Viva la Madonna! Long live the Mother of God!

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Tony Gentile/Reuters

In the Catholic Church, the month of May has traditionally been a month to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.  It is during this month that priests, bishops, and even the Pope himself encourage and highlight the importance of the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our lives and our need of her prayers.

It is clear that Pope Francis has a particular love of the Mother of God and wishes for us to love her too. Just last weekend, he traveled to the largest basilica in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary, St. Mary Major, to pray the rosary with the faithful.  This is his second visit to this basilica since he was elected pope – the Holy Father came to St. Mary Major the day after his election to ask Our Lady’s intercession for his new pontificate.

More From Catholic News Service:

Mary is a mother who helps Christians grow, face the difficulties of life and use their freedom to make lasting commitments, Pope Francis said. Marking Catholics’ traditional celebration of May as the month of Mary, Pope Francis led the recitation of the rosary May 4 at the Basilica of St. Mary Major. After the service, he went to the steps of the basilica to greet thousands of people who were unable to get inside, and he asked them to say three Hail Marys “for me, because I need it.” He also led the crowd in chanting “Viva la Madonna” (Long live the mother of God). At the beginning and end of the service, Pope Francis venerated the basilica’s famous icon of Mary “Salus Populi Romani” (health of the Roman people, in the above photograph). In a reflection after the recitation of the glorious mysteries of the Rosary, Pope Francis said there are three primary ways in which Mary, as a mother with “great and tender love,” promotes the healthy growth of Christians.

On Monday, May 13th, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, Pope Francis will consecrate his pontificate to the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Why not say three Hail Mary’s today, for Pope Francis but also that your love for the Virgin Mary might increase each day?

The Catechismal Crusader : Nunc Coepi

This past weekend, many from our community gathered at the wonderful Wynncliff Manor on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan. The weekend was  full of prayer, meditations, and discussions focused on living a life at the foot of the cross amidst the busy world, which tied in perfectly to last week’s Mustard Seed “The Sanctification of Work”.  It is almost like it was planned that way. Almost.  Following Mass on Sunday morning,  everyone was content thinking the retreat was  winding down.  Little did they know that  Brad Frias was about to tie the entire retreat together (much like the way a Scooby Doo episode usually ends with the bad guys tied up) with his talk on perseverance titled Nunc Coepi (Now I begin).  And so in honor of the retreat, we ahve compiled here several catechism paragraphs pertaining to perseverance.  As we reach the last weeks of Lent let us not be discourgared by our failures, each fall let us humbly and bravely say Nunc Coepi, and begin again.

162 Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. We can lose this priceless gift, as St. Paul indicated to St. Timothy: “Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith.”44 To live, grow and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith;45 it must be “working through charity,” abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church.46

2728 Finally, our battle has to confront what we experience as failure in prayer: discouragement during periods of dryness; sadness that, because we have “great possessions,”15 we have not given all to the Lord; disappointment over not being heard according to our own will; wounded pride, stiffened by the indignity that is ours as sinners; our resistance to the idea that prayer is a free and unmerited gift; and so forth. The conclusion is always the same: what good does it do to pray? To overcome these obstacles, we must battle to gain humility, trust, and perseverance.

2730 In positive terms, the battle against the possessive and dominating self requires vigilance, sobriety of heart. When Jesus insists on vigilance, he always relates it to himself, to his coming on the last day and every day: today. The bridegroom comes in the middle of the night; the light that must not be extinguished is that of faith: “‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!'”17

2743 It is always possible to pray: The time of the Christian is that of the risen Christ who is with us always, no matter what tempests may arise.36 Our time is in the hands of God:

It is possible to offer fervent prayer even while walking in public or strolling alone, or seated in your shop, . . . while buying or selling, . . . or even while cooking.37

The Pope’s Final Angelus Address

Yesterday in St. Peter’s Square, from the window of his apartment in the Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father led upwards of 200,000 people in the Angelus, a short prayer recited at noon that honors Our Lord’s Incarnation in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as he does on every Sunday that he is in Rome.  At this Angelus, the last of his pontificate, he also shared additional details about his resignation:

The Lord is calling me to “go up the mountain” to dedicate myself to prayer and meditation.  But this does not mean that I will abandon the Church, rather … it is because I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love which which I have sought to do until now, but in a way more suited to my age and my strength.

I thank you for your affection and sharing in this particular moment in my life and for the Church, especially through your prayers.  To all I wish a good day and a good week.  In prayer we are always close to each other.  Thank you all!

The Holy Father’s reign as pope will conclude at 1:00pm Central Time (8:00pm Rome Time) on Thursday, February 28th.  When the See of Peter is vacant (sede vacante), the Cardinals will gather and determine a start date for the conclave to elect Benedict’s successor.  The Church needs our prayers in this time!  Why not say an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be today for Pope Benedict, his successor, and the cardinal electors in the conclave?

Oremus pro Pontifice! (Let us pray for the Pope!)

By now you have probably heard that our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has chosen to resign from the papacy, effective on February 28th.  Yesterday in Rome he spoke to a gathering of cardinals, where he made the announcement in Latin (translated from the Vatican’s website):

Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects.  And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

From the Vatican, 10 February 2013

While this announcement may evoke in us an emotional – perhaps even confused – response, let us trust in Christ and in His Providence and Plan for His Bride, the Church.  As we seek to trust in God’s plan, let us especially offer many prayers for our Holy Father, the 117 cardinal electors who will elect a new pope, and for the next successor who will shepherd the Church.

One prayer that we can consider using is called the Oratio pro summo Pontifice – simply, the Prayer for the Pope:

V. Let us pray for Benedict, our Pope.

R. May the Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies (Psalm 40:3).

Say one Our Father, one Hail Mary

O God, Shepherd and Ruler of all Thy faithful people, look mercifully upon Thy servant N, whom Thou hast chosen as shepherd to preside over Thy Church. Grant him, we beseech Thee, that by his word and example, he may edify those over whom he hath charge, so that together with the flock committed to him, may he attain everlasting life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Still have questions about the Holy Father’s resignation, or perhaps questions about what comes next?  Join us for Mustard Seed, our weekly large group gathering, on Thursday, February 21st for a brief lesson in Conclaves 101.  Fr. Eric Sternberg will join us to provide some insight into what is a conclave and what will it look like, as well as provide answers to any questions you might have.

As we near the end of the pontificate of Pope Benedict and usher in a new age in the life of the Church, let us keep in mind the wise words of the Holy Father, some of the first words he spoke to us as Pope, at his installation Mass almost eight years ago:

My dear friends – at this moment I can only say: pray for me, that I may learn to love the Lord more and more. Pray for me, that I may learn to love his flock more and more – in other words, you, the holy Church, each one of you and all of you together. Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves. Let us pray for one another, that the Lord will carry us and that we will learn to carry one another.

The Catechismal Crusader: Prayer

As part of the Year of Faith, we will post what we hope are thought provoking excerpts from the Catechism each Wednesday.  As you will see, it is hard to find a paragraph in the Catechism that is not thought provoking. If these tidbits happen to strike your fancy, float your boat, or leave you wanting more by all means please read more in the Catechism, which can be found here.  And for those that don’t speak Latin here. Let us know what you find!

It seems only fitting that our first issue of The Catechismal Crusader, highlights prayer, the center of the spiritual life.  As we discussed in an earlier post referencing Blessed John Paul II’s encyclical “Novo Millennio Ineunte” prayer is essential for a deeper relationship with the one, true God, and is a vital part of every apostolate.  But don’t take my word for it, here’s what the Catechism has to say.

For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy. -St. Therese of Lisieux

2559 “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.”2 But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or “out of the depths” of a humble and contrite heart?3 He who humbles himself will be exalted;4humility is the foundation of prayer, Only when we humbly acknowledge that “we do not know how to pray as we ought,”5 are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. “Man is a beggar before God.”6

2567 God calls man first. Man may forget his Creator or hide far from his face; he may run after idols or accuse the deity of having abandoned him; yet the living and true God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer. In prayer, the faithful God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response. As God gradually reveals himself and reveals man to himself, prayer appears as a reciprocal call, a covenant drama. Through words and actions, this drama engages the heart. It unfolds throughout the whole history of salvation.

2729 The habitual difficulty in prayer is distraction. It can affect words and their meaning in vocal prayer; it can concern, more profoundly, him to whom we are praying, in vocal prayer (liturgical or personal), meditation, and contemplative prayer. To set about hunting down distractions would be to fall into their trap, when all that is necessary is to turn back to our heart: for a distraction reveals to us what we are attached to, and this humble awareness before the Lord should awaken our preferential love for him and lead us resolutely to offer him our heart to be purified. Therein lies the battle, the choice of which master to serve.16

As we settle into our semester schedules, let us not forget the importance of prayer and strive with all our heart to pray everyday.

“Without the aid of mental prayer, the soul cannot triumph over the forces of the demon.” -Saint John of the Cross

“I am certain of it that Our Lord will eventually bring to the harbor of salvation, the one who gives himself to prayer.” – Saint Teresa of Avila

“The Art of Prayer” from Blessed John Paul II

The staff at St. Paul’s returned on Wednesday afternoon from a two-day planning retreat; an opportunity before each semester begins to reflect, pray, and make good resolutions for the apostolate at St. Paul’s.  In a particular way, Fr. Eric Nielsen exhorted the staff about the importance of prayer and personal piety, both for them and for the students (and young professionals!) served at St. Paul’s.  As a fodder for meditation, he provided the staff with several selections from Blessed John Paul II’s famous Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, which he wrote at the close of the year 2000.

Here are a couple excellent points from John Paul (emphasis added):

“We cannot come come to the fullness of contemplation of the Lord’s face by our own efforts alone, but by allowing grace to take us by the hand.  Only the experience of silence and prayer offers the proper setting for the growth and development of a true, faithful and consistent knowledge of that mystery which finds its culminating expression in the solemn proclamation by the Evangelist St. John: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14).

It is not therefore a matter of inventing a “new program”.  The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever.  Ultimately, it has its center in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved, and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem.

Training in holiness calls for a Christian life distinguished above all in the art of prayer.  … We have to learn to pray … Prayer develops that conversation with Christ which makes us his intimate friends: “Abide in me and I in you” (John 15:4).  This reciprocity is the very substance and soul of the Christian life….

Yes, dear brothers and sisters, our Christian communities must become genuine “schools” of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly “falls in love”.

It is prayer which roots us in the truth.  It constantly reminds us of the primacy of Christ and, in union with him, the primacy of the interior life and of holiness.

ImageBlessed John Paul II, pray for us, that we might always seek to grow in friendship with Christ through prayer!

The complete document Novo Millennio Ineunte is available on the Vatican’s website.

Show some Christmas love to a Newtown, CT priest

Hat tip to CatholicVote.org:

In the wake of what happened in Newtown, Connecticut last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School, perhaps in our reading about the tragedy, we’ve come across this picture:

newtown priests

The two priests in the picture are Msgr. Robert Weiss (right), pastor of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, and the priest on the left is Fr. Luke Suarez, who has been a priest for just two years.

On Facebook and throughout the Catholic blogosphere is this message, from Fr. Luke’s sister (emphasis added by CatholicVote contributor):

My friends,

All of you, I am sure, have heard so much about the tragedy in Newtown, CT. Many of you have received emails from me about my younger brother, Father Luke Suarez, who is a priest at St. Rose of Lima parish, a Catholic church just down the road from Sandy Hook Elementary. He, and his pastor, Monsignor Weiss, arrived at the school within moments of the shooting, and have been caring for the community ever since. The picture I have included was taken at the school.

Father Luke has an impossible task before him. His diocese is without a bishop right now…. Monsignor … is personally devastated by the losses. The parish is very large…. The rectory has received serious threats, and as my brother gave the homily Sunday at the noon mass, the church had to be evacuated by SWAT teams. After experiencing identity theft and online hacking incidents, he had to erase all of his internet accounts. After a weekend of endless media requests, notifications and vigils with heartbroken families, and little sleep, he now has two wakes and two funerals every day, until the fourth Sunday of Advent. Father Luke has not even been ordained two years.

My large family has been trying to send Father Luke our love and support from afar, and one of my brothers was able to visit with him briefly a couple times. All he asks for is prayer.

I have been wracking my brain, trying to think of a way that our beautiful, loving community could tangibly reach out to Father Luke, Monsignor Weiss, and the St. Rose parish, to support them in this most awful of times. I have sent many prayer requests, and I am asking for more prayers again. But I also want to ask everyone to search their hearts, and if the Holy Spirit moves you, please consider sending one of your family’s Christmas cards to the rectory, with a few words of love and encouragement. Here is his address:

Father Luke Suarez
46 Church Hill Road
Newtown, CT 06470

My brother has said over and over again that without the prayer support he is receiving, he could not keep going. And this week is only the beginning. Everyone there is still in shock. Their peaceful home has been desecrated by violence. They will need to live with this sorrow forever.

But in our weakness is His strength. Grace abounds. Can you help me carry him through this time of trial?

On a hopeful note, Father Luke did say that no media coverage has even touched the deep, beautiful awakening of faith that has occurred there. Their tiny church, where my children have received sacraments and where Luke was ordained, has been full of people in prayer without ceasing since this tragedy happened. Love is stronger than death.

Please feel free to share the address with your family, friends, and community. An outpouring of love will sustain these good priests through their impossible ministry–impossible on their own, but possible with God.

I am so grateful to live in this community. We are all so blessed with one another. Every day, I see you all loving one another as Christ loved. Thank you for letting me reach out to you now.

As we await the coming of Our Lord at Christmas, say a prayer for Fr. Luke, Msgr. Weiss, our own Fathers Eric, and for all priests.  May they be strengthened, encouraged, and consoled by the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary!