Saturday, August 5, 2017

Healing the Family of God/Receiving Jesus Worthily in Holy Communion

Why does it seem that every human analysis of the current situation in the Church produces a long list of problems with multiple causes but no apparent overriding remedy? There is a mystery here, which in our habitual human way, we are not tuned into. Could it be that the obvious cause and the obvious solution is right before us?

We know that Jesus is the One Who redeems us, heals us, restores us, and recreates us. And this happens especially at the celebration of the Mass, the highest form of prayer given us. It happens according to the degree of our receptivity and cooperation with the infinite graces Jesus holds for us from His sacrifice on Calvary, the sacrifice that is re-presented every time Mass is celebrated.

But why is it that we don’t seem to see miracles anymore. And why is it that the Church seems to be in serious decline? If Jesus desires so deeply to heal us, what could be blocking Him?

Let’s consider one possible cause by looking at our own participation in the Sacred Liturgy.

On any given Sunday, in Catholic Churches across this country and probably throughout the world, hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of people get up to receive Jesus in Holy Communion, participating in what, for many, has become merely a social ritual. Of those who receive, one wonders how many do so worthily. How many are not in a state of grace and how many actually believe Jesus is really present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the sacred species?

For the most part there is no malice or ill-intention involved. Yet, there are very real and serious consequences which come down upon the whole household of God for every unworthy Communion committed by God's people.

Here's what St. Paul says:

"For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after He had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the Body and Blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number of you are dying. If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment; but since we are judged by [the] Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world."

1 Cor 11: 23-34

Many of you are sick and some of you are even dying because you eat and drink the Body and Blood of the Lord unworthily?

Does that mean that everyone who is sick or suffering has made sacrilegious communions? No, of course not. But every Sunday we enter the House of God to worship as a family, the family of God our Father. And the deeds of one member, whether good or bad, always affect the whole family.

"God has willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness." CCC 781. We are saved as a people. We prosper and flourish together, or we diminish and decay together. It is all dependent on our collective choices.

The Old Testament shows us Daniel who was a righteous and holy man before the Lord, even though his own people were not. They continually broke the covenant with God and ended up in exile as a consequence. Daniel ended up in exile with them though he did nothing to deserve it except that he belonged to them as his people.

In the likeness of all the great prophets, Daniel prayed for his people, asked forgiveness and the Lord's mercy, and made reparation to the Lord by his own heroically faithful behavior and witness. This helped to bring the Lord's favor, restoration, protection and blessing back upon His people. 

We also, as the People of God today, have not been faithful to the Blood of the new and everlasting Covenant poured out for us and for the forgiveness of our sins. In fact we easily profane the Sacrament every time we unworthily or mindlessly go up to receive Him.

There is a real confusion today about what exactly we are doing when we receive Holy Communion. The confusion is about the meal itself. We think it is for everyone. Jesus ate with sinners. This is the same. Well, no it isn’t.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger clarified the proper understanding of the Eucharistic Banquet. (from his Collected Works, Vol 11, Ignatius Press pp 273-274:)

Nowadays [some] New Testament scholars … say that the Eucharist … is the continuation of the meals with sinners that Jesus had held … a notion with far-reaching consequences. It would mean that the Eucharist is the sinners’ banquet, where Jesus sits at the table; [that] the Eucharist is the public gesture by which we invite everyone without exception. The logic of this is expressed in a far-reaching criticism of the Church’s Eucharist, since it implies that the Eucharist cannot be conditional on anything, not depending on denomination or even on baptism. It is necessarily an open table to which all may come to encounter the universal God …

However tempting the idea may be, it contradicts what we find in the Bible. Jesus’ Last Supper was not one of those meals he held with “publicans and sinners”. He made it subject to the basic form of the Passover, which implies that the meal was held in a family setting. Thus he kept it with his new family, with the Twelve; with those whose feet he washed, whom he had prepared by his Word and by this cleansing of absolution (John 13:10) to receive a blood relationship with him, to become one body with him.

The Eucharist is not itself the sacrament of reconciliation, but in fact it presupposes that sacrament. It is the sacrament of the reconciled, to which the Lord invites all those who have become one with him; who certainly still remain weak sinners, but yet have given their hand to him and have become part of his family.

That is why, from the beginning, the Eucharist has been preceded by a discernment … (I Corinthians 11:27 ff). The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles [the Didache] is one of the oldest writings outside the New Testament, from the beginning of the Second Century, it takes up this apostolic tradition and has the priest, just before distributing the sacrament saying: “Whoever is holy, let him approach, whoever is not, let him do penance” (Didache 10)."

No one can judge the state of another’s soul. We have no real way of knowing whether anyone is in a state of grace. But given the intensity of temptation in the world today, it seems safe to say that it’s difficult to stay in a state of grace without living a sacramental life which includes regular Confession. From that vantage point, it is hard to believe that everyone going up to receive Jesus in Holy Communion is doing so worthily when the lines for Confession are so consistently small. And when we know that Catholics sin in all the same areas as non-Catholics, and at the same rates.

