Monthly Archives: October 2015

A saint?

It started late last night when I was listening to the Office of Readings ( for today and was surprised to learn that it was the feast of St. John Paul II.

I must admit that his canonization, from the time I first learned of it, had left me with considerable unease.

I did not dislike this popular Pope. I was neither one of his detractors nor one of his great fans.

My discomfort came from how quickly he was canonized, relative to the usual occurrence in the Catholic Church, and my fear that he was perhaps being pushed through simply because he had been so loved by the people he served.

While it is wonderful that he was so loved, that certainly does not make him or anyone else a saint. It seemed to me that a declaration of sainthood by the Church should be reserved for those whose lives demonstrated an exceptional level of sanctity.

The second reading in the Office was from John Paul II’s homily when he was inaugurated as pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. I found the audio version presented on the website harsh to my ears – I am admittedly critical of both my own and others’ reading – so, as I often do, I decided to record the passage myself.

I find that recording a narrative causes me to enter into its substance more deeply. I am not just reading but trying to interpret, with tone and phrasing, the intended meaning so that the passage might be better understood.

As I did that with this particular excerpt, I found myself becoming strangely emotional, indeed, near tears, toward the latter part of it. The then new Pope prayed of Christ’s “sweet power” and prayed that he might be a servant of that power “that knows no dusk”. (Images of him with advanced Parkinson’s disease flashed through my mind.)

Then, his plea, “Do not be afraid…”

I realized as I read this that I really didn’t know this man. I had rather quickly slipped into an uneasy opinion about his sainthood while knowing very little about him.

How many of his sermons and encyclicals had I read? The answer would shame me.

In the Catholic Church, canonization requires the documentation of at least two miracles attributed to the intercession of the servant of God under consideration. The process for documenting the miracles is very stringent for this purpose. (At times, I have thought this process bordering on ridiculous. On the other hand, it does lead to a confidence that a miracle has truly occurred. Under these guidelines, an occurrence of healing cannot be explained by hysteria or some such.)

I realized as I was reflecting on this man’s life that I didn’t even know what the second miracle was that led to his canonization. (I knew the first one was a healing from Parkinson’s disease.) I just looked it up. Pretty amazing stuff.

Of course, all miracles are from God. And all saints are sinners whom God has saved.

I debated about whether to post this recording and reflection, not wanting to offend my Orthodox friends who don’t recognize the papacy. And not wanting to rouse the ire of any who hold the Pope responsible for the horrible sex scandal among some of our priests.

All of these things are complicated matters for which I have no answers. In the end, I decided to post, in hopes that the words that so moved my heart might move the hearts of others in our common journey toward Christ.

May God be merciful to us all and help us become true servants of His sweet power, the power that indeed, “knows no dusk”.

[Text] From the Homily of St. John Paul II, Pope, for the Inauguration of his Pontificate

Peter came to Rome! What else but obedience to the inspiration received from the Lord could have guided him and brought him to this city, the heart of the Empire? Perhaps the fisherman of Galilee did not want to come here. Perhaps he would have preferred to stay there, on the shores of Lake of Genesareth, with his boat and his nets. Yet guided by the Lord, obedient to his inspiration, he came here!

According to an ancient tradition, Peter tried to leave Rome during Nero’s persecution. However, the Lord intervened and came to meet him. Peter spoke to him and asked. “Quo vadis, Domine?” — “Where are you going, Lord?” And the Lord answered him at once: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” Peter went back to Rome and stayed here until his crucifixion.

Our time calls us, urges us, obliges us, to gaze on the Lord and to immerse ourselves in humble and devout meditation on the mystery of the supreme power of Christ himself.

He who was born of the Virgin Mary, the carpenter’s Son (as he was thought to be), the Son of the living God (as confessed by Peter), came to make us all “a kingdom of priests”.

