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St. Sharbel Makhlouf, Priest

July 21, 2017

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St. Sharbel Makhlouf

St. Sharbel Makhlouf (1828-1898) was born in a small, remote mountain village in northern Lebanon in 1828, and he was baptized in the Maronite Rite, the rite of the Catholic Church based in Lebanon.  Young Sharbel had two uncles that were monks in the Maronite Rite and, inspired by them, he also became a monk.  Later, in 1859 at the age of 31, he was ordained a priest.

For the next fifteen years, from his ordination in 1859 until 1874, Father Sharbel lived in a monastery with other monks.  Then he moved to a hermitage near the monastery where he spent his last twenty-three years as a hermit.

Father Sharbel’s day revolved around daily Mass.  He took great care in his preparation for Mass, particularly with his extended reflection and meditation on Sacred Scripture.  He celebrated the Mass with deep reverence and respect.  Then, after Mass, he offered prayers of thanks and praise for the graces and blessings received.

In addition to his deep devotion to the Eucharist, Father Sharbel had a great love for the Blessed Virgin Mary, and when he is depicted in religious art, he is often shown with an image of Mary near him with the Blessed Mother holding the Christ child in her arms.

In isolation as a hermit, Father Sharbel had to fend off waves of temptations, particularly the attraction of a more comfortable lifestyle with better food, clothes, and furnishings, as well as the constant inclination to put one’s personal desires and preferences first.  With prayer and determination, he resisted worldly desires and adhered to a life of simplicity and material detachment.  Because of his personal holiness, others were drawn to him, which enabled him to give powerful witness to the value of the Eucharist, prayer, Scripture, Marian devotion, poverty, humility, perseverance, service, and submission to God’s will.  Visitors asked Father Sharbel to intercede on their behalf, and a number of remarkable miracles are attributed to him.

Father Sharbel died in 1898, and he was buried in a tomb at the monastery of St. Maron in Annaya, Lebanon.  Because he is so deeply revered by Maronite Catholics, the monastery quickly became a pilgrimage destination.

Pope Paul VI both beatified and canonized Father Sharbel.  His beatification was on December 5, 1965, during the Second Vatican Council, and his canonization was in 1977.  The Maronite Community has named St. Sharbel the Hermit of Lebanon, and Christians everywhere pray through his intercession to make spiritual headway in singular devotion to God.

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The Sower: Perseverance in the face of disappointment

July 14, 2017

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Parable of the Sower

Often when we hear the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13:1-9), the point of emphasis is the disciple as rich soil.  The metaphor is that the sower is Jesus, the seed is the Word of God, and the soil is the person who receives the Word.  The desired outcome is for the listener to be rich and fertile soil, cultivated, soft and receptive, eager to welcome the seed, to let it take root, permeate one’s life, grow and flourish, and produce astonishing results.

Another angle for reflection is the disciple – not as soil – but as the sower.

Jesus is the first sower, and we are supposed to imitate the Sower.  As Jesus scattered seeds, as he preached the gospel to others, we as his disciples are also supposed to be sowers, to share the gospel with our children, students, and others.

There is a notion that Jesus, because he is the Son of God and all-powerful, was incredibly successful as a sower.  But he was not, at least in every instance.  Sometimes Jesus was able to achieve wonderful results, yields of a hundred or sixty, or thirtyfold (Mt 13:8), but there were many occasions when his results were downright disheartening.

Jesus had tremendous challenges as a sower.  One group of potential listeners was totally resistant, hard and rocky, dismissed him, refused to listen, and completely ignored him.  It must have been very depressing to Jesus.  Another group at least paid attention to Jesus’ preaching.  While they had a bit of initial fervor and enthusiasm, they were not very motivated, and when it came time to implement the Word that Jesus had spoken, they had so little determination and commitment that they fell by the wayside.  Again, this must have been very discouraging.  There was yet another group that listened carefully to Jesus.  They liked Jesus, were intrigued by his gospel, and were ready to give it a try.  But when those in the third group encountered obstacles, either their own inclinations to wrongdoing, or the evil forces of the outside world, or the antagonism of others, they gave up and quit.  It must have been a very bitter pill for Jesus to swallow. It was only with the fourth group that Jesus had success.  Jesus was successful twenty-five percent of the time which is a surprisingly low average.

