Fr. Robert Young, Volume 19, Week 5

Friends I just listened to this podcast by Fr. Robert (may he rest in peace) and found it to be very encouraging in persevering in the Gift of Living in the Divine Will that Jesus has made available to us through the writings of Luisa Piccarreta. The Gift of Living in the Divine Will is a free and unimaginable gift reserved by God specifically for our times. Praise God! We don’t deserve it but boy, do we need it!

Luisa’s writings have been found by Vatican theologians to contain no errors in faith or morals and her cause for beatification has been submitted to Rome. We can listen to podcasts or videos by Fr. Robert Young or Fr. Joseph Iannuzzi without fear or compunction.

Fr. Robert’s podcasts are found at https://divinewilllife.org and Fr. Iannuzzi’s website is https://www.ltdw.org/ . He also has a 13 minute video called “Divine Will in a Nutshell”. Their teachings can also be found on YouTube.

May His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Fiat!

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Valley of Decision…

“Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” Joel 3:14 (in some bibles it is 4:14)

In today’s Office of Readings, the First Reading was taken from the book of Joel. As I prayed the Divine Office this morning, the verse above came alive. The term “valley of decision” has come to me more than once in recent days. I believe it refers to the coming illumination of conscience.

As I meditated on this scripture verse, I felt the Lord wished me to pray fervently, in the Divine Will, that souls will be pre-disposed to choose for God in the valley of decision.

It is no coincidence that this came to me so clearly on the 11th day of the 11th month. I see 11:11 on the clock often and I know it is a phenomenon that others have experienced as well. Let us heed the warning–God is on the move!

In response I wrote the prayer below and invite you to join me in prayer and sacrifice for those whose hearts are far from God.

Eternal Father, if you have need of someone on earth to give voice to your desire that all souls will choose for you in the valley of decision, here I am Lord, send me! Therefore, I pray: Merciful God, in the Divine Will, through the Flame of Love, in the name of everyone from Adam to the last, I say that all souls will be pre-disposed to choose for God in the valley of decision. Lord, this is your will and so it must be. May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as in heaven. Fiat! Amen.

Sister Death…

The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if to others, indeed, they seem punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself. (Wisdom 3:1-6)

As November is ushered in by the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, it seems a fitting time to contemplate our good friend, Sister Death, our faithful, inexorable, beloved conductor into eternal life. Beloved, of course, by those well acquainted with the unimaginable love and mercy of God.

This week I was watching EWTN’s Journey Home program. The episode featured an atheist turned Religious Sister, Sr. Theresa Alethia Noble, FSP. One of the points she shared was that an important part of her discernment process was a long period of time in which she daily contemplated her death. It served to cement her resolve to live each day as if it were her last chance to become a saint.

As poet Leon Bloy put it: “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.” Contemplating our own death can help assist us down that narrow path.

The Office of Readings on the feast of All Souls gave an excellent tribute to Sister Death:

“It was by the death of one man that the world was redeemed. Christ did not need to die if he did not want to, but he did not look on death as something to be despised, something to be avoided, and he could have found no better means to save us than by dying. Thus his death is life for all. We are sealed with the sign of his death; when we pray we preach his death; when we offer sacrifice we proclaim his death. His death is victory; his death is a sacred sign; each year his death is celebrated with solemnity by the whole world.

“What more should we say about his death since we use this divine example to prove that it was death alone that won freedom from death, and death itself was its own redeemer? Death is then no cause for mourning, for it is the cause of mankind’s salvation. Death is not something to be avoided, for the Son of God did not think it beneath his dignity, nor did he seek to escape it.

“Death was not part of nature; it became part of nature. God did not decree death from the beginning; he prescribed it as a remedy. Human life was condemned because of sin to unremitting labour and unbearable sorrow and so began to experience the burden of wretchedness. There had to be a limit to its evils; death had to restore what life had forfeited. Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more of a burden than a blessing.

“The soul has to turn away from the aimless paths of this life, from the defilement of an earthly body; it must reach out to those assemblies in heaven (though it is given only to the saints to be admitted to them) to sing the praises of God.”

From St Ambrose’s book on the death of his brother Satyrus

As penitents we live with death every day as we are called to die daily to ourselves and to our passions. This too helps us down the narrow path.

In a few days, on November 12, BSP members begin our pre-Christmas fast, one of the two 40-day fasting periods we observe each year. May God grant us every grace we need to carry in our fasting His own death as we prepare our hearts to celebrate his holy birth. May He make us all saints.

“Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death, from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will. No second death can do them harm. Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks, and serve Him with great humility.”

Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, St. Francis of Assisi

Indulgenced Acts for the Faithful Departed

According to the Manual of Indulgences:

  1. plenary indulgence, applicable only to the souls in purgatory, is granted to the faithful who,
    • on any and each day from November 1 to 8, devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, if only mentally, for the departed;
    • on All Souls’ Day (or, according to the judgment of the ordinary, on the Sunday preceding or following it, or on the solemnity of All Saints), devoutly visit a church or an oratory and recite an Our Father and the Creed.
  2. partial indulgence, applicable only to the souls in purgatory, is granted to the faithful who,
    • devoutly visit a cemetery and at least mentally pray for the dead;
    • devoutly recite lauds or vespers from the Office of the Dead or the prayer Requiem aeternam (Eternal rest).

[Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.]

  1. To gain a plenary indulgence, in addition to excluding all attachment to sin, even venial sin, it is necessary to perform the indulgenced work and fulfill the following three conditions: sacramental confession, Eucharistic Communion, and prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff.
  2. A single sacramental confession suffices for gaining several plenary indulgences; but Holy Communion must be received and prayer for the intention of the Holy Father must be recited for the gaining of each plenary indulgence.
  3. The three conditions may be fulfilled several days before or after the performance of the prescribed work; it is, however, fitting that Communion be received and the prayer for the intention of the Holy Father be said on the same day the work is performed.
  4. If the full disposition is lacking, or if the work and the three prescribed conditions are not fulfilled, saving the provisions given in Norm 24 and in Norm 25 regarding those who are “impeded,” the indulgence will only be partial.
  5. The condition of praying for the intention of the Holy Father is fully satisfied by reciting one Our Father and one Hail Mary; nevertheless, one has the option of reciting any other prayer according to individual piety and devotion, if recited for this intention.

