Without God, Man Loses Himself

In his General audience on 21 November 2012 during the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI pointed out that it is through Faith we come to knowledge not only of God but also of ourselves. Moreover he made the rather startling statement: It is reasonable to believe our existence is at stake.’ 

Pope Benedict teaches us that Faith is about our very existence. And Aesop’s Fable about ‘The Crow and the Serpent’ perhaps serves to illustrate the point which the now Pope Emeritus was making.

A crow in great want of food saw a Serpent asleep in a sunny nook, and flying down, greedily seized him. The Serpent, turning about, bit the Crow with a mortal wound.

In the agony of death, the bird exclaimed: ‘O unhappy me! Who have found in that which I deemed a happy windfall the source of my destruction.’

‘I have found in that which I deemed a happy windfall the source of my destruction.’  How often has this been true for us individually and for the entire world?

How often have we told ourselves if I can just get that job, buy that house, get that car, marry that person, make this amount of money, then I will be fulfilled and happy?  But when we actually realise these goals, we far find that not only are we not fulfilled, but those very things for which we worked so hard to achieve are destroying our lives, our relationships, our families.

How many times have political leaders, and most certainly all dictators, come into power promising to be saviours and turn out to be the ones who cause more misery and suffering?

All addictions – from drugs and alcohol to work or even a personal relationship – start out as pleasurable and something that will bring deep joy and meaning to our lives, and end up instead wreaking great havoc.

And so we ask, is there anything in this world that will not become a ‘source of our destruction’?

Pope Benedict answers that ‘without God, in fact, man loses himself.’  He points out that in order for anything in this life to be truly successful, it must be centred around Faith, which is our relationship with God.

Anytime our lives are not centred on our Creator, we are walking a destructive path and it is only through Faith that we can have a relationship with God.

Moreover this is a relationship that can only be initiated by God for Faith is a gift we receive from our Creator and not something we can manufacture on our own.

So it that we are completely dependent upon our merciful God, who always stands ready to pour His Love out upon us for He has told us:

Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. 

Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. 

For my yoke is sweet and my burden light. (Matt. 11:28-30)


This article can be found in Mirror 0118.


Pope Francis - God Never Disappoints

Hope is a basic human need: hope for the future, belief in life, so-called ‘positive thinking.’ But it is important that this hope is placed in what can really help you to live and give meaning to our existence. This is why Scripture warns us against the false hopes that the world presents to us, exposing their uselessness and demonstrating their foolishness. It does so in various ways, but especially by denouncing the falsehood of the idols in which man is continually tempted to place his trust, making them the object of his hope.

The prophets and scholars in particular insist on this, touching a nerve centre of the believer’s journey of faith. Because faith means trusting in God — those who have faith trust in God.

But there is a moment when, in meeting life’s difficulties, man experiences the fragility of that trust and feels the need for various certainties, for tangible, concrete assurances. I entrust myself to God, but the situation is rather serious and I need a little more concrete reassurance.

And there lies the danger! And then we are tempted to seek even ephemeral consolations that seem to fill the void of loneliness and alleviate the fatigue of believing. And we think we can find them in the security that money can give, in alliances with the powerful, in worldliness, in false ideologies.

Sometimes we look for them in a god that can bend to our requests and magically intervene to change the situation and make it as we wish; an idol, indeed, that in itself can do nothing. It is impotent and deceptive. But we like idols; we love them!

Once, in Buenos Aires, I had to go from one church to another, a thousand meters, more or less. And I did so on foot. And between them there is a park, and in the park there were little tables, where many, many fortune tellers were sitting. It was full of people who were even waiting in line. You would give them your hand and they’d begin, but the conversation was always the same: ‘there is a woman in your life, there is a darkness that comes, but everything will be fine …’. And then, you paid.

And this gives you security? It is the security of — allow me to use the word — nonsense. Going to a seer or to a fortune teller who reads cards: this is an idol. When we are attached to them, we buy false hope. Whereas, in that gratuitous Hope, which Jesus Christ brought us, freely giving His life for us, sometimes we fail to fully trust.

A Psalm brimming with wisdom depicts in a very suggestive way the falsity of these idols that the world offers for our hope and on which men of all ages are tempted to rely is Psalm 115, which is recited as follows:

‘Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands.

They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. 

They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. 

They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; 

and they do not make a sound in their throat. 

Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them!’ 

(vv. 4-8).

The psalmist also presents to us, a bit ironically, the absolutely ephemeral character of these idols. And we must understand that these are not merely figures made of metal or other materials but are also those we build in our minds:

  • when we trust in limited realities that we transform into absolute values, or
  • when we diminish God to fit our own template and our ideas of divinity; a god that looks like us is understandable, predictable, just like the idols mentioned in the Psalm.

Man, the image of God, manufactures a god in his own image, and it is also a poorly realised image. It does not hear, does not act, and above all, it cannot speak. But, we are happier to turn to idols than to turn to the Lord.

Many times, we are happier with the ephemeral hope that this false idol gives us, than with the great and sure Hope that the Lord gives us.

In contrast to hoping in a Lord of life who, through His Word created the world and leads our existence, [we turn to] dumb effigies. Ideologies with their claim to the absolute, wealth, power and success, vanity, with their illusion of eternity and omnipotence, values such as physical beauty and health: when they become idols to which everything is sacrificed, they are all things that confuse the mind and the heart, and instead of supporting life, they lead to death.

It is terrible to hear, and painful to the soul. Some years ago I heard of a very beautiful woman who boasted about her beauty. She said, as if it were entirely natural: ‘Yes, I had to have an abortion because my figure is very important’. These are idols, and they lead you down the wrong path, and do not give you happiness.

The message of the Psalm is very clear. If you place hope in idols, you become like them: hollow images with hands that do not feel, feet that do not walk, mouths that cannot speak. You no longer have anything to say; you become unable to help, to change things, unable to smile, to give of yourself, incapable of love.

And we, men of the Church, need to abide in the world but defend ourselves from the world’s illusions, the idols that I mentioned. As the Psalm continues, we must trust and hope in God, and God will bestow the blessing.

‘O Israel, trust in the Lord…. 

O House of Aaron, put your trust in the Lord…. 

You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord…. 

The Lord has been mindful of us; he will bless us’ (vv. 9, 10, 11, 12).

The Lord always remembers. Even in the bad times He remembers us. And this is our Hope. And it is the Hope that does not disappoint. Never.

Idols always disappoint; they are make-believe; they are not real.

Here is the wonderful reality of Hope: in trusting in the Lord, we become like Him. His blessing transforms us into his children who share in His life.

Hope in God allows us to enter, so to speak, within the range of His remembrance, of His memory that blesses us and saves us.

And it is then that a Hallelujah can burst forth in praise to the living and true God, who was born for us of Mary, died on the Cross and rose again in glory. And in this God we have Hope, and this God never disappoints.


This article can be found in Mirror 0118.


Pope Benedict XVI - True God and True Hope

Man is redeemed by Love… Jesus Christ has ‘redeemed’ us. Through Him we have become certain of God, a God who is not a remote ‘first cause’ of the world, because His only-begotten Son has become Man and of Him everyone can say: ‘I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Gal 2:20).

In this sense it is true that anyone who does not know God, even though He may entertain all kinds of hopes, is ultimately without Hope, without the great Hope that sustains the whole of life (cf. Eph 2:12).

Man’s great, true Hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God—God who has loved us and who continues to love us ‘to the end,’ until all ‘is accomplished’ (cf. Jn 13:1 and 19:30).

Whoever is moved by Love begins to perceive what ‘Life’ really is. He begins to perceive the meaning of the word of Hope that we encountered in the Baptismal Rite: from Faith I await ‘eternal life’—the true life which, whole and unthreatened, in all its fullness, is simply Life.

Jesus, who said that he had come so that we might have Life and have it in its fullness, in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10), has also explained to us what ‘Life’ means: ‘this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ (Jn 17:3).

Life in its true sense is not something we have exclusively in or from ourselves: it is a relationship. And Life in its totality is a relationship with Him who is the source of Life.

If we are in relation with Him who does not die, who is Life itself and Love itself, then we are in life. Then we ‘live’.

 

Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 30 November 2007, Adapted and edited from Paragraphs 26 and 27. The complete reformatted text is available to be read as an e-book at https://www.acnireland.org/spe-salvi/


This article can be found in Mirror 0118.


What Do We Gain from Prayer?

Once a man was asked, ‘what did you gain by regularly praying to God?’ 

The man replied, ‘Nothing…but let me tell you what I lost: anger, ego, greed, depression, insecurity, and fear of death.’ 

Sometimes the answer to our prayers is not gaining but losing; which ultimately is the gain. –Anonymous

This unattributed quote has been making its way across the internet via social media the past few weeks. Reading it, I was moved to reflect on the question, ‘What do we really gain from praying?’

In the quote, the man explains what he has lost through prayer, but truthfully each of the things he says he has lost are actually gains if you look to the positive. He…

  • lost anger… but gained happiness,
  • lost ego… but gained compassion,
  • lost greed…but gained generosity and gratitude,
  • lost depression…but gained joy,
  • lost insecurity…but found comfort in God’s Word,
  • lost fear of death…and gained everlasting life.

So, what do we gain from regularly praying to God? Here are some thoughts:


1 Prayer helps our physical and psychological health.

Praying makes us feel better, reduces anxiety, and calms us in our times of need.


2 Prayer deepens our relationship with God. 

When things are going wrong, we want to tell our problems to a friend. We want someone to tell us that things will be alright; to comfort and console us.  If Jesus is truly our friend, then isn’t He the One best friend to offer us comfort? By going to Him, we deepen our relationship with Him and find comfort and consolation in His promise.


3 Prayer helps us to draw on God’s strength. 

When we realise that we are helpless to solve our problems on our own and that we need God’s strength to sustain us, remember Ephesians 6:10 where we are told to draw your strength from the Lord and from His mighty power.


4 With prayer, joy and Grace are guaranteed.

God’s never-ending supply of grace is waiting for us if we just ask. Prayer is the vehicle by which His grace is heaped upon us and our depression and fears are turned to joy.


5 With prayer, God supplies our needs and fulfills our desires. 

A verse that my wife Diane and I held close to our hearts early in our marriage was this magnificent promise from the gospel of Matthew: Again, [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by My heavenly Father. I can’t speak for others, but this promise has worked for us 100% of the time.


6  With prayer, we gain wisdom.

When we are making a decision, any important decision, like taking a new job, buying a house, picking a college to attend, or deciding on surgery, He will guide us.

Prayer is always positive and we profit from it whenever we pray. If we pray regularly, we not only loose anger, ego, greed, depression, insecurity, and fear of death, but we gain so much more.

 

Adapted and edited from a reflection by Tony Agnesi, https://tonyagnesi.com/2015/05/what-do-we-gain-from-prayer/


This article can be found in Mirror 0118.


Francis Philips - The Pearl of Great Price

William Sieghart, publisher and poetry promoter, has hit on the charming if slightly eccentric idea of compiling an anthology of poetry for therapeutic purposes. The Poetry Pharmacy, subtitled ‘Tried-and-true prescriptions for the heart, mind and soul’, offers poetic remedies for various states of mind: mental and emotional wellbeing, motivations, self-image and self-acceptance, the world and other people, and finally love and loss.

The list includes poems, such as

  • Kipling’s bracing If (prescribed when needing moral guidance);
  • Elizabeth Jennings’ Lovely Into the Hour (useful for maturing grief); and
  • Follower, Seamus Heaney’s lament for the changed role of an ageing parent.

No-one doubts that poetry fulfils a deep human need, articulating what we seek to voice in times of heightened emotion and providing the words that we would have used if we had the creative resources to do so. Nonetheless, despite John Keats telling us in his own oft-repeated lines that ‘Beauty is truth’, this is not always true – though it is very easy to be lulled by the music and magic of words into believing it.

I am thinking here of a poem in Sieghart’s book by the 14th century Persian poet, Hafez. Entitled, ‘I am in love with every church’ it is brief and lyrical:

‘I am in love with every church
and mosque
and temple
and any kind of shrine
because I know it is there
that people say the different names
of the One God.’

Sieghart has prescribed this poem for the condition of ‘living with difference’, adding that it is ‘suitable for isolation, mistrust of others [and] prejudice.’ He comments further that ‘We all want …to feel happy, safe and loved; and most of all, to be able to see ourselves as good people: to be able to live with ourselves.’ 

He sees the poem as an ‘opportunity to learn more about our shared humanity’ and not a cause ‘for fear and mistrust’, concluding that ‘As Hafez suggests in this poem, the way in which we choose to achieve something may finally be of no great consequence so long as we all end up in what, taking the longer view, turns out to be much the same place.’

Much as I would like to agree with what Sieghart writes, and much as I want to embrace this venerable Persian poet, I can’t do so. Although it is a human instinct to yearn for the infinite, we do not all worship the same God.

Christian churches, Muslim mosques and Buddhist and Hindu temples might all witness to a longing for the transcendent, but that is where the similarity ends. Christian revelation tells us that God is Trinitarian and that other ways of defining him are imperfect and flawed.

Further, we believe that God became incarnate in the Person of Christ and that not to know Christ is a loss greater than we can possibly imagine.

That is why Christianity, unlike other faiths, is a missionary faith.

The Gospel is the Good News and meant for all mankind. To say this is not to be ‘prejudiced’ against other faiths but to recognise that we have the ‘pearl of great price’ and they don’t.

All of this may seem offensive and intolerant some but there is no way to avoid saying it.

 

Adapted and edited from Francis Phillips http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2017/12/15/it-is-not-prejudiced-to-recognise-we-dont-all-worship-the-same-god/


This article can be found in Mirror 0118.


Ukraine - Hearts that Beat for Christ

In the east of the country a ongoing conflict, in the west rampant corruption, and everywhere galloping inflation. Yet in the midst of the darkness the seminarians sing God’s praises, in the midst of the chaos they revere his divine wisdom and continue to study for peace and reconciliation.

In the two Ukrainian Greek-Catholic seminaries of Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil-Zboriv in west Ukraine their faith ensures that they still look with confidence to the future. Their sense of a great community strengthens their certainty that God is with them. There are 221 seminarians in Ivano-Frankivsk and 153 in Ternopil-Zboriv.

They come from a number of different dioceses. The Church recovered the seminary buildings, which had been confiscated and left in ruins by the Soviets, thoroughly repaired and refurbished them and filled them once again with young men whose hearts beat truly for Christ and for the Church. But the bursar is not the only one to realise that the prices of electricity, water, gas and basic food supplies are rising relentlessly today.

For years the seminaries have been trying to cope with this crisis by growing their own food, keeping bees and raising livestock. But it’s just not enough. Quite often the seminary also helps the poor in the region. State support? No chance. The average basic living cost for each seminarian in west Ukraine works out at around €3,500 per year. We have promised to help.

This is also an investment in the future of the Ukrainian Catholic communities abroad; a number of the young priests who emerge from these seminaries will later go to Kazakhstan, Italy and other parts of the world where they will proclaim peace to all people of goodwill.

Thank you for helping these seminarians to continue singing the Lord’s praises in the midst of the chaos and suffering which is the present-day Ukraine.


This article can be found in Mirror 0118.


Witnessing to the Lord - Seminarians

Pakistan is a dangerous place for Christians to live. Blasphemy laws and Islamist extremists between them make life difficult.

Nevertheless, many young men still want to become priests. In the seminary of Saint Francis Xavier in Lahore they are preparing to bear witness to the Lord, who has defeated darkness and death. So writes their rector, Father Asif John. But their situation has been made still harder by the fact that the seminary vehicle was involved in a serious crash and is now in constant need of repair.

It is used to buy provisions in the city centre, 20 km away, for the 96 students and the teaching staff, and above all in support of their pastoral work. Small wonder that it struggles on the unmade roads. In truth it is only a matter of time before it breaks down altogether. They would prefer not to wait for that, and in any case the constant repairs are already costing too much. We have promised our help for a new vehicle. That’s a real ray of light for the seminary.


This article can be found in Mirror 0118.


