Saturday, November 2, 2013

Devotion for today: What is heaven?

We continue our meditation on the Our Father by looking deeper into the existence of heaven. What do some of the saints and great leaders of the Church tell us?

St. Therese of Lisieux tell us in her autobiography “The Story of a Soul”: Sometimes I would try to fish with my little line, but I preferred to go alone and sit down on the grass bedecked with flowers, and then my thoughts became very profound indeed! Without knowing what it was to meditate, my soul was absorbed in real prayer…I listened to distant sounds, the murmuring of the wind, etc. At times, the indistinct notes of some military music reached me where I was, filling my heart with a sweet melancholy. Earth then seemed to be a place of exile and I could dream only of heaven…Earth again seemed a sad place and I understood that in heaven alone joy will be without any clouds.

St. Catherine of Siena heard these words from Our Lord: The good of these souls is beyond what your mind’s eye can see or your ear hear or your tongue describe or your heart imagine. What joy they have in seeing me who am all good! What joy they will yet have when their bodies are glorified!...You will all be made like him in joy and gladness; eye for eye, hand for hand, your whole bodies will be made like these body of the Word my Son….

St. Ignatius of Loyola: He who beholds Heaven with a pure eye, sees better the darkness of earth; for, although the latter seems to have some brilliancy, it disappears before the splendor of the heavens.

St. Teresa of Avila: In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.

Saint Josemaria Escriva: If at any time you feel uneasy at the thought of our sister death because you see yourself to be such a poor creature, take heart. Heaven awaits us. And consider: what will it be like when all the infinite beauty and greatness, and happiness and Love of God will be poured into the poor clay vessel that the human being is, to satisfy it eternally with the freshness of an ever new joy? Furrow, 891

St. Faustina: Today I was in Heaven in spirit, and I saw its inconceivable beauties and the happiness that awaits us after death. I saw how all creatures give ceaseless praise and glory to God. I saw how great is happiness in God, which spreads to all creatures making them happy; and then all the glory and praise which springs from this happiness returns to its source; and they enter into the depths of God, contemplating the inner life of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, whom they will never comprehend or fathom. This source of happiness is unchanging in its essence, but is always new, gushing forth happiness for all creatures." (Diary, 777)

St. John Bosco: As I stood there basking in the splendor of those gardens, I suddenly heard music most sweet – so delightful and enchanting a melody that I could never adequately describe it. … A hundred thousand instruments played, each with its own sound, uniquely different from all others, and every possible sound set the air alive with its resonant waves. Blended with them were the songs of choristers.
In those gardens I looked upon a multitude of people enjoying themselves happily, some singing, others playing, but every note, had the effect of a thousand different instruments playing together. At one and the same time, if you can imagine such a thing, one could hear all the notes of the chromatic scale, from the deepest to the highest, yet all in perfect harmony. Ah yes, we have nothing on earth to compare with that symphony.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1024: This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called “heaven”. Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Devotion for today: There is a heaven

Today we continue our meditation on the Our Father by looking at the line “Who art in heaven.”

There are many passages in the Bible that speak of heaven. Jesus himself makes it quite clear that heaven is where 1) the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit-dwell in perfect harmony 2) Angels surround the throne of God 3)There is a place for us if we really want it, but 4) We must follow God’s ways in order to ‘get there.’ In the Book of Revelation, St. John shares a vision he had of heaven and the saints who dwell there. It is appropriate for us to meditate on heaven today, since it is All Saints Day. The glory they have achieved by fighting the good fight and staying faithful to God until the end of their lives should inspire us to never ever give in to secular reasoning that we should live for today, since that is all there is. Heaven, as the title of a recently published book states, is for real!

Matthew 18:10: See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.

John 14:2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.  Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 19:14: Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Matthew 5:11: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Revelation 21:4: He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation 22:1-5:  Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Tomorrow we will look at what some of the saints tell us about heaven.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Devotion for today: One God and Father of all

 We continue today on our meditation of The Our Father:

Ephesians 4:6: One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Malachi 2:10: Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?

I was blessed to have a wonderful father (God rest his soul). He was loving and kind, yet firm and disciplined. He worked hard at his job yet held primacy in his life to ‘mia familia’, held to the truth in all situations, and took no foolishness from us kids or anyone else. He taught me incredible life skills, especially to always show mercy, yet live and expect others to live to a high standard. I wrote a book once and dedicated it to my father. The dedication read, “To my dad. Because of him I know how to love God as Father.” I was blessed, and I know it, yet even my dad was not even close to the glory of my Father in heaven. He was a good example, though, and  so many dads are anything but examples of God as father.

When we think of God as our Father, then, it is important to get rid of all human images of Him and simply dwell on our Father who is loving, kind, merciful and just. He created the world and all that is in it. He created each and every one of us out of love, and has a plan for each of us to achieve in His creation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us:

2779 Before we make our own this first exclamation of the Lord's Prayer, we must humbly cleanse our hearts of certain false images drawn "from this world." Humility makes us recognize that "no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him," that is, "to little children." The purification of our hearts has to do with paternal or maternal images, stemming from our personal and cultural history, and influencing our relationship with God. God our Father transcends the categories of the created world. To impose our own ideas in this area "upon him" would be to fabricate idols to adore or pull down. To pray to the Father is to enter into his mystery as he is and as the Son has revealed him to us.
2781 When we pray to the Father, we are in communion with him and with his Son, Jesus Christ. Then we know and recognize him with an ever new sense of wonder. The first phrase of the Our Father is a blessing of adoration before it is a supplication. For it is the glory of God that we should recognize him as "Father," the true God. We give him thanks for having revealed his name to us, for the gift of believing in it, and for the indwelling of his Presence in us

Like any family, we probably would like to consider some of our brothers and sisters in the family of God as somehow less than worthy, or less than deserving of God’s love. But this is not the case. God loves each and every one of us as a Father loves all of His children. He may not need to worry as much about some as others; He may be disappointed in some and pleased in others, and He may be hoping that some of His children will stop being so pleased with themselves and get going on helping their brothers and sisters get to heaven. It is true. We must love everyone, for we are family. We may not like everyone, and we certainly can choose to not like everything our brothers and sisters do, but we must love them enough to help get them to heaven. My mom always said, “Well, you don’t get to pick your family so learn to live with them.” God as our Father wants us to stop seeking division, and unite in the common goal of helping each other get back to Him.

Caryll Houselander, one of my favorite Catholic writers, says it so well when she states:
Our oneness, our kinship, everything that binds us, depends on this, that God is our Father. This decides our attitude to our enemies. The enemy may kill our brothers, but he is himself our brother. A hard fact? Yes, it may be, but deny it and we deny God’s Fatherhood.
Christ is brother to us all. God is Father to us all. Our Father loves all his children and grieves over all their suffering, all their sins, all their blindness, all their folly. Think of all Christ says of our Father: the story of the prodigal son; the gifts of sun and rain to the just and the unjust alike; how often he stresses that none on this earth are exempt from his bounty, that we may not sort out, separate, good from bad; God is the Father, intent upon saving everyone. God is the Father of sinners as well as saints. He is the Father of the poor, Father of the afflicted, he expects us to treat them all as brothers, as his dear children.
Having one common Father we have certain fundamental things in common; all want happiness, no matter how different the conception of it; all desire to love; all have some family resemblance to God our Creator, our Father. Therefore this Fatherhood is our one hope for peace for the coming of God’s kingdom, for all else that we pray for in the “Our Father.”(This War is the Passion, 2008, Ave Maria Press, Inc., Notre Dame, Indiana)

In a world that is so divided on almost every issue, that has chosen to hate instead of love, that puts self above self-sacrifice, let us choose today to let God, our Father, use us in any way He sees fit to bring all His children back into His loving presence.

Father, I am yours. Do with me as you will. I love you.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Devotion for today: Not mine, not yours, but ours

Today we begin our look at the beautiful prayer Jesus taught us: the Our Father. Our guest speaker is Blessed John Paul II.

In his general audience on January 29, 1992, Blessed John Paul stated:

We read in the Acts of the Apostles that after the risen Lord's ascension into heaven, the disciples returned to Jerusalem. "When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the Mother of Jesus, and his brothers" (Acts 1:12-14). This is the first image of that community, the communio ecclesialis, which we see described in a detailed way in the Acts of the Apostles….

After Christ's ascension, the little community continued its life. We read especially: "All these [the apostles] devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers" (Acts 1:14). The first image of the Church is that of a community which is devoted to prayer. All were praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit who had been promised them by Christ even before his passion, and again, before his ascension into heaven.

Prayer--prayer in common--is the basic feature of that "communion" at the time when the Church began, and so it will always be. This is evidenced in every century--and today as well--by prayer in common, especially liturgical prayer, in our churches, religious communities and, may God increasingly grant us this grace, in Christian families.

Luke emphasizes the "unanimity"... of this prayer. This fact highlights the communal meaning of the prayer. The prayer of the early community--as would always be the case in the Church--expresses and serves this spiritual "communion," and at the same time it creates, deepens and strengthens it. In this communion of prayer the differences and divisions which come from other material and spiritual factors are overcome. Prayer produces the community's spiritual unity.

Now it is my turn: Jesus taught us to call upon God as “Our Father.” In using the term “our” He gives us the enormous distinction of being one with Him as children of the same Father. We, all of us, are children of God. We are united with Jesus and each other in calling Him Father. This phenomenal gift given to us by Jesus that day when He taught the prayer is overwhelming. Although the term “Father” is used in the Old Testament, it is never used in the familiar way Jesus presents in this prayer. Thus Jesus has united us to Him in calling upon God as our Father. This unites us all in communion. We must see ourselves as the early Church did, as explained by John Paul II. The Church is about inclusion, not exclusion. We cannot just pray for ourselves and our families…that would create a sense of “My Father who art in heaven.” We cannot feel so unworthy to approach God that we would be led to say, “Your Father, who art in heaven.” No, we are all united with each other. We have a common Father, God, and He created each and every one of us in His image and likeness. So Jesus purposefully uses the term “Our” to place us in communion with Him, with each other, and with all the saints in heaven. We are family; the Church exists in communion.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains so well:

2790 Grammatically, "our" qualifies a reality common to more than one person. There is only one God, and he is recognized as Father by those who, through faith in his only Son, are reborn of him by water and the Spirit. The Church is this new communion of God and men. United with the only Son, who has become "the firstborn among many brethren," she is in communion with one and the same Father in one and the same Holy Spirit.48 In praying "our" Father, each of the baptized is praying in this communion: "The company of those who believed were of one heart and soul."49
2791 For this reason, in spite of the divisions among Christians, this prayer to "our" Father remains our common patrimony and an urgent summons for all the baptized. In communion by faith in Christ and by Baptism, they ought to join in Jesus' prayer for the unity of his disciples.50
2792 Finally, if we pray the Our Father sincerely, we leave individualism behind, because the love that we receive frees us from it. The "our" at the beginning of the Lord's Prayer, like the "us" of the last four petitions, excludes no one. If we are to say it truthfully, our divisions and oppositions have to be overcome.51
2793 The baptized cannot pray to "our" Father without bringing before him all those for whom he gave his beloved Son. God's love has no bounds; neither should our prayer.52 Praying "our" Father opens to us the dimensions of his love revealed in Christ: praying with and for all who do not yet know him, so that Christ may "gather into one the children of God."53 God's care for all men and for the whole of creation has inspired all the great practitioners of prayer; it should extend our prayer to the full breadth of love whenever we dare to say "our" Father.

48 Rom 8:29; Cf. Eph 4:4-6.
49 Acts 4:32.
50 Cf. UR 8; 22.
51 Cf. Mt 5:23-24; 6:14-15.
52 Cf. NA 5. 
53 Jn 11:52.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Devotion for today: Put yourself into prayer

Matthew 6:7-20: “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we also have forgiven our trespassers;
 And lead us not into temptation,
 But deliver us from evil.

I have been reading the book "The Fulfillment of All Desire" by Ralph Martin, as I have previously mentioned in my blogs. It is a wonderful book, meant to be read slowly and thoughtfully. In the book, Ralph Martin gives us the essence of holiness as he discovered it in the writings of Teresa of Avila, Bernard of Clairvaux, Therese of Lisieux, Francis de Sales, and John of the Cross. He states, "What the spiritual journey is all about is uniting our will with God's will, wanting what He wants, loving what He loves, living a life that in all its aspects honors Him and gives Him glory." The only way to do this, of course, is to be devoted to a life of sincere prayer.

 It is not complicated nor is it hard. It does require dedication, determination, and a fixation on the goal of holiness. We simply cannot get to God if we don't talk to Him and listen to Him. Teresa of Avila reminds us, "Don't think that in what concerns perfection there is some mystery or things unknown or still to be understood, for in perfect conformity to God's will lies all our good."(The Interior Castle). She goes on to state, "The whole aim of any person who is beginning prayer-and don't forget this, because it is important-should be that he work and prepare himself with determination and every possible effort to bring his will into conformity with God's will. Be certain that ...the greatest perfection attainable along the spiritual path lies in this conformity." (The Interior Castle). So there we have it. To be holy is to do God's will, and to do God's will we must give Him our will, completely and totally. To do that, we must have a good prayer life. There is no other way to find God.

A good prayer life includes reading Scripture, meditating on God's word, praising Him, thanking Him, asking Him for our daily needs, and petitioning for His mercy upon us as sinners. Once we do this, we can begin to hear His voice penetrating the noise in our heads and begin to hear the whisper in our ears as to the direction in which we need to go. The saints were so in tune with God that they did not speak or act unless they "felt" led by God. What a level of closeness to achieve!! But if they could do it, so can we.

So where do we begin? My thought is to begin with the only prayer Jesus taught us: the Our Father. Teresa of Avila states, "It is very possible that while you are reciting the Our Father or some other vocal prayer, the Lord may raise you to perfect contemplation." (The Way of Perfection). St. Francis de Sales tells us, "[Common, memorized prayers] must be said with strict attention of mind and with affections aroused by the meaning of the words. Do not hurry along and say many things but try to speak from your heart. A single Our Father said with feeling has greater value than many said quickly and hurriedly. (Introduction to the Devout Life).

In teaching us the Our Father, Jesus has given us the perfect prayer. This week we will study the Our Father, citing the Catechism and the Saints on this special way of speaking to God. We can prepare by slowly, carefully and attentively praying this prayer today, without distraction or haste. Think of how many times we say the Our Father and speed through it, never really remembering what we said. If we say a rosary, we say the Our Father. If we say the Chaplet of Mercy, we say the Our Father. If we attend Mass, we say the Our Father. It is already ingrained in our prayer life, but I don't think we are praying it the way St. Francis de Sales and St. Teresa of Avila have in mind.

Let us pray: Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. AMEN.

All quotations were taken from "The Fulfillment of All Desire: A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints, by Ralph Martin, Emmaus Road Publishing, 2006)