Friday, July 26, 2013

Devotion for today:…faith is open to the “We” of the Church

Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Wadowice, birthplace of Karol Wojtyla (the building on the right is where he was born)

Ephesians 4:4-5: There is one body and one Spirit… one faith

 It is impossible to believe on our own. Faith is not simply an individual decision which takes place in the depths of the believer’s heart, nor a completely private relationship between the "I" of the believer and the divine "Thou", between an autonomous subject and God. By its very nature, faith is open to the "We" of the Church; it always takes place within her communion (Lumen Fidei).

The question of truth is really a question of memory, deep memory, for it deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness. It is a question about the origin of all that is, in whose light we can glimpse the goal and thus the meaning of our common path (Lumen Fidei)

There is great power in unity. We see it in the coverage of World Youth Day this week, and I saw it on my pilgrimage. Everyday life keeps us quite divisive these days; we mingle with people who verbally oppose our faith and our belief in God and in His Church. This is not the era of support for Catholics. Christian Persecution takes place daily yet is rarely covered in the secular media. Tremendous faith events are occurring in societies around the world, yet the gag order on the media limits the coverage of these events. We need ways to remember that our faith is something that is shared with our brothers and sisters around the world. It is not a private “God and me” affair.

 In the encyclical begun by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and completed by Pope Francis I, cited above, we are reminded that we need communion with our fellow Catholics. We need to seek ways to be reminded of the faith of our fathers, the faith of the persecuted, and the faith of the Church today, which, by the way, is alive and well. That is what a pilgrimage does for you. It unites you with your fellow faith- travelers, and it places you in environments filled with believers unabashedly and joyfully professing their love and devotion to Jesus and His mother.

I experienced this in a profound way in Poland. The history of the country is just plain sad; it has been conquered, partitioned, occupied, and for a good while did not even exist. Yet the faith of the people remained strong. It was their national identity, and the force that kept them going.

 When John Paul II returned to Poland in 1979, this time as Pope, he addressed this plight of his people. George Weigel, in his book Witness to Hope, tells us:

Then he addressed his beloved brothers and sisters, his dear fellow countrymen, whom he greeted on this special day “with the same words I used on October 16 last year (when he became pope) to greet those present in St. Peter’s Square: Praised be Jesus Christ!” That was how he had learned to greet fellow Poles during his life among them, and that was how he came to them now. Poland had been denied its history and culture by five years of Nazi occupation and thirty-three years of communist hegemony. Now he, a son of Poland, would give people back what was their s by birthright.”

The Polish people’s love for John Paul II is an inspiration in itself. Nowhere have I ever seen so many statues, images, paintings and photographs of a religious figure. Parks, public places, churches and shrines all display a reminder of Poland’s favorite son. This is expressed so beautifully in the town of Wadowice, where John Paul II was born and spent his early years. He stated upon his return to this town in 1999:

Once again, during my service to the universal Church in the See of Saint Peter, I come to my native town of Wadowice. With great emotion I gaze upon this city of my childhood years, which witnessed my first steps, my first words…. The city of my childhood, my family home, the church of my Baptism . . . I wish to cross these hospitable thresholds, bow before my native soil and its inhabitants, and utter the words of greeting given to family members upon on their return from a long journey: "Praised be Jesus Christ!" (Homily of His Holiness John Paul II, Wadowice, Wednesday, 16 June 1999)

 We were able to see the house at 7 Koscielna Street where John Paul II was born and raised in a second story apartment. Most thrilling was our visit to the Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary where he was baptized, confirmed, served as altar boy and prayed daily before the miraculous picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Hope. The left aisle contains the baptismal font where baby Karol Wojtyla was baptized; we were able to celebrate Mass in a beautiful side altar in the right aisle. In the town, we walked his streets and even sampled the delicious cream cakes he enjoyed after successfully completely his exams!  In this small town the faithful joyfully attend Mass, visit the Blessed Sacrament, and support each other in their faith. I felt I had stepped into a tiny part of heaven.

We need each other in order to experience the joy of our faith. We need to seek Catholics alive and on fire with their faith to remember that it is the only aspect of our lives that will be with us through the hardships and trials we face today. We cannot be immersed in secular concerns and find God. We must seek Him in each other, unite with each other and become strong people of faith, as the people of Poland did in the many times of their distress and persecution.

Christ lives in each of us, and He planned it so that each of us will make Him alive in the world. As John Paul II said on his first visit to Poland after becoming Pope: …so…I beg you: never lose your trust, do not be defeated, do not be discouraged…I beg you: have trust, and… and always seek spiritual power from Him from whom countless generations of our fathers and mothers have found it. Never detach yourselves from Him. Never lose your spiritual freedom… Never disdain charity, which is “the greatest of these” and which shows itself through the Cross….(Witness to Hope, George Weigel, HarperCollins Books, 1999).

The best way to never lose spiritual freedom is to see it in practice. The people of Poland taught me a great lesson… “Faith takes place…in the communion of the Church.”

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Devotion for today: A pilgrim is first of all sought…

Our Lady of Czestochowa

John 15:16: It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you…

The following is an excerpt from the book The Redeemer’s Call to Consecrated Souls, a beautiful collection of messages given by Jesus to a French nun in the 1930’s (Logos Institute Press).  Jesus is the speaker, so read this very slowly and let His words sink into your soul:

“Where” and “when” do you seek Me? Must this not be “everywhere” and “always”? In truth, do I not reside “in all places” through the unchanging Eternity of My acts of Love?

And what is it to you, this “everywhere and always” if not:

“the now of each instant”
“the dwelling place of the present moment.”

For keep this in mind: I am only present in the present moment, in this “active” presence that is given life by love – in the loving  present that is “My Will incarnate in your duties at this very moment, right where you are.” Physically you are bound to be there, but are you there in spirit, with your heart, your will, your soul?

Still another question to stir the fervor of your searching:

 Do you think, do you believe that it is “Me,” My own Heart that makes the first overtures?
That the main seeker is Me?
The One who searches for, who pursues your souls?
That you would not be seeking Me if I Myself were not first seeking you?

That each one of you has been insatiably searched for, insatiably pursued in this present time?

Ask Mary to make you understand that being among Love’s chosen ones, you are by that very token “pursued,” and moreover, you are all the more pursued the more completely you have given yourselves up to Love.

“Mutual searching, mutual pursuit, precondition for transforming encounter.”

And see in my “appeal” an evident touching expression of my Heart’s merciful searching. Meditate on it in this light, that you may live it in the fire of this vast divine Charity.

I read this passage in my book today while I was in church awaiting the start of daily Mass. Suddenly, deep in my soul, the entire nature of my pilgrimage changed. I went seeking Jesus, yet He lives in the present moment of my everyday life, every moment He is there, reaching down with His hands, asking me to put my hands in His, every moment of my life! He is insatiably pursuing me!!! What a though! This passage takes my breath away.

As I traveled in Poland, I felt the need to step out of my life for awhile and step into God’s, much like Jesus fled to the hills for times of quiet prayer. I saw Him in the many, many churches we visited and felt His presence in the holiness of His sacred countenance in the grace-filled image of Divine Mercy and the unspeakable beauty of His Mother’s face in Czestochowa.  I sought Him in the mountains of Zakapane and in the city streets of Warsaw, and I found Him. I found Him and I loved Him and I never wanted to leave His arms again.

 And yet, it was actually Jesus who was pursuing me, calling me out of myself and into Him.  “That you would not be seeking Me if I Myself were not first seeking you?” Do we really realize what Jesus is saying to us here? He wants every single moment of our lives to be spent with Him. If we are home caring for a child or working in an office or confined to bed, He says our wills must be united to His. We are all guilty of being physically in the moment but mentally elsewhere, not fully in tune with why God is asking this of us at this moment, and yet He says we must always be in tune with Him. Of course! How could we ever sin if we were, in every second of our lives, in tune with the presence of God?  Insatiably searched for, insatiably pursued in the present time…. Has anyone ever loved us this much? Insatiably?

 Let us spend much time in prayer to Our Lady today, as Jesus requests, to help us to more fully understand that we are God’s chosen ones, that He is pursuing us, and that the more we are willing to give ourselves completely to Him, the more we can expect a “transforming encounter” with Love. Study the picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa and note – Mary is pointing us toward her Son, always and forever, asking us to go to her Son, and to do whatever He tells us.


HOLY MOTHER of Czestochowa, Thou art full of grace,
goodness and mercy. I consecrate to Thee all my thoughts,
words and actions----my soul and body. I beseech Thy
blessings and especially prayers for my salvation.
Today, I consecrate myself to Thee, Good Mother, totally
 ----with body and soul amid joy and sufferings to obtain
for myself and others Thy blessings on this earth and
eternal life in Heaven. Amen.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Devotion for today: Seek the Lord: thoughts at large on a pilgrimage

Isaiah 55:6-13:  Seek the Lord while he may be found;

Hebrews 11:1, 6: Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see. …but without faith, it is impossible to please Him. Anyone who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who seek him.

I have just returned from making a pilgrimage to Poland, and will spend several days sharing my experiences with you. It is with great joy that I do this, for I found Christ in so many places, in so many varied and unexpected ways. I found an opportunity to hear God by retreating from my world and into the world of other people – all seekers, all fellow sojourners on this pilgrimage called life.  God is alive and vibrant in the world today, much to the contrary belief propagated by the current media. We just have to seek the Lord where He may be found… step out in faith, convinced that God will reveal Himself to those who seek Him.

What exactly is a pilgrimage? How does it differ from a tour or simply from a vacation? The best explanation I have found is in the guide book each of us received prior to our departure for our pilgrimage to Poland. It reads:

 “A pilgrimage differs from a tour in several important ways. It is a personal invitation from God, comprised of His offer and dependent upon the pilgrim’s acceptance. God’s call may vary but the purpose remains consistent – it is an individual summons to know God more fully.  A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey to which the pilgrim joyfully resounds “yes” to God’s invitation.

Although in previous centuries many trials were intrinsic to a pilgrimage, the modern pilgrim has an abundance of affordable travel options. Yet the purpose is still a journey to a holy, sacred place to usher the pilgrim into the presence of God.

The pilgrim must embark on this journey with joyful anticipation, being willing temporarily to separate himself from the world and to offer him/herself in humble service to another.  A successful pilgrimage involves a commitment to leave behind one’s problems and to focus instead on seeking to learn more about our heavenly Father, making one’s heart full of desire for special graces, praises, petitions, and thanksgiving, returning home transformed, renewed and restored by the abundant blessings received.
A pilgrimage is a time of prayer and to witness the miraculous signposts God has left for our return to Him. Ask God to bless you with a heart that will be receptive to the treasure chest of graces He desires to shower upon your pilgrimage. The success of your spiritual journey will depend upon your openness, faith, flexibility, and love.

Pilgrimages, journeys to sacred places for religious motives, are as old as civilization. Since the earliest times, such journeys have been made as acts of devotion, penance, or thanksgiving, or in search of blessings or miracles.”

Based on the above explanation, a pilgrimage is as close as a trip to your Cathedral, a shrine or a special church. A pilgrimage is more about the attitude of the pilgrim, and not the distance traveled to achieve the separation from our personal world to a world where we seek only the presence of God. Attitude, focus, desire and belief are the hallmarks of a pilgrimage. For my part, I heard the Lord calling me to this special opportunity to walk in the footsteps of John Paul II, St. Faustina and St. Maximilian Kolbe in the very Catholic country of Poland. Although it was financially and emotionally difficult to leave home at this time, I felt the strong pull of the call, as did my husband, and we together decided to step out in faith and respond with a powerful “yes”. The pilgrimage was planned for us; the gifts we received from it would depend on our willingness to let go and let God do His work.  I think this applies to our daily lives as well. A simple prayer every morning, turning your life, your day’s work and goals over to God, and allowing Him to step in and use you for the salvation of souls and as a vehicle of His mercy and love to others is enough to start on the path of a pilgrim seeking the road to heaven. A beautiful Psalm for us to meditate upon as we begin to think of ourselves as pilgrims on our journey to God is Psalm 121, sometimes called the traveler’s Psalm,  as it reminds the sojourner of the constant protection of our God as we seek Him.

Psalm 121
1 I lift my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber:
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
6 the Sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life;
8  the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

Please remember to pray for the youth of the world as they participate in their pilgrimage to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day. All the events are fully covered on EWTN and are truly inspiring.