Archive | January, 2017

My Breakthrough with Lectio Divina

January 26, 2017

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By Linda Harmon

Lectio Divina (divine reading) is a method of prayer I have studied and attempted to learn for quite some time.  I loved hearing stories of people who successfully practiced Lectio Divina, and I wanted to experience this prayer too.  I read books and searched the internet for how to pray Lectio Divina – and I practiced the steps for doing the prayer, however I never felt like I connected with this type of prayer.  Recently, I attended a workshop on praying Lectio Divina and my experience with this prayer changed — I had a breakthrough with Lectio Divina.

Linda Harmon

Linda Harmon

The workshop appealed to me because I personally knew the leader, Fr. Jonathan Kelly, and I thought he might be able to help me connect with what I felt I was missing with Lectio Divina.  To my surprise, it wasn’t what Fr. Kelly had to say but what I experienced when my small group practiced Lectio Divina together!  I was surprised because I believed Lectio Divina to be a personal prayer, and I was skeptical about our success when we were asked to practice the prayer as a group.  Instead, I witnessed each person hear a different message as they reflected on the same gospel passage.  What I had always been told – that God speaks to each of us, individually, through scripture – was playing out in front of me.   Somehow, by hearing the different and unique messages of others, it convinced me that the message I was hearing was truly a message for me from God.

I also realized from this workshop that a critical key for me to be successful at Lectio Divina is to be sure I am absolutely open to hearing God speak to me.  The skepticism I carried into the group practice could be a clue to why I had not been successful on my own.  Perhaps there was some spiritual warfare keeping me from my goal?  For me, clearing my mind and being present to God before, during, and after I pray is critical for me to feel connected to God.

Whether you are new to Lectio Divina, a master, or someone like myself who was trying to grasp what she was missing, I would encourage you to attend one of Fr. Kelly’s upcoming workshops.

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St. Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor of the Church

January 26, 2017

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AquinasStaninedGlass

Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225 – 1274) may be the brightest theological and philosophical light in the history of the Catholic Church.  His teaching and voluminous writings have profoundly influenced, deepened, and informed Catholic thought for over seven hundred years.

Thomas was born sometime near 1225.  He had noble beginnings, born in the castle of Roccasecca in Italy, the son of Count Landulf of Aquino.   When he was only five he was sent to the Benedictine Monastery School at Monte Cassino, and when he was fourteen he was sent to the University of Naples where he was exposed to a variety of philosophies including Aristotle and the Islamic philosopher Averroes of Cordoba.

In 1244 Thomas joined the Dominicans, a decision his family opposed so strongly that his brothers kidnapped him from the friary and carried him to the family castle at Roccasecca where he was held captive for more than a year.  In 1245 Thomas was given release, returned to the Dominicans, and shortly thereafter moved to Paris where he studied from 1245 to 1248.  Thomas spent the next four years at the new Dominican studium in Cologne where he was an understudy of the intellectual giant, St. Albert the Great.  Thomas was ordained a priest while at the studium.

Thomas returned to Paris in 1252 as professor, lecturer, and author.  By 1256 he was renowned as a Master of Sacred Theology and taught fellow Dominicans from 1259 to 1268 at Naples, Orvieto, Viterbo, and Rome.  It was during this period that he began his writings, his Cantena Aurea, a commentary on the gospels, Summa contra Gentiles, an aid for missionaries to the Muslims, as well as his most comprehensive work, the Summa Theologiae, a thorough and comprehensive explanation of Catholic theology.

Thomas returned to Paris in 1269 where he resumed his teaching and continued his writing.  He also became embroiled in a controversy over the rights of secular clergy and the friars to serve on the faculty, and bitter disputes with Siger of Brabant, John Peckman, and Bishop Tempier of Paris, all whom he opposed because of flaws in their logic.  With the University of Paris in upheaval, in 1272 Thomas was sent to serve as the director of the new Dominican house of studies in Naples.  It was there that he completed the third section of his Summa, and then, in December, 1273, he abruptly stopped all of his writing, calling it “so much straw compared with what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.”

Thomas was asked to attend the Council of Lyon in 1274 where Pope Gregory X intended to discuss the reunification of the churches of the East (Greek) and the West (Latin), but as he set out he fell ill, was taken to the Cistercian abbey near Terracina, Italy, and died on March 7, 1274.

In addition to his Summa, other notable works include Quaestiones disputatae, Quaestiones quodlibetales, De unitate intellectus contra Averroistas, and commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and numerous biblical texts.  Thomas also wrote several well-known hymns:  Adoro to devote, O Salutaris Hostia, Tantum ergo, and Pange lingua.

Thomas Aquinas was canonized by Pope John XXII in 1323, named a Doctor of the Church by Pope St. Pius V in 1567, and designated the patron saint of Catholic schools, colleges, and universities by Pope Leo XIII in 1880.  He is also the patron saint of theologians, philosophers, students, and booksellers.  Since the Sixteenth Century he has also been known as the “Angelic doctor.”  His memorial was moved from his death anniversary to January 28, the date his body was transferred to Toulouse in 1369.

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Repent!

January 17, 2017

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SermonOnTheMountWhat a way to begin a speech!

Jesus is not your average public speaker.  Most acclaimed orators at a major convention begin their presentation with a series of polite opening remarks.  It is customary to honor visiting dignitaries, welcome the crowd, and offer glowing compliments about the organization or the host city, all to win the attention and approval of the audience.

Jesus could have begun, “Most reverend rabbis” or “Good people of Capernaum.”  He might have said something like, “How wonderful that we have gathered together here on this gorgeous day along the scenic shores of the Sea of Galilee.”  Jesus would have no idle chatter.  He cut straight to the chase.  The first word of his preaching was, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), a brave and bold command.  What a first impression!  It might not have won the crowd’s approval, but they perked up and took notice.

Jesus was never one for being politically correct.  He was no reed swaying in the wind.  He was a prophet, the Prophet, and he embodied the truth.  A prophet can see laxity, corruption, unfaithfulness, and evildoing, and refuses to look the other way.  There is no wiggle room when it comes to the truth, goodness, and holiness.  The bar must never be lowered.  The people and their leaders had strayed.  Their plight was dismal.  Their situation was urgent.  A prophet does not mince words.  Jesus did not want the people to like him.  He wanted to save them.  Out of deep love and sincere concern for their spiritual welfare, his first word was audacious and unapologetic:  “Repent.”

Repent is not a polite, soft invitation.  It is judgmental, challenging, and confrontational.  It says, “You are in a bad place” and “You are headed in the wrong direction.”  It is a reprimand, a scolding.  It is the sort of comment that would raise the ire of his listeners.  They would have likely retorted, “Get lost!”  “Mind your own business!”  Jesus was not about to leave, and their wellbeing was his first order of business.

Jesus knew that his listeners, all sinners, would be offended.  That is why he would later say, “Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me” (Mt 11:6).  His listeners would need to get past their initial anger, denial, defensiveness, and stubbornness.  An honest self-appraisal would reveal that Jesus was right, that sin was present, and that change was desperately needed, but change does not come easily.  Sinners regularly prefer self-destructive sinful behavior to healthy, wholesome behavior.  Jesus’ call to repent is a call to change.

Spiritual directors and counselors have a saying, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”  If we keep doing the same old things the same old ways, we will get the same old results.  Each person is a sinner, both those in Jesus’ original audience and each of us today.  If we are sinners, something has to change.  We must repent or our sins will persist.  Without change, there can be no increase in righteousness or growth in holiness.

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St. Anthony, Abbot

January 12, 2017

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StAnthonyDesert

A Variety of Names.  St. Anthony (251-356) is known by a number of different titles:  St. Anthony, the Abbot; St. Anthony, the Father of Monks; St. Anthony, the Patriarch of Monks; St. Anthony, the Hermit; St. Anthony of Egypt; St. Anthony of the Desert, and St. Anthony the Great.  He is commemorated each year on January 17.  He is not to be confused with St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231) who lived over 800 years later and is remembered on June 13.

The Early Years.  St. Anthony was born in Koman near Memphis in Upper Egypt around 251 AD.   His parents died when he was a late teenager, and he was left to care for his younger sister and the family home.  When he was twenty he reflected on how the apostles left everything, sold their possessions, and followed Jesus (Lk 5:11; 18:28; Acts 2:45; 4:34-35), and then, at church shortly thereafter he heard the gospel, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell all that you have and give to the poor” (Mt 19:21).  It seemed to Anthony that God was speaking directly to him.  He had inherited approximately 200 acres of fertile farmland which he proceeded to sell, along with most of the family possessions, and distributed it to the poor, and he retained a small amount to care for his sister and himself.   Not long afterward, he was in church again and heard the passage, “Do not worry about tomorrow” (Mt 6:34).  At this he sold the rest, took his sister to a convent to be raised by a community of sisters, and decided to live a simple, solitary life.

Life as a Hermit.  In 272, Anthony moved a short distance from his home into the desert to live an austere life of self-denial alone in a tomb in a cemetery.  He was guided by the Bible verse, “If anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat” (2 Thes 3:10b), so he did manual labor to support himself, and spent the remainder of his time in prayer and Scripture reading.  He memorized many passages.  He struggled mightily with temptation and had violent bouts with the devil.  He lived a strict ascetical lifestyle.  He did works of penance, particularly severe fasts, eating only bread and water once a day.  He wore sackcloth as his outer cloak, and a hair shirt for his undergarment which constantly irritated his skin.  In 285 he moved further into the desert to live in an abandoned fort in even greater solitude.

A Magnet and Guide.  Others were so attracted to Anthony that they joined him in the desert.  In 305 he organized a monastery at Fayum with a rule that the monks should live in solitude except for communal worship. Sometime after 312, he organized a second monastery at Pispir.  He instructed the monks to take up hobbies such as weaving baskets and mats to prevent idleness and ward off temptation.  The monks regarded Anthony as an abbot, and history regards him as the founder of monasticism.

Desert Departures.  Anthony left the desert twice, but only briefly.  He always desired to be a martyr so he went to Alexandria in 311 during the height of the Emperor Maximin’s persecution against Christians.  The oppression started to subside around the time of his arrival, he was never harmed, and returned to the desert.  Later he returned to Alexandria in 355 to help St. Athanasius fight the Arian heresy, after which he once again returned to solitude.  He died in the desert in 356 at the age of 105.

Patronage and Symbol.  St. Anthony is the patron saint of grave diggers and weavers, and his symbol is a T-shaped or Tau Cross.  He is invoked for release from worldly attachments.

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The Epiphany of the Lord

January 4, 2017

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The Magi versus the Chief Priests and the Scribes

magiThe visit of the magi to Jesus in Bethlehem reveals a deeply disturbing fact:  the chief priests and the scribes did not go to visit Jesus like the magi.  In fact, they conspired with King Herod who wanted to destroy the child.  The chief priests and the scribes were quite unlike the magi, and they are a remarkable study in contrast.

The magi were pagans, Gentiles, non-believers; from Persia, a foreign country to the east; scholars and experts on secular subjects such as medicine, philosophy, and astronomy; belonged to an upper priestly caste; practiced as fortune tellers and magicians; and were ridiculed by ordinary Jews as superstitious, misinformed, and misguided.

On the other hand, the chief priests and scribes were Jews, members of God’s Chosen People; from Israel, the Promised Land; scholars and experts on spiritual subjects such as Scripture, the Law, and the prophets; served as the priests and elders of the Temple; despised fortune telling and magic; and were widely respected by ordinary Jews as holy, devout, and well-informed.

The reaction and response of the magi to the birth of Jesus is shockingly different from the chief priests and the scribes.  When the star appeared in the night sky, the magi noticed the star, were excited about the star, made a clear decision to seek the newborn king of the Jews, followed the star, traveled hundreds of miles, spent weeks or months on the journey, used a portion of their life’s savings to make the trip, brought expensive gifts, consulted with others for additional guidance, and once they found Jesus, they were filled with joy, prostrated themselves before him, paid him homage, and offered him expensive gifts.

On the other hand, the chief priests and the scribes failed to notice the star.  When they learned about the birth of the newborn king of the Jews, they were not excited, they had no desire to go and see the child, they were unwilling to travel five or six miles or to set aside part of a day to make the trip to nearby Bethlehem, spent none of their resources on traveling or gifts, failed to take heed of their own Scriptures regarding the birth of the Messiah, were flat and unaffected, gave Jesus no honor or worship, and presented him with no gifts.

This is a supreme irony.  A positive response to Jesus should have been forthcoming from the religious leaders of Israel, not from pagans from a faraway country.  The outsiders responded and believed.  The insiders were complacent and resisted.

Not only is this contrast shocking, and the response of the chief priests and scribes disappointing, even appalling, it should serve as a warning to us.  Practicing Catholics and regular church-goers would classify themselves as “religious” or “devout.”  This is the same way that the chief priests and scribes described themselves.  Even though they had the advantage of a religious upbringing, knew Scripture, and worshiped regularly, they did not respond to Jesus.  We must avoid their pitfall.  It is important for us to watch for Jesus, pursue him with all our hearts, expend whatever time and energy is needed to go to him, examine the Scriptures for guidance, prostrate ourselves in praise and worship before him, and offer him our finest gifts.

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