Saved by Love, for Love

alessandro serenelli

An aged Alessandro Serenelli praying in front of St. Maria Goretti’s image.

I recall my theology professor, during a class I had on soteriology (the study of salvation) back in 1992, going on a tangent as he spoke about concupiscence, that disorder in the soul left by sin that inclines us to evil. As I recall, he was making a point he loved to emphasize, that God’s ordinary manner of saving human beings from the rubble of a fallen world is by eliciting their free and costly cooperation with His saving grace. He said (thank God I kept my notes!),

Like a good parent, God doesn’t simply do for us what we can do for ourselves. His grace aids us by enlivening our own capacity to do His will. Were He to do it all for us, we would be rendered helpless, salvation would not be truly human and we would inevitably become spoiled children of God. Rather, God preserves the nobility of our humanity, made in His image, by saving us with us and allowing us to share in His work and accrue merit. God created secondary causes — creation with its own ability to act — because He loves communion and not fusion; persons not puppets…and this saving comes to us in the form of Jesus crucified, the supreme sign of the divine-human intersection ordered to salvation. Salvation is costly, cross-borne, because its healing has one goal: to birth in us the capacity to love with the very love with which God loved us in Christ crucified. For us, this means the whole life of virtue. The Council of Trent argued that the reason God left concupiscence behind in us even after Baptism — how easy it would have been if he had simply removed it all! — was “for the sake of the battle.” The nobility of sharing with God in the re-creation of all things, beginning with my own soul! What a noblesse oblige, what a terrible glory He has given to us! Only in a Eucharist celebrating the brutal and bloody death of a God who is love could we ever give fitting thanks for this unspeakable honor!

I thought of this mind-blowing insight as I came across a wonderful quote from Catherine de Hueck Doherty in this week’s Magnificat:

Lent is here to remind us that the mercy of God is ours provided we embrace his law of love; provided we realize that it’s going to hurt, and hurt plenty, but that the very hurting will be the healing. That is the paradox of God, that while you hurt, you heal. That’s true healing.

Salvation, which is a healing of the whole person, comes principally through the daily labor of learning to love God and neighbor under the blazing sun of life’s many hardships; of learning patience and trust, mercy and sacrifice, repentance and forgiveness, prayer in the dark and in the light; of learning how to be loved by God so that I might love like God, forgiven by God that I might forgive like God, nourished by God that I might nourish like God. If we look for healing in hidden rooms away from the rest of humanity, we will find only ourselves; not God. And if we look for salvation to come to us in a moment, to free us from the burden apart from “the battle,” it is not Christ’s grace that we seek. Christian healing seeks the Spirit to transform pain into mercy’s sacrifice, grief into joy-bearing love, wounds into grace-filled portals, as when the deceased St. Maria Goretti appeared to her murderer, Alessandro Serenelli, while he was in prison and handed him 14 pure white lilies that bloomed from her 14 stab wounds and brought him to immediate and total conversion. She had been healed by Christ in Paradise only to love her enemy back into life.

Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke? Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed… — Isaiah 58:6-8

The Gospel of Math

[As I am still recovering from an intensive retreat I recently gave, I am thin on words. But here's a fun and fleeting thought for today.]

As I once collapsed under the weight of advanced calculus in college, this Blog post title strikes terror in my soul.

I used to have a t-shirt back in college (that I took off on the spot and gave to a complete stranger who said she thought it was ‘so cool’ — something you do when you’re an undergrad) that had this on the back:

I wish I had it again.

I recall my physics professor in a lecture back in 1988 at Florida State said,

If there is a God, his first language is math.

Thank God my own theological work does not require this language, though if I were a real theologian like Augustine, I would be more committed to learning:

God’s infinity would still be of a higher magnitude, an infinity of different kind. His infinity is above all possible temporal (and spatial) infinity; it is an infinity of infinities, whose magnitude can be dimly imagined by means of mathematical infinity. It is an infinity of infinities also in that, As St. Augustine said in City of God, “all infinity is in some ineffable way made finite to God,” since no infinity is incomprehensible to God, he can count numbers without succession of thought. God is even able to count without numbers, which assumes that there is no number equal to the quantity of all numbers, that is, no number, to use modern parlance, expressing cardinality of integers (which is aleph zero). This is no hindrance to God who is able to see the entire sequence of numbers without looking at these numbers one by one. Infinity of these numbers can be grasped in one act of comprehension. – Adam Drozdek, “Beyond Infinity: Augustine and Cantor”

Reading Drozdek’s book, as a friend of mine words it, often feels like a dog watching TV: captivated but uncomprehending.