What did Jesus do in the face of such disappointment?  Did he get angry?  Did he become bitter?  Did he pout?  Did he quit?  No.  Jesus refused to give up.  He had amazing resiliency.  He persevered.  With an indomitable spirit, Jesus went on to other towns and to other people to proclaim the Good News (see Lk 4:43; 8:1).

Every Christian is a sower, parents and grandparents, teachers and catechists, neighbors and priests, and we scatter the seed of God’s holy Word to our children and grandchildren, students, friends, and parishioners.  If Jesus had many disappointments, we should anticipate similar results.  When we share our faith, there will be occasions when it seems no one is watching or listening, and other times when it seems like we are having a positive impact at the beginning, but with little lasting effect.  Hopefully some of our “scattering” will have tremendous results.  When we are unsuccessful, which may happen more often than not, like Jesus we must keep scattering and never lose heart because of discouraging results.  We must be resilient and persevere.  The seed is such a treasure that it must be sown.

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My yoke is easy, my burden light

July 7, 2017

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JesusCarpenterShopGet serious, Jesus!  You say that your burden is light (Mt 11:30).  Hardly!  There are many times that I feel crushed by the burdens of life.  I have so many responsibilities.  There are so many jobs to do.  The days are so long.  I have to work so hard.  The demands are so constant.  There are so few breaks.  You say the burden is light.  I probably should not disagree with the Son of God, but I say that the burdens are huge, sometimes oppressive, and more than I can manage.

The yoke is a symbol for the burden.  A yoke is a wooden frame or harness attached to the shoulders of a pair of oxen to pull a plow or cart.  The yoke enables the oxen to pull much weight and do much work.  For a Christian, the yoke can symbolize the gospel, which the believer chooses to harness to their shoulders, with all of its duties and obligations, or it can symbolize one’s God-given vocation in life, with its endless tasks and responsibilities.

The yoke is far from easy.  It is a burden to live the gospel, such as to speak and insist on the truth in the midst of distortion and dishonesty, and then to bear the burden of the consequences.  It is a burden to accept the vocation as a parent with the endless jobs that follow:  getting up at night, feeding the baby, changing diapers, giving baths, doctor appointments, and everything else that goes with being a mother or father.

How is it, then, that the yoke could be easy?  Jesus and Joseph worked in a carpenter’s shop in Nazareth (see Mt 13:55; Mk 6:3).  Carpenters are woodworkers, and much of their craft is to make items for the home:  tables and chairs, door and window frames, and doors.  Nazareth is surrounded by farmland, and farmers went to the carpenter’s shop to get yokes for their oxen.  Jesus would have made many yokes over his long career in the carpenter’s shop.

Oxen come in different sizes and shapes, particularly the bone and muscle structure of the shoulders.  If the yoke does not fit properly, it hurts to pull and the oxen refuse to work.  Therefore, each yoke has to be tailor-made, individually form-fitted.  Jesus was an expert both at measuring the oxen and customizing yokes that fit just right.  When the yoke fits properly, the oxen will pull and do an enormous amount of work.

When it comes to a person’s calling or vocation in life, a person’s “yoke,” each one is individually tailor-made by God.  One is called to be a parent.  Another is called to be a school teacher, a nurse, a technician, or a cook.  Every calling is burdensome, but because the yoke is form-fitted to the individual by God, and when a person accepts their vocation, the person gains a sense of purpose and determination, which makes the burden lighter.  God supplies the energy to carry the load, and renews the energy day by day, all which makes a heavy burden lighter.

The main factor affecting the weightiness of the burden is love.  If a parent loves their infant child, the burden of getting up at night, feeding the baby, or changing the diaper instantly becomes light.  Similarly, when teachers love their students, health care professionals love their patients, and workers love their customers, their workload becomes light, not because the job is easy, but because the burden is carried willingly and joyfully.  When love of God and neighbor is the driving force, what would otherwise be a burden is light.

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Independence Day

June 30, 2017

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USSeal

July 4th is our greatest civic holiday.  It commemorates the unanimous Declaration of Independence of the thirteen colonies that comprised the United States of America in General Congress on July 4, 1776.  With the Declaration, a new country was born, and July 4th serves as our nation’s annual birthday celebration.

July 4th is a time to honor our country, and there are many splendid traditional hymns to do so.  There is The Star-Spangled Banner, the National Anthem, by Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) and John S. Smith (1750-1836); Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, the Battle Hymn of the Republic; America, My Country ‘Tis of Thee; America the Beautiful; and God Bless America; to name some of the best known and most used.

July 4th is an important day to pray for our country.  The Roman Missal contains a Mass for the Dioceses of the United States, and it contains two options for each of the orations (Collect, Prayer over the Offerings, and Prayer after Communion) and the Preface, as well as a Solemn Blessing (pages 744 to 749).  The special Mass for peace and justice is highly appropriate, and a number of suitable readings are recommended in the Lectionary (Nos. 831-835).

There are several recurrent themes in the prayers.  There are multiple references to true justice and lasting peace.  Justice is the pathway to peace.  It is our fervent prayer that both the leaders and citizens of the United States will be guided by the principles of justice and truth and uphold them both at home and abroad, for when all are treated fairly, all can live together in mutual respect and harmony and enjoy safety and security.

The prayers also mention that our nation was drawn from many peoples of many lands, both the Native Americans who have lived in America for centuries, and countless waves of immigrants who have come since before the founding of the country to the present.  We pray that as diverse as we may be, that we will recognize that all are made in the image and likeness of God, all fellow human beings, all fellow Americans, brothers and sisters, and that God would continue to mold us into one great nation where all live together united as one.

The prayers also recognize how those who live in America have been richly blessed by the providence of God.  Ours is a land of plenty.  God has provided in abundance.  For those who have been given much, much is expected.  These blessings are not to be kept for ourselves alone.   The prayer makes a special petition:  “Grant that our country may share your blessings with all the peoples of the earth.”  We implore God’s help for an ever-increasing spirit of generosity.

While the orations make no mention of those in the armed forces, every national holiday is an opportune time to pray for those in the military, past and present. For those who have served loyally and bravely, we give thanks for the sacrifices they have made, we offer our appreciation, and for those who have died, we commend their souls to almighty God.  For those currently serving, we ask God to grant them wisdom, courage, and protection, and after the successful completion of their tour of duty, that they would be returned home safely to family and friends.

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Zechariah, an inspirational father figure

June 15, 2017

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St. John the Baptist. His name is John

Father’s Day is an occasion to reflect on the vocation of fatherhood.  Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, is most remembered for not believing the angel Gabriel’s announcement and being struck speechless as a punishment, but he has many admirable qualities for fathers.

Zechariah was married to Elizabeth, and both of them were advanced in years and still together.  Zechariah loved his wife and he was completely faithful to their marriage covenant.  Fatherhood is not a married man’s first vocation, but rather being devoted to one’s wife and being an excellent husband.  Good husbands make good fathers.

Zechariah was righteous.  A righteous Jew is law abiding.  This does not refer to his observance of civil law and his status as a citizen of his country, but rather his observance of the Mosaic Law and his spiritual standing before God.  Zechariah carefully and conscientiously obeyed the Ten Commandments as well as all of the other 603 precepts of the Law.   A good father observes God’s laws and has high moral standards, and then teaches these laws to his children, first and foremost with his example, and also with his instruction, house rules, and implementation.

Not only was Zechariah righteous, he was righteous in the eyes of God.  God sees everything, not only public and external things, but also private and internal things.  Zechariah obeyed God’s laws whether people were watching or not.  His observance was not for show.  He was good inside and out.  He was authentic, a man of integrity, truthful and honest.  Fathers like Zechariah help their children understand that God’s laws apply at all times under all circumstances, and that the top priority should be to please God in every instance, not to win the approval of others.

