“Kiss the Crucifix”, says Pope Francis


Via Crucis, Walsingham (Photo©LawrenceOP)

Via Crucis, Walsingham

In our own times of darkness and humiliation, consider what Pope Francis reminds us: our Lord went through it all before, for us. For you….for me. If only we could realize the depth of this fact – that He would have gone through His suffering, His humiliation, His death if you were the only person on earth – then, we would do as Pope Francis encourages: “Kiss the crucifix and say: for me, thank you, Jesus, for me.”

Read the whole article here: Pope Francis: Kiss the Crucifix

Pope Francis: Meditate on the Passion in Holy Week

Peter’s Denial – Quimper Cathedral

In his homily this past Sunday, Pope Francis encourages us all to meditate on the Passion of Christ during Holy Week. To see ourselves in the Passion story, ask ourselves: “who would I be”?

Read the full text of his homily here: Pope Francis’ Palm Sunday Homily

Let’s follow the urging of our Pope, and spend some time this week reading one of the Passion accounts. And don’t just read it, but put yourself into the story, imagine you are walking the roads where Jesus walked to Calvary, be with Him during His journey to the Cross. When someone you love is suffering, you want to be with them, to help them, to shoulder some of their pain, and possibly to lighten their load a little. The soldiers forced Simon of Cyrene to help carry Jesus’ cross; we, too, can help carry His cross, not because we are forced to like Simon, but because we love Him so much that we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Making Confession easier: Fr. Z’s tips for a good confession

Fr. Z’s 20 Tips for Making a Good Confession

Most of us have difficulties going to Confession. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time putting in to words things I wish I’d never done. The harshness and ugliness of my sin appears garish in the light of the spoken word. Yet…..our Lord loves each one of us so; and when we honestly confess our sins and receive absolution, they vanish. While not perhaps a technically-Theologically-correct analogy, I often think of our Lord having an “ocean of mercy”, and the biggest sin we can commit is akin to a drop of water in the Atlantic. If we doubt this, or think that “my sin is too-big”, or keep revisiting things we’ve done and confessed from a feeling of guilt, we are unconsciously denying the power of His cross. Of His passion and Resurrection.

In these last days before Easter, when we will celebrate the Jesus’ triumph over sin and death, let us turn to Him in this sacrament. Like a good spring cleaning that leaves our homes fresh and clean, Confession is like a spring cleaning in our secret hearts. When we have a special guest coming, we find ourselves dusting, mopping, putting fresh flowers in corners of our home; in Confession we can do the same to welcome our Lord at Easter!

I recommend that you take a look at Fr. Z’s tips for making a good confession. He removes some mystique from the sacrament, and gives a healthy dose of good common sense about how to go about making a good confession.

Image: ©Lawrence OP. Used under Creative Commons license

“See How He Loved Him” – Homily for 5th Sunday of Lent from Fr. Ray Ryland

The Raising of Lazarus, Geertgen tot Sint Jans (15th century, Netherlands)

The Raising of Lazarus
Geertgen tot Sint Jans
(15th century, Netherlands)

Those who remember Fr. Ryland from his days at St. Peter’s will immediately think of his bright smile as he celebrated Mass, and his beautifully crafted homilies. The joy that he exuded as he truly became in persona Christi and brought heaven to earth in the Eucharist. He has passed from our sight, yet remains with us still in spirit. And in his teaching. At CUF, we are so grateful that we have several of his homilies on file, including this one from the 5th Sunday of Lent in 2008.

“See How He Loved Him”

Imitating Christ as he spent forty days in the desert praying for the grace to undergo his passion, we too, spend these last weeks of Lent preparing to focus on His betrayal and death. Yet that is not the end of the story. For Christ, or any of us. Because it is through death – laying down our lives – that we reach life. And not a life that will pass away, but life Eternal. As Fr. Ryland so succinctly put it:

We ordinarily speak of this world as the “land of the living,” but in fact it is the land of the dying. We’re all dying, moment by moment, day after day. But by God’s grace we’re also preparing for life in the land of the living, the eternally living.

We pray and trust that Fr. Ryland is now in that “land of the living”, the land towards which we all strive every day.

Stile Antico & Flying Buttresses; or The Importance of Being Beautiful

Last October on a rainy evening I found myself in an old stone church in Shadyside (a borough in Pittsburgh). On a typical Saturday night I’d be at home for “family night” or perhaps at one of the various venues where I search out the folk music I love so well…..yet this evening we were in a gothic church with soaring ceilings and flying buttresses (sorry, I just had to use that word :) ) galore! The reason being: Stile Antico. A choral group hailing from England with an average age of about 27, they are stunning audiences everywhere they (extensively) travel.

I didn’t set out to write a concert review for an event long-past, but today as I sat at my desk on a similarly rainy day, memories of that evening haunted me. From the first piece, my ears – my heart, even – were transfixed by the beauty of what they sang. Such music is impossible to describe, it must be heard to understand. So….. I’ll let their voices speak for themselves. Please, please watch the video of them singing William Byrd’s Agnus Dei – it’s a perfect Lenten meditation: “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.”

Their singing and the building which held it, made me think a lot about beauty in liturgy. Perhaps a subtle rebellion against being raised in a family that prized beautiful liturgy (our parish growing up had a professional schola from Yale University every Sunday, and a procession that would put a papal Mass to shame :), I have always hesitated to be “dogmatic” about such things. Nor do I intend to now. But I do know that that night I was  moved to a deeper faith because of that music.

Steenwijk_Interior_of_a_gothic_churchIt made me wish that everyone I know (as well as those I don’t!) could experience the piercing beauty of a glorious church filled to the rafters with many voices weaving their tapestry of sound throughout the space! If only more could hear that music in the context of a Mass – for the timelessness of it puts one in mind of heaven and opens our hearts to Beauty Itself. Like any good music, the polyphony sang that night endures through centuries, crosses generations – I was not the only young person there, but there were plenty of octogenarians as well – and reveals in our own hearts a stirring, a longing for something beyond our present world.

Perhaps we (especially within the Catholic Church) need to become more attuned to our rich musical history, and incorporate it into our lives, our liturgies, our hearts. Instead of dismissing the music of past centuries as incomprehensible to the world today, perhaps we should see it as fulfilling a need that people don’t even recognize they have! Not that renaissance polyphonic music is the catch-all answer to the deepest longing of every heart – nor will it resonate equally with everyone – yet I think there is something about it that does (and if it doesn’t should) touch a place deep inside of us that reminds us of and spurs us onto our eternal end.

One of our aims here at CUF is to help form the laity in truly Catholic culture. An essential part of this is art that – while very much glorying in this world – gives to man a window on the world beyond. It does not necessarily mean that it has a religious label slapped on it. But it does mean that it reveals some aspect of the truth in a unique way, and leads man a little closer to his Creator through the beauty of His creation.

Synod Prep 101: Are You Ready?

In roughly six months’ time, the Church will convene an extraordinary synod to discuss  the “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.” (Read the lineamenta, or preparatory document, in full at the Vatican website).

In the days preceding and following the synod this October, Catholic news sources–as well as secular–will be abuzz with commentary on this significant meeting.

But when the Holy Father, after receiving the counsel of his advisors (the bishops and lay men and women whose expertise has been sought), speaks authoritatively on questions pertaining to family life, will we let the words of Peter fade as quickly as the newest headline emerges? Will we allow the assessment of the secular media to influence our understanding of the synod’s outcome?

Preparing well to receive the teaching of this synod will ensure that its significance is not lost. And will the synod be significant? To quote the preparatory document:

“The mission of preaching the Gospel to all creation, entrusted directly by the Lord to his disciples, has continued in the Church throughout history. The social and spiritual crisis, so evident in today’s world, is becoming a pastoral challenge in the Church’s evangelizing mission concerning the family, the vital building-block of society and the ecclesial community. Never before has proclaiming the Gospel on the Family in this context been more urgent and necessary.”

Catholics United for the Faith urges its members to consider the questions the Holy Father has asked the bishops (see Section III of the preparatory document). Now is the time for us to study more closer the Church’s teachings on family life so that, when called upon by the Holy Father, we may be ready lay witnesses of the “gospel of the family.”

For an introductory explanation of God’s plan for marriage and families, read our Faith Fact on this issue. The CUF website has a plethora of resources to help inform and form Catholics on many aspects of family life. If there is a particular question you are searching for, leave a comment here or email us at questions@cuf.org–we are here to assist.

Defense of the faith is not a duty solely consigned to the Holy Father or his brother bishops! What an honor we have, as the lay faithful, to lovingly participate in the mission of the Church by bearing witness to the Truth of her teaching.

Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) is a lay apostolate founded in 1968 to equip the laity to know and live out their calling as followers of Christ. If you are interested in learning more about living your lay vocation, visit our website for more information.

getting to the heart of Lent

The Agony in the Garden by  French painter Jacques Callot (1592-1635)

The Agony in the Garden by French painter Jacques Callot (1592-1635)

My cousin and I were talking the other day about the spiritual life. It was in the midst of a difficult time for us as we were losing a family member; and deep in sorrow we thought a lot about loss, death and the mysterious ways of the Lord. He said something that struck me and that I’ve been thinking about ever since:

You know we often think of the spiritual life as doing big things, loading ourselves up with sacrifices and burdens for our Lord. But it’s really much simpler (and harder, I might add :), all we need to do is let go our hold on everything that hinders us from following Him.

This seems to be a perfect thing to meditate on during Lent. During these 40 days our Lord was in the desert with nothing. He stepped away from his preaching, his family, his followers, his life – that is, what appears to us as the important things, the visible things – and was alone. With nothing, not even food. Most of us are not called to eat nothing for 40 days, but we can fast from our own preconceived ideas and patterns of life. Instead of thinking we need to busy ourselves by taking on extra activities and charitable works perhaps we need to let go of all our ideas about life – even the good ones – and start anew.

As this has been on my mind the past few days, I am puzzled: how to reconcile this with all my goals, desires, even the things I feel called to do? Aren’t we supposed to put our faith into action? What I came to realize is that this doesn’t have to be a 40-day suspension of any spiritual or physical activity. However, we can mirror in our own lives the Church’s rhythm of fast and feast. These 40 days can be our journey through the desert, where we let all our dreams, goals, hopes, fears be stripped away, so that we can see the one essential thing: that our Lord loves us and wants our hearts to be one with His. That is all that matters. Nothing more.

Lady Day and the Angel’s Greeting

annunciationblog“Full of Grace.” For many of us Catholics who routinely recite these words of Gabriel in the Hail Mary, the expression “full of grace” may be so familiar that we might fail to catch its profound significance.

This is no ordinary greeting. In fact, no one in salvation history had ever been addressed like this before. And note that the angel does not say “Hail, Mary, full of grace.” Gabriel says, “Hail, full of grace.” The angel addresses Mary not by her personal name, but with the title “full of grace.”

As some Scripture scholars, such as Joel Green in his commentary on The Gospel of Luke, have pointed out, it is as if Mary is being given a new name. John Paul II, in reflecting on this passage in his book Theotokos, said “full of grace” is “the name Mary possesses in the eyes of God” (p. 88):

In Semitic usage, a name expresses the reality of the persons and things to which it refers. As a result, the title ‘full of grace’ shows the deepest dimension of the young woman of Nazareth’s personality: fashioned by grace and the object of divine favor to the point that she can be defined by this special predilection. (p. 90)

But what does this unusual title mean? The Greek word in this passage commonly translated “full of grace” is kecharitomene. This word is in a past perfect participle form, indicating an action that began in the past and continues in the present. It literally can be translated “you who have been and continue to be graced.” In fact, the same verb is used in Ephesians 1:6–7 to describe not simply grace in the general sense of God’s showing his favor on someone, but the particular kind of divine favor that is associated with forgiveness of sins and redemption. Therefore, it is as if the angel is saying to Mary, “Hail, you who have been and continue to be graced . . . Hail, you who already have received the forgiveness of sins and the gift of redemption.”

One can appreciate why many have turned to this verse for biblical support for the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception—the belief that Mary was conceived full of grace and without the stain of original sin. Indeed, this verse indicates that Mary already had the working of grace in her life before the Annunciation scene. In other words, while certainly not serving as a definitive “proof-text” for the Immaculate Conception, Luke’s Gospel clearly reveals that Mary already had forgiveness of sins and redemption before the angel Gabriel ever appeared to her.

Gabriel’s words, therefore, reveal the most significant aspect of Mary’s early life. On the surface, she may appear to be simply a young, betrothed woman dwelling in nowhere Nazareth. But in the midst of this seemingly uneventful life, God has made her “full of grace” as He quietly prepares her for the most important mission any woman ever embraced in the history of the world: to become the Mother of God.

Fr. Ray Ryland, Rest in Peace

Dear friends of CUF,

It is with sadness that we must relay the passing from this life to the next of our beloved spiritual advisor, Fr. Ray Ryland. His life of 93 years is reminiscent of the words of this morning Mass’s first lesson from Jeremiah:

FrRayordinationcropBlessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
 whose hope is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
It fears not the heat when it comes,
its leaves stay green;
In the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit.
More tortuous than all else is the human heart,
beyond remedy; who can understand it?
I, the LORD, alone probe the mind
and test the heart,
To reward everyone according to his ways,
according to the merit of his deeds.

In his recently published memoir, Drawn From Shadows into Truth, Father wrote poignantly about his great longing for union with Christ in Heaven:

Like millions of other parents, we read to our children C.S. Lewis’ seven volumes of fairy tales known as the Chronicles of Narnia. One of the most charming characters is Reepicheep, a valiant, two-foot-tall talking mouse.

Early in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Reepicheep recalls that when he was in his cradle at Dryad, a wood woman spoke these lines over him: Where sky and water meet/Where waves grow sweet/Doubt not, Reepicheep/To find all you seek/There in the utter East.

In the unfolding of the story, Reepicheep learns that though Aslan appears in Narnia to those who know him, his home is in the “utter East.” The company of the Dawn Treader discovers that to break an enchantment binding three lords of Narnia, it will be necessary to sail to the world’s end and leave one of the company behind. Reepicheep eagerly volunteers.

“That is my heart’s desire,” he said, to go to Aslan’s country. So eager was he that he never thought the ship sailed fast enough. He spent his days sitting on the prow, gazing toward the east, sometimes softly singing the song the Dryad had given him. We read that when Reepicheep parted from the company to go alone to Aslan’s country, “he was quivering with happiness.”

Though not as impatient with the passage of time as Reepicheep, I, too, am sailing toward Aslan’s country. At this writing I am very near that country.

I share Reepicheep’s excitement at the prospect of being forever with Aslan–with Jesus Christ–in His country.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Join us in praying for the happy repose of our dear Father’s soul.

Eternal rest, grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen

Whom Do We Celebrate?

st. joseph and childToday is the Solemnity of St. Joseph!

We call him Light of Patriarchs, Spouse of the Mother of God, Gaurdian of the Redeemer, Pillar of Families, Protector of Holy Church, and Patron of the Dying–yet how well do we know this beloved saint, the Silent Man of Scripture?  Like the Blessed Virgin, he is rarely spoken of in the gospels.

Author Tim Gray addresses this apparent deficiency in the following excerpt from his article “Silent Knight, Holy Knight: St. Joseph in Sacred Scripture”:

If we search the New Testament for Joseph, we at first find very little to quench our thirst for knowledge about him. For he is mentioned only in passing by John (Jn 1:45, 6:42) and he appears only in the opening chapters of Luke and Matthew. Yet in the midst of this apparent desert, there is a wellspring, an oasis even, of spiritual insight for us, if we would but draw out Scripture’s depths.

Drinking thoughtfully at the well of St. Matthew’s Gospel, the attentive reader finds that the few words Matthew gives us speak volumes (cf. Mt 11:15), for they echo back to the story of another Joseph, the patriarch Jacob’s son. Many readers of Matthew have noticed the strong similarities between St. Joseph and the Joseph of Genesis. Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Quamquam Pluries (see “Transformation in Christ,” pp. 30-31), says that this similarity has been “confirmed by the opinion held by a large number of the Fathers, to which the sacred liturgy gives its sanction, that the Joseph of ancient times, son of the patriarch Jacob, was the type of St. Joseph, and the former by his glory prefigured the greatness of the future guardian of the Holy Family.”

This article was originally published in Lay Witness magazine.  Follow this link to learn about subscribing.