A Light in Dark Places

In the first reading, 1 Kings 7-16, Elijah tells the widow, “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son.” Elijah was giving instructions to this widow who God intended to provide for him. When Elijah asked for food and water, the widow was terrified. She did not even have enough food for herself and her son, let alone Elijah. Despite this fear, however, she followed Elijah’s instructions. As a result, from then on, her jug of oil never ran dry and she never ran out of flour in her jar.

Keeping faith in the Lord is hard when what He tells you doesn’t make sense. In these current times, faith in the Lord is difficult to maintain. There are many people who can empathize with the widow when she was faced with Elijah’s request. The widow even told Elijah that she and her son were going to die; she had lost all hope. The trials of our world today give rise to increasing hopelessness each day, and not being able to receive the holy sacraments in our churches has not made it easier for any of us to hear the Lord’s voice and to follow His will. Now is the time to conquer this fear. “Do not be afraid,” Elijah said. Sometimes all we need to hear is this phrase, even if we have no idea what is going to happen. The reassurance of these words renews our desire to live and carry on.

The Gospel reading asks us to take this desire a step further: not only are we to lose our fear; we are called to be examples to others who are afraid. When conditions in our lives seem to be at their worst, we must reveal our faith to the world and to be a light in its darkness. Jesus said, “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16). Over the past few months, this world has been cast into darkness and people are falling victim to fear. When fear is so dominant, it can be challenging to rise above despair, but we have our faith and we can trust in it. We can be the change necessary to shine light in the darkness.

Veronica

Saint_Veronica_with_the_Veil_LACMA_M.84.20_(1_of_2)In the Stations of the Cross, I’ve always felt a kind of sympathy for Simon of Cyrene. He didn’t sign up to bear the heavy cross, to enter into the horror of the Passion, to walk alongside a stranger experiencing the worst day of His life. He just happened to be standing there, minding his own business. But when the duty was pressed upon him, Simon responded. He put aside his own reservations to serve Jesus in His moment of need, and in doing so, he fulfilled a most sacred role. I have always felt an affinity for Simon’s reluctant heroism. However, this year, I have found myself drawn more toward Veronica.

Veronica had no such compulsions to step out into the brutality and chaos of Jerusalem’s streets that fateful day; she could very well have stayed in her home and closed the curtains, turning away from this scene of unimaginable suffering and sorrow. After all, it was not as though she could really do anything about this situation anyway, right? She looked out and saw the innocent Jesus in deep agony, bound for His death. She was helpless to change His course from Calvary; the crucifixion was inevitable. Approaching the suffering Jesus would only cause her pain, would it not? It certainly wouldn’t change the fact that Jesus was going to die; it would only increase her sorrows to stand witness to it.

Cristo_con_la_Cruz_a_cuestas,_encuentra_a_la_Verónica_(Museo_del_Prado)And yet, Veronica stepped out toward Jesus. She volunteered to place herself in all the agony of that hour just to give Jesus what little she could: a small moment of comfort, a gesture of kindness, an affirmation of His dignity. She took her own veil and used it to wipe away the blood and sweat on His Holy Face. She looked into His eyes and offered a brief moment of companionship during His suffering. “I see You,” she might have said, “and I am not looking away.” After this interaction, the image of Jesus’s Holy Face was miraculously imprinted on Veronica’s veil: she went forth carrying the image of Christ to the world.

The name Veronica is derived from the Latin vera icon, meaning “true image.” She is called Veronica because of the role that she played during the Passion. We don’t know what Veronica’s “real” name was, but it doesn’t actually matter. Her truest identity is Veronica, true icon of Christ. In that moment on the road to Calvary, she didn’t just receive the image of Christ; she became the image of Christ. Her very person was forever changed by meeting Jesus and offering Him the simple gift of her presence.

Carlo_Caliari_-_Jesus_Meeting_Veronica_-_WGA03773In these strange and unsettling days of pandemic, we may find ourselves looking inward, becoming consumed by our own individual fears and anxieties. But if we are too self-occupied, we may miss the opportunity to reach out to another who would be comforted by our presence. Now, I’m not suggesting that we defy quarantine orders to step outside like Veronica did. But there are many ways that we can look outward toward the needs of others during this time. Like in the case of Veronica, we might be tempted to discouragement because we can’t fix this terrible situation. For instance, we might know someone who is painfully lonely and isolated, but we can’t actually change the fact that they will not be able to leave their home or receive any visitors for the foreseeable future. We can’t offer any solutions. But we can offer our emotional presence, if not our physical presence: we can let them know we’re thinking of them; we can send a thoughtful card or gift; we can call them to chat; we can invite them to online community prayer. These gestures might seem small, but like the Face of Jesus on Veronica’s veil, they can leave a deep impression.

Most of us will receive no compulsory demand to walk alongside someone in this crisis and help them carry their cross. And unless we strive to imitate Veronica—being attentive to the needs of others instead of closing in upon ourselves—we will miss our chance. As we walk the way of Calvary this Good Friday, let us not be ruled by our fears but instead be led by compassion, offering our kindness in the face of great trial.


1. Mattia Preti, Saint Veronica with the Veil / PD-US
2. Antonio Arias Fernández, Cristo con la Cruz a cuestas, encuentra a la Verónica / PD-US
3. Carlo Caliari, Jesus Meeting Veronica / PD-US

The Most Blessed of All Dwellings

“Come, lady, die to live: this wedding-day
Perhaps is but prolong’d: have patience and endure.”
– William Shakespeare

A great dark wave seems to be covering the earth, hiding us in the shadows of grief and unrest. Each morning brings us the reality of illness and isolation, desolation and death, as we endure what seems to be a darkness unescapable. In a time when we cannot see or even touch many of our loved ones, we also cannot remain untouched by a communal sorrow which words can barely express. And as we are called to fast from sacramentally receiving Christ—our Bridegroom, Love, and greatest Friend—in the Eucharist, it can seem like the remaining lights are slowly flickering out.

How could we not weep all this while, joining our tears with those of Mary Magdalene outside the tomb? “The ‘sincere gift’ contained in the Sacrifice of the Cross gives definitive prominence to the spousal meaning of God’s love. As the Redeemer of the world, Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of our Redemption. It is the Sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride” (St. Pope John Paul II). When we receive the Eucharist, we receive Christ’s Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the most intimate manner. “God’s whole life encounters us and is sacramentally shared with us” (Pope Benedict XVI), and we become little tabernacles of the Indwelling God.

It is strange: these days of fasting and mourning are not necessarily “when the Bridegroom [has been] taken away” (Matthew 9:15), like Good Friday—but when the Bride has been taken away. Unlike Mary Magdalene, we know where He has been laid. We can even see Him through the livestreaming of Mass and Adoration! Instead, it is we who have been taken, who must remain hidden, and who are called to fast from the foretaste of the wedding banquet, dying to self and holy desires in acts of love so that we and others might live. Fortunately, “both spiritual and physical hunger can be a vehicle of love” (Pope Benedict XVI). We can receive Christ through spiritual communion, which, as St. Thomas Aquinas describes, “comprises the desire or yearning for receiving this sacrament” (III, Q. 80, Art. 11, co.).

While the Eucharist is the source and summit of our life, and a mystery of trinitarian love that shows the “indissolubility to which all true love necessarily aspires” (St. Pope John Paul II), we have yet more reasons to hope. “The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist” (CCC 1617). It is “in Christ, dead and risen, and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, given without measure (cf. Jn 3:34), that we have become sharers of God’s inmost life” (Pope Benedict XVI). Through Baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in our souls—and through the Holy Spirit, the entire Trinity, since the Holy Trinity is indivisible: “He is One” (Mark 12:32).

We are baptized into His death so that we may have life—His life—dwelling in us (Galatians 2:19-21). So long as we remain with Him in a state of grace, He remains in us. As St. Elizabeth of the Trinity explains, “Realize that your soul is the temple of God, it is again Saint Paul who says this; at every moment of the day and night the three Divine Persons are living within you. You do not possess the Sacred Humanity as you do when you receive Communion; but the Divinity, that essence the blessed adore in Heaven, is in your soul; there is a wholly adorable intimacy when you realize that; you are never alone again” (L273). Even “in the most difficult hours, when He sometimes seems very far away, [He] is in reality so close, so ‘within’ us,” (L160) hidden in the little cells of our hearts. “It seems to me that I have found my Heaven on earth, since Heaven is God, and God is [in] my soul” (L122).

In today’s Gospel, we are all called to love this trinitarian God more than we love each other—with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30)—and we are called to love each other very much indeed, loving our neighbor as our self (Mark 12:33). When Christ sees that the scribe understands this, He tells him that he is “not far from the Kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). This is true for us as well, as we are not far from the hidden life of the Trinity in the kingdoms of our souls. And with this Love, we can love Him and our neighbors as best we can, all while remaining hidden ourselves. Perhaps there is no better saint to show us this than the one whose feast we celebrated yesterday—St. Joseph, who could be called the patron of the hidden life. “St. Joseph performed no single brilliant act of holiness… What did he accomplish? He loved. That alone is what he did and that alone was enough to glorify him. He loved God with an incalculable and undiminishing love, and he was loved the same way in return” (Bl. Jean-Joseph Lataste).

We may not know what is happening. Our reason may point to what we can see: inescapable waves of darkness, fear, loneliness, and suffering that in turn point to the end of days, or at least to the end of life as we know it. But His grace points to what we cannot see: the divine Life dwelling in our souls, an Indwelling most blessed—and a divine Light, “the true light that enlightens every man” (CCC 1216), even in the midst of darkness and suffering. As Tolkien writes, “in this hour, I do not believe that any darkness will endure.” Instead, Love will endure, a Love which “endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). So too must we hope and “endure with patience these hours of waiting.” And in that hidden, faithful waiting for the wedding feast of the Lamb here and in Heaven, where we will again see our loved ones, receive Christ, and sing for joy, let us dwell in Him and Him in us, letting Him love us and others through us in the House “of all dwellings the most blessed.”

“Don’t be afraid, be completely in God’s peace, He loves you, He is watching over you like a mother over her little child. Remember that you are in Him, that He makes Himself your dwelling here below; and then, that He is in you, that you possess Him in the most intimate part of yourself, that at any hour of the day or night, in every joy or trial, you can find Him there, quite near, entirely within you. It is the secret of happiness; it is the secret of the saints; they knew so well that they were the ‘temple of God’ and that in uniting ourselves to this God, we become ‘one spirit with Him,’ as Saint Paul says; so they went forth to everything in His radiance” (L175).

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, pray for us. Amen.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis
Fr. Eugene McCaffrey OCD, Let Yourself Be Loved
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, The Complete Works: Volume 2
Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, Consecration to St. Joseph
Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, O.P., The Mystery of Joseph
John Oliver, The Heart of Père Lataste
Jackie Francois Angel, New Creation
Daily Mass, Rosary, and Divine Mercy Chaplet live streams: St. Vincent Ferrer & St. Catherine of Siena

What Are You Waiting For?

“Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.” -2 Corinthians 6:2

Now is a very acceptable time.

Last week at a youth ministry conference I was at, one of the speakers posed the question, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” It has stuck with me ever since and made me ponder in prayer how much I let fear hold me back.

Fear runs deeper than just being scared. Fear is the voice from the enemy that tries to ruin what God wants us to do before we even take a first step. Fear comes from the accuser that tells us we’re not enough, that we aren’t cut out for it. Fear brings anxiety in trying to have all the answers and figure things out when God just wants us to be present with Him.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid? Now is a very acceptable time.

What are you holding back from God? What is blocking your heart from His?

Behold. He is with you. He wants to give you whatever it takes for what He is calling you to. He won’t lead you astray.

Behold. Each moment God gives us is a gift, a grace that we can use to radically love or to doubt Him or ourselves and put things off for another day.

What are we putting off? Is it more time in prayer? Is it a job change you know you need? Is it a mission trip you feel God calling you to? Is there someone in your life you need to forgive?

Now is that very acceptable time to take that next step towards God, wherever He is leading you on His path of peace. Be not afraid.

