Categories
Faith Formation Fruits of the Holy Spirit Ink Slingers Mindy Series Spiritual Growth Year of Faith

Come Holy Spirit, Give Us Fidelity

This is the ninth of a 12-part, once-a-month series on the Fruits of the Holy Spirit. This month’s fruit is FIDELITY. Be sure to see previous posts beginning with CHARITY and check back next month as another contributor explores the fruit of MODESTY.

Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Fidelity

 

The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So to them He addressed this parable.

“What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?

And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.”

I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.

Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it?

And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, “Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.”

In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Luke 15:1-10, New American Translation

Occasionally, the parables Jesus use fall a little flat to our modern ears. Of course, that does not render them irrelevant, but sheds light on our own shortcomings.

When discussing the faithfulness of God, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 211:

The divine name, “I Am” or “He Is”, expresses God’s faithfulness: despite the faithlessness of men’s sin and the punishment it deserves, he keeps “steadfast love for thousands“. By going so far as to give up his own Son for us, God reveals that he is “rich in mercy”. By giving his life to free us from sin, Jesus reveals that he himself bears the divine name: “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will realize that ‘I AM’.” (emphasis mine)

I had to finally admit to myself that I would not probably care that much about one sheep out of a hundred who ends up straying from the group and getting lost. Would I leave the sheep and go off into the wilderness in search of that missing one? With most of the group intact and numbers practically the same, it’s hard for me to imagine going out of my way for one sheep.

Probably there are loads of cultural considerations of which I do not have any grasp. My livelihood does not depend on sheep. Likewise, when I think about the coins of this one woman, I probably would sweep my house looking for a coin if it were valuable to me (it’s hard to imagine that in this day and age; I suppose I should liken it to a large paper bill) but would I call my friends and rejoice with them? Nah. (Okay, maybe a Facebook status update.)

Rejoicing now in my own inability to completely relate to these two parables, I am left with a stark and heightened awareness of the difference between my fidelity and Jesus’ fidelity.

I should be on my knees thanking God that His attitude toward me is not like my own toward that one stray sheep. Jesus would go find me. He would pick me up and sling me over His shoulders.

Not only that, He rejoices with His friends in heaven, the saints. The parables are a beautiful illustration of His fidelity, or faithfulness, this very gift He seeks to impart to us as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

What are the ways in which we overlook our lost brothers and sisters, the ones who have fallen away from the faith, or who have never found Him to begin with? How about the ones who are struggling in the midst of challenges, existential crises, emotional turmoil leading to a tepidity of faith, or distrust in God? Jesus is looking for them. Are we? Are we so faithful that we will drop what we are doing to go tend to that one sheep, look for that lost coin? Do we sincerely rejoice when our brothers and sisters get found, find solace, healing, renewed faith?

Equally as important, do we maintain hope and continue to lift up our suffering brothers and sisters in prayer? It is easy to throw up our arms and assume the sheep is lost—the wolves have eaten him. What’s the point? we think. Why risk our own lives, our own comfort, our own security?

Let us pray for fidelity during this Year of Faith.

Categories
Faith Formation Fruits of the Holy Spirit Ink Slingers Michelle Series Spiritual Growth Year of Faith

Come, Holy Spirit, and Give Us Joy

This is the second of a 12-part, once-a-month series on the Fruits of the Holy Spirit. This month’s fruit is JOY. Be sure to see previous posts beginning with CHARITY and check back next month as another contributor explores the fruit of PEACE.

Have you ever known someone that when you looked at them, really looked, you could see something different about them?  Perhaps it was in the way they smiled, laughed, or interacted with others.  Maybe it was the way their eyes shone with a sincerity that perhaps took your breath away.  You’d say they were happy but the word “happy” just couldn’t seem to accurately describe the person.  You knew they faced hardships and difficulties and yet they rarely lingered on those things but they seemed to have an ability to keep the smile on their face and a song in their heart.  What was different about this person?  The answer: joy.

Isn’t joy just another word for happiness?  What is the difference between the two?

Happiness is defined as, “the quality or state of being happy” and “good fortune; contentment; pleasure; or joy”.

Joy is defined as, “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation”.

While each definition contains the other word they are not interchangeable.  In addition to this we also need to remember that what we are focusing on is a joy that comes from the Holy Spirit… a spiritual joy.  The joys of the world are vastly different from the joy that we receive from the Holy Spirit.  Let’s take a closer look.

I know many “happy” people.  They smile and laugh and make others smile and laugh too.   Unfortunately their happiness is often fleeting.  Their happiness comes all too often from “things”… whether their job is going good, if they were able to buy the latest gadget on the market, if their children got good grades, if it was a sunny day when they hoped to do something fun, and the list goes on and on.  Still, these same happy people can be dramatically different if their situation changes.  Their happiness is dependent on what is happening around them.  Things need to happen in the way they are expecting it to or want it to, otherwise they have a hard time finding reasons to be happy.  Happiness, it seems, is very fleeting.

Spiritually joyful people though are different.  Their joy isn’t dependent on their situation.  They may have amazing things happening in their lives or they may be facing such difficulties that we wonder how in the world they could ever hold a smile on their face, but their joy is apparent.  This isn’t to say that joyful people never feel down, they can and do. It’s not to say that joyful people never encounter problems… on the contrary! They experience more tribulation, more adversity, and more distress than most people.  The difference is that joyful people embrace their hardships and trials knowing that these situations are there to bring them closer to Christ.  They are encouraged to embrace the cross they have been given and continue on their journey toward Jesus.   As St. Ignatius of Loyola tells us, “Here is the difference between the joys of the world and the cross of Jesus Christ: after having tasted the first, one is disgusted with them; and on the contrary, the more one partakes of the cross, the greater the thirst for it.” 

A spiritually joyful person can see that the cross they are being asked to carry helps them become more like Christ.  They gladly accept the cross because they know that they are called to be like Christ and if this helps them in the journey then it is a great honor to carry the cross.  They are happy to do it because of the reward it brings.   In James we read, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2-3  A JOY to encounter trials?! This goes against our worldly view of joy and happiness doesn’t it?

When we ask the Holy Spirit for a life of JOY what we are truly asking is that He brings us the ability to endure hardships and trials with a heart that knows God is right there with us, never abandoning us, and always holding us close.  We are asking, not for an easy life, but a life where regardless of what we encounter we accept it with an open heart and a belief that no matter if what we are encountering is suffering or happiness it will bring us closer to Christ.

Spiritually joyful people also possess other gifts and traits:

  • They put God first in their lives.  They realize that “things” the world tells them they need to be happy are not what truly brings contentment.  They find that happiness in following God.  They regularly say, “Thy will be done!”
  • They are patient, not only with God but with themselves and others.
  • They make forgiveness a priority. They not only forgive others but they forgive themselves.
  • They don’t focus on what is going wrong in their world but try to see the good in every situation.
  • They pray.  They relinquish their troubles to Christ.
  • They are thankful.  They are thankful not only for the good but for the times where they are asked to pick up their cross.
  • They put others before themselves.  They know that to serve with an open and giving heart is part of finding joy.  They know that when they serve others they are serving God.

Cardinal Dolan tells us that, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God within.”  When a person has true spiritual joy one can’t help but see God in their eyes and soul.  They simply can’t hide that God resides within them. When we are truly joyful our soul magnifies the Lord.   When our soul magnifies the Lord others can’t help but take notice and want what we have.  As Mother Teresa says, “Joy is a net of love by which we catch souls.”  When we have true spiritual joy we help bring others closer to God as well.  What a tremendous gift!

Joy requires us to die to ourselves and live completely for God.  It requires us to say yes to God in all aspects of our life.  It is a complete giving of ourselves to God.  The moment we say, “Thy will be done” we begin to live for the Lord.  We begin to experience a joy that nothing else in this life can compare to.  While we know we will experience pain and adversity we also know that those hardships will only bring us closer to God’s love, grace, and peace.

Are you ready to live a joyful life?

Categories
Alessandra Catechism Doctrine Faith Formation Ink Slingers Prayer Sacred Scripture Saints Series Year of Faith

Catholicism 101: Creation and the Angels

Creation and the Angels
God is the Creator of heaven and earth because He made all things from nothing.  The chief creatures of God are angels and humans.  Angels are created spirits, without bodies, having understanding and free will.  God created the angels to see, love, and adore (give honor to) Him in heaven.  They are spirits, and therefore have no bodies.  But they have understanding and free will like we do.  Besides that, God also gave them great wisdom (love and skill in the things of God), power and holiness (a sharing in God’s own life).

Before letting the angels join Him in heaven God wanted to see if they would obey Him.  All the angels were put on trial by God, as we are now bring tried so that we may gain heaven.  Not all the angels remained faithful to God; some of them sinned (disobeyed God).  These are the bad angels, or devils in hell, who tempt (attract us to sin) us.  The first angel to sin against God was an angel by the name of Lucifer whose name means “the carrier of light.”  He was proud of the power God had given him and wanted to be greater than God, and he actually said he would not serve God.  In Revelations 12: 7-9 we find what happens next:

“And there was a battle in heaven; Michael and his angels battled with the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels.  And they did not prevail, neither was their place found any more in heaven.  And that great dragon was cast down, the ancient serpent, he who is called the devil and Satan, who leads astray the whole world; and he was cast down to the earth and with him his angels were cast down.”

Saint Michael, the Archangel, whose name means “who is like God” arose to fight for God.  The good angels joined him and they cast into hell Lucifer and the other bad angels that followed him.  Lucifer is also referred to as Satan and the bad angels are devils.

The good angels serve God in heaven and on earth.  The good angels help us by praying for us, by acting as messengers from God to us, and by serving us.  God gives to each one of us a guardian angel to pray for us, to inspire (suggest good acts in us), to keep us from harm, and to help us against temptations (attractions to sin).  Some of our temptations come from bad angels; other temptations come from ourselves and from the persons and things around us.  We can always resist temptations, because no temptation can force us into sin, but sometimes we can’t do it alone.  Some temptations have deeply rooted themselves into our souls and hold us ransom.  God will always help us to resist temptation if we ask Him.

Since angels are bodiless creatures, it is impossible for them to have bodily wings like, lets say on a bird.  On different occasions  God has given special bodies to angels who were His messengers, so that men could see them.  There are many times in history when angels have been sent by God to give us important messages. Here is a list of some of the times we know of when angels have taken bodies to send messages to us from God:

  • An angel sends Adam and Eve out of Paradise.
  • Abraham welcomes God and two angels.
  • An angel stops Abraham from killing his son Isaac.
  • The angel of death punishes the Egyptians.
  • An angel touches the lips of Isaiah.
  • Saint Raphael, the archangel, is a guide for young Tobiah.
  • An angel appears to Zachariah.
  • The Archangel Saint Gabriel speaks to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
  • An angel appears to Saint Joseph in a dream soon after the birth of John the Baptist.
  • When Jesus is born, the angels come down to adore the Son of God.
  • An angel appeared to the Shepherds on the night Jesus was born.
  • An angel appears to Saint Joseph and warns him to leave with the Holy Family to Egypt.
  • The angels that serve Jesus in the desert when He is tempted by Satan.
  • An angel comes to Jesus in the Garden of Olives to comfort Him.
  • An angel announced the Resurrection of Jesus to the women that returned to the tomb.
  • An angel spoke to the Disciples at the Resurrection.
  • An angel freed Saint Peter from prison when King Herod had him arrested.

In his vision of heaven, Saint John the Apostle saw many angels and men clothed in white robes with palms in their hands.  They cried out “worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches  wisdom and strength, honor and glory and praise!” (Revelations 5:12). All the angels bowed before the throne and adored God, saying “to the One seated on the throne, and to the Lamb, be praise and honor, glory and might, forever!” (Revelation 5:13).  We will see God’s holy angels when they come with Jesus at the Last Judgement.  He said, “When the Son of Man shall come in His majesty, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on the throne of His glory; and before Him will be gathered all the nations.  The King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you have My Father’s blessing.’  To those on His left He will say, ‘Out of My sight, you condemned into everlasting fire prepared for the devil.”  (Matthew 25: 31-46)

In 1996, Hollywood came out with a movie entitled Michael starring John Travolta.  In this movie others come to learn that he is Saint Michael the Archangel and not just a mere human.  Hollywood/cartoons have been painting a picture in our minds of what angels are or might look or act like.  Although angels and humans are both created creatures it is erroneous to believe that one can become the other.  In other words, when God gives angels temporary bodies to deliver messages they do not become human.  In the same form, humans cannot become an angel.  You can however, think someone is an angel.  But then the word angel goes from a noun to an adjective (a description).

Two of the most popular Catholic prayers regarding angels are the prayer to our Guardian Angels and the prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel.  Saint Michael is the leader of the heavenly armies of angels.  He is the mighty protector of the Church against all her enemies and the one that cast Satan to hell.   On Sunday April 24th 1994, Pope John Paul II recommended this prayer be used by all Catholics as a prayer for the Church when he said:  ‘”May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle we are told about in the Letter to the Ephesians: ‘Draw strength from the Lord and from His mighty power’ (Ephesians 6:10).  The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel (Revelation 12:7). Pope Leo XIII certainly had a very vivid recollection of this scene when, at the end of the last century, he introduced a special prayer to St. Michael throughout the Church. Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world.”‘  Pope Leo XIII wrote this prayer after hearing a conversation between Jesus and Satan:

“Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.  May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host – by the Divine Power of God – cast into hell, Satan and all the evil spirits, who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.  Amen.”

This is actually the condensed version of the original prayer the Pope wrote, up until the early 60’s it was said after every Mass around the world.  Some Bishops are bringing back this beautiful custom, but if yours hasn’t, I invite you to do so on your own.

The second most popular prayer is that to our guardian angel:

“Angel of God, my guardian dear,
Through whom God’s love protects me here;
Ever this day be at my side,
To rule and guide.  Amen.”

This is one of the first prayers I learned as a child.  God has given each of us an angel to be our faithful friend and to help us while we are on earth.  This angel is God’s messenger to tell us what God wants us to do and to keep our soul from sin and our body from harm.  Parents, your children’s guardian angel should be your best ally, pray for them to protect your children when they are not with you or as they sleep.

If you are interested in further reading on Angels, the saint to turn to is Saint Thomas Aquinas, known as the Angelic Doctor.  In the Summa he dedicates a whole chapter on Angels.  In this Chapter of the Summa, he goes into detail on the good as well as the fallen angels.  I think it’s good to learn about the angels, the good ones for help and the bad ones to learn how they function to help us avoid sins.  Saint Thomas also covers the hierarchy among them, they are: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominations, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, Angels.  I hadn’t realized this until I read the Summa: Archangels and Guardian Angels are the among the two lowest levels in their hierarchy.  One section that is important is entitled, “THE ACTION OF ANGELS ON MEN”  where Saint Thomas writes the following:

1. Since angels are superior to man, they can enlighten man. They can strengthen the understanding of human beings and make men aware, in some sensible manner, of the truths to be imparted. Thus angels can act upon the human intellect.

2. But angels cannot act directly upon the human will; God alone can do this.

3. Nevertheless, angels, good or bad, can exercise an indirect influence on human wills by stirring up images in the human imagination. And angels, good or bad, can, by their natural power, arouse sentient appetites and passions in the same way, that is, by producing images in the human imagination.

4. Equally, an angel can work upon the human senses, ether outwardly, as, for example, by assuming some visible form, or inwardly, by disturbing the sense-functions themselves, as, for example, making a man see what is not really there.

While the media has formed many people’s idea of what angels are, in fact, the Church gives us an accurate description that is very different from the Hollywood portrayal of these Heavenly bodies.  Thankfully we know that angels are part of God’s Heavenly army ready to help defend us in battle, pray for our needs, help keep us safe, and help keep us focused on God and the ultimate reward of Heaven.  While humans and angels are very different we share a common goal of glorifying God through our creation.  We should be always thankful for God’s gift of His angels who surround us and await us in Heaven with God.

➡  Read our other Catholicism 101 articles here:

The Unity and Trinity of God

The Purpose of Man’s Existence

Categories
Faith Formation Ink Slingers Kerri Spiritual Growth

What our Children can Teach us about Faith

“Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15)

This passage from the Gospel of Mark was part of the Sunday Gospel a couple weeks back. I happened to take extra notice of it when I heard it proclaimed and it stayed on my mind as I left church that Sunday. Part of why I think it caught my attention was due to the stories some friends had been sharing about their children and their children’s guardian angels recently. Less than a week before, on October 2, the Church celebrated the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels.

Guardian Angel, German postcard 1900, public domain

Listening to those stories describing the easy, childlike acceptance of the spiritual world really got me thinking about how much more open to the faith children are. When I then heard the Gospel reading that next Sunday, in particular the passage quoted above, I was reminded again of my own need to be more childlike in my faith. Children have such a pure faith. It seems that as we grow older we lose some of that matter-of-fact, childlike acceptance.

As we begin the Year of Faith, I thought this was a good time to remind ourselves of how that childlike acceptance of faith and the spiritual realm really looks. Only through the eyes of children can we do that. Some of my friends graciously agreed to share some of their stories with me. Some are sad, but demonstrate the sensitivity our children have to the spiritual world all around us. Some will stun you with the easy, matter-of-fact nature in which children accept something extraordinary as if it was completely ordinary. And some are just simply amazing.

After several years of infertility followed by a successful pregnancy, a close friend of mine was shocked to find herself pregnant again with very little assistance. Unfortunately, she lost the baby and was understandably devastated. One day we met for coffee so she could talk and I could be her support. During our conversation she revealed that her 1 year old daughter K saw her little sister. I asked what she meant and she described the situation: Her daughter was sitting in a high chair and suddenly got an odd look on her face. She seemed almost transfixed by something my friend could not see. It lasted just a second and then K smiled sweetly like she had a special secret and was back to her old self. My friend is convinced that she was able to see her baby sister for a moment.

Another friend who also lost a child (her fourth) shared that one of her older daughters, 6 at the time of her baby brother’s death, often speaks of seeing him in her dreams. Recently however, her daughter H described him to her as a little blonde toddler. My friend concluded her story by telling me, “None of the kids in our family are blonde; at best they have light brown hair. What startled me is this is exactly how I see him in my dreams, too, yet I’d never told her that.”

Recently I was sharing my own story of pregnancy loss with someone and discovered that he and his family had also experienced a miscarriage some years back. About three years after that loss he was saying goodnight to his then 11 year old daughter when she started crying. Asking her what was wrong she told him about how much she missed the baby that had died too soon. He was amazed that she still carried that grief with her three years later and in her sensitivity to the situation.

Another dear friend shared this amazing story about her little girl: “Tonight, we were saying our normal round of bedtime prayers and after the Guardian Angel prayer, A, who will be three in just a few weeks, out of the blue told me that she has two angels. It caught me so by surprise that I just stood there for a second, trying to remember what prayer we say next and then I had this overwhelming sense that her Guardian Angels are a pair of ‘twin souls,’ one male and one female. I actually got goosebumps, it was so strange! I finally said, ‘Wow A, that is so neat!’ and she was just like, ‘Yeah.’ 😛 Just so matter-of-fact, like she sees them all the time and it’s no big deal. And then she just started praying the Hail Mary. I was still dwelling on it after I kissed them and left the room and I just thought it was so funny and sweet that it was just such a matter-of-fact thing to her.”

My friend E lost her father when she was 3 years old. Her mother recently told her that not long after her father’s death, during Easter weekend, she dreamed that she was snow skiing with her  late-husband, E’s father. The next morning E told her, “Mommy, last night Daddy and I built a snowman!”

Finally, another friend shared an amazing story that I will share here in her own words:

My now 8 yo daughter, M, asked me recently if I’d seen “that big, shining person” in church. She described seeing this “shining person” standing behind one of the young people being confirmed at our parish, with its arms wrapped around the person. What I found interesting is that our family has a devotion to the holy angels. Yet it never occurred to her to describe this being as an angel; she was describing it objectively, as if she wasn’t making the connection with it being a spiritual being. She was just so matter-of-fact about it and was very upset that none of us saw this. Like we were calling her a liar! 😉 We had a talk about it and even the entire time, she kept saying she saw this “shining person” behind the youth and that she couldn’t focus on the Mass because he was so bright.

The “matter-of-fact” way the children in many of these stories accept the spiritual world is amazing. Their unquestioning faith in God and their guardian angels and so much more challenges us to be more open and pure to hearing God in our own lives.

What stories do you have to share?