Saturday, August 22, 2009

Important Catholic Spiritual Direction Update

Dear Catholic Spiritual Direction subscribers, readers, and followers:

Well, this blog started out as an experiment this winter and wow - there are thousands of you out there all over the world! More important than the numbers is the constant stream of notes that we receive from our readers regarding the blessings they have encountered on this blog - Christ be praised!

Because of your response and continued readership, and our desire to better serve you, we have decided to move the site to a technology platform that provides more advanced management capabilities and that is more visible to the world through search engines.

The new site can be found here or you can copy and paste this URL into your browser:

The purpose for this post is to let you know that by the end of this week we plan to have the transition complete and we will no longer be providing posts here - instead, they will all appear on the new site. As well, we have some exciting things emerging with the site that we will share in the near future. That is all we can say for now - please keep us in your prayers.

Just so we don't miss you, for those of you who may have signed up recently to get our posts (in the past week), please go to the new site and sign up. Our technology transition is not likely to be perfect with respect to transferring your memberships.

In the mean time, enjoy, and never cease in your pursuit of Christ!

Seek Him - Find Him - Follow Him


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Abandonment XVIII - The Ever-Flowing Spring of Holiness

O all you who thirst, learn that you have not far to go to find the spring of living waters! It springs forth quite close to you in the present moment. Therefore hasten to approach it. Why, with the spring so near, do you tire yourselves running after shallow brooks which only tease your thirst? They measure stingily the water they give us, while only the spring itself is inexhaustible. If you wish to think, write and talk like Apostles, prophets and saints, abandon yourselves as they did to God's inspiration.

O Love unknown! Men think that your wonders are past and finished, and that all we can do is copy the ancient volumes and quote Your words out of the past! And we do not see that Your unceasing action is an infinite source of new thoughts, new sufferings, new works, new patriarchs, new prophets, apostles, new saints, who have no need to copy each others lives or writings, but only to live in perpetual self-surrender to Your secret operations.

We like to speak of "the first ages of the Church - the times of the saints." Are not all times the effect of God's action, the working of His divine will, including all moments, filling them, sanctifying them and making them supernatural? Has there ever been a method of self-surrender to God's will which is not still practicable? Did the saints from the earliest ages have any other secret of holiness than that of becoming what God's will was seeking to make them from moment to moment? And will this operation not continue even to the end of time to pour out its grace on those who give themselves unreservedly to it?

Yes, dear eternal Love! Love eternally fruitful and full of wonder! Yes, Will of God! You are my book, my doctrine, my knowledge. In You are my thoughts, my words, my deeds, my crosses. It is not by consulting Your other works that I can become what You would make me, but only by accepting You in all things, in that one royal way, that ancient way, the way of our fathers, the way of self-surrender to Your will. I will think like them, speak like them, be enlightened as they were. In this way, I will imitate them, quote and copy them in everything.

Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade - Purchase The Joy of Full Surrender

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

29. Believing Leads to Seeing (Mt 9:27-35)

“Therefore, that shining light of which has been lit for our salvation must always shine in us.”

- St Chromatius

Matthew 9:27-35

As Jesus went on his way two blind men followed him shouting, ‘Take pity on us, Son of David’. And when Jesus reached the house the blind men came up with him and he said to them, ‘Do you believe I can do this?’ They said, ‘Sir, we do’. Then he touched their eyes saying, ‘Your faith deserves it, so let this be done for you’. And their sight returned. Then Jesus sternly warned them, ‘Take care that no one learns about this’. But when they had gone, they talked about him all over the countryside. They had only just left when a man was brought to him, a dumb demoniac. And when the devil was cast out, the dumb man spoke and the people were amazed. ‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel’ they said. But the Pharisees said, ‘It is through the prince of devils that he casts out devils’. Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness.

Christ the Lord

With this passage, St. Matthew finishes his narration of ten miracles performed in the aftermath of the Sermon on the Mount, in confirmation of the trustworthiness of what was said in that sermon, as it were. These last two miracles mark the final flourish on this section of the Gospel, showing that nothing, absolutely nothing, is excluded from Christ’s saving mission.

Jesus doesn’t come to rescue bits and pieces of broken humanity; he comes to gather it all into a new, everlasting Kingdom. His redemption actually brings good out of evil. If evil – whether on a grand scale of human history or on the smaller scale of individual human lives – were able to damage our humanity beyond the possibility of restoration, we would have no reason to hope. Jesus, however, shows that God’s loving goodness is far superior to evil. Those who let him into their lives discover not only forgiveness, security, and relief, but a profound renewal that gradually extends to every corner of their being. The Lord is Savior, but he is also Redeemer.

Christ the Teacher

Jesus works in our lives according to a plan. He knows what he is doing, just as he knew what he was doing during the days of his public life.

He orders the two blind men to keep the miracle under wraps. This is a frequent injunction, especially in the Gospel of Mark. He knew that the Israelites’ hearts had been hardened and confused through the centuries, so he was gradually revealing his full identity and the full extent of his mission. He wanted time to train his closest disciples, and he wanted freedom of action – all of which could be compromised if news of his miracles sparked precipitous action from the authorities or spawned too quickly a suffocating wave of wonder-loving crowds. Although his heart couldn’t resist the desperate, faith-filled appeals of the suffering people he came to save, he was nevertheless following a clear strategy.

Just so, he works in our lives intelligently, gradually, strategically. But we can’t see the whole plan – it’s too big and bright for our mortal gaze. And so we have to learn to simply travel along by his side like the disciples, listening, obeying, and trusting, carrying out one piece of the plan at a time.

Christ the Friend

The Pharisees were unbelieving. They didn’t want to believe in a Messiah that didn’t fit their preconceived ideas, so they found ways to justify their resistance – if Jesus drives out demons, he must be possessed by a stronger demon, that’s all. Imagine how Christ’s heart reacted to those accusations, such stubborn resistance to his grace. Imagine how he reacts to the disbelief of so many people who refuse to see the signs of his love and truth in our world today.

When a friend is in pain, you do whatever you can to comfort him. Christians can comfort Christ by keeping their own faith fresh and, above all, by living a real, practical, and universal Christian charity. That’s the only way to lay a successful siege against the world’s many barricaded hearts – breaching their walls with love, so the gift of faith can come streaming in.

Christ in My Life

You have let me see some miracles, Lord. You have given me experiences that can have no other explanation than yourself. Don’t let me forget them, Lord; let them nourish my faith. I believe in your saving power and your continued presence. Thank you for the amazing things you have done in my life. Pray for me, Holy Mother of God, that I may be made worthy of the love of Christ…

Lord, there are people in my life who are blind, who are mute, who are trapped in the darkness of sin. Jesus, I pray for them now. Free them, enlighten them, as you have done with me. Free me, too; keep enlightening me. I want to comfort you, Lord, with my faith and charity. Teach me to bear the torch of your love. Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in you…

These two blind men prayed so simply, so faithfully, and so directly! “Son of David, take pity on us!” Lord, have pity on me. You know my misery and my blindness. I believe that you can heal me. I believe that you can make me into a saint. You can do all things, Lord…

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC

Monday, August 17, 2009

- I am a convert and am struggling with the idea of praying to Mary, can you help? - Part III

Q: Father John, I am a convert to the Catholic faith, and I still have difficulties with Mary. Don’t get me wrong – I believe all the dogma and doctrine fully, but when it comes to praying to Mary, I don’t seem to get it. What role is she supposed to have in my pursuit of holiness and spiritual growth?

A: She has the role of helping you cling more closely to her Son, Jesus Christ – that’s what first examined, the theological underpinning of Marian devotion. And she exercises that role in three ways, as we have seen: by her presence, her example, and her intercession. Now we are ready to drill down to the practical level. What can we do, concretely, to live this Marian devotion fruitfully, to allow our mother in the order of grace to nurture, guide, and protect our spiritual growth? Here we arrive, finally, to the most obvious and familiar aspect, Marian devotions. Marian devotions are the many different ways that individual Catholics can engage in a healthy Marian devotion.

The distinction between devotion and devotions is crucial. Catholics are not superstitious. We do not engage in ritual or pious practices as if they were magical formulae. Our devotions give form to our devotion, just as a birthday cake gives form to our appreciation of a loved one’s existence. Without the sincere appreciation, the cake would have no meaning. If we engage in specific Marian devotions without plugging into the deeper theological source that gives them meaning, these practices can become distractions or even temptations that actually hinder our spiritual growth.

Having given that warning, we are ready to mention some common Marian devotions that, when lived rightly, allow the Blessed Virgin to fulfill her role in our pursuit of holiness.

Categories of Marian Devotions

The numerous Marian devotions that have arisen and flourished in the Church can be grouped into several categories. The most common and obvious category are the prayers. Praying to Mary (not worshipping her as if she were a goddess, but acknowledging her presence, admiring her example, and asking for her intercession) is the most direct and common form of Marian devotion. And among the prayers, the Rosary holds first place. Almost every pope since 1900 has written an encyclical letter encouraging Catholics to make use of this devotion. The Memorare, the Sub tuum presiduum, the Angelus, and the Regina Caeli are other favorite Marian prayers. We could write an entire post on each one, examining its meaning and its history. Many lesser known Marian prayers exist as well, especially novenas and individual prayers composed by saints and popes. These are vocal prayers (except the Rosary, which is a combination of vocal and mental prayer), and we pray them well in the same way that we pray all vocal prayers well.

Another category of Marian devotions consists of Marian shrines. By making a visit or a pilgrimage to a Church-approved shrine, we can give our Marian devotion a turbo boost. Shrines are sometimes linked to Marian apparitions (e.g., Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes) or artistic/miraculous images of Mary (e.g. Our Lady of Czestochowa, Our Lady of Chiquinquira, Our Lady of Guadalupe). The history of these events, places, and images offer eloquent (and sometimes downright awe-inspiring) testimonies of Mary’s active role in leading her spiritual children closer to the Lord. Every year, they inspire and renew the hearts and minds of millions of visitors and pilgrims.

On a day-to-day level, Catholics have long used household images to channel their Marian devotion. Reproductions of famous and powerful religious paintings and statues adorn living rooms, bedrooms, laundry rooms, dashboards, lockers, workshops, barber shops, restaurants, yards, road-side chapels, screen-savers, cell phone wallpaper, street corners, hospitals, prisons, and even casinos throughout the world. The mere fact of such ubiquity illustrates, to some extent, the powerful and inescapable role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the life of Christ’s Church. Most parish churches will also have a prominent Marian image, either close to the sanctuary or in a side chapel. Glancing at these images, or even spending a few moments now and again contemplating them or praying to Mary in front of them (this is often called “making a visit to the Blessed Virgin Mary”), allows Mary’s spiritual motherhood to work in our lives.

Getting Personal

For someone who has not developed a favorite form of Marian devotion, this variety of devotions may seem overwhelming. Don’t worry! None of us is called to engage in all of these devotions, though all of us are called to develop Marian devotion. The key is to find one or two devotions that help you live the devotion fruitfully. If you are at level zero, I would recommend starting to pray the Rosary, one decade every day (this Rosary booklet may be of assistance). If you are looking to deepen your devotion, you may want to arrange a mini-pilgrimage to a local Marian shrine for your family, for a group of families, or maybe even for yourself. An annual Marian pilgrimage, especially during the month of May (a month in which, traditionally, Catholics give special attention to Marian devotion), is an effective way to weave Catholic traditions into the fabric of family life.

I hope these series of posts have helped answer your question and put your mind at ease about the role Mary is meant to have in our great adventure of following Christ and building his Church. But if it hasn’t, don’t worry; there’s no rush. By seeking Christ in and through his Catholic Church, you will eventually come to know, love, and feel very comfortable with the Mother of our Lord.

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Abandonment XVII – Especially for Us

We can only be truly instructed by the words which God speaks to us personally. No one grows in knowledge of God either by reading books or by curious historical research. These means give us but a vain and empty knowledge, which serves only to confuse us and inflate us with pride.

That which truly instructs us in what comes to us by the will of God from moment to moment. This is the knowledge gained through experience, which Christ Himself was pleased to acquire before teaching others. In fact, this was the only knowledge in which He could grow, according to the expression of the holy Gospel (Luke 2:52); because being God, there was no degree of speculative knowledge which He did not already possess. Therefore if this experimental knowledge was useful to the Incarnate Word Himself, it is absolutely necessary for us if we would touch the heart of those whom God sends to us.

We only know perfectly that which we have learned by experience through suffering or action. This is the school of the Holy Spirit, who speaks the words of life to the heart; and all that we say to others should come from this source. Whatever we read, whatever we see, becomes divine knowledge only by the fruitfulness, the virtue the light which this experience gives. Without this experiential knowledge, all our learning is like unleavened dough, lacking the salt and the seasoning of experience. Without this experiential knowledge, we have only vague, untried ideas to act on, we are like the dreamer who, through knowing all the highways of the world, misses the road to his own house.

Therefore we have only to listen to God from moment to moment in order to become learned in the knowledge by which the saints lived, which is all practice and experience.

Set aside what is said to others, but listen to what is said to you and for you; you will find enough in that to exercise you faith, because this interior language of God, by its very obscurity, exercises, purifies and increases your faith.

Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade - Purchase The Joy of Full Surrender

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

28. THE HEALING TOUCH (MT 9:18-26)

“Nothing can come but that which God wills. And I feel very sure that whatsoever that may be, however bad it may appear, it shall indeed be the best
- St Thomas More

Matthew 9:18-26
While he was speaking to them, up came one of the officials, who bowed low in front of him and said, ‘My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her and her life will be saved’. Jesus rose and, with his disciples, followed him. Then from behind him came a woman, who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years, and she touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If I can only touch his cloak I shall be well again’. Jesus turned round and saw her; and he said to her, ‘Courage, my daughter, your faith has restored you to health’. And from that moment the woman was well again. When Jesus reached the official’s house and saw the flute-players, with the crowd making a commotion he said, ‘Get out of here; the little girl is not dead, she is asleep’. And they laughed at him. But when the people had been turned out he went inside and took the little girl by the hand; and she stood up. And the news spread all round the countryside.

CHRIST THE LORD Each of us puts our faith in someone. It may be a great teacher you once had, or your boss, or an effective leader, or it may simply be yourself. Human life is fragile, confusing, and brief – we naturally seek stability, which comes from putting one’s faith in someone. St. Matthew shows once again in this passage that Jesus alone is worthy of total faith.
We have already seen him heal a conscience by forgiving sins, calm a raging storm at sea, cure the sick and cast out devils… As if that weren’t enough, now he heals a disease that has persisted for twelve years to show that his power has no limits, and then raises a girl from the sleep of death to show that he is the Lord of life. This is the God who created you and knows your name, the Lord who gives his body and blood to be your saving food and drink. How worthy he is to receive the trust we all need to give!

CHRIST THE TEACHER St. Matthew emphasizes the role of faith in these miracles. The official kneels in front of Jesus – an act of homage and self-deprecation, an acknowledgment of his need and Jesus’ superiority and power. When the suffering woman touches him, it is her faith that reveals her presence to Jesus, and her faith that activates the cure.

Faith – belief in Jesus as Savior, trust in his goodness and omnipotence – unleashes the transforming power of God’s grace in our lives. God is not a Coke machine – we don’t pay the price of a few rote prayers and rituals, press a button, and get divine grace in exchange. God is a person; faith is our relationship with that person. We are created to know and love him and to share in his knowledge and love, but to do that we have to trust in him. We have to take him at his word, just as we have to do with anyone else we want to let into our lives.

CHRIST THE FRIEND St. Matthew shows us a Jesus who is utterly approachable. A sick woman is unafraid to fight through the crowds so she can reach out and touch the tassel on his cloak, and her confidence is rewarded with a miracle, a smile, and a tender, intimate word of encouragement. A synagogue official feels perfectly comfortable inviting Jesus into his house to resolve a tragic family crisis, and Jesus gladly complies, taking the little girl’s hand in his own and restoring her to life. This illustrates the message of the Incarnation. God is close to us; he is with us. He wants us to approach him – he wants us to open our hearts to him. If we are willing to accept the friendship of Christ, we never have to be alone.

Have I unwittingly put any limits on what I think you can do in my life? This sick woman had been suffering for twelve years. It must have seemed like an eternity for her. But she didn’t give up hope. Have I? You are my hope, Lord. I place my sufferings at your feet. Let me hear your words of encouragement; let me feel your saving power. With the joy of your heart, expand my heart…

I believe in You, Lord. I believe in your Catholic Church. I believe in love; I believe in your love. I trust in you – you know I do. But I want to trust more. I want to be as close and hope-giving to others as you are to me. Give me what I ask of you, Lord, and then ask what you will…

Lord, I know that no matter how bad things look, you are still at my side. I know that even when I can see only darkness with my reason, your light shines through my faith. Yet, in times of trouble, it is so hard to see your light. Lord Jesus, increase my faith. Teach me to see all things as you see them, and to see you in all things…

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC