A few days ago we celebrated the optional memorial of St. John of God. Our pastor gave a marvelous homily that day, which inspired this post. One of the key connection points the pastor made was the connection St. John of God had with other Saints with whom I was more familiar. To be quite honest, I knew next to nothing about St. John of God. So I began to investigate his life, and what an amazing man of God, St. John of God was! I thought his life–as well as his spiritual connection to other Saints–made this a very appropriate topic for a post during Lent….especially as we approach the end of Lent.
St. John of God is best known for his many followers who eventually founded the Hospitallers, a religious institution focused on aiding the sick, suffering, and dying, among other services they now provide. They are still in existence today.
What I didn’t know was St. John of God’s late conversion in life. In many ways he was a prodigal of the Church. A baptized Catholic, like virtually all his family and friends, he was a public sinner, who sinned in countless ways. He wasn’t just known for one particular sin, but many. He was a soldier, but was particularly known for leading a life best described as completely “wild.” He was around 40 years old, or so, when he had his conversion. He found mercy rather late in life.
One of the most important but neglected spiritual practices is the daily general examination of conscience. No business would last very long without taking stock daily, calculating how much profit was made, etc., and there is no business more important than our soul. Socrates famously said that, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” We could say that an unexamined life is dangerous. It’s important to examine how we are doing fairly regularly in order to improve. When our goal is off in the distance, a little misdirection early in the journey–if it is not corrected–can spell disaster, landing us far off the mark.
The morning offering is a very traditional Catholic practice that seems to be neglected by so many Catholics I run into. Many have never heard of a morning offering. We’re already well into Lent, 2016, but I thought I’d post on this wonderful Catholic traditional prayer. There are numerous prayers that can be said as a morning offering, and you can google them, or find many different versions in Catholic prayer books. The specific form or words of the morning offering, is less important I think than the actual practice of praying the morning offering. The basic idea is simple. When you get up in the morning, you start your day by offering the entire day to God. You offer all of the joys and sufferings that will come that day, as well as all of your work and prayers, for God. Of course you can include other intentions, like for the Pope, your local bishop, etc. Offering your day to God first things is a great way to begin to sanctify your ordinary life. What better time than Lent to begin taking up this traditional Catholic practice. It’s a great way to start the day off right, and it only need take a few seconds. You can always renew the offering throughout the day as you offer specific tasks, or instances of suffering, to God. One of the best resources out there on the morning offering is Michael J. Ortiz’s fine book, Like the First Morning: The Morning Offering as a Daily Renewal. His book cover is the image I used at the top of this post. So let’s start our days off right this Lent, offering what lies ahead to God in advance as we get up to begin the day, facing all the challenges and joys and whatever else lies ahead.
We don’t have to go very far to recognize that there are abundant crises in our world today. We find crises of various proportions in every corner of the globe and in virtually all sectors of society. Check the news online, read the various blogs, twitter feeds, social media, or turn on the radio or TV, and you are guaranteed to be inundated with crises of every sort: crises in the world, crises in the Church, crises in the culture. We don’t even have to turn to news outlets to discover contemporary crises, we find them in the families around us, and in our own families……..
For a while now, my three year old son has been telling us that when he grows up he wants to be a superhero. Recently, my five year old daughter asked me if superheroes are real. We spoke a little about how the Saints are the real superheroes. After that conversation it struck me how true that is: the Saints are the real superheroes.
Many of the superheroes we know and love from comic books, movies, and t.v., are people like Batman or Superman, who, most of the time, live ordinary lives without performing the superhero actions their hidden life selves are known for. They tend to dress, work, and speak as would anyone else in their specific state in life, in their line of work, in their economic status, etc. Unbeknownst to their neighbors and friends, they possess superhero abilities.
Lent is upon us…only a few more days…as this upcoming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. With that in mind I thought I would post a few thoughts about Lenten resolutions, just in case anyone might find these thoughts beneficial, especially if Lent is taking you by surprise, or if you haven’t yet made any Lenten resolutions.
First, the three traditional Lenten practices are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In general, it is encouraged to work on all three areas during Lent. It’s a good thing to up our spiritual practices during Lent, doing a little more than we typically do throughout the year. In this post, however, I want to focus on a different way of making good Lenten resolutions. I don’t mean to detract from the traditional, “upping it,” as it were, during Lent. By all means, do a little more this Lent than you typically do throughout the year, and than you likely will when Lent is over and we enter the joyous Easter season. But here I want to focus on small resolutions that we can maintain throughout the year.
I want to begin with a personal anecdote that is not directly related to Fatima. In the academic year of 1996-1997 a junior at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio was running for student president, thinking that he would be able to have the most impact for good on campus by exercising that position his senior year. As a prominent member of the student senate he played a prominent and very public (both on national radio and outside of the U.S.) role in a number of significant changes that took place on campus. Notwithstanding his valiant efforts, he lost the presidential race. Unsure what to do, he turned to an older friend and mentor, and decided to become an R.A. in a dorm and lead a Bible study for freshmen in the dorm. This incoming senior would-be R.A. and Bible study leader, was a student leader in a very large para-church (primarily evangelical Protestant Christian) organization on campus, which, at least for the following two years (if I’m not mistaken), represented the largest para-church organization on any college campus in the world at that time, boasting about 1,000 members at their weekly meeting. His mentor, who happened to be Roman Catholic, was a staff member with that organization (at one point full-time, but by this point, part-time on a volunteer basis). That summer they decided to fast and pray for the future Bible study which together they would co-lead. They studied Scripture and church history together that summer, and they prayed and fasted that the future study would bear fruit for the kingdom of God.
The first time I met Pope John Paul II…well, perhaps “met” is the wrong word when you’re in a crowd of seven million people? Yet, as I think back to that World Youth Day in the Philippine Islands, “met” is the only word that describes what happened. I didn’t merely see John Paul II. No. Even in a crowd of millions, I had the feeling that he loved me. As his eyes fell upon each of us, I felt loved by him, as if his eyes were the very eyes of Jesus.
I can imagine Jesus looking at people with these same eyes. Pope John Paul II had so given himself to the Heart of Jesus that his eyes spoke with the Heart of Jesus. One can understand why the crowd that gathered that World Youth Day in the Philippines was the largest crowd ever assembled in human history: these young people gathered not simply to see Pope John Paul II; they crowded around the Bishop of Rome because in him they saw Christ.
Continuing on with our journey through Benedict’s Message for Lent this year, we come to the Second Sunday of Lent, which is the Transfiguration. The Holy Father writes:
The Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord puts before our eyes the glory of Christ, which anticipates the resurrection and announces the divinization of man. The Christian community becomes aware that Jesus leads it, like the Apostles Peter, James and John “up a high mountain by themselves” (Mt 17:1), to receive once again in Christ, as sons and daughters in the Son, the gift of the grace of God: “This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favor. Listen to him” (Mt 17:5). It is the invitation to take a distance from the noisiness of everyday life in order to immerse oneself in God’s presence. He desires to hand down to us, each day, a Word that penetrates the depths of our spirit, where we discern good from evil (cf. Heb 4:12), reinforcing our will to follow the Lord.
A few days ago, I posted some quotes and reflections from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. This will likely turn into a series, as I find more and more awesome Lewisian utterances! Consider the following:
What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’–could set up on their own as if they had created themselves–be their own masters–invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside G0d, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history–money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery–the long terrible story of man trying to find something other God that will make him happy.
This quote by itself could generate a post (if not more) alone. To be brief, let me point out one point that struck me. I think Lewis is suggesting that man will most mess up, when he attempts to be his own author. The self cannot self-construct itself. It may only be discovered in others, and in sum, in the Ultimate Other, namely God who is the Creator.We possess nothing: not ourselves, not the capability to invent or construct the self, and certainly not the power to invent entities of happiness or self-satisfaction. I propose that the most mature self is the emptiest, most kenotic, self. That’s when the “self” is, in fact, most itself: when it is in the hands of God at the service of others.