a demon began to yell, “Send her away! Send her away! Send her away! Everyone is saying her name in these days. All are calling her. Everyone says her name. Too much light, too much light, too much light!”

Another time, one demon exclaimed, “The Immaculate Conception is my opposite.”

In another exorcism, we repeated the following prayer several times: Oh, Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you. The demon responded, “Stop that! This short prayer is powerful against me!”

School of Holiness

On the EWTN program, I shared what Fr. Bamonte taught us, “Even diabolical possession can be a school of holiness.” Possession is rare. More common are diabolical oppressions or obsession. Christ is your sure help, the Church is your hospital, sacramental grace is your medicine. You were not created to be crushed or brokenhearted. God’s provision is yours. His hand is grasping for yours. St. Paul teaches, No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). Of this I am sure because I have witnessed the liberation of persons tormented by the demonic who are then transformed into healed vessels of light, peace and joy.

image: The Torment of St. Anthony, attributed to Michelangelo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Lessons in Marian Silence, Serenity, Surrender

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Beyond the secular sense of the New Year, the Christian acknowledges the gift of time. A new year is a gift; a doorway to a future unknown but full of possibilities. It’s a time when we more readily embrace the mystery of the next twelve months. It’s an invitation to reflect, let go, declutter, focus, and renew. A new chapter begins. Even if the past year was a fantastic one, something greater beckons us onward. Such is life, we can’t go back. Each precious moment is unrepeatable; we can’t hold onto it. If the past year was tragic, the new year invites us to surrender it unto God’s healing mercy. We look to a new day.

God, who is outside of time, enters our time to lead us forward. It is not futile to create sincere New Year’s resolutions. It’s not a matter of failure or success. It’s a matter of hope; of acknowledging that some change for the better is called for.

The devil can enter the mix. The ancient “Accuser” tempts us to remember every failure and forget every triumph. The “Liar” shouts crafty falsehood to divide us from one another, paints a dismal picture, crushes hope so the future appears futile, so we cease to try to make a difference. These lies are too often entertained. The “Thief” wants to steal our inheritance, entice us away from the reward of Heaven, plots to rob our peace, hope and joy. The “Destroyer” seeks the destruction of personal integrity, our identity as a child of God, our relationship with the Lord and humanity. The “Roaring Lion” shouts noisy hateful thoughts to prevent us from entering the silence of God’s love, the serenity of the divine will, and the confident surrender of faith.

At the start of this year, the Holy Spirit tugs on my heart with three words: silence, serenity, surrender. This spiritual tripod is part of my journey already but growth is needed. These spiritual ideals are the work of God in a soul, however I can dispose myself to cooperate with divine grace.

Mother Mary is the ideal of silence, serenity and surrender that is fruitful, not passive. In a profound work titled, The Silence of Mary by Ignacio Larranaga, O.F.M., Cap., we learn:

“During the long nights, in her sleep or sleeplessness, during her walks to the spring or on the hill, in the synagogue or during the ritual prayers demanded by the Torah, when she was working in the garden or taking care of the flock on the hill, when she was weaving wool or kneading bread…Mary, prostrated interiorly, submissive, full of the Lord, concentrating on and penetrated by that presence; identified herself with the One who was the life of her life, the soul of her soul. Never in the history of the world has any women lived such vital plenitude and existential intensity. Silence halted and incarnated itself in Mary, along with the Word. During these nine months (her divine pregnancy), Mary did not need to pray, if by praying we mean to voice feelings or ideas. Here, during these nine months, everything was still: “in” Mary and “with” Mary, all is one: time, space, eternity, word, music, silence, Mary, God. Everything was assumed and divinized. The Word was made flesh.”

Marian Lessons

1. Silence. “…On Calvary, the silence of Mary is transformed into adoration. Never has silence meant so much as in this moment: surrender, availability, strength, fidelity, plenitude, elegance, fecundity, peace (serenity)… Never has a creature lived a moment with such existential intensity as Mary did on Calvary” (Ignacio Larranga).

  • Christian silence, interior and exterior, should lead to adoration of the Most Holy Trinity.
  • Christian silence is not passive but creative. In the silence of God, the soul is acted upon. The soul is receiving, listening, believing, trusting and surrendering to the Most Holy Trinity. Silence is the language of the Trinity that speaks volumes.
  • Silence strengthens and empowers us to fight the good fight, to proclaim Christ’s victory. Noisy demons are humiliated by Godly silence; evil is thwarted.
  • Christian silence is strength in battle. The Word was made flesh in silence and became the two-edged sword that defeats Satan. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, … and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb.4:12).
  • Christian silence is penetrated by the Word of God; infused with His presence; revealing, transforming, affirming, correcting—love.
  • Full disclosure: In my family, the silence of sacrificial love in action speaks louder than words that are easily misinterpreted.

2. Serenity. “Mary traveled this desolate ‘via dolorosa’, clothed in dignity and silence. She was simply magnificent. She was never demanding, she never protested. When she did not understand certain words, she kept them in her heart and analyzed them serenely. To some rough scenes, she responded with sweetness and silence. Never did she break down. Throughout the journey, she maintained the stature and elegance of an oak tree which remains more firm and solid because it is beaten by stronger winds. She came to understand step by step that maternity in the Spirit is more important than that according to the flesh” (Ignacio Larranga).

  • Indeed, Mary sets a high standard. We have an original wound (sin) that was absent from Mary, but we must strive for virtue. Grace carried Mary in every delightful and dreadful circumstance.
  • Marian serenity is the fruit of silent pondering, courageous surrender, and selfless maternal charity.
  • Serenity (peace of soul) can reign during painful trials. Often the greatest tragedy calls for serenity because wisdom leads in peace.
  • We can be the calm in the storm of life. Such is the Catholic witness.
  • Mary teaches us to ponder the events of our daily lives in the light of God’s love that leads to a well-ordered life wherein peace exists.
  • Serenity of soul is attractive. We appreciate the example of peaceful people –saints, priests, nuns, who radiate Godly peace.
  • The chaotic world longs and seeks for serenity amidst the maddening distractions. The Christian discerns that Christ alone is peace.
  • Full disclosure: I lose my peace of soul too often and for ridiculous reasons. Thus, I need the sacrament of reconciliation often to maintain serenity.

3. Surrender. “Mary is not sovereign but rather a servant. She is not the goal, but rather the way of surrender. She is not a demi-goddess but the Poor One of God. She is not all-powerful but an intercessor. She is above all the Mother who continues to give birth to Jesus Christ in us. Mary will give birth to Christ in us in the measure that we are sensitive, like Christ, to all the needs of this world; in the measure that we live like that Christ who sympathized and identified himself with another’s misfortune, who could not witness an affliction without being touched, who stopped eating or resting to attend to a sick person, who not only felt sorry but found solutions. Mary is the Mother who must help us to incarnate this living Christ, suffering with those who suffer, so that we ourselves live for others and not for ourselves” (Ignacio Larranga).

