Archive | October, 2017

A Saint for Today

October 31, 2017


On Saturday, November 4th Sr. Rani Marie (Who’s name translates as Queen Mary) will be beatified, the first step toward canonization. A member of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation from Kerala, India, Sr. Rani Marie was martyred 22 years ago. She was murdered by landlords who were against missionary activities by the Catholic Sisters, while working among the poor. Sr. Rani Maria was 41 when Samandar Singh, hired by some landlords, stabbed her inside a bus on February 25, 1995. She had worked among poor landless agricultural laborers and others to fight for just wages and other rights.

Her amazing story did not end with her death; in fact, it is where it starts. While serving 11 years in prison, Samandar Singh plotted to get revenge on the landlords that pushed him into killing the nun, that is until another nun came to visit. Sister Selmi Paul, who happened to be the murdered nun’s own sister came to him, hugged him and called him brother. He was profoundly touched by her gesture, so much so that from this embrace his journey of repentance began. He gave up plans for revenge and converted to Catholicism.  Now, released from prison, Sr. Rani Marie’s family treats him like a brother, in fact it was Sr. Rani’s family that lobbied for his release from prison.  They have adopted him into their family.

I heard about this story at about the same time I heard of the tragedy in Las Vegas. I happened to be at a daily Mass the day after the shootings that killed 58 people.  Even as they death count was still being tallied, the priest at this daily Mass jarred me when he led us all in a prayer for the 59th victim…the shooter. It is a strange thing as Catholics that we are called not only to love our friends but to love our enemies.   Love them so much so that we pray for them along with our loved ones.

A priest I recently heard was expounding on the Blessed Mother at the cross of Christ and hearing the words, “Behold, your Mother.” He said, “At that moment, Mary, knowing that her son was dying for our sins and dying for the sins of even John, who’s home she would then enter, was being asked to be mother to the ones her son was dying for.”  “Who,” he challenged the mothers in the audience, “would be able to take on that role of mothering the ones who were the cause of their own son’s death?”

Only a saint. Only our Queen Mary.

Most of us will never be martyred or hopefully never be in the position to forgive a murder of a family member, but all of us have someone we need to forgive.  It could be someone who has caused us some pain in some way, a friend, co-worker, boss, or family member.  It could be someone even closer and the initiator of very deep pain such as a parent, spouse, abuser or even a child.  The lives of the saints are not just stories of the outwardly heroic, but they are the examples of everyday forgiveness.

St. Richard’s in Richfield, 7540 Penn Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55423, will be celebrating a 4:00 p.m. Syro-Malabar (Eastern  Rite) Catholic Mass on Sunday November 5 in honor of Rani Marie’s Beatification.  All are welcome to attend!





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Go ahead: love yourself

October 27, 2017


Love yourself. Yes, Jesus wants you to love yourself. He said so. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:39). But this sounds so selfish. When a person hears, “Love yourself,” all sorts of things come to mind. “Put yourself first,” which is egotistical, prideful, self-centered, and individualistic. “Give yourself what you want,” which is selfish, greedy, and materialistic. “The world revolves around you and what makes you happy,” which is narcissistic. “Enjoy the pleasures of life; if it feels good, do it,” which is hedonistic, self-indulgent, and decadent. Certainly this is not what Jesus means when he says, “Love yourself.”

I had a spiritual director who has a saying, “Good ministry begins with self-care.” This wise advisor would go on to say, “You are no good to anyone else if you are a wreck yourself. You are unable to be of service if you are mentally or spiritually imbalanced, sick or dead. You have to be well if you hope to love your neighbor.”

When Jesus says, “Love yourself,” he means, “Take care of yourself. Be a good steward of the gift of your life. Be healthy, spiritually, emotionally, and physically, so you are able to love and serve your neighbor appropriately.”

When Jesus says, “Love yourself,” he is asking us to take care of our body and physical health. You “love yourself” when you get to bed on time and get enough sleep, eat a well-balanced diet, exercise regularly, practice good hygiene, avoid dangerous activities, follow safety precautions, drive carefully, go to the doctor when sick, and comply with the doctor’s orders.

When Jesus says, “Love yourself,” he is asking us to take care of our emotional well-being. You “love yourself” when you nurture good relationships with family members; be a friend to others and allow others to be a friend to you; have a network of mutually beneficial friendships; have someone with whom you can share your hopes and fears, ups and downs; have one or more hobbies; enjoy the arts, go to movies, plays, concerts, or a museum; take time to read a good book, magazine, or newspaper; engage in enjoyable activities like a picnic, swimming, amusement park, the zoo, or a sporting event; have a reasonable workload; manage stress; reserve time for rest and relaxation; be positive and optimistic; pay special attention to hurts, deal with resentments, and forgive; restrain anger; and, if things are unmanageable on our own, to seek the help of others, either from a trustworthy family member or friend, or professional care from a minister or personal coach, counselor or therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist.

When Jesus says, “Love yourself,” he is asking us to have a strong and vibrant spiritual life. Good spiritual health begins with prayer. You “love yourself” when you pray every day, go to Mass every weekend, receive the sacrament regularly, do spiritual reading, practice a devotion like Eucharistic Adoration or the rosary, and do penance: prayer, fasting and self-denial, almsgiving, and works of charity. Other key elements of good spiritual health include being a registered and active member of a parish community, generosity with time and money, on-going spiritual development and faith formation, sharing one’s faith with others, and volunteer service to the parish and wider community. There is nothing selfish about loving yourself when you take care of yourself to honor the gift of life that God has given to you, and to have a strong and healthy foundation to serve your neighbor.


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St. Paul of the Cross

October 19, 2017


St. Paul of the Cross

St. Paul of the Cross

St. Paul of the Cross was born on January 3, 1694, at Ovada, near Genoa, Italy. His birth name was Paolo (Paul) Francesco (Francis) Danei. He was one of sixteen children, and his parents were devout Catholics. His father was a merchant, but he fared badly in business and was unable to send Paul to school.

As a small child whenever he suffered discomfort or cried, his mother would show him a crucifix and reflect with him about the suffering of Jesus on the Cross, and from the beginning of his life he had a great devotion to the Cross. His father would read to him about the lives of the saints. When he was fifteen he heard a sermon that helped him to realize and admit his sins, after which he went to Confession and began a life of strict austerity and prayer, and he afflicted himself with self-mortification like sleeping on the bare floor, sleep deprivation, and self-flagellation.

Paul joined the Venetian army at the age of twenty to fight for the faith and against the Turks in the hope that he would die as a martyr. After one year he came to the realization that military service was not his calling and asked to be discharged, and once his petition was granted, he resumed a life of solitude, prayer, and penance.

In the summer of 1720 he had three visions in which he saw himself clothed in a black religious habit, and in the third vision the Blessed Mother Mary appeared and asked him to found a religious congregation dedicated to the Passion. Paul consulted with his bishop, who was well aware of his holiness, and advised him to move forward. Paul went into seclusion for forty days during which he prayed, ate only bread and water, slept on straw, and wrote the rule of life for his new congregation. Members would take four vows, the usual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but also a special fourth vow to have a deep devotion to the Passion of Jesus, to pray and meditate regularly on his suffering and death on the Cross, and to preach about the Passion.

Passionist Cross

Passionist Cross

Subsequently, Paul and his brother, John, moved to Monte Argentaro, and with two other companions, founded a community, the Discalced Clerks of the Most Holy Cross and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, now commonly known as the Passionists. Paul and his brother were ordained to the priesthood by Pope Benedict XIII at St. Peter’s Vatican Basilica in 1727.

The Passionists embarked on their mission to preach about Jesus’ suffering. They also served the sick and dying with great compassion, brought lapsed Catholics back to the Church, and reconciled sinners through the sacrament of Penance.

Paul’s Rule of Life was given preliminary approval by Pope Benedict XIV in 1741. He was elected the first Superior General in 1747, a positon he held the rest of his life. He traveled widely throughout the Papal States, was a charismatic preacher, generated large crowds, and had a special gift for reconciling sinners. Formal final approval was granted to the Passionist Community by Pope Clement XIV in 1769. Paul subsequently moved to Rome. Under his leadership twelve new communities of men were founded, and in 1771 he founded a cloistered community of Passionist nuns at Corneto.