On that note, let me encourage you to watch this ~9 minute video on “falling in love with math,” and then apply its principles to evangelization and catechesis. My son shared it with me and said: “This is how the Church should approach making the faith attractive.” Yes.

Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yexc19j3TjE

Chosen to Suffer

As I have noted before, I have a special love for the work of Professor Albert Raboteau. Today I would like to share with you a quote from one of his writings that deeply struck me when I first read it, and it came back into mind after I went with my wife to see that exceptional, awful and Oscar winning movie, Twelve Years a Slave. I thought I would share it with you today for your reflection during this season when we especially reflect on our call to co-suffer with Christ.

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“James Baldwin’s first novel, Go Tell It On The Mountain, in a passage redolent with allusions to scripture, the spirituals and gospel music, eloquently captures the paradoxical history of suffering and triumph of slaves and their descendants. The novel focuses on one day in the life of John Grimes, a black adolescent in Harlem, who seeks to escape the squalid tenements, the racial oppression and desperate poverty of his people. On his 14th birthday John is cast down upon the dusty floor of a storefront sanctified church, “astonished under the power of God.” There he experiences the rebirth of a conversion experience. In his trance he confronts an army of people and is engulfed by a company of the suffering. Struggling to flee, he realizes there is no escape. And suddenly their suffering becomes a sound, a sound John not only recognizes but internalizes:

And now in his moaning … he heard it in himself — it rose from his … cracked-open heart. It was a sound of rage and weeping which filled the grave … rage that had no language, weeping with no voice — which yet spoke now to John’s startled soul, of boundless melancholy, of the bitterest patience, and the longest night; of the deepest water, the strongest chains, the most cruel lash … and most bloody, unspeakable sudden death. Yes the body in the fire, the body on the tree.

He struggles to flee, but there is no escape. He must go through this suffering of his people’s past to viscerally experience the paradox that it is precisely these wretched who are the chosen ones of God.

No power could hold this army back, no water disperse them, no fire consume them. One day they would compel the earth to heave upward, and surrender the waiting dead. They sang where the darkness gathered, where the lion waited, where the fire cried and where the blood ran down … No, the fire could not hurt them, and yes, the lion’s jaws were stopped; the serpent was not their master, the grave was not their resting-place, the earth was not their home. Job bore them witness and Abraham was their father. Moses had elected to suffer with them … Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had gone before them into the fire, their grief had been sung by David, and Jeremiah had wept for them. Ezekiel had prophesied upon them, these scattered bones, these slain, and, in the fullness of time, the prophet, John, had come out of the wilderness, crying that the promise was for them. They were encompassed with a very cloud of witnesses … And they looked unto Jesus, the author and the finisher of their faith, running with patience the race He had set before them; they endured the cross, and they despised the shame, and waited to join Him one day, in glory, at the right hand of the Father.”

I promise to love you and honor you all the days of my life…

An acquaintance of mine once shared with me his conversion story to Christianity (he’s now a devout Catholic), and, though the whole story was fascinating, he had a particularly compelling story buried in the middle of his longer tale of encountering Christ. As he has given permission for me to tell the story, I will share it.

Only weeks after his faith-awakening, he was at work at break-time with his male co-workers. “That day had come,” he said, “when, even though I was changed inside, I had to find the courage to ‘go public’ and face the discomfort of being a changed man.” His co-workers were engaging in what had become a weekly Monday morning “guy” tradition, a tradition of which he was always very much willingly a part: a graphic sharing of their weekend “sexcapades and score stories” — sexual conquests with hook-ups, girlfriends or even wives. It was a combo of “whoa!” and “haha!” stories.

It was his time to tell-all, and he panicked, then said a simple prayer: “Help.” He decided, instead of condemning their present behavior (and his past) outright, he would tell a weekend story about his wife to honor her; something complimentary about her that had nothing to do with sex. After he finished, they all laughed awkwardly and one guy said, “Damn, man, that’s a downer. What’s that all about?”

He went on to share in a simple way his recent change of heart and immediately faced some mild ridicule sprinkled with “Jesus-freak” comments. But one man, he said, came up afterward and asked him more in private. “What’s up, man? What’s your new thing about?”

That “one man” eventually became Catholic and, more pertinently, joined his co-worker in choosing to honor his wife among his co-workers. They both helped bring about a long-term change in a business’ micro-culture. Its effects still endure to this day.

It’s how all genuine revolutions begin: one courageous heart at a time.

Another Tale of Honor

Here’s another awesome like-story that I happened last year. It’s worth the read.

“My wife is just such a pain in the ass!” he said, as we were changing in the gym locker room.

“You know how it is…” he finished.

Blankly, I stared at him, cocking my head sideways like a befuddled mastiff.

“No. I really don’t,” I replied. Read  more…

Sursum Corda!

I know a man who suffers from persistent, crushing migraines.

I spoke to him recently on the phone while he was in the midst of one, and in our minute long conversation he said in a faint voice,

I’m offering it up to God. May it do good.

And if you knew this man you would know he meant it.

My spiritual director once said to me, after I finished bitterly complaining at length about a certain trial going on in my life,

You once asked for God to increase your trust in him. Now he has given you a great opportunity to trust and is this all you have? God wants you to offer your trials up to him, not throw them at him.

This reminded me of a quote from St. Francis de Sales:

Many people would be ready to accept suffering so long as they were not inconvenienced by it. “I wouldn’t be bothered by poverty,” says one, “If it didn’t keep me from helping my friends, educating my children, and living respectably.” “It wouldn’t bother me,” says another, “So long as people didn’t think it was my own fault.” Or another would be willing to suffer evil lies told about him as long as no one believed his detractors.

…Talkin’ ’bout my Girls…

POPE FRANCIS—A woman kissed Pope Francis’ hand as he greeted guests during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

I came across this quote from Pope Francis again yesterday, and it caused me to reflect on the gift of women in my own life,

We talk about whether they can do this or that: Can they be altar boys? Can they be lectors? About a woman as president of Caritas, but we don’t have a deep theology of women in the Church.

Thanks especially to the witness and influence of my wife and my daughters, I have discovered over the years in a much more profound manner the “splendor of truth” contained in what Bl. John Paul II called in his 1988 Apostolic Letter, On the Dignity and Vocation of Womeningenii muliebris, the “feminine genius.” That genius, the Pope argues, manifests itself in a great diversity of ways and it’s hard to cross-culturally name this or that personal characteristic as a uniquely feminine one. But, he says, there are some universally recognizable, God-given dispositions marked deep in the soul and body of each woman, and at the very core of that “mark” is the woman’s tender solicitude and loving concern for the personal dimensions of each human life — especially in its most weak and fragile state. Human life has been entrusted by God in a primal and particular way to the woman.

Feminine Geniuses

Let me offer four examples — two very simple examples of the soul-shaping epiphanies of the feminine genius in my own life, and then two examples from two acquaintances of mine.

1. Whenever we have a guest come to our home, my wife’s all-consuming passion is to make our home beautiful and welcoming. Flowers in the guest bedroom, fresh towels and scented candles in the guest bathroom, candles and flowers on the dining room table, and libations and hors d’oeuvres in plenteous supply. In St. Edith Stein’s essay,“The Separate Vocations of Man and Woman According to Nature and Grace,” she argues that the “natural feminine concern for the right development of the beings surrounding her involves the creation of an ambiance of order and beauty conducive to their development.” That’s my wife.

2. Every weekday morning, my youngest daughter, as I drive off with my sons to drop them off at school, is relentlessly committed, whether it’s raining or cold, to standing at the end of our driveway to wave goodbye to us. Why? “Because I don’t want you to feel sad that you’re leaving home.” The boys are always puzzled, while I feel each time a deeper heartache as her tender love draws out from me something better. I am ever-more redeemed as a man, as a dad, each time I watch her wave to me in my rear view mirror.

3. A man I know who serves in the military was telling me with great pride about his eleven year old daughter’s many academic and sport achievements. In particular, he shared with me a story that, he said, illustrated a fundamental difference between his daughter and his sons.

For two years, she was the only girl to receive the highest academic achievement award in her grade. But this year she had to share the award with another girl. When I asked her if it was hard for her to not be top dog this year, she said, “No, but I’m excited that we get to get out of first period tomorrow and have donuts together!” She was more excited to share donuts with her friend! My boys? They’d be ticked and mope, just like their dad.

4. A priest I know ministers to the faithful who live on economically depressed rural farms, and he shared with me a powerful story I will paraphrase here.

I was called on one day to give last rites to a man who was dying of mouth cancer. His wife called me. He was a younger man, in his late 40s, and he and his wife had two children — a son in his late teens and a daughter in her mid teens. When I arrived at the farm house, the son was outside tinkering with a truck engine. I asked him, “Is your dad inside?” He said, “Yup.” I continued, “Don’t you want to come in while I anoint your father and pray with him?” He wouldn’t look at me, and said without emotion or hesitation, “Nope.” So I went inside. The man was in bed, in real pain, and his daughter was quietly weeping in the corner of the room. His wife stood over him with a strong and quiet look on her face. She said, “Thanks for coming, Father.” She turned to her husband, held his hand, and said with remarkable strength, “Father’s here to bless you.” Then she disappeared from the room.

I took my oils out, knelt next to his bed and began to pray. He was groaning in pain. Suddenly the door opened and the wife walked in with her son, dragging him by the arm. She pulled him next to his father and said, “Now you say goodbye to your father! Tell him you love him!” The boy began to sob and, on his knees next to his dad, he told him he loved him and said, “Goodbye, Dad” The room was filed with a feeling of solemnity. Even the angels would have stopped singing. The boy then got up and his mom walked him out of the room and closed the door.

I could never have done that. Only she could have. A mother’s love is fierce. Only she could break through his hardness, his fear and open his heart toward his father. As I anointed the man, I felt that I was offering a sacrament after witnessing a sacrament — the sacrament of married love, of a mother’s love that can soften the hardness of even the hardest man.

John Paul II expressed this mother’s genius well,

Perhaps more than men, women acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts. They see them independently of various ideological or political systems. They see others in their greatness and limitations; they try to go out to them and help them. In this way the basic plan of the Creator takes flesh in the history of humanity and there is constantly revealed, in the variety of vocations, that beauty – not merely physical, but above all spiritual – which God bestowed from the very beginning on all, and in a particular way on women. — Mulieris Dignitatem #12

Benedicta tu in mulieribus

So, men, today renew your gratitude for the women in your life who humanize you; who call forth from you a certain noble greatness; who remind you of the primacy of love; who proclaim by their very being that, before we are human-doings, we are human-beings created to be loved and to love.

Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.. – Bl. John Paul II, Letter to Women #2

Here are the three feminine geniuses who brighten our domestic church…

mom

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MLK & St. Basil the Great

Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese
and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am a huge fan of the scholar of religion in the U.S., Albert Raboteau, whose work on African slave religion in America had a deep impact on me in my grad school years. When I taught a course in the history of Christian thought/culture at Florida State University, I would use his collection of essays  on the history of the African-American religious experience, A Fire in the Bones, to think about the intersection of faith and culture. He is a convert to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and you can read the enlightening story of his journey to Orthodoxy here.

Professor Raboteau

In honor of MLK Day, I will share with you a portion of one of his essays and maybe whet your appetite for seeking out more of his work.

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Martin Luther King Day memorials tend to celebrate King the Civil Rights leader, stressing his activism on behalf of interracial equality and reconciliation. We slight his emphasis on the link between racism and poverty and so neglect King the advocate of the poor. At the time of his assassination King was participating in the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ struggle to achieve a decent wage while simultaneously planning the Poor People’s Campaign. King’s sermons, speeches and writings echo ancient Christian teachings on poverty and wealth, which may still serve as a resource for the contemporary struggle to overcome economic inequality. He was a 20th century exemplar of a very old tradition.

Princeton Historian Peter Brown argues convincingly that “a revolution in the social imagination occurred between 300 and 600 C.E. closely associated with the rise to power of the Christian bishop. For the Christian bishop was held by contemporaries to owe his position in no small part to his role as the guardian of the poor. He was the ‘lover of the poor’ par excellence.” The 4th century bishops, St. Basil of Caesarea, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus elucidated this novel virtue and its centrality to the community life of Christians. In 369 a severe drought followed by famine prompted Basil to preach a sermon on the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-18), the man who decides to tear down his barns and build new ones to hold his surplus grain. “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” Basil elaborates:

“Who, then, is greedy? — The one who does not remain content with self sufficiency. Who is the one who deprives others? The one who hoards what belongs to everyone. Are you not greedy? Are you not one who deprives others? You have received these things for stewardship, and have turned them into your own property! Is not the one who tears off what another is wearing called a clothes-robber? But the one who does not clothe the naked, when he was able to do so — what other name does he deserve? The bread that you hold on to belongs to the hungry; the cloak you keep locked in your storeroom belongs to the naked; the shoe that is moldering in your possession belongs to the person with no shoes; the silver that you have buried belongs to the person in need. You do an injury to as many people as you might have helped with all these things!”

Basil enacted the Christian social vision he preached by establishing a hospice and soup kitchen for the famine victims and later developed a large complex to house the poor, tend the sick, and where the poor who could work were employed or trained in various trades. Around 369, St. Gregory of Nyssa preached on almsgiving: “Do not look down on those who lie at your feet, as if you judged them worthless. Consider who they are, and you will discover their dignity: they have put on the countenance of our Savior; for the one who loves humanity has lent them his own face, so that through it they might shame those who lack compassion and hate the poor.” In a sermon on the Last Judgment scene in Matthew 25:31-46, in which care for the poor is the standard of judgment “for in as much as you did it [or did it not] to the least of these you did it to me.” St. Gregory of Nazianzus warns that we should fear condemnation if we “have not ministered to Christ through those in need … Let us take care of Christ, then, while there is still time: let us visit Christ in his sickness, let us give to Christ to eat, let us clothe Christ in his nakedness, let us do honor to Christ in his needy ones, in those who lie on the ground here before us this day.” .

In 1956, King preached a sermon that echoed Basil’s condemnation of greed: “God never intended for a group of people to live in superfluous, inordinate wealth while others live in abject, deadening poverty. God intends for all of His children to have the basic necessities of life, and He has left in this universe enough and to spare for that purpose. So I call upon you to bridge the gulf between abject poverty and superfluous wealth.” In 1962, King preached, “I see hungry boys and girls in this nation and other nations and think about the fact that we spend more than a million dollars a day storing surplus food. And I say to myself ‘I know where we can store that food free of charge – in the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of people in our nation and in this world who go to bed hungry at night.’”

In 1961, preaching on the same text from Luke as Basil, King linked racism and poverty, “You see this man was foolish because the richer he became materially the poorer he became spiritually…. This man was a fool because he failed to realize his dependence on others… Now this text has a great deal of bearing on our struggle in race relations… For what is white supremacy but the foolish notion that God made a mistake and stamped an eternal stigma of inferiority on a certain race of people; what is white supremacy but the foolishness of believing that one race is good enough to dominate another race?…And there was a final reason why this man was foolish. He failed to realize his dependence on God…because he felt that he was the creator instead of the creature.”

Read other essays at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/albert-raboteau

Alessandro, Requiescat In Pace

John Allen, in a January 13 article, shared this story:

In late December, a 63-year-old homeless man named Alessandro died during a particularly cold night in Rome, on a street near the Vatican. In itself there was nothing unusual about it in that the streets around the Vatican attract a high population of homeless, and every year, a few pass away during the winter cold.

What followed, however, amounts to another index of the “Francis effect.”

Students at the Urban College, a residence for seminarians from the developing world located on the Janiculum Hill across from the Vatican (and next door to the North American College, where seminarians from the United States reside), heard of Alessandro’s death and decided they wanted to do something.

They asked authorities at the university for permission to celebrate a funeral, and the idea landed on the desk of Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Vatican’s missionary department, which oversees the Urban College. Filoni signed on, and the Vatican official responsible for the pope’s personal charitable projects, Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, agreed to celebrate the funeral Mass.

On Friday, Filoni, Krajewski, 200 students, and a score of Alessandro’s homeless friends in and around the Vatican filed into the chapel at the Urban College to mourn his loss.

Krajewski downplayed his presence: “I’m a bishop of the streets,” he said. “It’s normal that I would do this.”

Still, the press by the students at the Urban College to organize a last gesture of tenderness for a man basically forgotten during life is one indication that the “Francis effect” is reaching down into the next generation of priests and future church leaders.

What a witness and challenge this recent Vatican story is to the universal Church, to the local Church, to the parish Church, to me.

I think here of Galatians 2:10, where Paul, seeking hand-clasping confirmation of his Gentile mission from the Apostolic Pillars, Peter, James and John, receives from them only one very specific injunction: “Be mindful of the poor.” “Which,” Paul adds, “is the very thing I was eager to do.” It’s worth noting that shortly after his election as Supreme Pontiff, Francis remarked,

During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paulo and Prefect Emeritus of the Clergy, Card Cláudio Hummes, a really close friend. When things got a bit dangerous, he comforted me. When the votes reached two thirds, the Cardinals began to applaud because a pope had been elected. Card Hummes hugged me and said, ‘Don’t forget the poor!’ That struck me.

The poor, the poor! As I thought about them, I immediately thought about Saint Francis of Assisi, about war, whilst the vote counting went on, until all ballots were counted. Francis was a man of peace, a man who loved and protected creation. In our times, our relationship to Creation is not that good, right?  He was the man who gave us a spirit of peace, a poor man … How much I would like to see a poor Church for the poor.

The Fifth Mark of the Church

This is the trademark of any authentic apostolic mission, of the core mission of the Church, whenever she is being herself. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s the argument that Francis Cardinal George made in his book, The Difference God Makes,

Being “simply Catholic” means starting with the poor. That’s the evangelical touchstone. You take a group that starts with the poor, and then you know that there’s evangelical motivation. There’s no power or anything else, because these people don’t have power. They identify with the poor, and then they say, things have to change for the poor. We have to see that the poor are better served in the name of Christ. The church will follow along, if they know that you’re changing the way that the world looks at the poor.

Every local Church must always, and even daily, undergo a re-formation in its communal and institutional priorities so that “the poor,” especially those close by (the primary definition of neighbor!), feel the warmth, nourishment and encouragement of her maternal and Christ-bearing love. But the poor are not merely detached recipients of a well-off and healthy Church’s ecclesial solicitude. Rather, they are the most treasured members of her Body, as the story of St. Lawrence the Deacon evidences when he declares the poor, the lame, the blind to be not the select beneficiaries of a wealthy Church’s treasures, but to be themselves the “treasure of the Church.”

When I worked at the Mother Teresa’s home for the homeless and dying in D.C., Gift of Peace, one of the residents referred to the house Chapel where we had a daily Mass for the residents, volunteers and sisters as “the Church of the Nobodies.” One of the sisters commented once that St. Matthew might add to that nomenclature, “…and theirs is the kingdom of the heavens…”

Ragged

I’ll give St. James  the final word,

My brothers, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if a man with gold rings on his fingers and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in ragged clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here, please,” while you say to the poor one, “Stand there,” or “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs? Listen, my beloved brothers. Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him? But you dishonored the poor person. Are not the rich oppressing you? And do they themselves not haul you off to court? Is it not they who blaspheme the noble name that was invoked over you? However, if you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law, but falls short in one particular, has become guilty in respect to all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not kill.” Even if you do not commit adultery but kill, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom. For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. — James 2:1-10

“I will give you a new heart…”

About a week ago I asked for your prayers for a seminarian named Joel who had a heart transplant. I thought I would share with you, as a wonderful sequel to yesterday’s post on the Italian priest, a prayerful reflection Joel posted on his Facebook after the surgery.

I want this man as my pastor one day. If, God willing, he is ordained his heart will indeed be uniquely fit to receive the Sacrament of the Heart of Christ.

Hey everybody! Sorry its taken me so long to post a firsthand update, but I’ve been a little busy recovering from my very successful open heart surgery! Doctors told me Sunday evening that they had a donor and that surgery was a go. They rolled me into the o.r. around 5:15 Monday morning and finished surgery around 10 a.m. They brought me out of sedation around 8 or so that night and took the intubation tube out around 11. By the next evening I was doing well enough for them to move me out of icu and to a step down transplant support unit. The doctors have been very pleased with how well the surgery went and how quick and smooth my recovery is coming along.

Its amazing to think that just days after such a major surgery I’m able to be up and about like I am. I still have a few tubes in me that are hindering me and keeping me mostly in bed or sitting in a chair, but those should be coming in the next couple of days. Their going to do a heart biopsy test on Tuesday and if all looks good then I might get released from the hospital on Wednesday or Thursday. I’ll return to Notre Dame Seminary, which is just about 3 miles away from here, to continue recovery from there and slowly get back to “normal” seminary life over the coming weeks.

I am truly very blessed with this great gift and treasure of a new heart. I thank God for His providential care, the donor for his generosity, and all of you for your many prayers and loving support. While the transplant may rightly be seen as a miracle and wonder of grace and medicine, the manifestation of such love, support, and faith is truly the greater miracle of grace and the far more beautiful wonder to behold. God always knows how to take the sufferings and tragedies of our lives and use them to bring about greater goods. To make the best lemonade out of the most rotten lemons, as the proverbial saying goes. The only real tragedy comes when we miss out on, and fail to take advantage of, the blessed opportunity that suffering avails us of because we don’t understand its redemptive value/potential when united with the sufferings of Christ or can’t see beyond the pain and hardship, which is, admittedly, often hard to do. What a beautiful and loving gift it is that He gives us the opportunity to share in His Cross, to suffer and bleed with Christ for the love of God and one another. This, ultimately, is the essence of love, to empty ones’ self entirely as a gift of loving service to another and for their true good. It is the very reason for which God created us in the first place, and the only path to being truly, fully alive!

As I recover, I continue to pray for the sweet repose of the donor of my new heart and the consolation, sanctity, joy, and peace of his family. I continue to remember you all and your intentions in prayer. I also pray that we might all continue to undergo a spiritual change of heart – a much more difficult heart transplant – that we all stand constantly in need of; that Christ, the divine physician, might change our old hearts of stone to new hearts of flesh, that we might have hearts of greater charity and care for one another, for the poor and suffering, for the lowly, outcast, and marginalized, for the orphaned and widowed, for victims of poverty, war, abuse, and exploitation in any way – and even for those annoying people in our regular lives that work our last nerve and we just don’t get along with - that we might grow in our love for the sanctity and dignity of all human life and persons, and finally that the peace of the Sacred Heart of Christ and the Immaculate Heart of Mary may reign eternally in our lives, marriages, families, homes, and communities. Blessed be God!

St. Catherine of Siena “Mystical Exchange of Hearts”

A Priest-Victim

Fr. Fabrizio De Michino, a priest in the Diocese of Naples, Italy, died at the age of 31 after suffered greatly in his last few months. This letter, published on Aleteia’s website on January 9 (here), was sent to Pope Francis shortly before the priest’s death. It offers a very joyful testimony to the Christian meaning of redemptive suffering and a heroic witness to the abiding truth that the greatness of the priest is to be found not just in the unmerited dignity of offering the sacrifice of Christ in the Liturgy, but also in the meritorious dignity of co-offering himself with Christ to the glory of the Heavenly Father for the life of the world.

Priests may never be many, we may never be wise in the eyes of the world, but whatever we priests do must be done through the foolishness of the cross. — Archbishop Fulton Sheen

As you read this letter, please thank God for every priest who has graced your life and pray to God for those priests who daily bear to you Christ’s sacramental mysteries and, in their prayer, bear you up into the mystery of God. Out of respect for Aleteia’s intellectual property rights I will include part of the letter here and link you to their site for the rest at the end.

Holy Father,

In the daily prayers that I offer to God, I do not cease to pray for you and the ministry that the Lord himself has entrusted you with, so that you might always have the strength and joy to proclaim the beautiful news of the Gospel.

My name is Fabrizio De Michino, and I am a young priest of the Archdiocese of Naples. I am 31, and have been a priest for five years. I serve in the Archdiocesan Seminary as an educator in diaconal formation as well as in a parish in Ponticelli, located on the outskirts of Naples. The parish, which recalls the miracle that happened on Esquiline Hill, is named in honor of Our Lady of the Snows, and in 2014 it will celebrate the centenary of the coronation of its wooden statue, which dates back to 1500 – an image that is very dear to all the inhabitants of the parish.

Ponticelli is degraded by poverty and high crime, but every day I truly discover the beauty of the Lord’s goodness on those who trust in him and the Blessed Virgin. Read more click here…