Saturday, March 5, 2016

Gentle Advice from St. Francis de Sales

"Never be hurried in anything. Do all things calmly and in a spirit of repose. Do not lose your inward peace, even if everything seems to be going wrong. What is anything in life compared to peace of soul?"
-St. Francis de Sales

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Mother Teresa's Express Novena

Mother Teresa was known for many things, not the least of which was her intense devotion to Mary. Rarely was she seen without a rosary woven around her fingers, Miraculous Medals at the ready to pass out to friends and strangers, and a prayer on her lips in praise or petition. Many times this prayer was the Memorare, one of Mother Teresa’s favorite invocations to the Blessed Virgin. A popular story about Mother Teresa is how, when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, she immediately turned to Mary for help by praying an “express novena” of nine Memorares. And then a tenth in thanksgiving for favors received, such was her faith and trust.

Did it work? Well, those who worked with Mother Teresa were constantly in awe of how she seemed to always get what she wanted one way or another. Whether it was by appearing in person at the residence of a rich benefactor, influencing a powerful leader with carefully chosen words, or storming heaven with her prayers, Mother Teresa didn’t take no for an answer.

When I first heard about the express novena (also known as the “emergency novena”), I was intrigued enough to search the Web for stories about it. What I found was remarkable, and I urge you, dear readers, to do the same. There are countless testimonies out there that speak of the power of this devotion. And I am happy to say that I now count myself as a member of that camp. About a year ago I faced a personal crisis that led me to Mother Teresa’s emergency novena. I prayed it in my car on a cold February morning with as much fervor as I could muster given my depressed state of mind. Long story short, my crisis passed and my cloud lifted. While skeptics could claim it would have with or without the novena, I have no doubt our Mother in Heaven was looking out for me. Twice more this year I have had to turn to the novena for help. And twice more Mary has come to my aid. If anyone asks me if Mother Teresa’s express novena works, I will unequivocally say yes.

The Memorare is a beautiful prayer usually accredited to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, but its origins are actually unknown. The first manuscript of the Memorare appeared in 1489 as part of a longer prayer. It was popularized in the 17th century by a French cleric, Fr. Claude Bernard (perhaps the similarity in names is why it’s associated with St. Bernard), who taught it as part of his ministry to hospitals and prisons.

Regardless of who wrote it or where it came from, the Memorare is a treasure of our Catholic faith and should be taught to every child as early as possible. With child-like confidence let us return to it in our time of need.

The Memorare Express Novena

State your intention and recite the Memorare nine times.
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lenten Book Sale

Now and for the next 40 days, my angels and saints ebooks will be on sale for 0.99 cents each.

These pictures link to Amazon, but the books are also available at most other online book retailers.

Wishing you all a blessed and holy Lent!

Monday, January 18, 2016

St. Dymphna and Blue Monday

If you’re feeling particularly depressed today, there’s a reason for that. It’s Blue Monday. Yes indeed, there is actually a name for this annual event, courtesy of clever travel marketeers who want to convince people they need a mid-winter vacation to escape the gloom and melancholy of January. The concept was first heralded about a decade ago after careful calculations determined that the third Monday of the year is the most depressing due to the triple whammy of cold weather, Christmas debts, and broken New Year’s resolutions. So what’s a person to do given all that gloom and doom? Book a plane to Hawaii, of course!

The Catholic Church has another option if sun-soaked tropical beaches aren’t in your budget. (And given whammy number two, chances are they aren’t.) Instead of reaching for the sunscreen, trying reaching out to St. Dymphna, the patron saint of mental and nervous disorders. Dymphna was a 7th century Irish Christian princess who was forced to flee from her own father, a pagan king, when he ordered her to “marry” him. It seems the king was in the throes of a severe mental breakdown following the death of his wife when he made this outlandish request. Horrified, Dymphna fled to Belgium, but her escape was short-lived. The king followed her there, and when once again Dymphna refused his demand, in a rage of fury he cut off his daughter’s head with his sword.

The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, recognizing the need for raised awareness of mental illnesses, and acknowledging that January is a tough month for many of us, troubled or not, have therefore designated St. Dymphna as the unofficial patron of Blue Monday and have issued a special prayer for her intercession, which of course can be said on any day of the week.

Prayer to Saint Dymphna for Help 

Good Saint Dymphna, great wonder-worker in every affliction of mind and body, I humbly implore your powerful intercession with Jesus through Mary, the Health of the Sick, in my present need. (Mention it.) 
Saint Dymphna, martyr of purity, patroness of those who suffer with nervous and mental afflictions, beloved child of Jesus and Mary, pray to Them for me and obtain my request. 
(Pray one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Glory Be.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

St. Francis's Christmas Miracle

Living nativities–those church-produced (predominantly Protestant) programs that recreate the birth of Jesus with live actors, animals and elaborate props–are wildly popular during the Christmas season, often moving audiences to tears as the birth of the God-Man plays forth in a reverent, tender, and visually-satisfying 3D manner.

We Catholics, however, can take credit for the first living nativity (excluding, of course, the Actual Event), and we owe it all to St. Francis of Assisi.

In 1223, a generous and spiritual landowner by the name of John Vellita donated a piece of land to Francis and his followers. Located on a rocky and windswept mountainside on the outskirts of the town of Greccio, the land afforded Francis and his brothers a grand view of the town below.

Inspired in part by his new surroundings, Francis made an unusual request of John Vellita that December. He wished to recreate the original Nativity scene of Bethlehem for the townspeople. What better way, Francis felt, to welcome the Christ Child than to actually see, hear, and feel the harsh and poor conditions that He was born into. Sentimental stories and artists' renditions were fine, but this "reenactment" would help people understand how God used the ordinary to bring about the most extraordinary happening in human history.

John Vellita eagerly agreed, and soon a manger was set up in a cave on the hill, fresh hay was scattered around, and a donkey and ox were brought up to complete the scene. A simple altar was erected, beneath which lay a wax figure of the Holy Infant.

At midnight that Christmas, Francis celebrated Mass surrounded by the curious townspeople, who had made the trek up the dark mountain with lit torches and faith-filled hearts. As Francis spoke the words of the Mass, emotion overtook him to the point that tears rolled down his face. The onlookers were awestruck at the love and joy and piety that engulfed the humble man at the altar.

Then the miracle happened.

Francis picked up the wax figure of the Baby Jesus, and to the spectators' wondrous delight, the Infant appeared to come to life. He smiled at Francis and stroked his wet cheeks. Francis sighed deeply and was manifestly overcome with joy.

St. Bonaventure, in his biography of St. Francis, reports that the hay used in that "living nativity" cured all sorts of diseases and pestilence in the cattle that ate it over the ensuing months.

Today there is a church on the site where the "Miracle of Greccio" took place. It continues to be a popular place of pilgrimage, especially during the Christmas season.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

"I am the Immaculate Conception."

Spoken by Our Lady to St. Bernadette at Lourdes in 1858.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Chesterton Talks Turkey

"A turkey is more occult and awful than all the angels and archangels. In so far as God has partly revealed to us an angelic world, he has partly told us what an angel means. But God has never told us what a turkey means. And if you go and stare at a live turkey for an hour or two, you will find by the end of it that the enigma has rather increased than diminished."  


Monday, November 2, 2015

Angels and the Holy Souls

Catholic tradition has given us some fascinating teachings and thoughts on the role of our guardian angels after we leave this life for the soul-cleansing confines of purgatory. (Assuming, of course, that we make it there and not any lower.) 

According to early Church Fathers, the guardian angel leads the soul to purgatory and thereafter visits and consoles that soul until its release. The angel also helps the soul by inspiring friends and relatives left on earth to pray and offer Masses for their departed loved one.

Moreover, some spiritual writers believe that the angels reveal to the poor souls the identities of those who are praying for them on earth so that, in reciprocal fashion, the holy souls can pray for them. 

As St. Augustine tells us: “The departed may be informed by the angels of things happening in the world, insofar as this is permitted by Him to Whose judgment everything is subject.”