Zechariah was old and had no children.  This was a tremendous disappointment to him, but he did not turn sour, negative, rebellious, or cynical.  Zechariah was stable and he handled his troubles with grace and composure.  All fathers are faced with various setbacks, and fathers like Zechariah are able to remain calm and levelheaded, and able to carry on with purpose.

Zechariah went to the Temple where he prayed, and he took regular turns doing so.  He had a personal relationship with God which he nurtured with frequent prayer which was an intimate conversation which kept them closely bonded together.  Fathers who go to church and pray on a regular basis are guided by God in how to raise their children, and they receive God’s help.

When Zechariah’s son was born, he insisted that his name would be John.  This choice violated the custom of naming a child after his father or another relative.  Zechariah was not swayed by pressure or the expectations of his neighbors and relatives.  The angel had conveyed God’s wish, and Zechariah was adamant and unyielding when it came to obeying God.  There are many opinions and social expectations for how to raise children.  Fathers like Zechariah take their cues from God and are not unduly influenced by other people, old customs, or modern trends.

Finally, Zechariah offered a canticle of praise (Lk 1:68-79).  Zechariah was able to see and count his many blessings, and with faith and gratitude, he honored and glorified God with words of thanks.  Fathers like Zechariah are alert enough to take stock of the good things that God has given them, have an appreciative attitude, and frequently lift God’s name in praise.

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The theophany of Pentecost

June 2, 2017

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Pentecost

On Pentecost “suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house” (Acts 2:2).  It was sudden, startling.  It came up like a storm.  The noise was loud.   The wind roared.  Presumably, the house shook.  For the disciples, it was frightening yet awesome, glorious and enthralling.  They were immersed in a mystical experience, the powerful presence of almighty God in the Person of the Holy Spirit.  It was a theophany.

A theophany is an appearance of God accompanied by astounding signs and wonders that attest to God’s divine majesty, supreme authority, and infinite power.  A theophany involves one or more major forces of nature:  an earthquake, crushing rocks, dark clouds, storm, thunder, lightning, torrential rain, hail, howling winds, raging fire, billowing smoke, and blaring sounds.

The theophany of Pentecost recalls the great theophany of the Hebrew Scriptures, the appearance of God when Moses and the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai.  The sequence of occurrences was phenomenal:  peals of thunder, lightning, a heavy cloud, and a very loud blast (Ex 19:16); rising smoke, fire, and a quaking mountain (Ex 19:18); and the blast of the shofar that grew louder and louder, and yet more thunder (Ex 19:19).

The combination of natural signs pointed to a supernatural reality, that the omnipotent God was truly with Moses and the Israelites in the desert, and that this would be an encounter of epic proportions.  God created the world with a mighty wind (Gn 1:2) and put into place all of the forces of nature.  Then, with the forces of nature making a dramatic and impressive display, God confirmed Israel as the Chosen People and renewed the covenant through the conferral of the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law.

On Pentecost the disciples were all together in one place for a theophany that was similar, yet different.  God had appeared in the desert.  This time God appeared in Jerusalem.  The former appearance took place at Mount Sinai.  This appearance took place on Mount Zion.  Previously the Lord came down upon the mountain in fire.  This time the Holy Spirit came down over the heads of the disciples as tongues as of fire.  The former appearance enabled Moses to speak on God’s behalf.  This appearance enabled Peter and the other disciples to serve as God’s spokesmen.  The former involved spectacular natural signs.  This appearance involved fewer and smaller natural signs.

Like the appearance at Sinai, this appearance would be an event of epic proportions.  The coming of the Holy Spirit established the Church as the People of God.  After Jesus, both priest and victim, sealed the new and eternal covenant with the blood that he shed on the Cross, the Holy Spirit joined the Son in the institution of an everlasting unbreakable covenant extended to all of the nations on earth.