Union of Wills…

Jesus’ prayer to the Father at the Last Supper: “(May they) all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17: 21-23)

Jesus spoke these words as part of the Last Supper discourse, a heart-wrenching prayer to his Father. It was his final hour, and every word he spoke bore the weight of eternity. Even in this short Scripture passage, we sense the tremendous longing in the heart of Jesus for unity among his followers. The words themselves seem to tremble on the page.

It is of cosmic importance that on his last night on earth, Jesus bequeathed to his followers the inner life of the Trinity—a unity of wills in perfect love—praying “that they may be one, as we are one…so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” This is the life of heaven and we are called to live it now as a sign to the world that God sent his only Son to die out of pure love for us. We need to ponder this deeply. Sins against unity, that is unity with the will of God, cause great damage to the Church and consequently to the world.

Lately we have heard of a serious disagreement between the bishops of Germany, and the Vatican. Too often these days, the word “schism” is heard in Catholic circles. My friends, if the Church herself cannot maintain unity, what hope is there for those who do not believe in God? Unity is critical, now more than ever, a unity born in the humility of the manger.

In the Liturgy of the Hours is a reading from a letter to Diognetus which contains this line: “…it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together.” Unity with the will of God and each other is a sacred duty for Christians.

Several years ago our parish ladies group visited a Carmelite monastery in our diocese. We were blessed with a brief audience—through a grate—with the saintly prioress, Mother Teresa of Jesus (may she rest in peace). She spoke about life in a closed community. She did not sugar-coat it, emphasizing more than once the challenges of living day in and day out with “the same 10 people.” Yet, in spite of the challenges, they were a true community modeling a common unity. Did they always agree? Certainly not. Did they sometimes argue? Most likely. Were they living in unity? Absolutely! Their unity did not depend on agreement in earthly matters, but on loving obedience to the will of God in the bond of charity.

Someone once asked St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta how we can know what the will of God is in any given situation. She gave a little smile and replied, “Wait and see what happens.” That is the reply of one who lives in the fiat of the Blessed Virgin Mary, always docile to the movement of the Spirit. 

Those of us who try to live in the will of God know that His will is not always easy to discern. That is why it is good to have a spiritual director, or priest, or someone spiritually mature enough to help with discernment. When in doubt, we cannot err in being obedient to those God has placed over us in authority.

Unity with the Will of God is what we must aspire to at all times. This has never been easy for us, for the shadow of the evil one is never far away. He loves to sow confusion and chaos, misunderstanding and the pride of self-righteousness, a righteousness that divides and seeks to conquer. There is no peace in this approach, only division. Therefore, we need to look carefully at the attitudes we hold—and especially the ones that hold us! Let us not be slaves to them, but always act out of love for those God sends us. Let our own thoughts and feelings take a back seat to the true inspiration of the Spirit in the bond of charity. Then we will be working for peace, not division.

Never has it been more urgent that we learn to live in God’s will, to desire it above all else. It is the only way to peace and unity in families, in the Church, and in the world. God has given us many unimaginable graces in our day. We must re-double our efforts to be faithful, attentive, and docile to the Spirit. No one is safe outside of grace. Humility is key; pride will be our undoing. And when we fail, let us place all our trust in God who can, by his merciful grace, make what is bitter, sweet.

Where hearts are not at peace there can be no unity. Where hearts are not at prayer there can be no peace, for one flows out of the other. Peace has its source in the heart of God, which is perfect unity. Since prayer is communion with God, the more one prays, the more the fruits of peace and unity will flow.

We are children of light! We must not give in to the shadows. Light always dispels shadows. Let us stay firmly rooted in the truth of our faith found in the Divine Will, especially as taught to Luisa Piccareta. And in all things—charity.

ADDENDUM: Minutes after I posted this, I read this article which quotes Cardinal Robert Sarah. He speaks very strongly on the theme of unity.

In Christ all things hold together…

In (Christ) all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17)

 In one of his appearances to St. Catherine of Siena, Jesus told her, “In his ignorance man treats himself very cruelly. My care is constant, but he turns my life-giving gifts into a source of death.” In other words, what our Lord gives us for our good, we misuse to the point of causing ourselves grave harm. Consequently, in our willful disobedience, we are running headlong into destruction.

There are all manner of theories out there as to why the world is careening out of control on so many fronts. Even if you believe in climate change, it is vastly inadequate to explain the confluence of calamities—natural, economic, political, and social, not to mention the rebellions, protests, and chaos—that currently assail our world in apocalyptic proportions. It’s like being focused on a broken fingernail during an earthquake. It’s like trying to stop a flood with a sieve—every new solution is so full of holes it only serves to exacerbate the situation. Vanity of vanities!

Those of us who have been paying attention to the words of Our Lady, especially over the past century and a half cannot be surprised at what is transpiring as we have witnessed the wholesale rejection of Christ in contemporary society. Colossians 1: 17 tells us: “(Christ) is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” That, my friends is the key to the matter: In Christ all things hold together, and the more he is rejected, the more things fall apart. What we have sown in rebellion and disobedience, we are reaping in chaos and destruction. Lord have mercy on us, for we have sinned!

However, even in the midst of trials that seem certain to get worse before they get better, there is cause for great hope and joy. We who believe in Christ, believe that there is far more going on than what our senses tell us. We remember that at Calvary, all seemed lost, and even the apostles ran away scared. But a mere three days later—the resurrection! A more glorious outcome than could have ever been dreamed possible! We believe that God is in control now, just as he was then. One significant advantage we have over the apostles is that they endured their trial before Pentecost, while we have already received the gift and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The Catechism tells us:

The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

“The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.

(CCC #1830-31)

The catechism goes on to tell us that the gift of fortitude “ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good.” Fortitude is one gift we will have great need of as the days continue to darken.

As we hear so often, God has not left us orphaned. With the Holy Spirit as our strength and guide, the storms of life may batter us, but our immortal souls will not be harmed as long as we remain in a state of grace, are docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and make use of the extraordinary graces being poured out over us at this time. God has not left us orphaned, but we must accept the graces he offers, especially those he showers on us through the Eucharist.