St. Paul of the Cross became ill in 1772 and died on October 18, 1775, at the age of 80 in Rome, and he was canonized a saint in 1867. He is the patron saint of the Passionist Community. His memorial is not celebrated on his death anniversary like most saints because of the Feast of St. Luke. The universal Church remembers him on October 19, but in the United States, because of the memorial of St. Isaac Jogues and his companions, he is remembered on October 20.

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The symbolism of The Sacred Heart of Jesus

October 13, 2017


The Sacred Heart of Jesus is brought to the forefront twice each liturgical year, first on the Feast of the Sacred Heart which is celebrated on the third Friday after Pentecost, and again on October 16, the memorial of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, one of the foremost saints to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart.

The Heart itself. The heart is the symbolic center of feeling and emotion, and it represents Jesus’ deep love and affection for us. It is sometimes shown by itself, but often with an image of Jesus, and then above his chest. Most frequently it is depicted as red, the color of blood, which Jesus poured out for us (Jn 19:34). Red signifies fervent love, and Jesus loves us so much that he laid down his life for us (Jn 15:13). Occasionally the heart is purple, yellow, or white.

The Crown of Thorns. The heart typically is encircled horizontally with a crown of thorns. The thorns represent the stings caused by our sins. During Jesus’ passion, the execution squad wove a crown of thorns and placed it on his head (Mt 27:29; Mk 15:17; Jn 19:2,5), and it represents all that Jesus suffered on our account.

The Wound. Often there is a gash shown on the lower left or lower center of the heart which recalls when the soldier thrust his lance into Jesus’ side (Jn 19:34). The lance not only cut through Jesus’ rib cage, it also cut through his heart. This incident not only proved that Jesus was dead (Jn 19:33) and had given his life for us (Phil 2:8), it also fulfilled an ancient Messianic prophecy: “They shall look on him whom they have thrust through” (Zech 12:10; Jn 19:37).

Droplets of Blood. Some artists show a few droplets flowing from the wound, and in a few instances they are caught by a chalice below. This recalls the Last Supper when Jesus offered a cup of wine and said, “This is my blood of the covenant which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). Jesus taught, “My blood is true drink” (Jn 6:55); and “Whoever drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:56) and “has eternal life” (Jn 6:54). The droplets also represent the new Covenant of Blood (Ex 24:8).

The Flames. A number of flames are usually shown above the upper, center of the heart, and they represent the intensity of the warmth of Jesus’ love.

The Cross. It is customary to display a Latin cross in the midst of the flames, because it is on the cross where Jesus most decisively demonstrated the love of his Sacred Heart.

The Rays of Light. It is also common to have an array of glistening gold, white, or red beams of light radiating from Jesus’ heart. Jesus is light (8:12; 12:46), and the love of his heart enlightens the world (Jn 1:9).

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St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

October 13, 2017

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St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

Principle Contributions. St. Margaret Mary Alacoque is best-known and most-remembered for her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a devotion she helped to strengthen and spread throughout the universal Church. She also promoted the pious practice of observing nine consecutive First Fridays.

Difficult Beginnings. Margaret was born in 1647 into a middle class family in a small town in the Burgundy region of France. Her father died when she was eight. She subsequently was sent away to a school staffed by the Poor Clare sisters where she was quickly attracted to the religious life. When she turned ten she was struck with a painful rheumatic condition that kept her bedridden until she was fifteen. After her recovery she returned home, only to be harshly treated along with her widowed mother by an uncle and other relatives who had moved into the family home.

The Convent. Margaret Mary entered the convent in 1671at the age of twenty-four. She joined a monastery of Visitation Sisters in Paray-le-Monial in central France. She made her profession of vows the following year, and made steady progress in the consecrated life as she humbly served in the infirmary caring for the sick.

Mystical Revelations. Sister Margaret Mary reported that Jesus appeared to her a number of times over an eighteen-month period from 1673 to 1675. The first appearance was on December 27, 1673, the feast of St. John the Evangelist. During this and subsequent apparitions, Jesus asked her to receive Holy Communion on the First Friday of each month for the reparation of sins committed against him, to observe a holy hour on Thursday evenings in memory of his Agony in the Garden, to spread the devotion to his Sacred Heart through which his manifold graces would be spread widely, and to convince the leaders of the Church to establish an annual feast day in honor of his Sacred Heart.

The Sacred Heart. Sister Margaret Mary reported that when Jesus appeared, she could see his beating heart, and she wrote a detailed description of it. “This divine heart was shown to me on a throne of flames. It was more resplendent than the sun and transparent as crystal. The heart had its own adorable wound, and was surrounded by a crown of thorns signifying the stings caused by our sins. And there was a cross above it.”

More Difficulties. When the other sisters and local theologians learned about Jesus’ purported appearances and the content of the messages, she was doubted, criticized, ridiculed, and opposed. It was a time of bitter loneliness and isolation for her. Shortly thereafter a Jesuit priest, Fr. Claude de la Colombiere, became her spiritual director. He wrote a book entitled Spiritual Retreat that described the revelations and the importance of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, and it led to the acceptance of the messages.

Champion of the Sacred Heart. Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque died on October 17, 1690, and she was canonized a saint in 1920.

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Meeting halfway in marriage

October 9, 2017


Dan Steger

By Dan Steger

I work as a salesman for a Twin Cities company that makes graphics and signage for use in retail stores. My biggest customer is based in New York City, where I call on them about once a month.

Usually this involves a series of short business meetings, but on a recent trip I catered in lunch for the entire department, a group of about 30 people. As we tucked into our lobster rolls and sodas, the room buzzed with a number of small conversations. Lobster rolls, I knew from 15 years’ experience, are a real crowd-pleaser!

At one point, one of my longtime close contacts asked me from across the large conference room table, “Dan, do you have any big vacations planned for this year? Like – where did you go last year? Bosnia or something?”

I smiled. People always struggled to remember the name. Or maybe it was the geography? “You mean Croatia. No, nothing like that this year. That trip was to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. This year we’re going to Wisconsin.”

At this I was met with wide-eyed stares from a number of those in the room. “Thirty years?” asked a young woman of about 30 years herself. “You’ve been married 30 years? That’s amazing. What’s your secret?”

By now the room was very quiet, and all eyes were on me, a situation with which I was not entirely comfortable. Although a career salesman I am fairly introverted and prefer talking with people one-on-one or in small groups.

“Well, I can answer that with a story, but you may regret asking as it’ll take a few minutes.”

“Go for it. We’re all ears.”

“OK, this happened on our wedding day, just before the ceremony itself. My wife and I are both Catholic, and we married in a big, old neo-Gothic, or neo-something, church in St. Paul, Minnesota.” When in New York I am always careful with place names, adding MINNESOTA and waiting for a sign of recognition. People often nod pleasantly but indistinctly.

“It’s a traditional church in an older part of the city, and I was a parishioner, largely because my father grew up there and my grandparents were still members, attending Mass every day.

“We wanted a Mass, not a civil ceremony, and in this parish there were certain rules about weddings. They were on Saturdays at 10am, period. You want a 5pm wedding? Try 10am instead. And this was fine with us. Neither of us were, or are, super-devout, but we wanted a traditional, classic Catholic ceremony and loved the family ties to the place. The church was beautiful, and was decorated for Christmas. We were happy to be flexible about the rules.

I still had everyone’s attention at this point but knew I’d have to move from this church talk to the “good part” or I’d lose them.

“So it’s just before the ceremony is to begin, and I’m in the sacristy – backstage, so to speak – and I’m terrified. Sweating bullets. The prospect of being in front of a hundred or so people really made me nervous, and that was on top of the significance of the rite itself.

“The priest approached me. Father Patrick Lannan. He was the textbook priest. Irish, hugely round in stature, ruddy complexion, gregarious. He’d known my grandparents for years, and treated me like we were old friends, although we were barely acquainted. I was 25 and frankly just an occasional churchgoer. But he didn’t seem to mind that at all. He clasped his hand on my shoulder, and believe me when I tell you I remember this like it happened yesterday. He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Danny, you don’t look like a groom. You look nervous.’

I said this in my best attempt at an Irish accent. Fr. Lannan didn’t speak in one but I used it for dramatic effect. Not really my style but I was going for broke. It seemed to work, judging from the smiles in the room.

“’That’s because I AM nervous, Father.’

Looking around the table I saw that I had everyone’s attention. Most had finished lunch but none were leaving. Generally people stayed 5 or 10 minutes for these lunches, or simply grabbed their sandwich and headed back to their desk. Lunch in this office was not a leisurely affair.

“’Sit down. I’m going to tell you how to get on in married life.’

“At this point I was struck by two things. The first was the irony of a 60 year old celibate priest telling me how to succeed in marriage. But I’d been a Catholic all my life and was used to advice from priests about all kinds of things. And second, frankly, was irritation. I was in the middle of a full-on nervous breakdown and this guy wants to have a fireside chat? But dutiful lad that I was, I sat. And there was no saying NO to Fr. Lannan, that much I knew.

“He sat back in his chair and said, ‘People have problems because they want to meet in the middle on things.’

“He paused to let this sink in but I found this chestnut very odd. I thought meeting in the middle was kind of a tried-and-true way to make relationships work.

“He continued. ‘The problem is that if you go halfway, and your wife goes halfway, you will never meet at all.’

“I was totally confused at this point, and very anxious that it might be 10:00 and there we were chatting in the sacristy while a church full of people sat impatiently waiting for things to start.

“’The problem is that your idea of halfway, and her idea of halfway, are not half way at all. They’re short of that. They’re 40% or something. But if you make it a point to go 60%, and she does the same, you might just meet in the middle after all.’

“At this point he stopped, and smiled at me, and waited for my response. It took me a couple seconds to realize he was done. I was still waiting for the punchline, for some profound, poetic nugget; for the heavens to open and for angels to sing. But he was done and all I had was this bizarre mathematical formula. Forty per-cent. Sixty per-cent. What? My memory of my reaction is crystal-clear: I thought this was the dumbest piece of advice I’d ever heard.

“But Fr. Lannan suddenly stood, looking very satisfied. I stood also, not quite sure what to say. ‘OK, Father. That’s great. Thanks.’

“He nodded in total agreement. He looked me in the eye, put his hand on my shoulder again and said, ‘NOW you look like a groom. Let’s get you married.’

“So that was my piece of advice, this bit about always going more than halfway. At the time I didn’t think much of it. In fact, in the following days I forgot it altogether. But how many times do you think I’ve thought of it in the 30 years since? Hundreds of times. Countless times. Might’ve been the best advice I’ve ever gotten.

I suddenly became self-conscious, realizing that my story was done yet I still had the attention of the entire room. In awkward situations like this I usually made a dumb quip, and this no exception. “There you have it!” I said, upbeat. “Lobster rolls and life lessons! Probably more than you bargained for today.”

Another of those present, a woman with whom I’d done business for years, piped up: “That was an awesome story, Dan. I will remember that.”

I smiled and thanked her. People nodded, either in agreement or just to be polite, I wasn’t sure. One by one they stood, collected their things and filed out.

Father Lannan’s advice really summarized a couple key truths about success in marriage, at least from my experience. First, it’s human nature to overestimate one’s own contributions to relationships. Countless times I’ve found myself thinking I’d really gone that extra mile for my wife, only to admit to myself later that – as Fr. Lannan had said – I’d only gone 40% of the way. And second, marriage is work. Hard work. It’s hard to dig deep and swallow your pride sometimes in order to find harmony with your spouse. It takes patience, and confidence in yourself and your partner, to put aside the disagreement of that moment; to step back and see the bigger picture. I often think of the Rolling Stones lyric:

You can’t always get what you want.

You can’t always get what you want.

But if you try sometime,

You just might find,

You get what you need.

Dan Steger is a salesman and freelance writer. He and his wife Andrea have been married 31 years. They have two adult children.




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