Pope Francis pays tribute to recent Christian martyrs

At morning mass recently, Pope Francis honored the many Christians who are persecuted and killed for their faith around the world, and requested we remember them:

The true history of the Church is that of the saints and the martyrs. In these days how many Stephens there are in the world! Let us think of our brothers whose throats were slit on the beach in Libya; let’s think of the young boy who was burnt alive by his companions because he was a Christian; let us think of those migrants thrown from their boat into the open sea by other migrants because they were Christians; let us think – just the day before yesterday – of those Ethiopians assassinated because they were Christians… and of many others. Many others of whom we do not even know and who are suffering in jails because they are Christians. The Church today is a Church of martyrs: they suffer, they give their lives and we receive the blessing of God for their witness.

God’s Word is always rejected by some. God’s Word is inconvenient when you have a stone heart, when you have a pagan heart, because God’s Word asks you to go ahead trying to satisfy your hunger with the bread which Jesus spoke of. In the history of the Revelation many martyrs have been killed for their faith and loyalty towards God’s Word, God’s Truth.

Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Casa Santa Marta

He also expressed solidarity with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, after the recent murder by ISIS of 28 Ethiopian Christians, sending a message of condolence to the Patriarch Matthias:

With great distress and sadness I learn of the further shocking violence perpetrated against innocent Christians in Libya. I reach out to you in heartfelt spiritual solidarity to assure you of my closeness in prayer at the continuing martyrdom being so cruelly inflicted on Christians in Africa, the Middle East and some parts of Asia. It makes no difference whether the victims are Catholic, Copt, Orthodox or Protestant, their blood is one and the same in their confession of Christ!

Please remember these martyrs in your prayers.

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“All have sinned and fall short…”

It’s taken me a long time to answer last week’s RCIA questions, and perhaps you’ll see why:

What has Jesus done to save me?

What is God doing to save me?

Those questions are at the same time deeply personal, and somewhat generic. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Christianity knows the “generic” answer to at least the first question, and many Christians can probably quote some pertinent Bible verses.

It’s only recently that salvation has become personal for me. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” (Saint Augustine) Although blessed with so much, I felt empty until I returned to God. And that’s what Jesus has done to save me. His saving act upon the cross allows us to return to God, it bridges that separation, it enables that close, fulfilling relationship with God.

Throughout those years when I’d left Christianity and “dabbled” in Buddhism, it was as if I were subconsciously trying to work out my own salvation. I knew I was a sinner, feeling exactly as Paul did when he said (in his letter to the Romans):

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7: 15-20)

I could have said all of that, I was that frustrated with myself! The thing is, Buddhism does not believe in sin or evil, so any wrong thoughts or actions that one does, are supposed to be worked out on the meditation cushion. Calm your mind, and you will eventually no longer react angrily. Be mindful, live in the moment, and eventually you will no longer think impatient thoughts. Meditate on impermanence and you will no longer lust after people or things (because they’re impermanent, after all!) Meditate on your own death, and you will no longer fear death…

Now, I’m not saying this doesn’t work for some people (and I definitely met many calm, peaceful, happy Buddhists!) but I knew it wasn’t working for me. I was the same, sinful me after a decade of daily meditation as I was going in! The only thing different, was my despair at my feelings of emptiness and what I termed “spinning my wheels”. If I could have put it into words, I’d have said, “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

And I also felt a desperate, almost despairing, need to believe in God! And although I felt the separation from God in my life, I also felt the potential for closeness, often while I was meditating — that thrill when the quiet in a room anticipates a sound, rather than dead silence. After awhile I could no longer deny that Presence. I could no longer deny my need for God. I need God to fill that emptiness and longing in my life. I need God to thank with overflowing gratitude for my blessings! I especially need God so that I can quit the endless, useless spinning of my wheels.

In my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7: 22-25)

We hear as children, “God is Love”, but I needed to experience that first-hand before I could believe it. For the first time I feel and believe I am loved and forgiven by God. I’m not sure what changed, except making small decisions to believe. To believe I could pray to Mary and she would hear my pleas for change in my life. To believe that the Presence I detect, and have been conscious of at moments throughout my life, is God’s Presence. To believe that the voice in my heart that is nudging me in certain directions is God’s Voice. To believe that my prayers and thoughts and gratitude and love for God are received. And to believe that this movement out of despair and lostness and toward God’s love and acceptance will continue.

God's Presence

And it is through Christ’s atoning sacrifice that I can be accepted back! “Just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful kindness rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5: 21) I am so happy that I finally get it! 🙂

And emphasis on God’s wonderful kindness! It’s: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” Not “for God was so annoyed at the world”, or “for God so despaired of the world”, or “for God was so angry at the world”. Those reactions would have been justified, but I never experienced that from God when I returned to him. I only felt love and happiness! God freely gives of himself! It was Christ’s free gift that saves us! “My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.” (John 10: 17-18)

And I recognize that this is an ongoing process. I lay down my sinful self before Christ in the Eucharist, and he atones for my and others’ sins. I constantly try to die to my sinful self, and instead live for Christ in me. I hope to continue to serve him the rest of my days. “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness!”

“Thank You” to the Person who made this

Yesterday’s post at the 54-Day Rosary novena site (for Day 4) gave a quote from Saint Thomas Aquinas that, the instant I read it, brought me to tears. It expresses exactly how I’ve always felt, in my heart, toward God.

To love God is something greater than to know Him.

– Saint Thomas Aquinas

I mentioned in a previous post how when I was a very young child I would sit quietly in church, gazing at the stained glass window, and just loving God. I had no concept of God, I knew nothing of God, and yet I knew I loved Him. I feel exactly the same now. I’m coming in to all of this new, with barely any concept of God except some half-formed (half-baked?) ideas which I’ve accumulated over the years, which I figure I might as well discard.

But I still have the enormous love and gratitude toward God, and I think that’s what has led me to this point. I felt so completely dissatisfied with any spiritual practice that did not include God. Any spiritual system that doesn’t acknowledge God feels empty. Because who do you thank for all this? For this incredible, beautiful creation, and for one’s own being?

Sunset from our porch

Sunset from our porch

I immediately recognized this feeling when I heard an interesting point being made in one of Father Robert Barron’s videos. I’ll quote the section here, but I highly recommend that you click on over and listen to the whole video. The part I’m quoting begins at the 4:55 mark.

…The argument from contingency: It’s a fancy way of saying that the world as we know it exists, but doesn’t have to exist. You and I are here, but we don’t have to be here, there’s nothing necessary about our being. And it’s true — the world as we know it is fleeting, it’s passing. Therefore we have to go outside the world, to God, God who does exist through himself, and who therefore grounds and creates the whole of the world that we know.

Relatedly, Dorothy Day, when she was in the process of coming to the Church (she was going through a process of conversion), she had a child. And one day when she was on the porch of her house and she was holding her child, she said, “I felt a gratitude that was so enormous that I knew it would correspond to nothing in this world.” There was nothing, nobody in this world she could possibly thank that would correspond to the gratitude she was feeling.

That’s it; that’s exactly it. What she was sensing was God. This world, myself, my child, none of it has to be here, yet it’s here. And the proper response is “Thank You” to the Person who made this.

I hope to spend the rest of my life doing just that — thanking God for His blessings. I feel as though I’ve wasted half my life wandering around like a “Prodigal Daughter”, when I could have been “home” in my Father’s house this whole time… So I want to make up for it by spending my days in prayer (as constant as I can make it!)

As much of it as possible: prayers of praise and gratitude and love of God.

We are not contending against flesh and blood…

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.

One of my favorite blogs, The Catholic Gentleman, has yet another great post, today on Saint Michael, Archangel (this being the Feast Day of the Archangels). Check it out!

Saint Michael, Archangel

Saint Michael, Archangel

We’re in a spiritual war, and in this war there is no neutrality. The combatants are God, the Immaculate Virgin, the saints, the devil, demon hordes, angelic hosts of immense power, and you. The weapons are humble prayer, frequent fasting, and unwavering faith.

“For we are not contending against flesh and blood,” says St. Paul, “but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness…”

The Catholic Gentleman

How Strong Is My Faith?

One of the questions in tonight’s RCIA class: How strong is my faith in God?

It’s like a very young child – not a mature faith, but a complete faith. I trust God, like a child trusts its parents. I’ve always felt like God was there with me, even during my years of unbelief, waiting, nudging me, helping me “toddle along” in my spiritual growth.

I remember when I was very young, in my childhood church, learning “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength, and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” I remember thinking, “Well, that first part is easy.” Because I knew I loved God so very much, as much as I was able. And that love, adoration, was always in the background of my prayers.

We went to church every Sunday when I was little, and I didn’t “act up” because I loved the music, and during the rest of the service I would gaze at the large stained glass window at the front of the church and just sat there loving God and loving being in that place. Church was truly a sanctuary for me. The stained glass window was of an abstract design, no particular scene being portrayed, kind of like this one below, and the church was light and airy, so beautiful.

stained glass

I’m trying not to lament the years that I “strayed from the faith”, because I know that I had to work with myself where I was at, but I am so happy to be back, loving God with all the strength I’m able! That much hasn’t changed… 🙂

Now, if the question had been “How strong is my faith in Jesus?” that would be a different matter altogether. As I mentioned in a previous post, throughout my childhood, even though I was raised a Christian, I rarely thought or spoke about Jesus, and really directed my prayers to God. We studied the New Testament, of course, and the church focused on Jesus, but in my own inner spiritual life, all of that kind of rolled off me, didn’t stick, for whatever reason. So this is something I have to work on, and right now I’m praying the Divine Mercy chaplet daily, and hope soon to do Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, now that I’ve started going to church.

So, perhaps I have a strong trust, but neither a mature faith, nor even a particularly Christian faith at the moment. So I have a long but exciting, joyous path ahead of me…

Pondering Faith

“[Faith is] the act of the intellect assenting to a Divine truth owing to the movement of the will, which is itself moved by the grace of God.”

Saint Thomas Aquinas

Faith is one of the topics for this week’s RCIA meeting (Faith/Prayer and Journaling). Once again, I turned to Fr. Robert Barron for insight. I find his easygoing, “just sitting around chatting” videos quite approachable, and at the same time challenging and, for a newbie like me, packed with information.

In the above linked video, he compares the Catholic idea of faith in God (i.e. employing one’s reason and then taking the step of faith) to how people normally interact with others. If we find someone interesting, we may decide to study him, observe him from afar, ask mutual friends about him, do a little research into who he is… but all that will only take us so far. To really get to know him, we must finally actually approach the person, let him speak, and learn from the person himself who he is, his thoughts and feelings, his wishes. Only then can we really know the person, can that person reveal things that we never could have learned from an objective, analytical inquiry.

Then you have to decide if you’re going to believe what the person has revealed to you once you’ve let him speak. Do you trust that person? And that final step is the step of faith.

This analogy is apt because, as Fr. Barron points out, the claim of the Bible is that God is a Person (the supreme Person) who has chosen to speak, to reveal himself to mankind.

We can’t know the heart of God until God decides to speak. At which point I have to say, ‘Okay, do I trust Him or not?’ What’s faith? Faith, for us, is that moment of trust, when I say, ‘Yes. I accept the truth of the God who speaks.’

Fr. Barron

So, this is the “intellect assenting to a Divine truth” in the Aquinas quote above. And this assent is “owing to the movement of the will”, a decision to trust and accept God’s Word, his voice speaking to us.

But what about that last bit, “which is itself moved by the grace of God”? To further Fr. Barron’s analogy a bit, this grace would be God moving first. In the analogy above, the person makes the first move by becoming interested in the other party, and doing some research on him, before finally approaching him and letting him speak. But in our relationship with God, we show interest in learning about God and approaching him due to his grace moving in us, prompting us, kind of nudging us.

Does that negate our free will? I don’t think so, because certainly a person can ignore the prompting and nudging, and I guess eventually (sadly) it’ll stop…

We can choose to respond as if our free will is a seed or a stone. We can allow God’s grace to open us to his call, to nourish us like water and sunlight and fertile soil, or we can harden ourselves so that nothing he says or does can entire in.

Faith

But what astonishes me is that God would choose to speak to mankind at all, reveal himself at all. Why? Amazing. That something so huge, beyond comprehension, as the Creator would also choose to be personal, to actually speak to each one of us, to love us. And yet still remain so completely Other, beyond everything we know. So very strange and beautiful…