A recurring theme in the writings of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is the need for the human will to be united with the Divine Will. He taught that peace will only come when we enter into this Communion of Wills. This is something each of us can work towards and by doing so, we accomplish far more than the sum of our paltry efforts. Pope Benedict was familiar with the life and writings of Servant of God, Luisa Piccarreta, whose cause for canonization is currently in process. Jesus teaches us through Luisa how to live always in the Divine Will. The Italian translation of Luisa’s writings have been found by Vatican-appointed theologians to contain no errors in faith or morals. They are complex writings, but Fr. Robert Young (may he rest in peace) has left us a treasure in a series of podcasts found at https://divinewilllife.org/. If you are unfamiliar with the writings of Luisa, please click on “An Introduction to the Divine Will” at the top of that web page. There are 19 podcasts that give a very gentle and solid primer. God be praised!

Let us keep these things in mind as we continue to pray and offer sacrifices for souls and for the coming of the Kingdom. The world is desperately in need of penance, as the angel indicated so strongly at Lourdes and Fatima. May the Holy Spirit grant us the fortitude to fast and pray well according the will of our Father in heaven.

St. Mary and St. Joseph, pray for us. St. Francis, St. Clare, pray for us. All you holy saints and angels, pray for us. All you holy souls in purgatory, pray for us. We need all the help we can get!

Jesus we trust in you. Maranatha!

Building Up the Body of Christ

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

“We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:1-4, 14-16)

The nature of God is unity. At the Last Supper, Jesus entreated the Father, “That they may be one as you are in me and I am I you.” (Jn 17:21) Unity is neither trivial nor optional. It was a last request of Jesus to the Father witnessed by the apostles at the Last Supper. We may not understand all that is going on in the Church, but this prayer is very clear. We are called to unity.

God’s holy Church has undergone trials in every age, attacks from outside and from within. Today, the attacks on it from outside the Church are escalating in an unprecedented manner. So too are the attacks from within. The cunning enemy of the Church has released a weapon that is aimed directly at “good Catholics”. It is the temptation to schism. I don’t often read comment boxes on Catholic websites, but when I do, I am shocked at the vitriol being spewed against the Holy Father by people who consider themselves good, faithful Catholics. I have learned from personal examination that self-righteousness is a form of pride the devil reserves for good people. Humility is the only way to defeat evil.

Jesus gave a structure to his Church to protect us, and to which we owe the greatest respect. We know that all the clergy have human failings as we all do, but let us remember the story of St. Francis where he was brought to confront a priest who was living in a scandalous relationship with a woman. St. Francis “fell to his knees, took the priest’s hands into his own stigmatized hands, kissed them and said, ‘All I know and all I want to know is that these hands give me Jesus.’” It is said the priest converted after that.

Our job is not to judge the clergy, and especially not the Holy Father, but to respect their office, pray unceasingly for them, and support them in any way we can. St. Francis told his brothers: “If you will be sons of peace, you will win the clergy and the people for the Lord, and the Lord judges this more acceptable than to win the people but scandalize the clergy. Hide their lapses, supply for their many defects; and when you have done this, be even more humble.” (Celano, Second Life #146)

Whenever we have trials, it is prudent to ask ourselves if we are being tested, and to ponder how we can best demonstrate our love and trust in the Lord. God is cleaning house and he is starting with His own. To paraphrase Fr. Altier, when Jesus cleared the temple, he cleaned like a man, moving only the big stuff. But now His Mother is doing the cleaning, and she cleans like a woman, getting in all the corners. God is purifying his Bride. What is happening now is painful, but so necessary!

As Saint John Paul II said so prophetically during the 1976 Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia:

“We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has ever experienced. I do not think that the wide circle of the American Society, or the whole wide circle of the Christian Community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, between the gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist. The confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence. It is, therefore, in God’s Plan, and it must be a trial which the Church must take up, and face courageously.”

More than ever we are called to pull together and let God work his mighty work through his unified Church, imperfect as it may be. Archbishop Chaput said during a recent Synod: “We also need to thank God for the gift of this present, difficult moment. Because conflict always does two things: It purifies the church, and it clarifies the character of the enemies who hate her.”

It brings to mind what Simeon said at the Presentation of the Lord: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed…” (Lk 10:34-35)

This bears pondering. What I am noticing is that as the world becomes more polarized, the inner thoughts of people are being revealed. Think of all the polarizing figures in the world today, people who are challenging our assumptions and provoking often heated discussion: Pope Francis, President Trump, Prime Minister Trudeau, as well as countless other world leaders, factions, and movements. Our inner thoughts are being revealed and almost no one is holding back.

Let us keep in mind the messages of Our Lady, that the only appropriate response to all this turmoil is prayer, penance, humility, and trust in God. This is still God’s Church no matter how things appear; her Immaculate Heart WILL triumph. I like this quote from Andrew van der Bijl, founder of Open Doors: “Prayer is not preparation for the battle; prayer IS the battle.” If we’re doing more talking than praying, we’re fighting for the enemy, not against. Let our words be few and measured. Remember what Jesus told the disciples: “Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.” (Mt 10:14) There is a time to every purpose under heaven—a time to argue, and a time to quit arguing and fall to your knees. May God grant us wisdom!

We must remember always to trust in God, believe in his promises, and be faithful to our mission—that is, OUR mission and not someone else’s. It is tempting to act as armchair cardinals when there is so much to talk about and everyone has a soapbox literally at their fingertips, but it can be a huge distraction. Our main task in this world, and especially as penitents in it, is and always has been to become holy and to fulfill the mission entrusted to us. If we have expectations that are not being met by the Pope or the Church as a whole, consider that at any given point in the history of the people of God, people’s expectations have not been met. That is how God operates. If he was predictable, he would not be God.

It is so easy to be dragged down by the negative voices in the world. Here are a few more quotes to give us hope and a reason to remain firmly planted on deck in the Barque of Peter, faithfully manning our stations.

The first three quotes I took from Mark Mallett’s excellent blog post titled, On Criticizing the Clergy.

