The Magnificat Rosary Companion – Booklet Review

During the month of May we pay special honor to Mary. Perhaps, we even pick up those Rosary beads, which we haven’t touched in a while, and give them a go-around. Yet, when it’s been awhile, we can tend to forget how to say all the particular parts of the Rosary. The Magnificat Rosary Companion is here to assist you! This little booklet not only reminds you how to say the Rosary, it also offers meditations on each of the mysteries of the Rosary, accompanied by pictures of art from such masters as Fra Angelico, a 15th century Italian Renaissance fresco painter.

Whether it be the Joyous, Luminous, Sorrowful or Glorious Mysteries, each decade of the Rosary is accompanied by a meditation that places you back in time; experiencing the respective mystery anew. For example, in the second Luminous Mystery, we meditate on the Wedding Feast at Cana. As we read the meditation in The Magnificat Rosary Companion, we learn:

Our parched souls long for ultimate treasures: peace, purpose, meaning, fulfillment, happiness. Yet, the more we drink in the things of the world, the more we remain wrung out, depleted and defeated. Only in Jesus can we imbibe what satisfies our infinite desires. Mary, the Fountain of Hope, leads us to her Son, “the Fountain of all Holiness.”

Rich in content, this booklet will aide you in developing a good habit of saying the Rosary more regularly. Rather than mere recitation (vocal prayer), this booklet enables you to develop your skills when it comes to meditative prayer. The Magnificat Rosary Companion enhances your prayer time, by enabling you to think more deeply about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

If you would like to enhance your prayer time, then I highly recommend getting a copy of The Magnificat Rosary Companion. You can get your copy by clinking on this link.

Virginia Lieto teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online. She is the author of children’s book Finding Patience and blogs at www.virginialieto.com.

Reflections on Saint Joseph in St. John Paul II’s Redemptoris Custos

In 1989, Pope John Paul II (a recently canonized saint in the Roman Catholic Church) promulgated Redemptoris Custos, an apostolic exhortation “On the Person and Mission of Saint Joseph in the Life of Christ and of the Church.”  In the Introduction of this document, the Pope notes that, in composing the exhortation, he wished to highlight the centenary of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Quamquam Pluries by offering reflections regarding St. Joseph, into whose guardianship the Father entrusted the precious treasures of the Virgin Mary and her son, Jesus.  Additionally, the Pope hoped that his thoughts would evoke greater devotion to St. Joseph, the Patron of the Universal Church and the one who served the Savior in an outstanding way.  

Section I of Redemptoris Custos, which is entitled “The Gospel Portrait”, focuses on Joseph’s marriage to Mary.  The Pope refers to the angel’s annunciation to Joseph that he need not fear to take Mary as his wife, that she is pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit, and that Joseph should name the child to be born – Jesus, that is, God saves. (See Mt. 1:20 – 21)  The Pope notes that Mary was already betrothed, that is, married to Joseph so that the angel’s words to Joseph that he “not fear to take Mary as his wife” meant that Joseph should not hesitate to take Mary into his home, which was, at the time, Jewish practice after a year of betrothal. The Pope explains that before the angel’s annunciation to Joseph in a dream, Joseph was faced with the possibility that Mary had committed adultery.  If this were the case, Jewish Law demanded that Mary be stoned to death and, since Joseph was legally her husband, he would have to cast the first stone at his wife. Before the angel’s appearance to Joseph in a dream, Joseph had resolved his dilemma: he would quietly divorce Mary. However, when Joseph awoke from his dream, he acted in faith; he settled Mary into his home in Nazareth (though this was before the year of betrothal was completed) and awaited the unfolding of the mystery of her astonishing maternity.   

In Section II of his apostolic exhortation, the Pope discusses Joseph as the “Guardian of the Mystery of God.”  With Mary, Joseph assented to the revelation he received concerning the Incarnation of the Word of God and the mission of Redemption associated with it.  The Pope stresses that, by virtue of his marriage to Mary, Joseph was able to enjoy great intimacy with her son Jesus and that, in the shared life of Jesus, Joseph, and Mary, the true meaning of family which is  “to guard, reveal, and communicate love” (p. 5*) was eminently evidenced. As the head of his family, Joseph provided for his wife and exercised great fatherly care of Jesus. In regard to Joseph’s latter role, the Pope states

Since it is inconceivable that such a sublime task would not be matched by the necessary qualities to adequately fulfill it, we must recognize that Joseph showed Jesus all the love, all the affectionate solicitude that a father’s heart can know. (p. 6)

Section II of the apostolic exhortation also includes reflections on  the census, the birth at Bethlehem, the circumcision, the presentation in the Temple, the flight into Egypt,  Jesus’ stay in the Temple, and the support and education of Jesus. Because Caesar Augustus had declared an empire-wide census, Joseph and Mary journeyed to Bethlehem, Joseph’s home town.  It was here that Joseph became an eyewitness to Jesus’ birth, which took place, as the Pope describes “in conditions that, humanly speaking, were embarrassing – a first announcement of that ‘self-emptying’ (cf. Phil. 2:5 – 8) which Christ freely accepted for the forgiveness of sins.” (p.7) Also, in Bethlehem, along with Mary, Joseph watched shepherds adore the newborn baby and later witnessed magi from the East pay homage to him. Of note is the fact, as the Pope explains, after Jesus’ birth, Joseph officially inserted the name Jesus, son of Joseph of Nazareth (cf. Jn. 1:45) into the registry of the Roman Empire. In effect, in this civil way, Joseph secured the legitimacy of Mary’s son.   

Eight days after Jesus’ birth, Joseph met his religious obligation to have his adopted son circumcised.  During the ceremony, Joseph declared that the boy’s name was Jesus. In his exhortation, the Pope explains that “In conferring the name, Joseph declares his own legal fatherhood over Jesus, and, in speaking the name, he proclaims the child’s mission as Savior.” (p. 8) Forty days after Jesus’ birth, Joseph met his fatherly obligation to present his son in the Temple in Jerusalem.  According to the Pope, in this Jewish rite, “Represented in the first-born is the people of the covenant, ransomed from slavery in order to belong to God.” (p. 8) As the Pope notes, since Jesus already belonged to God by virtue of his being the Word of God, while formally fulfilling the Jewish rite, in actuality Jesus transcended it.

After the presentation in the Temple, in a dream Joseph received a message from an angel that King Herod, in fear that the newborn child would usurp his throne, had ordered the mass murder of all boys in Bethlehem two years old or under that age. Given the angel’s instruction to flee to safety in Egypt, Joseph immediately departed from Bethlehem with his family, where he sought asylum until after Herod died.  As the Pope indicates, this experience fulfilled the words of the Old Testament prophet Hosea: “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” (Hos. 11: 1)

After returning to their homeland, Joseph settled his family in Nazareth, a quiet village wherein it was improbable that Herod’s son, Achelous, who, like his father sought to kill Jesus, would succeed in his plot. When Jesus was twelve years old, as was customary in the Jewish religion, Joseph arranged for his family to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast.  After a day’s travel back to Nazareth after the feast, realizing that Jesus was nowhere to be found, Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem. Three days later, they discovered Jesus in the Temple conversing with learned Jewish teachers. Jesus’ reply to his mother’s statement that she and Joseph had anxiously been searching for him: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk. 2:49 – 50) was Jesus’ way of communicating to his parents that he understood that his Father in heaven had sent him to earth to fulfill the messianic mission of redemption. After this Temple encounter, Jesus returned to Nazareth and was obedient to Joseph and Mary.  With his wife, Joseph raised Jesus to adulthood. In keeping with a father’s responsibilities, Joseph made sure Jesus was educated in the Law and apprenticed his son as a tekton, a highly skilled artisan who worked in wood, iron and, perhaps, stone.

Section III of the Pope’s apostolic exhortation is entitled “A Just Man, A Husband”.  As the Pope indicates, that Joseph was a just man is most evident in his decision to take his pregnant wife Mary into his home.  In so doing, Joseph chose to protect his wife’s honor and to honor her virginity as communicated to him by an angel who explained Mary’s mysterious pregnancy.  According to the Pope, as a spouse “Through his complete self-sacrifice, Joseph expressed his generous love for the Mother of God and gave her a husband’s ‘gift of self.’” (p. 11) Just as Mary’s motherhood was taken up in the mystery of Christ’s incarnation, so, too, was Joseph’s fatherhood and, as the Pope notes, this was possible as a consequence of the hypostatic union, that is, “humanity taken up into the unity of the Divine Person of the Word-Son, Jesus Christ.” (p. 12)

Section IV of the apostolic exhortation is entitled “Work as an Expression of Love”. Here, the Pope stresses that Joseph’s work as a tekton gave expression to the sanctification of daily life through his labor of love in support of the life of his family at Nazareth.  Referring to Joseph and Jesus’ co-laboring in the carpenter/artisan trade, the Pope asserts:

Along with the humanity of the Son of God, work too has been taken up in the mystery of the Incarnation, and has also been redeemed in a special way.  At the workbench where he plied his trade together with Jesus, Joseph brought human work closer to the mystery of the Redemption. (p. 12)

In Section V of his exhortation, “The Primacy of the Interior Life”, the Pope discusses Joseph’s mature spirituality that enabled him to consistently respond positively to the graces he received in his life as Mary’s husband and Jesus’ father.  In regard to Joseph’s latter role, the Pope stresses that “Joseph experienced … that pure contemplative love of the divine Truth which radiated from the humanity of Christ and the demands of love … required for his [Joseph’s] vocation to safeguard and develop the humanity of Jesus, which was inseparably linked to his divinity.” (p. 14) Furthermore, the Pope reflects upon the fatherly love of Joseph and Jesus’ filial love as mutually beneficial in the ongoing deepening of their relationship.  

In the final section (Section VI) of Redemptoris Custos, the Pope highlights Joseph as the “Patron of the Church in Our Day”. Just as Joseph kept watch over the Holy Family so, too,  he safeguards the Church in its ongoing history. Referring to Joseph’s role in the “economy of salvation” and to him as a model for all Christians, the Pope writes:

Recalling that God wished to entrust the beginnings of our redemption to the faithful care of St. Joseph, she asks God to grant that she [Church] may faithfully cooperate in the work of salvation; that she may receive the same faithfulness and purity of heart that inspired Joseph in serving the Incarnate Word; and that she may walk before God in the ways of holiness and justice, following Joseph’s example and through his intercession. (p. 15)

Conclusion:  

In Redemptoris Custos, Pope St. John Paul II depicts St. Joseph as an icon of faith, that is, one whose life exemplifies what it means to listen to God’s words and, in an unwavering way, act courageously upon them.  Redemptoris Custos marks a watershed moment in reflection on the role of St. Joseph in the history of Christianity.  In this document, the Pope interweaves biblical exegesis and profound theological insights regarding Joseph’s pivotal role in God’s plan of salvation.   In an outstanding way, the Pope highlights St. Joseph as loving father, faithful spouse, laborer, and patron of the universal Church. It is most fitting that the Pope concludes his exhortation with the following prayer:  “May St. Joseph obtain for the Church and for the world, as well as for each of us, the blessing of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Dr. Marilyn Sunderman, RSM, is Professor of Theology and Chair of the on-campus Theology Department of Saint Joseph’s College of Maine.

In this essay, all references to Redemptoris Custos (August 15, 1989) – John Paul II are taken from the online document at http://w.2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_15 retrieved on 1.22.2018.

Bibliography:  Gary Caster, Joseph, The Man Who Raised Jesus, Servant Books, 2013; Francis L. Filas, Joseph Most Just: Theological Questions About St. Joseph, The Bruce Publishing Co, 1956; J. . . B. Midgley, Companion to Saint Joseph, CTS Publication, 2002; Pope Leo XIII, Quamquam Pluries: Encyclical on Devotion to St. Joseph, 1889,  Libreria Editrice Vaticana; Joseph, The Silent Saint [DVD], Art and Design, 2008, A&E Television Networks. (Note: In composing the above essay, the author read all texts in this listing and watched the DVD.  Hence, the essay reflects the author’s study of Redemptoris Custos viewed through the lens of insights gained from these other sources.)

 

 

 

Saint Thomas Aquinas and Me

Today is the Feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas. I thought I would use this occasion to share how this great man has changed my life. Although he walked this earth during the 13th century, he had a life-changing impact on my life in this 21st century.

As I was studying for my Masters in Pastoral Theology, at Saint Joseph’s College, I needed to take the core course in Moral Theology. It was the last of the core courses to take before embarking on the electives. At this point in the process, I still had no idea what God wanted me to do with my life, after obtaining my degree. I was concerned about what electives to take, without a game plan for my future. Then, within the Moral Theology course, I met Saint Thomas Aquinas, via the study of his masterpiece, Summa Theologica. Saint Thomas Aquinas opened my eyes to see what it truly meant when Christ said that He is the “Way.” You see, Aquinas’ Summa Theologica goes into great depths to explain the various virtues. He devotes an entire subset of the masterpiece to logically explaining why we should embrace virtue. Through reading Aquinas’ masterpiece, I came to understand that by embracing virtue we can live happier lives. It is through the turning away from vice/sin, that we turn toward God and virtue, for they are polar opposites to each other.

I left a 36-year banking career to return to school to obtain my Master’s Degree, because I wanted to connect the dots for people; to show them what they can do that is right, and in the process, live a happier life. Saint Thomas Aquinas provided me with the direction I needed. He gave me the answers on how to connect the dots! With this knowledge, God began to reveal parts of His plan for me. The Holy Spirit inspired me to write a children’s book on the virtue of patience, and to start a blog, writing about virtue. Then He opened the door to teaching at St. Joseph’s College. But He didn’t stop there! He continues to use me to fulfill His plan. Occasionally, He has me speak on the virtues, or other topics, at parishes. Most recently, God asked me to be the RCIA Coordinator at my parish, where I am given the opportunity to share the Catholic “Way” of living with those seeking to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.

I don’t know what else God has in store for me, but I do know this: I owe a great deal of what I have accomplished to studying the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, and to receiving the grace of Christ.

The souls of Saints live on for eternity. In the case of Saint Thomas Aquinas, we are also blessed to have his literary works live on as well. What Saint Thomas Aquinas taught in the 13th century was as relevant then as it is now. When a Saint provides timeless, unwavering teaching, aimed at bringing you closer to God, then you know it was inspired by the Holy Spirit. I am grateful for all that Saint Thomas Aquinas has done for me.

May the Lord shine His face on Saint Thomas Aquinas! Saint Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!

Virginia Lieto teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online. She is the author of children’s book Finding Patience and blogs at www.virginialieto.com.

Book Review – The Story of a Soul, by St Thérése of Lisieux

Today we celebrate the Feast Day of Saint Thérése of Lisieux. So, I thought it appropriate to share a bit of what I learned about this beloved saint by reading her book, The Story of a Soul. From the title alone, we garner a peek at this beloved saint’s humility, as if the story could be about any soul – very non-descript. Yet, Saint Thérése of Lisieux was anything but non-descript!

Thérése will grip your heart from the very beginning, right up to her last breath, as she tells you the story of her life – her “little way.” She lived for only 24 years, but in that time, she accomplished so much. Thérése made the quality of her life, a gift to God; in thanksgiving for His creation of her. Raised in a devout Catholic home, in France, in the late 1800’s, Thérése seemed to intuitively understand, at a very young age, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux’s teaching that we are to love God for God’s sake, not our own. I found this attribute of Thérése to be awe-inspiring. How many of us, today, can say that we truly love God, for God’s sake, and not our own?

As Thérése grew from child to adult, she remained small in stature, and humble in nature. She dreamed of one day becoming a Carmelite nun. Her desire to give back to God, in service to Him, out of love for Him, was born from her sufferings and challenges. She lost her mother to breast cancer at the age of four. Then as her sisters grew to adulthood, each one of them entered the convent, leaving her behind to live without them. So, she suffered much loss, but found great solace in her friendship with Jesus. Even as a child, she was astute enough to know

…that in order to become a Saint, one must suffer much, always seek the most perfect path, and forget oneself (p. 24).

With that in mind, Saint Thérése grew up wanting to enter the convent, like her sisters. She saw that as her perfect path to sainthood. She was so adamant, that she pestered her father and uncle to get the Bishops’ permission for her to enter before the minimum age. When their efforts failed, she took it upon herself to speak to the Pope about it, when her father took her on a trip to Rome. Eventually, Thérése won out, and entered the Discalced Carmelite convent at the young age of 15.

Throughout her life. she never lost her sense of humility; always seeing herself as small. She equated her sense of humility to God’s garden. Thérése saw herself as one of God’s little flowers.

He has been pleased to create great Saints who may be compared to the lily and the rose, but He has also created lesser ones, who must be content to be daisies or simple violets, flowering at His Feet, and whose mission it is to gladden His Divine Eyes when He deigns to look down on them. And the more gladly they do His Will the greater is their perfection (p. 4).

What a beautiful way to depict our souls – full of color, variety, and size, in God’s garden! Saint Therésé of Lisieux would place herself in the violet category. Yet, we all know that she is one of God’s roses, as she has been declared a Doctor of the Church. She is also considered one of the most beloved saints to modern man. Many people pray to Saint Thérése for her intercession. These same people ask for a sign that she has heard their prayer and will pray for them. That sign is a rose. I know, because it happened to me! One day I prayed, asking Saint Thérése to pray for me, and I asked for a sign. I told no one of this prayer. A few days later, my husband walked in the door with a yellow rose – my favorite! Apparently, the sign on the Florist Shop said that if today your name is Nicholas, you get a free rose. So, he stopped in to get one, and brought it home to me. I knew Saint Thérése was praying for me, and that filled my heart with joy!

As Saint Thérése of Lisieux lay on her death bed, she declared that she felt that her mission was only beginning. She vowed to spend her eternity doing good on earth. Her mission is to help us love God for God’s sake, as Thérése loves God, with complete trust and absolute self-surrender. Oh, what was that prayer I prayed to Saint Thérése for which I received the yellow rose? I asked her to show me how to love God for God’s sake, with complete trust and absolute self-surrender. She has been teaching me every day since. I am seeing my trust in Jesus grow. My self-surrender increases day-by-day.

Saint Thérése, please pray for us! Help us all to love God for God’s sake, to trust in Him completely, and to give all of ourselves, in service to Him, for the love of God. Amen.

If you would like to read The Story of a Soul, and learn how to become a Saint, then click here to get your copy.

Virginia Lieto teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online. She is the author of children’s book Finding Patience and blogs at www.virginialieto.com.

Betting There’ll Be a Big Safety Net

Almost fifty years ago, movie cop “Dirty Harry” Callahan asked “Well, punk, do you feel lucky today?”  Sometimes Harry’s crooks chose wisely not to resist arrest, but others tried their luck and lost.  A lesson lurks there about avoiding mindless violence.  Harry possesses superior (fire)power—why fight back? Make a better decision because the only alternative is swift, violent retribution.  This line, shorn of the violent scenes, came to me reflecting on today’s readings.  The Second Sunday of Easter features readings from Acts, Psalm 118, I Peter, and the striking post-Resurrection scene with “doubting Thomas” in John 20.  Every Scripture offers a rich banquet, but this day particularly so. Even before we reach the Gospel we encounter “the stone the builders have rejected” which becomes the cornerstone and an account of the Church featuring the works of mercy.  It is this passage in Acts 2 from which Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI launches his discussion of communion ecclesiology in Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith (2005). The Church’s communitarianism—spiritual and material—constitutes, Benedict states, the true freedom found only in the Trinity (p. 58).

Thus “Do you feel lucky today?”—because God’s mercy comes only through the Church, why gamble on it being any wider?  Every reading today instructs us to make wise choices. I Peter makes this particularly clear: through mercy, God in Christ bequeaths us “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time”. Thus the communion of the Church is far more than mere material assistance, but a foretaste of the Trinity’s communion.  Don’t bet on finding this anywhere else (and, for any Schleiermacherian readers out there, this applies especially to our idiosyncratic experiences).  There’s no need to gamble on God’s mercy—we know where to find it. Better than Dirty Harry’s offer, too, because why issue a threat when God’s offer far surpasses anything we know?

Perhaps that rosy vision might seem too Pelagian.  “Come on, all you need to do is stay within the Church and presto! Mercy!”  No, the Gospel promises that God helps those who cannot help themselves.  This, of course, includes all of us. It becomes all the more important to remember that today is also Divine Mercy Sunday, a fitting celebration of God’s mercy following the Triduum.  While the novelty has not yet worn off, Divine Mercy Sunday likewise has gained a popular following in parishes and online.  Beyond the devotional practices—venerating the image, praying the Chaplet—the Divine Mercy tradition contributes an astonishing reminder.  St. Faustina records Jesus stating His mercy extends to all, especially those souls apparently furthest from Him.  “Let the greatest sinners place their trust in My mercy. They have the right before others to trust in the abyss of My Mercy” (Divine Mercy in My Soul, #1146). And “the greater the misery of a soul, the greater its right to My mercy” (#1182).  At one level this is not new—the Gospel like today’s reading teaches us the very same point about salvation in Christ through faith.  It is, though, a refreshing jolt to have this universal message conveyed through such a particular channel like St. Faustina. Her experiences are not merely spiritualized escapism. Like the early Church in today’s readings, actual corporal works of mercy must accompany prayer (#742).  Obviously we are a far distance away from “Do you feel lucky today?”, but also obviously the breadth of Christ’s mercy extends more widely than we know or admit.

An indication of my inner Augustianism is my stubborn refusal to recognize that I, the trained theologian, might have construed God’s mercy much more narrowly than St. Faustina, “merely” a nun in interwar Poland.  On the surface, the Divine Mercy seems like yet another expression of Catholic devotionalism.  One more image, one more set of prayers, etc.  Our elitism, though, should not blind us to Divine Mercy’s lesson:  that through the very particular, God conveys the very gift of His all-encompassing mercy.  Again, the Gospel already proclaims this.  Jesus does not merely offer salvation in some general fashion; He accomplishes it by being a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth who dies in a particular (and particularly awful) way and then rises on the third day. Thus “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Next month the Church will recognize the centenary anniversary of another devotional expression of this same lesson.  The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three young children shepherding near Fatima, Portugal, in May, 1917.  Pope Francis will canonize them next month as part of the one hundredth anniversary celebration.  The Fatima apparition, appearing during the First World War and requesting spiritual resistance to Bolshevik aggression, resembles the Divine Mercy in its devotional popularity and scholarly skepticism.  On the other hand, St. John Paul II, clearly a scholar, expressed firm devotion to both!  The “Fatima Prayer”, requested by the blessed Mother to be added to the end of each Rosary decade, expresses the same sort of radical inclusivism we find in Divine Mercy.  “Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy.”  This is one of those instances where the literal interpretation is also the scariest:  that could mean anybody.  It is our fallen nature that pulls back, that hesitates.  We all know people—public figures as well as personal friends and acquaintances—who fit the bill “those in most need of Thy mercy”.  When we are honest with ourselves, we realize this include us, too.  This also dismisses utterly any lingering “Do you feel lucky today?” resentments.  We remain called through today’s readings into the Church and thus God’s great, unmerited Gift. Fatima and Divine Mercy remind us of another Scriptural reminder:  that God’s mercy through Christ extends far beyond our comprehension to those who appear much farther astray.  Yet we should not presume, betting on God’s mercy (Romans 6:1).

Guest blogger Jeffrey Marlett blogs at Spiritual Diabetes.

The Alpha and the Omega

“’I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was
and who is to come, the Almighty [pantocrator]” (Rev. 1:8).

 “You judge your people with righteousness and new life abounds.”
Prayer of Dedication by Rev. James G. Kirk

This past February my husband and I spent two weeks in Sicily. Our “home base” for that time was stunning Cefalú on the northern coast, with its famous Norman cathedral built in 1131, commissioned by King Roger II. In the cathedral’s apse is one of the most famous mosaic icons of Christ Pantocrator. “Pantocrator” can be translated as “Ruler” or “Sustainer” of all, an idea that, if you peruse the internet quickly, you will see described as an apt image, borrowed from imperial Rome, for an imperial church. It is sometimes even translated as “king.”

But this Easter I’d like to propose that following Jesus, even as a king, is somewhat more complex than most Wikipedia articles and travel guidebooks suggest, and one way we can be certain of that is the widespread popularity through the ages of the Christ Pantocrator image. To put it more personally, I might be the Christian least likely to be attracted by empire in any place or in any form, so I don’t think that’s the reason I felt drawn to stop in to visit that Christ Pantocrator twice a day. I would guess it has been the same for other Christians who have been drawn to that image, either in Cefalú or many other places, throughout the Christian world.

Even a brief gaze at the icon begins to reveal its complexity. The Christ in Pantocrator images carry a book of scripture in his left hand. I am not an expert in icons, but I understand that if the book is closed, the image is technically a Pantocrator, and if the book is open to reveal a passage of scripture, as in Cefalú, the image is a slight variant usually called “Christ the Teacher.” Therein lies the beginning of the depth of the image in Cefalú: is this Christ merely the image of conquering Norman power in religious dress, or is he more? And if he is more, then what does he have to teach?

So Pantocrator sometimes translates as “king”. But what if the point of using it, like the imperial titles and slogans that are applied to Christ throughout the New Testament (“savior,” “prince of peace,” and so on), is to subvert imperial pretensions?  When we hear phrases like “all things,” we tend to think “all things human.” But the phrase is repeated enough in the scriptural witness that I do think it means all things. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:15-17). Aside from a line or two in Virgil, even the masterful propagandists of Augustus dared not make such claims.

How do we, limited as our horizons are, even begin to consider this idea that “in him all things hold together”? In Cefalú, the book Jesus carries is open to the Gospel of John 8:12, which reads in both Greek and Latin: “I am the light of the world, who follows me will not wander in darkness but will have the light of life.” A lock of Jesus’ hair is being gently blown across his forehead. The better guidebooks will point out this realistic detail as one of the great artistic triumphs of this particular image, and indeed it is dazzlingly that.

But the lock of hair and the passage from John reminded me that light often represents the gentle presence of God but it rarely gets the credit that Elijah’s moving “gentle breeze” does. Both images suggest an all-encompassing and ever-present reality of God’s sustaining love to which we often choose not to attend and yet most of us wish to experience as fully as possible. Some have recently found the appreciation of the cosmic Christ in the everyday expressed poignantly in what is now referred to collectively as the Celtic tradition. In a meditation on an Easter pilgrimage she took in Wales, Rev. Mary Earle tells us that

[i]n Welsh, the ordinary word for universe is “bydysawd,” which means “that which is baptized.” All that has come into being—every particle of matter, every creature, every person, every star and planet—is encompassed in the pattern of Christ’s dying and rising…The Celtic Church, following the teachings of the early councils of the church, understood that this all-encompassing, uncreated Light of Christ, the Light that breaks into the tombs of our hearts and the graves of our bodies, is eternally present in all times and in all places.

I expect this is what the image of our Pantocrator meant all along to those not looking through eyes and hearts desiring dominance, a deeply benevolent sustainer of all who loves so much as to join us in darkness and help us find the gentle light in all. That is a far cry from the “peace through victory” that is a maxim of any form of empire. I once heard Daniel Berrigan say, in response to a question that was desperate with the desire for the United States always to win in all ways and at any violent cost, “Maybe we just need to change our idea of what winning means.” That sentence changed the course of my life, because I suddenly understood that domination is never true power, not at all related to God’s power.

So now I see this Christ Pantocrator with the blowing lock of hair and the words of light ruling more like the Celtic St. Melangell. The sixth century Irish princess fled her father and his plans for her marriage, becoming a hermit in Wales. She was given land for a monastery, as the story goes, by a prince who found her sheltering under her robe the rabbit he and his hounds were hunting.

