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Prayer and Action

How often do we ignore the poor around us? At the very least, take time to see them. Smile. Make eye contact. Set aside some amount of cash each week to give to people you see on the street. If you don’t want to give money, keep snacks or personal care items in your car. Don’t just feel guilty today—take action!

Let this prayer guide our steps:
Let us ask the Lord for the grace
to always see the Lazarus who knocks
at our heart and for the grace to go outside
of ourselves with generosity,
with an attitude of mercy,
so that God’s mercy can enter our heart.

—from the book The Hope of Lent: Daily Reflections from Pope Francis by Diane M. Houdek

The Hope of Lent

 

 

St. Polycarp of Smyrna

On Feb. 23, the Catholic Church remembers the life and martyrdom of St. Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle and evangelist St. John. Polycarp is celebrated on the same date by Eastern Orthodox Christians, who also honor him as a Saint.Polycarp is known to later generations primarily through the account of his martyrdom, rather than by a formal biography. However, it can be determined from that account that he was born around the year 69 AD. From the testimony he gave to his persecutors – stating he had served Christ for 86 years – it is clear that he was either raised as a Christian, or became one in his youth.Growing up among the Greek-speaking Christians of the Roman Empire, Polycarp received the teachings and recollections of individuals who had seen and known Jesus during his earthly life. This important connection – between Jesus' first disciples and apostles and their respective students – served to protect the Catholic Church against the influence of heresy during its earliest days, particularly against early attempts to deny Jesus' bodily incarnation and full humanity.Polycarp's most significant teacher, with whom he studied personally, was St. John – whose contributions to the Bible included not only the clearest indication of Jesus' eternal divinity, but also the strongest assertions of the human nature he assumed on behalf of mankind. By contrast, certain tendencies had already emerged among the first Christians – to deny the reality of Jesus' literal suffering, death, and resurrection, regarding them as mere "symbols" of highly abstract ideas.Another Catholic teacher of the second century, St. Irenaeus, wrote that Polycarp "was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ; but he was also, by apostles, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna." In a surviving letter that he wrote to the Philippians, he reminded that Church – which had also received the teaching of St. Paul – not to surrender their faith to the "gnostic" teachers claiming to teach a more intellectually refined gospel."For every one who shall not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is antichrist," he wrote –  citing St. John himself – "and whosoever shall not confess the testimony of the Cross, is of the devil; and whosoever shall pervert the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts and say that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, that man is the firstborn of Satan.""Let us therefore, without ceasing, hold fast by our hope and by the pledge of our righteousness," Polycarp taught – as he went on to explain that both hope and righteousness depended upon "Jesus Christ, who took up our sins in His own body upon the cross." With eloquence and clarity, he reminded the Philippian Church that Christ, "for our sakes, endured all things – so that we might live in him."However, Polycarp's most eloquent testimony to his faith in Jesus came not through his words, but through his martyrdom, described in another early Christian work. The Church of Smyrna, in present-day Turkey, compiled their recollections of their bishop's death at the hands of public authorities in a letter to another local church."We have written to you, brethren, as to what relates to the martyrs, and especially to the blessed Polycarp" – who, in the words of the Catholics of Smyrna, "put an end to the persecution – having, as it were, set a seal upon it by his martyrdom."Around the year 155, Polycarp became aware that government authorities were on the lookout for him, seeking to stamp out the Catholic Church's claim of obeying a higher authority than the Emperor. He retreated to a country house and occupied himself with constant prayer, before receiving a vision of his death that prompted him to inform his friends: "I must be burned alive." He changed locations, but was betrayed by a young man who knew his whereabouts and confessed under torture.He was captured on a Saturday evening by two public officials, who urged him to submit to the state demands. "What harm is there," one asked, "in saying, 'Caesar is Lord,' and in sacrificing to him, with the other ceremonies observed on such occasions, so as to make sure of safety?""I shall not do as you advise me," he answered. Outraged by his response, the officials had him violently thrown from their chariot and taken to an arena for execution. Entering the stadium, the bishop – along with some of his companions, who survived to tell of it – heard a heavenly voice, saying: "Be strong, and show yourself a man, O Polycarp!"Before the crowd, the Roman proconsul demanded again that he worship the emperor."Hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian," the bishop said. "And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and you shall hear them.""You threaten me with fire," he continued "which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished. But you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly.""But," he challenged the proconsul, "what are you waiting for? Bring forth what you will."Although the crowds clamored for Polycarp to be devoured by beasts, it was decided he should be burned alive, just as he had prophesied. He prayed aloud to God: "May I be accepted this day before you as an acceptable sacrifice -- just as you, the ever-truthful God, have foreordained, revealed beforehand to me, and now have fulfilled."What happened next struck Polycarp's companions with amazement; they recorded the sight in the letter that they circulated after Polycarp's death."As the flame blazed forth in great fury," they wrote, "we to whom it was given to witness it, beheld a great miracle." The fire did not seem to touch the bishop's body. Rather, as they described, "shaping itself into the form of an arch, it  encompassed – as by a circle – the body of the martyr. And he appeared within not like flesh which is burnt, but as bread that is baked, or as gold and silver glowing in a furnace.""Moreover, we perceived such a sweet odour coming from the flames – as if frankincense or some such precious spices had been burning there."The executioners perceived that Polycarp's death was not going as planned. Losing patience, they ordered him to be stabbed to death.From the resulting wound, "there came forth a dove, and a great quantity of blood, so that the fire was extinguished."The crowd, as the Christian witnesses recalled, were understandably amazed."All the people marveled," they wrote, "that there should be such a difference between the unbelievers and the elect." Polycarp, they proclaimed, had been among that elect – "having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church which is in Smyrna."St. Polycarp has been venerated as a Saint since his death in 155.

Sharing the Light of Christ

Francis and and his brothers could have been killed spreading the Gospel. In bringing near the kingdom of heaven, the brothers were engaging in one of the oldest of dramas in which the battle between darkness and light is played out. It was not so much a battle in which they fought the darkness, as it was the ongoing battle with themselves to keep bearing the light, to keep bringing near the kingdom and not giving up, even when they were rejected. For even in rejection they are bringing near the kingdom. And even if they were martyred for proclaiming these words of Jesus, they were not overcome by darkness; they were yielding to the light.

—from the book Francis and Jesus by Murray Bodo

Francis and Jesus 

Jesus Conquers Death

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus dies before he dies, and thereby readies himself for what awaits him. The next day, when Pilate threatens him with death, Jesus stands in a freedom and courage that can be understood only if we understand what happened to him in the garden. When Pilate says to him: “Don’t you know that I have power over you, power to take your life or to save it?” Jesus answers: “You have no power over me whatsoever. Nobody takes my life; I give it over freely.” Pilate is threatening a man who is already dead. No big threat. Jesus had already undergone the agonia. In great anguish, he had given his life over freely the night before, and so he is ready for whatever awaits him.

—from the book The Passion and the Cross by Ronald Rolheiser

The Passion and the Cross

God Forgives the Maximum

In the Our Father we say: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” This is an equation. If you are not capable of forgiveness, how can God forgive you? The Lord wants to forgive you, but he cannot if you keep your heart closed and mercy cannot enter. One might object: “Father, I forgive, but I cannot forget that awful thing that he did to me….” The answer is to ask the Lord to help you forget. One must forgive as God forgives, and God forgives the maximum. 

—Pope Francis, as quoted in the book The Hope of Lent: Daily Reflections from Pope Francis by Diane M. Houdek

The Hope of Lent

Indebted to God

God of life, we are grateful for the many gifts that you have given to us. May we become prudent stewards of your many gifts and not thoughtlessly waste water, food, and other resources. May we respond to your Son’s cry of thirst with lives of peacemaking and just action. We make his prayer in your name. Amen.

—from The Last Words of Jesus: A Meditation on Love and Suffering by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

The Last Words of Jesus 

Heaven and Earth

When Saint Francis met the leper, it was Jesus he’d met, and the Lord was saying, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:35–37).

These words made everything clear for Francis, and living them, even when God seemed distant or an enveloping cloud, brought near the kingdom of God. That is what the brothers’ lives had proven from the very beginning: Living the Gospel revealed to them the kingdom of God. 

—from the book Francis and Jesus by Murray Bodo 

Francis and Jesus

God Is Within Us

If something is completely foreign to you, you’re normally bored by it or do not even notice it. We cannot deeply experience, much less desire union with, something that is foreign to us. So God planted a little bit of God inside of us—and all things. It seduces us into even more universal love and life. Some might call it the Holy spirit, some might call it the soul, some might simply speak of inner resonance. The point is that a force of love can move from God to us and back again. 

—from the book Yes, And...: Daily Meditations by Richard Rohr

Yes, And ...: Daily Meditations by Richard Rohr

God Speaks through Everything

How does God speak? Through everything there is. Every thing, every person, every situation, is ultimately the Word. It tells me something and challenges me to respond. Each moment, with all that it contains, spells out the great “yes” in a new and unique way. By making my response, moment by moment, word by word, I myself am becoming the Word that God speaks in me and to me and through me. 

—from the book The Way of Silence by Brother David Steindl-Rast 

The Way of Silence: Engaging the Sacred in Daily Life

A Meditation on the Cross

Grasping the secret of the cross is not something we do once and for all. Sometimes we grasp it, and we are inside the circle of understanding; and sometimes we don’t grasp it, and we are outside the circle of understanding.

For example, after Peter denies Jesus during the passion, the Gospels tell us that “Peter went outside.” They are referring to much more than simply stepping outside through some courtyard door. Peter was stepping outside the circle of both true discipleship and of a true understanding of life. His denial of Jesus took him “outside.” We too, in our following of Jesus, sometimes step “outside” when we give in to temptation or adversity. But then, if we repent, like Peter, we can step back “inside.”

—from the book The Passion and the Cross by Ronald Rolheiser

The Passion and the Cross