Cardinal Sarah: “We must help the Pope. We must stand with him just as we would stand with our own father.” —May 16th, 2016, Letters from the Journal of Robert Moynihan

Cardinal Raymond Burke: “Absolutely not. I will never leave the Catholic Church. No matter what happens I intend to die a Roman Catholic. I will never be part of a schism. I’ll just keep the faith as I know it and respond in the best way possible. That’s what the Lord expects of me. But I can assure you this: You won’t find me as part of any schismatic movement or, God forbid, leading people to break away from the Catholic Church. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the church of our Lord Jesus Christ and the pope is his vicar on earth and I’m not going to be separated from that.” — LifeSiteNews, August 22nd, 2016

Cardinal Gerhard Müller: “There is a front of traditionalist groups, just as there is with the progressivists, that would like to see me as head of a movement against the Pope. But I will never do this…. I believe in the unity of the Church and I will not allow anyone to exploit my negative experiences of these last few months. Church authorities, on the other hand, need to listen to those who have serious questions or justified complaints; not ignoring them, or worse, humiliating them. Otherwise, without desiring it, there can be an increase of the risk of a slow separation that might result in the schism of a part of the Catholic world, disorientated and disillusioned.” —Corriere della Sera, Nov. 26, 2017; quote from the Moynihan Letters, #64, Nov. 27th, 2017

From Archbishop Fulton Sheen:

“The revelation of Fatima is a reminder that we live in a moral universe, that evil is self-defeating, that good is self-preserving; that the basic trouble of the world are not in politics or economics but in our hearts and our souls, and that spiritual regeneration is the condition of social amelioration.”

And from Scripture:

Psalm 46:7 “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

Psalm 37: 10-11 “Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight in abundant prosperity. “

Come Divine Will! Come to reign upon the earth! May your kingdom come and come quickly.

See, I am making all things new…

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’

And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21:3-5)

Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus, come and make all things new!

How broken the world is! The signs of the times are all around us, coming ever faster and more furiously. It is hard to be people of the Good News when the bad news artillery relentlessly falls on our heads.

The past few weeks I have felt bombarded by bad news. Yes, we must continue to fight ceaselessly against injustice, but in the face of bad news, we must keep the Good News of Jesus Christ in the forefront. It is our only hope, and it is a sure hope! To quote St. John Paul II, “We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song!”

As if God wished to bolster the troops, he has also bombarded me with inspiring quotes and messages. God is on the march and he wants us to know that, as at the resurrection, the evil one will be supremely defeated. We must remain faithful and attentive to the Divine Will, that His Kingdom may come and His will be done on earth as in heaven.

Come Lord Jesus, and make all things new!

In the Bad News / Good News format, I want to share with you a few of the inspirational quotes and messages that have come my way. May you also be inspired and encouraged in your particular mission in a desperately fallen world.

Bad News: According to opendoors.org, five years ago, only North Korea was in the ‘extreme’ category for its level of persecution of Christians. In the 2019 World Watch List, as in 2018, 11 countries score enough to fit that category and a further 29 are in the “very high” category.

Good News: A Dutch Christian, Andrew van der Bijl, a.k.a. “Brother Andrew”, began in 1957 to smuggle Bibles into communist countries and everywhere Christians were being persecuted. In 1967 he published a book of his memoirs, titled God’s Smuggler, which has sold more than 10 million copies in 35 languages. This eventually led to the formation of Open Doors, an organization devoted to helping persecuted Christians worldwide.

There is a lot more information on their website, http://www.opendoors.org/, but one simple quote that inspired me was:

“PRAYER IS NOT PREPARATION FOR THE BATTLE; PRAYER IS THE BATTLE.” – Brother Andrew, God’s Smuggler

God is on the march and the signs are all around us. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. And Jesus said, “If they persecute Me, they will persecute you too!” This too is Good News! The Church has entered into the passion of Christ. Christian soldiers, run the race before you and endure to the end. Rejoice and be glad for the Resurrection is near!

Bad news: This week I read a disturbing document written by Rebecca Oas, Associate Director of Research for the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam) in Washington, D.C. The article outlines how the United Nations “population” funding is often based on the skewed metric of “lives saved”. She writes:

The most popular modeling software to measure lives saved in global maternal and child health strategies is the Lives Saved Tool (LiST), developed Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Using LiST, users can predict reductions in maternal deaths in two ways: by deploying interventions that prevent or treat complications of pregnancy and birth, such as hemorrhage or infection, or by reducing the pool of pregnant women by scaling up contraceptive use.

The article ends with this chilling paragraph.

The claim that the best and cheapest way to save a child’s life is to prevent that child’s existence is indefensible. Those who would make such a claim tend to rely on the fact that they will not be called upon to defend it. While the pro-life movement must regularly contend with the brazen assaults on the rights of children in the womb, we cannot ignore the subtler attempts to redefine human life in global health policy that lead to funding for the abortion agenda. Taking a stand against “therapeutic nonexistence” in lives-saved analyses is ultimately a pro-life position. There is no life saved without a living survivor.

Upside-down world! Archbishop Fulton Sheen further illustrates the principle at work here:

“Suppose a family had five children but they had enough money to buy only four hats. Do you think they would be permitted or should be permitted to cut off the head of a child in order to bring the economic to the level of human and the human to the level of the economic? Suppose a husband says that he can no longer support his wife. Ought he be entitled to shoot her?”

According to the UN metrics, that would be the most economically viable solution. Huh?

Good News: C-Fam is Good News for the pro-life army, but not surprisingly they are under constant attack by the anti-life forces in the UN. Please pray for them.

“The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (Jn 3:19-21)

Bad news upon bad news: On June 17, 2016, euthanasia became legal in Canada. According to the Fourth Interim Report on Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada, published by Health Canada one in every 100 deaths in Canada is administered by doctor! They also say the statistic is likely higher because some areas of the country are not yet reporting. This is a government report!

Truly Evil News: There has been much reported about the sexual abuse of minors by priests, and this must be taken seriously. But when God cleans house, he starts with his own. Many more abusers are out there. This week I stumbled upon an article by John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute on the topic of child trafficking in America. I can’t bear to remember, let alone repeat, what I read in the article, but the “business” of trafficking humans is almost as lucrative to the depraved traffickers as are guns and drugs. It’s big business in every country in the world, even in America! The statistics of how many children are sold and abused each year in the US are shocking. May Christ, the Light of Truth and Justice, expose all these heinous acts and free the victims!

Good News: In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was “sorrowful unto death” as he saw the sins of mankind whose guilt he took upon himself. His anguish was so great that his sweat became as drops of blood falling to the ground. The Good News is that His fiat to his Father, his obedience unto death, death on the cross, won for all who would repent of their evil, immersion in the ocean of Divine Mercy.

Come Lord Jesus, and make all things new, especially for the little ones!

More Good News: St. Athanasius, who died in the year 373, fought courageously against the Arian heresy and was an outstanding defender of the true faith. As I was reading one of his writings in the Office of Readings, it occurred to me that without the heresy we would not have the writings to guide us centuries later. It encouraged me to be confident that God is working in all this bad news. “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) God is not silent in all this turmoil. He is working to make all things new! Maranatha! With God it’s all Good News. His justice and mercy will triumph.

Good News from a Canadian Saint: April 30 is the Feast Day of St. Marie of the Incarnation, first missionary woman of the New World. She was a mystic born in France in 1599 who received revelations concerning the Incarnation, the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Trinity. She joined the Ursuline order and sailed to Quebec with two other Ursulines in 1639 where they opened a school. It was a difficult life as we can only imagine. But her interior life sustained her. She once said:

“If we could, with a single interior glance, see all the goodness and mercy that exists in God’s designs for each one of us, even in what we call disgraces, pains, and afflictions, our happiness would consist in throwing ourselves into the arms of the divine will with the abandon of a young child that throws himself into the arms of his mother.”

Our Lady has called us to offer all we can for the souls she and Jesus love so dearly. If we are consecrated to Our Lady, the Good News is that all our spiritual goods belong to her—and they are in the best of hands.

I leave the last word to Fr. J.P. de Caussade:

“There is not a moment in which God does not present Himself under the cover of some pain to be endured, of some consolation to be enjoyed, or of some duty to be performed. All that takes place within us, around us, or through us, contains and conceals His divine action.” 

― Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence

Come Lord Jesus, and make all things new!


I was amazed to see that Mark Mallett’s May 3 blog post also has a similar theme. Come Holy Spirit!

Sustaining the weary with a word…

As I was writing this blog post, I heard the shocking news that Notre Dame Basilica in Paris was burning. News reports rightly spoke of the tragic loss of historical treasures, not least the Basilica herself. But even more tragic is the loss of faith in that part of the world. God is calling, louder and louder it seems, and it is always the same call: “Come back to me, my children. Are you weary? Let me sustain you with a word…”

Isaiah 50:4 The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.

Jesus, the Word, knows well our weariness, the weariness that today oppresses us and threatens to crush our spirit.

Think of his weariness in the Garden of Gethsemane. As the weight of the sins of billions of souls crushed him to the point of sweating blood, the word that sustained Jesus in the garden was the one he spoke to the Father in his agony, “Not my will but yours be done.” The word was fiat. At that moment angels came and waited on him to sustain him, for it was not the end of his suffering. That fiat called down the graces he would need to complete his mission.

Indeed, Jesus is a Redeemer who knows our weariness—but infinitely magnified. In his weariness, or perhaps because of it, he went on to embrace the cross and resolutely climb the hill to Calvary bearing in mind the glory that would be his—and ours—if only he would complete his mission. Fiat. His weariness of body and spirit ended with death, but his rising from the dead gave new life and glorious hope to all. He took his weariness to the tomb and left it imprinted on his burial shroud for all to see.

Mary, the Blessed Mother, whom Jesus bequeathed to us, and us to her from the cross, also endured unimaginable sorrow and crushing weariness. When they met face-to-face on the Via Dolorosa, what pain must have been in their eyes. Yet, what love and trust. Wordlessly their hearts beat as one, fiat, fiat, fiat… Here as in every moment of her existence, her will remained chained to the Throne of God.

There is astonishing power in that little word, fiat. It can sustain us in our weariness as it did for Jesus and Mary, but more than that it can propel us forward with new strength, fortitude, courage, and hope. Like a cosmic explosion, it is a word which, united to the divine fiat, dramatically transforms people and changes the trajectory of world events.

The cosmic importance of this little word is expanded upon in great detail in the Lord’s teachings on the Divine Will in the writings of Luisa Piccarreta. In the Easter Vigil Mass we recall how God’s fiat, “Let there be…” set all creation in motion. On Good Friday we hear Jesus re-echo his fiat of redemption in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Word he initially uttered in heaven when the plan of redemption was conceived, first in the Divine Will and then after her fiat, in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

It is almost inconceivable that our salvation hinged on one little word uttered by a humble Hebrew Maiden. Throughout her existence, that word was as constant in her as the beating of her heart, even in the unimaginable agony of her own Calvary.

She is a model of abject trust in the glorious power of God. At our Parish Lenten Mission the priest reminded us that none of the prophecies made at the Presentation of Jesus had been fulfilled by the time he was crucified. No salvation, no light for the Gentiles, no glory for God’s people Israel. Yet, even in the face of that, she trusted. Her heart never ceased to beat out the rhythm, fiat, fiat, fiat…

At the Annunciation, just before she proclaimed the fiat that changed everything, the Angel Gabriel called greeted by her title, “Full of Grace”. Let us then beg her, by virtue of her continuous fiat to obtain from her Son every grace we need in our weariness, that we may navigate in trust the thick darkness that surrounds us, as we wait in joyful hope for the glorious dawn which has been promised.

Jesus is himself the Word who sustains us in our weariness, and the word he gives us is a word that we can utter in any circumstance: “Fiat.”Sometimes it is the only word that makes sense. I think of the few Christian souls remaining in the Holy Land, Bethlehem in particular. When the security perimeter (now a wall) went up in 2002, they were crushed in spirit for a time. But today, even though their situation is still dire, and they remain weary, they are not crushed. Their hope is alive because Jesus Christ is alive.

God is on the march dear friends. It may not look promising at this point, but neither did the crucifixion. He will not lose the battle that now rages for souls, and in the end his triumph will be more glorious than we can imagine.

We have now entered the Garden with Jesus. The passion is upon us. Let us not flee for fear of the wolves. Whatever our weariness, even if we feel crushed in spirit, if we but link ourselves to Christ in his passion, we may anticipate with great joy and hope a glorious day of triumph. Let our fiat be one with his and his Mother’s as we place our unshakable trust in God’s Holy Will, as they did.

Our Lady of Fatima: “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”

Heavenly Father, may Your kingdom come, and Your will be done on earth as in heaven.

 Come Divine Will to reign upon the earth!

Fiat, fiat, fiat…


Prayer suggestions for Holy Week

A few years back I wrote a Way of the Cross for Greater Trust. Please feel free to print, pray, and share it if you wish. (Here it is formatted as a double-sided brochure.)

A very powerful prayer for Holy Week is the 24 Hours of the Passion, as given to Luisa Piccarreta, which has an imprimatur. Praying it in its entirety is ideal, but if that is not possible, consider meditating on part of it on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. God will touch you, guaranteed.

Tears for Bethlehem…

Now as (Saul) was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:3-5)

Bethlehem haunts me

This past March, I was blessed to be part of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I had heard about the pilgrimage from a friend last fall. At the time I was just getting ready to leave for Medjugorje and was not thinking about another pilgrimage so soon. Still, I felt drawn to it, even though I only knew one person on the pilgrimage and the point of departure was on the other side of the country. I decided to wait until after Christmas to see if there were still spots available. There were. I prayed for a confirmation that I was to go, and I received three. In faith I booked my ticket.

It turned out to have been just the pilgrimage God wanted for me, focused on prayer and Scripture, but also with an emphasis on the “living stones” of the Holy Land, particularly on the current situation of the Christians who live there, both in Israel and Palestine.

As our group of 37 pilgrims, including two priests, followed with awe the hallowed footsteps of Jesus through Nazareth, Galilee, Jericho, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and points in between, we prayerfully pondered the Scripture passages that were set in the places we visited, Nazareth, the River Jordan, Cana, the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum where Jesus called the fishermen, Mount Tabor, the mount of the Transfiguration, Tabgha where the loaves and fishes were multiplied and where Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me,” and many other places. Halfway through the pilgrimage we “set our faces toward Jerusalem”. We celebrated daily Mass in stunning surroundings and were often brought to tears. The rosary came alive in our hands, and since returning, there is a new dimension to the Mass readings. I hope to expand on this in future, but first I feel compelled to tell you why, since coming home, Bethlehem haunts me.

As we traveled, our tour guide informed us of some of the extreme challenges faced by Christians and other Palestinians in the Holy Land. The States of Israel and Palestine have a population of some 10 million people of which the Christian population has dropped to less than 2%, some 180,000 souls. It is a delicate, extremely complex and utterly confusing arrangement, this tenuous co-habitation of the three main Abrahamic religions, along with various other people from around the world, including migrant workers. I am not qualified to explain or make sense of any of it, but I can tell you what I saw with my own eyes and why Bethlehem still haunts me.

The Shock of arriving in Bethlehem

The last five nights of our pilgrimage we stayed in Bethlehem, the holy city where Jesus was born. It is just a few miles from Jerusalem and would be our home base. Along with the other pilgrims on our trip, I was shocked and devastated to learn that Bethlehem is a walled city. It is completely enclosed by a security wall 25 feet high, equipped with security cameras and with watchtowers manned by Israeli armed guards. Everyone, including pilgrims, enters and leaves Bethlehem through manned checkpoints.

Bethlehem wall & security tower

With the initial shock still fresh in our minds, we spent our first day in Bethlehem, visiting holy sites, and celebrating a stunning “Christmas” Mass in a shepherd’s cave. Even though the liturgical calendar told us it was Lent, every day in Bethlehem is Christmas we were told. But as a pilgrim to modern-day Bethlehem I could not help but be deeply disturbed at the current situation of Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, who live there.

Most of us pilgrims had not been aware that Bethlehem has had a security perimeter since 2002. On Easter Monday of 2002, the Israelis invaded and occupied all the cities of the West Bank, including Bethlehem. Not long afterwards, a security fence went up around Bethlehem, which later became a wall encircling the entire city of over 14,000 Palestinian residents, mostly Muslim and Christian. (Other walled cities include Jericho and Ramallah and of course Gaza, but my story is about Bethlehem where we spent five nights.)

Warning to Israeli citizens entering Bethlehem

The checkpoints through which one passes to get in and out of Bethlehem are heavily manned. Israelis are forbidden to enter by law, and Palestinians need special permission to leave, permission which is rarely granted to anyone whose birthplace is listed as Bethlehem. The walled enclosure has been called an open-air prison, and that is not an exaggeration. I suppose that Jesus himself would not be allowed to leave had he been born in June 2002 or later.

The official unemployment rate in Bethlehem is 29%, the highest rate in Palestine. But that figure likely does not include those no longer looking for work because it’s pointless, or those who are underemployed which is pretty much everyone. The jobs in that city are few, mostly tourism-based, and never full-time. The unofficial estimate is 80% unemployment within the walls of Bethlehem. Those “fortunate” few who are given permission to work outside of Bethlehem are strip-searched at the checkpoint leaving and returning. It can take an hour for them to get through the checkpoint at each end of the day.

I have since read that Bethlehem was originally built on an aquifer that is still one of the main sources of water in Israel. It is deeply ironic that since the Israeli occupation, citizens of Bethlehem are forbidden to dig deeper than 4 feet down, and are forced to truck in water at high prices. Not only are they not provided with water, but neither with electricity. Our tour guide told us that you can tell Palestinian housing all over the Holy Land by the solar panels and water tanks on the roofs. By contrast, Israelis have all the water and electricity they need.

It is the people, the living stones of the Holy Land that haunt me, that cry out for justice. We visited an orphanage, a secondary school, and talked to many local people who asked for prayers and implored us also to “tell people” about their dire situation. We found everyone in Bethlehem to be very friendly and open, even though their situation is tragic. The Israeli narrative is that they are dangerous, and it is dangerous to stay in Bethlehem. We found the opposite to be true.

Palestinian Muslims and Christians do live outside the walled cities, but even they are not supplied with water or electricity and must have cisterns and solar panels installed on their houses if they are lucky enough to be able to afford it. High-paying jobs are routinely denied to Palestinians, and they are never allowed a supervisory role over Israeli workers.

In addition, Israeli settlements encroach daily farther into Palestinian territory. Israeli settlements are communities of apartment units inhabited by Israeli citizens (often from other countries), built predominantly on Palestinian land. There are roughly 100,000 settlers living in the units that surround Bethlehem alone. The Shepherd’s Field itself, having existed on the outskirts of Bethlehem for the past 2000 years, is now being swallowed up by Israeli settlements. It is as if a big hungry giant is devouring Palestinian land and there is nothing they can do about it. Often Palestinians are evicted from their homes and even schools to make way for the settlements. Everything in the giant’s path is destroyed.

Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land

Israelis believe they have an ancestral right to the lands they are occupying in the Palestinian territory. As we all know, the situation is enormously complex, but even if you believe this to be true, does that allow for denying entire populations access to water, electricity and freedom of movement? Does that allow for evicting Palestinian people from their homes so that settlements can be built?

For my part, I am haunted by the persecution being endured by the living stones of the Holy Land. The hallowed memory of my pilgrimage is overshadowed by it and every time I open my mouth to tell people about my pilgrimage, what comes out is the story of how Jesus is still being persecuted today in the people of Bethlehem and other areas of the Holy Land. Our pilgrimage guide deliberately included contact with the living stones of the Holy Land, particularly in Bethlehem, and provided opportunities speak to them and offer what little moral and material support we could. This included staying in Bethlehem for five nights at the splendid Jacir Palace Hotel, which has had to shut down several times over the years for lack of pilgrim traffic. We became aware of what it meant to them to have us there. They were so gracious and kind. It was very humbling.

A community of displaced Bedouins

Our first contact with the living stones was as we traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem. Our tour guide had arranged for us to meet with a group of Muslim Bedouins whose nomadic lifestyle is no longer possible as their territory has been overtaken by Israeli settlements. They now live with their animals in small communities of tin shacks eking out whatever existence they can with their small herds, selling trinkets where possible. They live in extreme poverty. We brought them lightly used shoes and clothing and were humbled by their ardent gratitude. Shoes are very important to nomads, and they wear out quickly in the rocky hills. I thought of the shoes in my closet that are never worn because of a pinch here or there. Those people would be happy for them.

Our next contact with living stones was a visit to a Catholic secondary school in Bethlehem. The school welcomes all Palestinian students, no matter their faith background. The Catholic school provides a quality education for the children who live within the walls. They work towards peace, harmony and respect for all. Unfortunately, the Palestinian children are unlikely to be able to fulfill their career dreams as they may never be allowed to exit the walls of Bethlehem.

Bethlehem does have an excellent university, however (https://www.bethlehem.edu). One person we encountered attended the university and got permission to finish her college education in Jerusalem. However, once she obtained her degree, she was not given permission to find work outside of Bethlehem, and has been unemployed ever since. Her husband is fortunate to have a job, but many educated people live there in poverty or are seriously underemployed.

We arrived at the school on a Friday, a traditional day off for the students and staff as it is a holy day of worship for Muslims. Sunday is also a day off as it is a Christian holy day, but Saturday is not a day off, so the weekend is split. No matter, since they are not allowed to go away for the weekend but must remain inside the walls even then. The students and staff were joyful and came in on their day off to talk to us. The young student I spoke to had aspirations of becoming an electrical engineer like his father and starting his own business. I did not ask if his father was currently working. He spoke with pride and I prayed for his dreams to be fulfilled. He also talked about the possibility of going to Europe on exchange, which he may indeed get permission to do. The danger is that students who get a taste of the outside world often make plans to leave permanently. I couldn’t help but think that might be the reason they get permission to go, so they won’t come back. 

The school staff then offered us refreshments, and the students (including some girls) played a game of basketball in the outdoor courtyard for our enjoyment. I was impressed by the students’ resilience and joy, but I am haunted by them. I am free. They are not.

Later that day, we had a visit from the priest who is with the Secretariat for Christian Educational Institutions for all of Israel and Palestine. He spoke about how they are working for love and peace in the Holy Land by welcoming and serving others in their schools and in their lives, that they do not just coexist as Christians and Muslims, but that they live together as community, as neighbours, and as friends. He asked us to go home and be witnesses, to encourage people to come here to see for themselves. He thanked us for coming to see the living stones of Bethlehem.

In his work, he travels all over the region to the schools, including in Gaza, which is the poorest area of Palestine. There is a great deal of damage from Israeli artillery there, but the Israelis do not allow building materials in and no outside food. It is a desperate situation and they are little able to help themselves. In other walled off areas of Palestine, they have access to outside food and building materials, but they are very expensive. When the priest was asked about their needs, he asked for prayer, donations if possible, and that we would make known the situation among those we can reach.

Since coming home, whenever I have spoken to people about my pilgrimage and the situation in Bethlehem, I am met with shock. How is it that this has been their situation since 2002 and we have not heard about it? I am haunted by that as well.

The tiniest living stones we met were the children at an orphanage in Bethlehem run by an order of Sisters. We brought gently-used clothing, supplies, candy—and bubbles! We spent an hour visiting with the children and blowing bubbles. The Sisters were grateful, the children were happy, and we were deeply moved by the experience. Some of the children had been left there by parents who could not afford to keep them. Again, the injustice of it haunted me.

While hope for the future is hardly possible for any of them, the spirit of the people is not crushed. They hope for and rely on pilgrim traffic to sustain them. We purchased what we could from vendors in Bethlehem, knowing it was likely their only source of income. In one shop, one of the young brothers who ran it asked one of our group members to keep an eye on the place while he went to get his older brother for a price check! Within the walls there is a high degree of trust. Not the narrative you get from the other side of the wall.

Franciscan connection

One ray of hope, dare I say a moment of pride as a lay Franciscan, was when I learned of the importance of the Franciscans in the Holy Land.

The main part of the Jerusalem Cross is made of four (Franciscan) tau crosses joined together. The four small crosses represent the Gospels and the five together represent the five wounds of Jesus.

Franciscans have been there since 1217, the time of St. Francis, when they created in the order the “Province of the Holy Land”. They have been in the Holy Land in one form or another since then. Since 1342 they have been known under the title “Custody of the Holy Land”. They currently occupy Saint Savior Monastery in Jerusalem. Their primary responsibility is safeguarding Christian holy places and making sure the spiritual value of these places is preserved. They welcome pilgrims and maintain the shrines, basilicas, and churches in the Holy Land.

We had a presentation from one of the Franciscans in Jerusalem and he told us what a delicate diplomatic balancing act it is to have so many religions and even various Christian sects as actors in the preservation of the holy places. Very often at meetings, nothing gets decided, so nothing gets done. Changes come slowly if at all. He mentioned that in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre a ladder is brought out each Lent and placed where it was once used to light candles—right in the path of pilgrims entering and leaving the building. It is no longer needed because electricity was installed a long time ago. However, the ladder comes out every Ash Wednesday anyway and must be gone around by the thousands entering and leaving. Apparently, there are more important things to talk about at meetings than useless ladders!

Given the Franciscans’ long service, and their knowledge of the inner workings of the Holy Land machinery, we owe them a great debt of gratitude, and an abundance of prayers for their continued presence. God is working miracles through them that we will never know about.

What can be done?

I grieve for Bethlehem. I have had difficulty writing and talking about my pilgrimage to the Holy Land because when I open my mouth to speak, my words are haunted by the living stones. They are crying out for justice and I feel called to give them a voice.

I have also been haunted by the words addressed to Saul of Tarsus in the Acts excerpt at the beginning of this article: “Why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” May God intercede with the same blinding miracle of conversion for those who are persecuting the living stones of the Holy Land.

If you too are haunted by the plight of our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, there are ways to help. First of all, pray and offer sacrifices and especially the Mass for them. The Holy Land is bleeding Christians, now down to 2% of the population. If the situation does not change, what will keep the few remaining Christians there? Would you stay if you were in their situation? Please pray for those who are sacrificing so much to keep the Christian presence alive in the Holy Land.

Second, educate yourself and others, and write to your federal representative urging them to ensure that the basic human rights of Palestinian citizens are respected and protected.

Third, donate to the Good Friday collection in support of the Holy Land, either through the parish or at https://www.custodia.org/en. The Catholic Near East Welfare Association www.cnewa.org  also has projects that include support for foreign workers in Israel and the poor in Palestine. You can also support students directly through the University of Bethlehem https://www.bethlehem.edu/.

Above all, if you can, pay a visit to the living stones of the Holy Land to support and encourage them, to let them know they are not forgotten in the world. Join or arrange a church pilgrimage, but try to use Christian agencies. And don’t be afraid to stay in Bethlehem. The birthplace of Jesus is full of beautiful souls. They will do everything in their power to serve you joyfully. Their hospitality is limited only by the limitations they are under. Dare to enter into their passion as Simon of Cyrene did for Jesus.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, we pray for the Holy Land, for peace that comes from hearts filled with love, for justice that flows from the heart of God, and for strength and courage for those who are bearing the cross of injustice.

St. Paul, pray with us, that the peace of Christ, beyond all understanding will fill the hearts of all.

Shalom.

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Part I…

Last Fall I made a special pilgrimage to Medjugorje, having promised Our Lady I would go if my house sold. Our Lady kept her end of the bargain, and, as promised, I went. What a blessing it was.

I had not left yet for the pilgrimage when I heard about a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There are many such pilgrimages on offer at any given time. I put it to prayer and decided that if there were still spaces available after Christmas I would consider it. There were, so I prayed some more and was given three strong confirmations. Fiat!

As it turned out, it was just the right pilgrimage for me; the tour leader was excellent and I was warmly welcomed by the other pilgrims, almost all of whom I had never met before. God had many graces for us, many of which have yet to be revealed!

I have had a difficult time knowing how to write about my pilgrimage. A spiritual pilgrimage to the Holy Land cannot be unpacked in one sitting. I have come to understand that it will likely unfold over the next liturgical year, but probably much longer. Already I have found that the rosary beads have come to life in my hands as I meditate on the mysteries, remembering the holy places I have visited. As I am beginning to write this on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, it seems right to let Our Lady reveal the lessons of this pilgrimage—to you and to me.

[Two notes: First, my reflections will not be arranged by the chronology of our pilgrimage, but will unfold as the Spirit leads. Second is to apologize for the quality of some of my photos. As it was a spiritual pilgrimage, we were not encouraged to take numerous photos but to respect the holy places and remain prayerful. As pilgrims we tried to find that balance, but it was not always easy, and there was no chance to go back for re-takes!]

First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation

We were blessed to spend one night in Nazareth where we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation. There, pilgrims file past the ancient grotto where it is believed Mary received the message that she had been chosen to be the Mother of Jesus. A stunning statue of Mary depicts the wonder on her face the moment she received the greeting by St. Gabriel. The crowds were fairly thin that day, so we were able to spend a bit of time in contemplation.

Basilica of the Annunciation
Grotto of the Annunciation
Statue of Mary as she is greeted by the angel

The feast day of the Annunciation is the celebration of the “Fiat” that changed everything, the moment the New Eve tied her human will to the Throne of the Almighty. Her, “Let it be done to me…” echoed in every moment of her life and through all eternity.

Dear Mother, thank you for your FIAT! Teach me how to let my “fiat” echo in each moment of my life. With your help and guidance I pray that God’s will alone might be done in me and through me all the days of my life.


The Basilica of the Annunciation and the Sisters of Nazareth convent are in very close proximity. A short walk away, beneath the convent of the Sisters of Nazareth, is what is believed to have been the Holy Family’s home at Nazareth near the “Tomb of the Just One”, one of the titles by which St. Joseph is known. Our first Mass in the Holy Land was celebrated in the convent chapel above the tomb of St. Joseph. Glorious!

Holy Family statue at the convent

We felt honoured to be led down to the ancient site by one of the sisters. The site is unspoiled and it was easy to imagine the Holy Family entering and leaving their home countless times over the hidden years of Jesus’ life. We can only wonder what spiritual gifts were bestowed on the world through those myriad daily comings and goings.

Believed to be the doorway to the Home of Nazareth
Tomb of the “Just One”

As I was pondering this writing, it happened that our parish Lenten mission was scheduled. The topic the first night was the spirituality of Mary. Our mission leader, Fr. Irudaya, spoke about the deep spirituality of the silent years of Nazareth and explained that what Mary was accomplishing during those years of silence, was to prepare the Lamb of God for sacrifice. She was teaching her Son the spirituality of work, service, obedience, and faith. Their hidden years were the epitome of lives lived in pure love of God and neighbour, a daily dying to self which left everybody a winner. Fr. Irudaya called it a “spirituality of weakness”, the “power of powerlessness”. It was a spirituality of complete self-renunciation, of embracing the crosses of daily life, of encountering the other and pouring sacred balm into their woundedness.

Pondering that spirituality of weakness gave new meaning to the places I had visited, and having visited those places gave greater depth to the teachings I was hearing. Glory to God!

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, may the silence of Nazareth teach us what we need to learn about the spirituality of our own powerlessness, and the sanctity of daily life lived in uniformity with the Will of God. Show us new ways to die to self so that we may imitate you in love and service for love of God and neighbor.

St. Joseph, guardian of the unborn Jesus and the Holy Family of Nazareth, pray for us!