  • Christian surrender is a decision of the will; assenting “to the loving will of the Father in ever deeper union with his beloved Son” (cf. CCC 2713).
  • The Lord Jesus is the icon of surrender to the Father’s will. The agony in Gethsemane led to the glory of Easter. We are called to imitate Christ.
  • Love surrenders; is the gift of self; is entrustment to God.
  • Surrender moves us out of the way of God’s perfect plan.
  • Surrender is active faith that makes confidence in God real.
  • Surrender is not submissive slavery, it is empowering self-mastery with acknowledgement that God’s is in control.
  • Full disclosure: Surrender is not easy for those of us who hold on too tightly, but surrender relieves the stress of trying to control life. Letting go is joyful relief.

Lord Jesus, graciously lead me to deeper Marian silence, serenity and surrender that I may live for others, not for myself. Please form me in the silent, serene, surrender of Your Sacred Heart that I may be transformed into a servant of love.

Advent with Mary, Who Crushes the Serpent

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It is a blessing to contemplate Mary during Advent: her yes to the divine will at the Annunciation, her miraculous pregnancy, the silence of her heart, the peace of her mind, the humility of her spirit, the richness of her interior life, the courage of her waiting, her obedience of faith, servant attitude, youthful beauty, perfect innocence, and wealth of Heavenly wisdom.

In these precious, passing hours of the beautiful season of Advent, I am not alone; Mary is near. With her divine pregnancy, her immaculate heart swells with grateful love. The unborn Christ Child is nestled in her virginal womb. His heartbeat echoes in hers; a song of glorious joy resounds in Mother and Child. Their union is also for me, for all believers. Their bond of love creates a home for me, and for you.

My Advent reflection on Mary includes another facet and gift of hers. She is fierce in crushing the head of the Serpent, and in protecting God’s children from demons. Those who work in the Church’s ministry of healing, deliverance and exorcism have witnessed, on numerous occasions, that the Virgin Mary’s presence is made known during exorcisms. She is called upon by the priest exorcist, in the formal prayers of the major Rite, and in the holy rosary that is prayed among other prayers during the exorcism. There are manifestations of evil spirits that are ugly and strange during exorcisms. Also, there are powerful, peaceful, beautiful manifestations of the presence of Mary, angels and saints.

During Advent and Christmas seasons when we reverence Mary’s yes to God and her divine pregnancy, let us remember that the unprecedented, monumental grace of the Incarnation of the Word of God set in motion the defeat of Satan and a great spiritual battle.

For ongoing formation in the ministry of deliverance and exorcism, I attended the 12th Course on Exorcism and Prayers of Liberation at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University in Rome in May 2017. The Association of International Exorcists (AIE) coordinated the course and Fr. Francesco Bamonte, a member of the Institute of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and AIE president, lectured. Here, I share Fr. Bamonte’s testimonies regarding the Virgin Mary crushing the Serpent. I was moved to deeper certitude in Mary’s role in the fight against evil by Fr. Bamonte’s witness.

Testimony of Fr. Francesco Bamonte, I.C.M.S., an Italian exorcist:

A more recent affirmation of a demon that I heard during the days of the novena of the Immaculate Conception in 2010, while we were in the liturgical time of Advent, is the following:

The Woman of waiting, of hope, the Women dressed with the sun, most sweet Mother. The Woman! For love of His children, she was created before all times in the thought of God. And as a pure spirit, I cannot bear this. That putrid flesh! She is feared by us because she holds you in her arms with her humility, obedience, and merciful love. The purity of her body: it was not ever touched, not even by a thought. We did not succeed, not even with a thought. I did not undermine her even with a thought—not one, cursed! I was never able to touch her because That One always watched over her. There was always That One. It is not my fault. I was not able to touch her. I was afraid.

Fr. Bamonte comments, “Here, the demon does not intend to say that he never tempted Mary, but he affirms that the temptation never touched her (i.e., she never minimally consented to whatever form of temptation with which the Devil had in vain tempted her.)

Another time I head these phrases: “I will not tolerate that she be next to Him and over me. I was the most beautiful angel, beautiful, beautiful, and the greatest, great, great. I was Lucifer, the angel par excellence. What an affront! What an affront! To conceive without sin one of you! What an affront! The Immaculate One is the greatest insult of your God to us. To have one of you conceived without that sin that we created is an intolerable offense. We marked all with our sign. All, except her! He should not have done that to us! One of you without sin! And then He incarnates Himself in your disgusting body made of worms (here I think the demon was describing the decomposition of our bodies after death). Why did he do it? To ruin us? Why did He humiliate us so much?

Another time, I ordered a demon, “Adore Him. He is your God. He created you. Adore Him!” The demon protested, “He incarnated Himself in you, the most disgusting and humiliating thing He could do. The repugnance that we experienced when He entered into that flesh, only we know.”

One day, while I was undertaking an exorcism, I turned to the demon and said to him, “Look at the most beautiful face of Our Lady.” He responded, “I do not see it. It is dark. It is dark for me. I do not want and cannot look at it. It is my ruin. It is my ruin for always, for always. I hate her. I hate her. I hate her!” I cannot look at those eyes! I cannot look at them! They are not described. One does not describe that beauty! She is all holy. I, instead, all damned. She is all beautiful, and I am all that is ugly. She grew in the fullness of grace. I grew in the fullness of death.”

One day, a demon reacted angrily. He did not want to be subject to that which was being imposed upon him by an invisible presence (which we later understood was the Most Holy Virgin). The demon suddenly exclaimed, “She always prays for all of you. Every one of her prayers is a torture for us.”

During another exorcism, I ordered the demon to tell me what that light was, and the demon responded, “She is here, always her! She is the queen of my pain! She destroys me continually. She does nothing else but pray for you to her Son. And all her prayers are answered. No human should have this power. Why did He humiliate us that way? He put us under everybody. And to do it, He chose a woman. That One who is now here, the humble one.”

These few examples from an exorcist priest remind us that we have an enemy who quite literally hates us because we are marked with the sign of God on our forehead. Through baptism we are possessed by God; claimed for Christ. When a diabolically possessed person seeks liberation, the exorcist reclaims he or she for God since the person had given a claim (invitation) to Satan and rejected Christ. When we reject God, we reject our identity as a child of God. This makes us vulnerable to identify with darkness, rather than light; with falsehood, rather than truth.

We can ask Mary to help us to renounce any agreement we have with darkness or falsehood. What fascinates us? To what is our heart drawn? Satan seductively desires our attention away from the things of God.

We can ask the Holy Spirit to consecrate us in the truth of God’s love. Mary helps us to resist the false promises of Satan. She aids us in remaining connected to God. Mary takes us into her maternal heart that is a holy fortress, impenetrable by demons—but only with our permission.

Advent and Christmas season abound with grace, beauty, joy and peace. Spiritual warfare is also present—blatant or subtle temptations or manifestations of evil. Today’s culture shouts anti-Christian and demonic noise. Demonic messaging can be seeded into our homes through television and other media. Discern. The messaging of the world is not subliminal these days. Exorcists have recommended cleansing the home atmosphere by playing Gregorian Chant. It seems the devils are repulsed by it.

Enter the listening silence of Mary’s world to hear and commune with our loving, merciful Lord. Communion with Christ brings us to the place of victory against the flesh, the world and the devil. In truth, the devils not only fear Mary, but also saints in the making.

Prayer: Mother Mary, full of grace, fierce as an army in battle array, please protect me from evil. Kindly intercede for my interior transformation; that my fallen nature and weak virtue will be converted. Graciously lead me into your listening silence where the voice of the Beloved is heard that I may do whatever He tells me. Thank you, holy Mother, for loving me, and for leading me into the victory of Jesus Christ. Grant me the grace never to offend God, never to reject Him or myself, for I am marked with the sign of His cross and covered in His Precious Blood; to Him alone do I belong. Amen.

image: Simbang Gabi in the Rosary Shrine by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“It’s Not About Me”: National Vocation Awareness Week

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“This is not about me. My vocation story is all about God.” These words of Bishop Michael C. Barber, S.J., were spoken at a Magnificat Prayer Breakfast that I attended in Oakland, California. His testimony, along with nineteen other clergy is now published in a new book titled, Holy Orders: A Collection of Inspiring Clergy Testimonies.

Bishop Barber’s vocation story is filled with surprising twists and turns in a tumultuous time of the Church. He was faithful to what the Lord asked along the sometimes-confusing way. In the end, he was ordained into the Order of St. Ignatius and St. Xavier.

From the time when he served as military chaplain to the Marines:

We flew to the Middle East, and the war began shortly thereafter, when the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003. It was one of the best times of my life as a priest. I was needed! We were on the Kuwait side of the Iraq border. I had my own convoy to attend to the soldiers who were dug in along the border preparing to invade. When I arrived, the men stopped their war plans. The colonel gathered everyone together.

“I am a Catholic priest,” I said, “and I have been sent here. The battle will begin soon, and I would like to say Mass.” Everyone attended. “If it is not your time to die no bullet will find you,” I told them. “If it is your turn to die there is only one thing that will keep you from getting into heaven, and that is mortal sin. But we have the sacrament of Confession that can wash away any sin—any mortal sin. I will not leave this camp until everyone who wants to confess can.” There was a huge line. All the Marines—even the Protestants—came up and said, “I’m not a Catholic, but I have got to get this off my chest.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s (USCCB) website states, “National Vocation Awareness Week (NVAW) is an annual week-long (November 5-11, 2017) celebration of the Catholic Church in the United Sates dedicated to promote vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education, and to renew our prayers and support for those who are considering one of these particular vocations.”

Vocations to the ministerial priesthood, diaconate or consecrated life are central to life of the Church for the salvation of souls. It is the duty and privilege of the entire Church to intentionally pray for vocations, since it is a divine mandate: “He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’” (Luke 10:2).

In my work for the Foundation of Prayer for Priests apostolate, and on Radio Maria programs, I interviewed several seminarians and priests. It’s fascinating to hear how God knocked on their heart, shook up their plans, stretched their imagination, and tugged on their soul to say “yes” to His call on their life. Their yes required Goliath courage, and a breathtaking leap of faith as evidenced in the following excerpts from the book.

Fr. Donald Calloway, M.I.C., “I didn’t know how to pray. I couldn’t remember ever having said a prayer in my life. I didn’t realize that I had hung the image with the heart of Jesus right above my dresser. As I looked at that picture, trying to pray, suddenly I snapped. I realized that Jesus was truly God and that He wanted me. I looked at His heart, and it was on fire. His hands were in a gesture of invitation. I began to cry uncontrollably. It was pure contrition and repentance. I was so sorry for all my sinfulness, all my perversions, all my wretchedness—all of the wrong things I had done in my life.”

Fr. Raniero Cantalmessa, OFM, “It was as if Jesus stood beside me and gently said, ‘Do you want to give Me the reins of your life?’ There was a moment of panic. I understood this was serious. But at the same time, I immediately realized that no one can be in control of his or her life, so I said, ‘Yes, Lord, take the reins of my life.’ I must confess that later on sometimes I tried to get back control of the reins. This is why we have such a merciful Lord, always ready to forgive us.”

Fr. Harold Cohen, S.J., “The two years of my novitiate were the hardest in my life. I was homesick, and I threw myself into scrupulously obeying the rules. I had tremendous temptations against my faith. Thoughts such as, ‘This is not worth believing’, etc. came to mind. I thank God for my novice mater, Father Mangiacina, who became both father and mother to me. Without him I would never have made it.”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, “My father’s leadership in our family helped me to understand the importance of father in every family, especially their effect on children and their relationship with Christ. One of my earliest childhood memories is of those few times when we started dinner before my father arrived home. While sitting at dinner table, my little sister and I would hear his footsteps coming up the stairs to the back door; we would push our chairs back from the table, jump up, and turn to the back door waving our arms and yelling, ‘Daddy!’  No matter how tired he was, our father had enough strength to pick us both up at the same time, one in each arm. That memory of my own father has stayed with me vividly, and mirrors such a powerful image of the love and tenderness of God our Father.”

Msgr. Stephen Doktorczyk, “The decision for me to move forward toward the priesthood came in 1998 during a retreat where I assisted. I enjoyed my involvement in the confirmation retreat, which was held in the mountains of San Bernardino, California. Near the end of the retreat, I asked one of the other helpers what he planned to do once he finished his advanced degree. He mentioned that first he would need to better consider ‘this priest thing.’ I believed the words coming out of his mouth were intended for me. I was the one who needed to consider ‘this priest thing,’ and without further delay. I could not continue to run from the Lord and delay giving an answer. Enough was enough. I soon took the proper steps—finding a good spiritual director and making an appointment with the director of vocations—before submitting my application to the seminary. We don’t know what the Lord has in store for us when we are obedient to His will. For seminarians, priests, and deacons, the Lord works through competent superiors. One who holds on too tightly to his own will and plans may miss out on the many surprises from God.”

Msgr. David Toups, “One seminarian shared the story of his calling. It impacted me, and I was deeply moved. …’My heart was burning within me.’ The bishop walked by. Knowing my family as he had for years, he paused and gave me one of those nice Italian slaps on the cheek like in “The Godfather”. He looked at me and said, “Jesus told the apostles, ‘Drop your nets and follow Me.’”. Then he walked off.”  …The Holy Spirit had been saying this to me already in a deep and profound way. But to now have a successor of the apostles calling me out was life changing. I looked at the seminarian next to me and felt myself turn white as a ghost.”

USCCB Prayer for Vocations

Hail Mary, full of grace; all generations call you blessed. Hail Mother of God; when asked by the angel to bear the Son of the Most High, filled with faith, you responded: “Let it be done unto me.”

Holy Mother of Jesus, at the wedding feast at Cana, you prompted your Son to perform his first sign. Be with us as we discern our life’s work and guide us in the way we are called to follow in the footsteps of your Son.

Holy Mother of the Savior, at the foot of the cross you mourned the death of your only Son. Bless and embrace the loving parents of all priests, deacons, brothers and sisters.

Holy Mother of the Good Shepherd, turn your motherly care to this nation. Intercede for us to the Lord of the harvest
to send more laborers to the harvest in this land dedicated to your honor.

Queen of Peace, Mirror of Justice, Health of the Sick, inspire vocations in our time. Let the word of your Son be made flesh anew in the lives of persons anxious to proclaim the good news of everlasting life. Amen.

Author’s note: Magnificat, A Ministry to Catholic Women published Magnificat Proclaims: Holy Orders: A Collection of Inspiring Clergy Testimonies. The fifth objective of Magnificat is to imitate the Virgin Mary in her spiritual motherhood of priests. The book is available at www.magnificat-ministry.org or on Amazon.

For more resources on vocations, priesthood, spiritual motherhood and fatherhood of clergy, visit www.foundationforpriests.org.

image: Easter Monday High Mass by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr

They’d Had A Good Plan

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We had a good plan. My mom and I would go to the hospital to visit my father, who was awaiting admission for a serious infection. In eighty-four years of life, he’d never been in a hospital. He’d been mom’s care-giver for the past few years.

Two hours later, as I drove to my parent’s home, I tried to imagine that my younger brother’s “Mom is gone” did not mean she had died. I grabbed the rosary hanging from my rear-view mirror and began to pray. The Holy Spirit descended upon me with understanding: my mother had died that night.

Flashing Lights on the Familiar Street

As I turned onto the familiar street where mom and dad had lived for sixty-four years, my eyes met the glare of flashing red lights from fire and police department vehicles parked in front of the home. I wedged my vehicle into the driveway, then ran past paramedics and police standing silently on the front porch, holding clipboards and filling out paperwork. Their eyes met mine, their glance sorrowful. No words were exchanged.

My father, pulled from the hospital, three younger brothers, a sister-in-law and young niece were in the room. My mother was on the floor, covered in a blanket. I fell to the floor and uncovered her face so that I could kiss her goodbye. She was still warm.

I was comforted by her familiar maternal warmth. I stroked her eighty-three-year-old face, now frozen in an expression of peace. From the depths of my soul, I wailed with cries of grief as my cheek rested on hers. My brother said, “We should pray the rosary for mom now. She’d like that.” We surrounded her lifeless body and prayed as we waited for the mortuary to remove her body.

Mom was rarely left alone. My dad, siblings and a religious sister accompanied her and enabled her to live in the home that she filled with love. But she was alone when death visited suddenly. A heart attack. Another brother shared that when he found her, there was no sign of life, but he tried CPR. I was told that paramedics heroically tried to revive her for a long time.

It was the Feast of the Visitation of Mary, a feast that has great meaning to me. I had just finished an EWTN “Women of Grace” webinar on “Spiritual Mothers: God’s Special Weapon Against Evil.” I never imagined that my foremost spiritual mother would die on this Marian feast.

Right after the webinar, mom called and we made our plans. She seemed happy but worried about my father. Her final words were “I’m fine. Take care of dad.”

Loss and Gain

Intellectually, I anticipated my mother’s death from heart and lung disease. Emotionally, nothing could prepare me for the loss. Mother suffered physically over many years, but she loved life and cheerfully fought for it. God’s plan to call her into eternal life when she was alone at home was quite different than ours.

We were left longing for one more conversation with a mother full of wisdom. We understood her sudden death was our loss but mother’s gain.

Divine Intimacy Radio Interviews Kathleen Beckman on "When Women Pray"

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Divine Intimacy Radio, with Dan Burke and Melissa Elson, once again interview Kathleen Beckman. This time they chat about Kathleen's book, "When Women Pray: Eleven Womenon the Power of Prayer". Have you ever wondered how a busy mother can develop a strong prayer life, or does prayer affect one's physical and mental health, or is there a difference between how men and women pray? Listen and learn more about the power of a women's prayer by clicking the play button below.

The Priest’s Role in the Church & How He Affects the Family

The website spiritualdirection.com has posted an article, September 5, 2017, including a 'Divine Intimacy Radio' podcast hosted by Dan Burke and Melissa Elson titled, "The Priest’s Role in the Church & How He Affects the Family". They speak with Kathleen Beckman about the ever increasing need for prayers for our priests. Read the article and listen to the podcast on the spiritual direction website >here.

Focus TV's Lisa Flood interviews Father Andrew Merrick and Kathleen Beckman

Praying for our priests is becoming more important these days and who better to explain why than a priest. Lisa Flood, with Focus TV, interviews Father Andrew Merrick and Kathleen Beckman in an episode called, "A Divine Mandate". Father Andrew's joy seems contagious as he describes his calling and how he felt others were praying for him. In this video, you'll also get to hear how Kathleen was called to spiritual motherhood and praying for priests. The video is available to watch on Vimeo here.

This Pious Tradition Rewards Mothers of Priests for Their Many Sacrifices

The Aleteia website has posted an article by Philip Kosloski describing a pious tradition involving amaniturgium. If you've had the privilege of attending the ordination of a priest, you may have witnessed this tradition. The mother of the newly ordained priest is presented with the linen towel (the maniturgium) used to wipe the sacred oil of anointment from the new priest's hands. The true reward is not the towel, but what the linen towel will obtain for the mother. Learn more by reading the article on the Aleteia website here.

When Women Pray: Satisfying Love’s Longing

In Cardinal Sarah’s great book, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, he quotes St. John Vianney on prayer, “See my children, A Christian’s treasure is not on earth. It is in heaven. Well, then! Our thoughts must go where our treasure is. Man has a fine function: to pray and to love. You pray, you love: that is man’s happiness on earth!” (p 151).

When Women Pray

Prayer is the way of knowing God the Father, Jesus, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The value we place on prayer amounts to a choice between wisdom or folly. It’s that simple. Prayer is a necessary, holy duty. Prayer is wise because it is the will of God. Prayer is worth the effort and brings fruitfulness. Prayer empowers the active apostolate and forms “contemplatives in action”. But for prayer, we need courage (Catechism clearly states that prayer is a battle) and we need encouragement from others who practice the way of prayer.

For this reason, I invited ten women who are known in Catholic circles for their fruitful apostolates (activity or work) in and for the Church. I invited these leaders to write about the hidden part of their spirituality: their prayer lives. The Holy Spirit wove together a beautiful tapestry on prayer life that is altogether relatable, informative and inspiring.

Johnnette Benkovic penned, “For the Christian who is serious about who he really is, prayer is not optional. As lungs are to physical life, prayer is to spiritual life. Prayer informs, reforms, transforms, and conforms us to Christ.”

Dr. Ronda Chervin wrote, “The Holy Spirit led me to infuse prayer into the classroom, not just at the start and the end of each class, but as occasion arose. If a student mentioned being anxious about a sick relative and wondering how a God of love could let people suffer, I would stop the class and have us all pray for that person.”

Dr. Pia de Solleni wrote, “St. John Paul II wrote, “Perhaps more than men, women acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts.” Could this not refer to the way in which a woman’s body disposes her to see and interact with human life in its very beginning?”

Dr. Mary Healy offered, “Throughout this time I found one kind of prayer to be more life-changing than any other (in fact, I think it is the best kept secret of the spiritual life): the power of praise. I first experienced this gift through the “festivals of praise” at Franciscan University-gatherings where the students would spend hours doing nothing but praising and worshipping God.”

Lisa Hendey wrote, “Being a mother for the first-time evoked emotions that drove me (often literally) to my knees. My begging pleas, amid the barrage of dirty diapers and sleepless nights, for the skills to be a worthy mom formed my lamentations.”

 

 This article is a preview of “When Women Pray.” Read more inspiring words by clicking on the image.

This article is a preview of “When Women Pray.” Read more inspiring words by clicking on the image.

 

Joan Lewis penned, “Then I realized that I am not Teresa of Avila or Therese or John Paul II or a psalmist, those to whom God had given greater graces. I am Joan, created in God’s image and likeness and with my own gifts. Those gifts did not include soaring, powerful love phrases. Perhaps my gift is being able to talk, and sometimes cry and laugh with childlike simplicity, with my friend Jesus.”

Kathryn Jean Lopez offered, “When I pray, I feel the presence of some of these women I’ve mentioned—the saints whom Pope Benedict XVI helped me to know better. It’s often the events of the world that I cover as a commentator and editor that draw me deeper into prayer.”

Marilyn Quirk wrote, “The fruit of prayer: 1) We experience fellowship, 2) He changes us, 3) He teaches us, 4) He helps us to discern, 5) He strengthens us against temptations, 6) He uses our gifts.”

Vicki Thorn penned, “With Project Rachel, I’ve come to appreciate Jesus’ special relationship to wounded women. Often, we carry our wounds with us and hold God’s mercy at arm’s length because we feel unworthy, but we should not do this. Praying with the Gospel passages in which Jesus heals women can be very fruitful.”

Kelly Wahlquist offered, “In these times when I am struggling, I go to where I know Him to be… even if I don’t feel Him there. I take great comfort knowing that although I may not be able to find Him, He will always find me. Just pray.”

Excerpt from Foreword by Sr. Regina Marie Gorman, O.C.D.

Somewhere in the secret chambers of a woman’s heart there is a gentle, persistent longing for holiness. We use various words to describe this longing: a desire for depth, for wholeness; a hunger for something more meaningful than our daily routine, something greater than ourselves. Sometimes we become aware of this longing during those precious moments of peace and leisure. At other times the yearning makes itself known during barren days of angst or during crushing periods of darkness.

Why such a persistent longing in a woman’s heart? How does she satisfy the longing during all the fluctuating seasons of the soul? The answers to these two questions are intrinsically linked. If you understand the answer to the first question, you have already solved the problem of the second question.

The persistent longing was actually embedded in our DNA the moment we were conceived. We were made in Love, by Love, and for Love. God, who is total, infinite, unchanging Love, thought of you, and His Heart was flooded with love for you. He created you that He might carry you in His love, that you might be in intimate relationship with Him, talk with Him, allow Him to love you, to touch you, to speak with you. You didn’t do anything to deserve this love. You can’t do anything to lose His love. It is yours. Forever. No matter what. That is why we are never completely fulfilled except when we are close to God. That is why we experience the longing, that He might fill it as only He can.

How do we weather the seasons of the soul? As best we can. We are frail human beings. That is all we ever will be. Our frailty poses no obstacle whatsoever to God.

The Lord cannot take His eyes off us; it is impossible for Him to tear His Heart away from us. We are never alone. But so often we can feel alone and can become absorbed in our little world. That is because we can forget the unimaginable power and blessing that belongs to us: we are able to communicate with God.

In the Old Testament, we discover women who prayed, women whose influence continues throughout the centuries even to today: Esther and the power of one woman’s intercession; Judith’s audacious faith and unstoppable resolve; Deborah’s far-reaching influence as the only woman judge. In the New Testament, we come upon that unknown child whose simple trust in the Word of the Lord brought about her unconditional Fiat, and the world was changed forever. These women spoke with God, they listened to Him and responded in faith.

Our Lord does not need special people or extraordinary circumstances. Look at the people He chose: a Hebrew girl, a carpenter, a few fishermen, Magdalene, a group of women who accompanied Him. Holiness is integrated within the routine and commonplace, within the scheduled and unscheduled happenings during each day’s unfolding. In that unfolding, our individual paths are often fraught with suffering and pain, that is true, but they are also emblazoned with the fire of love that overcomes and prevails.

We encounter joy and peace in the surrendered heart. A broken heart becomes the seedbed of new life. There is an unspoken confidence owing from the sure and certain knowledge that God accompanies us every step of the way.

In the early 1950s Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen made a compelling statement on his popular television program Life Is Worth Living.

“The level of any civilization is always the level of its womanhood.” The testimonies in this book are unique and personal. The authors share real struggles, tragic pain, palpable triumphs. These women have one thing in common: in the midst of their very human condition they learned to pray. It is that simple. Each woman emerges as a source of life to others. Each touches other hearts and raises the level of our civilization. This book is an invitation to step into your rightful place alongside women who have prayed through the centuries; women who have heard the beating Heart of God and changed the world forever.

Editor’s note: This article is a preview of When Women Pray: Eleven Catholic Women on the Power of Prayerwhich is available as ebook or paperback from Sophia Institute Press

The Diocese of Orange, CA Book Club chose, When Women Pray as a featured selection and will host an Author Event at Christ Cathedral on July 20. Visit: http://occatholic.com/oc-catholic-book-club/

image: By Nheyob (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sacred Heart: Love that Crushes Evil

“Sacred Heart devotion isn’t our devotion. It’s God’s. It’s God’s devotion to us”, writes Fr. James Kubicki, S.J., in his book, A Heart on Fire. He also reminds us that the Sacred Heart devotion didn’t begin in the seventeenth century with revelations to a Visitation nun named St. Margaret Mary Alacoque—it began “before time, in the eternal Heart of God.” This truth aids the joyful rediscovery of God’s perfect love for us. God doesn’t need our love in return, but in the mystery of divine mercy, He desires our reciprocal love. God intends an abiding, loving communion with us. While our hearts are often fickle, forgetful and fearful, His heart is intently focused on us.

In the present culture, so lacking in love, our concept of love is easily distorted, distracted, and destroyed. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a powerful provision against the destruction of authentic love. Christ is present, living and active and his Sacred Heart beats a love song that is uniquely personal.

The devil, our ancient enemy (cf. Eph 6:11-13, Job 2:1-7, Zech 3:1-2, 1 Thes 2:18, Rev 12:10) methodically plots the crushing destruction of authentic love of God and neighbor. Diabolical temptation is aimed at the distortion of God’s image, distraction from our eternal goal, and the destruction of love. When the soul experiences the absence of authentic love, it readily succumbs to the seduction of diabolical liaisons. In the Church’s ministry of deliverance and exorcism we see this repeatedly. A heart on fire with and for divine love repels the demons.

The Catechism addresses the reality of evil and our need to “fix our eyes of faith on him who alone is its conqueror”.

385 God is infinitely good and all his works are good. Yet no one can escape the experience of suffering or the evils in nature which seem to be linked to the limitations proper to creatures: and above all to the question of moral evil. Where does evil come from? “I sought whence evil comes and there was no solution”, said St. Augustine, and his own painful quest would only be resolved by his conversion to the living God. The revelation of divine love in Christ manifested at the same time the extent of evil and the superabundance of grace. We must therefore approach the question of the origin of evil by fixing the eyes of our faith on him who alone is its conqueror.

When we fix our eyes and heart on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we perceive that God’s heart is loving, omnipotent, omniscient, and protective of beloved creatures. The Sacred Heart burns with incomprehensible power to create good and destroy evil. Our focus is always the Eucharistic heart of God, not the work of the devil. Though we perceive the spiritual battle all around us, and discern well the spirits within and without, our hearts must commune with the Sacred Heart. During terrible temptations and worse diabolical onslaughts, the Sacred Heart is a refuge. Especially in Adoration, we can gaze, pray, converse, refresh, discern and be filled with the fuel of grace to resist the devil and proclaim Christ’s victory.

I’d propose seven ways that devotion to the Sacred Heart protects us from sin and evil.

1. Sacred Heart: Incarnational

War broke out in Heaven at the revelation of God’s plan for the Incarnation of the Word.

The rebellion of one third of the angelic beings (now called demons), occurred because they would not accept that the Son of God would become “flesh” in the lowly form of a creature born of a “woman”.  Devotion to the Sacred Heart cultivates incarnational love. Honoring the human heart of Jesus Christ, loving the Incarnate Word’s living heart, empowers us to imitate Him in loving the Father, self and others. This thwarts the devil’s plan to draw us away from our Creator with doubts that God is impersonal and disinterested. Our heart united to Christ’s heart becomes an impenetrable fortress. Demons may surround the fortress but they cannot enter.

2. Sacred Heart: Eucharistic

We enter the epic drama of the greatest love story ever through communion with Jesus in the Eucharist. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Rekindling Eucharistic amazement is a term that Pope John Paul II used in his encyclical, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia.” This amazement of the human heart enkindles the fire of divine love within. Demons despise the Humble Host. According to the saints, demons fear the disciples who live an intentional Eucharistic life. The Sacred Heart is the vessel from which flows the life-saving Precious Blood. The devil works tirelessly to keep us from Holy Communion. To the dismay of demons who curse, Eucharistic life forms a garment of praise that blesses.

3. Sacred Heart: Revelation

Jesus Christ Incarnate reveals the face and heart of our Father in Heaven. We desperately need this revelation of truth for knowledge of who we are: children of God. When we accept the revelation of Jesus Christ, we know our dignity and destiny. These ground us in the truth so that when the Liar, Deceiver and Thief assails us, we stand firm in the revelation of God’s mercy. Devotion to the Sacred Heart helps us to remember the revelation; the Gospel of love. The devil methodically plots to distract us from the revelation and its relevancy. When the devil tempts us to doubt God’s existence or insinuates that He is mean or punishing, we can fly unto the protection of the Sacred Heart, remembering the revelation of divine love. Knowing who God says that I am strengthens me to resist the devil’s lies.

4. Sacred Heart: Word

Pope Benedict reminded us, “We must never forget that all authentic and living Christian spirituality is based on the word of God proclaimed, accepted, celebrated, and meditated upon in the Church” (Verbum Domini, 121). From the beginning, the Word is love. The creation of mankind is deliberately orchestrated to draw all things to God wherein is the fulfillment of all desire. In the Scriptures, we read about Christ’s life on earth; His many human encounters where love manifested. His heart is touched, He weeps, heals, serves, sleeps, eats, prays—he understands men and women. This flies in the face of the devil who seeks to obliterate our awareness of the dignity given us by God. The Word has a heart of infinite love focused on you and me. The devil hates this reality because he exists in loneliness and alienation from love.

5. Sacred Heart: Altar of Sacrifice

The Sacred Heart is a heart for others. Father Simon Tugwell, O. P., teaches, “The liturgy, faithfully celebrated, should be a long-term course in heart-expansion, makes us more and more capable of the totality of love that there is in the heart of Christ.” The perfect sacrifice of Christ’s love is perpetuated on the altar. This is also the proclamation of His victory over evil. The devil, personified pride, is undone by the humility of Christ on the altar of sacrifice. Love sacrifices; lays down His life. The Sacred Heart radiates love that is aimed at the other; the poor, forgotten, sick, and grieving. His heart dies and rises for our sake. Proud and spiteful, the devils envy Christ’s power to save through sacrificial love. Whenever we love sacrificially, our spiritual armor is strengthened.

6. Sacred Heart: Reparation

“True devotion to the Sacred Heart depends on a proper understanding of reparation, an old theological term that is related to atonement, expiation, salvation, and redemption” writes Fr. Kubicki. In his “Jesus of Nazareth”, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “God cannot simply ignore man’s disobedience and all the evil of history; he cannot treat it as if it were inconsequential or meaningless. Such ‘mercy’ would be that ‘cheap grace’ to which Bonhoeffer rightly objected in the face of the appalling evil encountered in his day.” Christ paid the debt of sinners. Sin continues. Believers can unite with Christ’s reparation and offer up our sufferings and sacrifices to help repair. Devotion to the Sacred Heart helps us to enter Christ’s reparative love. Thus, we reclaim territory, robbing the devil of so many souls that he’d carry to the abyss.

7. Sacred Heart: Union with Immaculate Heart

The Church places the feast of the Sacred Heart on Friday and the feast of the Immaculate Heart on Saturday to reminds us their unity. Jesus Christ and His mother Mary are united in the will of the Father and they cannot be separated. Devotion and consecration to the Sacred Heart is spiritually complimentary to devotion to the Immaculate Heart. This holy liaison forms a powerhouse of protection against evil spirits. Between the Eucharistic Sacred Heart and the Virginal Immaculate Heart, there is a space reserved for you and me where no evil spirit dare to enter. Let us remain in the loving protection of the united Sacred and Immaculate Hearts where we are safe as we walk in the valley of death and evil.

Enthronement of the family to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is highly recommended by priests. For more information about this, I highly recommend Fr. James Kubicki’s book, A Heart on Fire.

Devotion affords spiritual benefits, for as Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “Our God is not a remote God intangible in his blessedness. Our God has a heart.” To whom does your heart belong?

image: Nancy Bauer / Shutterstock.com

The Power of Spiritual Fatherhood

Just in time for Father's Day, we thought you might enjoy a good read. June 15, 2017, Michele Chronister writes an article at Catholic Exchange reflecting on her encounters with priests and spiritual fathers. She also reminds us,"This Father’s Day, remember the priests in your life."
Read her article by clicking the text or image below.

The Power of Spiritual Fatherhood

Spiritual Motherhood Live Webinar - Online Retreat - May 31, 2017

Don't miss our upcoming Spiritual Motherhood Webinar with author and speaker Kathleen Beckman. 

What is God's special weapon against evil? Find out in this inspiring webinar with Kathleen Beckman in which she delves into the topic of spiritual motherhood using the teachings of the Church and the wisdom of Our Blessed Mother and several female saints. 

Topics include:
- Rome's Congregation for Clergy invitation to women
Mary's spiritual motherhood, especially for priests and her role in the defeat of evil
- The example of women Saints including St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Catherine of Siena, and Venerable Conchita Cabrera
- When you register, you will receive a link to the LIVE webinar on May 31st at 8:00 PM ET. 

You will get access to our self-paced Spritual Motherhood Online Retreat for mothers and spiritual mothers. 

Registrants will receive:

A LIVE Spiritual Motherhood Webinar with Catholic Author and Speaker, Kathleen Beckman
- 5 - Women of Grace® TV Programs on Spiritual Motherhood
- 30 - Day Women of Grace® Journal on Spiritual - Motherhood with Daily Reflections for meditation and prayer.

Women of Grace® Mission Statement

Women of Grace® seeks to transform the world one woman at a time

by affirming women in their dignity and vocation as daughters of God and

in their gift of authentic femininity™ through ongoing spiritual formation.

 

Learn more at www.womenofgrace.com

Become a Spiritual Father to a Priest - Catholic Exchange article by Dave McClow

Following is an article at Catholic Exchange website writen by Dave McClow entitled, "St. Joseph: Our Model for Fatherhood".

Fatherlessness has become an epidemic in our society:  43% of our kids grow up without fathers (US Census), approaching a catastrophe rivaling the 1918 flu pandemic when an estimated 56% of the world was infected.  Fatherlessness is devastating—legally, morally, psychologically, and spiritually. A shocking snapshot of our fatherless youth shows they comprise 63% of youth suicides (US Dept. Of Health/Census)–5 times the average; 90% of all homeless and runaway children–32 times the average; 85% of all children who show behavior disorders–20 times the average (Center for Disease Control); 80% of rapists with anger problems–14 times the average (Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26); and 71% of all high school dropouts–9 times the average (National Principals Association Report).

Fatherlessness is a Catholic problem in two ways:  1) because God is father, it creates a crisis of faith and is partly responsible for the rise of the religious “nones” (70% are millennials, 23% are adults, and 57% are men) and 2) it challenges how we evangelize the fatherless.

The antidote is men fully living out their faith as spiritual fathers by informally adopting our lost generation.  Our faith calls us to care for the “least” and the vulnerable (Mt. 25:40) and to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19)—that’s spiritual fatherhood; that’s the summit of being a man, and St. Joseph is our prototypical model.

How is St. Joseph a Spiritual Father?

St. Joseph took two roads to spiritual fatherhood: 1) through the incarnation, and 2) through participation in a new order of family.

God the Father, our real prototype of spiritual fatherhood (Eph. 3:14), asked St. Joseph to be Jesus’ father.  John Paul II says that even though his fatherhood is not biological, he is not just an “apparent” or “substitute” father.  Rather, he “fully shares in authentic human fatherhood and the mission of a father in the family“ (RC, 21).  How is this so?  As the Incarnation, Jesus’ whole purpose is to reveal the Father and true fatherhood (Jn 14:9).  And John Paul II explains that the Holy Family is inserted directly into the mystery of the Incarnation.  And so, though St. Joseph is not Jesus’ biological father, when he reveals, relives, and radiates the very fatherhood of God, he becomes Jesus’ authentic human, and I would add spiritual, father.  His masculinity is fully expressed in his spiritual fatherhood, as it should be for all men, first and foremost, even if they are not biological fathers.

A New Order of Family

“Who are my mother and brothers?  Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt. 12:46-50; cf., Mk. 3:31-35; Lk 27-28).  Is Jesus trying to escape a stereotypical overbearing Jewish mother?  I don’t think so!  Instead, John Paul II believes Jesus is establishing a whole new order of family and parenthood based on obedience.  And who is more obedient than Mary?  Jesus is preparing her for the crowning event of her new spiritual motherhood at the foot of cross: “Son, behold your Mother” (Jn 19:26-27).  In the new order, Jesus gives us and the Church his own mother.

Similarly, St. Joseph, as Jesus’ spiritual father, can also be our father.  Spiritual fatherhood (or motherhood) includes any action of care for others, i.e., the corporal or spiritual works of mercy.

“Joseph did.…” These two words and their variants, “he took the child…and went…” define St. Joseph’s role in salvation history.  He is not known for what he said in the Gospels—he said nothing!  But he listens to God in his inner life—his dreams—and then does the hard thing!  He protects the Son of God and his mother through many obstacles and threats—spiritual fatherhood is always an adventure!  He cares for and educates a child who is not his own in obedience to God’s word.  And as a just and generous man, he is willing to sacrifice much.  He is a good spiritual father to Jesus, and to us.

Spiritual fatherhood, as the summit of masculinity, is open to any age.  For years I watched the 5th and 6th grade boys at my local parish mentor or shepherd the younger boys during Mass.  When men or boys live out who they are created to be as spiritual fathers, they become more themselves, more masculine; they follow St. Joseph, our model, in revealing, reliving, and radiating God’s fatherhood to others.  In Part 2 I will explore more of the practical side of St. Joseph’s spiritual fatherhood as priest, prophet, and king.

The fatherlessness of this generation will spread like a cancer if unopposed.  Catholic men must be a witness, exercising their God-given gender and masculinity as spiritual fathers.  Our Church and culture depend on us!  We must imitate our father St. Joseph in revealing, reliving, and radiating God’s fatherhood to spiritual children who are not our own.  To whom can you be a spiritual father in your neighborhood or parish today?

image: St Joseph and the Angel by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr

Fatima: Mary and the Struggle Against Satan

“O my Jesus! Forgive us our sins, save us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need.” According the memoirs of Sr. Lucia of Fatima, this prayer was directly taught by the Virgin Mary to the seers.

On the one-hundred-year anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, the universal Church reflects on Mary’s apparition. With joy, we celebrate the canonization of two of the seers who received the revelations. Jacinta and Francesco Marto lived Mary’s message with heroic charity and zeal for the salvation of souls. Now we must consider the weightiness of the events; Fatima’s relevancy over the past one hundred years, and its meaning for this present hour.

I did not orchestrate this, but Providence arranged that I celebrate the Centenary of Fatima in the Eternal City as a student at a Rome university in a course on liberation from evil through the ministry of exorcism. Enlisted by clergy into this ministry of mercy, I am receiving continuing education together with 240 students (mostly clergy and some lay assistants), representatives of thirteen countries, gathered to learn more about the task and responsibility of the hard fight with the devil.

This holy work requires “a deep bond with Jesus Christ, a constant and scrupulous care of self together with sacrificial love for suffering souls”. Believers and non-believers are more frequently calling the bishop’s office or knocking on the door of the parish priest seeking liberation from evil spirits. Christ’s ministers seek to respond with generous pastoral charity. The salvation of a great number of souls is at stake. One professor reminded us of the words of St. John Paul II, “We have to fight against the devil; only then are we witnesses of the Gospel.”

Fittingly, on the first day, Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Cause of Saints, (who has been busy preparing for the canonization of seers Jacinta and Francesco Marto), gave an inspired talk titled, “The Role of Mary in the Struggle Against Satan” articulating nine key points. Here I will share a few of his reflections.

The Cardinal reminded us of the Marian aspect wherein, from the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation, the scriptures present Mary as the “women” uniquely chosen by God to restore the dignity of woman after Eve’s fall into the temptation of Satan. The Virgin “Mary gives us a love that regenerates. Satan is absent love.”

In the book of Revelation, the two characters “the woman” and the “dragon” represent good and evil; life and death. Mary represents the Church according to some interpretations. “In modern and ancient interpretations, the Son of a woman is a personal messiah, Jesus Christ. He comes to send the devil away.”

“The event of Fatima underscores the victory of Mary over Satan.” Mary is the protagonist. Fatima presumes the presence of the Church though Mary. She comes to us in a time of war, anti-Catholic persecution, Communism, Fascism, Christian terrorism, and oppression of any religious values.

The Cardinal emphasized that Sister Lucia said, “Nothing is secret anymore; there is no fourth secret; all was published in 2000.” The Cardinal then commented, “Pope John Paul II is the great interpreter of the Fatima Secret.” After the assassination attempt on 13 May 1981, the Holy Father contemplated the events, and entrusted himself to the Virgin Mary whose maternal hand re-directed the path of what would have been a fatal bullet. He understands that the Lord and the Virgin Mary have intervened.

The third part of the secret refers to the killing of a bishop dressed in white (the Pope) surrounded by a group of soldiers who died also (the blood of the martyrs?). “There are various interpretations… the “official one is a publication in the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, by then Prefect, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

“Fatima helps us to understand the signs of the times. Children see hell. They are exposed to this terror; enlisted to help save souls by prayer and penance. The children respond in faith with obedience to the revelation.” They understand “the key word: penance!”

“The free will of man is to choose between good and evil. Sometimes the future is presented in an irrevocable way: the vision of a city in ruin; a bishop in white is killed; martyrdom— (the future of the Church in the 20th century). Pope John Paul II acknowledged his own fate. The maternal hand of Mary says, ‘There is no unchangeable fate. Prayer is stronger than a gun!’ Mary shows us this.”

“Protagonist Pope John Paul II interpreted the secret of Fatima. He was overwhelmed by the message of Fatima. He felt the need to reflect on the meaning and value of the angel and Mary of Fatima.”

“He was wounded by a professional killer. We are before a Pope who stopped at the beginning of his “rebirth”. John Paul II realized that the Blessed Virgin Mary gave him a second life, a “Marian Kairos” (a propitious moment for decision or action). The Holy Father had other intentions for his papacy but the assassination attempt and, consequently, his reflection on the secret of Fatima, gives him the way to interpret Fatima, and his present and future. The vision convinced Pope John Paul II that death was avoided only by the powerful intercession of Mary. This was a turning point in his pontificate. The secret of Fatima reveals the fight against Satan (murderer) and the maternal guidance (power) of Mary.”

“Fatima introduces the symbol of the Blood; it reveals the battle between Satan and the Virgin Mary. The message throws light on the world today. Fatima opens a new vision of our future: a dark future enlightened by hope because of the maternal Heart of Mary. Fatima is a prophetic vision of the war waged against the Church and of immense suffering. I am a Salesian. I am reminded of the prophetic dream of St. John Bosco who humbly lowered his prophetic reality to call it a dream. He saw a ship in the sea attacked by smaller ships. The ship anchored itself to two columns: The Virgin Mary and Jesus in the Eucharist. We cope with the battles of this life with Mary and the Eucharist.”

“O my Jesus! Forgive us our sins, save us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need.” This prayer said at the end of each decade of the Holy Rosary punctuates the spiritual weapon that defeats evil.

  • “O my Jesus!” is the cry of the believing human heart.
  • “Forgive us our sins” is the desire of a good conscience, a response to God who poured out His Blood for the forgiveness of sins.
  • “Save us from the fire of hell” is a reminder that hell exists. We have complete freedom to choose NOT to go there.
  • “Lead us to Heaven” –the union of our free will with the divine will. Grace carries us there if we vigilantly respond to God.
  • “Especially those who are in most need”—penance, reparation, sacrifice –intercessory prayer for the salvation of souls.

The words of Cardinal Angelo Amato deserve repeating:

  • The maternal hand of Mary reveals, ‘There is no unchangeable fate. Prayer is stronger than a gun!’ Mary shows us this.
  • Fatima opens a new vision of our future: a dark future enlightened by hope because of the maternal Heart of Mary. Fatima is a prophetic vision of the war waged against the Church and of immense suffering.
  • I am a Salesian. I am reminded of the prophetic dream of St. John Bosco who humbly lowered his prophetic reality to call it a dream. He saw a ship in the sea attacked by smaller ships. The ship anchored itself to two columns: The Virgin Mary and Jesus in the Eucharist. We cope with the battles of this life with Mary and the Eucharist.

Once, my father-in-law commented that the fall of the Berlin Wall was an answer to the prayers of a generation of Catholics who took to heart the message of Fatima. How will this present generation live the Fatima message?

Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

Diocese of Austin, Texas, 2017 Women's Conference

This fall - Saturday, September 23, 2017 - Kathleen is scheduled to speak at the Diocese of Austin Women's Conference.
As it says on the poster below - The day includes Mass with Bishop Daniel Garcia, surprise guest testimonials, confession, eucharistic adoration, intercessory prayer teams, great women's fellowship and Catholic books and gifts for purchase.
See further details on the poster below.