Category Archives: Reflection

The Age of Martyrs

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Stephen. Not only was he one of the first deacons in the Church (cf. Acts 6:1-6), but he’s also the first recorded post-Resurrection martyr for Christ.

Sometimes martyrdom may some far removed from our own comfortable existence. To counter such a mindset, we offer the following reflection from Servant of God John A. Hardon, the founder of the Institute on Religious Life, who tells us why the present age is truly the “age of the martyrs.” This is taken from a conference he gave on the Precious Blood of Christ.

We believe that by His death on the cross, Christ merited all the graces we need to reach heaven. He won all the graces necessary for our salvation. He gained all the graces that the human race needs to reach its eternal destiny.

But we also believe that what Christ did by dying for us on the cross requires that we die on our cross by cooperating with the graces that Jesus won for our redemption. He could not have been more clear. He told us, “If you wish to be my disciples, take up your cross and follow me.” We must cooperate with Christ’s grace if we wish to join Him in eternity. He was crucified by shedding His blood. We must be crucified by shedding our blood in witness to our love.

All of this is elementary Christian teaching. The Precious Blood of Christ does indeed provide us with the light and strength we need to reach heaven. But we have to do our part, otherwise Christ’s passion and death on Calvary would have been in vain.

The focus of our conference is on the Precious Blood of Christ in the age of martyrs. What are we saying? We are saying that the present century is the age of martyrs par excellence. Ours is THE (all three letters capitalized) age of martyrs.

No words of mine can do justice to this statement: We are inclined to think that martyrs are those ancient men and women in the first centuries of the Church whom we commemorate by name in the first Eucharistic Prayer, when we say, “We honor the apostles and martyrs,” and then name after the apostles, “Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Carnelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian.”

Unless we take stock of ourselves, martyrs are not commonly associated with the later history of the Church, and certainly not with our own times. What a miscalculation!

A conservative estimate places the total number of martyrs who died for Christ up to the liberation edict of Constantine in 313 A.D. at around 100,000. We call that period of massive persecution the age of martyrs. Yet, the number of Christians who have died for their faith since 1900 is several million. In the Sudan alone, during the 1950s, over two million Catholics were starved to death by the Muslims because they refused to deny that Mary is the Mother of God since her Son is the Ibn Allah, the Son of God. There have been more Christian martyrs since the turn of the present century than in all of the preceding centuries from Calvary to 1900 put together.

It is no wonder that the Second Vatican Council in its Constitution on the Church went out of its way to identify martyrdom as one of the marks of holiness in our day. The passage deserves to be quoted in full: Continue reading The Age of Martyrs

Calling All Catholics

William E. Simon, Jr. has coauthored a new book with Michael Novak entitled Living the Call: An Introduction to the Lay Vocation (EncounterBooks, 2011). Simon adapted some of the material from his book in writing this opinion piece published at foxnews.com.

Simon’s presentation is not that of a polished theologian explaining the lay vocation in abstract, technical terms. Nor is it the rambling of an ideologue seeking to impose upon his readers his own spin on Vatican II and the Church.

Rather, at least in the published essay, he writes as a 60-something Catholic layman who over time has come to see experientially not only what the Church can do for him, but also what he can do for the Church. I look forward to reading his book.

Improving Your Prayer

At a website entitled The Integrated Catholic Life, readers are able to ask members of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles their questions. Here is an example, with the answer supplied by Sr. Laus Gloriae, O.C.D.:

Question: Dear Sister, My prayer experiences don’t seem good enough or holy enough, long enough or intense enough. Do you have any suggestions as to how I can pray better?

Answer: Dear Friend,  Yes, I do have a few suggestions. That’s easy . . .

First of all, I suggest not using the expression “prayer experiences” at all. Hit the delete button on that one.  A lot of people tend to speak about their prayer experiences. To me, it’s not the best choice of words. I believe that to use the expression “prayer experience” lessens, or taints my prayer. Prayer isn’t just “an experience.” It is so much more. Continue reading Improving Your Prayer

Deception in Discernment

The following essay by Br. Gabriel Torretta, O.P.,  first appeared in Dominicana 60:1 (Spring 2011), 7-9, and it and was recently reprinted in its online edition. We reprint it here because of the excellent insights it provides on the subject of vocational discernment.

If you’ve ever thought about a priestly or religious vocation, perhaps this prayer has passed your lips: “God, if it’s your will that I do this, just give me a sign!” The prayer is easy, natural, and ubiquitous among those ‘discerning.’ But this little prayer may also be the single easiest way to short-circuit a vocation and leave a man dead on the waters of life.

The problem with this prayer is that it pits God’s will against mine, as two discrete entities, one of which must give way to the other. Will looks like a zero-sum game: if I win, God loses, and if I lose, God wins. The danger is that when I compete with God, whoever wins, I lose.