Some saints have even "visited" purgatory (via mystical experiences or spiritual bilocation) and witnessed for themselves the close relationship between the poor souls and their angels. St. Margaret Mary Alacoque wrote that during her experience she saw:
" . . . an immense space filled with flames and glowing coals and, amid these, a great number of poor souls in human form, raising their hands to Heaven and imploring mercy. But all the while their Guardian Angels were at their side, inspiring them with courage and comforting them in the most tender manner."  (The Guardian Angels, Our Heavenly Companions, 1956)
St. Lydwine was also shown purgatory, having "flown" there on several occasions in the accompaniment of her own guardian angel. On one of her visits she saw a sad-looking angel keeping company the soul of a man who had been languishing there for twelve years. When Lydwine "returned" to her earthly surroundings, she immediately offered her physical sufferings for the soul of that man. Several days later, the man's angel appeared to her. No longer sad-looking, the angel joyously declared that the man had been freed from purgatory, thanks to Lydwine's sacrificial acts.

And what about that last part? The "get out of jail" part? Well, the language in this passage is a little old-fashioned, but it gets the point across nicely:
"As soon as the hour of release has struck for one of the suffering souls, the Guardian Angel of that happy soul is commissioned by God to descend into Purgatory, to open the doors of its prison and to lead the delivered soul without delay into the eternal habitations of Paradise. The good Angel descends with the rapidity of lightning into the dismal prison of pain to carry out the work of release because his love for his cherished ward urges him to liberate the Poor Soul and to lead it to the sight and possession of God. The Guardian Angel is often accompanied by other Angels or by a whole multitude of Angels, and then the entrance of the released soul is truly a triumphant one."  (ibid)
It is worth remembering that our Tradition also teaches that those of us who had the most devotion to our guardian angels on earth will have the most assistance from them in purgatory.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

St. Luke

St. Luke's gospel is my favorite among the four. I think it goes back to my childhood when my family converted to Catholicism and I remember being enchanted with stories about the Blessed Mother. Luke truly brings Mary to life in his gospel. In fact, he alone describes the Annunciation, Mary's visit to Elizabeth, Mary's Magnificat, the Presentation in the temple, and the story of Jesus' disappearance in Jerusalem. It is in Luke that we read the angel's words of greeting to Mary: "Hail Mary full of grace." And it is also only in Luke that we have the story of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. Lest we forget, St. Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles.

Spending a few minutes reading some of St. Luke's accounts in Scripture would be a prodigious way to honor his feast day today. Believed to be a physician by training (St. Paul refers to him as "Luke, the beloved physician" in Colossians 4:14), St. Luke is the patron saint of physicians and surgeons, as well as artists, butchers and students. In art he is often depicted with an ox, symbolizing the sacrifice Jesus made for all the world.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Angels and the Rosary

St. Alphonsus Liguori once said that each time we pray a Hail Mary we attract the angels and repel the devils. Now think about how many times we say the Hail Mary in the Rosary. Hmm. That’s a pretty effective pest repellent, I’d say.

As satisfying as it is to know we’re chasing away sulfurous little creeps when saying the Rosary, it might be more beneficial to focus on the real angels and unite our prayers with theirs, keeping in mind the important roles their kind played in the lives of Jesus and Mary. They were there for every event, major and minor, public and private. Indeed, the angels illuminate the very mysteries we meditate upon during this devotion.

In honor of this month's Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, I'd like to share this reflection from Pope Leo XIII:
The Angels revealed each of these mysteries [of the Rosary] in its due time; they played a great part in them; they were constantly present at them… Gabriel was sent to announce the Incarnation of the Eternal Word to the Virgin. In the cave of Bethlehem, Angels sang the glory of the new-born Savior. The Angel gave Joseph command to fly with the Child into Egypt. An Angel consoled, with his loving words, Jesus in His bloody sweat in the garden. Angels announced His resurrection, after He had triumphed over death, to the women. Angels carried Him up into Heaven; and foretold His second coming, surrounded by Angelic hosts . . .
What more divine, what more delightful, than to meditate and pray with the Angels? With what confidence may we not hope that those who on earth have united with the Angels in this ministry will one day enjoy their blessed company in Heaven?

(From the encyclical, On the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary, promulgated on Sept. 12, 1897)