Our stats for abortion, contraception, pornography, addiction, divorce, etc., keep pace with the rest of the world. And in the realm of what we believe as Catholics, we have become just as relativized. Most people certainly no longer consider missing Mass a mortal sin. And many don't even believe Jesus is actually present in the Eucharist, nor that hell is real. The sensitivity to sin is gone, a rotten fruit of the moral relativism that has also penetrated the thinking of ordinary Catholics everywhere. We've become like the rest of the world instead of the sign of contradiction Jesus spoke of. The salt has lost its savor and is not good for much except to be thrown away.

So many, (not maliciously but just mindlessly), receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus, without discernment. The Eucharist, the source and summit of our life, the new and everlasting covenant between God and man in Christ’s own blood, the sacrifice of supreme worth and upon which our salvation depends, is not received in humble reverence or awe. It is generally not recognized for the intimate communion of persons it effects.

The "trouble" we see in the Church is really about a relationship, a relationship between Jesus and His Bride, actually, Jesus and us. If you need help understanding how offensive our insensitivity and unworthiness is in approaching this Sacrament, think of it this way. Imagine you have an honorable job that is at the same time one of the "dirty jobs", pig farming for instance. You would not work all day in the pens and then come into the presence of your spouse desiring intimacy, without cleaning up first. Your spouse would be repulsed.

This is the way it is with Jesus. Holy Communion is a moment of intimacy with Jesus in which He gives Himself completely and receives us in return. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says: "In the Eucharist a communion takes place that corresponds to the union of man and woman in marriage. Just as they become "one flesh", so in Communion we all become "one spirit", one person, with Christ." This is an incomprehensible expression of God's magnificent, humble love for us which descends from the heavens, from the heights of Divinity to be one with us whom He so inexplicably loves. We must begin to recognize this with unending gratitude and humble reverence in return. We want to see Jesus actually offering us an intense and delicately personal gift of Self, made in complete vulnerability and trust.

When we fail to do this, His Heart is stepped upon and the life of intimacy with Him begins to fade and then fail altogether. And all other realities begin to suffer and disintegrate, to fall apart, to fail to produce the good fruits authentic love always sows and reaps in abundance. Life becomes dull, disappointing, frustrating at every turn, without hope for a future filled with the joy that makes everything exciting and mystically wonderful.

This is not just a matter of failing to keep a few laws, or of a minority of members scandalizing everyone else. It is a matter of our own personal survival and the survival of our local communities and churches. I would suggest that this is what is really going on today. We have become estranged in our relationship with the Lord and are simply going through the motions. But unless we correct this quickly, we too shall perish in the desert like the generation of Israelites of old who failed to keep faith with the God Who had done such wonders in their midst. They never did see the Promised Land. They died in the interior desert of their own making.

Yet, if we address this one thing first, it can lift all of us to deeper holiness and health and clear the way for phenomenal miracles! At every Mass there should be, and will be, miracles, miracles of grace, miracles of healing, miracles of renewal and heroic witness. In essence, the new Springtime of Christianity Pope St. John Paul II spoke about will begin to manifest, an explosion of charismatic gifts and conversions, a new Pentecost.

In 1970, there were 175 active Priests in the diocese I live and serve in, 35 of them teaching full-time in high schools. Today there are only 55 serving and within 8 years there will only be 35. Why isn't God answering our prayers? We pray fervently for priestly vocations and nothing seems to happen. But we must ask: Why would God continue to give us Priests to confect the Eucharist when we turn around, and in massive numbers, make unworthy Communions? In actuality, withholding Priests may be a mercy of God. Were He to give us what we ask without change on our part, we would only bring greater judgment and condemnation down on our own heads.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says that

"For St. Paul, receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord in a state of mortal sin can be an act of sacrilege and self-condemnation. To sin against the Body and Blood of the Lord in this way is to be liable for the Lord’s violent death. The offenders in Corinth incurred this guilt by overeating and drinking and discrimination against the poor. Such carelessness before the Sacrament triggered divine judgments and even death.

What St. Paul indicates in Scripture is that self-examination should always precede reception of the Blessed Sacrament. Therefore a close connection between Reconciliation and Eucharist is implied.

Divine discipline is a loving call to repentance and spiritual growth. The purpose of these consequences is to avert final condemnation with the sinners of the world."

If we address this one reality Mass will become again an occasion of great miracles just as it was in the early Church. And God will give us many Priests. He will give us many vocations. But this is going to take a joint effort, out of love for Jesus and out of love for the whole People of God, because it is not possible to come to healing and forgiveness, growth and flourishing of our faith communities if we are at the same time spurning the Lord, eating and drinking of His Body and Blood unworthily and mindlessly.

So what can we do? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Eliminate the direct source of harm first. Stop doing the bad thing: in this case, making unworthy Communions. And begin to help other people to know how to receive Jesus worthily. This includes beginning with family members. It is not always easy, but if we love our families, they have the first right to be told the truth and to benefit from the extraordinary graces present in the sacrament.

2. Ask our Bishops and Priests and Deacons, and in fact, all those with responsibility to instruct the People of God, for teachings, homilies, catechesis, etc., on receiving the sacrament worthily. ​Much of this is ignorance. But the effects come nonetheless. Scripture never says ignorance suspends the laws of cause and effect. In fact, there are warnings: "My people perish for lack of knowledge." Hosea 4:6

3. Regular confession (once a month). This sensitizes the conscience and makes us far less likely to approach the Lord and His tremendous love for us indifferently.

4. Pray and make acts of reparation for the ways in which Jesus has been offended in this sacrament. This is an act of charity for our brothers and sisters and a special form of intercession for them which consoles Jesus for the many ways in which He is so deeply hurt in this Sacrament.

5. Ask Mary to help prepare us and to receive Jesus with us. This is very pleasing to Jesus and one of the best ways to approach Jesus in this sacrament of His love.

6. Cultivate a sacramental vision of the world. Help others to see the invisible and to embrace the truth. All of creation operates this way. Everything visible reveals deeper spiritual realities. The Eucharist does this in a singular way. Even though we cannot see Him, we know and believe Jesus is there under the appearance of Bread and Wine. This is the truth and it does not change based on your personal belief. So the choice is to live in reality or to live in the unreal, life-destroying world of the present culture.

7.  Always be grateful for the incomparable gift Jesus makes to us of Himself in this Sacrament.  Teach others to appreciate this gift!

“Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious decision, based on a reasoned judgment regarding one’s worthiness to do so, according to the Church’s objective criteria, asking such questions as: “Am I in full communion with the Catholic Church? Am I guilty of grave sin? Have I incurred a penalty (e.g., excommunication, interdict) that forbids me to receive Holy Communion? Have I prepared myself by fasting for at least an hour?” The practice of indiscriminately presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, merely as a consequence of being present at Mass, is an abuse that must be corrected (Ratzinger Memo to Cardinal McCarrick, # 1).

Let us help each other! Let's love our Family back to health and blessing in the Lord’s goodness and great patience with us. Let us all one day be able to say wholeheartedly: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15 May we live to see the day of a great flourishing of the Church and the transformation of our world into a civilization of life and love. And may we all have played our part in bringing it about.

Sr.. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT. 8/3/2017

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Reflections On An Anniversary

33 years ago I came to Our Lady's Society.  28 years ago today I professed my first vows.  My heart is full of gratitude especially to Our Lady, who came to find me in the darkness I lived in, and restore me to our Heavenly Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  Every good gift comes from the Father of lights.  His greatest gift is His only begotten Son Jesus.  My vocation of espousal with Jesus, comes from the Father, and is lived out in the Holy Spirit.  Who can really even speak of such profound things let alone consider themselves worthy.  Experientially I know well our Founder's insight into the way God works. He chooses the last, the lowest and the least.

28 years ago, Fr. Flanagan gave a homily at my First Profession Mass I remember to this day.  He said God told him to speak about light.  So he began by speaking about the light of the sun, the light of the moon and stars, and then he spoke about the light of faith, the light of our baptism, and the light that comes into the world when a child is born, the light of life.

He then said that there is a light that comes into the world in consecrated life.  And he said that light is like a laser beam.  He said they use laser beams now to heal people and the light that comes from our consecrated sisters in religious life is a light that God gives to heal his people.  And he said in professing the vows, the vows of poverty chastity and obedience, we become that kind of a light.  It was so beautiful.

I sometimes think of that light also as a kind of tracer in the night sky that shows people who are living in darkness the way to their heavenly homeland.  Saint Pope John Paul II said that the evangelical counsels are the most radical means for transforming the entire cosmos through the heart of man.  They help us to become like Jesus, the poor, chaste and obedient One.

The vows become a means to, and a witness of, the life that is to come.  And it is one of the reasons why religious life is not a sacrament.  Sacraments are helps for time.  They will not be necessary in eternity when we have the fullness of all we strive for here on earth.

St. Thomas Aquinas says that in religious profession God infuses the grace necessary to live as though we were already in eternity directly into the soul.  Which is not to say we don't need the other sacraments.  But we don't need one specific to this way of life. It is given directly at the moment of profession.

I will never be grateful enough for this calling and for the life Jesus has given me with Himself all these years.  At our first profession we are told we can ask Jesus for anything and He will give it to us.  So we all have our long lists of souls and intentions we confidently bring to Him.

I ask on this anniversary, His Priestly blessing on each of you and that He bestow every grace you need and He desires to give you, unto your salvation, sanctification and glory!  The psalms speak true when they say the Lord gives marvelous companions to us!  I'm grateful in the Lord for the gift you all are and I ask you to join me in thanking Him for His favor to me, undeserving as I am.

In the Heart of Our Blessed Mother,

Sr. Anne Marie

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Facing Our Immortality In The Light Of Christmas

Anyone who has ever received an unexpected diagnosis of cancer or some other serious disease knows the power of the experience to suddenly and radically change the inner world in which we normally live. Anyone who has lost a loved one especially without warning, experiences the same thing. Perception, understanding, the hierarchy of what we have up to then considered important suffers a seismic shock and shifts the plates of our current existence into a completely changed landscape which can seem foreign and strange and certainly frightening in many ways.

Having been through this myself several times, and watching those around me, I've come to realize that the shock comes not so much from facing our own mortality as it does from not having faced our immortality. That's the real problem. To say we now are brought to a place where we have to face our own mortality is actually to stand before an untruth and feel forced to embrace it. Our whole being revolts against it and all the classic stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and resignation follow.

And with good reason. We are not mortal, and the light of Christmas announces that definitively. Jesus doesn't come into our darkness to commiserate with us. He comes into our world to rescue us from the fetters of our darkness, including the weight of our own corruptible bodies, so that time, (however much we have), in its proper place, can launch us safely and happily into eternity.

It is true that death is a kind of limit, the line past which nothing more can be done in this world in our present state. But it is not the end. We are immortal, and it really is not necessary to defend this belief because anyone truly in touch with themselves knows deep in their being that something infinite, something eternal abides in their very substance. And this something is personal. It is not an energy or a memory or a force. It is of the substance of who we are, how we know ourselves, and how we are known. It is our very person, and it is never lost by trial or suffering or disease or death. The person does not die. The body gives way for a time. But we do not die.

Because our body is corruptible in this fallen world, we shed it in dying, in order to be completely healed and made ready for immortal bodies which we will receive, at the end of time. And like anyone who goes through the decline of their own bodies in aging, sickness, losing parts here and there, I've come to understand that it is in keeping with God's plans to hold fast to the promise of eternal life and the glorified body rather than trying to hold on to our present existence, attempting by our own might to make our bodies immortal as though we can somehow transfigure them under our own power. Sickness quickly disabuses us of the illusion that we have the capacity to do this. But it doesn't take away from us the desire to be completely restored, whole and transcendent.

The other darknesses we hold onto in our lives are also often rooted in this failure to embrace our immortality. At Christmas Jesus comes to us, “to a people who walk in darkness” to show us a great light. To those of us living in a land of gloom, His light shines.” Is 9:1 This is a light that comes from eternity and causes joy and great rejoicing. It doesn’t matter if I live in the gloom of a corruptible body which I am losing piece by piece or in the decay of old age. It doesn’t matter if my darkness is the bondage of alcoholism or weariness, doubt, indifference, fear, wounds, worldly aspirations, pride, unforgiveness, bitterness, depression, a hard heart. This is a light that actively seeks out every darkness in order to dispel it and banish it forever. It is the light of the promise of immortality which we are created for and which Jesus comes to restore to us if we can just let go of our mortal clingings.

I cannot tell you exactly why I am no longer afraid to die. It is not imminent at the moment that I know of. I have, as I said, faced my own death before. The first conscious time was full of all the shock and fear that is normal for anyone who receives an indefinite diagnosis and is told they may die. “If the disease is anywhere else in your body then all bets are off.” That is the way it was put to me. All the human emotions and questions coursed through me at that time, leaving me sleepless and isolated within myself, knowing no one else could really stand with me in the place I had suddenly found myself.

The most frightening realization had to do with time. Time, always seemed without limit. There seemed to be plenty of it. Without measure. Now it was quantifiable. There was only so much left. How is it I was not used to thinking of time here as something limited and then gone forever. To manage time now seemed overwhelming. A great number of things which had always seemed possible, now had to be definitively rejected. They would not, could not be done any longer. My mother, as she was dying, recognized this watching a slide show of Hawaii. She said matter-of-factly and somewhat sadly: “I guess I will never get to see Hawaii.” And we in our denial said: “Well, let’s see. Maybe.” The fact was she never got to see Hawaii. And she knew it.

My fear in relationship to time had very much to do with its ending for me. ​I was frightened by my lack of preparedness for what would come next, for what would come as soon as the measurement of things in this world was no longer the reality I lived in. The most unsettling thing was the thought of suddenly standing before God, Face to face, and not knowing what I could possibly say to Him, fearing He would be so utterly disappointed with me for having done nothing, really nothing of any importance for Him! My fantasies of accomplishing great things were suddenly wasted hours of vainglorious daydreaming, all dissipation, nothing of substance to present, because I had only been thinking of myself. And nothing of the accomplishments or achievements I held within me amounted to much in this different light of eternity. They didn’t have much meaning there, as far as I could tell, not because they were without value, but because I would have done them for myself and now I, as I knew it, was coming to an end. The prospect of death has a funny way of de-centering you from yourself, causing you to step outside yourself, making you realize at a deeper level than you have ever been aware of before that you are not the nexus for meaning in life. Our egoism runs much deeper than we think.

I did not come to a reorientation in my awareness until, in the peace of an evening sky in which the Father’s presence was written large, I, as small as a child, touched by His majestic power, was lifted out of myself, above myself, into another embrace of reality that made my whole life different…….In an instant, there was peace in living or dying. It didn’t matter which it would be. I would be held in this love and nothing, not even death, was frightening in that love. Whatever happened would come from that love; and in that love I was always/already held.

Time was no longer the same issue because I now knew with my very being that,

“… when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that we are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” So we are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” Galatians 4:4-7

This is what His love for me, and for you, is really about. This Gift is always being offered. Christmas is always present. Our deepest regret at the end of time will not be what we did or didn't do. It will be how deeply we underestimated and misunderstood the infinite goodness and love and mercy and tenderness of our God. Christmas lights up this incredible love of God.

Jesus came, says the Liturgy of the Hours in Evening prayer I of Christmas, to "bring joy to all peoples with the promise of unending life.." In the fullness of time, He came to break the boundaries of time by giving the hope of heavenly birth to each of us. He did not cling to His time here. He was born to die for us that we could live with Him for all eternity. And Mary, most of all, knew this bittersweet mystery from the time She said: Fiat!.

The old catechism tells us we were created “to know, love and serve God in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” But, it does not tell us what was in God’s Heart as He created us. Christmas does. Our older Brother Jesus, the First Born of all creation, comes to rescue us, to bring us back into the Family, our Family, the Father’s Family. We were created because God wanted us to be a part of His Family, and that’s where we belong. Christmas is that promise of rescue finally made Incarnate, finally come to us in the Flesh that is the Way to our true home.

May your Christmas be filled with the sweetness of God’s love made present in the light of the smile of the tiny Christ Child. And may that smile be ever present to you all the days of your life to lead you to your everlasting homeland!

Sr. Anne Marie, SOLT. 12/24/2015

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Monasticism, Homeschooling and the One Thing Necessary


This is my latest article.  It appears in Seton Magazine.  Please share it with anyone you think would be interested.  God bless you!  Sr. Anne

Monasticism, Homeschooling and the One Thing Necessary

It can be challenging to look at the world today and to remember the words of Scripture: "…where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more." (Rms 5:20). We know the Gospel's relevance is timeless. But the way in which it penetrates a specific period in time requires a creativity found in the Holy Spirit, Who searches the hearts of men and applies the deep things of God within concrete historical situations.

Pope Benedict XVI, meeting with representatives from the world of culture at the Coll├Ęge des Bernardins, Paris, in 2008, addressed the threats to modern culture by drawing attention to the roots of Western Civilization. He did this by speaking of monasticism and its development. "Amid the confusion of the times, in which nothing seemed permanent, they (the monks) wanted to do the essential – to make an effort to find what was perennially valid and lasting, life itself. They were searching for God. They wanted to go from the inessential to the essential, to the only truly important and reliable thing there is...Quaerere Deum, to seek God.”

Whether on the mainland (Europe) or in Celtic lands, the establishment of monastic communities was ordered to a life that was conducive to the finding of God and to living out a covenantal relationship with Him. The daily communal life of the prayer and work of Christ became a seal against the chaos and barbarism of the times, a stamp of the deeper Gospel message that brought order, meaning, and ultimately, great cultural development.

It should not surprise us that the biblical principles by which the monks lived and their deep study and contemplation of the mysteries of God, started to leaven the secular order, so that time, learning, art, music, animal husbandry, farming, care of the poor, all began to be marked by the laws and light which God Himself had put into creation. An order and a fruitfulness developed that actually had heavenly origins. The bells announcing the call to prayer, which punctuated each day, and the liturgical seasons with their abundance of solemnities, feasts, and even the rich Gospel lessons of ordinary time, made the meaning of life, one's responsibilities, one's destiny, readily understood. And though there were variations of monastic tradition and development between the mainland and the Celtic lands, the essentials were the same: "the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus"...(Phil 3:8), in light of which all else is rubbish.

It is interesting to recognize that monasticism did not begin as an attempt to create a new culture or civilization. The holy men and women of those times were interested in the one thing necessary. The impact upon the surrounding culture, even when efforts to evangelize became more direct, was quite in accord with the words of Christ: "Seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides." (Mt 6:33)

The Catholic homeschooling movement in our present age has, at its heart, this same seeking of the monks. It is a response to a loss of vision. Caryll Houselander, in her book, Guilt, noted that "The great repression of our age is the repression of Christ in man." (p85) Nowhere is this more evident than in secular education. We live in a time that has known Christ and now rejects Him. Given this, we cannot wonder that man no longer understands himself: apart from Christ it is not possible. "For in Christ were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominations, or principalities or powers, all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him, all things hold together.” (Col 1:16-17). He is the pattern, the form of our own identity and destiny. His life must be allowed to grow in us. Apart from Him, everything begins to disintegrate, both interiorly and exteriorly, individually and communally. Our own time witnesses to this with alarming clarity.

In Catholic homeschooling, genuine education seeks to assist the child in developing into the fullness of all that God has created him or her to be. This kind of education involves heart, mind and soul and fulfills its purpose by forming children to Christ, preparing them ultimately to see God face to face. In coming to the full measure of the mature Christ, they become natural evangelizers in all the realms of human activity in which they may engage: intellectual, physical, scientific, academic, artistic, apostolic, spiritual, etc. The Christ-life within is the essential thing in the midst of the contemporary bombardment of the inessential and our own growing barbarism. And it is a gift that one begins to yearn to give for the happiness of others.

The path of a movement such as Catholic homeschooling is provided by God, just as it was for monasticism, in His Word and in the rich teachings and traditions of the Church. A beautiful image for today is of little domestic monasteries where children are formed to true humanity. With authentic education, they begin to become (not in a forced way, but in a supernaturally natural development), little Christs touching the world in the activities of their childhood and adolescence. Finally, in adulthood, they become even greater leaven as they take their places in the world.

Pope St. John Paul II often pointed out that the Church and the world are at a crossroads. He exhorted us to commit to a New Evangelization in order to usher in a new springtime of Christianity. He also warned us that if we do not follow the movements of the Holy Spirit, we will see a new age of barbarism. Among the great signs of hope, we can claim Catholic homeschooling as one of the harbingers of the formation of the new man and a new springtime, knowing that, "a Christian has only to be, in order to change the world." -C. Dawson, Christianity and the New Age.

July 24, 2015. Hythe, England
Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mary, Motherhood and the Family of God

Mary's motherhood, like motherhood in general, was lived out quietly behind the scenes. St. Pope John Paul II pointed out that "History is written almost exclusively as the narrative of men's achievements, when in fact its better part is most often molded by women's determined and persevering action for good." (Papal Message On Women's Conference to Mrs. Gertrude Mongella. May, 1995)

Mary achieved more than any other human being. This was done in the most intimate way in the context of Her Divine Motherhood, a role which God asked her to live, and which She joyfully assented to! She continues to bring souls to life in grace and to love saints into being, so essential and eternal is Her motherhood to who She is.

But just as God took His own flesh from the body of Mary, so every child comes into this world through the body of a woman. Every conception is a kind of annunciation, God asking permission of the woman to bring a new life into the world because His creative love has delighted in the thought of that particular and unique little one. He "entrusts the human person to her in a special way" (JPII) and asks every woman's immediate care and participation in the formation of the life He gives. Just as He sent His own Son to be His ultimate gift to a world dying from sin, so He sends every child to be a gift to a world in desperate need of His goodness.

Some are meant to show the face of Christ's mercy, others His compassion. Some will be teachers in His likeness, others will bring his miracles into people's lives. Others will spend and consume themselves to heal and unite us all into one Family of Our Father.

Every mother wants greatness for her child. That greatness will be measured by the part they play in the greatest drama ever, the drama of redemption, the battle for souls, the battle for the brothers and sisters of our own particular age. The call on every life is to participate in redeeming its own age. Every gift of Christ made incarnate in the lives of those born into this world is meant to serve this.

It should be no surprise then that the attack on family is so strong today. We have an enemy who fights ferociously to keep us from living the image and likeness of God, especially as mothers and fathers. He hates the reflection of the Incarnation in every newborn child. And he despises the communion of Trinitarian love that each family is called to live.

Mothers have a particular answer to this which is seen most clearly in the life of our Blessed Mother at the foot of the Cross. In Christ, all the joys and sufferings, sorrows and glories of motherhood are taken up into His own Mystery and become redemptive. Archbishop Fulton Sheen puts it this way:

“The pains which a woman bears in labor help to expiate the sins of mankind, and draw their meaning from the Agony of Christ on the Cross. Mothers are, therefore, not only co-creators with God; they are co-redeemers with Christ in the flesh.” (Three to Get Married)

There is likewise a Eucharistic reflection which St. John Chrysostom notes: "As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life."

If we are to imitate Christ and become one with him in all things, Motherhood is truly a privileged place where, with Christ, a woman can fully say: "This is my body which is given up for you." The tragedy today is that so many women are saying instead: "This is my body and I will not give it up for you." They have not seen nor understood the greatness of their calling.

The work of pointing the way and leading people to the kingdom that is not of this world, is not an easy work. It requires death to self. But God takes even the most insignificant daily realities and makes them fruitful in this work. Mary did for Jesus everyday what all mothers do for their children, dressing them, washing them, feeding them, teaching them. It is hidden work but has immeasurable value.

Mothers know this better than others. They not only live out the Paschal Mystery in their own flesh and spirit, but they also live it out for and with their children. Their boundless love bleeds redeeming grace into the lives of their sons and daughters. Mary is the most profound example of this. But it is clearly seen in the lives of women like St. Monica, St. Gianna Molla, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and countless mothers whose lives will never be known to anyone outside of their immediate circles, until they get to heaven that is, where they will be honored and esteemed for their deep and faithful participation in the creation of God's own Family.

Human motherhood, along with human fatherhood, comes directly from the hand of God. Both are, in fact, a reflection of and participation in God's own Fatherhood which is Divine. When God created man He considered what would be the human expression of the life He Himself lives. His answer was Family, and family constituted as mother, father and children.

In the simplicity of God, our life on earth is meant to be about what our life in heaven will be like. The real stars in heaven will be mothers, for without their "yes" to our existence, none of us would have a chance of going there. But the supreme star will be our Queen, our Mother Mary whose "yes" to God's love gave us our Savior and Redeemer, the chance to once again call God our Father, and the gift that every heart longs for: to live in the perfect family forever.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Who Needs Healing?

Who Needs Healing?

Imagine a post-apocalyptic world which has been decimated by the unleashing of tremendous forces of destruction. Imagine this world inhabited by wounded and traumatized survivors who face innumerable challenges, including the need to protect themselves from evil, mutated creatures actively seeking their annihilation. Visualize the landscape and atmosphere, heavy with unknowns and potential dangers.

The fall of man in the Garden at the beginning of time can be likened somewhat to this. What existed in unimaginable beauty, harmony and perfection was blown apart and scattered with such force that we are still, many thousands of years later, reeling from the effects. We live in a wasteland by comparison to what was originally given to us. The fall was something like a nuclear reaction which began as an internal chain of events. It resulted in a massive, life-shattering explosion. The damage did not stop after the initial blast but continued in the form of long-lasting fallout that weakens our inner being, our will and understanding, and affects all of creation. This was the first sin.

We are all born into this fallen world. We compound the difficulties already present, with our own personal sins, further fragmenting our lives. Because of this, everyone and everything needs healing. From the Pope down to the tiniest baby, from the mega galaxies to the most hidden crevices of creation, there is need for healing. All creation labors under the weight of a brokenness that was not a part of our origins in God. In the beginning, there was no need for healing.

Colossians 1: 16-17, reflecting the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel, explains creation as it was made by God:
“For in Christ were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominations, or principalities or powers, all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him, all things hold together.”

In Christ, all things hold together. Apart from Christ, all things fall apart. Adam and Eve quickly and tragically discovered this when they decided to do their own thing rather than follow an order which God had established for them to live in. The brokenness found in our world today is nothing more than being separated from the One Who holds all things together in Himself.

There is nothing God wants more than our healing. In fact, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has said: “Healing is an essential dimension of the apostolic mission and of Christianity. When understood at a sufficiently deep level, this expresses the entire content of redemption.” -Jesus of Nazareth, pg 176

Jesus is the only One Who knows how to put the pieces of our lives back together as they are meant to be. And where He cannot use the broken pieces, He gives us new ones: new hearts, new minds, new lights, new visions, new courage, new hope, new strength, new or renewed relationships, and so much more. Our unhappiness always comes from not being able to live as we were created to live, in a communion of life and love with God, others, ourselves and all of creation.

What can be done? The answer is relatively simple. Draw near to Christ. More importantly, let Him draw near to you. He is like a magnet that begins to pull all the fragmented pieces of your life back together into a beautiful recreation and restoration of God’s first intentions for you.

Approach Christ in the sacraments, in the Mass, in His Word, in prayer, in adoration, in the love you share with others. Let Him encounter you. Take time out for retreats. Allow Him to pour His healing grace into your life. Trust Him. Don’t worry about distractions. Jesus will work. He needs only the smallest invitation. He will come with delight to attend you and shower your life with blessing. Let Him come in! You will not be sorry! In the end, even creation will rejoice with you.

Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Passing Look At Football

This is a hard article to write because I love football. I come from a family of nine: Mom, Dad, 6 brothers and myself. From late August through January, the Sunday family ritual always included football. Packers football. No question. We all went to Mass together, and when we came home, Dad gave Mom a break by feeding all of us ham and rolls from the local bakery.

Then, we settled in front of the TV for time together, united in one and the same desire for a good game and a win for our team. It was something we were all a part of. As a girl, I was not excluded. A fan is a fan after all! We loved being able to throw ourselves into the game with Dad. And he enjoyed teaching us all he knew. As a result, I can talk football with the best of them. Every game links me back to the feels, smells, tastes and high excitement of Sunday afternoons growing up.

So what is the problem? It is difficult to admit but my observation is that football today (which I still watch and enjoy) has become a kind of liturgy of the secular culture. And unfortunately, it is the only "liturgy" many people participate in on a weekend.

Humor me for a minute and consider the typical game. There is a communal gathering, most often on a Sunday. People arrive hours ahead of time, prepared to celebrate. They are willing to sit in open air stadiums, through rain, sleet, snow and even subzero temps, hoping to participate in their teams' victory. The Game begins with an entrance procession in which the specially vested (uniformed) enter the sanctuary (I mean arena). An opening hymn (National Anthem) is sung. The seating of the congregation (fans/crowd) takes place, and the beginning of long commentaries (or mini homilies) on the game play starts. The crowd has the "appropriate" responses, before, during and after. And, of course, there is special football food and drink. The homage paid is evidenced by the offering of incredible amounts of time, money and attention on both sides of the ball, by the Management, and by the fans. All elements of Liturgy, but without the Divine. Interesting.

I find myself wondering about these players today. There are many I admire, who acknowledge God for their gifts and express gratitude for His help. (I do wonder if they're given time on Game Day for worship.) But there are also many I've had to mentally "unfriend" after learning about the lack of integrity in their personal lives. This is not because I am any better than anyone out there. I have my sins too. But at the same time being gifted doesn't give anyone the right to behave like a jerk, especially as a public figure who has a part in shaping the attitudes of youth. No free passes here.

Disinhibition is a growing contemporary phenomenon that is alive and well in the world of sports. Fame nowadays seems to give stars license to do and say almost anything they feel like, with little repercussion. It can bring out the worst, just as it does on the internet, where there seems to be hardly a filter left. (Witness the commentary after any article or post. It is 90 % negative, filled with incivility and vitriol. It is embarrassing to see the level that people regress to when there is no moderating influence on them.)

Personally, I prefer to see character, not beast mode, on display. It is mortifying to see grown men behave with vulgarity and crudeness, braggadocio and temper tantrums, gifted or not. Ego can be an ugly thing to watch. And were it not for penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct, who knows how far it would go?

When I discover I have been duped by a public persona I am always disappointed and it causes me to back up. Public image does not make the man. And being gifted can create a lot of illusions we eagerly buy into. In our minds we can form one-sided, sentimental relationships with our favorite players (Hollywood star, musician, etc.), all based in fantasy. We idolize people who don't actually exist because we've made them up in our minds. In a similar way, women complain about being loved just for their bodies and not known for who they really are. So it is good to "unfriend" these kinds of ghosts.

Mind you, football, like most everything, has always had it's bad guys. And nobody who knows the game wants it regulated into a tea party. But really, when increasing violence becomes the objective, and winning at all costs is the only motivation, (witness Spygate, Bountygate, Deflategate, etc.) then something is wrong. The game is on the dangerous road to the Roman coliseum. No joke.

I find myself wondering about us too. It is a strange enmeshment. Our own identities become wrapped up with our teams. We're no longer merely fans. When we say we're going to the Super Bowl we mean it personally. And we sometimes take it personally when our teams don't do well, as if they have directly failed us and altered our lives forever. It must be a great weight for particular players to realize that thousands, perhaps even millions, are vicariously living out their own desires for success and excellence through them.

Fantasy of course, in the world of the football money changers is now big business too. And money does drive the game. But it's worth remembering that the coin of Caesar is not the currency of heaven. And Hollywood stars, sports heroes and any famous person, will not find entrance there based on their popularity, or performance in their field. They may be known the world-over, yet still hear The Lord say: "Depart from Me. I never knew you." One of my favorite quarterbacks recently said he doesn't think God "cares a whole lot about the outcome (of a game). He cares about the people involved." -A Rodgers, SI wire. I agree. As Jesus said: "What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world yet lose his soul." Mark 8:36. The measure of success in this world is hardly the measure of success in the next.

So, is there room for football on a Sunday? I hope so. With a few cautions. Like anything we enjoy, there is a temptation to go overboard and to give inordinate amounts of attention to what we love until before we know it we're in a kind of bondage to it.

It's good to remember that worship and recreation/ entertainment, are different things. And it's good to remember, as Archbishop Fulton Sheen pointed out that “If you do not worship God, you worship something, and nine times out of ten it will be yourself." (Sports can definitely become a vehicle for the vicarious worship of oneself, even as a spectator.) Archbishop Sheen reminded us, " we have a duty to worship God, not because He will be imperfect and unhappy if we do not, but because we will be imperfect and unhappy.” He also wisely noted that "All these externalizations are signs that we are trying to escape God and the cultivation of the soul". So, first things first.

In the meantime it is helpful to understand that our attraction to physical and moral excellence touches on our yearning for the transcendent, which will only be completely realized in Christ. He is the fullness of all excellence! That is why excellence is exciting to see in any area. Sports is no exception. Pope John Paul II expresses this beautifully:

"...every sport, at both the amateur and competitive level, requires basic human qualities such as rigorous preparation, continual training, awareness of one’s personal limits, fair competition, acceptance of precise rules, respect for one’s opponent and a sense of solidarity and unselfishness. Without these qualities, sport would be reduced to mere effort and to a questionable, soulless demonstration of physical strength.

“When sports are played and understood in the right way, they are an extraordinary expression of a person’s best inner energies and of his ability to overcome difficulties, to set goals to be reached through sacrifice, generosity and determination in facing the difficulties of competition.”

All lessons to be learned and disciplines to be cultivated in facing the ever present challenges and battles that need to be won in our own lives!