Sunday, July 01, 2007

The End...

Yes, I know what I said a few posts back about upcoming posts here (only one of which was ever actually posted). Yet I have decided that I am no longer going to write at Grace for the Wayward Heart. I will devote my blogging time to Barque of Peter, my Catholic apologetics blog. Perhaps that one was read less frequently than this--perhaps the style of writing between the two was different enough that people preferred the more humourous and relaxed tone of Wayward, or the essay format vs. colour-coded dialogues typical so far at Barque. Maybe they just liked the format here better than the spartan look of Barque (though that has completely changed to a much more comforting and liturgical scheme, if you hadn't already seen it). Whatever the reason, I would hope that you might stop in over there from time to time anyway.

I'm planning to reproduce certain articles from here on that site, such as the Passion of the Christ and Da Vinci Code series, as well as others. I also plan to write more Wayward-style articles at Barque, instead of the once-typical output there. And, don't worry, I'm not going to delete Wayward--what is here will stay here until Blogger decides (if they decide) to take it down. And, of course, any comments posted here will still be emailed to me. Just don't expect any new posts around here.

Now, a little while ago, I had added "Dez" as a contributor to this blog. She hasn't as yet actually contributed anything, but if she chooses to take it and run with it, then that's awesome! I hope she does.

Thanks for reading and for praying. Hope to see you on the Boat.

God bless

Monday, April 16, 2007

At the Feet of Jesus

Divine Mercy
We Fall Down
Words and Music by Chris Tomlin

We fall down
We lay our crowns
At the feet of Jesus

The greatness of
Mercy and Love
At the feet of Jesus

And we cry
Holy, Holy, Holy
And we cry
Holy, Holy, Holy
And we cry
Holy, Holy, Holy
Is the Lamb
This weekend, we celebrated the Feast of Divine Mercy, which is a rather new feast in the Church, and yet, at the same time, a really old feast, too. It was added to the Liturgical Calendar by Pope John Paul II in 2000, and yet there are still many Catholics who don't know anything about it, so I thought I would begin with a brief history of the feast.

Way back in the time of the Church Fathers, the Sunday after Easter was known as Dominica in Albis, or Sunday in White (or Whitsunday). This was because at the Easter Vigil, the newly baptised Catholics were given a white garment which represented the new purity of their souls, which they would wear for the whole week of Easter. On Dominica in Albis, they took off their white robes and put them in a place of special remembrance for them. On this feast, St. Augustine would say to his parishioners at this moment, "Let not our interior purity be lessened as we set aside its exterior symbols." (#156, Dominica in Albis) St. Augustine calls these days "days of mercy and pardon" (# 156, Dominica in Albis) and the Sunday "the compendium of the days of mercy."

Moreover, my patron saint, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, one of the greatest Doctors of the Church, says that this Octave day of Easter is even a greater Feast than Easter though it takes nothing whatever away from the greatness of the Day of the Resurrection itself. Easter Sunday is the boundary between death and life (a creation). But its eighth day, the Octave, is the fulfillment of what Easter is all about - perfect life in eternity (a second creation, more admirable and more sublime than the first).

Over the centuries, however, the greatness of this feast was seemingly forgotten by the Church, until in the 1930's, Jesus Himself began appearing in visions to a Polish nun, St. Maria Faustyna of the Most Holy Eucharist (or just St. Faustina). He said to her,
I am giving them the last hope of salvation; that is, the Feast of My Mercy. If they will not adore My mercy, they will perish for all eternity... tell souls about this great mercy of Mine, because the awful day, the day of My justice, is near.

On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the found of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.

On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened.

You will prepare the world for My final coming.

Before I come as a just Judge, I first open wide the door of my mercy.
(Quotes taken from various locations in St. Faustina's Diary.)
When St. Faustina told the Bishop of Cracow that Jesus wanted this feast instituted, she was told that there already was such a feast, and she shouldn't trouble herself or him with these things. Rebuffed, she reported this to Jesus the next time He appeared, and He answered, "And who knows anything about this feast? No one! Even those who should be proclaiming My mercy and teaching people about it often do not know about it themselves. That is why I want the image to be solemnly blessed on the First Sunday after Easter, and I want it to be venerated publicly so that every soul may know about it."

However, the feast never came to be recognised by the Universal Church until April 30th, 2000--the date of St. Faustina's canonisation. And on this day, it was another Archbishop of Cracow who had the honours--though by now he was the Pope!

On May 13th, 1981, there was an assassination on Pope John Paul II's life. Critically wounded by a gunshot, he was taken to the hospital. While recovering there, the Pope had the Diary of St. Faustina re-read to him. Upon his recovery, he visited his would-be assailant in prison. After he left the prison, the media wanted to know what he and his assassin had talked about. But all the Pope said was that the details were between he and his assailant, but he did clearly state, "I have forgiven him as a brother and a friend."

This forgiveness of the Pope wasn't simply a pious platitude or the sanctimonious posturing of a "religious" man. It was genuine. As proof of this, Pope John Paul II kept up regular correspondence with the man and his family. He even urged prayer for his "brother". Toward the end of his battle with Parkinson's, John Paul II's former assailant actually wrote to wish him well in his illness, expressing hope that the Pope would live to carry on his work! This man, who formerly tried to kill the Pope, was deeply grieved on the day of his funeral, that he could not be allowed to go to Rome to mourn!

That is the power of mercy! And the example of the Pope's mercy on this man reminds us of Jesus' mercy for us. Jesus said that there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for his friends, but Romans tells us that Jesus laid down His life for His enemies, in order to make them friends! That unfathomable mercy is what the Pope declared we celebrate on Divine Mercy Sunday!

Now, of course, to discuss Mercy, we need to have a need for Mercy. In other words, Mercy is closely related to Forgiveness--and Forgiveness requires something to forgive. And all of us need forgiveness. We all need Mercy. Way back at the beginning, the original people, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God and lost the life of Grace that He created them to live in. But they didn't just lose that Grace for themselves; they lost it for all of us. This is the notion of Original Sin--that, in a sense, we have all been sold into slavery to sin. We inherit this slave-state just as the son of a slave is born into slavery. As slaves to sin, we're subject to its control in our lives--meaning, we can't simply blame Adam and Eve for ruining things for us, as though we don't have our own responsibility. As the Bible clearly tells us, we've all sinned. We all need to be set free.

And so, Jesus came, as He said, "not to be served, but to serve, and to give Himself as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). Romans 11:32 tells us, "God has imprisoned all human beings in their own disobedience only to show mercy to them all." In other words, God allowed Adam and Eve to choose to disobey Him, in order to subject us all to our own disobedience, for the sole purpose of demonstrating the true, unfathomable greatness of His Divine Mercy to those who would accept it! At the Cross, Jesus paid the debt for our sins, to ransom us out of slavery and give us new life in Him. We find this Mercy for Sins at the foot of the Cross:
Carrying His own cross He went out to the Place of the Skull or, as it is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him with two others, one on either side, Jesus being in the middle....
It was the Day of Preparation, and to avoid the bodies' remaining on the cross during the Sabbath--since that Sabbath was a day of special solemnity--the Jews asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken away. Consequently the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Him and then of the other. When they came to Jesus, they saw He was already dead, and so instead of breaking His legs one of the soldiers pierced His side with a lance; and immediately there came out blood and water. This is the evidence of one who saw it--true evidence, and he knows that what he says is true--and he gives it so that you may believe as well. Because all this happened to fulfil the words of scripture:
'Not one bone of His will be broken;'
and again, in another place scripture says:
'They will look to the one whom they have pierced.'
(John 19:17-18, 31-37)
John the Apostle watched as the Centurion pierced the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the flood of water and blood that flowed out twigged in his mind the words of the prophet Zechariah, who prophesied:
'But over the House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem I shall pour out a spirit of grace and prayer, and tehy will look to Me. They will mourn for the One whom they have pierced as though for an only child, and weep for Him as people weep for a first-born child. When that day comes, the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad Rimmon in the Plain of Meggido...
'When that Day comes, a fountain will be opened for the House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to wash sin and impurity away.'
(Zechariah 12:10-11, 13:1)
Not only, Zechariah says, will they look upon the One they pierced (who is identified with God Himself, notably), but they will mourn for Him as they did at Meggido, when King Josiah (a major hero of the Jewish people) was killed in battle. And on top of all that, and from all that, the Fountain to cleans from Sin and Impurity will flow out! Divine Mercy--the blood and water from Jesus' Heart, flows out for the forgiveness of sin!

Jesus said precisely this to St. Faustina: "On the cross, the fountain of My mercy was opened wide by the lance for all souls – no one have I excluded!"

The divine Mercy that flows from Jesus' Heart--the Blood and Water--are emblematic of Baptism and the Eucharist, as He explained to St. Faustina, through which we receive the forgiveness of sins and special graces from God! This Divine Mercy is available to all of us, if we choose to appropriate it to ourselves!

What must we do, then?
We must come to the feet of Jesus, where the fountain of Mercy pours out. At the feet of Jesus our lives are transformed, just as was Thomas' in the Sunday Gospel. Jesus did not cast him away for his obstinate unbelief, but showed him His Merciful Heart, and forgave him!

That same forgiveness is available to us for the asking! And so we ask for mercy, in the Sacrament of Confession, which Jesus instituted upon His resurrection:
He said to them again, 'Peace be with you.
'As the Father has sent Me,
so am I sending you.'
After saying this He breathed on them and said:
Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive anyone's sins,
they are forgiven;
if you retain anyone's sins,
they are retained.'
(John 20:21-23)
To St. Faustina, Jesus said:
Souls that make an appeal to My mercy delight Me. To such souls I grant even more than they ask. I cannot punish even the greatest sinner if he makes an appeal to My compassion...
Sometimes, though, Confession is an intimidating thing to go to. We sin, and we're ashamed. We don't want to tell anyone, especially not a priest!
When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I Myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy. When you go to confession, to this fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My Heart always flows down upon your soul and ennobles it. Every time you go to confession, immerse yourself entirely in My mercy with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of My grace upon your soul.

Make your confession before Me. The person of the priest is, for Me, only a screen. Never analyze what sort of a priest it is that I am making use of; open your soul in confession as you would to Me, and I will fill it with My light.
Or, we go, in humility, and receive forgiveness and graces to avoid sin in the future, but still, we manage to fall back into our old habits almost immediately! We can despair of God's generous forgiveness--but we must never do that!
No soul that has called upon My mercy has ever been disappointed.
As the prophet Jeremiah wrote:
Surely Yahweh's mercies are not over,
His deeds of faithful love not exhausted;
every morning they are renewed;
great is His faithfulness!
(Lamentations 3:22-23)
As long as we are willing to come in repentance to Jesus, He will welcome us and lavish us with His mercy!

And so, our second response to this is one of Trust. When Jesus commissioned the Divine Mercy Image from St. Faustina, He said that it must be inscribed with the signature, "Jesus, I trust in You." He called this image, "a vessel with which they are to keep coming for graces to the fountain of mercy."

The graces of My mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is -- trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive.

I let my Sacred Heart be pierced with a lance, thus opening wide the source of mercy for you. Come then with trust to draw graces from this fountain. I never reject a contrite heart.

Sooner would heaven and earth turn into nothingness than would My mercy not embrace a trusting soul.
And so we trust in Jesus, as Scripture says:
Taste and see that Yahweh is good.
How blessed are those who take refuge in Him.
(Psalm 34:8)

Have mercy on me, God, have mercy on me,
for in You I trust.
(Psalm 57:1)

We have put our trust in the living God and He is the Saviour of the whole human race but particularly of all believers. (1 Timothy 4:10)
Finally, in order to participate in the Divine Mercy that Jesus has for us, He tells us that we ourselves must be merciful:
Blessed are the merciful:
they shall have mercy shown them.
(Matthew 5:7)
On this point, Jesus is intensely serious when He speaks to St. Faustina:
I demand from you deeds of mercy which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbours always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse yourself from it ... Even the strongest faith is of no avail without works.
Scripture echoes this explicitly:
'When you stretch out your hands I turn My eyes away.
You may multiply your prayers, I shall not be listening.
Your hands are covered in blood,
wash, make yourselves clean.
Take your wrong-doing out of My sight.
Cease doing evil. Learn to do good,
search for justice, discipline the violent,
be just to the orphan, plead for the widow.

'Come, let Us talk this over,' says Yahweh.
'Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be white as snow;
though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.'
(Isaiah 1:15-18)
Again, Jesus says to St. Faustina,
If a soul does not exercise mercy in some way, it will not obtain My mercy on the day of judgment.
Remember, that in Matthew 25:31-46, the sheep and the goats were separated, not by their faith in Jesus, but by the mercy that they showed to others! That is the true test of faith!
Spiritual Works of Mercy
1. Instruct the Ignorant
2. Convert Sinners
3. Advise the Perplexed
4. Comfort the Sorrowful
5. Show Patience to Sinners
6. Forgive Others
7. Pray for the Living and the Dead

Corporal Works of Mercy
1. Feed the Hungry
2. Give Drink to the Thirsty
3. Clothe the Naked
4. Shelter the Homeless
5. Visit the Sick
6. Visit Prisoners
7. Bury the Dead
Let us partake in the Event of God's Mercy! Let us Ask for Mercy in confession; let us Trust in Jesus for His unfailing forgiveness; and let us allow that Mercy, given to us, to flow out of us as it flows out of Jesus' Heart, in Acts of Mercy to others!


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Quick Update!

Hey all! I am still alive. At the same time, I am still unemployed :(

Scrap that, I've got a kind-of job with Credo Books, a local Catholic bookstore. A friend and fellow parishioner recently bought it and took it over, and while she can't hire me on in any permanent capacity, the previous owner didn't use a computer for anything. So Sunday I was over helping her clean up the clutter and ancient furniture that was literally falling apart, and she asked if I would come by on Wednesday to help begin digitising some of the hard-copy catalogues that needs to be done. Everything was done in hard copy there! So she said she'd pay me for it, and it'll help until I find something more stable. So, hooray for that Divine Mercy given to me on Divine Mercy Sunday :)

Speaking of Divine Mercy Sunday, which was yesterday, in thanks for helping at the store yesterday, the new owner also gave me St. Faustina's Diary, Divine Mercy In My Soul! Sweet!

Also related to that event of God's Mercy, I had the privelege Saturday night of preaching on Divine Mercy at the Praise and Worship event done by the St. Margaret Mary Youth after the Saturday Night Mass! It was pretty cool. I was nervous and a little out of form, though, since Fr. Trusz was sitting in the front row. Yikes! But people really seemed to enjoy it and get a lot from it--so thanks to God for that! My loving wife assures me that it wasn't because of me ;)

On the 2nd of March, I also had a speaking engagement, which I might have mentioned already, at St. Marguerite D'Youville parish in Brampton, for the "Holy Spirit Weekend" portion of the Alpha Program. I gave a (lengthly) talk on having a personal relationship with Jesus. Melissa says I was much better at that venue. Of course, the parish priest wasn't in the front row, there, either :p

Anyway, as such, possibly today, maybe tomorrow, I'll be putting those talks up here, because seriously, it's just been too long. And if there's one thing these occasions have reminded me, this (preaching, not blogging per se) is my vocation! I'm not sure how yet, but seriously, nothing brings life to me more than this!

In other news--to become another post soon--the Public School Board is petitioning the Ontario Government to amalgamate the Public and Catholic school boards. I'm not sure if it's just the Hamilton-Wentworth public board wanting to amalgamate the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic board, or if it's the public boards across Ontario, but yeah, they're pretty serious about this!

The cover of today's Hamilton Spectator featured an article about the new "Character curriculum" that the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board wants to introduce to the schools. A list of ten virtues was drawn up through a survey to determine which characteristics kids in the public school system should be learning!!! I'm serious! Anyway, it's absurd, really. But I'll post more about that, today if I have time (I doubt it) but this week at some point!

So yeah, that's three new posts coming soon! Plus this one! Nice, eh?
And you thought I didn't love you anymore!

God bless


Thursday, February 22, 2007


Since Advent, I've been reading a chapter of Thomas à Kempis' Imitation of Christ as a part of my daily spiritual readings and devotions. It is packed with insights on living a holy life, as well as plain and clear moments of the Spirit speaking and convicting me. The chapter I read for Ash Wednesday was one such reading:

Having Confidence in God When Harsh Words Assail Us

Son, stand firm and trust in Me; for what are words but words: they fly through the air, but hurt not a stone. If thou art guilty think that thou wilt willingly amend thyself. If thy conscience accuse thee not, think that thou wilt willingly suffer this for God's sake. It is a small matter that thou shouldst sometimes bear with words, if thou hast not as yet courage to endure hard stripes. And why do such small things go to thy heart, but because thou art yet carnal, and regardest men more than thou ought! For it is because thou art afraid of being despised that thou art not willing to be reprehended for thy faults, and seekest to shelter thyself in excuses.

But look better into thyself and thou shalt find that the world is still living in thee, and a vain desire for pleasing men. For when thou art unwilling to be humbled and confounded for thy defects, it is plain indeed that thou art not truly humble, nor truly dead to the world, nor the world crucified to thee. But give ear to My word, and thou shalt not value ten thousand words of men. Behold, if all should be said against thee which the malice of men can invent what hurt could it do thee if thou wouldst let it pass, and make no account of it? Could it even so much as pluck one hair from thee?

But he who has not his heart within, nor God before his eyes, is easily moved with a word of censure. Whereas he that trusts in Me, and desires not to stand by his own judgement, will be free from the fear of men. For I am the judge and the discerner of all secrets, I know how the matter passeth; I know both him that offers the injury, and him that suffers it. From Me this world went forth: by My permission it happened, that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed. I shall judge the guilty and the innocent, but by a secret judgement I would beforehand try them both.

The testimony of men oftentimes deceives; My judgement is true, it shall stand and not be overthrown. It is hidden for the most part, and to few laid open in everything; yet it never errs, nor can it err, even though to the eyes of the unwise it seems not right. To Me, therefore, must thou run in every judgement and not depend upon thy own will. For the just man will not be troubled whatever happens to him from God. And if anything be wrongfully pronounced against him he will not much care. Neither will he vainly rejoice if by others he be reasonably excused. For he considers that I am He Who searcheth the heart and the reins; Who judgeth not according to the face, nor according to human appearance. For oftentimes that is found culpable in My eyes which in the judgement of men is esteemed commendable.

O Lord God, the just Judge, strong and patient, Who knowest the frailty and perverseness of men, be Thou my strength and all my confidence, for my own conscience suffices me not. Thou knowest that which I know not, and therefore in every reprehension I ought to humble myself, and bear it with meekness. Pardon me, I beseech Thee, in Thy mercy, as often as I have not done thus, and give me again the grace to suffer still more. For better to me is Thy plenteous mercy for the obtaining of pardon, than the justice which I imagine in myself for the defence of my hidden conscience. Although my conscience accuse me not, yet I cannot hereby justify myself; for setting Thy mercy aside, in Thy sight no man living shall by justified. --Book 3, Chapter 46
Too often I've given too much thought and regard to what others say of me (both good and ill). On the one hand, I've been criticised and attacked for my faith and zeal, while on the other I've been complimented and lauded for my faith, my writing, my intellect, etc. And now, as I look for a job, I have competing voices from all sides telling me "be this, do that, you'd be good at..."

Through it all, I've risen in pride, and sunken in despair. I've lashed out in anger at offended pride, and secretly nourished the flattery I've received in my own heart. Truly, as Christ told Brother Thomas, the world has not been fully crucified to me.

About something quite different, Albert Einstein once said, "All I want to know are God's thoughts. The rest are just details." Yet the sentiment applies to me.

What am I giving up for Lent? My pride. Hopefully after 40 days, I won't pick it back up again.

God bless,

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Portrait of Me

Not a self-portrait, though. This awesome drawing was done by Jordan Ogilvie, a grade 6 student at one of the schools that I visited as the Youth Minister. He gave it to me as a going-away gift.

There's me in my brown jacket, with the famous (or infamous) Get Holy or Die Tryin' t-shirt, a Bible, my spikey hair, and even facial scruff! That's one observant and talented kid!


Yes, I'm still around...

Hello to all those who (used to) faithfully read Grace for the Wayward Heart. I'm sorry I haven't been around that much lately.

This blog originally was started in order to chronicle the talks, events, and other announcements that I gave as the Youth Minister of St. Andrew's Parish, in Oakville. However, as of December 31st, I have not been the youth minister there anymore. The church decided not to renew my contract for various reasons.

As such, I am currently unemployed. Because of this, most of my time has been spent in the pursuit of new work, and not in blogging. Once I have a new job, my blogging will resume in some form, both here and at The Barque of Peter, my Catholic Apologetics blog. That blog has a much more distinctive "polemical" feel to it--meaning that the posts there are thorough defences of Catholic practice and theology against attacks on it from other groups--be they Protestants, Mormons, Muslims, Atheists, or whathaveyou. Now, that sort of thing is not everyone's cup of tea. They prefer a more reflective, devotional, and encouraging message, to help inspire them to greater devotion to Christ and His Church. And that's what I intend to make Grace for the Wayward Heart into.

Noted, that won't be much of a transition, since most of the posts here were of that sort anyway. The main differences will most likely be 1) it will be less specifically geared to the youth group (though, by that I mean simply I hope it will appeal to more people rather than less, so any readers from the St. Andrew's YG, don't take off, either), and 2) it will be a bit more personal. I won't feel that a personal comment about something, or an anecdote from my life, or perhaps a rant about something that bothers me, or a more light-hearted quiz or meme (such as the Dante's Inferno Hell Test just before this post) is out of place here because of a pre-set agenda.

So what's the plan for the immediate future? Once I find a job, I'll post the leftover martyr talks that I'd given at St. Andrew's schools (St. Thomas More, St. Jeanne D'Arc, and St. Charles Lwanga and Companions), and then we'll see from there. I want to eventually post up here the other Bible Studies that I'd led at St. Andrew's in a similar format to the Revelation Bible Study already posted here (The Gospel of St. John, Paul's Letter to the Philippians, and the Old Testament book of Tobit), and then eventually, to host here Bible Studies of all the books of the Bible :) but that's getting ambitious and far-off. I'll also post here the talk on having a Personal Relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit that I'll be giving at the Alpha Program's Holy Spirit Weekend Retreat at St. Marguerite D'Youville in Brampton, on Friday, March 2nd.

It's Lent now, and I still haven't decided what to give up. I'd love to say, "I gave up Unemployment for Lent" but that's slightly out of my control. St. Joseph the Worker, pray for me. So we'll see.

Anyway, that's my update for you all. Please pray for me as I try to sort out God's Will for my future.
God bless you all,

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The Dante's Inferno Hell Test...

I saw this at a couple friends' blogs, and thought I'd do it too. It's actually a pretty cool test, and the book-related descriptions are pretty accurate.

The Dante's Inferno Test has sent you to Purgatory!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very High
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Very High
Level 2 (Lustful)Low
Level 3 (Gluttonous)Very Low
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Very Low
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very Low
Level 7 (Violent)Very Low
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Moderate
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Very Low

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test

I made it to Purgatory. Where did you think I'd end up?! ;)
Let me know where you're going!

And hey, since Lent has begun, maybe the Inferno test will be a good Litmus test for what you need to focus on this penitent season.

God bless

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Sts. Perpetua and Felicity - c. 203

Before her death, St. Perpetua wrote an account of her sufferings, which we still have today. Obviously, someone else stepped up and finished the story after her death, but nevertheless, her autobiographical description is one of the first documents we have written by a woman--making St. Perpetua one of the first female writers! Her story was so popular, in fact, that St. Augustine had to warn his parishioners against giving it the weight of Scripture!

St. Perpetua was born around AD 181, in Carthage, a city of North Africa. She was the daughter of a wealthy Roman nobleman, and was married to a soldier. At that time in the Roman Empire, slavery was still a common and acceptable practice, and being a rich noblewoman, Perpetua had slaves. One of them was Felicity. But because they were of similar ages, and had both recently been married, and since Perpetua had just given birth, and Felicity was pregnant, the similar events in their lives led them to develop a friendship that went beyond slave-master.

At this time, in the Roman Empire, the Emperor, Caesar Septimus Severus had proclaimed that Christianity was illegal, and that it was therefore illegal to convert to Christianity, or to proclaim and teach the Christian faith to non-Christians. Those who were already Christians, or born into Christian families, were excluded from the government's censure, unless they tried to convert others--but for those who converted, the penalty was often death. Despite this, the Christians continued to spread the Gospel, convinced of its truth and importance. That was how St. Felicity's husband came to hear about Jesus, and he began learning about the Christian faith from a priest, Father Saturus. Felicity's husband, Revocatus, convinced Felicity to come and learn as well, and she in turn persuaded Perpetua.

These three, with two others (Saturninus and Secundulus), attended catechism in secret from Father Saturus. However, before they could complete their instruction, and be baptised the following Easter, the Roman government found out about their religious instruction, and had the five catechumens, as well as their priest, arrested. The date for their trial would not come right away, though, and they languished in their dungeon for months--awaiting a suitable occasion: the birthday of the Emperor!

During their time in prison, Fr. Saturus would continue to teach them the Christian faith, and, when they were catechised enough, he took some of their drinking water, and baptised each of them, since it would be impossible for them to wait for the following Easter. During this time, Perpetua's father, who was a nobleman and thus had influence, was permitted to visit Perpetua. But far from bringing joy and relief to her, she writes that his visits only served to vex her further, since he, as a Pagan Roman, continually tried to convince Perpetua to abandon the Christian faith to save her life. He appealed to her reason, to her honour and to her family's honour--to not die so shameful a death. But most of all, he appealed to her mother's heart, for who would take care of her newborn baby? Perpetua knew that her son would be starving without her to feed him, since he hadn't been weaned yet. But on one of her father's visits, he brought her mother and also her brothers, one of whom himself was also secretly learning the Christian faith (though, obviously, he hadn't been caught yet), and he went to the Deacons of the Church in Carthage, who bribed the guards to let Perpetua's baby be brought to her. And so she was able to feed her son until her trial.

Furthermore, Perpetua's brother also asked her to pray to God, that maybe she'd be granted a vision that would indicate whether her current sufferings and imprisonment would lead to martyrdom. She agreed, and in fact did receive a vision. Here's her account:
I beheld a ladder of bronze, marvelously great, reaching up to heaven; and it was narrow, so that not more than one might go up at one time. And in the sides of the ladder were planted all manner of things of iron. There were swords there, spears, hooks, and knives; so that if any that went up took not good heed or looked not upward, he would be torn and his flesh cling to the iron. And there was right at the ladder's foot a serpent lying, marvelously great, which lay in wait for those that would go up, and frightened them that they might not go up. Now Saturus went up first (who afterwards had of his own free will given up himself for our -sakes, because it was he who had edified us; and when we were taken he had not been there). And he came to the ladder's head; and he turned and said: Perpetua, I await you; but see that serpent bite you not. And I said: it shall not hurt me, in the name of Jesus Christ. And from beneath the ladder, as though it feared me, it softly put forth its head; and as though I trod on the first step I trod on its head. And I went up, and I saw a very great space of garden, and in the midst a man sitting, white-headed, in shepherd's clothing, tall milking his sheep; and standing around in white were many thousands. And he raised his head and beheld me and said to me: Welcome, child. And he cried to me, and from the curd he had from the milk he gave me as it were a morsel; and I took it with joined hands and ate it up; and all that stood around said, Amen. And at the sound of that word I awoke, yet eating I know not what of sweet.

And at once I told my brother, and we knew it should be a passion; and we began to have no hope any longer in this world.
(Meaning, of course, that they placed all their hope in Heaven, not that they gave in to despair.)

The six Christians continued to pray with each other and encourage each other as the day approached, but St. Felicity grew more and more worried. You see, she was still pregnant, and was not due to give birth until after the date slated for execution. According to Roman law, a pregnant woman could not be tortured or executed until after she had given birth. St. Felicity was worried not so much about being tortured or executed for Christ's sake, but that she would not be able to be martyred along with her friends. It's often hard to do the right thing. That's especially the case when it comes to giving your life. But it's even harder when you have to do it alone. Felicity was worried that when her time came, without her friends' encouragement she would not find the strength within her to confess Christ.

The six prayed together about this, and although Felicity was only about eight months pregnant, a week before their trial, she gave birth to a healthy baby, who was arranged to be adopted by a Christian family. In this, God showed that He was still with them, and cared for them, even in that dark prison. His asking of them to lay down their lives was not a sign that God had abandoned these six brave Christians, but rather, that He had singled them out for greater honour!

The day before their martyrdom, the six were allowed to have whatever they desired as a "last meal". Unanimously, they chose to have bread and wine, which Fr. Saturus blessed, and so they celebrated the Mass together. When the day finally came for these six great saints to be martyred, they were led to the arena in Carthage, to be tried by the magistrate. Each in their turn were asked whether they would renounce Christ and sacrifice a goat to Caesar and worship him, and each in their turn refused, claimed to be Christian, and were sentenced to be thrown to the wild beasts.

When it came time for Perpetua to be tried, however, not only the magistrate, but also her own father, attempted to convince her to abandon the Church. Her father came forward, carrying her baby in his arms, and appealed again to Perpetua to recant and live, so that her baby wouldn't die of starvation, for lack of milk. But again, through God's grace, He made it so that the baby was already weaned before his time, and no longer needed his mother to live. Thus, Perpetua, with her friends, professed herself a Christian, and was sentenced to death.

While the men were sentenced to face off against leopards and bears, out of spite and mockery for their femininity, the court sentenced Perpetua and Felicity to be attacked by a cow (a symbol of motherhood, and a mockery of these two mothers). When the two courageous women were thrown into the arena, Perpetua's robe tore, and she took the time to tie it so that she would appear modest and decent, taking more care for her modesty than for her own wounds. She even tied back her hair, since messy, unkempt hair was a sign of mourning in her culture, and she didn't want anyone to think that she was sad at her fate, but courageous and confident in God. She turned to help up Felicity, and immediately was led off to the side of the arena to rejoin the men who had survived the beasts. When there, she asked them, "When are we going to face the cow?" Amazed, her friends said to her, "You already have! It's hurt you! Look at yourself!" Perpetua and Felicity had been blessed by God to have had an ecstatic encounter with him, so that they were spared the pain of the cow's attack. In fact, Perpetua had to be shown her own wounds before she would believe her friends!

Afterward, all of them were led out again, and sentenced to be killed by the sword. The courage of these martyrs, particularly of the women, touched the audience so much, that many of them became Christians, including the jailer of the martyrs. It was one of these converts who finished the account of Perpetua's and Felicity's martyrdom, so that others in future generations would hear about and be inspired by their courage and sacrifice. In the author's own words:
O most valiant and blessed martyrs! O truly called and elected unto the glory of Our Lord Jesus Christ! Which glory he that magnifies, honors and adores, ought to read these witnesses likewise, as being no less than the old, unto the Church's edification; that these new wonders also may testify that one and the same Holy Spirit works ever until now, and with Him God the Father Almighty, and His Son Jesus Christ Our Lord, to Whom is glory and power unending for ever and ever. Amen.
God bless.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

St. Maximilian Kolbe - 1941

Since Remembrance Day is coming up, I figured it would be good to relate the story of a Saint who played a large role in World War II.

Raymond Kolbe was born in 1894, in Zdunska Wola, Poland. Throughout his childhood, Raymond was quite a troublemaker. Very mischevious, he was always trying to get away with something, and his parents often considered him to be quite a trial. However, in 1906, around the time of his First Communion, things changed for Raymond. One night, he had a vision, and in that vision, he saw the Blessed Virgin Mary, and he asked her what was to become of his life. In response, she held out two crowns: one white, and the other red. The white one, she said, represented a life of purity, and the red one, a death of martyrdom. She told him he could choose a crown. Raymond decided to choose both.

Raymond chose to enter the priesthood with the Fransiscans, and took the name Maximilian. While in seminary, he and some friends started a club known as The Crusaders of Mary Immaculate, who were dedicated to spreading the Gospel of Jesus, the conversion of sinners, devotion to Mary, and to the Miraculous Medal.

After his ordination, St. Maximilian founded a Fransiscan monastery in Warsaw, Poland, in order to further spread faith in Christ and devotion to the Miraculous Medal, known as "The City of the Immaculate". After a while, though, he became restless, and felt God wanted him to travel as a missionary. So in 1930, Maximilian Kolbe went to Nagasaki, Japan, and there founded another monastery. After that, he continued on to India, doing the same thing, but illness caused him to have to return to Poland in 1936.

(Incidentally, Nagasaki was one of the two cities, with Hiroshima, that the USA dropped nuclear bombs on at the end of World War II, in retaliation for the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbour. The atomic bombs decimated nearly everything in those two cities--but, miraculously, St. Maximilian's monastery, and all those within, survived the bombing. Just one of the miracles attributed to devotion to the Miraculous Medal.)

Back in Poland, Maximilian continued his priestly duties, and overseeing the monastery there. On top of this, he began to publish and write for a newsletter called "The Knight". In it, he would teach about the love of Christ, and also address issues of justice and right living. When Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany in 1939, and began his Holocaust of the Jews and others who weren't of the Aryan race, many refugees began to flee from Germany to escape the oppression and persecution. Many of these refugees came to Poland, and Maximilian was able to put his teachings on love and justice into action, by hiding refugees in his monastery, and caring for them there. At one point, he had about 3000 refugees hidden in the monastery, and at least two-thirds of them were Jewish, because he knew that God loves all people, not just those of a certain ethnicity or religion.

For this act of hiding refugees, and for continuing publication of The Knight, which the Nazi Party considered to be Anti-Nazi, when Germany invaded Poland at the beginning of the War, Maximilian Kolbe was arrested and put into the Polish prison of Pawiak, on February 17, 1941. On May 28th, he was transferred to the Auschwitz concentration camp, in Germany, and even then was put in the worst sector--with particularly cruel guards--because he was a priest. There he was often beaten and deprived of food. Through it all, though, he continued to tell others about Christ, and to hear Confessions. He even, when he could get his hands on some smuggled in bread and wine, would say Mass and give other inmates the Eucharist!

After about a month and a half, there was an escape from Auschwitz. Protocol dictated that for every escaped prisoner, ten others were to be executed in his place. So the Nazis rounded up several people. One of them was a Jewish man named Franciszek Gajowniczek. He cried out, "Please! I have a wife and four children! Please don't kill me!" The guards were pitiless to his cries, but St. Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward and said, "This man has a wife and family. I am a priest. I have no wife, no children. Kill me instead and let this man go free."

In making this sacrifice, Maximilian lived out the two crowns that Our Lady had offered him: the purity of the priesthood, and the martyrdom of charity. He died on August 14th, 1941. Franciszek Gajowniczek did survive Auschwitz, and because of Maximilian's sacrifice, he and his family converted to Catholicism!
No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is the inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the hecatombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?

Saint Maximilian Kolbe in the last issue of The Knight

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Friday, November 03, 2006

St. Jean de Brébeuf - 1649

St. Jean de Brébeuf is probably my favourite of the martyrs. In fact, I was going to choose him as my Patron Saint at my Confirmation, but, because I was converting from Protestantism, and my parents are still protestants, and because the name they gave me means so much to us, I thought they might not understand when the priest said "Jean, be sealed with the Holy Spirit." Because of that, I chose to take Sts. Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus as my patrons.

St. Jean de Brébeuf still has a special place in my heart, though, and that's for three reasons. 1st, he's known as a Canadian saint, and one of the Patrons of our great Country. 2nd, he was a missionary, one who spreads the Christian faith--which is something that I feel called to do. And 3rd, he was a martyr--and, in my mind, the martyrs just rock out loud. Hence my writing about them here!

St. Jean de Brébeuf was born in Normandy, France, in 1593. From an early age, he knew that he wanted to be a part of spreading the Gospel, so, when he was old enough, he went to the Jesuits in order to become a lay missioner. However, he strongly felt that God was telling him that being a layperson wasn't the plan--God wanted him to become a priest. So, he thought, he would study theology and the Bible and the history of the Church, and become one of the smartest priests around, so that he could train others to do missionary work. So he enrolled in the Jesuit University in France, and began studying.

Well, this lasted all of maybe a month, and then Jean became really sick. He was so sick that he had to return home in order to get better. His sickness stayed with him for nearly nine years! But, during this time, Jean realised that God was calling him to more than simply instructing others. God wanted him to actually go out and do the mission work himself! And so, when he was well enough, Jean de Brébeuf signed up to be a part of the team that was going to the newly discovered country of Canada!

Now, in my mind, it is definitely an act of God, when someone who is too sick to even study, is suddenly well enough to accept the call to travel across the ocean, to Canada, and face our harsh winters and other rough climates! Nevertheless, St. Jean de Brébeuf went, and thrived there!

At this time, in the early 1620s, the Protestant revolt had been going on for about 100 years. Tensions were high, and oftentimes violent, as whole European countries would often side with either Protestantism or Catholicism. England, on the one hand, for example, had become totally Protestant, and even outlawed Catholicism. France, on the other hand, became rather totally Catholic, and outlawed Protestantism. This fact merely fuelled the rivalry between the two countries that had existed for centuries, since the French Normans had invaded England back in 1066.

Well, it just so happened that it was an English Protestant captaining the ship that was carrying St. Jean de Brébeuf and the other Jesuits to Canada, who more than once threatened to "turn this boat around and take you back to France!" because they were Jesuit missionaries, and the English and the French were fighting over who got Canada.

Well, despite the threats, St. Jean de Brébeuf and the others arrived safely in Canada, and travelled to Trois-Rivières, Québec, where the Jesuits were headquartered. When he arrived, Jean did not simply begin proclaiming the Gospel, because he would not have been understood! The Natives only spoke a very little English or French, if any, and he didn't speak their language at all--nor did he understand their customs or culture. So the first thing that he did was begin to study the customs of the Native people, so that he could better understand and communicate with them.

After some time of this, he was assigned to travel with a tribe of natives known as the Hurons back to their land in Upper Canada (modern day Ontario, basically in the Simcoe area). It was a three-day canoe ride with the Hurons, and because St. Jean de Brébeuf was so large of a man, the Hurons even hesitated to let him in the canoe with them, for fear it would sink! As it was, he had to travel alone with a group of Hurons, while the other Jesuits were each in separate canoes. Since he still couldn't communicate with the Hurons, it was a three-day trip in silence, with only God to talk to.

Finally, they arrived in the Hurons' home, and the Jesuits worked to set up their Mission, and to continue to build relationships with the Hurons, learning their language and ways. Jean de Brébeuf found this task particularly difficult, but he continued to strive at learning Huron. After years of it, he managed, and even wrote a Huron Catechism, and a Huron-French dictionary to aid his fellow Jesuits in their learning and communication. Through these means, and their cheerful and friendly attitudes with the Natives, friendships were finally forged, although the Hurons were still not open to receiving the Gospel.

Back in Québec, however, things were not going so well at all. Tensions between the English and the French were heating up, and growing to the point of war. The Jesuit Superior at Trois-Rivières instructed the missionaries in Huronia to return. This order broke Jean de Brébeuf's heart, because he had grown to really love his Huron people. The Hurons also felt hurt, and abandoned, because they did not understand about Superiors and Orders. But Jean had to go. Back at Trois-Rivières, the situation was even worse than he'd feared, and the Jesuits had to return all the way to France.

Back in France, Jean tried to do whatever service he could with the Jesuits, but more than anything he wanted to return to Canada, to his beloved Hurons. Finally, God answered the prayers of his heart, and after a 4-year exile in France, he was able to return. But when he was back with the Hurons, Jean found that he had to rebuild those friendships that he had forged. Trust had been lost between them, and he had to work harder than ever to reach them with the Gospel.

Complicating matters was the fact that the Natives often got deathly ill with the white men's diseases, since their immune systems had never encountered them before. To the Hurons, it seemed as though the white men were cursing them with death. Jean de Brébeuf would minister to the sick and dying Hurons, telling them about Christ and Heaven. Those who converted, he would baptise--but they were so sick that they would often die the next day. This caused the Hurons to be rather afraid of Baptism, thinking that it was the cause of death for their friends and family--and so, it became still harder for St. Jean de Brébeuf to make converts!

Patiently, however, Jean de Brébeuf continued his work, and sought the intercession of Mary, and of St. Joseph, whom they had long ago established as the Patron Saint of Canada. After nearly four years, the earnest prayers of the missionaries were answered, when two healthy adult Huron men, Pierre Tsiouendaentaha and Joseph Chiwatenha converted and were baptised. Because of their example, Christianity began to make a slow but steady headway. St. Jean de Brébeuf continued his work among the Hurons for nearly 16 years, and conversions among the Hurons grew until they could be numbered in the thousands!

However, not all was peaceful in the land of Huronia. The Hurons had enemies in the deadly savage tribe of the Iroquois, and these enemies would often savagely attack the Hurons, who frequently kept poor guard. In 1648, Huronia began to fall to the well-armed Iroquois, who were intent on destroying their enemies. The Iroquois kept destroying Huron villages, causing them to flee. Finally, on March 16, 1649, the Iroquois attacked the village of St. Ignace, causing the Hurons to flee to St. Louis. The Iroquois took that as well, and, killing many Hurons, they captured several, as well as St. Jean de Brébeuf and his colleague, St. Gabriel Lalemant, who were taken back to St. Ignace.

The two missionaries were fastened to great stakes, and tortured in various ways, such as placing necklaces of red-hot tomahawk heads around their necks, and pouring boiling hot water on their heads in mockery of baptism. Through it all, St. Jean de Brébeuf never complained, but endured it stoically. His friend, Paul Ragueneau, wrote, "No doubt, his heart was then reposing in his God." This went on for several hours, and his silence astonished and angered his captors. Finally, when Jean de Brébeuf did begin to speak, it was to preach the Gospel of Christ to them, and to encourage the Hurons with him to continue to cling to God, and await the reward of Heaven. They replied, saying, "We will call on God as long as we live. Please, pray for us!" Finally, the Iroquois killed the saint at about 4 pm on March 16, 1949.

Since the Iroquois had all but exterminated the Hurons, and those who had survived had fled into the USA and could not be found, the remaining Jesuits retreated to Trois-Rivières to determine what they should do. Should they go back to France, in defeat, or should they return to the Iroquois to face what seemed like certain death? They decided that they were called to be missionaries here, and, following in the spirit of Jean de Brébeuf, they returned to the Iroquois. Because of the example and courage of St. Jean de Brébeuf, and the love and courage of the Jesuits who returned, the Iroquois people were deeply moved, and many became Catholic!

Again, we see that the death of the martyr is never the end of the story--but their sacrifice is used by God to bring incredible change! Because of the work of these early Canadian missionaries, our Country was started as the Christian nation that it was. Let us seek the intercession of St. Jean de Brébeuf and the Holy Canadian Martyrs that Canada would continue to be a nation that upholds Godly values!

St. Jean de Brébeuf, pray for us!

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