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Lesser Known but great mothers of the Old Testament

May 12, 2017

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Zipporah

Zipporah.  Zipporah was the wife of Moses and the mother of Gershom (Ex 2:21-22; 18:3) and Eliezer (Ex 18:4).  When Moses returned to Egypt, she accompanied him (Ex 4:20), but later Moses sent her back to her father Jethro with their two boys (Ex 18:2) where she raised them by herself.  Zipporah serves as an inspiration to single mothers whose husbands have left to pursue their careers.

Deborah.  Deborah was the wife of Lappidoth (Jgs 4:4) and “a mother in Israel” (Jgs 5:5).  It is not known whether she had one or more children, or how she served as a mother.  She was a prophetess, a holy woman who obeyed God and urged others to do likewise.  She was the fifth judge, and she led Israel’s army against Sisera and triumphed.  In addition to her duties as a mother, Deborah shows that mothers can be powerful forces for spiritual good outside the home.

Manoah’s wife.  Manoah’s wife was childless (Jgs 13:2), and an angel appeared and announced that she would have a miraculous birth (Jgs 13:3-7,9), and as foretold, she gave birth to her son Samson (Jgs 13:24).  She teaches mothers that every child is a miracle and a gift from God.

Naomi.  Naomi was the wife of Elimelech and the mother of Mahlon and Chilion (Ru1:2).  In a time of famine her family moved from Bethlehem to Moab.  She was totally committed to caring for her boys.  Her husband died in a foreign land, and after both her sons married, they also died (Ru 1:3-5).  Heartbroken, she is a touching example of a grieving mother who remained faithful to God, never despaired, returned home, and re-engaged in life with her daughter-in-law Ruth.

Ruth.  Ruth was the wife of Boaz (Ru 4:10,13) and the mother of Obed, who “was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ru 4:17).  Ruth is one of four mothers named in Jesus’ genealogy (Mt 1:5), along with Tamar, Rahab, and Mary.  Mothers have a key place in Salvation History.

Hannah.  Hannah was the wife of Elkanah (1 Sm 1:2).  She wept copiously because she was without child.  She pleaded with the Lord to give her a male child, and promised that if God would grant her request, she would dedicate him to God (1 Sm 1:11).  God gave her a son that she named Samuel (1 Sm 1:20), and true to her word, she dedicated him to God (1 Sm 1:28).  Hannah teaches that mothers should dedicate their children to God.

The widow of Zarephath.  She lived in Sidon with her son at a time of severe drought.  With only a handful of flour remaining, she told Elijah, “When we have eaten it, we shall die” (1 Kgs 17:12).  She was fiercely dedicated to her son.  They lived together, and if need be, they would die together.  She exemplifies the bond between mother and child and doing whatever is necessary for a child’s welfare.

Anna and Edna.  Anna was the wife of Tobit and the mother of Tobiah (Tb 1:9), and she lived in Nineveh; and Edna was the wife of Raguel and the mother of Sarah (Tb 7), and she lived in Ecbatana, Media.  Both mothers were good and faithful Jews who raised their children to be good and faithful Jews, even though they lived far from home in places not supportive of their faith.  They are shining examples of how mothers are to pass on the gift of faith to their children.

The mother of the Maccabees.  She had seven sons (2 Mc 7:1).  During a fierce persecution, Jews who refused to eat pork were tortured and put to death.  The mother had taught her sons to obey God’s laws always and everywhere.  One by one, they were martyred before her, and in the end, she was also put to death (2 Mc 7:41).  She taught her family to love God above all else, and she proved her faith by all she suffered and with her heroic deed.

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World Day of Prayer for Vocations

May 5, 2017

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Good Shepherd Sunday is the annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations.  This custom began in 1963.  It is a day set aside to pray for vocations to the priesthood and the permanent diaconate, as well as to the consecrated life, the vocation of priest, brother, or sister within a religious order that observes the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Sheep without shepherds.  Jesus was distraught over the dismal quality of spiritual leadership during his time.  When he looked out over the people, “his heart was moved for pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36).  So Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Mt 9:37; see Lk 10:2).

The laborers are few.  The number of priests and religious has declined, there is a shortage, and there is a great need.  Bishops are anxious because there are not enough priests to staff the parishes in their dioceses.  Parishioners are anxious because parishes with multiple priests have been reduced, small parishes have been combined, and some parishes have gone without a priest.  Priests are anxious because more duties have fallen on their shoulders.

Ask the master.  Jesus promised that prayers for vocations would be effective, because if a person asks for a good thing, “It will be given to you” (Mt 7:7); and, “For everyone who asks, receives” (Mt 7:8); “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive” (Mt 21:22).

Pray for vocations.  Prayer should be offered by the Church at its liturgies, and this can be easily done with a petition in the General Intercessions or a special prayer offered by the congregation after Holy Communion.  A prayer for vocations can be offered before council, staff, faculty, and committee meetings.  Vocation prayer cards can be placed on the inside cover of hymnals, in the pews, on tables at the entrances, and in the Eucharistic Adoration chapel.

Family prayer.  It is also extremely important for families to pray at home together for vocations.  Parents who pray for vocations encourage their own children to consider such a calling, and children who are reminded regularly about service to the Church are more likely to keep an open mind, be better able to hear the call, and be more inclined to respond favorably.

Priests, deacons, and religious, and prayer.  It may seem obvious, but those who have accepted a religious vocation should pray for vocations.  It is a sad phenomenon that some priests and religious have grown disenchanted with their own vocations, their religious superiors, their diocese or religious institute, or the Church, and do not pray for vocations and do not invite others to consider one.  Statistically, over eighty percent of newly ordained priests report that a major element of their call was the personal invitation of a priest, but surveys of priests reveal that only thirty percent offer invitations.  Parishioners should pray that their priests and religious would be more positively disposed and actively engaged in vocation promotion.

Once is not enough.  The World Day of Prayer is a single day, and while it is important to pray for vocations on Good Shepherd Sunday, it is important to pray for vocations on other Sundays and weekdays, too.  It is tremendously important to pray for vocations regularly.

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Saint Catherine of Siena, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

April 28, 2017

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StKate

St. Catherine was born in Siena, Italy, in 1347, the youngest of twenty-five children.  As a young girl she had a vigorous spiritual life, and her mystical experiences began at age six when she reported her first vision when Jesus appeared to her along with Peter, Paul, and John.

When Catherine was sixteen, her parents insisted that she prepare for marriage.  Catherine steadfastly refused, cut off her long hair, and reserved herself completely for Jesus.  In an effort to seek greater spiritual perfection, she then joined the Third Order of St. Dominic, a lay religious association.  She wore a Dominican habit but continued to live at home.

At age nineteen, Catherine had another profound mystical experience.  Both Jesus and his mother Mary appeared to her, and during this encounter she entered a spiritual marriage in which she became the bride of Christ and Jesus became her divine spouse.

Catherine dedicated herself to a life of solitude, intense prayer, and severe fasting, and she restricted herself to the least amount of food to survive.  Later, she also felt called to a life of service, left her home, and began to care for lepers and cancer patients, as well as those afflicted by the famine of 1370 and the plague of 1374.  She did much to promote harmony between rival factions in the city of Siena.  Because of her apostolic zeal, others joined her, and she challenged them to reform and repent, a message welcomed by her followers, but harshly criticized by those who felt her preaching was out of place for a lay woman.

As Catherine and her associates traveled about Italy, she visited Pisa in 1375.  She made a visit to the Church of Santa Cristina, and while she was in prayer before a crucifix she was given the stigmata, the wounds of Jesus’ crucifixion, visible to herself but not to others.

The Church was deeply divided by the Avignon Papacy which had begun in 1309, a scandal in which the Pope resided in France, not Rome.  Catherine was a fierce advocate for unity in the Church, and initially sent a letter to Pope Gregory XI requesting that he return to Rome.  Catherine went to Avignon during the summer of 1376 to make a personal plea.  Gregory XI left France in September, and arrived in Rome on January 17, 1377.

Catherine contributed greatly to the spiritual writings of the Church.  Not a writer herself, she dictated her thoughts to a number of secretaries.  She composed many prayers, 382 letters, and her most significant work, the Dialogue of Divine Providence, a treatise on the spiritual life that included some of her mystical experiences.

Pope Gregory XI died on March 27, 1378, and his successor, Pope Urban VI, asked Catherine to come to Rome.  Catherine was weak because of her severe fasting, and the journey to Rome led to exhaustion.  In January, 1380, she went into convulsions and then into a coma.  Four months later she suffered a stroke and died on April 29, 1380, and she was buried under the altar in the basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Catherine was canonized a saint by Pope Pius II in 1461, named the co-patron saint of Italy with St. Francis of Assisi in 1939, declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970, and named co-patron saint of Europe along with St. Bridget of Sweden and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross by Pope John Paul II in 1999.  She is also the patron saint of nurses.

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Thomas: Doubting may not be his worst mistake

April 21, 2017

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ThomasWoundsChrist

Thomas doubted.  This was a startling shift for him.  Only a short while earlier in Bethany Thomas had urged the other disciples to accompany Jesus to Jerusalem, despite the vicious threats against his life, when Thomas declared, “Let us also go to die with him” (Jn 11:16).  How is it that the apostle who was so confident earlier would say, “I will not believe” (Jn 20:25)?

Thomas got himself into serious trouble when he decided to go off by himself.  When the disciples were together in the Upper Room, he “was not with them” (Jn 20:24).  Jesus had gathered together a group of disciples, and prayed that they would be a strong collective unit when he prayed that they would be one, and he did not send them out separately but at least two-by-two, yet Thomas decided to separate himself from the group and try to make it on his own.  His decision to go off by himself was more than a foolish mistake.  It was wrong.

Thomas was guilty of individualism.  His main concern was himself and what he wanted to do, not his partners and their welfare.  He may also have been guilty of pride, arrogance, or elitism.  He may have thought:  “I do not need them”; “I am better than them”; “They drag me down and I am better off doing things my way apart from them.”  Or he may have been deeply depressed and gone off to pout by himself.  His isolation cost him dearly.

When the disciples were fearfully huddled together in the Upper Room, they supported and encouraged each other.  When Thomas distanced himself from them, he failed to receive the mutual support and encouragement that he so desperately needed.

The disciples had all sinned during Jesus’ Passion when they deserted their Master, and they were in serious need of forgiveness, and they received special pardon and mercy when Jesus said, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19,21).  Absent, Thomas missed the chance to be forgiven.

Jesus gave the disciples great joy and new hope when he appeared to them.  Thomas remained unaffected because he missed the opportunity to receive these gifts.  Next, Jesus gave his disciples their commission when he said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21b).  Thomas received no such commissioning.  Jesus gave the disciples a special blessing when he imparted the Holy Spirit upon them:  “Receive the holy Spirit” (Jn 20:22).  Thomas was not sealed or confirmed in the Spirit.  Jesus empowered his disciples to forgive the sins of others.  Thomas received no such mandate.  Thomas missed innumerable graces and blessings apart from the others.  Absence from the community is a serious blunder with major consequences.  Fortunately, Thomas’ problems were quickly resolved when he returned to the community.

Many Catholics make the same mistake as Thomas when they separate themselves from their parish community and try to make it on their own.  They go to Mass on Easter Sunday, and then only sporadically or not at all during the spring and summer.  They infrequently receive the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation, and are weakly connected to ongoing faith formation or parish festivals and other community building events.  It should be no surprise that when it comes to the faith of those who are absent, there would be more doubt.  Thomas corrected his mistake when he returned.  Easter teaches us that the risen Christ is found in the community of the Church, the Body of Christ, and we need to remain closely connected.

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