Archive | July, 2016

St. Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

July 29, 2016

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St. Alphonsus Liguori was born Alfonso Maria de’Liguori in Marianella, a town near Naples, Italy, in 1696.  He was a brilliant student who, by the age of seventeen, had already earned two doctor’s degrees, one in civil law, the other in canon law, both at the University of Naples.  He practiced law with much success for eight years until he lost a major case because of a serious blunder of his own, and he interpreted this as a sign from God to leave the legal profession and study for the priesthood.

Alphonsus threw himself into his theological studies and was ordained to the diocesan priesthood in 1726 at the age of 30.  He spent the next three years canvassing the countryside preaching and hearing confessions, and he quickly gained a reputation for excellence in both.

Three years later he became the chaplain for a college that trained missionaries for China.  There Alphonsus became friends with a senior colleague, Father Thomas Falcoia, who had spent a long while trying to found a religious order of nuns, but he had only been able to establish a single convent.  Falcoia was made bishop of Castellamare.  One of his nuns, Sister Celeste, claimed to have had a vision that confirmed Falcoia’s earlier vision regarding a new rule of life for their congregation.  Bishop Falcoia asked Alphonsus to offer a retreat for the nuns and to investigate Sr. Celeste’s vision.  Alphonsus found the vision to be authentic, and with a new rule and religious habits, a new religious order was founded, the Redemptorines.

With the religious order of women established, Bishop Falcoia asked Alphonsus to found a religious order of priests that would specialize in preaching and missionary work directed toward the poor in the rural areas around Naples.  The new institute was established in 1732 and called the Congregation for the Most Holy Redeemer, also known as the Redemptorists.  The Congregation was officially approved by Pope Benedict XIV in 1749.  Alphonsus did his best to guide the new community, but his efforts were hindered by the dissension among the members.

Meanwhile, Alphonsus continued to go from village to village preaching the gospel with a message that was understandable to all, especially common folk, children, and the elderly.  He also was in high demand as a confessor because of his gentle style and wise advice.

At this point Alphonsus increasingly turned to spiritual writing, and he composed thirty-six separate works, some scholarly, others devotional.  His first work was published in 1745 and his most famous work, Moral Theology, was published in 1748, which presented a reasonable middle ground between the morally stringent approach of Jansenism and laxity, an excessively lenient approach.  His contributions led him to being named a Doctor of the Church.

After leading the Redemptorists since 1732, Alphonsus was named the bishop of Saint Agata dei Goti in 1762.  His major initiatives were to reform the clergy and to serve the poor.  He was afflicted with rheumatic fever, and because of ill health, he resigned in 1775 after having serving for thirteen years.  He retired to Nocera dei Pagini in Campagna where he died in 1787.

Alphonsus was beatified in 1816, canonized a saint in 1839, pronounced a Doctor of the Church in 1871, and named the patron saint of confessors and moral theologians in 1950.

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New book on Catholic social teaching offered as free digital download from Pope Francis

July 28, 2016

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“DoCat” is a follow-up to the popular YouCat (Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church) from World Youth Day 2011.

The book which teaches the basics of Catholic social teaching is a gift from Pope Francis to all of the participants of World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland and extended to those participating from afar.

When you download the DoCat app you may add the DoCat book content into the app without charge until the close of World Youth Day on July 31, 2016.

Here Pope Francis explains it:

And another video just for fun:

 

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The Cross: Our hope for forgiveness and salvation

July 22, 2016

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crucifixion

On the day that we die, we want to go to heaven to be with God, the angels and saints, and our loved ones who have gone before us, to live for all eternity in peace and joy, but there is one enormous obstacle to our admittance to heaven:  our sins.

No one is worthy to go to heaven on their own merit.  It is impossible to do enough good works or earn enough graces to pay the price of admission.  The price is too high.  It is beyond us.

St. Paul explains that there is a “bond against us, with its legal claims” (Col 2:14).  The bond is like an indictment handed down by a grand jury or a criminal complaint filed by the county attorney that accuses a person of specific crimes that have been committed.  Spiritually, “the bond against us” is filed by God, and it is a list of all of our sins, our transgressions against “The Law,” either the Mosaic Law and the commandments or the Law of Love and Jesus’ gospel teachings.  The law has legal claims.  We are expected to obey, to live a good and holy life, and if we fail to comply, our violations have dire consequences; we could be barred from heaven and doomed to eternal punishment.

In Roman times “the bond” was nailed to the cross.  When a criminal was sentenced to death by crucifixion, not only were the criminal’s hands and feet nailed to the wood, but a list of the criminal’s crimes were written in large letters in ink on a piece of papyrus and nailed to the cross, posted in plain sight for everyone to read (see Jn 19:19).  Not only was the person’s naked body exposed, so were their crimes.

If we are honest with ourselves, we must humbly admit that “the bond against us” is long.  We have committed many sins over our lifetime.  God has a written criminal complaint against us.  It is humbling, embarrassing.  We are terrified at the prospect.  On Judgment Day God has every right to condemn us and post the list, but God has no desire whatsoever to condemn us.

God so loves the world that he sent his only begotten son Jesus that we might have eternal life (Jn 3:16).  Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death on the cross (Phil 2:8), and by the price he paid, Jesus has gained our redemption and salvation.  It was on the Cross with the blood he shed and the life he laid down that our sins have been wiped away.

Jesus obliterated our bond that was nailed to the cross (Col 2:14).  The ink on ancient papyrus did not sink into the fabric like modern ink binds to the paper.  The ink laid on the surface, and because papyrus was so expensive it was often reused after the ink had been wiped clean.  Jesus obliterated our sins on his triumphant Cross.  He wiped our list of sins clean, never to be seen again, entirely forgotten, completely absolved.  In the Cross is our salvation!

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Our Lady of Mount Carmel

July 14, 2016

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Our Lady of Mount Carmel

July 16 is the memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  It commemorates July 16, 1251, the day when the Blessed Mother Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock in England a number of years after he had made a visit to Mount Carmel.  It is the patronal feast of the Carmelite religious order.

Mount Carmel is a beautiful and picturesque mountain located in northern Israel just south of the modern city of Haifa.  It towers magnificently over the Mediterranean Sea below with an elevation of 470 feet at the coastline and 1742 feet further inland.  The Stella Maris Mount Carmel location provides a panoramic view of the sea to the east and the city to the north.

Mount Carmel is associated with the ministry of the prophet Elijah who lived in solitude in a cave along the mountainside.  It is the place where Elijah successfully confronted the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:19-40).

During the Twelfth Century AD, a number of Christian hermits moved into the same caves, inspired by the prophet Elijah to live a life of poverty and simplicity, silence, solitude, and prayer.   Mount Carmel has been traditionally associated with the glory of Mary while Mount Tabor has been traditionally associated with the glory of Jesus.  The monks who lived on Mount Carmel had a special devotion to Mary, built a small chapel in her honor, and prayed regularly through her intercession.

St. Simon Stock was a baron from England who visited Mount Carmel sometime in the early Thirteenth Century, and upon encountering the Carmelite hermits who lived there, he convinced some of them to accompany him back to England where they would establish a community and monastery.  Upon their return, St. Simon Stock reported that the Blessed Mother appeared to him on July 16, 1251, at Aylesford, England, and that during the apparition she presented him with a scapular which subsequently became a featured aspect of the Carmelite religious habit.  The scapular is a long rectangular piece of brown fabric worn over the shoulders to below the knees over the front and back above the full-length brown robe.

The scapular represents the yoke of Jesus (Mt 11:29-30), and it serves as a constant reminder to comply with the gospel and obey the will of God.  It also is an outward sign of devotion to Mary, and a reminder to imitate her virtues, exceptional holiness, and prayerfulness.

The Blessed Mother made several promises regarding the scapular.  St. Simon Stock was burdened with many worries, as were many of the other monks, and Mary promised that whoever wore the scapular would be given the gift of perseverance.  Furthermore, she promised that whoever was wearing a scapular at the time of death would be released from Purgatory the first Saturday after their death.

The promises at first were understood to be reserved to the members of the Carmelite religious order, but later the promises were extended to members of the laity.  An adapted form of the scapular was developed for lay use, two small rectangular panels joined by two brown strings or cords and worn over the shoulders and usually under the clothing.  The scapular is a sacramental, a sacred object that is blessed and treated with reverence and respect.

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The Dual Citizenship of Catholic Americans

July 1, 2016

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July 4 is the celebration of Independence Day, the birthday of our country, the United States of America, and our citizenship in this great nation.  This national holiday is an occasion to reflect on the nature of dual citizenship, how a Christian is a citizen of a universal spiritual kingdom, the Kingdom of God, and an earthly kingdom, our country, the United States.

A Christian is a citizen of the Body of Christ, the Communion of Saints, and the Kingdom of God.  Therefore, a Christian American has dual citizenship and dual allegiance, God and country.  The order is significant.  Both deserve love and loyalty, but they do not have equal standing.  God comes first.  God ranks above all else.  God is the principle focus of a Christian’s love and affection.  God is to be served first.  The Word of God, whether it is the law of love, the beatitudes, the Ten Commandments, other precepts in Scripture, or the teachings of the Church, are the principle statutes and decrees that govern a Christian’s life.

While spiritual citizenship ranks first and has precedence, earthly citizenship is vitally important.  Jesus highlighted this when he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mt 22:21).  A Christian has a duty and a moral obligation to “give to Caesar,” to be an active, responsible, contributing member of the earthly kingdom, in our case, the USA.

On Independence Day American citizens celebrate “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” the “sweet land of liberty,” a country with amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties, and fruited plains.  Our ancestors fought for our independence so we could have a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

The Church recognizes the rightful place of countries, governments, government leaders, and civils laws.  They are necessary for a well-ordered society.  Governments come in many forms.  Ours is a constitutional democracy.  All governments must serve the common good:  “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more easily” (Gaudium et spes, 26.1).  It consists of three elements:  respect for the individual person, the social well-being and development of the group, and peace, a prerequisite for the common good to flourish (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1907-1909).

The Church teaches that Christians have duties as citizens “to contribute along with civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom.  The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity.  Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community” (CCC, No. 2239).

“Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country” (CCC, No. 2240).  All Americans, Christians included, would be well to ask, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” (John F. Kennedy inauguration speech), and as good citizens, it is our civic duty to serve our fellow Americans and to work for the betterment of our city, state, and country, “One nation under God.”

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