Riches of Grace - Seminarians

Nowhere is the Church growing faster than in Africa. Nowhere is there such a great wealth of vocations, of Catholic schools and of seminarians as on this continent. And yet nowhere is the Church materially poorer.

The bishops and seminary rectors are delighted at the growing number of candidates for the Church across Africa. They always check carefully to ensure that these are genuine vocations and not merely driven by the desire for security and safety. But then in practice, security is by no means certain anywhere, and in some dioceses life in the seminary can be quite dangerous.

In Burkina Faso – the ‘Land of the Upright’ – in the diocese of Dori, on the frontier with Mali, it takes courage and perseverance to consecrate your life to Christ. The people here are among the poorest in Africa, and gangs of Islamist terrorists sometimes cross the border.

But Damien, Ambrose, Daniel and the 42 other seminarians here are still determined to serve the Lord. They continue to study and in the holidays they live and work in the local parishes to deepen their understanding of life here in the Sahel zone. This will help them later when as priests they play a crucial role, leading the people to Christ. ACN is supporting their studies.

In the Central African Republic the Cardinal Archbishop of Bangui is rightly proud of his seminarians. Last year they all passed their end-of-year exams, three of them with distinction. And this despite the chaos that war has brought to the country. These young men long to lead their people to reconciliation and the peace of Christ. We are helping the Cardinal and  his 53 seminarians.

In Tanzania there are another 46 seminarians and in Nigeria, Sudan, Kenya, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo several hundreds more.

Thanks to your generosity, they are able to devote their lives to God in the seminary. In this way, you too are sharing in the grace of this wealth of vocations.


This article can be found in Mirror 0118.


Thank you for caring for labourers...

Thank you for caring for labourers in the Lord’s vineyard

Africa – a continent of vast expanses, rich colors, torrential rainfall, remote mountain regions, and arid deserts. Marked by simple faith, with deep trust in God, Africa’s people are often resigned to adversity. Despite all the wars, Africa is by no means a continent without hope. Mission in Africa means facing the challenges of nature and constantly seeking new solutions.

One solution to the challenges of nature is a lightweight motorcycle. For Father Juliano, of the parish of Our Lady of Victories in Dedza, Malawi, it was almost his salvation. On his old bicycle he would constantly arrive exhausted at the outstation, 13 miles away, bathed in perspiration in the heat or soaked to the skin by the rain, often arriving late because of the mud, punctures or simply the need to take a rest.

‘It not only hampered my pastoral work but sometimes made it impossible’, he writes, ‘it was also a severe trial of my own faith, even in the very first year after my ordination’. 

Thanks to the new motorcycle we provided him, he can now do twice as much in half the time, and also better channel his energies and focus more on the needs of the people themselves.

Again in Malawi, Father Stephen, of the parish of Christ the King in Domasi, writes enthusiastically,

‘Thanks to this motorcycle I can climb every hill and mountain, and we have many small villages and chapels up there. Now it takes me one hour instead of three and on Sunday I can say two Masses instead of just one. Now I can perform funerals for Christians even in places where there is no public transport. I can organise Bible study groups and visit the elderly and sick. I take the sacraments to them, and we pray together. It’s as though by turning the throttle, I can also speed up the spiritual life and my evangelisation work.’

There are many other priests in Malawi and Zambia who feel the same way as Father Juliano and Father Stephen. Indeed we have funded 50 motorcycles in these countries and were able to get a 40% reduction in price by placing a bulk order.

Cars are much more expensive, both to buy and to repair, but their advantage lies in the distances they can cover and their ability to transport more people over flatter and wider expanses of territory. But in many places, notably Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Uganda and other parts of Africa, motorbikes are the ideal solution.

Recently we have funded or promised around 100 motorcycles at a cost of €100,000. As Father Juliano writes, ‘Everything is fine. Things are running well in the vineyard of Our Lord Jesus.’

For the Sisters from the discalced Carmelites in Antioquia, Colombia, the convent chapel is the place where they live their vocation of prayer most intensively. That is why, in thanking us for our help in building their chapel, they also thank us ‘for believing in our vocation that God has given us, of praying here in seclusion’.

For these enclosed Sisters it is something of a miracle that their chapel has been built and consecrated.

‘Now we feel truly a part of the great ACN family’, writes Mother Maria Alba Lopez Rios, ‘not only because we have received so much from you, both spiritually and materially, but above all because we can now take part in your mission daily, through our prayer here in front of the Tabernacle.’

 


This article can be found in Mirror 0817.


A master Builder In the Lord’s Vineyard

St. Francis of Assisi sold all he had and collected stones to rebuild the Portiuncula. Blessed Solanus Casey, a Franciscan in Detroit, collected thousands of tales of woe from a suffering city and helped God to rebuild lives. Time and time again, God blesses poverty, devotion and unfettered faith and builds something beautiful.

In the year we celebrate the centenary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima — which, amid Mary’s dire warnings, shared a clear message of hope for a better world — Father Solanus, a simple Franciscan priest who made the world better by exemplifying Christlike simplicity, humility and love for humanity was beatified.

Bernard Francis Casey was born into a hardworking Irish-American family who struggled and suffered to build a life for 16 children. Yet, they did. Barney, as he was known to family and friends, also struggled. He was left with a weak and impaired voice due to diphtheria and went from job to job in a struggle to find his vocation.

When he settled on the priesthood, the diocesan seminary in Milwaukee, with its classes in German and Latin, proved to be a bridge too far. It was suggested he join a religious order that could ordain him as a simplex priest, a priest without the faculties to preach or hear confessions. This must have been a blow to his pride, and yet in prayer, he heard the soft and comforting voice of the Blessed Mother tell him, ‘Go to Detroit.’

The Capuchin Friars of St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit would make a home for the now-Father Casey. At St. Bonaventure, Father Casey remained obscure and content. He loved to play his violin, and he did so poorly. This did not dissuade him, nor did his assignment as porter of the monastery. To be porter meant he got to minister to people.

The poor would come to him — so would the sick and unemployed, especially during the Great Depression. Catholics and non-Catholics alike would come and tell their stories to the Irishman who loved a good story. Father Casey was never one to give a quick and curt answer. He responded to each person prayerfully. And miracles happened. The unemployed quickly found work. The sick were healed. Broken marriages were mended, and the desperate people of Detroit were given hope in a time of hopelessness.

A monument of Solanus’ work still stands in the midst of a recovering city: the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. Solanus and his brother Capuchins worked the soup kitchen throughout the Depression. When bread ran low, Father Casey prayed for God to give us ‘our daily bread,’ and a truck soon arrived with a donation. It was the soup kitchen and the prayer of the simplex priest that kept the flame of faith alive in desperate times.

The Holy Mass was always the first thing on Solanus’ mind and the greatest succour for anyone in need.

Another devotion close to his heart was the holy cross. St. Bonaventure’s has a relic of the True Cross, and Father Casey would often bless the sick with this holy relic. Prayer and devotion always lift the spirits of the downtrodden.

When Father Casey died in 1957 more than 20,000 Detroiters filed passed his casket. What did this man have to elicit such devotion, and how does his witness fit into this time of rebuilding?

Father Casey had the ability to take what was given to him and turn it into something beautiful for God and neighbour. He did so first by listening to the narrative of suffering. We don’t do this enough in our society. We are in the age of the instant reply. Quick to argue, quick to become overemotional, we need to recover the ability to listen. Only in listening was Father Casey able to discern. When we are practiced at listening and discerning, we can give people a real answer to the question of suffering.

Father Casey was never one for a boxed answer; as a porter, he was attentive to the request of each guest and could discern what it was they actually needed. It was these virtues that made him a master builder, taking the scraps he was given and refashioning them into a better future for all who sought his prayers.

Let us look at the life of Father Casey and try to imitate him by opening the door to others, by being a porter to anyone who knocks, by doing ‘little things’ with great love for the God who loves us first and loves us always.

Blessed Solanus Casey,
A Good and Faithful Servant

 

Adapted and edited from Robert Klesko’s original article at http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/solanus-casey-an-example-of-christian-rebuilding


This article can be found in Mirror 0817.