Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Morning Prayer With St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, is well known for his voluminous writings, his mind-bending theological and philosophical insights, and the unparalleled beauty of his Eucharistic hymns. And yet, above all else, Aquinas was a man of prayer  - after a mystical experience he had near the end of his life, he declared that all his writings were like "straw" in comparison to this supernatural revelation.

I have to admit, that any attempt I have ever made to pick up St. Thomas' Summa has been met with frustration and bewilderment. I am indebted to those authors who have been able to make Aquinas' teachings accessible. Some of my favorites are:
  • Dr. Peter Kreeft's book Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas is organized into 359 topical discussions from the teachings of the Angelic Doctor. What I appreciate most about Dr. Kreeft's book is that I can pick it up, as needed, and explore a particular topic in the work of St. Thomas. The topics covered are wide-ranging from "Evidence in Our Experience for Original Sin" to "Christ on Other Planets" and more - showing the amazing breath and depth of Aquinas' teachings.
  • Dr. Taylor Marshall's book Thomas Aquinas in 50 Pages: A Layman's Quick Guide to Thomism, which  provides a short, easily digested summary of Aquinas. Dr. Marshall covers his major theological and philosophical teachings and provides ample easy-to-understand examples throughout (such as using lasagna to explain the teaching on form and matter - boy did that appeal to this Italian girl!)
  • Raissa Maritain's book: Saint Thomas Aquinas For Children and the Childlike  is a beautiful biography of this great Saint, written for children, but definitely appreciated by all.  My children and I did this as a read-aloud and learned so much about St. Thomas's life - one fact that really stuck with us was that he had memorized the entire Scriptures by the age of 5.   

Having said that, I am grateful that some of the most profound of Aquinas' writings are his heartfelt prayers - and those, coming from his heart, can be understood by the heart of everyone who shares his love of the Lord Jesus.

This is, by far, one of my favorites and one that I say as soon as I open my eyes each morning.

St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.
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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Snow in the Scriptures

Snow is NOT the most popular weather topic in the Scriptures, but where it is mentioned it teaches us some valuable lessons about the Lord, His goodness and mercy, and our response to Him.  Here are two of my favorite quotes about snow from the Scriptures:

1. Daniel 3:50: "Frost and snow, bless the Lord; praise and exalt Him above all forever.
This Scripture, known as the Canticle of Daniel, is the hymn of praise sung by the three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego, while they are in the fiery furnace. In the midst of the flames which should surely consume them in the most painful and brutal way, these men boldly proclaim the glory of God, and command that all of God's creations bow down in praise of Him. 

The result of their praises is that they are saved from the flames and King Nebuchadnezzar who had condemned them to the furnace in the first place, acknowledges the power of God saying "there is no other God who is able to deliver in this way."

What can we learn from this Scripture?  There are moments in our lives when we too find ourselves in a "fiery furnace" - one of illness, financial hardships, persecutions or misunderstandings.  It is in those times that we can and should make these words of praise our own.  Our praises of the Lord have the power to change our circumstances and exert a profound influence on those who witness it.

Just over a year ago, Social Media gave me and many others the opportunity to witness the power of the praise and Love of God in the lives of Paul and Ann Coakley. During Paul's rapid and untimely death of testicular cancer, his pregnant wife, Ann and their community of faith-filled brothers and sisters from Franciscan University of Steubenville, came together to grieve Paul's death with a sacrifice of praise.  Through it all, their praise of the Lord stood as a witness to God's love, mercy and goodness in spite of the most painful of "fiery furnaces". Over a year later, this witness of praise for the Lord continues to change the hearts of all who hear their story. 

2. Isaiah 1:18: "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet they shall be whiter than snow." 
I LOVE this scripture.  It begins with one of the most beautiful, inviting words of the Lord "Come".  At the Lord's beckoning, we can move towards him seeking mercy for our sins.  It ends with God's promise - through his love and mercy our sins can be transformed from the bold, dark scarlet, into the clean, pure white of snow. 

There is nothing quite as glistening as an untouched field of freshly fallen snow. As a child I remember staring at the snow through the window, restlessly waiting for the "green light" from my parents to head out and dive into the whiteness, the pristine smoothness of the untouched snow. It never looked the same after we had had our fill of playing in it, and once it was marred by snow angels and snow men, I longed for a return to its original perfection.

In a similar manner, after a time away from the Sacrament of Reconciliation, my soul seems to resemble the dark, slushy, mess that snow quickly devolves into (especially if you grew up in the city).  There are still glimpses of its whiteness and purity, but they are largely hidden beneath the soot, footprints and junk piled on top of it. This scripture from Isaiah, the Lord promises that he can transform my soul which have been marred by sin, back into the purity and "whiteness" of the untouched snow. I stand on that promise, especially during those confessions that are most filled with embarrassment, shame and guilt.

What can we learn from this scripture? No matter how "scarlet" our sin is, how filled with shame we are about it, the Lord meets our sins with his invitation of mercy. You can almost see him patting the seat next to him, smiling warmly and coaxing us gently, "Come, sit next to me, let's talk about this..."  This same experience happens at every Confession. We enter the confessional to meet with the Lord who is waiting to transform our sins into something beautiful; to restore our souls into something pure.  Don't be afraid to say "yes" to that invitation, especially during this Jubliee Year of Mercy!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Baptism and the Domestic Church

The routine and ritual of the Sunday mornings of my childhood are forever etched into my memory. My siblings and I looked forward to Saturday night sleepovers at my Italian-immigrant Grandmother’s house and on Sunday morning we awoke to the smell of frying meatballs and simmering sauce. Hand in hand, we walked with my Grandmother to 10:30 Mass and the remainder of Sunday was spent with my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins lazily feasting on my Grandmother’s food. Mass was the focal point of our Sundays and the shared family meal was a way to extend the celebration. Little did I know it at the time, but the catechesis of those Sunday mornings was slowly forming me into a disciple and a missionary.

In a weekly audience on January 15, 2015 Pope Francis reflected on the Sacrament of  Baptism,  stressing “an important fruit of this Sacrament: it makes us members of the Body of Christ and of the People of God.” He went on to elaborate that “the People of God is a disciple People — because it receives the faith — and a missionary People — because it transmits the faith.”

For the vast majority of lay Catholics, our formation as disciples of Christ does not happen in a seminary or theological library.  Instead most Catholics are formed in the faith through a  "joint venture" between the local parish and the family - the Domestic Church. Likewise, our participation in the missionary activity of the church happens not in distant, foreign lands, but in the day to day experiences of ordinary family life.

The Holy Father confirmed this saying “Such is the grace of God and such is our faith, which we must transmit to our sons and daughters, transmit to children, so that once adults, they can do the same for their children. This is what Baptism is.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in article 1657, explains the connection between Baptism and the Domestic Church in these words: “it is here that the father of the family, the mother, children and all members of the family exercise the priesthood of the baptized in a privileged way by the reception of the sacraments, prayer and thanksgiving, the witness of a holy life, and self-denial and active charity.” It is within the walls of the Domestic Church that we first experience the community that we are baptized into. In this community, the Pope says, we “share the beauty of the experience of a love that precedes us all, but that at the same time calls us to be “channels” of grace for one another, despite our limitations and our sins.”

We first discover the riches of our Baptism and the call to discipleship in the context of Catholic family life. Here every generation can participate, according to their age and abilities, in the missionary life of the church. Even the youngest child can take part in the mission of the Church as an intercessor for those in need. The elderly and infirm can be sources of great spiritual wisdom for all members of the family.  All family members can find in the ups and downs of family life a fertile ground to practice the virtues.  Finally, the struggles and difficulties which all families face at one time or another can be great moments of grace - leading us to rely more deeply on the Lord. 

As a child, I had little interest and even less maturity to reflect on my Grandmother’s role as disciple and missionary. It is only as an adult that I can appreciate her lived-out witness of a simple, humble, yet steadfast faith – a faith which has shaped my own and continues to do so.

Nearly twelve years ago, my then 90 year old Grandmother beamed with pride at my infant daughter on the day of her Baptism. My daughter, wearing the dress which my Grandmother had hand-sewn for this special occasion, had no idea that she was about to be Baptized into the People of God. She is only now learning what it means to be a disciple and missionary in her small world of play dates, home school groups and family dinners. I pray that I may be able to transmit the faith to her the way my Grandmother did to me. For that I will rely on the Holy Spirit and the intercession of my Grandmother, whose role in the People of God continues now from the other side of eternity.

My Grandmother, my daughter and I a few minutes after my daughter's Baptism.

Check out these related posts:
Home to Me
The Angelus: Domestic Church Style
I Live in a Factory

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

"See I am doing something new!"


Just the mere mention of it brings forth images of dark mornings, cold days, ice and snow (at least for those if us living in the Northeast.) Regardless of your climate, January means an end to the holidays and festivities of December. Houses are stripped of their lights and decorations, diets have begun, family has gone home and everyone has settled back into the ho-hum of everyday life.

Same old, same old is the way I would describe my January so far. My kids are back into their homeschooling routine and in doing my mid-year assessment of where we are vs. where we should be, I was dismayed to find out that summer vacation is a long, long way off, both from a calendar perspective and a work-load perspective. The scale tells me I had a few too many cookies during Christmas vacation and I can't seem to get my house back in order after the holidays (yes, we are the only house on the block with Christmas lights still on.) To say my mood is less than ideal would be an understatement - is it SAD, or a case of the winter-blues, or a lack of exercise and fresh air?  Who knows for sure? What I do know is that "same old, same old" and "ho-hum", and "blah, blah, blah" run in direct opposition to the Good News that God reveals about himself in the scriptures. And when my life runs in direct opposition to that Good News, I know it is time to hit the reset button, spiritual speaking.

Last Saturday while spending some much-needed time in Adoration, I picked up my Bible and turned to one of my favorite scriptures - one I am especially fond of when the going is not so great - Isaiah 43.  This time, however, I read a little further than I normally do and came to this passage: "See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth - do you not perceive it? In the wilderness, I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers." (Is 43:13)

The power of the words immediately jolted me out of my funk. "See I am doing something new! Do you not perceive it?" I felt like the Lord was asking me the question directly - both challenging me and inviting me to take the blinders off my eyes and see what He was doing in my life. My mind played over the areas of my life that I perceive as a challenge - the frustrations I feel, the fears I have - the wilderness that makes me wonder if I am just covering the same ground over and over again without any real progress.  In that wilderness, the Lord assured me that he was making a way - "do you  not perceive it?" I saw the struggles of my own sin, shortcomings, and failures that can often seem like a barren wasteland - with little hope of growth and change - and I heard the Lord whisper to my heart:  "I am making a river - do you not perceive it?"

In Revelation 21:5, the Lord says: "Behold, I make all things new." St. Augustine, in his Confessions, addresses the Lord saying: "O beauty, ever ancient, ever new." In Christ, there is always something new - a new grace, a new hope, new life. The dark, gray days of January do not diminish that - nor do the dark seasons of our life - seasons of illness, grief, loss, fear, doubt.  I left the chapel asking the Lord for the grace to perceive the "new thing" that he is doing in my life - a perception, I know, which can only be received as a gift from God himself. I also left with a sense of peace and gratitude - that even if I cannot yet perceive it - God is doing something new!

What is the new thing God is doing in your life?  

Visit Elizabeth at Theology is a Verb and
Allison at Reconciled to You for more #WorthRevist Posts.

I'm also linking up with Lexie over at The Genesis Feminist with this post!

The Genesis Feminist

Monday, January 11, 2016

There's Nothing Ordinary about Ordinary Time

The Monday after the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord beings the first week of "Ordinary Time" on the church's calendar.  Ordinary Time is the longest of the church's 6 liturgical seasons (the other seasons are: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter Triduum, and Easter) spanning nearly 34 weeks of every year, and is interspersed between those other seasons, culminating with the Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King of the Universe, which occurs on the Sunday preceding the first Sunday of Advent. 

The name "Ordinary Time" is derived from the ordinal numbers used to count its weeks (1st, 2nd, 3rd) and has nothing to do with any "ho-hum" quality to the season.  The Latin term used to describe the season is "tempus per annum", or time throughout the year. 

The  liturgical color (or the color worn by the priest when he celebrates Mass, and used to adorn the altar and sanctuary) is green - which is the symbol of life and hope.  The Mass readings during Ordinary time are dedicated to the Life and Teachings of Jesus.

So what's all this "ordinary" business got to do with the tag line of this blog - "striving for the heights of holiness in the trenches of everyday life?" I mean, isn't the journey to holiness supposed to be exciting?  Filled with adventures? Look at the saints, look at the martyrs!  Look at St. Peter walking on water - action and adventure abound - right?  Wrong.

For most of us, our journey to holiness happens right smack in the middle of the ordinary routine of every day life.  Few of us are called to the sacrifice of the martyrs, or the heroic adventures of St. Paul, or the brilliant writing and teaching of Saint John Paul II or even to the radical service of Mother Theresa. All of us, however, are called to sanctify each and every ordinary moment of our lives - to make holy the washing of the dishes, the preparing of dinner, and the endless meetings at the office. 

Throughout Ordinary time we reflect on the life and teachings of Jesus - which are anything but ordinary.  Through our mediations, we come to realize, that life lived in Christ, for Christ and through Christ, is an extraordinary adventure - one which can exceed even our wildest dreams. 

Growing in the knowledge of the infinite and unconditional love that God the Father has for each of us and discovering the gifts he has bestowed upon each of us is an epic adventure - truly the journey of a lifetime.  It is through the love of God that we can "baptize" the ordinary moments of our lives - turning them into extraordinary encounters with God's grace and mercy.  Even what looks like the dullest, most mundane task can be the setting for prayer, sacrifice, and miracles.  No "ordinary" moment is excluded from the extraordinary action of God's grace and when touched by that grace - it can be transformed into the heroic, the holy.

Our God is a big God - throughout this season or Ordinary Time,
ask him to do the extraordinary in your life!