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The “Little Way” of St. Therese

st-therese-of-lisieux-icon-426St. Therese of Lisieux was born in France on January 2, 1873 to Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin.  She was the youngest of nine children, four of whom died in infancy. At the age of four, she faced great sadness when her beloved mother passed away.  When she was fifteen, she followed in the footsteps of her older sisters Pauline and Marie and joined the Carmelite Monastery in Lisieux. St. Therese loved God completely, and, above all else, desired for others to love God too.  Known for her “little way,” she once wrote: “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice.  Here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”  

In the 1880s, a notorious criminal by the name of Henri Pranzini had been sentenced to death after murdering two women and a young girl.  St. Therese read about this sentencing in the newspaper, and also learned that he was unrepentant, bitter, and angry. Upon hearing this when she was only fourteen years old, Therese committed herself to praying tirelessly and offering sacrifices up for Pranzini’s conversion.  When she read the news article detailing his execution, she realized her prayer had been answered: “Pranzini had not gone to confession. He had mounted the scaffold and was preparing to place his head in the formidable opening, when suddenly seized by an inspiration, he turned, took hold of the crucifix the priest was holding out to him and kissed the sacred wounds three times! Then his soul went to receive the merciful sentence of Him who declares that in heaven there will be more joy over one sinner who does penance than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance!”

St. Therese truly strove towards union with God with both prayer and simplicity.  While she is the patron saint of missionaries, she never left the walls of her convent.  However, St. Therese proved that you did not have to travel far and wide to lead others towards Christ.  While some of us feel as though we are not capable of doing “spectacular acts” for God and others, we must never underestimate the power of a simple prayer or the significance of doing “little things with great love,” just like St. Therese of Lisieux.  

By: Adriana Shubeck

Pilgrimage to Uniontown: A Reminder of Life’s Purpose

TIA group picFaith can be a challenging subject in our lives. It is something that is deeply personal yet challenges us into a relationship with one another. For no matter how hard we try to keep it within us, the joy that follows will always seek to be shared.

Growing up, the parish church ladies would board a bus and head off to a famous small town called “Uniontown, PA.” Upon their return they would sing songs, talk about experiences, and the best part; share their honey cake treats with the entire parish. While the parish no longer sent a bus to this sacred place, “the pilgrimage” to Our Lady of Perpetual Help as it was told to me, was one of those experiences that you just needed to participate in.

So, what did I do? With a leap of faith, I jumped in my car and headed off to the promised land called Uniontown.

They say the pilgrimage (the way getting there) is just as important as the destination. Well, they should have said that differently, because as soon as I got through half of Pennsylvania in a torrential downpour, I questioned to myself “Jerry, what are you doing?” That question sat with me as I reflected on the countless souls that traveled the same path over the years. Why was everyone heading to Uniontown? What could be so special about this place? Those questions soon revealed an answer as I laid my feet on the holy ground of Mt. Saint Macrina.

Opening my car door, the songs of praise and prayer seemed to flow through the wind and trees on top of the hill. There a small gathering of faithful prayed while I stood in silence. I was here, I had arrived at the blessed holy site of my ancestors.

But why? Why did I make this long drive to this small piece of property outside of Pittsburgh? What was I searching for? Could it be peace, after a rocky few weeks within the Catholic Church, or was I looking for the reminder of hope? Could it have been for something greater? What could have been the draw?

Holiness. That is what it had to be.

Holiness was the draw. Everywhere you went, you walked, you sat or stood, you found people around you seeking the same thing – holiness.

They came to seek deeper in their relationship with Christ, to build up their confidence in the faith, and be reminded of their true purpose as a Catholic and Christian. They came to be united in their call, and they came to be with their Blessed Mother. Could it possibly be that I came to seek the same thing? To be renewed in faith, to find a definite answer to my life’s journey?

Gazing on the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, we find the story within of how child Jesus, given visions of His passion and death, runs so fast in fear to Mary that He almost loses His shoe. However, in the embrace of his Blessed Mother, He is restored in his confidence.

I too have run to our Blessed Mother. I have run in hope of an answer, for the warm reminder that all would be well.

Life is a process. We are reminded over and over again in the life of Christ – of the challenge, the fear, the joy, and the hope in a daily surrender of our own wills and life forward. We look at Mary’s fiat (her yes) when the angel appeared and told her that she was to give birth to the son of God, yet was not married, and fearful of what people would say. How was she to explain all that was happening? How was she to trust in God’s plan?

We look even to the final moments of Christ in the night before his crucifixion “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” Matthew 26:42

Christ gives us a clear example of surrendering, sacrificing, and living for a greater purpose, not of his own, but of his heavenly fathers.

Something is always dying, and something is always giving life.
There is a beautiful story in the Gospel of St. John about Jesus’ call of the fisherman: “After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command, I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing.” They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking. -Luke 5:4-7

It is interesting to note how the disciples were ready to give up, yet God reached out one more time and asked them to try the other side. What do you do when it looks like there is no more hope? What do you do when you think it just is impossible to share in a relationship with one another, to be open, vulnerable, broken, hurt,…

 … forgiven, and loved.

Maybe you are sitting here thinking there is not much hope, that so much needs to be done, and that you are the only one to accomplish the task. Maybe you are sitting here thinking that you are unable to accomplish the task based on your skills, your worth, and your vision.

In those moments when you think it is impossible, those are the moments God is calling out to you saying “cast your net on the other side.”

Who are you in God’s Eyes…
Our lives and the life of the Church have many different struggles, bumps, and stops. Our natural tendency is to focus on the one problem, that blinds our focus on one thing without seeing our true image as son, daughter, brother, sister, mother, father, and friend. Without realizing by the end, the focus of our image is nothing but dead a stem of a flower without any petals.

However, when we put our struggles, challenges, wants, desires into a new perspective of sacrificial love, we realize what God has seen from the very beginning. A beautiful flower. Life may show you the stem, but God shows you the fullness of your life.

You never know what God is doing in your life, so be brave in how you communicate with him. Allow hope and sacrifice to lead your journey.

This was the true message that reminded me that our Church is alive, and our true hope is in Christ through Mary. That could not have been made clearer as Bishop Milan Lach, SJ closed out his homily with the following words: ” So dear brothers and sisters, we are here. Don’t worry, Jesus Christ is with us. Don’t worry about our future of our Byzantine Catholic Church in the United States. Don’t worry. God is with us! Glory to Jesus Christ!”

St. John the Baptist: An Earthly Angel in Human Body

st-john2_orig

For contemporary Westerners, it seems a bit odd to commemorate a beheading. Christians, of course, venerate many martyrs, but rarely do we remember their modes of death as unambiguously as we do today on the Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. So why all here? Why now?

We must recall that St. John the Baptist was, according to St. Sophronius, an “earthly angel in human body.” He “went into the desert to imitate not men but the angels.” For this reason, he is often depicted with wings in the Byzantine tradition; his life of asceticism, his announcement of the Incarnate God, his role as the last of the prophets, and as the greatest born of a woman—as Jesus Himself tells us—demand our respect and veneration. He serves as an example of the simple life of humility, united to God’s will.

But more than this John died for the Faith. He died, perhaps more accurately—like St. Stephen—because he testified to the truths of humility and self-denial in a corrupt and fallen world, the world of Herod, a court—as the account tells us—filled with dancing, lasciviousness, and finery. These things ran opposite the Baptist’s insistence on piety and simplicity.

In this sense, his beheading is a visceral reminder of the slings and arrows of fate that afflict all in this world, and especially those who desire to live with a foolish simplicity and faith in God and His will. This is not unlike the “foolish simplicity” observed by many pious people on this feast day—fasting, refusing to eat anything round, and forsaking plates. These are customs passed down to us in memory not just of a holy man but also of the holy life for which he died, the one we continue to try to live, the one that may appear as foolishness.

We remember St. John’s death not merely to commemorate his life but also to remind ourselves of the basic (and yet easily forgotten) truths of the faith: simplicity, self-denial, forgiveness, those ideas well encapsulated in the two previous Gospel readings from St. Matthew. We celebrate, because as St. Theodore the Studite has asked, “is there need for us to extol John the Baptist when he was so highly extolled by Christ Himself, Who is the Truth and the Eternal Word of God?” We might add: is there any better way to re-center ourselves in the Christian life than to remember the sacrificial death of the one who announced Christ, this “earthly angel in human body”?

By Chase J. Padusniak

 

The Nature of Confession

ive-got-another-confession-to-make-please-dont-yell-5437635

The Foo Fighters lyrics “I’ve Got Another Confession to Make” usually comes to mind for this topic but on Mondays the local country music station in Pittsburgh has a bit that allows listeners to make a confession and receive absolution from the radio host… for whatever it is worth. Anonymous people make a very public broadcast of the things they need to get off their chest. This isn’t foreign though, we all have confidants that we hold in confidence that they will not spill the beans, in return they affirm us that everything is going to be alright.

The Catholic Church both affirms the penitent that everything will be alright as well as has been given the authority to make it right. In a Catholic Theology on Tap, the speaker (whose name unfortunately slips my mind) explained that the Catholic Church understands that God’s forgiveness is not limited to the Sacramental Mystery of Reconciliation, however Christ himself affirmed that forgiveness was GUARANTEED through the sacrament. We can receive verbal affirmation by a minister of God, in the sacramental office, that we are forgiven by offering a contrite heart, through a confession, with the satisfaction of an act penance. With those three we have a guarantee unlike any other and like that the weight is lifted from the chest of a penitent.

But I don’t need a priest, I can go right to my neighbor. Or God will know I feel contrition in my heart? When we sin we not only hurt our neighbor but we hurt the Church and we hurt our relationship with our perfect God. While we are encouraged to set aright our relationship with our neighbor we also must ask forgiveness from God, not in a public way but also not in a way that I could deceive myself in private. After all I do have the internal debate after sinning that my action wasn’t really a sin. I can try to rationalize my sin away, instead of humbly asking for forgiveness. In my Hospital Chaplaincy program we are taught that sometimes the patient may intellectually know they are sick but not so much emotionally. When a chaplain asks them to discuss their own treatment as a new person in the room, suddenly the waterworks come out. They could accept the bad news that the doctor gave them as if they were talking to the patient in the bed next door but the moment it reaches their lips they see the impact of their treatment; that life is no longer guaranteed, that pain and exhaustion are ahead of them, and their next visitation and word may be the last. In the confessional, we are the sick and broken, the priest is an ordained chaplain to hear our sickness from our lips but also the physician with the necessary cure.

“It could be Lupus” – A quote from Dr. Gregory House

Some sins may manifest quicker or more often. Some sins may actually coverup other sins. When we do an examination of conscience we may forget something because our mind was clouded by another sin. Well here’s the good news, even the sins that are truly forgotten have their cure in the confessional. However, if we withhold a sin because of our own shame, we are like Adam and Eve naked hiding in the brush despite bringing ourselves to the confessional. We withhold from ourselves the remedy that has been made available to us. “It is never Lupus”

Do you like to go to a new doctor every time you feel ill? Sometimes a Doctor can spot what is a symptom and what is the illness better than we can. While you could technically go to a new confessor every time and sometimes find one that only speaks Polish or Swahili, it is better for our spiritual development to have a regular confessor that speaks our language. That doesn’t just mean English, it is okay to feel a connection to your confessor in how he speaks to your soul. As he gets to know you he will be better at offering you the words and treatment you need. However, do not mistake a priest that challenges you as not speaking to your soul.

Lastly, there may be some confusion in the language we ourselves use. Do we receive penance or absolution? Are we reconciled or confessed? What is contrition? Why not have only a last confession as Last Rites?

Last Rites, more properly termed Anointing of the Sick, is a time of absolution of sins in preparation for the heavenly reward, but do we really want to be in the bottom of the Grand Canyon for 127hrs with a rock on our arm before we follow the first rule to never hike alone? If we spend our whole lives slowly drifting from God are you likely to seek to be reconciled? This state of despair is prevented by regular confession (whether it be monthly, seasonally, but at least during the Great Fasts).

The Sacrament of Reconciliation has some distinct characteristics. First, the penitent offers contrition or sorrow for the sins committed, because it has harmed their relationship with God. They confess their contrition along with the sins and receive absolution. This absolution is the forgiveness and remission of our sin. By this we are made perfect and reconciled to the Church and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The penitent and the Confessor (CCC1448) are given a penance. Penitents are not alone in this because they have been reconciled to the Church. Penances are often easy but that is not to say that it is a trinket to be neglected. It is easy because we cannot earn the grace of God’s forgiveness but are for the spiritual good. “Penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all.” CCC1460. The completion of the Penance confers the grace of the sacrament as we are configured to Christ’s perfection.

Hopefully, this encourages you to seek confession, not as a judgement of your actions, but so that we see the glory of your baptismal garment that is made new and seek an ever-closer relationship with Christ. God Bless.

By Tim Fariss, 3rd Year Seminarian at Ss. Cyril and Methods

Mary, A Model of Hope

Our Lady of Perpetual Help

In the Akathist, we address the Mother of God:

“O all-merciful Sovereign Lady Virgin Theotokos!”

There is much contained in these few words, much worthy of reflection, especially considering that her Dormition has just passed. This feast reminds us of her holiness, of the fact that, again as the Akathist has us sing, “[w]e behold the holy Virgin, a shining lamp appearing to those in darkness; for, kindling the Immaterial Light, She guides all to divine knowledge, She illumines minds with radiance.” Her life offers us light and consolation; her acceptance of God’s ineffable will is the mysterious gateway of our salvation. A kontakion for this feast makes this abundantly clear:

“Neither the grave nor death could contain the Theotokos, the unshakable hope, ever vigilant in intercession and protection. As Mother of life, He who dwelt in the ever-virginal womb transposed her to life.”

Mary gives us hope—both in her life and in the constant intercession that accompanies her death, her place in the Kingdom. She is all-merciful, because she loves her Son, understands that the Lord loves all people, and as last Sunday’s reading—the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen—reminds us: the Lord demands forgiveness as He forgives. She is sovereign because her “yes,” her acceptance of the Incarnate God within her own flesh, established the reign of God on the earth. In these short words from the Akathist, we embrace hope, hope in an all-loving deity who works through human beings.

Keeping up hope is central to our faith. It does not mean that we must be blandly positive. Sometimes, as with Mary’s confusion and fear upon hearing the angel’s cry, hope is difficult, confounding, even painful. Sometimes it can only be, as Marilynne Robinson writes in her novel Gilead, “hope deferred.”

To hope is to remind ourselves that God loves us, that, at bottom, His divine power will not leave us, that it guides us, even as we feel abandoned to darkness. In times of difficulty, Mary (and her Son) remain our “unshakeable hope,” allowing us to remain “ever vigilant,” even when beset by wickedness within ourselves, wickedness abounding in the world.

May we ask of the Immaculate Theotokos her “intercession and protection” to carry us through dark times; may we ask for the humility and courage to say “yes” to God’s ineffable will in a world that often seems to make it impossible to do so. May we, pray, as our ancient brothers and sisters did:

“We fly to Thy protection,
O Holy Mother of God;
Do not despise our petitions
in our necessities,
but deliver us always
from all dangers,
O Glorious and Blessed Virgin.”

May we hope.

By Chase J. Padusniak

 

“If you wish to be perfect, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…”

frassatiA man once wrote of being stopped by a stranger in the large city in which he lived.  The stranger handed the man a piece of paper and asked him how to get to the address written on it, so the man proceeded to tell the stranger to continue walking two blocks, turn right, and the address he was looking for was three buildings down from the corner.  Wanting to make sure that the stranger understood the instructions, the man asked him to repeat them to him, which he did. Satisfied that the stranger understood, the man went on his way, but he noticed that the stranger proceeded to walk in the opposite direction.  So he called out to the stranger, “Sir, you are going the wrong way, you want to go that way!” The stranger responded, “I know, I’m not ready yet.”

My brothers and sisters, might that not be what was going on in the mind of the rich, young man who went up to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading?  He had already begun his journey to God, his journey of theosis, by keeping the commandments. Yet, in his heart, he knew there was more to becoming a living icon of Christ than avoiding sin.  So he asked Jesus what he still lacked.

Jesus responded, “’If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.’ And when the [rich] young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.”

He simply wasn’t ready to move forward in his journey to God, and the Gospel gives us no indication that he ever got to the point of being willing to give up his possessions and become a perfect icon of Christ.  His attachment to his possessions simply got in the way; and he has gone through history a nameless man who is remembered for saying “no” to Jesus’s call. He was unwilling to enter into the divine life; he refused to cooperate with the grace of God.

In 1901 Pier Giorgio Frassati was born into a well-to-do family in Turin, Italy.  His father was the editor of the prominent Italian newspaper La Stampa which is published to this very day.  His father also went on to become a senator and, later on, was made ambassador to Germany. Pier Georgio’s father was agnostic.  His mother was an artist who was nominally Catholic. So he was not from a church-going family, but he heard God beckoning him nonetheless.  On his own, as a young boy, then as a teenager and young man, he spent hours in churches praying and attending liturgy. He listened to God. He studied mining engineering so that he might work among miners.  He was a mountain climber and hiker. He also had a great love for the poor and would spend his allowance to them. It’s been said that he would give his bus fare to the poor and walk instead. Pier Georgio was well known and much loved by Turin’s poor.  To them he was a saintly man.

When he was only 24, while ministering in the poor neighborhoods of Turin, Pier Giorgio contracted a form of polio that killed him in a matter of six days.  Throngs of people attended his funeral – most of them were the poor he had served so well.

Pier Georgio has been declared blessed by the Church – he is one step away from sainthood.  When his grave was opened in the early 1980s, his body was found intact and incorrupt.

The rich, young man in today’s Gospel reading and Pier Georgio are a study in contrasts.  Both were wealthy. Both were called by God to give to the poor. The similarities end there.  The rich, young man walked away sad because he was too attached to his possessions. Pier Georgio gave away his possessions with a spirit of detachment.  The rich, young man had hoped that it was enough not to physically kill his neighbor. Pier Georgio knew that, more than not killing his neighbor, the life in Christ demands that we build up the life of our neighbor.   With the coming of Christ, the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” became a call to “an attentive love which protects and promotes the life of one’s neighbor” (Veritatus Splendor).  Jesus draws out the full meaning of the commandments.  The commandments are the foundation of the life in Christ.  Keeping the commandments frees us to choose to fully embrace the life in Christ, living the supreme commandment to love God and neighbor as we love ourselves.  We are called to live a life of self-emptying love, just as the rich, young man and Pier Georgio were called. Jesus asks the same of us.

We need to fight our inclination to walk away from the fullness of the life in Christ.  We are all burdened with some degree of attachment to our wealth, whether our wealth is modest or great.   

Our beloved Saint Basil the Great was no exception.  His family had great material wealth. When he was about 23 years old, he realized that he had spent “much time” in “vanity, and had wasted nearly all of my youth…Then once upon a time, like a man roused from deep sleep, I turned my eyes to the light of the truth of the Gospel,  and I perceived the uselessness of ‘the wisdom of the princes of this world, who come to naught’…Then I read the Gospel, and I saw there that a great means of reaching perfection was the selling of one’s goods, sharing them with the poor, giving up all care for this life, and the refusal to allow the soul to be turned by any sympathy to things of earth.”

By the time he was 36, Saint Basil founded what became known as the Basiliad in response a famine that hit Casaerea.  Through his influence, many wealthy people opened their storehouses to share with the poor.

Saint Basil often preached about Jesus’s teaching to sell all you possess and give it to the poor.  He asked, “Do you say ‘teacher’ and not carry out the duties of a disciple…? You ask about eternal life, yet show yourself completely bound to the enjoyment of the present life”

Saint Basil was also very blunt: “Whoever has the ability to remedy the suffering of others, but chooses rather to withhold aid out of selfish motives, may properly be judged the equivalent of a murderer.”

My brothers and sisters, Jesus’s teaching in today’s Gospel should compel a positive response from each of us.  Sit and read this passage from Matthew 19 after the Divine Liturgy, either here or at home. Ask yourself if you are ready to take that next step, whether large or small, in detaching from one or more of your possessions in order to serve the poor.  Will your response be like that of the rich, young man? Or will it be like that of Blessed Pier Georgio or of Saint Basil? To be sure, it is difficult to detach ourselves from our materialistic culture and our material wealth, because, as Saint Basil said, we are “so completely bound to the enjoyment of this present life.’

We can all be like Saint Basil and Blessed Pier Georgio, but we must take the time to read Sacred Scripture, pray, and listen to how God is speaking to our hearts.  From which earthly possessions is he asking you to detach yourself? Pray to Saint Basil and Blessed Pier Georgio for their intercession and assistance. Look to their example for inspiration.   When you struggle to let go of something, do not be discouraged. Rather, be patient with yourself, knowing that God is merciful and loves you.

By Fr. Deacon Thomas P. Shubeck