Can you imagine the joy?



Today, 15 Aug 2012, is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. It is a day when we can entrust the deepest desires of our hearts into her intercession, knowing that today of all days prayers will be answered, and answered powerfully. For today is the day we recall that God answered the deepest prayer of Mary’s heart – to be united forever to her Son, face to face, in the wondrous glory of Heaven.

Can you imagine with what intense longing Mary desired Heaven after seeing the joy, glory and wonder of her risen Son? Can you imagine all the preparations that went on in Heaven to welcome her? Can you imagine how Heaven sparkled with happiness when she arrived? Can you imagine how amazing it was for her to experience the fullness of her relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit for the first time? If you can, then you will have some idea about how fervently all Heaven celebrates the anniversary of Our Lady’s entrance into that longed for place.

That is why this Feast day is the joy and the hope of the dying members of the Church, who, like Mary, increasingly long to enter through Heaven’s gates. That is why this Feast day sees so many happy souls freed from Purgatory. That is why this Feast day consoles all of those who are waiting for God to answer their prayers, and helps us make our times of waiting fruitful.

Yet, how sad it is that so many priests don’t know how to preach on Feast days like this. Perhaps the priest today wanted to leave the school children with only one simple thought – that of Mary’s generosity – and inspiring though that is, there was so much more that could have been said. Sitting in the pews sometimes a person can get the feeling that a priest is uncomfortable in his relationship with Our Lady. Let us pray heaps for priests such as these, because leading people to her maternal heart is the sure route to leading them to Jesus and to holiness.

On this Feast day, too, let us decide not to dumb down the faith to our children and our teenagers. They need to know about Heaven, and they need to know how to get there. Why can’t we give them hymns to sing that aren’t banal? Why can’t we give them hymns to sing that have decent doctrinal content? How does singing the school song as an Entrance hymn prepare them properly to enter into the sacred Liturgy? Surely ‘Firmly I believe and truly’, or something similar, would do a far better job? Do the dreadfully dumbed down Eucharistic Prayers for Children really help them? Do the shockingly bad ‘children’s translations’ of the Scriptures really assist their understanding? Our youngsters deserve to be inspired with truth, holiness and virtue.

May Our Lady assumed into Heaven obtain all the graces that we need, the children, the young, the not so young, and the old, for us to follow her Son Jesus in such a way that the gates of Heaven will open swiftly to us when our time comes to pass from this world to the next.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you. Amen.

 

 

Spiritual guide to extraordinary Saints



Today, 10 May 2012, is the feast day of St John of Avila, a 16th century Spanish priest who was instrumental in the lives of St Teresa of Avila, St Ignatius Loyola, St Francis Borgia, St Peter of Alcantara and St John of God, to name a few. Since August 2011 the Church has been eagerly awaiting the proclamation by Pope Benedict XVI of St John of Avila as the 34th Doctor of the Church, but a date has yet to be set.

Over the years I have often wanted to learn more about St John of Avila, but have never done anything about it. So today I am going to have a look at some excerpts from his book ‘Audi, Filia – Listen, O Daughter’ and from his Letters, in order to gain a greater appreciation for this Saint who guided so many to holiness.

The first excerpt, comes from Chapter 26 of ‘Audi, Filia’, and is of immense consolation to those who don’t experience much in prayer and who find the lyric beauty of St Therese of Lisieux’s prayers wonderful but well beyond their ability to emulate:

“If you are lacking tenderness in devotion, do not be troubled, for our service is measured only by love. Love does not consist in tender devotion but in a free offering and intention of the will to do what God and His Church want us to do, and to suffer what He wills that we suffer, in order to please Him. If those who seem to have left what they have in the world to serve God were also to leave the disordered desire for sweet feelings in the soul, they would live more happily than they do. The devil would not find certain hairs of appetites by which to take hold of their heads and turn them about, thereby harming and even deceiving them. Jesus Christ died naked on the Cross; naked, we have to offer ourselves to Him. Our only clothing is to be doing His holy will according to the commandments of God and of His Church, receiving with loving obedience whatever He wills to send us, no matter how hard. Likewise, we are to receive from His hand temptation and consolation and to give Him thanks for the one and the other.”

The second excerpt also comes from ‘Audi, Filia’, but from Chapter 76, and is a reminder that our purpose is to grow in charity, and that prayer should help us to this end and not not be seen as an end in itself:

“So that you may profit from the exercise of prayer, I must tell you that the end of meditation on the Passion must be to imitate it and to fulfill the law of the Lord. I say this because some take much account of the hours spent in prayer and the sense of sweetness in it, but not of the benefit they derive from it. They think wrongly that one who experiences greater sweetness and spends more hours in prayer is the greater saint. But, in reality, the greatest is the one who, with profound contempt for himself, has the greatest charity. The perfection of the Christian life and the fulfillment of the whole law consist in this. Whoever lives well and prays well has to do it with this end and not content himself with having spent well a period of time in confessing or receiving communion or devout prayer or similar things.”

This third excerpt comes from Letter IV which contains advice to a priest who asked how to prepare well for Holy Mass. This advice is useful for laity as well. :

“…it would be best for you to practice yourself in considerations proper to excite in you fervent love and reverence. For this purpose , I know of nothing better than to meditate on the fact that our Lord, with Whom we are to treat, is both God and man, and to think over the reasons for which He comes down upon the altar. Surely such a stroke of love should be enough to awaken anyone from the slumber of indifference. Let such a one reflect upon this Mystery and say to himself : ‘It is God Almighty Who will come down upon the altar at the words of Consecration: I shall hold in my hands, and converse with Him, and receive Him into my breast.” If only we remember this, and if, by the help of God’s Holy Spirit, it penetrate our soul, it will suffice, and more than suffice, to enable us, frail mortals as we are, to perform this sacred duty as we ought.”

Our final excerpt comes from Letter VIII, which was St John of Avila’s response to a person who asked him how best to prepare for death – Advice which is still salutory whatever our age:

“This preparation (for death) consists not only in setting ourselves free from both debts and mortal sin, but in doing penance for our past faults, so that when our good and evil deeds are put into the balance of Justice, with the Divine Mercy added to the right side of the scale, our attachment to God’s service may weigh as much as our former attachment to the world. We ought to give alms, to be charitable, devout, patient and humble, in order to compensate for our former defects in these virtues. Busy like a honey-making bee, with a holy fervour, we should seek to get nearer and nearer to God ; for at our time of life the hour approaches when we shall appear before Him. How shall we answer our Sovereign Judge, if we have spent carelessly those later years He has most mercifully given us, in which to amend the past and prepare ourselves for Heaven?”

If you would like to read more from these wonderful letters of St John of Avila, some of which deal with vocations, grief, illness and other questions, go to www.archive.org/stream/lettersofblessed00davirich#page/n9/mode/2up

I’m sure that the more we read of St John of Avila, the greater will be our rejoicing when the Pope proclaims him a Doctor of the Church, and the more our souls will benefit. 

St John of Avila, pray for us.

Approaching death with faith



In recent times I have begun reading ‘Heaven’s homecoming’, a collection of stories compiled by Fr Douglas McKay about the extraordinary people God brought him into contact with in a Catholic nursing home. Although I have only read three of the stories thus far, they have shown the depths of God’s tenderness in granting each one the ‘perfect end’ that they ardently desired.

The book is obtained easiest from Amazon Kindle, but there also seem to be printed page versions coming onto the market.  

To be able to assist the dying on their journey home is one of the greatest vocations ever. At no other time are souls in such urgent need of spiritual help than at the point of death. The Catholic nursing home in this book is run by the Little Sisters of the Poor founded by St Jeanne Jugan. The Little Company of Mary founded by Venerable Mary Potter has a similar ministry to the dying. Witnessing the conscious preparations for the Great Meeting undertaken by others helps us greatly prepare for our own.

The first story is about Angie. She viewed death as her long awaited meeting with her bridegroom Jesus. As such she looked forward to it, and Jesus responded to that desire by giving her presentiments of that Meeting. For her bridegroom she wanted to look her absolute best. The day before she had her hair done, and in happy expectation put on her best clothes and finery. Indeed her Bridegroom did come swiftly and she was ready. Presentiments of the time, place and manner of death are not unusual in the lives of the Saints – particularly for those with an intense longing for heaven.

The second story is about Betty. This precious soul had, over the years, been taught directly by Jesus through holy dreams. In one of those dreams He had shown her how beautiful the hands of a priest are, and she had never forgotten it. Her wish was, that when her time came, that a priest would be there to lay his consecrated hands on her head as she breathed her last. Indeed, the good Lord arranged this for her, and granted her a most gentle death.

The third story is about Sr Christine. This inspiring religious had the gift of holy boldness. With this gift the Lord used her to obtain funds and goods for the works of mercy her Order undertook. Underpinning this gift was her enormous faith in the power of persistent prayer to move God’s Heart. May the good Lord raise up many more like her, who are just as successful in getting priests to return to wearing clerical dress. When her time was close she sought from the priest the Sacrament of the Annointing of the Sick. Her desire was that she would be alone when the Lord Jesus came for her, and that desire was granted.

I look forward to reading the rest of the stories.

Preparing for death is something that most of us put off until it stares us squarely in the face. Our preparations can, and should, begin now, because when that Meeting happens perhaps it will come without warning or when we are not conscious of its approach. So here is a beautiful prayer from the treasury of the Church to start (or continue) your own preparations with…

Three Offerings of Thanksgiving to obtain a Good Death.

1. We offer to the Most Holy Trinity the merits of Jesus Christ, in thanksgiving for the Most Precious Blood which He shed in the Garden for us; and through those merits we beseech His Divine Majesty for pardon for our sins. Our Father… Hail Mary… Glory Be…

2. We offer to the Most Holy Trinity the merits of Jesus Christ, in thanksgiving for His most precious Death endured on the Cross for us ; and through these merits we beseech His Divine Majesty for the remission of the pains due to our sins. Our Father… Hail Mary… Glory Be…

3. We offer to the Most Holy Trinity the merits of Jesus Christ, in thanksgiving for His unspeakable charity, in descending from heaven to earth to take human flesh, and to suffer and die for us upon the Cross ; and by those merits we beseech His Divine Majesty to bring our souls to the glory of heaven after our death. Our Father… Hail Mary… Glory Be…

May the good Lord, when our time comes, grant us a quiet night and a perfect end. Jesus, I trust in You. 

St Jeane Jugan, pray for us.

Ven. Mary Potter, pray for us.