Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Prayer for Life - 40 Days for Life

Almighty God, our Father, you who have given us life and intended us to have it forever, grant us your blessings. Enlighten our minds to an awareness and to a renewed conviction that all human life is sacred because it is created in your image and likeness. Help us to teach by word, and the example of our lives, that life occupies the first place, that human life is precious because it is the gift of God whose love is infinite.

Give us the strength to defend human life against every influence or action that threatens or weakens it, as well as the strength to make every life more human in all its aspects.

Give us the grace, when the sacredness of life before birth is attacked, to stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy unborn life. Give us the grace, when a child is described as a burden or is looked upon only as a means to satisfy an emotional need, to stand up and insist that every child is a unique and unrepeatable gift of God, a gift of God with a right to a loving and united family. Amen.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Prayer for Life - 40 Days for Life

Heavenly Father, Your love is eternal. In Your ocean of love You saved the world through Your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Now look at Your Son on the Cross who is constantly bleeding for love of His people and forgive Your world.

Lord Jesus, purify aborted children with the Precious Blood and Water from Your sacred side. May they, through Your wounds be healed and through Your Precious Blood be freed, to gain everlasting life and be received by the Holy Innocents in heaven and there to rejoice with all the saints. Amen.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ostensus et datus – he was shown to us and he gave himself to us, with his soul, to the limits of his strength.

Homily of His Eminence, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger,
Archbishop of Munich and Freising

Mass for His Holiness Pope John Paul I
October 6, 1978

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We have come together for the Eucharist in sorrow at the sudden death of our Holy Father John Paul I, and in this liturgy we bring our sorrow to the light of the love of Jesus Christ, which is stronger than death. We want to draw close to this love, to purify ourselves in it and to prepare ourselves for the resurrection and eternal life.

Brothers and Sisters! It has not yet been a month from the day in which we were together, filled with joy, in this cathedral, to thank God for having given us the new Pope John Paul I. Then we couldn’t foresee how soon he would be taken and we still cannot understand the reason. “God gave, God has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord”, we can say with Job. In the history of the popes there is a person similar to him in his destiny and who could help us to bear this better; this is Marcellus II, next to whom John Paul I has now found his final resting place.

It was the year 1555: The Council of Trent had been interrupted without concrete results and there did not seem any possibility of it beginning. Thus the Church remained torn between renewal and reform, as if sunk in a deep depression, unable to pull itself out. Thus in one of the shortest conclaves in history, Cardinal Cervini was elected by acclamation. He was one of the presidents of the Council of Trent, a person who even in that obscure period had tried to live the Gospel in a credible way to bring to fulfilment the “Christian reality” from his deepest center, as a goal of greatest importance. He began immediately with actions that attracted attention and brought a refreshing breeze. He refused the ostentation of the papal coronation and began with a very simple ceremony, which saved enormous sums which ordinarily would have been spent for such ceremonies. He decided that half of it would be used to cover papal debts and the other half would be distributed to the poor so that the day of his installation would be above all a day of joy for the poor.

Rome was, at that time as now, stamped with the sign of violence. But she changed her face, men put down their arms and turned over a new page. The general of the Augustinians, Father Serepando, said that he had prayed for a pope who could renew and restore honour to three words fallen into disrepute: church, council, reform, and he considered that with this election he had been heard. There were no preferences for his relatives. Rather he let them know that they needn’t come to Rome. He did not meddle in the disputes of the factions, but he called all to peace and he lived his mission, from the heart of the Eucharist, in a manner which had long since become unknown.

After 22 days he died. And another Augustinian, Parvenio, applied to him with sorrow the words which Virgil had once written for another Marcellus: Ostensus est nobis, non datus. (He was only shown to us, not given.) In spite of this, historians of the papacy affirm that this pontificate of only 22 days represented a true turnabout, a point of departure, a great step from which there would be no return. The door was thrown open. The reform had turned into a reform; that is, there could no longer be a return to a comfortable existence, but rather an aiming towards the center of the faith, and the church began again to live.

Ostensus non datus: shown to us but not given. This is what we would like to say about Pope John Paul I, whose smile conquered the attention and gaze of the world. “The Pope of the Smile” the Italians called him with affection and the whole world agreed. The morning of his death, when Cardinal Confalonieri entered the room of the dead man, his face was only slightly inclined and in his expression was still present that inimitable smile which had made this man stand out in a particular way. This smile was not a mask, behind which a person can hide himself nor was it a studied gesture to obtain something, but the expression, unconscious and natural of a soul transparent and luminous to its very depths. Yes, it is not a question of a gift received from nature, but rather something acquired from Jesus Christ, living at an ever-deeper level. We can glimpse a part of his spiritual journey from his letters, gathered together in this very beautiful book, Illustrissimi which in its simplicity, serenity and greatness has remained as his enduring testament.

Particularly moving is his letter to Therese of Lisieux with whom he had a special intimate affinity. He says to her, “Love in little things. Often this is the only kind possible. I never had the chance to jump into a river to save a drowning man; I have been very often asked to lend something, to write letters, to give simple and easy instructions. I have never met a mad dog; instead I have met some irritating flies and mosquitoes. I have never had persecutors beat me but many people disturb me with noises in the street, with the volume of the television turned up too high or unfortunately with making noise in drinking soup. To help, however, one can not take it amiss, to be understanding; to remain calm and smiling (as much as possible) in such occasions is to love one’s neighbour without rhetoric in a practical way.”

He also remembers the name which Dante gave Our Lord, “Lord of all courtesy.” He finds this Lord in Sacred Scripture, speaking of the faults and stubbornness which he had to put up with in his apostles. He finally told them, “You are those who have borne with me in my trials.” What?! There came to his mind the saying of the great Teresa. “A sad saint is a sorry saint.”

He also tells a little parable in which he himself is reflected. “An Irishman died whose life had not been overflowing with good works. At the time of judgment he stood in line waiting his turn. He looks and sees the Lord turning over the cards of the various people and he says to the first: ‘I was hungry, you gave me to eat. Heaven!’ To the second, ‘I was thirsty, you gave me to drink. Heaven!’ To the third, ‘I was naked, you gave me clothes. Heaven!’ The Irishman’s heart was more and more uneasy because he had never done any of that. Trembling, he stepped before the judge, not daring to look at him. But glancing up timidly he noticed in his eyes something like a hidden furtive smile. The Lord took out his card and told him, “well, there’s not really much here. But once I was sad and you told me a joke which made me laugh. On your way to Heaven!”’

Such was John Paul I. That’s how he was. He didn’t just tell us a story, he made us a gift of his smile; he allowed us to get a glimpse into the depth of the “human essence” to guess something of paradise lost.

However, he was certainly not a simple minded, good little old man, unaware of the gravity of live and the reality of today. I have personally seen, in Latin America, with what gratitude and relief his words on the theology of liberation were received – that it is not a theology because it is not founded on God, but rather on the struggle between the classes and it does not aim at liberty but rather the dictatorship of the party. How simple and great are his words: “It is not true, Ubi Lenin, ibi Jerusalem – where Lenin is, there is Jerusalem.” And what was our gratitude when he condemned that false creativity in the liturgy which does not celebrate the common mystery of the Church, but honours one’s own “creativism” precluding and harming in the way for many, access to the renewed liturgy.

What importance there was to have broken the deadly silence of the West concerning Lebanon. We were convinced quite willingly that there were only a few privileged people, probably fascists, defending their interest. A Lebanese once told me sadly, “For you, oil is more important than the spirit.” We have turned our gaze elsewhere, in order not to see because we didn’t want to risk our interests. But he stripped the veil away and made us see that between the panislamic aspiration to power and the social utopia of the Palestinians, there was a small Christian minority which was trampled on.

Ostensus, non datus – he was shown to us, not given, Can we truly say that? No, I hold that the correct formulation should be: Ostensus et datus – he was shown to us and he gave himself to us, with his soul, to the limits of his strength.

On the death of Cardinal Dopfner, he mentioned the consoling figure of St. Christopher who carried Christ across the rivers of history. On the death of Pope Paul VI, there shone the light of the transfiguration of Christ. Pope John Paul I departed during the night of the feast of St. Michael called by tradition the “Psychopomp” the escort of souls, who escorts it through the night of death to the light of the Lord. He was buried on the day of St. Francis of Assisi, the amiable saint that he resembled so much.

For us believers it is not foolishness. It was the authentic expression of the fact that faith has transformed time, which is no longer the sum of anonymous days, the empty net of death in which some day or another we will be caught without escape. Time has been transformed. By the action of the Lord, it has become the history of God, men who proceed from that history and who accompany us, consoling us, acting as our guides, as symbols of hope and faith. Time is no longer the net of death, but rather the hand of God’s mercy held out, who supports and seeks us. His saints are the columns of light who show us the way, transforming it certainly into the path of salvation while we pass through the darkness of earth.

From now on, John Paul I too will belong to that light. The one who was given us for only 33 days; from him, however, there shines a light which can no longer be taken from us. It is for this that we know want to thank the Lord with our whole hearts. Amen.

Lord, Remember Your Good and Faithful Servant John Paul the First
October 17, 1912 -- September 28, 1978

Thirty years ago today, on Thursday, September 28, 1978, His Holiness Pope John Paul the First was called to the house of the Father, 33 short days after he had been elected as the Successor of Peter and Pope Paul VI. But we should not for one moment think that such a short papacy meant that the cardinal-electors erred in choosing him to be pope. We should not think that the cardinals ignored the guidance of the Holy Spirit or otherwise selected someone that the Holy Spirit did not want to lead the Church.

The greats never go alone. They always have someone preceding them to prepare the way.

To begin with, it was John Paul the First -- not the Second -- who began the new dawn of the Church, following the stormy night of the 20th century, which we were able to withstand because of the shelter of the Council and bravery of Paul VI. It was John Paul the First -- not the Second -- who began the process of demonstrating that the Church is not old and musty, but ever fresh and alive.

Having accomplished that feat (in a remarkably short amount of time), he accomplished another great feat by the very fact of his relatively brief papacy. It was that very briefness that led the cardinal-electors to look beyond Italy for a shepherd of the Church. It was John Paul the First's seeming premature death that opened the door to the election of John Paul the Great. Had he had a long papacy, or had someone else been elected to succeed Paul VI, it is a near certainty that we never would have had Karol Wojtyla as pope.

We might have had a John Paul the Second, that is, someone other than Karol Wojtyla, but we would not have had a John Paul the Great.

No, the cardinals did not get it wrong the first time. The Holy Spirit knew what He was doing in guiding the election of Albino Luciani, and in bringing him to the Father's house after he had accomplished his mission of preparing the way for the Rock who would lead the Church from the dawn to the bright day. That was the mission of Albino Luciani, John Paul I, that was his role, to prepare the Church and the world for he who would come after him.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Journey of Love

Address of His Holiness Pope John Paul I
General Audience
Wednesday, 27 September 1978

"My God, with all my heart above all things I love You, infinite good and our eternal happiness, and for your sake I love my neighbour as myself and forgive offenses received. Oh Lord, may I love you more and more." This is a very well-known prayer, embellished with biblical phrases. My mother taught it to me. I recite it several times a day even now, and I will try to explain it to you, word by word, as a parish catechist would do.

We are at Pope John's "third lamp of sanctification": charity. I love. In philosophy class the teacher would say to me: You know St Mark's bell tower? You do? That means that it has somehow, entered your mind: physically it has remained where it was, but within you it has imprinted almost an intellectual portrait of itself. Do you, on the other hand, love St Mark's bell tower? That means that portrait, from within, pushes you and bends you, almost carries you, makes you go in your mind towards the bell tower which is outside. In a word: to love means travelling, rushing with one's heart towards the object loved. The Imitation of Christ says: he who loves "currit, volat, laetatur", runs, flies and rejoices (The Imitation of Christ ,1.III, c. V, n. 4).

To love God is therefore a journeying with one's heart to God. A wonderful journey! When I was a boy, I was thrilled by the journeys described by Jules Verne ("Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea", "From The Earth To The Moon", "Round The World In Eighty Days", etc). But the journeys of love for God are far more interesting. You read them in the lives of the Saints. St Vincent de Paul, whose feast we celebrate today, for example, is a giant of charity: he loved God more than a father and a mother, and he himself was a father for prisoners, sick people, orphans and the poor. St Peter Claver, dedicating himself entirely to God, used to sign: Peter, the slave of the negroes for ever.

The Journey also brings sacrifices, but these must not stop us. Jesus is on the cross: you want to kiss him? You cannot help bending over the cross and letting yourself be pricked by some thorns of the crown which is on the Lord's head (cf. St Francis de Sales Oeuvres, Annecy, t. XXI, p. 153). You cannot cut the figure of good St Peter, who had no difficulty in shouting "Long live Jesus" on Mount Tabor, where there was joy, but did not even let himself be seen beside Jesus at Mount Calvary, where there was risk and suffering (cf. Ibid.,140).

Love for God is also a mysterious journey: that is, I cannot start unless God takes the initiative first. "No one", Jesus said, "can come to me, unless the Father who sent me draws him" (Jn 6:44). St Augustine asked himself: but what about human freedom? God, however, who willed and constructed this freedom, knows how to respect it, though bringing hearts to the point he intended: "parum est voluntate, etiam voluptate traheris"; God draws you not only in a way that you yourself want, but even in such a way that you enjoy being drawn (St Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 26.4).

With all my heart. I stress, here, the adjective "all." Totalitarianism, in politics, is an ugly thing. In religion, on the contrary, a totalitarianism on our side towards God is a very good thing. It is written: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (Dt 6:5-9).

That "all" repeated and applied insistently is really the banner of Christian maximalism. And it is right: God is too great, he deserves too much from us for us to be able to throw to him, as to a poor Lazarus, a few crumbs of our time and our heart. He is infinite good and will be our eternal happiness: money, pleasure, the fortunes of this world, compared with him, are just fragments of good and fleeting moments of happiness. It would not be wise to give so much of ourselves to these things and little of ourselves to Jesus.

Above everything else. Now we come to a direct comparison between God and man, between God and the world. It would not be right to say: "Either God or man." We must love "both God and man"; the latter, however, never more than God or against God or as much as God. In other words: love of God, though prevalent, is not exclusive. The Bible declares Jacob holy (Dn 3:35) and loved by God (Mal 1:2; Rom 9:13), it shows him working for seven years to win Rachel as his wife; "and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her" (Gen 29:20). Francis de Sales makes a little comment on these words: "Jacob", he writes, "loves Rachel with all his might, and he loves God with all his might; but he does not therefore love Rachel as God nor God as Rachel. He loves God as his God above all things and more than himself; he loves Rachel as his wife above all other women and as himself. He loves God with absolutely and superbly supreme love, and Rachel with supreme husbandly love; one love is not contrary to the other because love of Rachel does not violate the supreme advantages of love of God " (St. Francis de Sales, Oeuvres, t. V, p. 175).

And for your sake I love my neighbour. Here we are in the presence of two loves which are "twin brothers" and inseparable. It is easy to love some persons; difficult to love others; we do not find them likeable, they have offended us and hurt us; only if I love God in earnest can I love them as sons of God and because he asks me to. Jesus also established how to love one's neighbour: that is, not only with feeling, but with facts. This is the way, he said. I will ask you: I was hungry in the person of my humbler brothers, did you give me food? Did you visit me, when I was sick (cf. Mt 25:34 ff).

The catechism puts these and other words of the Bible in the double list of the seven corporal works of mercy and the seven spiritual ones. The list is not complete and it would be necessary to update it. Among the starving, for example, today, it is no longer a question just of this or that individual; there are whole peoples.

We all remember the great words of Pope Paul VI: "Today the peoples in hunger are making a dramatic appeal to the peoples blessed with abundance. The Church shudders at this cry of anguish and calls each one to give a loving response of charity to this brother's cry for help" (Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, 3). At this point justice is added to charity, because, Paul VI says also, "Private property does not constitute for anyone an absolute and unconditioned right. No one is justified in keeping for his exclusive use what he does not need, when others lack necessities" (Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, 23). Consequently "every exhausting armaments race becomes an intolerable scandal" (Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, 53).

In the light of these strong expressions it can be seen how far we—individuals and peoples—still are from loving others "as ourselves", as Jesus commanded.

Another commandment: I forgive offenses received. It almost seems that the Lord gives precedence to this forgiveness over worship: "So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Mt 5:23-24).

The last words of the prayer are: Lord, may I love you more and more. Here, too, there is obedience to a commandment of God, who put thirst for progress in our hearts. From pile-dwellings, caves and the first huts we have passed to houses, apartment buildings and skyscrapers; from journeys on foot, on the back of a mule or of a camel, to coaches, trains and aeroplanes. And people desire to progress further with more and more rapid means of transport, reaching more and more distant goals. But to love God, we have seen, is also a journey: God wants it to be more and more intense and perfect. He said to all his followers: "You are the light of the world, the salt of the earth" (Mt 5:13-14); "You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48). That means: to love God not a little, but so much; not to stop at the point at which we have arrived, but with his help, to progress in love.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Prayer for Life - 40 Days for Life

Lord and giver of all life, help us to value each person, created in love by you. In your mercy, guide and assist our efforts to promote the dignity and value of all human life, born and unborn. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pope Benedict on the Trinity -- CCD Class Three

Christian theology synthesizes the truth of God with this expression: only one substance in three persons. God is not solitude, but perfect communion. For this reason the human person, the image of God, realizes himself or herself in love, which is a sincere gift of self.
--Angelus, 22 May 2005

Thanks to the Holy Spirit, who helps us understand Jesus' words and guides us to the whole truth (cf. Jn 14: 26; 16: 13), believers can experience, so to speak, the intimacy of God himself, discovering that He is not infinite solitude but communion of light and love, life given and received in an eternal dialogue between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit - Lover, Loved and Love, to echo St Augustine. . . . All beings are ordered to a dynamic harmony that we can similarly call "love". But only in the human person, who is free and can reason, does this dynamism become spiritual, does it become responsible love, in response to God and to one's neighbor through a sincere gift of self. It is in this love that human beings find their truth and happiness. Among the different analogies of the ineffable mystery of the Triune God that believers are able to discern, I would like to cite that of the family. It is called to be a community of love and life where differences must contribute to forming a "parable of communion".
--Angelus, 11 June 2006

There is only one source of true love, and that is God. Saint John makes this clear when he declares that "God is love" (1 Jn 4:8,16). He was not simply saying that God loves us, but that the very being of God is love. Here we find ourselves before the most dazzling revelation of the source of love, the mystery of the Trinity: in God, one and triune, there is an everlasting exchange of love between the persons of the Father and the Son, and this love is not an energy or a sentiment, but it is a person; it is the Holy Spirit.
--Message for World Youth Day 2007

In the First Reading (Ex 34: 4b-6, 8-9) we heard a biblical text that presents to us the revelation of God's Name. . . . In the New Testament St John sums up this sentence in a single word: "Love" (cf. I Jn 4: 8, 16). Today's Gospel also testifies to this: "God so loved the world that he gave his Only Son" (Jn 3: 16). Consequently this Name clearly expresses that the God of the Bible is not some kind of monad closed in on itself and satisfied with His own self-sufficiency, but He is life that wants to communicate itself, openness, relationship. . . . Jesus showed us the Face of God, one in Essence and Triune in Persons: God is Love, Father Love - Son Love - Holy Spirit Love. . . . If God is a dialogical unity, a being in relation, the human creature made in His image and likeness reflects this constitution: thus he is called to fulfill himself in dialogue, in conversation, in encounter. In particular, Jesus has revealed to us that man is essentially a "son", a creature who lives in the relationship with God the Father, and in this way in relationship with all his brothers and sisters. Man is not fulfilled in an absolute autonomy, deceiving himself that he is God but, on the contrary, by recognizing himself as a child, an open creature, reaching out to God and to his brethren in whose faces he discovers the image of their common Father. One can easily see that this concept of God and man is at the base of a corresponding model of the human community, and therefore of society. It is a model that comes before any normative, juridical or institutional regulations but I would say even before cultural specifications. It is a model of the human family transversal to all civilizations, which we Christians express confirming that human beings are all children of God and therefore all brothers and sisters. This is a truth that has been behind us from the outset and at the same time is always before us, like a project to strive for in every social construction. . . . Indeed, the Trinity is at the same time unity and mission: the more intense love is, the stronger is the urge to pour it out, to spread it, to communicate it.
Homily, 18 May 2008

God is One since He is all and only Love, but precisely by being Love He is openness, acceptance, dialogue; and in His relationship with us, sinful human beings, He is mercy, compassion, grace and forgiveness. God has created all things for existence and what He wills is always and only life. . . . It is the Father who places at our disposal what is dearest to Him; the Son who, consenting to the Father, empties Himself of his glory in order to give Himself to us; the Spirit who leaves the peace of the divine embrace to water the deserts of humanity.
--Homily, 17 May 2008

God and Man -- CCD Class Three

On the Existence and Nature of God (CCC 26-50; 198-278)

The unavoidable question of life is whether or not God exists. To arrive at a correct answer to that mystifying question, one must, of course, have a proper conception of whom or what God is. It is quite easy to reject any belief in God if all you know is a caricature of Him, rather than the reality. The problem is that, while the mere existence of God is knowable by reason, reason is necessarily limited by what is already known or by what can be imagined. However, reason can be enlightened by revelation, helping us to know who and what it is that we seek, that is, helping us to have that proper conception of God, at least to the extent that we can comprehend, conceding that the full extent of the nature of God is beyond our limited human comprehension, which we call “mystery.”

Faith and reason are not incompatible. Faith helps reason to discover itself. As Pope Benedict has pointed out, the search for truth never starts from zero, but always presupposes a trust in knowledge, ideas, and data which we cannot always control by ourselves. Faith implies reason and perfects it, and reason, illuminated by faith, finds the strength to rise to knowledge of God and of spiritual realities. Human reason loses nothing when it is open to the contents of revealed faith.

Also, when one simply "takes it on faith" that God exists, then it all starts making sense. As St. Augustine discovered, belief leads to understanding, which in turn leads to greater belief. Once we simply flip the switch of faith, the light comes on, and we can see, thereby confirming that we were right to trust. Thus, in answering the question of God, it is good to consult revelation as a starting point from which our reason can determine whether this is a truth to which we should give our assent.

Revelation informs us that:
(a) God told Moses that He is the “I am.” (Ex 3:13-15) What does this reveal about God? It means that God, as the “I am,” is the Ultimate Reality, complete in Himself and, therefore, One. He is Being itself and is therefore Truth itself. Indeed, if something lacks truth, it lacks reality and existence. This Truth is the first principle, from which all else follows. Referring to Himself as the “I am,” shows that God is a transcendent conscious reality that has a name, an identity, that is, He is not merely philosophical truth, not merely a cosmic force, but a personal being. He is not merely a what, but a who.
(b) God, that is to say, Jesus Christ, is also the Word (Jn. 1:1-5), that is, Logos (Creative Reason), and as such, is again Truth itself from which everything that exists proceeds. And yet again, He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all things. (Rev 21:1-7) In Him, all things are made new.
(c) However, Revelation informs us that God is not merely Truth, He is also Love. (1 Jn. 4:8) And this is demonstrated again and again in salvation history. Now, love is by its very nature relational, that is, love is not self-oriented, but must extend outward -- an “other” is required for love to exist, one who loves and one who is loved. Love does not exist in a vacuum. And total perfect love, love in its truest and fullest sense, involves not merely a relation of persons, but a communion of persons. Accordingly, God is not a one-dimensional being who exists in solitude, but, rather, He is three persons in one God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – a Holy Trinity, an everlasting communion of three distinct persons in one undivided divine nature, substance, and essence. Each possesses the fullness of the other, and each has always existed. It is love, which is relational, which is the key to understanding the paradox of how He could be Three, yet One. In God, there is an everlasting exchange of love between the persons of the Father and Son, and this love proceeding from and to each of them is not merely a sentiment, but is a person as well, namely, the Holy Spirit.

This One Truth who is also Love is pure, infinite, unbounded spirit, eternal and transcendent, not bounded by time or space. That is, He is able to be omnipresent and eternal because He exists beyond and outside of space, i.e. the physical universe, and because time is a measurement of changes in space, being outside of space, He also exists outside of time. For God, time is not linear, as for humans, but is both a singularity and a totality – all moments exist simultaneously and each moment exists in perpetuity. As a result, He transcends the universe and is eternal.

The Existence and Nature of Man and the Meaning of Life (CCC 355-384)

If the question of God is unavoidable, so too are the questions: Where do we come from and why do we exist? Again, revelation assists reason in answering these questions.

Revelation informs us that, in Love and in Truth, God created “man,” male and female, in His image. Man is a created being; he is not self-actualizing, he did not create himself. He is not accidental, and he is not the product of spontaneous animation of matter. We were and are created by a thought of God; each of us is willed by Him as an act of love. Man exists, man lives, only because God the Ultimate Life has breathed into the body of man (Genesis 2:7), thereby giving him life by His own Holy Spirit. This also shows also that man was created not merely as a physical entity, like a stone, and not merely as a spiritual being, like the angels; rather, God created us with a unified soul-infused body, which comprises one nature of spirit and matter, transcendent and temporal. To be made in the image of God also means that we are persons with an inherent dignity, not things, and that we are possessed with sentience and free will, as well as the capacity for reason and for love.

Man is naturally drawn toward God -- even if he does not realize it or argues against it -- because man is naturally drawn toward love and truth, and this love and truth that man seeks has a name, they are a person -- God. Now, although love is naturally fruitful, God did not have to create the universe or human beings. He was not forced or compelled to do so out of some narcissistic need to be worshiped. Rather, He chose to create the universe and humanity. God is complete in and of Himself, in need of nothing outside Himself. As the “I am,” the Logos, God is the only necessary being – we humans are entirely contingent upon Him.

Our bodies (male and female) reveal that God made us, like Him, to be social and relational beings who are equal and complementary, beings who are meant to need each other and exist both in general society and in a specific loving communion of persons. That is, “man” as an individual, is incomplete. We are in need of an “other” to complete and fulfill us.

This truth is further explained by scripture, which presents us with a “theology of the body.” Genesis (1:26-28) informs us that “God created Man in his image; in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them.” To be made in God’s image means to be made in the image of truth and love. As demonstrated in the Trinity, this love is not merely relational, but spousal in nature, in other words, a love that draws the individual toward a communion of persons. By the words, “He created him; male and female He created them,” we see that there was an original unity of male and female, man and woman; that they are designed to be complementary and intended for each other in equal dignity.

In another account of the same truth, (Gen. 2:18-25) describes how God said "It is not good for the man to be alone.” To demonstrate this, God first had the man exist in an original solitude, so that we could see how much we are in need of other persons. Although the man had the company of plenty of animals, he saw that none of them were like him, he was alone. Having demonstrated by experience that it is not good for him to be alone, God then took a rib from the side of Adam and, from that rib, made Eve, leading Adam to exclaim joyfully, "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” This describes how, as individuals, there is something missing in our very being. For both men and women, there is a gaping hole in our side, and we desperately need an “other” to fill that hole. Without that other, there is a void, an emptiness. We need to have that rib returned to our side to be whole again, to be fulfilled. We need the “other” to be one and complete, to be true to ourselves, and the other can fill the void only with and by love.

We cannot be fulfilled if we are left to ourselves in solitude. We can fill part of that hole with a spouse, as with the first spouses, Adam and Eve, but even then God needs to be part of the relationship to bind them together and to fill the remaining void. Indeed, we see that “man” manifests an image of the Trinity, a communion of three persons in one, when man (male) and woman (female) are joined together with God, as husband and wife, by the Love that is the Holy Spirit. Moreover, love in its fullest sense being not only unitive but naturally fruitful, we have the ability to share and participate in God’s procreative power of creating new life and have been explicitly commanded by Him to “be fruitful and multiply.”

For those who are permanently single, God is the only one who can fill the entirety of that void because He is the One who is Love, the One who is Completeness. Unless and until the heart is thusly filled, there is a restlessness and a hunger.

Indeed, we exist to love and to be loved in truth. That was, and is, God’s plan for humanity; that is the meaning and purpose of life -- to live in the truth and love and be loved. (Mt. 22:37-40; Jn 13:34)

After creating mankind, God did not simply withdraw into heaven, sit back, and do nothing. That would not be love. Rather, in Divine Providence, He continues to interact with His creation, sustaining and caring for it by His Love and Truth.

At the same time, love is not truly love if it is not freely given, and love does not force itself or impose itself upon the other. As such, God does not force Himself or His Love upon anyone. He does not force anyone to love him in return. God is not a puppet master.

Thus, He gave us free will, which is the metaphysical truth of independent agency and elective power, including the ability to exercise autonomous and rational control over one’s decisions, thoughts, and actions. The existence of free will means that the actions of the body, including the mind, are not wholly determined by physical causality; rather, one’s thoughts somehow go beyond and transcend the physical body, demonstrating the existence of an extra-corporeal aspect to the person, which we call the spirit. It is because we are both body and spirit that we are able to transcend and overcome the mere biological electro-chemical reactions in the brain. Free will, an ability to choose, includes the ability to freely choose to return God’s love, or the freedom to reject Him and live our lives apart from Him.

CCD Class Three Readings

First Reading -- Gn. 1:1-4, 26-28. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. [On the sixth day], God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . . ."
God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.
God blessed them, saying: "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth."
Gn. 2:7; 18-25 [The] LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being. * * * The LORD God said: "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him" * * * but none [of the animals or birds] proved to be the suitable partner for the man. So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. When he brought her to the man, the man said: "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called 'woman,' for out of 'her man' this one has been taken."
Ex. 3:13-15 Moses [asked] God, "when I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' if they ask me, 'What is his name?' what am I to tell them?" God replied, "I am who am." Then he added, "This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you." God spoke further to Moses, "Thus shall you say to the Israelites: The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. "This is my name forever; this is my title for all generations.

Second Reading -- 1 John 1:5-6; 2:20, 27; 3:11-14; 4:7-8, 16-17. God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. . . . You have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. . . . the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. . . . This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. . . . Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. . . . Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. . . . God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us.

Third Reading -- Jn. 1:1-5; 14:6, 15-17; 15:9, 12. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. * * * Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. . . . If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. . . . As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. . . . This is my commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

40 Days for Life

40 Days for Life begins
September 24 to November 2, 2008

40 Days for Life is a focused pro-life campaign with a vision to access God’s power through prayer, fasting, and peaceful vigil to end abortion in America.

The mission of the campaign is to bring together the body of Christ in a spirit of unity during a focused 40 day campaign of prayer, fasting, and peaceful activism, with the purpose of repentance, to seek God’s favor to turn hearts and minds from a culture of death to a culture of life, thus bringing an end to abortion in America.

See vigil locations here.
Vigil information for Alexandria, Virginia, including parish schedule.

Let us Pray:

Heavenly Father, you have given us the gift of freedom to love and to follow in our ways and commands. Some parents choose to abuse this freedom by destroying he gift of life which you have given to their offspring. Please forgive those misguided mothers and fathers who destroy human life by aborting their unborn babies.

Give these unborn children the opportunity to enjoy you for all eternity, if it be according to your will. Assist us in being one in solidarity with your little ones by taking to heart the words of your Son, "whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."

Therefore, allow us this day, Father, to adopt spiritually these unborn children and to offer our prayers, works, joys and sufferings for those little ones, so those children will be able to be born and live for your greater honor and glory. We pray this in Jesus' name, in union with the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

With Hope, We Travel in an Atomosphere of Trust and Abandonment

Address of His Holiness Pope John Paul I
General Audience
Wednesday, 20 September 1978

Today I will speak to you of the virtue of hope, which is obligatory for every Christian. In his Paradiso (cantos 24, 23 and 26), Dante imagined himself taking an examination in Christianity. A magnificent commission was operating. "Do you have faith?" St Peter asks him first. "Do you have hope?" St James continues. "Do you have charity?" St John ends. "Yes", Dante answers, "I have faith, I have hope, I have charity." He proves it and passes with full marks.

I said that hope is obligatory: that does not mean that hope is ugly or hard. On the contrary, anyone who lives it travels in an atmosphere of trust and abandonment, saying with the psalmist: "Lord, you are my rock, my shield, my fortress, my refuge, my lamp, my shepherd, my salvation. Even if an army were to encamp against me, my heart will not fear; and if the battle rises against me, even then I am confident." You will say: is not this psalmist exaggeratedly enthusiastic? Is it possible that things always went right for him? No, they did not always go right. He, too, knows, and says so, that the bad are often fortunate and the good oppressed. He even complained to the Lord about it sometimes; he went so far as to say: "Why are you sleeping, Lord? Why are you silent? Wake up, listen to me, Lord." But his hope remained: firm, unshakeable. To him and to all those who hope can be applied what St Paul said of Abraham: "In hope he believed against hope" (Rom 4: 18).

You will say further: how can this happen? It happens because one is attached to three truths: God is almighty, God loves me immensely, God is faithful to promises. And it is he, the God of mercy, who kindles trust in me; so that I do not feel lonely, or useless, or abandoned, but involved in a destiny of salvation, which will lead to Paradise one day. I mentioned the Psalms. The same certain confidence vibrates in the books of the Saints. I would like you to read a homily delivered by St Augustine on Easter day about Alleluja. We will sing the true Alleluja:—he says approximately—in Paradise. That will be the Alleluja of full love: this one, now, is the Alleluja of starving love, that is, of hope.

Some one will say: what if I am a poor sinner? I reply to him as I replied to an unknown lady, who had confessed to me many years ago. She was discouraged because, she said, she had a stormy life morally. "May I ask you", I said. "how old you are?"
—"Thirty-five! But you can live for another forty or fifty and do a great deal of good. So, repentant as you are, instead of thinking of the past, project yourself into the future and renew your life. with God's help."

On that occasion I quoted St Francis of Sales, who speaks of "our dear imperfections." I explained: God detests failings because they are failings. On the other hand, however, in a certain sense he loves failings since they give to him an opportunity to show his mercy and to us an opportunity to remain humble and to understand and to sympathize with our neighbour's failings.

Not everyone shares this sympathy of mine for hope. Nietzsche, for example, calls it the "virtue of the weak." According to him, it makes the Christian a useless, separated, resigned person, extraneous to the progress of the world. Others speak of "alienation," which, they say, turns the Christian away from the struggle for human advancement. But "the Christian message," the Council said, "far from deterring men from the task of building up the world ... binds them, rather, to all this by a still more stringent obligation." (Gaudium et Spes, 34, cf. nn. 39 and 7 and Message to the World of the Council Fathers, 20 October 1962).

In the course of the centuries there have also appeared from time to time affirmations and tendencies of Christians that were too pessimistic with regard to man. But these affirmations were disapproved of by the Church and were forgotten, thanks to a host of joyful and hardworking saints, to Christian humanism, to the ascetic teachers, whom Saint-Beuve called "les doux", and to a comprehensive theology. St Thomas Aquinas, for example, puts among the virtues jucunditas or the capacity of changing things heard and seen into a cheerful smile—to the extent and in the way appropriate (cf. 2.2ae, q. 168, a.2). This kind of cheerfulness, I explained to my pupils, was shown by that Irish mason who fell from the scaffolding and broke his legs. He was taken to hospital and the doctor and Sister nurse rushed to him. "Poor thing," the latter said, "you hurt yourself falling." But the patient said: "Mother, not exactly falling, but reaching the ground I hurt myself."

When St Thomas declared that joking and making people smile was a virtue, he was in agreement with the "glad tidings" preached by Christ, and with the hilaritas recommended by St Augustine. He overcame pessimism, clothed Christian life in joy and invited us to keep up our courage also with the healthy, pure joys, which we meet on our way.

When I was a boy, I read something about Andrew Carnegie the Scot, who went to America with his parents and gradually became one of the richest men in the world. He was not a Catholic, but I was struck by the fact that he returned insistently to the simple, true joys of his life. "I was born in poverty," he said, "but I would not exchange the memories of my childhood with those of a millionaire's children. What do they know of family joys, of the sweet figure of a mother who combines the duties of nurse, washerwoman, cook, teacher, angel and saint?" When still very young, he took a job in a Pittsburgh mill with 56 miserable lire a month as wages. One evening, instead of giving him his wage at once, the cashier told him to wait. Carnegie was trembling: "Now they'll dismiss me."

On the contrary, after paying the others, the cashier said to him: "Andrew, I've watched your work carefully; I've come to the conclusion that it is worth more than that of the others. I'm raising your wage to 67 lire." Carnegie said many years afterwards, "all my millions put together never gave me the joy of that eleven lire rise."

Certainly, these joys, though good and encouraging, must not be absolutized. They are something, not everything; they serve as a means, they are not the supreme purpose; they do not last for ever, but only for a short time. "Christians", St Paul wrote, "deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away" (cf. 1 Cor 7:31). Christ had already said: "Seek first of all the kingdom of God" (Mt 6:33).

In conclusion, I would like to refer to a hope which is proclaimed Christian by some people, and on the contrary is Christian only up to a certain point. Let me explain. At the Council, I, too, voted for the "Message to the World" of the Council Fathers. In it we said: the principal task of divinizing does not exempt the Church from the task of humanizing. I voted for Gaudium et Spes. I was moved and enthusiastic when Populorum Progressio came out. I think that the Magisterium of the Church will never sufficiently insist in presenting and recommending the solution of the great problems of freedom, justice, peace, development; and Catholic laity will never fight sufficiently to solve these problems. It is wrong, on the other hand, to state that political, economic and social liberation coincides with salvation in Jesus Christ, that the Regnum Dei is identified with the Regnum hominis, that Ubi Lenin ibi Jerusalem.

In the last few days the subject "the future of hope" has been dealt with at Freiburg, on the eighty-fifth Katholikentag. They were speaking of the "world" to be improved, and the word "future" was right. But if we pass from hope for the "world" to hope for individual souls, then we must speak also of "eternity". On the seashore at Ostia, in a famous conversation, Augustine and Monica, "forgetting the past and turning to the future, asked themselves what eternal life would be" (Confessions, I, n. 10). This is Christian hope; this is what Pope John intended and what we intend when we pray, with the catechism: "My God, I hope from your goodness ... eternal life and the necessary graces to deserve it with good works, which I must do and want to do. My God, let me not remain confounded for ever."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

In Confirmation, we receive the power of the Holy Spirit!
CCD Class Two

Previously, we noted that the essentials of some sacraments, like the Eucharist, can be understood fairly easily (the actual Body and Blood of Jesus), even if the full extent of the sacrament is an unfathomable mystery, while the Sacrament of Confirmation is, for many people, a total mystery. We examined the explanation in the Catechism, that it completes our baptismal graces in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and came away somewhat dissatisfied, in that we still had many questions.

If there is a simple phrase that can sum up Confirmation, so that the essentials can be immediately grasped, as with "the Body and Blood of Christ," perhaps Pope Benedict has hit on it in choosing the theme of the most recent World Youth Day. Rather than scratch our heads with trying to understand what is meant by increases of graces and "gifts" and "fruits" and being "soldiers for Christ," all of which are branches of the Confirmation tree, perhaps we can get to the root of it all with "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses." (Acts 1:8)

Perhaps, following Pope Benedict (and St. Luke, quoting Jesus), we can say, as a simple catch phrase, that, "in Confirmation, we receive the power of the Holy Spirit." This is, admittedly, vague in all its implications, but it hits the essential aspect of the sacrament and is quite easy to remember. This is the key to unlocking the mystery. If we wanted to go a little further, so as to answer the obvious question, the power to do what?, we could say, "in Confirmation, we receive the power of the Holy Spirit to be a witness for Christ (both to the world and to ourselves)."

Either way, it describes the essentials and allows one to understand the other aspects of the sacrament as being branches necessarily following from that root and trunk. Since it is already well understood that a witness is one who announces or testifies to the truth, the next obvious question is, what kind of power? Well, what kind of power do you need to be a witness to others and to yourself? You need knowledge and understanding and wisdom and fortitude, strength to withstand and overcome opposition. You need internal guidance (counsel) and a proper attitude of humility (to be pious and have reverential awe for He who is greater than us). To be an effective witness to others on behalf of Christ, you need to be giving of yourself (charity) and generous, you need to be kind and gentle and patient, you need to be good and faithful, and chaste, modest, and in self-control.

In Confirmation, we receive all of these powers of and from the Holy Spirit, if we only accept them, and these powers are like a light in a dark world -- a light of love and truth for ourselves and for others. These powers, these graces, allow us to do things that otherwise would be very difficult for us to do on our own, if not impossible. Not only in things like enduring overt persecution, as with the martyrs, but withstanding the everyday pressures, demands, and expectations of the world conflicting with our faith. Quite frequently in our lives, we may be called upon to choose - the world or Christ? For example, we might be pressured to do something which is contrary to the faith or else we will lose our job. Often times, when presented with that choice, we will act like Peter and deny that we even know this Jesus fellow. But the Confirmation power of the Holy Spirit gives us the fortitude to do the right thing, it gives us the wisdom and understanding, the proper formation of our consciences, to discern which is the right road to take when faced with a moral decision. It gives us the light to see, and the power to do what we otherwise most likely could not do on our own.

In Confirmation, we receive the power of the Holy Spirit. This is a power that created the whole universe! It is a power that allows the dead to live! Should we not think this power of the Holy Spirit - the Spirit of Love and Truth - could be helpful to us in our everyday lives? Is this not a gift that we should open and cherish and use each and every single day, rather than stick it in the corner where it will only collect dust? This is a power, a great power, which allows us to do great things. It is this power of the Holy Spirit that allows us to be true to ourselves! true to what God intended us to be, true to our purpose and meaning in life, which is to love and be loved. It is a precious and invaluable gift to be embraced and cherished.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Smile of Mary is a True Reflection of God's Tenderness and Source of Invincible Hope

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Mass for the Sick
Esplanade of the Basilica of Notre-Dame du Rosaire, Lourdes
Monday, 15 September 2008

. . . Today, Mary dwells in the joy and the glory of the Resurrection. The tears shed at the foot of the Cross have been transformed into a smile which nothing can wipe away, even as her maternal compassion towards us remains unchanged. The intervention of the Virgin Mary in offering succour throughout history testifies to this, and does not cease to call forth, in the people of God, an unshakable confidence in her: the Memorare prayer expresses this sentiment very well. Mary loves each of her children, giving particular attention to those who, like her Son at the hour of his Passion, are prey to suffering; she loves them quite simply because they are her children, according to the will of Christ on the Cross. . . .

Prompted by the inspired word of Scripture, Christians have always sought the smile of Our Lady, this smile which medieval artists were able to represent with such marvellous skill and to show to advantage. This smile of Mary is for all; but it is directed quite particularly to those who suffer, so that they can find comfort and solace therein. . . .

Here in Lourdes, in the course of the apparition of Wednesday 3 March 1858, Bernadette contemplated this smile of Mary in a most particular way. It was the first response that the Beautiful Lady gave to the young visionary who wanted to know who she was. Before introducing herself, some days later, as “the Immaculate Conception,” Mary first taught Bernadette to know her smile, this being the most appropriate point of entry into the revelation of her mystery.

In the smile of the most eminent of all creatures, looking down on us, is reflected our dignity as children of God, that dignity which never abandons the sick person. This smile, a true reflection of God’s tenderness, is the source of an invincible hope. Unfortunately we know only too well: the endurance of suffering can upset life’s most stable equilibrium; it can shake the firmest foundations of confidence, and sometimes even leads people to despair of the meaning and value of life. There are struggles that we cannot sustain alone, without the help of divine grace. When speech can no longer find the right words, the need arises for a loving presence: we seek then the closeness not only of those who share the same blood or are linked to us by friendship, but also the closeness of those who are intimately bound to us by faith.

Who could be more intimate to us than Christ and his holy Mother, the Immaculate One? More than any others, they are capable of understanding us and grasping how hard we have to fight against evil and suffering. The Letter to the Hebrews says of Christ that he “is not unable to sympathize with our weaknesses; for in every respect he has been tempted as we are” (cf. Heb 4:15).

I would like to say, humbly, to those who suffer and to those who struggle and are tempted to turn their backs on life: turn towards Mary! Within the smile of the Virgin lies mysteriously hidden the strength to fight against sickness and for life. With her, equally, is found the grace to accept without fear or bitterness to leave this world at the hour chosen by God. . . .

In the very simple manifestation of tenderness that we call a smile, we grasp that our sole wealth is the love God bears us, which passes through the heart of her who became our Mother. To seek this smile, is first of all to have grasped the gratuitousness of love; it is also to be able to elicit this smile through our efforts to live according to the word of her Beloved Son, just as a child seeks to elicit its mother’s smile by doing what pleases her. And we know what pleases Mary, thanks to the words she spoke to the servants at Cana: “Do whatever he tells you” (cf. Jn 2:5).

Mary’s smile is a spring of living water. “He who believes in me”, says Jesus, “out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (Jn 7:38). Mary is the one who believed and, from her womb, rivers of living water have flowed forth to irrigate human history.

The spring that Mary pointed out to Bernadette here in Lourdes is the humble sign of this spiritual reality. From her believing heart, from her maternal heart, flows living water which purifies and heals. By immersing themselves in the baths at Lourdes, so many people have discovered and experienced the gentle maternal love of the Virgin Mary, becoming attached to her in order to bind themselves more closely to the Lord!

In the liturgical sequence of this feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Mary is honoured with the title of Fons amoris, “fount of love.” From Mary’s heart, there springs up a gratuitous love which calls forth a response of filial love, called to ever greater refinement. Like every mother, and better than every mother, Mary is the teacher of love. That is why so many sick people come here to Lourdes, to quench their thirst at the “spring of love” and to let themselves be led to the sole source of salvation, her son Jesus the Saviour.

Christ imparts his salvation by means of the sacraments, and especially in the case of those suffering from sickness or disability, by means of the grace of the sacrament of the sick. For each individual, suffering is always something alien. It can never be tamed. That is why it is hard to bear, and harder still – as certain great witnesses of Christ’s holiness have done – to welcome it as a significant element in our vocation, or to accept, as Bernadette expressed it, to “suffer everything in silence in order to please Jesus.” To be able to say that, it is necessary to have travelled a long way already in union with Jesus.

Here and now, though, it is possible to entrust oneself to God’s mercy, as manifested through the grace of the sacrament of the sick. Bernadette herself, in the course of a life that was often marked by sickness, received this sacrament four times. The grace of this sacrament consists in welcoming Christ the healer into ourselves. However, Christ is not a healer in the manner of the world. In order to heal us, he does not remain outside the suffering that is experienced; he eases it by coming to dwell within the one stricken by illness, to bear it and live it with him. Christ’s presence comes to break the isolation which pain induces. Man no longer bears his burden alone: as a suffering member of Christ, he is conformed to Christ in his self-offering to the Father, and he participates, in him, in the coming to birth of the new creation. . . .

To conclude, I wish to join in the prayer of the pilgrims and the sick, and to pray with you a passage from the prayer to Mary that has been proposed for this Jubilee celebration:

Because you are the smile of God, the reflection of the light of Christ, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit,
Because you chose Bernadette in her lowliness,
Because you are the morning star, the gate of heaven and the first creature to experience the resurrection,
Our Lady of Lourdes, with our brothers and sisters whose hearts and bodies are in pain, we pray to you!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Faith and John Paul the First

Address of His Holiness Pope John Paul I
General Audience
Wednesday, 13 September 1978

Here in Rome there was a poet, Trilussa, who also tried to speak of faith. In a certain poem of his, he said:

That little old blind woman, whom I met
the evening I lost my way in the middle of the wood,
said to me: If you don't know the way
I'll accompany you, for I know it.
If you have the strength to follow me
from time to time I'll call to you,
right to the bottom there, where there is a cypress,
right to the top there, where there is a cross.
I answered: that may be ... but I find it strange
that I can be guided by some one sightless ...
The blind woman, then, took my hand
and sighed: Come on. It was faith.

As a poem, it is delightful; as theology, defective.

It is defective because, when it is a question of faith, the great stage manager is God. Because Jesus said: "No one comes to me unless my Father draws him". St Paul did not have faith, in fact he was persecuting the faithful. God waits for him on the way to Damascus: "Paul", he says to him, "don't take it into your head to rear up, to kick, like a restive horse. I am that Jesus whom you are persecuting. I need you. You must change!" Paul surrendered; he changed, leading a completely different life. Some years afterwards, he will write to the Philippians: "that time, on the way to Damascus, God seized me; since then I have done nothing but run after him, to see if I, too, am able to seize him, imitating him, loving him more and more."

That is what faith is: to surrender to God, but transforming one's life. A thing that is not always easy! Augustine has told of the journey of his faith; especially in the last few weeks it was terrible; reading, one feels his soul almost shudder and writhe in interior conflicts. On the one hand, God calls him and insists; on the other hand, his old habits, "old friends", he writes, ... ; "and they pulled me gently by my mantle of flesh and they said to me: 'Augustine, what! You are abandoning us? Look out, you won't be able to do this any more, you won't be able ever again to do that other.''' A hard thing! "I felt", he says, "like one who is in bed, in the morning. He is told: 'Out, Augustine, get up! Finally the Lord gave me a sharp tug, and I came out. You see, one mustn't say: 'Yes, but; yes, but later'. One must say: 'Yes, Lord! At once!' This is faith. To respond to the Lord generously. But who says this 'yes'? He who is humble and trusts God completely! "

My mother used to tell me when I was a boy: "When you were little, you were very ill. I had to take you from one doctor to another and watch over you whole nights; do you believe me?" How could I have said: "I don't believe you, Mamma"? "Of course I believe, I believe what you tell me, but I believe especially in you."

And so it is in faith. It is not just a question of believing in the things that God revealed, but in him who deserves our faith, who has loved us so much and done so much for our sake.

It is also difficult to accept some truths, because the truths of faith are of two kinds; some pleasant, others unpalatable to our spirit. For example, it is pleasant to hear that God has so much tenderness for us, even more tenderness than a mother has for her children, as Isaiah says. How pleasant and congenial it is! There was a great French bishop, Dupanloup, who used to say to the rectors of seminaries: "with the future priests, be fathers, be mothers". It is agreeable. Other truths, on the contrary, are hard to accept. God must punish, if I resist. He runs after me, he begs me to repent and I say: "No!" I almost force him to punish me. This is not agreeable. But it is a truth of faith. And there is a last difficulty, the Church. St Paul asked: "Who are you, Lord?" —"I am that Jesus whom you are persecuting". A light, a flash, crossed his mind. I do not persecute Jesus, I don't even know him: I persecute the Christians. It is clear that Jesus and the Christians, Jesus and the Church are the same thing: indissoluble, inseparable.

Read St Paul: "Corpus Christi quod est Ecclesia". Christ and the Church are only one thing. Christ is the Head, we, the Church, are his limbs. It is not possible to have faith and to say, "I believe in Jesus, I accept Jesus but I do not accept the Church." We must accept the Church, as she is.

And what is this Church like? Pope John called her "Mater et Magistra". Teacher also. St Paul said: "Let everyone accept us as Christ's aids and stewards and dispensers of his mysteries."

When the poor Pope, when the bishops, the priests, propose the doctrine, they are merely helping Christ. It is not our doctrine, it is Christ's; we must just guard it and present it. I was present when Pope John opened the Council on 11 October 1962. At a certain point he said: "We hope that, with the Council, the Church will take a leap forward." We all hoped so; but a leap forward, on what way? He told us at once: on certain and immutable truths. It never even occurred to Pope John that the truths could go forward, and then, gradually, change. Those are the truths: we must walk along the way of these truths, understanding them more and more, bringing ourselves up-to-date, proposing them in a form suited to the new times. Pope Paul too had the same thought. The first thing I did, as soon as I was made Pope, was to enter the private Chapel of the Pontifical Household. Right at the back Pope Paul had two mosaics made: St Peter and St Paul: St Peter dying, St Paul dying. But under St Peter: are the words of Jesus: "I will pray for you, Peter, that your faith may never fail." Under St Paul, on whom the sword falls: "I have run my race, I have kept the faith." You know that in his last address on 29 June, Paul VI said: "After fifteen years of pontificate, I can thank the Lord that I have defended the faith, that I have kept the faith".

The Church is also a mother. If she continues Christ, and Christ is good, the Church too must be good; good to everyone. But if by chance there should sometimes be bad people in the Church? We have our mother. If mother is sick, if my mother by chance should become lame, I love her even more. It is the same, in the Church. If there are, and there are, defects and shortcomings, our affection for the Church must never fail.

Yesterday, and I conclude, I was sent the issue of "Città Nuova". I saw that they have reported, recording it, a very short address of mine, with an episode. A certain British preacher MacNabb, speaking in Hyde Park, had spoken of the Church. When he finished, someone asked to speak and said: "Yours are fine words. But I know some Catholic priests who did not stay with the poor and became rich. I know also Catholic husbands who have betrayed their wives. I do not like this Church made of sinners." The Father said: "There's something in what you say. But may I make an objection?" — "Let's hear it."—He says: "Excuse me, but am I mistaken or is the collar of your shirt a little greasy?" —He says: "Yes, it is, I admit." —"But is it greasy because you haven't used soap, or because you used soap but it was no use?" "No", he says, I haven't used soap."

You see. The Catholic Church too has extraordinary soap: the gospel, the sacraments, prayer. The gospel read and lived; the sacraments celebrated in the right way; prayer well used, would be a marvellous soap, capable of making us all saints. We are not all saints, because we have not used this soap enough. Let us try to meet the hopes of the Popes who held and applied the Council, Pope John, Pope Paul. Let us try to improve the Church, by becoming better ourselves. Each of us and the whole Church could recite the prayer I am accustomed to recite: "Lord, take me as I am, with my defects, with my shortcomings, but make me become as you want me to be."

I must say a word also to our dear sick, whom I see there. You know, Jesus said: "I hide behind them; what is done for them is done for me." So we venerate the Lord himself in their persons and we hope that the Lord will be close to them, and help and sustain them.

On our right, on the other hand, there are the newlyweds. They have received a great sacrament. Let us wish that this sacrament which they have received will really bring not only goods of this world, but more spiritual graces. Last century there was in France a great professor, Frederick Ozanam. He taught at the Sorbonne, and was so eloquent, so capable! His friend was Lacordaire, who said: "He is so gifted, he is so good, he will become a priest, he will become a great bishop, this fellow!" No! He met a nice girl and they got married, Lacordaire was disappointed and said: "Poor Ozanam! He too has fallen into the trap!" But two years later, Lacordaire came to Rome, and was received by Pius IX. "Come, come, Father", he says. "I have always heard that Jesus established seven sacraments. Now you come along and change everything. You tell me that he established six sacraments, and a trap! No, Father, marriage is not a trap, it is a great sacrament!"

So let us express again our best wishes for these dear newlyweds: may the Lord bless them!


Friday, September 12, 2008

The Holy Spirit of Confirmation and the Cross Animates Our Hope and is the Source of True Joy

Address of Pope Benedict XVI
Prayer Vigil with Young People

Esplanade in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris
Friday, 12 September 2008

Dear Young Friends,

This evening I would like to talk to you about two very closely related matters; they represent a real treasure to be stored up in your hearts (cf. Mt 6:21).

The first has to do with the theme which was chosen for Sydney. It is also the theme of the prayer vigil which is about to begin. I am referring to a passage taken from the Acts of the Apostles, a book which has most appropriately been called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you: and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). The Lord now says the same thing to you!

In Sydney, many young people rediscovered the importance of the Holy Spirit for the life of every Christian. The Spirit gives us a deep relationship with God, who is the source of all authentic human good. All of you desire to love and to be loved! It is to God that you must turn, if you want to learn how to love, and to find the strength to love. The Spirit, who is Love, can open your hearts to accept the gift of genuine love.

All of you are seeking the truth; and all of you want to live in truth! This truth is Christ. He is the only Way, the one Truth and the true Life. To follow Christ means truly to “put out to sea”, as is said several times in the Psalms. The way of Truth is simultaneously one and manifold according to the variety of charisms, just as Truth is one while at the same time possessing an inexhaustible richness. Surrender yourselves to the Holy Spirit in order to find Christ. The Spirit is our indispensable guide in prayer, he animates our hope and he is the source of true joy.

To understand more deeply these truths of faith, I would encourage you to meditate on the importance of the sacrament of Confirmation which you have received and which leads you into a mature faith life. It is vital for you to understand this sacrament more and more in order to evaluate the quality and depth of your faith and to reinforce it. The Holy Spirit enables you to approach the Mystery of God; he makes you understand who God is. He invites you to see in your neighbours the brothers and sisters whom God has given you, in order to live with them in human and spiritual fellowship – in other words, to live within the Church. By revealing who the crucified and risen Lord is for us, he impels you to bear witness to Christ.

You are at an age marked by great generosity. You need to speak about Christ to all around you, to your families and friends, wherever you study, work and relax. Do not be afraid! Have “the courage to live the Gospel and the boldness to proclaim it” (Message to the Young People of the World, 20 July 2007). So I encourage you to find ways of proclaiming God to all around you, basing your testimony on the power of the Spirit, whom we ask for in prayer. Bring the Good News to the young people of your age, and to others as well. They know what it means to experience difficulty in relationships, worry and uncertainty in the face of work and study. They have experienced suffering, but they have also known unique moments of joy. Be witnesses of God, for, as young people, you are fully a part of the Catholic community through your Baptism and our common profession of faith (cf. Eph 4:5). The Church has confidence in you, and I want to tell you so!

In this year dedicated to Saint Paul, I would like to entrust you with a second treasure, which was at the centre of the life of this fascinating Apostle: I mean the mystery of the Cross. On Sunday, in Lourdes, I will celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross together with countless other pilgrims. Many of you wear a cross on a chain around your neck. I too wear one, as every Bishop does. It is not a mere decoration or a piece of jewelry. It is the precious symbol of our faith, the visible and material sign that we belong to Christ.

Saint Paul explains the meaning of the Cross at the beginning of his First Letter to the Corinthians. The Christian community in Corinth was going through a turbulent period, exposed to the corrupting influences of the surrounding culture. Those dangers are similar to the ones we encounter today. I will mention only the following examples: quarrels and conflicts within the community of believers, the seductiveness of ersatz religious and philosophical doctrines, a superficial faith and a dissolute morality. Saint Paul begins his Letter by writing: “The word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18).

Then, the Apostle shows the clear contrast between wisdom and folly, in God’s way of thinking and in our own. He speaks of this contrast in the context of the founding of the Church in Corinth and in connection with his own preaching. He ends by stressing the beauty of God’s wisdom, which Christ and, in his footsteps, the Apostles, have come to impart to the world and to Christians. This wisdom, mysterious and hidden (cf. 1 Cor 2:7), has been revealed by the Spirit, because “those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are folly to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14).

The Spirit opens to human intelligence new horizons which transcend it and enable to perceive that the only true wisdom is found in the grandeur of Christ. For Christians, the Cross signifies God’s wisdom and his infinite love revealed in the saving gift of Christ, crucified and risen for the life of the world, and in particular for the life of each and every one of you. May this discovery of a God who became man out of love – this amazing discovery lead you to respect and venerate the Cross! It is not only the symbol of your life in God and your salvation, but also – as you will understand – the silent witness of human suffering and the unique and priceless expression of all our hopes.

Dear young people, I know that venerating the Cross can sometimes bring mockery and even persecution. The Cross in some way seems to threaten our human security, yet above all else, it also proclaims God’s grace and confirms our salvation. This evening, I entrust you with the Cross of Christ. The Holy Spirit will enable you to understand its mysteries of love. Then you will exclaim with Saint Paul: “May I never boast of anything, except the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14).

Paul had understood the seemingly paradoxical words of Jesus, who taught that it is only by giving (“losing”) ones life that one finds it (cf. Mk 8:35; Jn 12:24), and Paul concluded from this that the Cross expresses the fundamental law of love, the perfect formula for real life. May a growing understanding of the mystery of the Cross lead some of you discover the call to serve Christ unreservedly in the priesthood and the religious life!

We are about to begin the prayer vigil, for which you have gathered here this evening. Remember the two treasures which the Pope has presented to you this evening: the Holy Spirit and the Cross! As I conclude, I would like to tell you once more that I have confidence in you, dear young people, and I want you to experience, today and in the future, the esteem and affection of the whole Church! Now, we see the living Church here… May God be at your side each day. May he bless you, your families and your friends.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"Receive the Power of the Holy Spirit"

This year for CCD, we are doing something new. We are adopting an official theme and an official theme song. (Actually, we are simply adopting the theme and song of World Youth Day as our own.)

Receive the Power

CCD Class One Readings

In these first set of readings, we learn that, in receiving the Faith, neither Jesus nor the Church promises you a party. To be sure, if you are true to the Faith, the world will hate you and you will be persecuted. We may be happy and rejoice, however, because Christ sends us His Holy Spirit, by which all can be endured.

First Reading -- Is. 11:1-4. A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD - and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

Second Reading -- Acts 1:3, 8; 2:1-4, 14, 22-24, 32-33; 6:8-10; 7:54-60. After He had suffered, Jesus showed Himself [and] said to the apostles: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." [After Jesus ascended to heaven,] when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them, "You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem. Let this be known to you, and listen to my words. You who are Israelites, hear these words. Jesus the Nazorean was a man commended to you by God with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs, which God worked through him in your midst, as you yourselves know. This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him. But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it. God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you (both) see and hear."
Now Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people. Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen, Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and people from Cilicia and Asia, came forward and debated with Stephen, but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.
When they heard [Stephen preach], they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."
But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them"; and when he said this, he fell asleep.

Third Reading -- Mt 10:17-22; Jn 15:18-19. [In sending out the twelve, Jesus said], “beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.”
"If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Sacrament of Confirmation -- CCD Class One

A new year of CCD begins today. We have approximately eight weeks to prepare for Confirmation, which is scheduled for mid-November.

It is fair to say that Confirmation is one of the least understood and, therefore, most overlooked of the sacraments. Holy Communion (the Eucharist) is a great mystery, but at the same time it is fairly easy to grasp – it is the actual Body and Blood of Christ. Likewise, Baptism is easy to understand, it essentially wipes away Original Sin, while Confession wipes away our individual sins. Each of these confers graces upon us. The ultimate meaning of these sacraments is said to be unfathomable, but most of us can understand the essentials fairly quickly. But what of Confirmation?

What is the Sacrament of Confirmation all about? Why is it a sacrament? And what does it do? Why should one need or want to receive the sacrament? The Catechism says that Confirmation completes what began in Baptism, bringing an increase and deepening of graces, and a fullness of the Holy Spirit. What does that mean?

This description points us in the right direction, but it often only raises more questions. Don’t we already receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism? And don’t we receive graces all the time simply by praying to God for such assistance? What does Confirmation give us that we don’t already have or can’t get elsewhere?

It is fair to say that, today, most Catholics could not tell you the meaning of Confirmation. Some might give you the above description from the Catechism without understanding what it means, others might tell you that it is an entrance into adulthood, a kind of Catholic bar mitzvah, and others might have no idea about the meaning of Confirmation. Many will simply scratch their heads and admit that they do not understand why the Church says it is so important. As a result, many Catholics today, if not most, do not fully benefit from the Sacrament of Confirmation. The graces received simply sit there, unused due to lack of understanding.

To understand why Confirmation is so very important, so crucial and imperative to us, not simply as one of those religious or cultural milestones in life, like a high school graduation, but so very important to us in our everyday lives, to arrive at a correct answer to the mystifying question of what Confirmation is, as an example, it might be helpful to consider in context how it changed the faithful at Pentecost.

In the book of Acts, we read that the Holy Spirit descended on the faithful at Pentecost. Before then, the Apostles and disciples had largely abandoned Jesus – they ran away when Jesus was arrested, and they hid in fear when Jesus was tried and crucified. Even after the resurrection, they were afraid to go out in public. Also, before then, the Apostles and disciples often struggled with understanding the teachings that Jesus handed on to them. More than once, Jesus had to correct them.

But after the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost, after their “confirmation,” they were given the grace and strength and perseverance to go out and spread the Good News and even endure persecution. With these graces of the Holy Sprit, especially the gift of fortitude, they were able to do what they otherwise could not do on their own. It is by such graces of the Holy Spirit that the Apostles and others were even able to endure sufferings, tortures, and martyrdom on behalf of the love and truth of Christ. And it was after the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost that the Apostles and disciples began to fully comprehend the teachings of Jesus, even remembering small details, so that they could faithfully preach the Gospel to the world, as well as to write these details down, which we now know as the New Testament. It was by the power of the Holy Spirit that the Faith was able to spread despite fierce persecution and opposition.

So, too, your Confirmation will change you if you allow it to be so. Your reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation will strengthen you, and you will be made “soldiers of Christ” in order to fulfill your duty of witnessing to and defending the Faith, and fighting against evil. Just as when the Spirit descended upon the faithful at Pentecost, we too are given the strength and grace and perseverance to go out and spread the Good News and withstand hardship.

Now, it may also appear after receiving the Sacrament that nothing has happened, that you are the same as before. If no one breaks out speaking in tongues like they did at Pentecost, you may be tempted to conclude that you have not received any graces. But do not be misled by such superficial appearances. By the Sacrament, your very being is altered in a fundamental way, the essence of who and what you are is changed. As with the Eucharist, you may look the same, but you are radically transformed; an indelible spiritual mark or seal is left. This seal of the Holy Spirit marks our total belonging to Christ. We may not notice because sin and the contemporary world have so corrupted us that we cannot always immediately recognize God’s presence within us. But He is present nonetheless.

If even only as a seed, the Holy Spirit, if you accept Him at Confirmation and throughout your life, will dwell within you and graces will grow within you, and, like the Apostles, disciples, martyrs, and saints, you will be able to do that which is impossible to do on your own.

Again, the Holy Spirit allows us to do the impossible. Not only did He allow the weak and terrified Apostles to come out of hiding and bravely and loudly proclaim the Gospel, not only did He allow the persecuted, such as Saints Lawrence and Polycarp and Perpetua and Felicity, to gladly endure the suffering of martyrdom — something that otherwise would be unthinkable and not humanly possible — the grace of the Holy Spirit allows us to what we otherwise could not humanly do, including that which is perhaps the most impossible thing to do at times — forgive the unforgiveable, forgive the debt that can never be paid.

Sometimes it is, for all practical purposes, impossible for us to forgive. Some hurts are just too large, some injuries are just too great (or sometimes we allow ourselves to get so self-centered that even little injuries seem great) that it is humanly impossible for us to forgive. But with God, all things are possible, and by His grace, we can do that which is impossible too.

An excellent example of this is told by Immaculee Ilibagiza, who survived the Rwandan genocide while the rest of her family was hacked to death, along with hundreds of thousands of others. Eventually, the man who had led the group that killed members of her family was caught, and the jailer who held him allowed Immaculee to confront him (and take her revenge). But, as the murderer knelt before her, she wept at the sight of his suffering. And when the jailer shouted at the killer and hauled him to his feet, Immaculee touched his hands lightly and quietly said, “I forgive you.”

The forgiveness she gave did not come entirely from Immaculee. She wrote that her book, Left to Tell, “is the story of how I discovered God during one of history’s bloodiest holocausts.” And this discovery, this lesson, forever changed her. “It is a lesson that, in the midst of mass murder, taught me how to love those who hated and hunted me — and how to forgive those who slaughtered my family.”

Forgiveness is sometimes easy for us, but sometimes it is impossible for us. Some crimes are simply too great. But God gives us the power to do the impossible. The graces of the Holy Spirit allow us to endure and withstand hardship and carry those crosses which are far too heavy for humans to carry. These graces allow us to do the impossible of accepting suffering, so as to transform it by the power of the Cross.

Because we are tainted by sin, we tend to love only imperfectly. Our concept of love is often interfused with selfishness. But the graces of the Holy Spirit that we receive in Confirmation allow us to do what is humanly impossible – love as God loves, truly, perfectly, and fully. These graces allow us to overcome our temptations and control those passions that we cannot otherwise control, so that we may more easily fulfill our purpose of pursuing a life of love and truth. These graces allow us to more easily see, not as humans see, but as God sees.

If you accept in your heart and cooperate with the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit that are imparted by the Sacrament, you will be affected in a particular way, that is, by working with the gifts given to you, you will bear certain “fruits” of the Holy Spirit. By embracing the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord, we are more able to experience the fruits of love (charity), joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, modesty, self-control, and chastity. Likewise, these gifts help a person attain sanctification and bring to perfection virtues -- both the theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity) and the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance).

But a gift, any gift, is not completed and is completely useless unless it is accepted by the recipient. If a gift is returned to sender, or is simply put in a closet, unopened, it is as if it was never received. This ability to “do the impossible” is not automatic. Rather, it is necessary that you accept those graces and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Although Confirmation alters our very nature by leaving an indelible spiritual mark upon us, grace from God presupposes nature, it does not replace it. In conferring grace, God does not simply wipe out our humanity; He does not impose Himself upon us against our will and treat us as puppets. Rather, grace builds on our nature and works within it to heal, perfect, elevate, and transform that nature.

We must allow the Holy Spirit and gift of grace to come into our hearts, and not simply set that grace aside and ignore it. If we resist and ignore those graces, if we shut ourselves off from the Truth and Love which are the Holy Spirit, then life becomes much harder and unsatisfactory. If we turn away from the Light, it is much more difficult to find our way through life in the darkness.

As St. Ambrose wrote, “Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God's presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts.”

The chrism oil that is the sign of this sacrament is sanctified by Jesus and the Cross. Indeed, the word “Christ” means “anointed one,” and in Confirmation, we too are anointed, so that we are made fully Christian ourselves. Confirmation does not mark the end of the process of religious education; Confirmation instead radically changes us, such that it is the beginning of a new life in the Faith.