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Amelia Doctrine Faith Formation Ink Slingers Purgatory Saints

The Church Triumphant – Citizens of Heaven

If you are Catholic, you have heard the phrase “communion of saints” a lot, especially if you pray the rosary.  Have you ever stopped to think about what it means?  I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately.  What does it mean to be “in communion”?  When we partake of the Eucharist, Christ’s Body and Precious Blood, we “receive Holy Communion”.  Okay, so it has something to do with sharing.  We are gathering together and sharing a meal as a sign of our unity in Christ.  What about the saints?

We know that a saint is a “holy one”, because the Church is “The Holy People of God” (CC. 823) and her members are called “saints.”  (Acts 9:13, 1 Cor 6:1; 16:1).  The “communion of saints”, then, is the people of God in union with Him in and through Christ.  What does this look like?

 

Pretty cool, right?  Think of it as a big family.

 

 No, not them. BIGGER.

That’s better.

This family has one Father, the same big brother, and they share one name. Now imagine that they live all over the world – different continents, different nations (let’s call them “states”), and different languages – but they still share the same dad, same sibling, and same family name. And…they get together every day to share a meal and praise their father. Impossible, right? Not for God.

Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Mathew 19:26

The communion of saints=His family= the Church. And because we are also His Body, and Christ’s Body is unconquered by death, the Church reaches beyond death, connecting those who are being purified, those pilgrims still on earth, and those in glory in heaven.  It looks like this:

There are three states of the Church: the Church Suffering, about which I posted here, made up of the souls being purified in purgatory; the Church Militant,(more on that one at a later date), made up of we pilgrims here on earth; and the Church Triumphant, so called, I think, because the saints in heaven are victorious over death (by the grace of God) and now bask in the presence of God.

What are these citizens of heaven doing?  What will we do there once the grime has been washed away and we arrive, sparkling, into our true home?  There will be no more suffering.  Our cup of joy will be full to overflowing.  We will be with our heart’s desire: God.  He will be all we need.  And yet, God is love and, with the Son, and the Holy Spirit, a perfect family.  Being one with God, can we be other than loving toward those still suffering and sojourning?  I don’t think so.   Think about when you have been full of joy in your life.  Could you contain it, or were you so excited, bursting with happiness, that you immediately called everyone you knew and even told strangers your news?  How much more will we feel like this in heaven, shining in God’s love and glory?

The members of the Church Triumphant care about how and what we are doing;  they and the angels rejoice when we repent (Luke 15:7, 10).  They rejoice.  That tells you what kind of God He is, and how much He loves us.  Can you imagine a better cheering section as you run your race than the holy ones who have suffered and persevered and now see God’s face?

I hope Saint Therese is in my cheering section.

She is my big sister in Christ.  When I pray to her, asking her to pray for me, I think about her life and her “little way” and it gives me hope that I may one day attain holiness.  When and if I do (pray for me, please!), I will delight in helping those not there yet.  I may be in your cheering section one day, encouraging you to press on.  Look for me.  I will be at Mass, singing “Holy, holy, holy” with the angels as together we worship Our Lord in the Eucharist.  Don’t be late.

 

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Purgatory – The Church Suffering

Being military, my family moves often. This comes with its advantages: we have seen different parts of the country; we have friends everywhere, making it easier to find a place to stay when we travel; and if we really dislike a place, we do not have to live there long. Unfortunately, this also means we do not have an established community of Catholic friends outside of Facebook. At times this can be difficult, as we often have to explain various aspects of our Faith to curious non-Catholics to whom it is evident that we are in many ways counter-cultural. “Go and make disciples,” commanded our Lord, and so we aim to do, through hospitality, charity, and as quiet witnesses who allow others to see the light of Christ shining in all we do.

When asked what I believe, I try to respond with what the Church teaches. This does not mean that I believe her because what she says conforms to my ideas, but rather, that when she teaches she does so with God’s Voice. This is important, for the Truth is, regardless of whether or not I believe in it. This Church, instituted by Christ and built upon Peter, has the authority to bind and loose, the authority to interpret and instruct. Being baptized in God’s name – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – means I was baptized into the Body of Christ, a Body which is not only truly visible, but indivisible. It is universal (catholic), transcends beyond borders (including death), and is preserved generation to generation in an unbroken line until the end of time. I cannot rightly call myself a Catholic if I choose to believe and obey certain doctrines and not others; for to be selective would be to separate myself from the Church. Thus, I have never had a problem with believing in the existence of purgatory. In fact, I see it as proof of God’s abiding love and mercy.

I have always felt God’s love, but I did not always understand it as I do now. When my first baby was born – as I held her, tiny, warm, and helpless in my arms shortly after giving birth – I was given a gift in addition to the gift of her precious life. In that moment, God granted me a glimpse into His heart. I gazed into her blue eyes and wept as the burning intensity of God’s love for her, for me, for all His children dwarfed the love I felt for her. This loving God would never leave us in the filth of our own sin.

My baby is now an active, curious little girl. She and her siblings play outside nearly every day, and they tend to get dirty, as children are wont to do. Sometimes they are caked-on-muddy. When they come into the house, I do not just throw a blanket over them and seat them at the family table with their father. Nor do I change their clothes; what good would it do them to have on immaculate clothing if their bodies are not clean? I love them, so I bathe them, scrubbing off the mud. This process can be unpleasant, even painful, if they are filthy enough. One child screams in the shower like he is being tortured, but I had to use it one day, and even though it hurt him, it was the only way to get him clean. How much more does our Heavenly Father, who is perfect, do for us?

Purgatory, like other Catholic doctrines, is not isolated, but woven into the fabric of the Church. It is connected to the Communion of Saints, indulgences, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, among other things. The Catholic Catechism explains purgatory in this way, “”All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (CCC 1030–1).

So, when I die, if I die in a state of grace with no mortal sin on my soul but still have some venial sins, I am bound for heaven because of my love for Christ. But before I can attain the Beatific Vision (before I can see God face-to-face), I must be cleansed of all attachment to sin. I must be refined, as one refines silver (Zech 13:9). I would indeed be prideful to think I can just march into heaven immediately upon death and expect to be seated at the wedding feast of the Lamb without so much as washing my hands.

Purgatory is not heaven, though those who go through it are bound for heaven. It is not hell, where we have no hope and we are eternally distanced from God. There is a third place mentioned in the Bible: a prison for spirits where Christ went to preach to them (1Peter 3:19). It is a place “in the age to come” where we can be freed of the consequences of sin (Matt. 12:32). A place where we pay off the debt incurred by our sins (Matt 18:21-35). A place where the prayers of those still on earth can help us (2 Mach. 12:38-46). It is a place where those who are destined for heaven may be saved, but “only as through fire.” (1 Cor3:15). No one is saved in hell; no one suffers in heaven, so there must be another place after death – not heaven, not hell. The Church calls this Purgatory – where through our suffering we are transformed to be more like Christ.

That we should pray for the poor souls in Purgatory is no surprise. Do we not pray for one another as Christians? Do the saints in heaven not pray for us (Rev 5:8)? And if prayer helps those poor souls who cannot help themselves, what better than the highest form of prayer – the sacrifice of the Mass, where heaven meets earth on the altar of the Lord with the angels kneeling in adoration?

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“The Gentiles shall walk in Thy light, and kings in the brightness of Thy rising.”

Have you ever heard the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”?  In it, the gifts get more extravagant as the days of Christmas wear on, culminating in a menagerie of musicians, dancing ladies, and a whole lot of birds swimming or hanging out in pear trees.   It is slightly ridiculous; however, it illustrates the fact that Christmas was not always a one day affair, celebrated by singing, shopping, and feting for more than a month before the day and then tossed out on the curb with our torn-up wrapping paper and dead trees to make room for New Year’s sparkling festivities.   In fact, the celebration of Christmas lasted for twelve days.  It began on Christmas and ended on the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord on January 6 – an ancient feast (3rd century in the East) which predates the feast of Christmas by a few centuries and was tied to the Nativity and the Baptism of our Lord.

The season before Christmas is called Advent.  We spend this season in prayer, waiting in darkness, preparing our hearts and souls for the coming of the Light of the World.  At Christmas, this Light shines forth and we celebrate the much longed-for Messiah’s birth; however, in gazing at the crèche we realize that this light was only witnessed by His Mother Mary, Joseph, and some shepherds.  It is at the Epiphany that the Light shines beyond this small family circle, beyond the chosen few, to the ends of the earth.  The Three Wise Men represent the Gentiles, those grafted onto the vine.  Epiphany comes from epiphania – to show or make known.  It is the manifestation of the God-Man to the world, for Christ came for the world in its entirety.  Christmas is when we celebrate Christ’s humanity, but Epiphany is when we celebrate his divinity.

Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.
And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising.

-Isaiah 60:1-3

 

My family has always celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany.  I was born in Puerto Rico, where “Los Reyes Magos” visit us on the evening of January 5 and leave us presents under our beds.  We moved to Florida when I was little, and when these kingly visitors brought us gifts once a year,  their camels always left a mess when they ate the “straw” (grass) we had torn or cut from our yard the night before and placed in a shoebox in anticipation of their visit.  They always fascinated me more than did Santa Claus, who, with his furry suit and hat, seemed to belong to those from the Frozen North, which to me meant anywhere north of St. Augustine, Florida.  The Magi came from a warm climate; they knew how to dress for the heat.  They were too dignified to pop down a chimney, whatever that was; instead, they came through the keyhole.    These royal visitors brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the King of Kings – exotic and expensive gifts, so you knew they had good taste.  I looked forward to their day every year, not only because it meant more presents and what kid wouldn’t like that?  I looked forward to their visit for another reason: They were at Bethlehem.  They had seen the Christ-Child in the arms of His mother and had knelt in worship.

I am no longer a child, but I still look forward to this day with child-like wonder.   I help my children to set the three figures of the Magi throughout the house, traveling slowly toward the crèche as their day approaches.  I tell them how the word Magi, in Greek magoi, comes from the Latin word meaning “sage.”  These wise men were astrologers who read the stars and, upon seeing a star rising in the East they recognized it was a sign that a great King had been born.

 

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Gospel of Matthew)

 

What made them wise was not that they saw the star, but that they followed its light on a difficult journey.  To Bethlehem.  To Christ.

 

We will feast on this day, and I will again tell my children that Melchior (meaning King City) brought Jesus gold, a present fit for a king; Caspar (meaning Master-of-Treasure) brought Him frankincense, a resin used to make the incense used in religious rituals, in homage to His divine nature; and Balthazar (Protect-the-King) brought to Him myrrh, a resin used in embalming bodies, prefiguring the death of the Son of Man.  I will tell them that these gifts also symbolize something greater: gold for the adoration (love) due our Lord, frankincense for prayer and the worship we owe Him, and myrrh for the redemptive value of pain and suffering.  Then, we will end our festivities by blessing our house, drawing the cross of salvation above the door, together with the year and the initials of the three wise men (C+M+B), which can also be interpreted to mean Christus Mansionem Benedicat(May Christ bless this house), written in blessed chalk:

 

20 C+M+B 12

The Feast of the Epiphany is a sign of the Universal Church.  It is a reminder that we, as Christians, are called not only to follow the Light wherever He may lead, but also to be a light to others along the way.  The Magi followed the star to the King, bringing the most precious gifts they had to offer.  I challenge you to bring your precious gifts to Jesus and to share them with the world to the Glory of God.

Merry Christmas!

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No MisConception, Here!

Imagine for a moment that you could choose your mother. Unrestricted by time, out of all the women in the world, you can handpick the woman who will carry you, nurture you, and raise you to adulthood. Additionally, you know that, because of a hereditary disorder, she is marked for sickness and death. You have the power to save her from that and, in so doing, you can give her what she needs in order for her to cope with the sorrow you know will pierce her heart. If she were your mother and you had the power to do all of that, wouldn’t you do it?
Why is it so difficult to imagine that God has done that very thing for one very special woman,

His Own Mother?

Another Catholic Sista explained why Mary needed to be sinless as Jesus’ Mother and as witness to the Crucifixion of Christ. I will attempt to explain how it’s possible that she was conceived without sin, why it’s necessary, and why this is important to us all.
God is sovereign King of the Universe and as such is not bound by any laws. If He were subject to laws, He would not be GOD. God can create however He wills. He spoke, and there was light. God lovingly crafted Adam and Eve, sharing His own nature with them. He gave them many gifts – the most important of which was the gift of sanctifying grace, allowing His love (the Holy Spirit) to flow directly into them. God required only one thing from them in order for their children to inherit this gift as their birthright: a free act of the will. Adam and Eve had to choose all on their own to love God and to demonstrate this in obedience to Him alone. It was with complete clarity of mind, for there was no ignorance or weakness before the Fall, that they chose themselves over God. They were punished with suffering and death. As their descendants, we are born with the stain of that first sin, Original Sin.

Since God created Adam and Eve, only one human being (besides Christ!) has possessed a perfectly balanced human nature:

The Blessed Virgin Mary

 The stain of Original Sin would have been on Mary as well had Jesus not saved her.  From the instant she was conceived, Mary was in spiritual union with God. We call this her Immaculate Conception.

 

“He selected and purified a tabernacle for Himself, becoming the immaculate seed of the woman, forming His body miraculously from the substance of the Virgin Mary” (John Henry Cardinal Newman)

Mary’s Immaculate Conception was a special gift from God, a privilege He bestowed upon the Woman chosen to be His mother. Does this mean that Mary had no need for a Savior?

Absolutely not!

 

She did need a Savior. In fact, she has greater cause to praise Him than anyone, for she was rescued from the pit of sin before she ever fell in.
Mary, most blessed among women, being always free from original sin, was from the start filled with the sanctifying grace that usually comes with baptism after birth. She was so “full of grace” that she became defined by it and was troubled by the Angel’s greeting at the Annunciation. She had found favor with God and was destined to be the Mother of Our Lord. But note: predestination does not mean predetermination. She could have, at any moment, said “No”…but she didn’t. The Heavens waited with bated breath, and she said Yes.

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”

God took great care in describing to the tiniest detail how He was to be worshipped. One can go cross-eyed reading about blue, scarlet, and purple stuff in the Old Testament. He designed the Ark of the Covenant and required that it be exactly the way He wanted it and placed in the Holy of Holies where no one might look upon it with irreverence. The point is: God is Holy. He cannot be treated as any common thing. We cannot use our everyday dishes during Mass. We go in our Sunday best to church. He is to be worshipped and adored with the very best we can offer, because He is God. Therefore, it stands to reason that not just any Tabernacle would do for the Son of the Living God. Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant because she carried within her the Word of God made flesh.  God’s eyes are too pure to look upon evil. His perfect Son could only be born of a virgin, pure, stainless, set apart. But just because one is a virgin, it does not mean that one is without sin. Mary was both, because God made her that way.

Some would argue that all of this about Mary is not explicitly mentioned in Scripture.  Just because something is not spelled out in the Bible in a straightforward way does not necessarily mean it did not happen, only that the author chose not to tell us about it. For example, if I tell you a story about my day yesterday, I might tell you that I got up, went to Mass, and then came home. You know that in order for me to go to Mass, I have to get dressed (you would hope!) and go out my door. I don’t have to tell you every detail. You know, without my having to say so, that I need to walk out of the church in order to come back home and that I need to walk through my door in order to get into my house. Now imagine that I wrote all of this down and gave it to a Catholic friend with whom I go to Mass. If you are a practicing Catholic, you know what happens during Mass and I don’t need to explain to you that I crossed myself with holy water upon entering the sanctuary, that I genuflected before sitting down, and that I received Our Lord in the Eucharist. The same can be said about Holy Scripture in that God’s Word is not contained in one book, but in fact it includes and is complemented by Sacred Tradition. St. Paul commends the keeping and passing down of oral tradition in 1 Corinthians 11:2 where we read, “I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:14 we read, “Therefore, brethren, stand firm; and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or letter from us.”
Scripture was not written in a bubble outside of history, but goes hand-in-hand with Sacred Tradition and cannot be separated from it if it is to be rightly understood. Just as the Bible cannot be understood without Sacred Tradition to set it in context, so must one look to Tradition and the Church Fathers to understand that the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was upheld before she herself declared it to a young Basque virgin near Lourdes, France, and way before it was ever formally declared and defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854:
“…in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”

In honoring Mother Mary, we obey our Lord, who gave her to us all on Calvary as our spiritual mother.

The Catholic Church has us pause in the middle of Advent to celebrate the Mother of God’s conception (We celebrate her birthday nine months later on September 8.), not only because Mary’s identity is inextricably linked to Jesus’ identity, but also because the Church must obey God in valuing life and life begins at conception. We are each of us knit in our mother’s womb. Each of us is personally known and loved by God. A fertilized egg does not at some point become a human being, it IS human. And, as a human being with a soul, he or she has dignity and a right to live.

***

Mary, like Jesus, is prefigured in the Old Testament. She is the New Ark of the Covenant, the New Eve, the Gebirah or Queen Mother of the Davidic Kingdom. I am human, and I err…a lot. I encourage you to put my words to the test. Read the Bible, read the Catechism, research Sacred Tradition and the Church Fathers. If you need further assistance, there are several excellent Catholic sites in addition to this one that can explain further, such as Catholic Answers(www.catholic.com) and NewAdvent (www.newadvent.org). They are apologists; I am not. I am just a mom who has stayed up way too late to write about her Mother whom she loves dearly and talks to every day.

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The Gift of Baptism

I was raised by a mother who understood love best in giving and receiving gifts.  Each treasure was meticulously chosen, prepared, and, at the perfect time, presented as a satin ribbon-crowned objet d’art.  She did this to demonstrate to that person that they were prized above any sacrifice it took to bring the gift to them.  Indeed, to receive a gift from my mother was a special thing, and I still remember the radiant look on her face as she waited for me to unwrap that which she had given so generously.  To her, giving a gift meant you had thought about that person and what would really make them happy.  She was just as joyful in receiving, exclaiming how lovely and thoughtful the giver was after carefully unwrapping their gift so as not to tear the paper even the slightest bit.

Now that I am grown and a mother myself, I appreciate my mother’s generosity even more.  I take every opportunity to bless my children with gifts, not because they have earned them, but because I love them and it makes me happy to see them smile.  I want to share every good and wonderful thing with my little ones.  If human parents in their fallen state derive such pleasure from giving to their children, how much more does our Heavenly Father delight in the gifts He offers to us?

Recently, I received a beautiful gift in God’s perfect timing – a son.  My fourth child was born at home on a quiet Saturday afternoon after an intense two-and-a-half hour labor.  He was immediately welcomed by three awestruck siblings who rejoiced over the arrival of their new playmate.  This little man was showered with gifts from the beginning – he had his own bed, his own blankets and toys, and his own clothes neatly hung and folded in the room he would share with his brother.  Every person in the family had sacrificed and contributed in preparing a place for him.  I had endured the discomforts of pregnancy and the pain of childbirth in order to give this child the best birth possible and the most peaceful start in life.  All of this we did because we loved him.  It was our gift to him.  For two blissful hours, we all basked in the joy of this new life, this blessed gift from God.

And then, he got sick.

He was not breathing right.  As we rushed to the hospital, the midwife in the back seat holding oxygen to my baby’s face, I did the only three things I could think of: I prayed for God to heal my son, I asked my friends to storm Heaven on his behalf, and I called a priest. If you are a person of faith, you will understand why I did the first two, but perhaps not the third, unless, of course, you are Catholic. My son was ill, and as his mother, I wanted him to have everything that is good.  I wanted him to have the best, and the best that I could give was a share in the promise of eternal life with God.

When God established the covenant with Abraham, He created a family.  For two thousand years, circumcision served as the sign of their familial bond.  The promises given to faithful Abraham were extended to his children.  So it was in the early Church, which took Jesus at His word and “let the little children come”  and did not hinder them.  It was understood that the Kingdom belonged to them as well as to adults, not because of their faith, but because of their parents’ faith.  Entire households were baptized based on the faith of one member. My husband and I are Christians.  We know this because we know we were baptized.  Our parents stood up for us and vowed to reject Satan and all his works and empty promises.  To be a Christian means to have faith in Christ, to believe His promises.  Jesus’ promises are not empty, but full of life.  He is the one who baptizes through the minister of baptism.  Baptism is not about what we do for Christ, but what He does for us.  It is His gift to us, given freely.  It cannot be earned, only accepted.  I accepted it for my child.

I have friends and even family who do not understand my pain in those hours I waited for my child to be baptized.  Yes, the hospital staff had to make sure he was “stable” and I wanted that, but I was desperate for my son to receive the Holy Spirit.  I could not rest until he was claimed for Christ and given our family name.  Just as earthly fathers bestow their names upon their children, so Our Heavenly Father gives us His name as we are claimed for Him.  Once the water was poured over his head, grace poured into his soul, and the Name spoken over him, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” God gave me another lovely gift: peace.  My child was in God’s hands and I would praise Him no matter the outcome.

My son survived.  We brought him home almost one week from the day he joined our family and God’s family, the Church.  The graces he received at his baptism flowed not only into him, but into his parents and godparents, turning all of our hearts even more toward Our Heavenly Father.  God really is a loving Father.  He delights in the gifts He gives us.  What a beautiful gift we have in His Church and in the Sacraments, those “outward signs of inward grace.”  A sign points beyond itself, and so do the sacraments point beyond us, beyond this life to the next.  They help us not only to glimpse Heaven, but to have a piece of it here on Earth.  My mother taught me how to receive a gift joyfully. I will teach my children to accept God’s gifts in the same manner: with happy hearts.