St. Alphonsus Liguori: Doctor Most Zealous

Founding an influential religious order, championing devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, the Blessed Mother, and the Sacred Heart, and mastering Catholic Moral Theology: these are but a few of the achievements that make the life and ministry of St. Alphonsus Liguori a true gift to the Church, both for his time and ours. St. Alphonsus was born on September 27, 1696, and died two hundred and twenty five years ago today, August 1, in 1787. In the intervening years, his life was spent as a prolific spiritual writer, a renowned philosopher and theologian of the Scholastic tradition, a zealous pastor, and a man of deep personal holiness and prayer.

Born to a wealthy Neapolitan family, St. Alphonsus’s brilliant mind earned him degrees in both canon and civil law by the age of sixteen. To the satisfaction of his affluent family, he practiced law as a respected lawyer until the age of twenty seven, when he suffered a disappointing loss in court. His disappointment prompted him to seek the meaning he longed elsewhere, and so he entered the seminary and after three years of formation was ordained a priest at the age of thirty. [Read more…]

Mercy Transformed into Mission

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On the Feast of Mary Magdalene – July 22

“Love the sinner, hate the sin.” The famous catchphrase first appeared in the letters of St. Augustine, when he wrote, “With love for humanity and hatred of sins.” It was later included in the autobiography of Mohandas Gandhi as “Hate the sin and not the sinner.” But I can’t think of any figure who better exemplifies the essence of this phrase than Mary Magdalene, whose feast we celebrate today.

What can we learn from the life of Mary Magdalene? The Gospels reveal a woman marked by a past of “demons” who encountered the forgiveness of Jesus and was forever changed. For Mary Magdalene, Jesus changed everything. His healing power in her life meant that she could no longer remain who she was, she was transformed: she became new in the love of Jesus. Set free of the seven demons that had possessed her – whatever their nature – she pursued a path of loving devotion, of closely following Jesus, of being part of the community of disciples, of putting Christ before all things, and of moving forward in the mercy he brought her.

What does this mean for us? I think we all know how easy it can be to become discouraged, disappointed, ashamed, and despairing, mired in the guilt, anger, regret, and frustration produced by our own faults and the faults those around us. We spin a cocoon of negative emotion that paralyzes us in our own selves. But Mary Magdalene shows us that there is something greater than our sinfulness, our shortcomings and the strife they cause; rather, that there is some One greater.

Mary Magdalene could have fixated on her demons – whether they were bad choices she’d made or misfortunes she’d experienced through no fault of her own. Instead, she reached out to Jesus and allowed herself to be made new. She allowed his love to be more powerful than her sins, and her demons gave way to discipleship. For the Christian, this life-changing encounter with the merciful love of God through Jesus Christ is not just a one-time experience but a constant renewal brought about by the transformative power of Christ at work in our lives. This love is offered to us each day of our lives, especially when we fail, fall, and flounder. Do we receive it? Do we accept it? Are we open to it? Do we allow it to renew us and urge us on? Does it leave us forever changed?

Mary Magdalene had not one demon but seven. Her story is relevant for us no matter what our demons may be. She was a sinner but more than that, she was loved. She allowed her life to become a response of love to the one who loved her first. Weeping she would remain with him at the foot of the the Cross, despairing as he hung dying for the world. “While it was still dark” on that Easter morning, burdened with tears and spices for burial she would venture early to his empty tomb, astonished to encounter him anew and sent forth to exclaim: “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18) The Mercy she encountered sends her forth on mission, not caught up in her own past but urged on by the love of her Lord: transformed to share his transformative love with all the world.

Evangelizing our Elizabeths, Propelled to the Peripheries

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“In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’” (Lk. 1:39-45)

The story of the Visitation, celebrated each year on May 31st, presents us with awesome insight into the life and mission of the Christian. Mary, having received in her womb the mystery of the Word made flesh, does not contain this incredible mystery, she does not withdraw for nine months of quiet solitude and private contemplation — rather she sets off “with haste,” propelled by the Holy Spirit to radiate the reality of Jesus present in our midst! Her encounter with God leads her to encounter with others, so that everyone may experience the joy of knowing God in Jesus Christ. The Visitation springs forth as Mary’s response to receiving Jesus in the Incarnation: it is a response that calls her outwards, to the outskirts, to the hill country, to bear “good news” and go out in joyful love and service.

Mary and ElizabethThis is the essence of evangelization: being transformed so that God can use us to transform others. It means sharing the Gospel — “good news” — with those around us, and especially those most in need. Like Mary, our experience of Jesus cannot be lived in isolation, it must overflow and be contagious! Our relationship with God is meant to be lived joyfully in the concrete circumstances of our daily lives and everyday encounters.

In the days prior to the conclave in which he was elected pope, Pope Francis — then Cardinal Bergoglio — spoke the following words about the nature of evangelization:

“Evangelizing pre-supposes a desire in the Church to come out of herself. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.”

This desire is not just for the “Church” in some vague or general sense, but for all of us! We are called to have this desire to come out of ourselves, go to the peripheries and follow the spectacular example Pope Francis has given us since speaking these powerful words. As we celebrate the Visitation, let us ask ourselves: What are the peripheries and hill countries in our own lives? Who are our Elizabeths and what are we doing to bring them the joy of Jesus and his Good News? Our family, relatives, and friends certainly; but also the strangers sit beside on the subway, the panhandler asking for change on the street, the annoying neighbour, the difficult coworker. All of these are the Elizabeths of our day, what are we doing to bring them the joy we have encountered in Christ?

As the Church marks this great moment in the lives of Jesus, Mary, and Elizabeth, may our fears, reticence, and desire for convenience depart, and may we instead embark on a mission of living our Christian joy contagiously. We know that it is the Lord who inspires us to this mission, who accompanies us always, and who will lead us where we are to go. And so today may we too “set out and go with haste” to the hill countries, to bring Christ, to bring the Good News of the Gospel, to live it with joy. In short, may we evangelize.

(Texts courtesy of Oremus Bible Browser and Vatican Radio; Photos courtesy of life.remixed and capfrans.blogspot)

The Adventures of an Intern: From Salt + Light to Peace and Security

Security Council

At the end of September, I reached the end of my second summer working at Salt + Light.  It had been another enriching and exciting several months spent with wonderful, warm, and dedicated people in a close-knit and faith-filled working environment.  But this time, instead of heading back to McGill University to continue my studies, the end of my time at Salt + Light was the beginning of a journey southbound, the start of something new, something exciting: an adventure.  Thanks to the kindness and generosity of Fr. Tom Rosica, our CEO, I was off to New York to serve as an intern with the diplomatic mission of the Holy See to the United Nations!

Two months into the internship, it’s still as exciting as it sounds!  Living in New York, working at the UN, and serving the Church in such a unique way, each day brings fresh excitement and a new reason to be thankful and rejoice.

Path to Peace Interns 1There are seven interns in total: two from Canada, two from the United States, and one each from Spain, Kenya, and Syria.  They’re all wonderful and gifted people and it’s been a blessing to experience these months together.  (Pictured left are the seven of us with our boss, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, and his predecessor Cardinal Renato Martino, who established the internship program together with Fr. Rosica.  I, Julian, am second from the left, next to Guy-Anthony Gagliano, the other Canadian intern, whose grandfather founded Salt + Light.)

Each of the interns is assigned to a different committee or council of the UN, follows the meetings of that body, and writes daily reports on their proceedings.  My assignment is to the Security Council (pictured at right), which is the body entrusted with the maintenance of international peace and security on behalf of the nations of the world.  Thus, the matters addressed by the Council cover a wide range of peace and security issues, which range from eliminating chemical weapons in Syria to fighting piracy off the Somali coast to resolving the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. SC Floor As the most powerful organ of the UN system, the Council generates a high degree of interest and draws an impressive array of guests.  This past week alone, the it heard briefings from the Prime Ministers of Serbia and Kosovo, and one of its committees was addressed by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the importance of fighting religious extremism through education.  Needless to say, it’s an incredible place to be and work and every day brings the urge to pinch oneself to make sure you’re not dreaming.  To put it one way, it’s UN-believable!

Our day begins at 9:00 in the chapel of the Holy See Mission, where the entire staff gathers to pray Midmorning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. From there, we have a morning meeting to review the UN Journal of the day’s meetings and events before heading to UN headquarters for the first sessions of the day, which begin at 10:00.  Between morning and afternoon meetings, we all return to the Holy See Mission to come together and share a meal.  Together with Midmorning Prayer, this is a crucial mainstay to remaining united as a community of disciples at the service of the Church.

In the same vein, during the course of our internship, we live together at Ss Peter and Paul, a vibrant and active parish in Hoboken, New Jersey—right across the river from Manhattan.  The view is spectacular and the experience of living in community is superb!

In a setting as secular but significant as the UN, how essential it is to remain focused on our true mission of serving the Lord.  Living the call to discipleship in the midst of all the prestige, power, and politics, but also the crises, the suffering, the tragedy and injustice.  In a place where debate too often outweighs decisive action, we are present not to be swept up in political division and partisan vitriol but to be a leaven: to bring hope, to see with faith, and to plant seeds of unity and peace.

Amid such a formative and exciting experience, I want to express my profound gratitude to Fr. Rosica, without whom none of this would have come about or been possible.  His strong support has been a great gift to so many young people, and I consider myself blessed to be among them.

Until next time, peace and blessings from the Big Apple! The adventure continues!

Julian Paparella is a third-year Biology student at McGill University in Montreal. He has worked as a production intern at Salt + Light for the past two summers, and is currently interning with the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York City.

Francis to Assisi! – September 17, 2013

Tonight on Perspectives: Catholic leaders pray for victims in the wake of yesterday’s Navy Yard shooting; looking ahead to the CCCB Plenary; a Canadian bishop is recognized for his outstanding pastoral leadership; and the Vatican has released the official program of Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to Assisi. Take a look!

War is always a defeat for humanity! – Sept. 9, 2013

Tonight on Perspectives: vigils of prayer in Rome and across the globe for peace in Syria; the conditions for following Christ; and Salt and Light’s brand new synod documentary is set to premiere!

Make us instruments of the peace we seek…

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Today, people around the world are responding to the call of Pope Francis and uniting in the cause for peace through fasting and prayer. We do so with the hope that these offerings may place us in solidarity with those who suffer the tragedies of violence and aggression, especially in Syria. We do so in order to contribute to bringing about a just and harmonious peace across nations, cultures, and differences in a world that too often cares only for division and resorts to brutality as a viable option.

Let us therefore dare to go about the cause of peace. Let us do so simply, in our own place, in our own neighbourhoods, beginning with those around us; that the ripples of our love and fraternity for one another may radiate outwards and extend to the whole human family, uniting us in bonds of cooperation, dialogue, compassion, and understanding. The goal of peace may seem lofty, but it is within our grasp. We ourselves are capable of bringing about a change for the better, towards a more peaceful tomorrow and a more peaceful today. In the words of Mother Teresa, “Peace begins with a smile”–it begins with you and me. 

As we commemorate this day called for by our Holy Father, Francis, let us take to heart the words of the great Francis, that we also may be instruments of the peace we seek:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Amen.

For events taking place in your region, visit your diocesan website or contact your local parish. Let us unite in the cause for peace! It begins with you and me.

On the feast of St. Gregory the Great

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Pope Gregory the Great

Few popes in the Church’s history have had as great of an influence on the shaping of the Church as Pope Gregory. Born into a wealthy patrician family in Rome around 540, Gregory rose to prominence within the Roman government. Highly regarded by many as a distinguished speaker and writer, he established himself as a person well versed in imperial law and the subjects of the day.

However, after a period of deep prayer, Gregory discerned the call to the monastic life. Shaped by the faith of his family and the witness of his father who converted his many properties into monasteries, Gregory had a profound love for the Scriptures and a desire to live the Gospel virtues. By entering into the contemplative life, he sought to live a life of simplicity and strict penance.

Despite his desire to live the monastic life, Pope Pelagius II ordained Gregory as one of the seven deacons of Rome. The city of Rome at the time, and much of the Italian peninsula, was threatened by the invasion of the Lombards and the people suffered from the constant threat of disease. GregoryNo longer the seat of a great empire, Rome now stood in the shadow of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Hoping to win the aid of the Emperor of Constantinople, Pelagius sent Gregory there as an ambassador. The Byzantine Empire, however, had other matters to attend to, with threats of invasion in their own lands. Realizing the emperor’s lack of interest in safeguarding the Italian peninsula, Gregory devoted the remainder of his time in Constantinople to nurturing the faith of many women and men and engaging in dialogue with the Patriarch of Constantinople.

Gregory returned to Rome in 585 and returned to his monastery. However, his time in the monastery would not last long. Immediately following the death of Pope Pelagius II, Gregory was elected to the Chair of Peter in 590. After much protestation and avoidance, Gregory was consecrated Bishop of Rome in St. Peter’s Basilica on 3 September, 590.

As pope, Gregory would leave his mark upon the Church and become known by many as one of the last of the Fathers of the Church. Gregory was an outstanding pastor, dedicating his ministry to the good of the people and ensuring the nourishment of both their bodies and souls. Under Gregory’s papacy, the Bishop of Rome would become a prominent figure both spiritually and politically.

Perhaps the greatest of Gregory’s achievements as pope, and one in which we find inspiration today, was his missionary zeal. He sent St. Augustine of Canterbury, an abbot of his former monastery, to preach the faith in England. Augustine’s mission to England was so successful that it led to the later conversion of Northern Europe to Christianity.

Gregory’s passion for evangelization is reflected in the immense record of his writings. Author of hundreds of letters, commentaries and sermons, Gregory is most well known for his Rule for Pastors. In it, Gregory challenges bishops and priests to live the Gospel virtues faithfully and humbly and to passionately care for the spiritual well-being of the faithful. Gregory lived what he preached. He tirelessly served the women and men entrusted to his care and loved them deeply. His life and preaching exemplified the Gospel. Thousands came to hear him preach and he invigorated a renewal within the Church. Upon his death, people called for his immediate canonization.

For those of us entrusted with the New Evangelization, Gregory serves as an example for living and proclaiming the Gospel. Aside from his simplicity of life and extraordinary teaching, Gregory not only preached the Gospel in word but also in deed. He devoted his life and the work of the Church to heal the wounded, serve the poor and feed the hungry. It is for these things that generations of women and men acclaim him Pope Gregory the Great.

This reflection comes to us from Don Beyers, Marketing Manager for English Books & Resources at Novalis Publishing.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux: Mellifluous Monasticism

Bernard

Memorial: August 20

Considered the last of the Fathers of the Church, St. Bernard of Clairvaux has been celebrated for centuries as a man of great intellect and greater holiness. As is evident in his prolific writings, Bernard was one for whom the Word of God impregnated every aspect of the human experience. He knew the Bible by heart and was said to speak and write scripturally.

Relying solely on the pages of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Early Church Fathers in the development of his theology, Bernard rejected philosophical traditions that detracted from the integrity of the faith, and dismissed those who sought knowledge for the sake of curiosity, personal profit, or their own renown. In his seminal collection of sermons on the Song of Songs, he stated: “There are also those who seek knowledge in order to edify, and this is charity. And there are those who seek knowledge in order to be edified, and this is prudence.”