Moreover, the prayer assumes that God’s will is an inscrutable mystery that I must implore Him to reveal. My will bears no sure relation to God’s, and I have no way of knowing if my desires are really holy or just selfish. My desire and my will are like a mercury thermometer with all the numbers rubbed off; I could be edging toward spiritual hypothermia or burning with zeal, but I’ll never know unless God puts the numbers back on. As a result, I have to ask God to give me extraordinary signs so that I can know what to do and how to do it.

But asking for signs from God is a dangerous endeavor. More often than not, “God give me a sign” really means “God, do what I tell you,” or “Give me the kind of sign I want you to give.” Jesus himself addresses this problem in the Gospels; after a series of remarkable miracles and authoritative teachings, the disbelieving scribes and Pharisees tell Jesus, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You,” to which Jesus responds, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet” (Mt 12:38-39; cf. Mk 8:11-12, Lk 11:29). The question betrays the blindness of the questioners, because Jesus’ entire life is the sign they claim to be looking for. The Pharisees refuse to observe the reality unfolding before them and instead ask for a sign on their own terms. The honest men among the Pharisees may have asked the question in earnest, hoping that God would help them decide whether or not to follow Jesus. But their purported ardor for God’s will blinded them to the marvelous ways God was actually working in their lives.

This is the blindness of moralism. The moralist ‘discerns’ as if to wrest the secret of God’s will out of His hands by brute force; dashing from one spiritual program to another and from one vocation event to the next, he pours out novenas, rosaries, and mass intentions, begging God to reveal the mystery of his vocation. All the while the moralist ignores the actual signs God has been pouring into his heart. For God’s will is not radically opposed to my will; rather, God’s will works through mine, moving it by grace to respond to Him with a total gift of love. Jesus spoke of this to the great Dominican mystic St. Catherine of Siena after a period of spiritual darkness: “Your will is a sign to you that I am there, since I would not be within you by grace if you had an evil will” (Letter T221/G152). Formed by a life lived with God, my will can be the signpost by which God directs me where He wants me to go.

Vocation is not a shell game in which I have to outwit God and find the perfect life He has hidden among all the options in the world. Vocation is a call of love to love. God moves our hearts to love Him, to answer the one, universal call to holiness. The Christian’s task is to respond to that love concretely with the complete gift of himself. To give himself utterly, he needs the honesty, generosity, wisdom, and prudence that come from God, for which he must pray. Then, when his heart burns with a specific desire to love God with this woman, or this religious order, or in this diocese, then he decides and commits himself irrevocably into God’s hands. This is the mystery of vocation. This is the mystery of love.

Mary, Model of Meditation

Today, as we celebrate the Queenship of Mary, I thought I would offer you the following excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI’s Wednesday Audience last week, in which he continued his series of reflections on prayer, which truly is the lifeblood of all vocations in Christ:

“Today, I do not wish to speak about the whole journey of faith, but only about a small aspect of the life of prayer, which is a life of contact with God; namely, about meditation. And what is meditation? It means to ‘remember’ all that God has done and not to forget all His benefits (cf. Psalm 103:2b). Often, we see only the negative things. We also need to remember the good things, the gifts that God has given us; we need to be attentive to the positive signs that come from God, and remember these. Therefore, we are speaking about a kind of prayer that the Christian tradition calls ‘mental prayer.’ We are more familiar with vocal prayer, and naturally the mind and heart must also be present in this prayer, but today we are speaking about a meditation that consists not in words but in our mind making contact with the heart of God.

“And here Mary is a true model. The Evangelist Luke repeats numerous times that Mary, for her part, ‘kept all these things, pondering them in her heart’ (2:19; cf. 2:51). She keeps them; she does not forget. She is attentive to all that the Lord has said and done to her, and she ponders; that is, she makes contact with diverse things–she dwells deeply upon them in her heart. Continue reading Mary, Model of Meditation

Vocations Homework

In a recent opinion piece at oakpark.com, veteran home educator Virginia Seuffert offered some keys to promoting vocations among our children, including:

  • Fidelity to the Holy Father and Church teaching
  • Homeschooling
  • Prayer and religious devotions, especially Eucharistic adoration

Any thoughts on this? Even more to the point, for those of you who are parents, what are you doing to foster vocations to the priesthood or religious life in your family?

Adoration and Reparation

As time permits, Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is translating into English some of the writings of Mother Mectilde du Saint-Sacrement (1614-98), the foundress of the Benedictines of the Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament.

In this recent post at Vultus Christi, he published a little more than half of the Preface to the Constitutions of her Institute. After each section he adds, in italics, a little commentary of his own.

I hope you enjoy Mother’s spiritual insights and Fr. Mark’s commentary.

Finding God in Housework?

I recently came across an engaging article at Catholic Lane entitled “Finding God in the Housework.” The article brings to life the point that everything we do in the course of the day, even the most menial or insignificant in the world’s eyes, can be packed with meaning so long as we strive to offer it with a loving heart to Jesus.

A vocation is not simply about wearing a collar, a habit, or a wedding ring. Rather, it’s about seeking and following Our Lord, even while doing the dishes. The saints understood this very well. What matters is what’s important in Jesus’ eyes–something even the wise and learned miss can miss if they’re not careful!