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Called to be Joyful – Part I

Sr_Lisa:

What a joy and privilege it was for me to lead this retreat on how we are called to live JOYFULLY in a world that is hungry for happiness. If you like the conference, or insights on the topic, please leave a comment. Or, consider visiting our Lay Canossian blog. It’s going to be a great year with a challenge to live in the heart of the world with the joy of the Gospel to guide us.

Have a blessed day!

Originally posted on Lay Canossians:

Our Lay Canossians in Albuquerque held their annual retreat, choosing for their theme, “Called to be Joyful in a Joyless World.” This year’s retreat was recorded so that it could be shared with our brother and sister Lay Canossians in other areas of our Province.

Here is a brief introduction. You will find the audio link below. Enjoy!

The purpose of choosing the theme, on joy, came about due to several things:

  • At the last General Chapter of the Canossian Sisters set their plan for the next six years to journey with the theme, “Joyful and Prophetic Witnesses, so that the World may Believe.”
  • At the time the Chapter Sisters were finishing their sessions, Pope Francis’ encyclical Evangelii Gaudium was released. These themes truly appeared to be the work of the Holy Spirit in their timing, that the Sisters were able to tie into their post-chapter work some of the encyclical’s encouragement…

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Start the Day Off Right

We are Christians, yes? Yet we are human and we can often think, say or do things that, when we examine our conscience at the end of the day we may ask ourselves, “Why did I do/say/think that? I’m sorry Lord.” And that is good.

Just as necessary as ending our day resolving to do what is right, we must also resolve to start the day off right. Today’s short reading from Morning Prayer gives good insight for our daily living (Tobit 4:15a. 16a. 18a. 19):

Do to no one what you yourself dislike. Give to the hungry some of your bread, and to the naked some of your clothing. seek counsel from every wise man. At all times bless the Lord God, and ask him to make all your paths straight and to grant success to all your endeavors and plans.

Try reading this passage every morning before leaving home to begin your day. Be aware of how God will open your eyes to see the needs around you. And, when the day comes to a close, use the same passage for your examine of conscience at the end of the day.

Let us thank the Lord now, for he will make us new creations, according to his heart.

Have a blessed day!

Desert Highway

A Calloused Heart?

A friend of mine has the habit of finding Bibles. He doesn’t find them in second-hand shops or antique stores, but on the highways of Northern California. For as long as I’ve known him, more than 20 years, he has had a mission of Bible finding that reads at times like a new ‘Highway to Heaven’ series. This week he found Bible #508 (that is not a type-o). And the story touched me profoundly and I thought you might enjoy it too (with his permission of course):

Bible 508 (#1 for 2014), a Promise Keepers Men’s Study Bible, New International Version was discovered at 10:43 A.M. Tuesday, January 28th, 2014.  It was located on Hwy. 99 (S), Fresno, CA.

A co-worker, Steve and I were enroute to a business meeting in Lindsay, CA.  Just prior to the discovery, Steve, who is involved in a Twelve Step Recovery program was sharing, that Monday night was his Birthday night.  He was celebrating 29 years in the program.   He recounted, that when his 29 years was announced, people began to clap.  He politely stopped them.

Steve’s words:

“Thank you, however, I must ask you to give credit where credit is due? I have a tremendous ego, I’m afraid, if you clap for me I will take credit for being here before you tonight. It is God that got me here. God has given me the eyes to see and the mind to know the benefits of this program. You need to give God the credit.”

I was so impressed with Steve’s humility,  that I asked him to repeat his words.

Shortly, thereafter,  I noticed a book lying next to the center cement highway abutment.  It seemed a bit larger, than the books I’m accustomed to seeing. I would say it was about the size of two building bricks.

Upon first glance I had a knowingness that it was a Bible.  Got it!  I immediately took the next exit.  I moved so quickly and without notice, that it scared Steve.

“What are you doing”, he pensively blurted out.

“I think that I just found a Bible”, was my response.

I quietly prayed my usual pre-discovery “hedge of protection” prayer.  “Lord, please clear the way and let no one be injured as I go to retrieve this Bible.”

The pages of the Book were blowing back and forth, as a result of the back draft caused by the passing traffic.

I picked up the Bible.  Yes, I had just found Bible 508.  It was open to the 13th Chapter of Matthew.  The Parable of the Sower.  I put my thumb on the center of the page next to the editor’s teaching message.  ETERNAL INVESTMENT – RETURNS – GUARANTEED.

I would later discover that the teaching discussed how one needs to prepare the soil of their heart, so that the Word of God (seeds) finds fertile soil.  This in turn will yield  a massive spiritual harvest in your life.  How does one do this?  Follow the example of the farmer.  Good soil requires; planning, nurturing, cultivating and a good deal of effort.  One needs to set aside time daily to examine his heart.  Weed out every; thought, word, deed and act that chokes out the effectiveness of God in your life.  Cultivate ones heart through prayer.  Water it  by meditating on God’s the purpose for your life.   A heart prepared in this manner will allow the Word of God to take root, thus enabling them to receive an abundant harvest.   (Teaching paraphrased)   

I handed the prize to Steve.  Without hesitation I blurted out, “Here is your message!”  For a brief moment I had second thoughts.  I had no idea what was to be revealed.  Back in the car, we were off to our meeting.

Steve was overjoyed to be part of the discovery.  Over the years he has heard stories of what it feels like to partake in a Bible find, however, 2nd hand stories never adequately describe the reality of the firsthand experience.

“Read it Steve!”

“Me?”

“Yes, God has a message for you!”  The scriptures reference, Jesus speaking to His disciples.

(14b) You will be ever hearing but never understanding, You will be ever seeing  but never perceiving.  For this people’s hearts has become calloused; …

“Stop that’s not it!   You are not calloused, if anything….!”

Steve began again, “(16) But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.  (17) For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

The first words out of Steve’s mouth, “that exactly what I said last night!  God has given me the eyes to see and ears to hear the value of this program…”  I would liken the reverence in Steve’s voice akin to the awe one might have in witnessing the birth of one’s first child!

We just looked at each other for a moment.  Words cannot adequately describe Steve’s excitement, joy, exhilaration.  He almost cried.

I told Steve, “the Holy Spirit has just given you a true Birthday present.  He has acknowledged your humility and profession of faith.  Praise God!”

If I could have used the energy, that was in my car at that very moment,  I could have driven to New York and back without refueling.  I thought we were going to a business meeting.  The Holy Spirit had planned a Birthday celebration.

The question now comes to you and I.  What is Jesus saying?

“Will you be ever hearing but never understanding?  Will you be seeing but never perceiving?  Has your heart become calloused? This is an invitation from Christ Himself.  All we have to do is ask!  He will give us the eyes to see, the ears to hear and the mind to comprehend the blessing He has in store.

God bless,

The Highway Bibleman

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Love Without Fear

A friend on facebook posted: Loving without fear of consequences is the path of holiness we are all called to. Fear is really a stumbling block to our holiness. Another friend has an acronym for fear: F alse E vidence A ppearing R eal This is so true! Our fears (what will others think? what […]

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Word of God

The Word and Our Hearts

Word of God“Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12

“For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down And do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, Giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” – Isaiah 55:10-11

***

The Word. It is always effective, ready to penetrate the hardened heart as easily as a well-tuned chain saw slices into heart of a tree, to reveal its age and history. So God’s word has the power to divide our being between what the world tries to define us as, and that which we truly are in our call to holiness in the image of our Maker. Just as God knows the core of the tree before it is revealed, so He understands fully our hearts. Nothing is concealed from His gaze.

It is for our sake that sometimes in taking up the Word of God, our hearts are pierced. The Good Physician opens the wound to free us from the poison of our lives, and heal us, making us ready containers for His Spirit to dwell. Sometimes, when we read or listen to the Word of God, it doesn’t seem to penetrate anything; it seems to be just words. But just as the passage from Isaiah claims, the Word ‘shall not return to God void, but shall do his will, achieving the end for which it is sent.’ Over time, and perseverance, we begin to see the workings of the Word in our lives.

Saint Teresa of Avila is very encouraging on this point. She would tell her Sisters, when they find themselves confronted by an obstacle – whether it be a person, an attitude, a sin – to simply ask God to remove it. And keep asking until He does.

Perhaps there is an obstacle that we are not aware of? Then let us ask God to reveal it. Naming our obstacles takes away any power they may have over us, in the same way that confronting our vices makes it possible for us to avoid their occasions and build resistance to them.

The Word, by picking it up daily,  is consenting to have God work in our lives. And, little by little, it will cleanse and purify our hearts to desire God more and more, giving us strength to endure. In this way, the Word of God will ‘achieve the end for which it was sent’.

But reality is …

But reality is different. Silently, with no voice to speak for them, even at this time of confusion, the simple faithful carry on fulfilling the Church’s true mission: prayer, bearing daily life with patience, always listening to the word of God. But they do not fit into the picture that people want to see; and […]

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burden

Gifted to Make Burdens Light

Our religious community meets together every Wednesday morning following lauds to read the coming Sunday’s readings together, and to share and comment how those readings can be applied in our life, both in our community as well as in our various ministries. Here’s a bit of the fruit of our discussion.

Synopses

This coming Sunday we celebrate the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. Our readings are:

Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10: Ezra the scribe reads aloud to the people old enough to understand from the Book of the Law of Moses. The people show much reverence for the Law as the word of God, and their hearts wept when they heard the Law, but are encouraged to be people of joy in the celebration of the day of the Lord.

Psalm 19: 8, 9, 10, 15: Describes the beauty of God’s Law as perfect, trustworthy, wisdom, clear, true and just. We respond to the Psalm with “Your words, Lord, are spirit and life.” (John 6:63c)

1 Corinthians 12:12-30: Saint Paul reflects how the Body of Christ is diverse in its call to unity. It begins, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.” All parts of the Body of Christ are necessary, he explains, and we cannot have disdain for one because we don’t recognize its value.

Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21: Our reading includes the beginning of chapter 1, the prologue, as was commonly used in Greek and Roman writing of Luke’s day (and, that was Luke’s intended audience). The writing is addressed to Theophilus (meaning ‘Friend of God’), with the purpose of affirming the teachings he has already received as true. After the prologue, our reading skips to chapter 4, at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. This passage follows on the heals of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, and temptation in the desert. So, in Luke’s account, it is the first contact Jesus had with people following those two events and sets the stage for his public ministry.

When Jesus is handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah in his hometown synagogue, he finds the passage he wants and reads:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

He proclaims to the people that the passage from Isaiah was fulfilled in their hearing it.

Reflection

The passage Jesus reads, taken from the prophet Isaiah was understood by the Jews to point to the coming restoration of Zion. Jesus takes this passage and uses it as his personal “Mission Statement”, outlining the purpose for His coming into the world. He has come to restore all things, and specifies three particular signs:

– by preaching;
– free people from their slavery (whatever kind that is involved); and
– give sight to the blind.

In retrospect, we can see clearly how these signs were hallmarks of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In very literal – and miraculous ways – Jesus did these things, and in doing them, restored people to their right dignity as children of God.

The challenge for us becomes one in the sequela Christi – in our own call to follow Christ. By baptism we are called to witness to Christ and our faith in Him, through our actions and words. The question then is:

“How am I called to preach, free and enlighten others in a way that gives a compelling witness of Christ?” 

Enthusiasm. The enthusiasm found by the people in hearing the Word of God proclaimed to them in the reading from Nehemiah gives example of right attitude. They ‘listened attentively’. They responded to the word – with hands raised high (enthusiasm!) – Amen! (I believe!). There is a sense of excitement in their readiness to hear and live by the statutes of God. How much more should we have such enthusiasm having heard the Good News of our Lord Jesus who has come as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise of a Savior? Do we listen attentively to the Word of God? To we respond with our hands (and hearts) raised high? Do we respond “Amen!”?

Use our Gifts. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians reminds us that as the body of Christ is made up of many members, our ways and gifts are different, and our expressions and means of serving will also be so. It is true, sometimes there are people in our communities (religious and parishes) that are gifted, and it seems that they have all that is needed to do the work. Yet, Paul warns that it is the weakest that are most necessary (this sentence alone is enough for another post!).

Therefore, if we are strong, let us be mindful of the weaker members, and find ways in which to appreciate their contribution to building up the body of Christ. They too are called to preach, liberate and enlighten as a witness of Christ in their lives (perhaps to us directly?). If we are weak, let us take hope in the Lord, we are called to be patient witnesses and to do the best with what we’ve been given.

Paul also challenges us to ask ourselves:

“What gift have I been given to help alleviate the burden and/or suffering of others?”

Burdens

Our society is so burdened by many different things. Finances. Illness. War. Feuding. Fear of death and dying. Hatred and Violence. Concerns for the future for her children. Retirement. Unemployment. Injustice. Debt. The list seems endless.

Do I recognize their burden? how can I help lift it from their shoulders?

A more difficult question for us to answer is, “Am I, in some way, a burden for my sister, brother or friend?” Do I cause them to fall in some way?

Let us imagine ourselves standing before those we’ve encountered during our week, and hear us reading the same passage from the prophet Isaiah that Jesus read above. Are the words fulfilled in their hearing you speaking the Word of God to them? Can they recognize your sequela Christi by the way you live your life?

Lesson from Saint Francis

Saint Francis is my Patron Saint this year, and so I would like to share his prayer as a model of how we can help lighten the load for those we encounter. I chose to use the version adapted by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, used when addressing the United Nations in 1985:

Make us worthy Lord to serve our fellow men throughout the world,
who live and die in poverty and hunger.
Give them through our hands, this day, their daily bread
and by our understanding love give peace and joy.
Lord, make me a channel of thy peace.
That where there is hatred I may bring love,
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness,
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony,
That where there is error I may bring truth,
That where there is doubt I may bring faith,
That where there is despair I may bring hope,
That where there are shadows I may bring light,
That where there is sadness I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted,
To understand than to be understood,
To love than to be loved.
For it is by forgetting self that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven,
it is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.

Amen.

Patient Waiting, Undying Hope

Each year when we begin our preparation for Christmas with the season of Advent, we listen to an instruction by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem:

“We do not preach only one coming of Christ, but a second as well, much more glorious than the first. The first coming was marked by patience; the second will bring the crown of a divine kingdom.

In general, whatever relates to our Lord Jesus Christ has two aspects. There is a birth from God before the ages, and a birth from a virgin at the fullness of time. There is a hidden coming, like that of rain on fleece, and a coming before all eyes, still in the future.

At the first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. At his second coming he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In the first coming he endured the cross, despising the shame; in the second coming he will be in glory, escorted by an army of angels. We look then beyond the first coming and await the second. At the first coming we said: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. At the second we shall say it again; we shall go out with the angels to meet the Lord and cry out in adoration: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

– Office of Readings, 1st Sunday of Advent

These words mark the anticipation of the Christian life. We sit between two comings of Christ, and, St Cyril reminds us, when the Lord comes again, it will not be clothed in silence in a manger. At the second coming, there will be no mistake that the Lord is here. But in our waiting for that day that only the Father knows, what is our attitude of waiting?

Jesus tells us what our attitude should be like. When the disciples questioned him about the signs that the end was near, Jesus responded, “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come…whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:32-33, 35-37)

vigilance copyThe first disciples of Jesus thought that the Lord would return in their lifetime. They committed all their resources to getting the word out, proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. As one Disciple after another began to die, it made them wonder, where is the Messiah? Isn’t He coming back soon? Urgency turned to hesitancy. Many possibly returned to their previous lives. Their vigilance turned its energies to ordinary tasks.

To think, we’ve been waiting for the Messiah’s return for not quite two thousand years. And, a general pattern follows that after a period of complacency, believers find themselves persecuted and must choose whether what they believe is worth dying for. We see many signs that any hope for the return of Christ is fading from our cultural memory. The memory is clouded with a sense of urgency for what is not eternal. Eternal seems so far a way, like an old fairy tale. But it is not a fairy tale and the words of Jesus are words for our generation:

“Be watchful! Be alert!…Watch!”

To have such a capacity comes from a life formed by prayer and worship. For these require discipline which also prepares the heart for hardship and difficult choices. Do we have such an attitude that will sustain our waiting? Are we willing to wait in patience and vigilance, without letting hope of His coming die in our hearts?

Come Lord Jesus! Come soon!

Fortnight for Freedom – Day 13: Living According to Conscience

As we approach the end of our Fortnight for Freedom and our reflections, let it not be the conclusion of our prayers for this very important value in our society: that we may continue to exercise our faith according to our conscience formed by our beliefs; not according to government mandate.

DAY 13: Living According to Conscience

In turn, where the principle of religious freedom is not only proclaimed in words or simply incorporated in law but also given sincere and practical application, there the Church succeeds in achieving a stable situation of right as well as of fact and the independence which is necessary for the fulfillment of her divine mission. This independence is precisely what the authorities of the Church claim in society.

At the same time, the Christian faithful, in common with all other men, possess the civil right not to be hindered in leading their lives in accordance with their conscience. Therefore, a harmony exists between the freedom of the Church and the religious freedom which is to be recognized as the right of all men and communities and sanctioned by constitutional law. Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae), no. 13 December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day Thirteen

While insisting upon the religious freedom of the Church, the Council Fathers do not wish to give the impression that in some manner the Catholic Church is special when it comes to religious liberty. Thus, the Council first states above that where the principle of religious liberty is present, the Church is able to peaceably fulfill her divine mission. It is this amicable relationship between herself and civil authorities that the Church always wishes to pursue and ensure.

In the light of this, the Church also champions the religious and civil rights of all so that all people can live “their lives in accordance with their conscience.” In this way there is no conflict with what the Church demands for herself and what she demands for others—the freedom to follow one’s conscience in matters religious. This religious freedom for all is what the Council once more believes should be acknowledged and sanctioned within the constitutional law of countries.

In the United States, religious freedom is protected in the Constitution, as the Council desires. Are those constitutional protections enough? Are they growing stronger or weaker in our society today? What else, apart from the law, can strengthen or weaken religious liberty? What should Catholics do to defend and foster religious liberty in America today? What have Catholics done in the past when religious liberty was threatened?

Let us pray:

Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty

O God our Creator,
Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.

We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.

Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be “one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Available in PDF. To read the reflections for all the days of the Fortnight, you may find them here.

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Day One’s Reflection and Introduction.
Day TwoDay ThreeDay FourDay FiveDay SixDay SevenDay EightDay NineDay TenDay Eleven, Day Twelve

Fortnight for Freedom – Day 10: Equal Rights to Religious Liberty

DAY 10: Equal Rights to Religious Liberty

Finally, government is to see to it that the equality of citizens before the law, which is itself an element of the common welfare, is never violated for religious reasons whether openly or covertly. Nor is there to be discrimination among citizens.

It follows that a wrong is done when government imposes upon its people, by force or fear or other means, the profession or repudiation of any religion, or when it hinders men from joining or leaving a religious body. All the more is it a violation of the will of God and of the sacred rights of the person and the family of nations, when force is brought to bear in any way in order to destroy or repress religion, either in the whole of mankind or in a particular country or in a specific community. Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae), no. 6 December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day Ten

Because all human beings possess equal dignity, value, and worth, the government is to ensure that this equality is maintained both for the good of the individual and for the good of society as a whole. This equality specifically should not be violated on religious grounds. Each religious body and the members of that body have equal rights to religious liberty. This equality demands that there be no discrimination based upon one’s religious beliefs.

The Council Fathers now stress that, based upon this equality among its citizens, no government is permitted to impose in any way “the profession or repudiation of any religion.” Such an imposition is a violation of the right to be true to one’s conscience. Because of the freedom of conscience, the government is also not permitted to deny a person the right to join or leave a religious body. The government has no right to stipulate what a person can or cannot believe.

If the above is true, then the Council states that it is all the more wrong when “force is brought to bear in any way in order to destroy or repress religion.” This not only applies to governments but also to religious bodies themselves. No religious body is permitted to harass or seek to eliminate another religious group.

Within our contemporary world, where is religious equality denied or religious discrimination tolerated? Are there instances where one religion violates the rights of other religions?

Let us pray:

Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty

O God our Creator,
Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.

We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.

Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be “one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Available in PDF. To read the reflections for all the days of the Fortnight, you may find them here.

___

Day One’s Reflection and Introduction.
Day TwoDay ThreeDay FourDay FiveDay SixDay SevenDay Eight, Day Nine

For more on Fortnight to Freedom, visit the USCCB Website

 

Even Napoleon understood Works of Charity are good for the State

There Peter was, chained, with two guards on either side of him. More guards were standing watch outside the gate. His crime? He was a part of a religious sect that followed the teachings of a man named Jesus, whom they profess had risen from the dead.

According to the laws of Rome, Peter’s crime was not so much he and the other believers held Jesus as a god – for Rome had many of them; but that the so-called ‘Christians’ would not pay tribute to Caesar as god. Rome saw itself as a mother that knew what was best for her children, including how and what would be considered proper worship.

It is good during these last few days of the Fortnight for Freedom to keep this thought in mind. What does it mean that we have – as the Bill of Rights points out at the top of the list – ‘free exercise of religion’? This says more than just a right to worship freely, but we are free to publicly exercise that which we profess.

Unfortunately, the United States government is trying to redefine that very freedom by stringently determining what groups are considered religious and which are not under the Health and Services (HHS) Mandate. The mandate’s definition of religious organizations is the basis for what organizations can declare exemption from a healthcare provision that employers must include abortificient and contraceptive ‘care’ in their healthcare plans.

To understand how grossly errant this policy is, let us compare it with an example from history.

In the years following the writing of the United States Declaration of Independence, on the other side of the Atlantic, Napoleon was conquering Italy. There is a little known story about his ‘governance’ that is well documented in our own religious institute’s history. By decree, Napoleon ordered the closing of all religious institutions in Italy, including those in the city of Verona, the home of our Foundress, Saint Magdalene of Canossa. She was still working out her plans to begin a new religious congregation that, much like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, focused on the welfare of the sick and dying, and education of the poor. But of course, she needed a place in which to carry out her works of charity and to house and prepare her followers for this work. Napoleon had made himself a guest of the Canossa palace, and Magdalene understood that she would need approvals from his government in order to obtain the abandoned convent of Saint Joseph for her works.

It is interesting to note, that despite the fact that Magdalene’s works of charity were clearly based on religious principles, Napoleon was able to appreciate them as a benefit for the society. Her request for the acquirement of the convent of Saint Joseph’s was approved for her works of charity, and thus, May 8, 1808 the Canossian Daughters of Charity – Servants of the Poor was born in an abandoned convent of Saint Joseph’s in Verona, Italy.

Napoleon, who obviously had no regard for religious (demonstrated by the decree of 1806, ousting religious from their convents), was able to recognize the good in a young woman’s works of charity, and grant her the approval to open a house to fulfill them. How is it that the United States government cannot see the harm of restricting religious from equally acting for the good of society through their works of charity, according to their good conscience?

Read the full story at:

And, join each day during the Fortnight for Freedom.

Fortnight for Freedom – Day Nine: Government a Guardian of Freedom

DAY 9: Government as a Guardian of Religious Freedom

The protection and promotion of the inviolable rights of man ranks among the essential duties of government. Therefore, government is to assume the safeguard of the religious freedom of all its citizens, in an effective manner, by just laws and by other appropriate means. Government is also to help create conditions favorable to the fostering of religious life, in order that the people may be truly enabled to exercise their religious rights and to fulfill their religious duties, and also in order that society itself may profit by the moral qualities of justice and peace which have their origin in men’s faithfulness to God and to His holy will. Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae), no. 6 December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day Nine

Once again, the Council Fathers turn to what they consider a very important issue. It is not simply that governments should not deny or impede the religious freedom of their citizens, it is also of the utmost importance that they positively, through just laws, be the guardians of religious freedom, so that no constituency—religious or secular—within society would seek to undermine the religious freedom of all. While few today would consider this, the next point that the Council Fathers make is also very significant. Governments should actually “help create conditions favorable to the fostering of religious life.” While governments do not control religions, they should recognize their value and so promote their well-being. This allows all religious bodies and their members to exercise their religious rights and “fulfill their religious duties.” The government’s fostering the religious life of its citizens not only benefits those citizens but also, the Council states, contributes to the good of society as a whole. It helps society grow in its understanding and implementation of what contributes to justice and peace. This justice and peace find their origin in God, who desires the good of all.

How do governments protect and promote the religious life of their citizens? Do governments take this into consideration today? In the U.S., how does the government foster religious life while respecting the principle of separation of church and state?

Let us pray:

Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty

O God our Creator,
Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.

We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.

Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be “one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Available in PDF. To read the reflections for all the days of the Fortnight, you may find them here.

___

Day One’s Reflection and Introduction.
Day TwoDay ThreeDay FourDay FiveDay SixDay Seven, Day Eight

For more on Fortnight to Freedom, visit the USCCB Website

Fortnight for Freedom – Day Eight: Parents as Primary Educators

DAY 8: Parents are Primary Educators of their Children

Since the family is a society in its own original right, it has the right freely to live its own domestic religious life under the guidance of parents. Parents, moreover, have the right to determine, in accordance with their own religious beliefs, the kind of religious education that their children are to receive.

Government, in consequence, must acknowledge the right of parents to make a genuinely free choice of schools and of other means of education. The use of this freedom of choice is not to be made a reason for imposing unjust burdens on parents, whether directly or indirectly. Besides, the rights of parents are violated if their children are forced to attend lessons or instructions which are not in agreement with their religious beliefs. The same is true if a single system of education, from which all religious formation is excluded, is imposed upon all. Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae), no. 5 December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day Eight

The Council Fathers now address the religious freedom that is enjoyed by the family. Families have the right to live out their faith within the family. Moreover, parents have a natural right to religiously guide their families. They are the ones who have primary responsibility for the care and education of their children, and this is especially true of the religious education of their children. Thus, while parents are primarily responsible for the religious education, they are also free to choose the kind of religious education their children receive.

From within the Catholic tradition, Vatican II stated that the family is a “domestic church,” that is, it is within the family that children are first taught the Gospel, are taught to pray and to keep the Commandments. Together the members of a family live out the Gospel life of love. In keeping with this, the Council states that parents must be free to choose their children’s schooling. The exercise of this freedom should not be the cause of undue financial burdens upon the family. Likewise, children should not be forced to attend instruction that is contrary to the religious belief of their families. Lastly, if there is only one form of education within a country, this does not mean that all religious instruction should be forbidden. Accommodation is to be made. What we see here is the Church ardently wanting to assure a broad and extensive scope for families to live out their faith as families, and this extends to the education of children.

Why is the above important for parents and their families? Are the above aspects of domestic religious freedom jeopardized today?

Let us pray:

Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty

O God our Creator,
Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.

We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.

Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be “one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Available in PDF. To read the reflections for all the days of the Fortnight, you may find them here.

___

Day One’s Reflection and Introduction.
Day TwoDay ThreeDay FourDay FiveDay Six, Day Seven

For more on Fortnight to Freedom, visit the USCCB Website

Fortnight for Freedom: Reflections on Religious Liberty

Religious groups in the United States have been questioning the wisdom of the Health and Human Services Mandate, that narrowly defines a religious organization to the extent that most Catholic service organizations (and many other religious groups) would not qualify for exemption from the mandate to include contraceptive and abortion services as part of their healthcare plans for their workers.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have made the case, the HHS Mandate is not a battle over healthcare (as it may seem on the service level), but is in truth, a redefining religious freedom in America; a redefinition which strips the human person of living according to their conscience.

For this reason, the US Bishops have proposed a Fortnight for Freedom, from June 21st to July 4th, reflecting on the right to religious liberty and our need to protect it for all peoples.

I will be posting the Bishops’ daily reflections on my blog, encouraging you to consider, what does it mean for us, as human beings, when we cannot act according to conscience? Where will it lead our society?

Let us Begin!

Day 1 – June 21st:

The Vatican Synod declares

that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs. Nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his own beliefs, whether privately or publically, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

The Synod further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person, as this dignity is known through the revealed Word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed. Thus it is to become a civil right. Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae), no. 2 December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day One

In the opening chapter of Declaration on Religious Liberty, the Council Fathers at Vatican II forthrightly declared that “the human person has a right to religious freedom.” This right is founded upon the intrinsic dignity of the human person. From God’s revelation we know that the dignity of human beings resides in their being created in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1:27). Like God we are intelligent beings with free will. Because of this we can know the truth and perform God-like actions, such as being loving, kind, forgiving, etc. Reason itself, in knowing what a human being is, confirms that we possess a dignity and worth that exceeds the rest of creation and that cannot be violated, but rather needs to be protected and fostered.

What human beings believe concerning God is of supreme importance. Religious belief lies at the very center of who we are in relation to what is most central and cherished in our lives. Therefore, the Council insists that the religious convictions of individuals or groups should never be coerced but must be held freely, protected by a civil constitutional right.

What challenges to religious liberty do you see within our contemporary world? When the Council says that religious liberty must be upheld “within due limits,” what would fall outside of “due limits”? What religious belief would seriously offend the moral order or a just law?

Available in PDF.

Let us pray:

Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty

O God our Creator,
Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.

We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.

Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be “one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

More on Fortnight for Freedom:

Catholic Bishops launch “Fortnight for Freedom” protest over HHS contraception mandate << Hotair

Who are the ‘Josès’ in Our Lives?

The story of the Cristiada – or Cristero War – was released in the United States under the film title, “For Greater Glory“. It tells of the rise to power of President Plutarco Elias Calles and how he becomes obsessed with the idea the Catholic Church in Mexico is a threat as he tries to enforce the anti-clerical articles of the constitution of Mexico* by writing a new and more stringent law, the Calles Law (1926), penalizing clerics for any infraction of the constitution. At first, there is little resistance, but as Churches are closed and priests are arrested and foreign priests deported, a resistance to the government silently begins to build. The film uses the backdrop of the rebellion to tell the story of a boy, José Luis Sánchez del Río (March 28, 1913 – February 10, 1928) and how his faith and courage opens the heart of the agnostic rebel general Enrique Gorostieta to return to the Catholic faith. Some film reviews have called For Greater Glory “simplistic” story telling. But within its story, there are many lessons to be learned. I’d like to share just one.

On the way home from the movie, my Sisters and I were discussing various scenes in the movie, and how impressed we were with the story of young José and the deep courage he had shown. But where did he get it?

One of the opening scenes depicts an eleven year old boy, José, and his friend playing a joke on the parish priest, Father Christopher (Peter O’Toole). José is caught by his father and brought to the priest so that he can make up for his wrong doing. The light-hearted priest plays down the matter of the joke, and the boy is taken under Father Christopher’s wing. Over the days that follow, a friendship forms between the priest and the boy. One day, José asks Father Christopher why he doesn’t go into hiding like many of the other priests. He tells the boy how God will watch over him in His house. The boy continues to insist, only for the priest to conclude, “There is no greater glory than to give your life for Christ.”  These words impress José very much. A few days later, José is up in the bell tower marveling at the view of hills, when he notices government horsemen riding toward his village. He shouts to warn the people and then goes to find Father Christopher to warn him. José urges Fr Christopher to hide, but he refuses. He gives his rosary to José and sends him off. José returns to the bell tower from where he watches as his priest friend is brought out of the church and shot by a firing squad. As the squad prepares, it seems that the priest and José are repeating the words from their places, aware of the others presence, “There is no greater glory than to give your life for Christ.”

The movie goes on to show this young boy as a person of deep moral fiber, courageous and zealous for the things of God. Towards the end of his young life, he is tortured to reveal the base camp of the rebels, and in his refusal they cut the bottoms of his feet. He is then led through the village – his personal via crucis – his feet bleeding, to the spot prepared for his execution. With his parents standing by, he is given the chance to walk away, if only he will say Christ is dead. He continues to say “Viva Cristo Rey!” He is stabbed and topples over, tracing the sign of a cross in the ground with his blood shortly before he is shot to death.

Reflecting on his character, I mused:

  • “What if Father Christoper had gone into hiding?” 
  • “What if – in his moment of confrontation – the priest gave in to his prosecutors and denied his faith there in the square under the watchful eyes of young José?” 
  • “What if others chose not to get involved, risking their personal safety, for the sake of the war for religious freedom?”

The movie doesn’t tell us, but hints at the inspiration in Jose’s life in a simple parish priest who lived – and died – well for Christ.

This lesson is one we all must take to heart. We might not be called to die – as many did in the Cristero War did – for what we believe in. But we can ask ourselves, “Who are the Josés in our lives that might be carefully watching, wanting to do what is right but need someone to show them the way?”

Will the witness of our life and faith be such, that when José must choose, we have helped prepare him to be courageous to do what is right, no matter the cost?

Viva Cristo Rey!

___

Film Review: For Greater Glory, by Ed Morrissey

To know more about José and the other beatified martyrs of the Cristero War.
 
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In the United States, now, there is a threat to religious freedom brewing, that would not even allow Mother Teresa and her works of charity to continue.
 
The Sacred Heart and Religious Freedom
 
For more information on religious freedom, please visit US Conference of Catholic Bishops website.
 
* The Mexican Constitution, ratified in 1917, was based on a previous version instituted by Benito Suarez in 1857.
 
This story was originally posted under the title “For Greater Glory: A Lesson” at: