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.

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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!

The gift of vexation…

2 Corinthians 11:24-28 (The trials of St. Paul) Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.

One only has to read the trials of St. Paul to put their own trials into perspective. It seems that lately I am beset, not so much by trials, although there have been some of those, but it is the day-to-day vexations that are getting under my skin. For instance, our house is for sale* and the market is rather stagnant here, so there is the elation/disappointment roller-coaster I ride every time we have a showing. There are the vexations of waiting for a showing, of waiting to move, and waiting for someone else to move.

And there is the vexation that comes in my dealings with others, when I fail to act as I should or when my expectations fail to materialize. I once heard about a person complaining to another about someone who was always pushing their buttons. The wise reply was, “Well, what are you doing with buttons?” Touché. As someone who is trying to live in God’s will, sometimes all I can see is how far I am from it.

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