The Second Vatican Council has reminded us of the mystery of this power and of the fact that Christ’s mission as Priest, Prophet-Teacher and King continues in the Church. Everyone, the whole People of God, shares in this threefold mission. Perhaps in the past the tiara, that triple crown, was placed on the Pope’s head in order to signify by that symbol the Lord’s plan for his Church, namely that all the hierarchical order of Christ’s Church, all “sacred power” exercised in the Church, is nothing other than service, service with a single purpose: to ensure that the whole People of God shares in this threefold mission of Christ and always remains under the power of the Lord; a power that has its source not in the powers of this world, but instead in the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection.

The absolute, and yet sweet and gentle, power of the Lord responds to the whole depths of the human person, to his loftiest aspirations of intellect, will and heart. It does not speak the language of force, but expresses itself in charity and truth.

The new Successor of Peter in the See of Rome today makes a fervent, humble and trusting prayer: Christ, make me become and remain the servant of your unique power, the servant of your sweet power, the servant of your power that knows no dusk. Make me a servant: indeed, the servant of your servants.

Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind.

Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows “that which is in man”. He alone knows it.

So often today, man does not know that which is in him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you, therefore, we beg you with humility and with trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of life eternal.

The free gift

Today has been a sick day for me, one in which I have not been able to do much at all. That is all right, of course. Some days we are called to do nothing but accept.

But in between my episodes of healing slumber, I tried to pray a bit and remember my Beloved who is with me always. I do not do so well at this, I’m afraid, when discomforts dull my senses. I struggle not to complain.

This evening, I read the Scripture of the day (Roman calendar) from my much loved and well-worn Collins Weekday Missal. The first reading, from the 5th chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, was there to greet me.

Often I have found Romans a bit difficult to sift through. But tonight, whether it be God’s grace or the translation, the words sang a new song to me. I heard, as though for the first time, Paul telling the people of the “abundant free gift” which, though undeserved by us, makes us righteous, no matter how much sin is committed.

No matter how much sin. The whole world’s sin. The grace is always greater.

Yes, of course, this is our faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. But I wanted to share it with you. The Good News feels even better when shared.

You may listen, if you wish, to the recording I made for you. (Romans 5:12. 15. 17-21)


A person should desire no other path

St. Teresa of Avila
Though I am late in posting, today (10/15) is the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, one of the great mystics of the Church. Let us share in a bit of her wisdom, the holy wisdom that God gave her to help us…



If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend. And I clearly see that if we expect to please him and receive an abundance of his graces, God desires that these graces must come to us from the hands of Christ, through his most sacred humanity, in which God takes delight.

Many, many times I have perceived this through experience. The Lord has told it to me. I have definitely seen that we must enter by this gate if we wish his Sovereign Majesty to reveal to us great and hidden mysteries. A person should desire no other path, even if he is at the summit of contemplation; on this road he walks safely. All blessings come to us through our Lord. He will teach us, for in beholding his life we find that he is the best example.

What more do we desire from such a good friend at our side? Unlike our friends in the world, he will never abandon us when we are troubled or distressed. Blessed is the one who truly loves him and always keeps him near. Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul: it seems that no other name fell from his lips than that of Jesus, because the name of Jesus was fixed and embedded in his heart. Once I had come to understand this truth, I carefully considered the lives of some of the saints, the great contemplatives, and found that they took no other path: Francis, Anthony of Padua, Bernard, Catherine of Siena. A person must walk along this path in freedom, placing himself in God’s hands. If God should desire to raise us to the position of one who is an intimate and shares his secrets, we ought to accept this gladly.

Whenever we think of Christ we should recall the love that led him to bestow on us so many graces and favours, and also the great love God showed in giving us in Christ a pledge of his love; for love calls for love in return. Let us strive to keep this always before our eyes and to rouse ourselves to love him. For if at some time the Lord should grant us the grace of impressing his love on our hearts, all will become easy for us and we shall accomplish great things quickly and without effort.

The Wrath of God

Wow. Scary title for a blog post, isn’t it? And not one you would expect from me.

But I write, of course, for a reason.

The fire and brimstone preachers preach it. Those who claim universal salvation deny it. And the rest of us cringe.

We cringe, perhaps, because we are afraid of such a wrath. Or perhaps because we do not know how we can reconcile the notion, to ourselves or others, with the all-loving, all-forgiving God we claim to know.

Yet it is pretty hard to deny the reality of this teaching. It is right there in the Bible, even in the New Testament, scribed by those who were witness to the fact that this very same God has died for us. How can this be?

I am no theologian or Biblical scholar. But today I was reminded of a casual conversation I had with someone a couple of months ago, in which the other was normalizing anger on the basis of Jesus getting angry when He upset the money changers’ tables in the Temple.

I had expressed some hesitation at comparing my anger to His anger. I couldn’t quite put it into words but I knew there was a difference.

Today, in a different context, with a different person, the topic rose again. And something came together a bit more in my mind.

When we, in our humanness, speak of “anger” and “wrath”, we are typically referring to deeply felt emotions. They are among the passions with which we struggle and they can easily overtake us, leading us into sinful behavior. It is because of these passions that we are wise to fast and pray, in hopes that we might receive the grace and wisdom to manage these natural but often love-threatening emotions.

Jesus, of course, was fully human and therefore felt all of the same emotions we do. However, I do not believe that Christ’s action with the money changers revealed Him being overtaken by passions, though the behavior might appear outwardly similar.

If Jesus was overcome by His passions, how readily I could then justify my own! “Even Christ got angry with unreasonable people sometimes, so it is normal for me to do so as well.”

What appears similar can be very different – and yet can be difficult to discern in our own lives. Jesus, I believe, was moved by His Spirit to speak Truth, in a commanding and authoritative manner.

He saw what the money changers were doing and the Spirit in Him could not watch and not speak Truth. He could not speak it quietly and calmly, in the same manner He might have said, “Your sins are forgiven” or “Your faith has saved you.”

The Truth is always loving. Sometimes it is a gentle whisper. But sometimes it is bold and strong.

We, as Christians, are given the Spirit of God. What is so difficult for us is to learn to discern when our passions are overtaking us, impelling us to say words or take actions not consistent with the Gospel, versus when the Spirit in us may be calling us to speak Truth.

This is more difficult than we might anticipate, because our emotions are so dear to us and they feel so “right”.

“Of course, God must want me to speak up about this wrong or correct this injustice.”

And our emotions are valuable and not to be quashed without reflection or regard.

However, it may be only some time after a reaction (if at all) that we are able to see how our behavior was, at best, ineffective, or worse, injurious, because it was ego-driven, not Spirit-driven.

Now, informed by our reflection on Jesus, let us return to the “wrath of God”.

I cannot say what the wrath of God is – but I will comment on what it is not. God’s wrath is not anger, the human emotion, the passion with which we struggle. If it were, we have a God who is no better than we are.

It almost seems an unfortunate choice of words to say “wrath”, because what else can our poor human minds conjure up but what we know? Perhaps we think of a father who came at us with the belt or a mother with the switch, screaming at us, out of control while we cowered.

The childhood remnants of “wrath”, in living color.

That is not our God.

Yet what word then can we use for God’s Truth? His Truth is always loving – He cannot not have (or be) a Truth that is inconsistent with Himself.

Whatever that word might be, His Truth cannot accept falsehood or lies. His Love cannot accept hate. His Good cannot accept evil.

His nonacceptance of these things is not a trifling preference. If it were, He would not have become incarnate, been crucified and raised from the dead to free us from them.

His “wrath” and His love are thus not in opposition to one another but work hand-in-hand for our good. There can be no good for us in falsehood, hatred and evil.

(I am well aware that using the word “nonacceptance”, sounds too weak, too soft – for God is the complete antithesis of falsehood, hatred and evil. But I choose this word so as to avoid the suggestion that God is ruled by the very emotions that plague His creatures.)

What does this “wrath of God” mean for the end times?

I have no idea. How could I, still ruled by the passions as I am, conceive of what this God of “loving wrath” will do in response to His creatures, each uniquely knowing (or not knowing), loving (or not loving), understanding (or not understanding) Him with varying degrees of capability and culpability?

Yet even though I do not know, I am not afraid. How could I be?

He has died to set me free from my very self. He has come to live within my heart. Whatever the “loving wrath” is, I long for it – because it is Him.

And He is my joy.

Evening prayer

I did something foolish on the way home from work today.

Actually, I did it twice.

But it almost seemed as though it would be more foolish, more risky not to do it. And so I did it.

As I often do, I was praying Evening Prayer (listening to the app on my phone, from I find it a peaceful way to prayerfully transition from work into the rest of my evening.

As I was listening to the psalms, these words particularly resounded in my soul:

“Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.”

Naturally, I have heard this antiphon from Psalm 124 many times before. But what occurred tonight was most astounding. For as I was gazing through my windshield, this was the heaven and earth that I saw:

evening prayer 4

The One who is my Help, the One who has enabled us to escape “the snare of the fowler” – He created all of this and more.

The antiphon kept repeating. I looked to my left.

evening prayer 5

Camera was not with me, being at home, asleep in his bag. But my cell phone has a camera…

I kept exhorting myself to pay attention to the road and the traffic.

“Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.”

I kept hearing the words and seeing their reality displayed before me. I wasn’t paying attention. I had to pull over.

So I paused the audio play of Evening Prayer on my phone, while my heart continued sing it. And my phone received these images.

Kind of foolish perhaps, to pull over onto the shoulder of a busy freeway to receive images of a sky set afire by the setting sun. But it might have been more foolish not to.

Considering this call to beauty complete, I reset the audio Evening Prayer, moving it back a little to hear the words that I had missed while parking. I pulled back into traffic…

“Praised be the God and Father

of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who has bestowed on us in Christ

every spiritual blessing in the heavens…”

(Ephesians 1: 3)

As I rounded the bend, trading one freeway for another, there was even more. It seemed I was being shown these spiritual blessings in the heavens. I don’t think I need to tell you what I did next…

evening prayer 2

“God has given us the wisdom

to understand fully the mystery,

the plan he was pleased

to decree in Christ,

A plan to be carried out

in Christ, in the fullness of time,

to bring all things into one in him,

in the heavens and on earth.”

(Ephesians 1: 8-10)

evening prayer 1

evening prayer 6

As Evening Prayer moved into the Responsory, my heart dropped and it was all I could do not to cry.

“Lord, you alone can heal me, for I have grieved you by my sins.

Once more I say: O Lord, have mercy on me,

for I have grieved you by my sins.”

The thought that my sins grieved the Lord God of heaven and earth seemed almost too much to bear.

But along with the compassion of the darkening sky, the antiphon for Canticle of Mary soothed me again:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord

for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”

I am certainly a much lowlier servant than her. And He has looked with favor on me. Not because I have earned it or done anything righteousness. Most certainly not.

I was simply driving home and His light and beauty and grace shown upon me.

Despite my sins.

Maybe even because of them.

How often, in our shame, we forget how very much God loves us, even in our sin, showering us with graces and inspirations and opportunities to find our way back to Him.

He knows how much we need Him. He never forgets us.

All praise to Him.


The little way

Over the last few weeks, my soul has been guided by one of the best spiritual teachers not on earth.

And today, we celebrate her feast day in the western Church.

St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, known to many as “the Little Flower”, has been embraced by many people the world over since her canonization in 1925.

Many things make her story captivating. She entered a small, austere religious community at age 15, having traveled to meet the Pope to seek his permission the year before because of her youth. She lived an obscure life, seeking no attention for herself, dying of tuberculosis at age 24. In addition to her great physical suffering, she experienced extensive periods of spiritual aridity that she bore with peace, even joy.

We know of her and her “little way” to holiness only because she was ordered to write before she died – and she did so out of obedience. (O blessed obedience!)

As I began re-reading her autobiography in these recent weeks, I came to realize that I did not understand – or remember – what her little way really was. It sounds so simple that one can easily comprehend the meaning of the words. But to consistently live them is something else altogether.

I will allow her to explain:

St. Thérèse described the way of “spiritual childhood”, acknowledging that “I am but a weak and helpless child.” But as a child, she did not fret over her weaknesses but rather instructed, “let us in all humility take our place among the imperfect, and look upon ourselves as little souls who at every instant need to be upheld by the goodness of God.”

Thus, as a spiritual child, she knew she was going to stumble and be imperfect. And she had complete trust that she was loved by her Father. Yet there is more…

She wanted to show her love for her Divine Spouse but knew that she was not capable of great acts.

“But how shall I show my love, since love proves itself by deeds? Well! The little child will strew flowers . . . she will embrace the Divine Throne with their fragrance, she will sing Love’s Canticle in silvery tones. Yes, my Beloved, it is thus my short life shall be spent in Thy sight. The only way I have of proving my love is to strew flowers before Thee—that is to say, I will let no tiny sacrifice pass, no look, no word. I wish to profit by the smallest actions, and to do them for Love. I wish to suffer for Love’s sake, and for Love’s sake even to rejoice: thus shall I strew flowers. Not one shall I find without scattering its petals before Thee . . . and I will sing . . . I will sing always, even if my roses must be gathered from amidst thorns; and the longer and sharper the thorns, the sweeter shall be my song.” (emphasis mine).

As she tells of her life in the convent, she explains how she volunteered to assist the most difficult of elderly nuns so that she can smile sweetly when criticized. When falsely accused of some misdeed, she quietly accepted it. Irritated by another’s restless noise at prayer, she offered acceptance of this as a gift to her Beloved.

She also refused to indulge her small but powerful desires, e.g. to seek the attention of a superior or one of her sisters who was also in the community.

She practiced her little way day in and day out, with each little discomfort, inconvenience and sacrifice born out of love for the Savior, until “I have reached a point where I can no longer suffer, because all suffering is become so sweet.”

I have often been puzzled by some of the great saints of both Catholic and Orthodox traditions who not only patiently endure the suffering given them but actually seem to crave suffering or to take action to bring themselves more.

Is there not enough suffering that comes naturally with being human that we have to create more? Does not God want us to enjoy the beauty of the life He has given us? Does He really want us to damage our bodies with rigorous asceticism?

I am most certainly not holy enough to understand the graces given to these great saints. For surely this manner in which they enter into suffering is a grace, as peculiar as it may seem to many of us.

I can say this with some certainty because of this holy guide who has been teaching me these past few weeks with her little way.

If my heart is to be united to the heart of Christ, how could it not suffer? The love of the Savior is not a love of comfortable and sentimental emotion. It is a love that sacrifices, that suffers, that gives all.

My own small self (yes, I am learning just how small I am) cannot love like that. I am too weak and selfish. But perhaps He will help me empty my heart of self through these little acts, done out of love.

I am only capable of small suffering. I know this about myself – and then, only with His help.

Yet, if I persist in the little way of my teacher, my heart will become empty, making room that my Beloved might come and dwell there. From my small heart, He can thus bring the fullness of His love to my little corner of the world.

Is there anything more beautiful I could hope to do with my life?


Quotes in this post were taken from The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St.Thérèse of Lisieux With Additional Writings and Sayings of St. Thérèse. The Kindle version of this book is available for free through Amazon (here).


Also, see companion piece at for photo reflections. Blessings.