Bernard’s theology was mirrored in his spirituality, which was grounded in his love of scripture and his special devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He was a champion of Lectio Divina, and a leading figure in the explosion of Marian devotion that dominated Catholic piety in the twelfth century. For Bernard, life was a radical experience with the love of God; his was a life of fraternity, asceticism, and a daily encounter with the humanity of Christ—love for whom he credited as the first step to genuine prayer.

Born in 1090 to a Burgundian family of great wealth and prestige, in 1113, he entered the premier Cistercian monastery at Cîteaux accompanied by thirty noblemen he had convinced to join him. His life’s work would be the renewal of the Cistercian order and monastic life in general, in addition to the refinement of Marian devotion and theology. Within three years of his arrival at Cîteaux, he was sent to establish a Cistercian house at Vallée d’Absinthe, which as abbot he renamed Claire Vallée, or Clairvaux. From Clairvaux, the “Valley of Lights,” he would reignite the vigor and vibrancy of Western monasticism, and return it to its roots through strict adherence to the austere Rule of St. Benedict. After overcoming its initial growing pains, under Bernard’s guidance the abbey would attract a flurry of postulants, including the saint’s widower father and five brothers.

Before long three more Cistercian monasteries would spring up to accommodate the overflow of vocations flocking to Clairvaux. All in all, Bernard’s work resulted in the foundation of 163 Cistercian monasteries across Europe. At the time of his death on this day in 1153, Clarivaux boasted 700 religious and 363 monasteries attributed their establishment to his influence. The adept abbot was known for his affection for his brother monks, and his reintegration of manual labour into the daily life of the monk, following the model and motto of St. Benedict: Ora et labora, “work and prayer.”

In addition to his pastoral duties as abbot, Bernard played an key role in the suppression of numerous heresies that arose in his day, and was charged with preaching the Second Crusade, which under his spiritual direction was wildly successful in attracting recruits: common-folk and nobility alike. In his day, he was among the most influential figures in all of Christendom, admired as the “conscience of all Europe.” He secured the election of Pope Innocent II over the antipope Analectus III, and in 1145 his disciple and confrere, Bernardo of Pisa, became Eugenius III. The example and influence of St. Bernard’s austerity revolutionized the practice of Western monasticism, and prompted Pope Alexander III’s formulation of the Code of Canon Law. His canonization in 1174 made him the first Cistercian monk to be raised to the glory of the altar, and his eloquence as a preacher gained him the title Doctor Mellifluus, which means “Honey-Sweet(-voiced) Doctor.” For ages untold, the great abbot of Clairvaux will be extolled for what Pius XII termed the “brilliance of [his] doctrine and splendor of [his] holiness” (Doctor Mellifluus 2).

May we look to his life as an example of the beauty of our faith and the simplicity with which we are to live it out. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, today and always, pray for us!

An excerpt from Sermon 83 of St. Bernard’s Sermons on the Song of Songs

“Love is sufficient of itself; it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. It is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in its practice. I love because I love; I love that I may love. Love is a great thing so long as it continually returns to its fountainhead, flows back to its source, always drawing from there the water which constantly replenishes it. Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of his love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love him are made happy by their love of him.
The Bridegroom’s love, or rather the love which is the Bridegroom, asks in return nothing but faithful love. Let the beloved, then, love in return.”

Memorare of St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, and sought thy intercession was left unaided.
Inspired with this confidence,
I fly unto thee O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother, to thee I come, before thee I stand sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate! Despise not my petitions, but, in thy mercy, hear and answer me.
Amen.

A papal passion for soccer! – August 13, 2013

 

Tonight on Perspectives: the papal passion for soccer, Pope Francis discusses the meaning of life, S+L pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and the Annual Mass for the Faithful Departed. Check it out!