So maybe it’s time to stop rolling our collective Catholic eyes at rabbits as a “pagan” Easter symbol (mea culpa). Maybe care for the most vulnerable creatures and recognition of our oneness with them—created by God for himself and from his love and redeemed together with all creation—is in fact at the heart of Christ’s resurrection and rule. And perhaps the righteous judgment that comes from our great Pantocrator is the ever-flowing gift of new life, even when we can’t quite discern either the light or the life in a particular situation. The Pantocrator images represent the constancy of God’s gentle sustenance, symbolized especially in this annual feast of Easter.

At the end of their pilgrimage, Rev. Earle writes that the pilgrims were given a poem by the Welsh poet, Saunders Lewis, one of my own favorites. They are lines which can serve as a daily reminder to stay attentive to the Uncreated Light who sustains all:

Cherish the dark’s obscurity
Look for the diamonds in debris,
Thank God for all His mystery
And LIVE.

Pamela Hedrick teaches Sacred Scripture and spirituality for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta

Mutter Teresa, lachend, Dezember 1985

Today is an extraordinary day, because today Pope Francis canonizes Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta as a saint! This pint-sized woman was a giant of the twentieth century. In her lifetime, she went from total obscurity to one of the most beloved people of our time. Why? Because of all of the virtue that emanated from her soul.

 

  • Her COMPASSION for the poorest of the poor was her hallmark of life. She never passed by someone in need without entering into the suffering of that person.
  • Her demonstration of HUMILITY in her everyday actions taught us all how to act with humility (consider her 15 points of humility).
  • Her never ending DILIGENCE to do God’s will, and God’s will alone, is a testament to living the Greatest Commandment: To love God with your whole heart, soul and mind.
  • Her COURAGE and FAITH in putting all of her trust in God to provide, not only for her own needs, but for the needs of those in her charge, faithfully demonstrates to all of us what it means to truly be a child of God.
  • Her CHARITY, so ever present in all that she did, reminds me of one of her famous quotes: “We can do no great thing – only small things with great love.”
  • Her JOY that emanated while living a life of austerity astounds me; yet I know that she found her JOY in satiating Christ’s thirst for souls by bringing souls to Him.

I could go on listing a litany of additional virtues, but you get the point. How awesome that we have such a glorious saint from our own time to learn from and to model our own behavior after, if we too, wish to satiate Christ’s thirst for souls.

Teresa’s Life

Teresa began her humble life in Macedonia. At the young age of 12, she received a call to dedicate her life to God. At the age of 18, she entered the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the Loreto Sisters). She wanted to be a missionary. A year after joining the convent, she was sent on her fist mission to Bengal, India. One year after arriving in Bengal, she transferred to the city of Calcutta, where she remained the rest of her life.

On September 10, 1946, while on a retreat, Teresa received a “call with a call” to create a new religious order of sisters dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor; a religious order that we know today as the Missionaries of Charity. After founding this new religious order, Saint Teresa began to experience many years of what Saint John of the Cross would refer to as the “dark night of the soul,” where she could not feel the Lord’s presence in her life. She pressed on though with courage and faith, knowing that even though she could not feel His presence, her faith told her that Jesus was truly present in her life. One day, she had an epiphany of sorts, where she came to realize that the so-called darkness within her soul was an opportunity to share in the thirst for souls with Jesus. After receiving this epiphany, she gladly embraced the darkness. 1

Teresa’s Future

11825473774_b76ba7d331_bWith her canonization to sainthood, Teresa gets to spend all of eternity in the presence of God. After living such an austere and difficult life on earth, giving all that she had to the glory of God, something tells me that Teresa is not finished thirsting for souls with Jesus. She was, and always will be, a missionary! She just has a new mission now – praying for each one of us!

Saint Teresa of Calcutta, please pray for us!

Virginia Lieto teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online. She is the author of children’s book Finding Patience and blogs at www.virginialieto.com.

1 Gaitley, Michael. 33 Days to Morning Glory. Stockbridge: Marian Press. Print. 2012 p. 68

A Stained Cookbook Means Somebody Used It Often

Sometimes the liturgical calendar delivers punches in such succession that we find it difficult to keep up.  Today is the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Society of Jesus.  And what could be said about the Jesuits that has not already been said? There’s no time to rest, though. Tomorrow is the feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), founder of the Redemptorists, an order with its own proud history of apostolic work.  It is, after all, a good thing that the Church thinks in centuries, not minutes, days, weeks, and certainly not tweets!  (Pope Francis is, though, an accomplished Twitter user.)  We need the liturgical cycle to bring before us this unceasing stream of saintly exemplars.  We do our best to emulate them, knowing that next year we hope to glean a little more insight from the saints as they become familiar friends.  For me, it’s St. Ignatius Loyola (and St. Alphonsus), but my colleague Carmina Chapp attends instead to Dorothy Day. Somebody else might appreciate  St. Charles Lwanga or a saint known only to a few people and God.

St. Ignatius of Loyola Source; Marquette University

St. Ignatius of Loyola
Source; Marquette University

St. Ignatius ranks among those Catholic greats—St. Augustine of Hippo, Cardinal Newman, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton—who generate such interest that simple internet searches threaten to melt down servers.  Still, Ignatius’ life seems almost operatic, even movie-worthy.  Born to a wealthy family, Ignatius’ military career broke amid cannon fire at Pamplona, Spain.  His wounded leg had to be broken twice in order to set properly.  Bedridden, Ignatius began reading the lives of the saints. St. Ignatius thus understood fully St. Luke’s depiction of Christ’s injunction to treasure God, not earthly things.

But God said to him,
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves
but are not rich in what matters to God.”

Providentially, that Gospel reading appears today, St. Ignatius’ feast day. Having endured what he had, earthly possession surely seemed frail indeed.  As one blogger, working with Dom Gueranger, puts it: “It dawned on him that the Church also has her army which, under the orders of the representative of Christ, fights to defend here below the sacred interests of the God of hosts.”  An army for God—in the days of the Reformation, that stirred Ignatius to action.  Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus—the Jesuits—in 1534, headquartered in Rome.  From there Ignatius sent missionaries all over the work:  China, Japan, India, and both North and South America.  As he did, he charged them: “Go, my brothers, Inflame the world and spread everywhere the fire which Jesus Christ came to kindle on the earth.”

There’s an image: setting the world afire for God!  Yet St. Ignatius’ best-known venue to recognizing that same fire in ourselves came through a most prosaic book:  The Spiritual Exercises. Like much of the Catholic tradition I first met St. Ignatius Loyola while studying at Wabash College, led by a host of devout Presbyterian scholars.  They loved the Church and thus they taught its history, even the Catholics who opposed their beloved reformers Calvin and Luther.  William Placher’s description (p. 176) of the Spiritual Exercises always stuck with me:  “Much of it has all the literary eloquence of a cook-book, and a similarly practical intent, designed as it is for spiritual directors to use in guiding people through a religious retreat.”  Bill liked to cite St. Ignatius’ “Rules for Thinking with the Church,” the thirteenth of which requires: “To keep ourselves right in all things, we ought to hold fast to this principle: What I see as white, I will believe to be black if the hierarchical Church thus determines it.”  For Protestants suspicious of Rome, that’s a great line, but it paints a paltry picture of the saint himself.  E.g., Bill rarely mentioned the other rules which extoll a medieval piety of saint veneration or the preceding “Rules for Distributing Alms” (or, more fundamentally, the thoroughly Scriptural foundation for the entire Exercises).  Loyalty to Rome came as part of that inflaming fire the first Jesuits found God had given them through St. Ignatius.  Jesuit identity certainly involves ecclesiastical fidelity, but not only that.

At one level, of course, Placher is right;  cookbooks are meant to be used.  Which is the better cookbook:  the slick production with recipes requiring several odd, rarely used ingredients or the one that bears clear signs of frequent, sustained use?  After all, if stained with sauces and flour, that cookbook has been used.  The recipes work—cooks can follow and make them and, this is important, those consuming like the offerings.  St. Ignatius’ spiritual direction certainly fits this.    It works and has done so over the centuries.  St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises describe a retreat to be taken over thirty-one days.  Jesuits take the entire retreat at least twice during their lives, and today the laity often seeks St. Ignatius’ retreat-director advice episodically—whether seeking insight on prayerful examination of the day or extra encouragement to lose self in order to gain Christ. The Exercises still generate widespread consideration far beyond the Jesuits’ own members.  The Jesuit cookbook still contains much that satisfies.

Like some diets, though, that draw criticism, not everybody likes it.  In Victorian England both Jesuits and Redemptorists—there’s tomorrow’s saint again—particularly stirred up anti-Catholic sentiment among Protestant elites.  Not content with merely advancing popery, the legacies of both St. Ignatius and St. Alphonsus celebrated suspiciously loose spiritualities.  Both seemed willing to contort the Gospel to fit the apostolic situation.  This adaptability, though, should be seen in the context of St. Ignatius’ charge:  ignite the world.   Sometimes, as any camper knows, you need more than one match to start that fire.  St. Ignatius, having lived quite a life before he came to God, developed a reformed Catholic spirituality that provided that ignition.  Through the Exercises’ simple prose have come a plentitude of paths, all through the Church, back to God.

Guest blogger Jeffrey Marlett blogs at Spiritual Diabetes.

 

A Saint for My Times

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationHaving never met Dorothy Day in person (I only learned of her almost a decade after her death), I may have no business offering an opinion about whether or not she should be canonized a saint in the Catholic Church. Yet, I will attempt to do so, as she has had an immeasurable influence on my life, particularly as model of a Catholic woman in the United States of America in the twentieth century.

I came alive in my faith as a college student at the University of Notre Dame in the late eighties. A study abroad program in Rome caused my experience of “church” to explode – I came to realize that my suburban New Jersey parish and Catholic school were not exactly representative of this Body of Christ to which I belonged.  My post-Vatican II American Catholicism seemed superficial in light of the global reach of the Church, not to mention its ancient Tradition. I returned home wanting a deeper relationship with Jesus, wanting to live His Gospel more radically than I had before.

Upon my return to campus, I took a course in Catholic Social Teaching. It was there that I was assigned The Long Loneliness. And there she was. A lay woman living the Gospel radically. In the United States. In the turbulent 20th century. A saint for MY times.

There are two reasons why I would like to see Dorothy Day canonized so she can become a role model for American Catholics. The first addresses the polarization of the Catholic “right” and the Catholic “left”. In the past twenty-five years, I have watched the gap between traditional Catholics and liberal Catholics grow ever wider. I believe Dorothy represents what is right and good about both. She transcends the polarity, encourages the good of each side, and challenges the not-so-good. In her quintessential Catholic way, she embraces the both-and, as opposed to the dualistic either-or.  Thus, a woman who attended a Latin Mass everyday (prior to Vatican II, of course) was an ardent promoter of social justice (the influence of Fr. Virgil Michel, O.S.B. is evident).

We cannot build up the idea of the apostolate of the laity without the foundation of the liturgy.

-Dorothy Day, “Liturgy and Sociology”, The Catholic Worker, January 1936

Dorothy understood that meeting Christ in the liturgy is essential for performing the works of mercy. Her ardent prayer life, including her devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist as a daily communicant, her love of the saints, and her fidelity to the Liturgy of the Hours as an Oblate of St. Benedict, fueled her work with the poor and her desire for justice.  When she challenged the hierarchical church, she was challenging it to be more faithful to the liturgy by being more radically faithful to its implications. When one worships and receives the Body of Christ, one has an obligation to care for all God’s children (and creation). She did not challenge the Church to change her teachings, but rather to live up to them. She saw the potential of an organized Church to truly change the world in a way that not even organized labor could. I will not presume what Dorothy would say about the liturgical reform of Vatican II. My point is simply that in order to sustain her work at the Catholic Worker, she needed to worship well. Likewise, because she worshipped well, she was moved to do the work she did. Liturgy was the source and summit of her Christian life.

The second reason addresses the inculturation of the American church. Founded by Protestants with a deistic worldview contrary to the biblical-sacramental worldview of the Church (and of Dorothy), the American project poses a challenge to Catholics of how to be a “good Catholic” and a “good American”. Dorothy taught me that it is OK to put my Catholic faith before my American citizenship. The fact that she never voted, even though she had marched and gone to jail for the privilege, tells me that the only true authority in her life was God, and that her work would be the same no matter who was in the White House. In this way she was an anarchist – not so that she could do whatever she wanted, but so she would do whatever God wanted her to do, regardless of the consequences. She did not depend on the state to do for her brothers and sisters what she knew was her responsibility as a Christian. And she was willing to be a martyr for it. In this way, she was truly free.

Though I never met the woman and may have no place at the table of her cause for canonization, I hope and pray that Dorothy Day is made an official saint of the Catholic Church. I pray for it everyday. Dorothy was a faithful daughter of the Church, and an inspiration to this Catholic woman in the United States of America in the twentieth (and twenty-first) century, as I strive to be a faithful daughter myself.

Prayer for the Canonization of Dorothy Day

God our Creator,
Your servant Dorothy Day exemplified the
Catholic faith by her conversion,
life of prayer and voluntary poverty,
works of mercy, and
witness to the justice and peace
of the Gospel.
May her life
inspire people
to turn to Christ as their savior and guide,
to see his face in the world’s poor and
to raise their voices for the justice
of God’s kingdom.
We pray that you grant the favors we ask
through her intercession so that her goodness
and holiness may be more widely recognized
and one day the Church may
proclaim her Saint.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Carmina Chapp is Associate Director of Online Theology Programs for Saint Joseph’s College. She lives on the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm in northeastern Pennsylvania.

The Ordinariness of Sainthood

Don’t call me a saint – I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.

Dorothy Day

A painting by Nicholas Brian Tsai.

A painting by Nicholas Brian Tsai.

One of Dorothy Day’s better known quotes, some interpret it to mean that she didn’t think much of the saints and of sainthood in general. Indeed, there are those in the Catholic Worker Movement that she co-founded with Peter Maurin who do not support her cause for canonization, claiming she would not want it, and that the money spent on the process should be given to the poor.

Yet, her attitude toward sainthood is exactly what makes her so relevant for us today in the post-Vatican II church. Her remark is directed at those who see sainthood as something extraordinary that can then be dismissed by the average person as something out of reach. They are happy to call her a saint for serving the poor, because then they don’t have to, since they would never presume themselves to be that holy.

But Dorothy didn’t want her work with the poor to be dismissed as something extraordinary. She understood it as simply her duty as a Christian to care for the needs of her brothers and sisters. And she wondered why all Christians didn’t feel the same way, why they all didn’t love their neighbor as themselves, and why they did not act on those feelings. Wasn’t that the message of the Gospel?

“You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

To be perfect, then, is to be like God. It is to love perfectly, as God loves. Only God is holy. All holiness comes from God, and it is given to humanity as a gift. A saint is one who is made holy, or sanctified. Saints are not holy by their own efforts. They are made holy by God as a gift, and their efforts are their acceptance of, appreciation of, and cooperation in this gift.

Holiness depends on one’s relationship with God. People are holy to the degree that they are united to God. By perfectly holy, then, we mean intimately united to the Trinitarian God (the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit) so much so that there is a oneness of heart, mind and will. In this intimate union, we are able to love perfectly as God loves. Pope Francis tells us of the need for a relationship with God on this road to holiness.

Being holy is not a privilege for the few, as if someone had a large inheritance; in Baptism we all have an inheritance to be able to become saints. Holiness is a vocation for everyone. Thus we are all called to walk on the path of holiness, and this path has a name and a face: the face of Jesus Christ. He teaches us to become saints.

Pope Francis, Angelus,  November 1, 2013

One who is sanctified possesses a yearning for God, an intimacy with God, perseverance in prayer, humility of heart, and a love for others. All of us are called to this holiness. Each of us is called to this intimate relationship with God. This is the beauty of relationship – each one is unique. God communicates with us uniquely. His message is the same – God will not contradict himself. He only speaks the truth. But his communication with us is so personal, so “meant just for us”.

We must strive to unite our heart, mind, and will to that of Christ – to love as Christ loves, to think as Christ thinks, and to desire as Christ desires. This seems rather extraordinary (as those who dismissed Dorothy Day as such), but it is, in fact, what is expected of every baptized person. The grace of our baptism empowers us to be like Christ. We need only to cooperate in it.

We are all called to be great saints, don’t miss the opportunity.

Mother Angelica

Carmina Chapp is Associate Director of Online Theology Programs at Saint Joseph’s College.