History, Spiritual Reflections, This and That

Give Us Beauty in the Liturgy … PLEASE

This article appeared in Crisis magazine today, and it calls for restoring chant and polyphony in the Liturgy as a way of building up the faithful. Typically, however, you only find this in the extraordinary form of the Mass, which makes use of the 1962, pre-Second Vatican Council missal.

That said, please, please do this if you have it in your power to make it happen where you are.

The importance of good liturgical music (contemporary Christian music does not count or even begin to suffice) cannot be understated. Continue reading

Spiritual Reflections

My Lenten Sacrifice

For Lent, I’m giving up complaining.
Not about the political order. When that is not working, we have to raise our voices.
Instead, I’m talking about things such as, “This isn’t hot enough for me.” “Why have they moved everything around in this store?! I can’t find my precious bottle of dish detergent!” “That person is a true jerk to me, and I don’t like them.” See the common thread here? Complaining often leads us to place an unhealthy emphasis on “me.” And that is pride. And pride is the root of most if not all sin. So if I want to give up sin, which should a 24/7/365 endeavor, then I must give up pride. And to give up pride, I have to give up the things that tend me toward pride.

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Spiritual Reflections

Great homily on our veterans

It is so rare that we hear our veterans praised in glowing terms from the pulpit. So when it happens, it’s worth recognizing and drawing to people’s attention.

Some background:

On Sunday, November 12, I went to St. Maron Church in South Philly because they had the relics of St. Maron, the founder of not only the Maronite Order but the Maronite rite within the Catholic Church. It has produced other great saints such as St. Rafka and St. Charbel (aka, Sharbel) Mahklouf, to whom I devoted a chapter in my first book.

I recorded the homily because I thought Fr. Vincent Farhat, the pastor, might mention St. Maron, which I could then use in some form (article, blog post, etc.).

Instead he took me by surprise with a sermon exclusively dedicated to why our veterans are a force for good and for God.

I’ve heard homilies that mention vets before. I’ve heard perfunctory thanks from the pulpit in the past. This was the first time I’d ever encountered such a full-throated appreciation of our vets and what they give to us.

With Father’s graceful permission, I transcribed the homily and present it here for your consideration.

Praise be to God for our veterans! Thank you all, not only for your service, but the sacrifice(s) that service has entailed throughout the years. God bless you each and every one.

(NB: The Gospel passage in the Maronite rite for the day came from John 10:22-39.) Continue reading

Spiritual Reflections, This and That

Praying to the Saints … or Not

From the time I was a wee lad, my dear ol’ pappy drilled several lessons into me, one of which was, “If you’re going to do something, do it right.” Another was, “Don’t do something half-baked,” although he used a different word than “baked.”

Maybe this explains why I’ve always been a stickler for the rules, and why it’s always bugged me when people do things sloppily or don’t follow them.

Do it right or go home

So for instance, in my fraternity, when it came time to initiate new brothers, I couldn’t stand that some guys would wear a coat, tie … and sneakers. ‘This is important,’ I thought. ‘Dress accordingly. Show respect for the awesome ceremony in which you’re about to participate and are about to give witness. Don’t dress like some slob who doesn’t care. And if you truly don’t care, scram.’

Or when there was a portion of the fraternity’s “liturgy” that was supposed to be recited from memory … and the brother reciting that part read from the ritual book. It wasn’t as though he didn’t have time to learn his lines. He was just lazy.

For me it’s the same thing when a priest doesn’t “say the black” and “do the red” in the Mass.

Hey, Father: We don’t need your improvisations. No matter how creative and wonderfully “pastoral” you are, nothing you can conjure is going to be as good as what the Church has given us. Plus the Second Vatican Council and the Popes since then have said no one has a right to change a single jot or tittle of the rubrics on their own. Ergo knock it off, will ya?

This disregard for rules and protocols, we see it everywhere today, don’t we? Maybe we even do it ourselves (yes, I’ve three fingers pointing at me; crossing at crosswalks is super difficult, after all).

Hard to miss that one

One big place we see it in the Church is with those who are on their way to possible beatification, the Servants of Gods and Venerables.

“Oh, come on,” some will think. “Don’t we have more important things to worry about?”

Of course. That doesn’t mean this isn’t important, however. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have any concern over this. If it’s true that “in the Mass everything matters” (as one seminary professor I know of teaches his students), shouldn’t we also be careful and diligent in the other things pertaining to God and what He’s given us through His Church?

For the Church tells us to do things and how to do them for a reason. We don’t get to – or shouldn’t – decide on our own where the Church is wrong. That will lead – and always has led – to some really bad things happening.

Saint So-and-So … pray for us!

What am I talking about, already? Simple: Prayers to the saints. Or in this instance, prayers to saints in the making.

If we’re praying to a canonized saint, we can pray directly to them. If we’re praying to a beato or beata (i.e., someone who’s been beatified), we can pray directly to them.

Why? Because despite the differences in titles, both saints and blesseds (aka, beati) are in heaven. We have the Church’s infallible assurance of this.

The same cannot be said of Servants of God and Venerables. They may be in heaven. They may be in purgatory. In some rare – hopefully exceedingly rare – instances, they may even be in hell. See the Catechism of the Catholic Church nos. 1033 and 1035 for the reason why.

Absent a miracle or a declaration by the Pope of a person’s or persons’ martyrdom—which are the ordinary ways we ask God to reveal someone is with Him in the Beatific Vision—we have no way of knowing the disposition of their soul.

Judge not

For Jesus’ injunction to “Judge not lest ye be judged yourself” speaks not to judging someone’s actions (we have to judge the rightness or wrongness of actions – stealing, murder, alcoholism, addiction, sexual crimes, sins of all types, etc. – or else we’d have chaos). Rather it warns against judging the eternal disposition of someone’s soul. He is the Judge. We are not.

That works both negatively and positively.

So we’re not to say someone is roasting in eternal fires, no matter how wicked, sinful, and evil they were while alive. You will notice the Church does not claim to know whether one single soul is in hell, even Judas or Hitler or Osama bin Laden or Mao or anyone.

Similarly we’re not to claim someone is in heaven without definitive proof. The Church will and often has made that determination, but only after thorough investigation and examination and God has revealed this.

Until we have that certainty, we are not to pray directly for that person’s intercession.

So while I could ask Bl. Miriam Teresa Demjanovich of New Jersey or St. Pietro Parenzo for their intercession, I can’t ask, say, the Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, SJ, for his.

The proof is in the prayers

Don’t believe me? OK, don’t take it from me. Take it from the beatification causes of two “saints-in-waiting,” let’s call them.

First let’s look at one of my favorites, the Servant of God Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ, who spent years incarcerated by the Soviets, first in solitary confinement in the terrible Lubyanka Prison and then in Siberian labor camps.


Here is a prayer asking for his intercession:

Almighty God, we love, adore, and praise You as our Creator and Loving Father. Look with compassion and mercy upon us. Hear our prayer in this time of special need and through the intercession of Father Walter Ciszek, grant the following favor if it is Your Holy Will.

(Mention the Request)

Most loving God, accept our gratitude for hearing this prayer. May the knowledge of the virtues and holiness of Father Walter be recognized and known to provide a lasting example to draw sinners to reconciliation and to lead souls to sanctity.

For You are our God, and we are Your people, and we glorify You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever. Amen.

What doesn’t happen in this prayer to the Servant of God? Nowhere do we say, “Fr. Ciszek, pray for us.” Instead the prayer is addressed to “Almighty God.”


Now let’s look at a prayer from the cause of Ven. Pio Bruno Lanteri, founder of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, who also is up for beatification.

O Father, fountain of all life and holiness, You gave Fr. Bruno Lanteri great faith in Christ, Your Son, a lively hope, and an active love for the salvation of his brethren. You made him a prophet of Your Word and a witness to Your Mercy. He had a tender love for Mary, and by his very life he taught fidelity to the Church. Father, hear the prayer of Your family, and through the intercession of Fr. Lanteri, grant us the grace for which we now ask…. May he be glorified on earth that we may give You greater praise.

We ask this through Your Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Au contraire?

“But wait! But wait! The website promoting the cause of my favorite Venerable says, ‘Ven. So-and-So, pray for us’! What about that, eh?”

“But wait! But wait! Father always asks for the prayers of the Servant of God directly. Father would never do anything wrong or against the Church.”

It’s true. Various causes do this. That doesn’t mean they’re supposed to.

And Father may be unassailable in his orthodoxy and fidelity to the Magisterium.

That doesn’t mean in both instances ignorance isn’t involved. Very likely, it is.

Bottom line

In life, if we do something, we should do it right. Shouldn’t that especially be true when it comes to venerating the saints, especially if the person in question isn’t yet a saint?

Some people will pooh-pooh what I’ve written. But ask yourself: What do you have to lose being obedient to the Church? What do you have to gain by ignoring her?

You don’t need a saint’s intercession to discern the answer.

Spiritual Reflections, Uncategorized

Notes from a Lenten Retreat

On Saturday, February 20, 2016, I attended a retreat at St. Maron Church, Philadelphia. I took notes of the talk given by Mother Marla Marie of the Maronite Servants of Christ the Light, the retreat mistress. She was down from Dartmouth, MA, for the Maronite Youth Organization’s Lenten retreat, which drew youth from Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Anyway, I found her talk very helpful, very healing, and I hope you do, too.

God didn’t create us to be average. He created us to be holy. He created us to be saints. He created us to be divinized. And one of the greatest things about being holy is that everyone can be above average. Everyone can excel. Because God made you for Himself, and He gives you everything you need to reach Him. God is love. God is mercy. He gives us all the tools we need, all the help we need, all the love. Even all of the ups the downs, the joys, the sorrows every one of us experiences, they’re all God’s tools to help us reach that level He’s ordained for us.

The Holy Father Pope Francis challenged us this year by declaring the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Mercy is an everyday style of life for Christians, but he wants us to focus on that more directly. Mercy is God’s greatest quality. It is His greatest attribute. It reveals the face of God and how God looks at us.

By contemplating mercy, we begin to see how God looks at us. Each one of us here has received God’s mercy and love in superabundance. Think about God’s mercy in your life for just a moment. Go through your life in your mind’s eye and how you have experienced that mercy in sometimes unsuspected ways. Sometimes it is in our darkest times. But as Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). We are grains of wheat.

We’re like Jean Valjean in Les Misérables. See this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhpwV4cwB4o.

Each one of us have been like that beggar and thief. And God has been like that Monsignor who has challenged us to our potential. And we have to be that way when we face the Lord in our prayer. We must know He is truly looking down on us with compassion and love. God sees to all our needs. He helps us cross those mountains in our times of difficulty.

Hate destroys the hater.

There is the story of the man who got shot and who reacted with great joy. His friends asked him why he was celebrating the shooting. “I wasn’t celebrating that I got shot. I was celebrating that I lived.” Good Friday seems like the greatest tragedy, and yet it is the cause for our greatest celebration. It is God’s mercy poured out on us so that we may live forever in Him.

For God, He is mercy. For us, mercy is hard work. Nonetheless we are called to be perfectly merciful. Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matt 5:48) could be put another way: Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

This type of mercy can only come from God. We don’t have that type of mercy in us. We have to be more intentional in mercy with ourselves and others. Sometimes we have a guilt that’s misdirected. We’re called to be above average so we can be channels of mercy ourselves. But how? We need to go to the source, Jesus Himself. Jesus said I am the Way. Through Him we can forgive because He has forgiven.

The Bible is the word of God. But what does that mean? The Divine Liturgy [i.e., the Mass] is interwoven with Scripture. It is Scripture come alive. You’ll see the Old Testament and New Testament throughout our prayers. The Bible is an awesome and precious book, unlike any other. It’s God’s word. When you break open your sacred scriptures, you’re opening to a presence, not just words on a page or a recitation of things that happened a long time ago. It’s Jesus. It’s alive. It’s not a presence like we find in the tabernacle, but it’s the presence of God.

So when you take your Bible and open yourselves to it, you open yourself to the Presence of God. Let it penetrate your soul, and water that seed so that it can grow and transform your life. Scripture is a two-edged sword (cf. Heb 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”). It’s not a “book.” Books, we read. But the Bible? We absorb it. In it, we get to know Him. If you do not know Him, how can you love Him? How can you grow in Him? Christ lives in Scripture.

We don’t venerate our favorite novel, but the Bible we do. We and the Church venerate the divine scriptures in the same way as we and she venerate(s) the Body of the Lord. Have a special place for your Bible in the home. Let it permeate your house like incense. “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ,” said St. Jerome. He also said, “When we pray, we speak to God. But when we read Scripture, God speaks to us.”

Mother encouraged the practice of lectio divina.

St. Benedict says, “lectio divina has no goal other than that of being in the presence of God by praying the scriptures.”

Prayer changes us, transforms us. In it, we encounter Christ. It rids us of the confusion with which sin torments us.

To be in a place of prayer, we need silence. We need quiet. People avoid quiet because we’re afraid of what we might find inside ourselves. But we need that quiet because in it what we’ll really find is God. God is mercy. He is not there to punish or scold but to transform us.