A Posture of Humility

This week, I helped facilitate the confession line for a group of middle schoolers. Many were nervous; several had not gone to confession in years. I tried to help settle their nerves and calm their fears before going in, assuring them of God’s great mercy and that there was nothing to be scared about. A few children inspired me with their eagerness to enter the confessional—one who hadn’t been in six years, as well as one who had just gone last week. They didn’t allow any apprehensions to hold them back from receiving God’s mercy and forgiveness. They simply went forward with a sincere trust that by humbling themselves before God, they would experience grace. And what inspired me the most was that all these kids, even the ones who were most nervous, came out of the confessional beaming with joy and relief.

Kneeling in the shadows of the confessional, coming face to face with the reality of our sin and articulating it aloud—this is not something that demeans or diminishes us. Rather, it ennobles us, for it unites us more closely with our Creator as part of His Divine Body. By kneeling down and making ourselves small, we become part of a greater whole. Yet many of us hesitate to take this posture of humility. Sometimes a sense of perfectionism holds us back from admitting our mistakes, even to ourselves. But this sort of perfectionism is ultimately rooted in fear—that our faults will make others think less of us, or that God will be disappointed in us (as if He doesn’t already know all that we’ve done!). So instead of confessing our sins, we live in denial of their existence—and then we never receive the graces that will help us overcome them. We never come to understand that our goodness does not come from ourselves, but from the God who loves us so much that He laid down His life to redeem us in our sinfulness.

Jesus Himself has taken the ultimate postures of humility: on the Cross, with His arms spread open in surrender; and in the Eucharist, where He comes to us as Bread and Wine, food for us to consume. Through these gestures of love, He offers Himself as a gift to us. His arms are open wide to receive us; His Flesh nourishes and strengthens our souls. He offers His Body, broken and crushed, to heal us of our own brokenness:

For my Flesh is true food,
and my Blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood
remains in me and I in him.
—John 6:55–56

This week I also mourned the passing of John Aroutiounian, with whom I co-taught a Confirmation class three years ago. I was so moved by his eulogy, which reflects on the mystery of redemptive suffering and illustrates the fullness and meaning of his short life. John was very intelligent, had multiple prestigious degrees, and likely would have gone on to have a remarkable career. Yet when presented with a more humble calling—to suffer deeply, to physically waste away, to witness to the strength of the human spirit and the dignity of life even amidst great affliction, and to lay down his life at just 26 years old—he did not hesitate to embrace this cross. During his life, John fought to defend the dignity of every human life—even our enemies, even those who are inconvenient to us. He was a pro-life advocate and volunteered as a suicide hotline counselor. He believed at his core that life, every life, was worth living, and that each human soul has incalculable, eternal worth. He gave no greater witness to this conviction than through his own suffering and death.

We all have a natural desire to protect and shelter ourselves and our loved ones against suffering. However, it is through those painful experiences that we encounter the true meaning of our existence. Only when brought to our knees by suffering do we realize how deeply we must depend on God. A happy, complacent life can cause us to forget that, in the words of St. Thérèse, this world is our ship, not our home. We are meant for something greater; our deepest desires will not find fulfillment in this world but point us to the fulfillment that awaits us in heaven. And the path to heaven is through the Cross, following in the footsteps of our Redeemer.

Indeed, the fear of suffering can be worse than actual suffering. For when God allows us to suffer, He provides the graces in that moment to bear crosses we never thought we could carry, as long as we surrender to Him, acknowledge our own weakness, and trust that He will use every second of our pain for His divine purpose. Only by lowering ourselves into the depths of our humanity can we be raised into the divine Light. If we accept our crosses with a posture of humility, our suffering will surely bear fruit.

Prayer is the Battle Plan

In my favorite movie, You’ve Got Mail, the main character Kathleen Kelly laments not being able to come up with the right words at the right time, finding herself tongue-tied and her mind blank. “What should I have said, for example, to the bottom-dweller who recently belittled my existence?” she says. I think we’ve all had those moments, where we realize later, perhaps at 11:30pm when we’re lying in bed trying to sleep, the thing we wanted to say and how we wanted to say it. These situations arise in moments of conflict, in a moment where we feel misunderstood, or when we are put in a circumstance where we are invited to stand up for the truth with love.

What do we say? What do we do? How do we get better at fighting the fear and speaking up, or maybe biting our tongue when anger arises and allowing God’s truth to pour out of us instead?

The Apostles in today’s first reading act with wisdom when they had every reason to both lash out in anger and be totally tongue-tied. Faced with opposition and death threats all around them, and after having just been released from prison, Peter and John and the other Apostles gather together to pray for boldness. They could’ve had a meeting to come up with a battle plan to confront their persecutors, or they could’ve strategized how to go into hiding. They could’ve given up on their mission to evangelize entirely. But praying for boldness was their battle plan. Surrounded by challenges and fear, they knew that it was not them doing the work of growing the early Church, but the Holy Spirit at work through them. They realized their acute need for the Holy Spirit to empower them and give them the boldness they needed to go out and answer God’s call.

So they prayed for boldness; then, trusting that the Holy Spirit would not abandon them, they went out and kept preaching.

I don’t think our Catholic Church has an issue of too many people living with holy boldness. That is not our problem. I think we are more caged in fear than anything. In what areas of our own lives do we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to empower us with boldness? Where is God calling us to shake off the fear and trust in His faithfulness? The more open we are to the Holy Spirit, the more He can empower us. When we are faced with those challenging situations where we know in the pit of our stomach that we need to say something, we can call on the Holy Spirit to give us the words and the courage to speak as He is leading us. We can put the pressure on God to show up and give us what we need—we just have to be open.

Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit. Help us to be bold and on fire for Your mission for each of us.

Go

“When Jesus heard that John had been arrested,
he withdrew to Galilee. 
He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea,
in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,
that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet 
might be fulfilled:

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles,
the people who sit in darkness
have seen a great light,
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.”

 From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say,
“Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:12-17

Today’s Gospel can often be glossed over and summarized as the start of Jesus’ public ministry. But I couldn’t get past the first line: “When Jesus heard that John had been arrested…” The weight of that hit my heart. Jesus had just spent 40 days and 40 nights praying and fasting in the desert, and now He hears of His cousin’s arrest and knows his death is imminent. Yet this news does not prevent Jesus from going where the Father is leading Him; I would even daresay it fuels Jesus to go where He needs to go, no matter what the sacrifice and no matter what the cost.

Jesus goes to Galilee not to hide and avoid being arrested Himself, but to fulfill the great prophecy from Isaiah that He is the Messiah! He is the Light who scatters all darkness! In hearing of John’s arrest, I imagine the reality of what Jesus was about to undertake in His public ministry, culminating in His own death, started to sink in. In a moment of what could have been great fear leading to inaction, Jesus begins to preach. The Word takes on a voice. And how the aching world needed His preaching, His healing, His love, His mercy.

What is it time for you to begin? What are you holding back from God? I think sometimes we all have a sense of where God is calling us, we’re just too afraid. I am right there with you in battling the fear. What steps can we begin to take to go where He is leading us?

Last week I wrote about the anointing we have received in Baptism, and today’s first reading proclaims twice that we belong to God (1 John 4:4-6). We can have great confidence in Who we belong to and in the One who goes before us in all things. Brothers and sisters, I don’t know what your specific mission is in this life. But I do know that you are needed. You, as Catholics, are desperately needed in this world. So whatever it is, wherever He is calling you, take that first step—make that phone call, speak up when you’d normally stay silent, write that song, go to Confession, take that time in prayer that you’ve been avoiding. Go. More of Him, less of us. All for His glory, all for His Kingdom, all according to His will.

Holy Innocents

When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled,
Out of Egypt I called my son.

When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,
he became furious.
He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity
two years old and under,
in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.

—Matthew 2:13–18

As Joseph and Mary anticipated Jesus’s arrival, surely they had some idea that they should expect the unexpected when it came to parenting the Son of God. After all, they had already received one giant surprise and had chosen to trust in God’s plan. Still, I don’t think they could have guessed this next curveball in their journey. After traveling to Bethlehem and delivering the child Jesus in a stable, Mary and Joseph were now asked to leave behind everything and everyone they knew, fleeing the country to protect their newborn son from being hunted by King Herod.

It is a testament to his unshakeable trust in God that Joseph responded to the angel’s warning without hesitation, picking up and leaving for Egypt immediately. After all, it was a big sacrifice to make for a message that had arrived in a dream. How did he know that this was truly God’s will for him and not some crazy manifestation of his own subconscious? Only by being so familiar with God’s voice through daily prayer was Joseph able to discern with clarity that this was a message he should heed. And he did so without wringing his hands wondering where they would stay, how they would get by in a foreign land, and why such senseless bloodshed must ensue at the hands of Herod. He dropped everything, including his own plans, to follow God’s call.

God gives grace for the situation, not for the imagination. The only way that Joseph and Mary were able to follow God so resolutely was by continually seeking His will in the present moment. They didn’t become distracted by worries and plans for the future; surely they had hopes and fears of what might lay ahead, but they placed it all in God’s hands and trusted that He would direct their steps.

Herod, on the other hand, was driven entirely by his own wild fears and self-serving plans. Filled with fear and insecurity upon hearing of the birth of this newborn king, he lashed out with merciless brutality and ordered the massacre of innocent children. But even this act of violence did not achieve its intended end, for the Holy Family had already escaped into Egypt.

Herod’s inflated ego numbed his conscience and skewed his perception of justice; he was willing to sacrifice whatever was necessary to preserve his own power, even innocent lives. Herod grasped for control when he perceived a threat to his power, but God was always in control of the situation. The newborn king would die at the appointed time and place, not through Herod’s feverish display of power and cruelty.

We are not in control, and that is a marvelous thing. Let us embrace the unknown path that lies ahead, knowing that we have a good and loving God who will lead us every step of the way. When unexpected situations arrive, may we trust that God will provide us the grace we need in the moment. And may we always be willing to speak up for the innocent and vulnerable, who are so often trampled upon and exploited by those in power.

¡Viva Cristo Rey!

Miguel_Pro's_execution_(1927)This weekend we will celebrate Christ the King Sunday, and today we honor the feast of Blessed Miguel Pro, who is known for his last words, uttered before a firing squad: “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King!”). As we reflect on Christ’s role as king within our own lives, Miguel Pro is an example to us of how we are to orient our hearts toward Christ above all else.

Miguel Pro lived in Mexico during a time of intense religious persecution. The secular government forbade all public worship, and as a Jesuit priest, Father Pro had to carry out his mission in secret. Disguised as a mechanic, an office worker, or a beggar, he administered the sacraments and served the poor. He was well aware of the dangers and knew that this mission would likely cost him his life, but he also understood that following Christ was what gave his life meaning in the first place. If it meant defying an unjust government, he would not hesitate; he would gladly lay down his life for the sake of Christ, who had died on the Cross for him.

In 1927, Father Pro was falsely convicted of an assassination attempt against President Calles and executed without trial. Intending to portray Pro as a coward, Calles sent a photographer to the execution. But this backfired, for the photo portrayed Father Pro as the saint he truly was: standing bravely with arms outstretched, embracing his cross and declaring Christ his king. The photo of his last moments, printed on the front page of newspapers throughout Mexico, galvanized the Cristeros, who were fighting against government persecution. His martyrdom was a powerful witness for Christ.

When our society contradicts the teachings of Christ, are we prepared to stand for what is right? Or are we ruled more by the common beliefs of the culture than by Christ Himself? Unlike Miguel Pro, we do not have to fear a firing squad for practicing our faith, but sometimes much lesser penalties—fear of being misunderstood, ignored, or ostracized—scare us away from allowing Christ to rule in every aspect of our lives. Let us pray to Blessed Miguel Pro to grant us his courage, that we may not allow the fear of how others may treat us to cloud our focus on Christ the King.


Image: Photograph of Miguel Agustin Pro, Mexican Jesuit, being executed by a firing squad in Mexico city, November 23, 1927 / PD-US

Another Saint I Learned to Like

“I am glad to hear that the Church considers her a saint, because I thought she was a witch!”  These words, allegedly spoken by a priest of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, reinforced in my mind the already intimidating image of this saint, whose feast we celebrate today.

That she was fearless and feisty was to her credit, I supposed.  But I found myself cowed by her seemingly impossible standards of self-sacrifice.  It has been recounted how, when just a young girl, she wanted very much to be a missionary.  Then, one day, when about to eat a piece of candy, she was told that missionaries could not eat such sweets.  So she didn’t.  Not that day, NOT EVER AGAIN.  She didn’t complain—even when suffering from ill treatment, or ill health—and forbade her fellow nuns to complain about ANYTHING.  Not even the weather.  She was relentless in her pursuits, in both her numerous missionary projects (schools, hospitals etc. throughout the world) and in her pursuit of holiness.

Even the Girl I Ought To Be does not aspire to such herculean efforts, and Real Me, rather than taking inspiration from her, merely added her to the list of Saints I Don’t Like.  What common ground could I have with such a saint?

So it was something of a surprise when I found myself at her shrine, one morning in May, while preparing for a talk.  The shrine offered the best chance for Mass, so there I was, praying not a few feet from the altar under which her body is encased.

That night I was to give a talk on Mary’s Fiat, and while I had been preparing for some time, I felt a subtle urge to change what I was going to say.  To talk about fear.  Fear?  I questioned the voice inside.  How does fear relate to anything?

Was Mother Cabrini smiling, just a little, when the priest began his homily, and began to speak of fear?  How in fact the saint I saw as fearless had some very big fears indeed.  One of these was of water.  When she was a child of seven, little Francesca Cabrini would make paper boats, fill them with violets (pretending they were her missionaries) and float them down the river.  She was shy and quiet then, and this solitary activity brought her much peace and joy.  Until one day she fell in.

Nobody knows how she got out.  She was discovered on the water bank, soaked and shaken, with no memory of who had rescued her.  Credit was given to her Guardian Angel, and yet for the rest of her life Francesca had a deep fear of drowning.

God did not take away her fear.  Rather, He allowed her to offer it back to Him, repeatedly.  No less than twenty-seven times, St. Frances Cabrini crossed the oceans between continents.  This was more than a century ago, and so passage was by boat, and slow, a matter of days.  Yet she did it, again and again, in spite of her fears.

Her first time crossing the Atlantic brought her to New York City. Like her patron, St. Francis Xavier, she had wanted to go to China.  But the pope told her, “Not to the east, but to the west.”  And so New York it was, where she arrived with a few nuns to begin her first mission in a convent that had been prepared for them.  Only, there was no convent—there had been some miscommunication—there was in fact no lodging prepared at all.

Mother Cabrini and her nuns spent the first night in a boarding house infested with bed bugs and mice.  Mice, I was to learn, were another fear of hers (I see her smiling at me again).  She spent the whole night sitting up, using the occasion to intercede.   So began her work among the immigrants of NYC.

How did she do it?  Like the apostles in the boat, terrified of the storm about them, she was comforted by the voice of Jesus, saying “It is I.”  She knew that voice personally.  She had a strong devotion to the Sacred Heart (one of her nuns spoke to me of her mystical “exchange of hearts” with Jesus).  She knew that He would carry her, that He would provide for her poverty and weakness.  He continued to reward her trust in Him.

In April of 1912 she was scheduled to sail yet again from England to New York.  But urgent business directed her elsewhere that day, and she canceled passage for herself and another sister.  She can only have wondered, later, when she saw the news that the boat she was booked on, the Titanic, had sunk off the coast of Newfoundland.

Why was her life spared?  We can talk casually about the mysterious plans of God.  Other saints were on board that day when the ship went down.  But God had chosen her for further things.

Ultimately, for St. Frances Cabrini, for Our Lady at the Annunciation, for each of us—our Yes is not to an abstract plan, but to a Person.  To Someone, not merely something.

When we offer even our fears to God, He responds by giving us more gifts than we could imagine.  St. Frances Xavier Cabrini founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and more than 67 institutions throughout the world.  She was the first American citizen to be canonized.

May she carry our prayers to the heart of Jesus.

 

Jesus Walks on the Sea

 

Photo Attribution:

Jesus Walks on the Sea by Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons