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The Priest

christ the priest

 

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” –John 14:18

A discussion on the Mass cannot be separate from a discussion on the gift of the priesthood. Crowing the offering of the priesthood of believers, God’s ministerial priests make the Eucharistic sacrifice present. The word “priest” means one who makes sacrifice. Chosen from among men, he presides over the banquet of love. As “another Christ” his hands, voice and body become the very instruments of Christ, used to pour out every kind of grace. The priest’s vocation is to be steward of all gifts which the Mass imparts. We see clearly that his actions, words, prayers and vesture have something to teach us about the gifts.

Gold in the vesture of the priest is not belonging to the man, but to God’s presence which wraps him as a mantle. We think of how the prophets of old chose their successors by placing their mantle upon them. We think of how Christ elected his own apostles and remember that every priest is enrolled in the apostolic ministry of preaching the Gospel to every nation.

The oil of a priest configures him especially to Christ. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit burns a brilliant seal upon his soul. It is the oil of gladness, of Our Savior’s eternal priesthood. He goes to the wellspring of Christ’s own life and draws out the Eucharist from which we all drink. He gives us the sacrament that heals, atones and saves. During the elevation of the host and chalice, let us imagine that oil is being poured out over the people, cleansing us, strengthening us, making us new.

When the priest prays quietly at the altar, he is praying for himself- and for us. Jesus’s disciples asked him: “teach us to pray” and this is what the priest does. Like the Good Shepherd who leads us, he teaches us a silent way of prayer, of turning our eyes to the Heavenly Father and trusting in Him. He lifts up his children, diligently cares for them and feeds them honey from the promised land.

The priest does many acts of reverence during Mass. He bows his head, lifts his hands, makes small crosses and big crosses. Genuflecting before the consecrated Eucharist, he shows adoration for Christ. We worship with head, hands, feet and lips because Christ became man and worshiped his Father in this way. Watching these gestures and responding to them, our whole being participates in the Holy Sacrifice.

Lastly, the priest works hard to provide for our nourishment. He spends many hours in toil, tending to the sick, weak and spiritually wounded. His celibate fecundity and wholehearted devotion become rich milk flowing in the desert. By laying down his own life for us, he provides us with a model of Christian living. In following self-abandonment, we find true happiness. What a happy sight is a priest wearing his collar amidst a bustling, public place! The priest is a quiet, humble enduring token of God’s presence with us always.

The Milk of the Mass.

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“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” – Isaiah 55:1

The Mass is comprised of two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which provide nourishment and strength for our souls. We “feed” on the Word and then on the Eucharist. Their source is in Christ, the true life of the Church. What the Holy Scripture speaks of in figure, prophecy and the words of Christ, the Eucharist fulfils. We learn of the true manna from heaven, sit at his feet, and then feed upon Him. This is the milk of the Mass, which flows freely from Christ and is a supreme gift to all who believe.

All of the other gifts pass through and originate from these two teats by which the Holy Church feeds her hungry children. This is why we refer to the universal Church as “Mother Church” because she embraces and feeds people of all nations, helping them to grow into saints. Through the liturgy of the Mass, something divine descends upon us, making our hearts grow bigger, stronger and able to make more room for God’s love. As we become mature Catholics, we will draw from the ample fount of the church’s milk time and time again. Listening to the Gospel, we digest the message, letting certain words come to us and as Mary, ponder the meaning in our hearts. In such sweet instruction, we learn to become a holy people, in stinging rebuke, we notice areas that must be improved. This is the milk working in us, to bring about Christ in us.

Ingesting the Eucharist unites us with Christ. Scripture says: “A man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife- and they shall become one flesh”. At the moment of consecration, Our Lord leaps down from heaven’s height and takes shelter in the hands of the priest. As the canopy of love is raised over us, Christ comes forth. The one true Savior, concealed under the appearance of bread and wine, dwells in one flesh with his people, his bride. With each reception of Holy Communion, we grow more and more like Christ, our Divine Spouse. In essence, we become what we eat. What makes this mystery even more beautiful is that it is God’s work, not our own. This is the paradox of Christianity, the Living God who did not deign equality with God but became a slave. We are the truly poor ones but he becomes a poor one, ground by our teeth, totally annihilated out of love. That which is high is made low and that which is low is made high for from our feeble, sinful lays, we are called to partake in his riches.

When Scripture says, “Man does not live on bread alone but by every word that passes from your mouth,” we hear a reference to this sublime milk, offered in both the Gospel reading and the Holy Eucharist. For God’s word speaks to us in holy writ and it is the word of God, uttered through the priest that transforms mere bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. At the powerful word of God, every gift of the Mas springs to life. In a new creation, this life throbs, flows and covers the earth. It is important that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is prayed, lived and absorbed into our very being. How rich and blessed are we to be partakers in such choice, divine foods!

The Wine of the Mass.

 

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“Take me away with you–let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers. We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love more than wine. How right they are to adore you!”– Song of Songs 1:4

 

When confronted with the mystery of the altar, the presence of God dwelling there, one is overcome by awe. Words escape some while others long to open their mouths in praise. In both cases, the heart groans silently. Have you ever taken time to notice all of the postures and gestures used during Mass? When the priest speaks a certain verse, we say a certain response. He kneels before the consecrated Eucharist, he whispers certain prayers and holds out his hands. When crossing the altar, we bow and starting the Mass, we make the sign of the cross. These actions are really just a hundred tiny ways we say “Lord, I love you.”

This disposition of reverence is the wine of the Mass. Our chanting, our vigils, our candles brightly burning are all signs of a people enamored by God’s presence. These things all serve to foster a union with God. They help us understand who God is and how we respond to Him. Reverence is the song of the wedding feast.

We behave differently at Mass than in the outside world. Feeling a sense of the sacred, our minds cease their restless churning. The structure and solemnity of the Holy Mass brings peace. It conveys a respect for the Lord’s house. In order to drink more deeply of the sacraments, we must lower ourselves, be humble and meek. It is then we hear what God is trying to tell us. Before approaching Holy Communion, we drink the cup of reverence which prepares us to drink the Saving Cup. Our palates are softened to receive the Living God.

To some, reverence is foolish, the dusty remnants of an old religion that lacks contemporary value. But nothing is further from the truth. Amidst materialism, reverence points to something higher. In a world of darkness, reverence sows light. We exert ourselves in charity, feeding the hungry caring for the sick, ministering to the sinner. Having drunk our fill, we may even give our very lives. Capable of so profoundly moving us with love of God and neighbor, wine is corresponds to the end of the Mass, which is adoration.

Wine is intoxicating, like the powerful, just and merciful presence of God, who loves us beyond measure. Our minds reel at such a love! Running and warm, it also becomes the precious Body and Blood of Christ, who intoxicated by love for us, gave up his life on the cross. Enlivened by this spirit, let us run to the King and Bridegroom of our souls!

The Honey of the Mass.

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“Know also that wisdom is like honey for you: If you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” – Proverbs 24:14

There are some things about the Mass that we can just savor. In a sacred place, praying silently, folding our hands, perhaps whispering, we are comforted. Eyes closed, hearing a gentle hymn about the mercy of God, we are given hope. Seeking him, we know he seeks us. This is the honey of the Mass: God’s peace, which the world cannot give. The soft prayers, small gestures and mumblings of the priest are soothing to watch and hear.  A pilgrim people, we are nestled in the arms of God, and there, tell our many petitions.

Honey shows our special relationship with God. Our liturgical gestures reveal a people conversant with God, knowing him as both friend and lover. Every movement is charged with meaning, every word profound. Listening to the Gospel, let us remember that His word is like a honeycomb, beckoning us closer. As the priest recites prayers we may not be able to hear, remember that Jesus often went alone to pray. It reminds us to watch and pray.

You may notice that the words said at Mass have a set text. They are moreso echoed in every Catholic Church around the world. These petitions, handed down in the Church’s wisdom, are the prayer of the universal people of God who intercede for the world.  We don’t just recite these prayers, but enter into them, learning their meaning as we hear them again and again.

And how sweet the words of Jesus that flow from our mouths when we say: “Our Father, who art in heaven”? Our prayers join with those of the whole Church and Christ, who is the Head of the Body, prays with us. In receiving the Holy Eucharist, God becomes our humble guest. In silence, we talk to him, tell him our many needs and the needs of others. At this time, we might say private prayers in our hearts.  Because it is savored so long in the heart, honey characterizes the end of the Mass which is petition.

In our desert lives, it is necessary to seek refreshment. The sweetness of the Mass gives us energy to confront a world that is seldom peaceful. Jesus came to give us peace, to bring good tidings to all men. He taught us how to pray and united with him, we worship the Father. Our lasting union with him, is supreme happiness. In him, is our hope and the Mass reminds us of this time and time again. In his body, he died, rose and ascended. Knowing that Our Lord and God endured the hardships of life, gives us courage to face our own trials. Honey sweetens the vinegar of suffering.

 

The Oil of the Mass.

oil

 

“I have found David my servant; with my sacred oil I have anointed him” – Psalm 89:20

We each bring our own offering before God in the Holy Mass. In union with the priest, we lift up our hearts. The oil of the Mass, is our hearts, our prayerfulness, our awareness of who we are, the priestly people of God and what we are doing, offering sacrifice. It is also the crowning delight of the Mass, namely, God working through the priest. In our commingled offerings, a pungent fragrance is released. Spreading upward on our prayers and petitions, it fills the house of God.

A priestly people, we are anointed by God’s presence in the sacraments. In the Mass, our oil runs over. It exalts, it strengthens, heals and saves. This is most apparent in the consecration of the Holy Eucharist where a broken, sinful man calls down all the powers of heaven and cradles Christ in his hands. How awesome, the calling given to us, that we may share this incomprehensible blessing! In union with the priest, we offer the greatest sacrifice!

A zealous priest, in love with this sacrament of sacraments, gives forth finest oil. He has given everything, laid down his life and bursts with joy at being made a sweet oblation. The proper disposition we should carry during the Mass, is of self-sacrifice, being conformed to the salvific sacrifice of Christ. We continually apply the oil to ourselves that we may be healed and brought closer to our original dignity, that of our first parents before the fall. Thus, oil corresponds to the end of the Mass which is atonement for sins. The name “Christ” means “anointed one” and we bear his name as Christians. On our foreheads, is the seal of his kingship.

Oil spreads by virtue of its thick, moist consistency. Therefore, as a community, our oil is gathered and lavished upon others. Our anointing doesn’t run out as soon as we leave the church but rather must be spread onto the entire world. Oil is also a fuel. Filling our lamps with it, we burn brightly. This means that instead of hiding under a basket, we teach the truth. And if our lamps should run dry, we are invited to return to the most holy Eucharist and be refilled. The oil of Christ never lacks. His priesthood, and thus our priesthood, lasts forever.

 

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the most-perfect gift in which God gives himself to man, and man gives himself to God. When we go to Mass, a banquet is spread before us full of splendor, richness, sweetness and praise. God’s goodness overflows.  As a Protestant, I couldn’t really see God’s love for me, nor touch or taste it. God was an abstract person, far from us, that the preacher only talked about. Yes, he did tell us to “accept Jesus into our hearts” but this sort of prayer seemed like an intellectual exercise. When I finally discovered the Catholic Mass, I was able to say, here is truly the outward manifestation of God’s love for us! In the act of receiving communion, believed to be the actual body and blood of Jesus, “accepting Jesus into your heart” became more than just an idea but a real, concrete thing.

The Mass is our “Mysterium Tremendum”. It is the kingly, priestly and prophetic prayer of the entire people of God. Both a banquet and a sacrifice, it reopens every grace bestowed to us by Jesus on the cross of Calvary. In a lifetime, it would be impossible to understand all that happens at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass or count all its gifts. Before such a tremendous mystery, we can only reflect on bits and pieces until the whole is revealed in heaven, where at the altar not made of human hands, we will worship for all eternity. The following gifts I now reflect on are just a foretaste of what God prepares for us, that which eye has not seen and ear has not heard.

 

The Gold of the Mass:

gold

“And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.” – Malachi 3:3

When the sweet smell of incense rises in smoky curls, the organ thunders and heavenly strains of Gregorian chant hit your ears as you see the priest process by wearing vestments that shimmer like fire, you are experiencing the gold of the Mass. These are the outward treasures of the church proudly displayed. While such beauty may consist of expensive materials, they speak of the treasures of heaven rather than earth. We do not count the cost of this perfume poured out in devotion, for God is master of all things.

Some may deem beauteous things as mere externals however, we know their true purpose: our senses, sight, smell, sound, touch, are guided to heavenly realities. Mysteries are brought low, so that man may taste and see. We see before us, entrance into that paradise lost and a foretaste of eternal delight. A lavish wedding feast calls our attention, our minds and hearts.

The gold of the Mass is the priceless adornment of the temple of God, which should match the adornment in our heart. Since we cannot see the hearts of others, we are shown something to strive for, the adornment of virtue, faith, hope, charity. It is also a reminder of God’s greatest gift to us, His Only begotten Son, who was incarnated of the Virgin Mary and became man. The Lord of all creation became poor so we may be rich. He became human so we could become divine. Gold was presented to the newborn babe in Bethlehem, placed before the manger of the King of Kings. Now, chalices and plates of gold are a fitting throne for Him. From a gold vessel we receive something infinitely more precious than gold. We receive the price of our redemption: the blood of Jesus Christ!

The beauty of the Mass summons our collective memory as ransomed people of God, no longer slaves but friends and servants of the most high. A royal priesthood, whose bonds have been loosed, we stand and give thanks to God, carrying our gold, singing our song of victory. Thus the gold corresponds to the end of the Mass which is thanksgiving.

Instead of being a pompous parade of human accomplishments, fine vestments and solemn chant sing of God’s accomplishments. He shed all the glories of heaven and while still Lord of Lords, died on a barren cross for our sins. He wore the sorrowful vestments of death so we could wear the glittering garments of resurrection. Being tried in fire, gold is living. Pressed in the crucible, it emerges stronger. It is also a very pure element, mirroring pure worship. Therefore, being given an inheritance that never fades away, we echo the words: “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me.”

 

 

 

 

Many people talk about the vocation crisis in the Catholic Church. However, little changes are made in the ministry of local parishes which foster vocational growth. People, in short, fear changes, even if they will bring positive results. It is easier to assume what we’ve been doing for many years is good enough and can’t actually be the root of the problem.

After hearing a visiting priest lament from the pulpit about our shortage of priestly vocations, I approached him and said that the solution was simple. Unfortunately, he didn’t have time to hear what it was. This does reveal part of our problem: we spend a lot of time talking about how we don’t have enough vocations and spend not enough time acting to encourage them. Do we not have enough time to sit down, ponder the Church’s future and figure out how to best secure it?

Here is the simple, three pronged approach that I put forth for parishes to encourage growth of vocations:

1)      Teach authentic Catholic doctrine.

Aquinas_T

 

The more people come to know the faith and God’s love, the more they will fall in love with God and the faith. Presenting a way of life that is contrary to the shallow world sparks resonance with people- especially young people who are faced with meaninglessness and relativism. Authentic doctrine is not watered-down. It is not a bunch of moral platitudes but putting forth the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in and out of season. We can’t be afraid to discuss the hard stuff, the reality of sin and of spiritual combat. Authentic Catholic teaching is what draws reverts and converts, who all have potential vocations. I have heard too many young adults complain that they are learning more on their own than in RCIA. They are hungering for the “meat and bones” but instead get fed spoonfuls of sugar. Beefing up our RCIA is a matter of investing in textbooks and teachers who are faithful to the Magisterium. renewing belief in the sacraments is a matter of encouraging their use. If the parish priest can, he might want to invest some extra time to hear confessions and teach on the meaning of this healing sacrament.

It is vital to reveal our faith as a life-changing reality- not just a path that is just as good as some other religion. The worst mistake we can make is to adopt a “I’m okay, you’re okay” attitude. This is precisely what the world drills into our head and it’s not what Christ preached.  Christ preached a new way of live, turning your back on the world, rising towards union with God. Our faith has so many avenues of beautiful spiritualities: Franciscan. Benedictine, Dominican. Explore them rather then delving in what other religions practice. What Christ offers to us in the Catholic faith is the way, the truth and the life. People won’t believe in something trivial and they certainly won’t give their lives for it.

 

 

2.) Talk about vocations:

vocation

 

Priesthood, religious life, marriage. These don’t tend to be popular sermon topics, being overlooked for the sake of teaching the basics. Vocations are the basics- they hold the Church up! Without priests, we have no Eucharist. It can’t get more basic than that! How are people going to be interested if we never mention it? Priests and laypeople must work together to show how each of these vocations is so special. Lay people can make the mistake of viewing vocations as another career choice rather than a state of life in relation to God. Priests seldom speak from the pulpit about what inspired them to follow their calling- mentioning both the challenges and rewards of it. This all can be easily changed by raising awareness.

A best kept secret is that vocations are a sign on earth of the kingdom to come. Another best kept secret is the example of Mary. When Marian devotion declines, vocations decline. She, along with all the saints, has so much to tell us about living an authentic Catholic life. They lived life to the fullest and too often, their stories are hidden. Throughout history, saints have been inspired by reading the lives of other saints. Parish libraries that host helpful literature and books about the saints and vocations should be encouraged and if already existing, must be brought to attention. Young minds especially, are inspired by the saints.

Retreats for young people can also inspire them to think of vocations and get involved in ministry. They don’t have to be held at special retreat centers. Try church lock ins, best with a night of perpetual adoration.  Some of this stuff may sound intensive so start off slow. Start maybe with adoration once a week. Foster”Eucharistic awareness” where devotion to the blessed sacrament is practiced, explained and encouraged. It is God who calls us to a vocation therefore we should offer maximum opportunities for parishioners of all ages to sit silently and hear his voice.

 

 

3)      Reverence at Mass:

Pope Benedict XVI Celebrates Easter - Easter Vigil

 

The Eucharist, which is the “source and summit of Christian life” (is often treated with little reverence. We make the mistake of stripping away the Mass, getting rid of what we deem to be mere “externals” without realizing they were there for a reason: to engage us with the greater mystery. Then people forget the awesome reality of what is taking place at Mass and eventually walk away. It is incredibly vital for young men to witness the awe and majesty of the liturgy, to see it as something sacred and meaningful. This prompts them to serve the altar, and this is where priestly vocations are most encouraged.

Reverent Masses foster belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, while Masses that are treated like social gatherings or concerts, diminish it greatly. Chances are a man will not marry a woman he isn’t attracted to. If young men are not captivated by the beauty of the Mass, they will never become priests. The Church has a vast treasury of sacred music and moving traditions. Parishes should pull them out of the attic and put them to good use. This is why Vatican II encouraged the use of Gregorian chant (SC 6: 116). It provides a unique substance that people will return to time and time again. You can never go wrong by studying the documents of Vatican II, seeing what they actually called for and applying a principle of continuity to the Mass. Too many creative changes and rupture isn’t good for vocations and it isn’t good for anybody. The reason for such things may be to get people more involved in the Mass but what actually happens is confusion and overall loss of the Mass’s meaning. What people look for in such a time of chaos and emptiness is reverence and peace.  It is like water to thirsting souls.

 

 

 

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This weekend was powerful. Yes, that is the word to describe it: powerful. This is the third year in a row where I attended a young women’s retreat with the campus ministry of St Augustine, sponsored by the Universities of Miami and Gainsville, FL. Though I’m long past being a college student, these retreats have been so meaningful, revealing things about God and myself.

Last year was bitter. Bitterness mixed with sweetness in the three days I described as “like holy week” a dismal crucifixion of myself leading to resurrection. This year, praise God, was sweetness, and as I said, power. The goal of this retreat was first, listen to God, be open to his call. This is especially important for my vocational discernment, which has had its fair share of ups and downs, mostly due to my own stubbornness. It seems that even when God puts a good, beautiful thing in front of me, I deny it in my own pride. And this hurts Him more than anything. With this retreat, I vowed no more. No more saying I was too unworthy or not strong enough. We aren’t called because we are worthy or because we can do it. If so, the world would be filled with careless priests, nuns, monks and married couples who are very strong and very worthy but horrible at what they do. There is a certain power in weakness, in saying “No, God I can’t do it but I trust you anyway.”

The second goal of the retreat was to examine my spiritual motherhood of priests. How well have I been praying for the ones God entrusted to me? Have I served their needs selflessly- or used ulterior motives? Unfortunately, along with the selflessness, those selfish motives can trail behind, the awful thought of “Aren’t I so wonderful for doing this?” The first morning reflection coincidentally (or not) was on Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac. I decided to take my spiritual sons and offer them back to God, asking him to even remove them from my care-if it pleased him. The best way we can honor what God gives us is to offer it back to Him.

The retreat had a huge overarching theme that hit me over the head: Behold the Lamb of God. It started at Mass. As the priest lifted up the broken host and chalice, saying “Behold the Lamb of God” I looked into his eyes. Focused on the Eucharistic Lord held up before him, there was longing, anticipation, and excitement. My heart began to pound as I imagine the priest’s excitement. It wasn’t until the second Mass that God led me to understand. This anticipation was Christ’s own anticipation, of communing with us, becoming one with his bride. More specifically, it’s how he feels about me. At last, I could tangibly see and feel the love of God, taste and see the goodness of the Lord and after 6 years in this journey, it led me back to where I began, in the Eucharistic presence.

After the Mass, I drew a picture of what Jesus had conveyed to me. The Ecce Agnus Dei with streams of water pouring out. The book of Revelation (ch 21 and 22) speaks of a spring of water, the water of life, flowing from the throne of God and from the Lamb. In the power of the Mass, the waters of life are opened and pour out upon all creation. We, who are thirsting for God, for life, happiness and meaning, come and drink. It is the only thing that will satisfy us, the only thing for which we are truly made: A glimpse at the face of God. This powerful message is what propels us towards a new way of life and being.

Mixed into the passages about the streams of water in revelation, is profoundly nuptial imagery. At that time, the new Jerusalem is shown to St John, beautiful as a bride bedecked in jewels, free of all stain, lovely to behold! Wherever we hear “behold the Lamb” we should also hear “behold the bride”. Jesus is not only the sacrificial lamb who takes away our sins, he is the Bridegroom who thirsts for us. The great thirst we feel in times of desolation is but a taste of the thirst God has for us. We almost are brought to feel His own passion and thus, it’s in those times, we are conformed to His heart in a special way. The anticipation of Jesus before we receive communion is the same anticipation a bridegroom feels before the moment of the wedding. If we understood how deeply Jesus longed to be in our hearts, we would faint from love! His love for us is unquenchable. He will go to the ends of the earth, through unspeakable torments then to hell and back for us. He did it once before…

 

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”

And let everyone who is thirsty come.

Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”

-          Revelation 22:17

 

It has been brutal. For the past year and a half, a struggle ensued for my mind and soul. Constant spiritual warfare wore me down to the point where, on most days, I could barely hold up my head. Going to Mass became a chore. Something was seriously wrong within my soul. All this time, it seemed God was distant. Watching me, yes, but with his back turned the other way. I wandered in the desert like the weeping Israelites, praying and hoping for the streams of life.

During the worst times, I could barely pray. Nothing gave me the joy and consolation I formerly felt. Even throughout Mass, everything remained numb, dead inside. Seeing Jesus in the priest’s hands: the solution to all my ills, I begged Him for deliverance, remembering in my mind the most-dreary verse of Psalm 88: “Friend and neighbor you have taken away, my one companion is darkness.” What the melancholy King David sang thousands of years ago, I felt in my heart this day.  Asking God for His grace, I decided to snub the devil by taking up even more prayer.

Now was not the time to let up. It was time for heavy artillery. Eucharistic adoration. If the local parish didn’t have exposition, I’d go into the church, before the silent tabernacle and voice my complaints and regretfully, not enough thanksgivings. Adoring the sacred host, the Real presence of the Lord is a remedy of peace, a soothing balm on the wounded soul. When you have one foot in the grave, in front of the tabernacle is where you need to be.

Another weapon: The Divine Office. A very ancient and powerful prayer, using the Scriptures, prayed in union with the entire church. It ensures the name of God be blessed at every hour… and the devil hates that! You don’t need to pray all five in a day as monks do. Start with Vespers or Evening prayer, which is easiest. Work your way up. Try chanting, in monotone or with accompaniment. As St Augustine advises: “He who sings prays twice.”

The spirits of despair and anger had encompassed me. There seemed no place to run. Last night, I struggled through my rosary, feeling suffocated by the evil and sin which weighed down heavy. Feelings of worthlessness, weariness and stress hung over my brow. It is no consequence that during the darkest times, Mary came to me, a quiet and serene presence. There is such power in the Mother of Christ, Our Perpetual Help. She crushes the serpent’s head. Wherever a public rosary was offered, I’d try best to make it.

But I am here to proclaim that God does wondrous things, even when we’re on the brink of giving up. We are always ready to give up, but Our Lord, He never gives up on us. Frayed, at the very end of my rope, I attended the rosary and adoration service at a nearby parish in Winter Haven Florida. The priest there is known to be very nice. He once heard my confession on the spot. I asked him before the service if he had time but he was understandably busy. After the service, I approached him and told him about this spiritual warfare I’d been going through, asking for his prayers. Even before we spoke, he could tell something was up. I glanced away, explaining that I’ve been thrown into so much confusion that I wasn’t even sure if I committed sins or not. He offered to bless and then absolve me!!

Taken totally by surprise, I knelt down before him, my eyes on the white stole hanging from beneath his robes. The power to forgive sins. Next to the voice of your husband, saying “I love you,” there is no better sound than a priests voice saying “I absolve you.” To me, it’s Jesus saying “I love you.” Totally beside myself with gratitude, I kissed the priest’s stole, thanked him profusely and skipped out of the church like a giddy fool.

Finally, I knew what it felt like to be that one leper, who showing himself to the priest, found he was completely healed. My heart racing, my face aglow, I ran and told everyone nearby of God’s goodness, of the healing power Jesus Christ gives through His “other Christ’s”, how God always comes through when we least expect it, how His love endures even in darkness. And that is why I wrote this for you today.

tiger

 

Very often, late at night, looking out at the faint outline of trees, the vast dark skies and eerie moonlight floating above, I think of nature, and God’s wisdom displayed therein. You know the “beasts of earth” and “birds of air” type stuff- and how man was given dominion over them. Too unfortunately, some Christians interpret this as a harsh dominion. Protestant Christian philosophy seems to harbor innate hostility towards nature, a “take and kill what you want” attitude which allows devastation of natural resources. “What use is fussing about the temporary world?” they say “God’s going to destroy it all anyway.”

Now, Catholic philosophy has long said “Let all that lives and breathes bless the Lord.” Some of our great saints, such as Francis of Assisi, Kateri Tekakwitha and Hubert, the patron of hunters, walked amongst nature and saw God’s hand at work in it. We see, on Christmas day, the newborn Jesus adored by lowly ox and ass. We tell stories of mules bowing before the Eucharist and doves landing on popes. To the Catholic Christian, natural things convey supernatural realities. After all, we’re those weirdoes who believe that bread and wine actually becomes the body and blood of Christ. And I fancy only a Catholic would stop and ponder the deeper, theological meaning of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.

Though the character of Mowgli, considered neither man nor wolf, strikes me as a sort of savior-figure, who masters the animals and destroys their chief enemy, there is something perhaps more subtle that catches my eye. It is the jungle’s creation-story, in the second installment which foretells when every animal will fall under one law. During a severe draught, a truce is declared for sake of survival. At the water hole, where animals drink, none of them may kill or hunt another. Here, Mowgli learns that Shere-Khan, the tiger, killed a man, asks why and then hears the jungle creation-story.

It begins with a creator-god…or elephant; who makes all the jungle creatures, all the land, water and food. All animals only eat plants and fruit- they are innocent. It is the Tiger who brings sin into the world. He gets banished and fear takes flesh in the form of hairless, cunning human beings. The tiger returns, admits his crime but then slays the human out of pride. He says: “I killed fear” but because he did so, man, that fearsome creature, learns to kill and deal death. Here we see the motif of creation, paradise and original sin. Interestingly, the Tiger is given one night yearly to venture forth and lawfully kill a man.

Blood begets blood. From first-kill comes first-predator. Man is fearsome, a most-wise enemy of nature who, forgetting his primordial home, builds villages and fires. He holds dominion over the animals, trapping and killing as he pleases. His tools are deadlier than any tooth or claw. Hurt by that first sin, he sets himself against nature. Likewise, Adam and Eve battled animals and forces of nature after expulsion from paradise. In Eden, they never needed fire. Yet, out in the desert, they needed not only fire, but nets, spears and knives. Against the emergent onslaught of sin and death, man devised many tools and deadly strategies. However, his enemy was- and always will be the Tiger, the agent of that first sin. A cunning predator, the Devil has allowance into our homes, a work-permit towards our destruction. Scripture compares this enemy to “a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” Pride breeds pride. In a vicious cycle, man and Devil ever threaten the world around them.

Here, the story ceases to give further insight. The rest could be guessed. I believe that henceforth, man is given a choice. He can fashion nets to save animals- or to slay them. Whether he kills for food or for pleasure makes the difference. The way he kills speaks volumes about his soul. For if God made man in His own image, ruling over the beasts, his humanness and mercy betray God. When merciless and cruel, he betrays another. By no mistake, we regard a man who loves animals as sensitive and kind but think a man who hates them as heartless and frightening. An animal-lover mirrors God who condescends to lesser beings. Like God, he feeds, tends, looks after the weak and gives shelter. He is fatherly, like a husband. The man who beats, tortures or starves animals echoes the Devil who only undermines and destroys. We would never trust him with our children!

Now, I’m not saying the perfect Christian is a tree-hugging hippie- no, I’m saying that Christian faith obliges us to care for what is beneath us. We act in God’s image whenever we feed a stray dog, scare a possum off the road or knock a bird’s egg back into the nest. A stewardship has been placed in our hands. How should we use it? We’ve all heard the saying: “Nature, red in tooth and claw.” But how, tell me, shall be man? Isn’t he more than tooth or claw? Has he not received a rational mind, ruling over the earth, wielding bow and trowel, both hunter and gardener, modeled in the loving image of God?

 

 

Nature red in tooth and claw,

man beheld natural law.

Creation laden death and glory,

forests ring with man, his story.

 

I twas a gatherer for God first gathered

the starry sky.

I twas gardener for God first planted

the greenest byre.

I twas fisherman for God first schooled

flocks of the sea

And I twas archer for God first plucked

feathered breed.

 

Lo, but after fall,

I gazed upon nature all.

Man the killer, not under law,

held fin, leaf and feather

beneath red claw.

 

Then I twas ever to bleed,

keep from bleeding

and to make bleed.

 

Once, no thing slew,

now we all slay

lest slain.

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