The two blueprints of us

God, too, has within Himself blueprints of everything in the universe. As the architect has in his mind a plan of the house before the house is built, so God has in His Mind an archetypal idea of every flower, bird, tree, springtime, and melody. There never was a brush touched to canvas nor a chisel to marble without some great pre-existing idea. So, too, every atom and every rose is a realization and concretion of an idea existing in the Mind of God from all eternity.

All creatures below man correspond to the pattern God has in His Mind. A tree is truly a tree because it corresponds to God’s idea of a tree. A rose is a rose, because it is God’s idea of a rose wrapped up in chemicals and tints and life.

But it is not so with persons. God has to have two pictures of us: one is what we are, and the other is what we ought to be. He has the model, and He has the reality: the blueprint and the edifice, the score of the music and the way we play it. God has to have these two pictures because in each and every one of us there is some disproportion and want of conformity between the original plan and the way we have worked it out. The image is blurred; the print is faded. For one thing, our personality is not complete in time; we need a renewed body. Then, too, our sins diminish our personality; our evil acts daub the canvas the Master Hand designed. Like unhatched eggs, some of us refuse to be warmed by the Divine Love which is so necessary for incubation to a higher level.

We are in constant need of repairs; our free acts do not coincide with the law of our being; we fall short of all God wants us to be. St. Paul tells us that we were predestined, before the foundations of the world were laid, to become the sons of God. But some of us will not fulfill that hope.

Quotation from Fulton Sheen’s book, The World’s First Love

Motherhood is God’s Special Gift

1. Motherhood is a gift of God. “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord!” (Gn 4:1), Eve exclaims after giving birth to Cain, her first-born son. With these words, the Book of Genesis presents the first motherhood in human history as a grace and joy that spring from the Creator’s goodness.

2. The birth of Isaac is similarly described, at the origin of the chosen people. God promises Abraham, who has been deprived of children and is now advanced in years, descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven (cf. Gn 15:5). The promise is welcomed by the patriarch with the faith that reveals God’s plan to this man: “He believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gn 15:6).

This promise was confirmed in the words spoken by the Lord on the occasion of the covenant he made with Abraham: “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations” (Gn 17:4).

Extraordinary and mysterious events emphasize how Sarah’s motherhood was primarily the fruit of the mercy of God, who gives life beyond all human expectation: “I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her; I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her” (Gn 17:15-16).

Motherhood is presented as a decisive gift of the Lord. The patriarch and his wife will be given a new name to indicate the unexpected and marvelous transformation that God is to work in their life.

The Lord gladdens with the gift of motherhood

3. The visit of the three mysterious persons, whom the Fathers of the Church interpreted as a pre-figuration of the Trinity, announced the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham more explicitly: “The Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him” (Gn 18:1-2). Abraham objected: “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Gn 17:17; cf. 18:1113). The divine guest replies: “Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son” (Gn 18:14, cf. Lk 1:37).

The narrative stresses the effect of the divine visit, which makes fruitful a conjugal union that had been barren until then. Believing in the promise, Abraham becomes a father against all hope, and “father in the faith” because from his faith “descends” that of the chosen people.

4. The Bible relates other stories of women released from sterility and gladdened by the Lord with the gift of motherhood. These are often situations of anguish, which God’s intervention transforms into experiences of joy by receiving the heartfelt prayers of those who are humanly without hope. “When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children”, for example, “she envied her sister and she said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I shall die!’. Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, ‘Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?'” (Gn 30:1-2).

But the biblical text immediately adds: “Then God remembered Rachel and God hearkened to her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son” (Gn 30:22-23). This son, Joseph would play a very important role for Israel at the time of the migration to Egypt.

In this as in other narratives, the Bible intends to highlight the marvelous nature of God’s intervention in these specific cases by stressing the initial condition of the woman’s sterility; however, at the same time, it allows us to grasp the gratuitousness inherent in all motherhood.

5. We find a similar process in the account of the birth of Samson. The wife of Manoah, who had never been able to conceive a child, hears the Lord’s announcement from the angel: “Behold, you are barren and have no children; but you shall conceive and bear a son” (Jgs 13:3). The conception, unexpected and miraculous, announces the great things that the Lord will do through Samson.

In the case of Hannah, Samson’s mother, the special role of prayer is underlined. Hannah suffers the humiliation of being barren but she is full of great trust in God to whom she turns insistently, that Le may help her to overcome this trial. One day, at the temple she makes a vow: “Oh Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your maidservant, and remember me, and not forget your maidservant, but will give to your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life” (1 Sm 1:11).

Her prayer was answered: “The Lord remembered her” and “Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel” (1 Sm 1:19-20). Keeping her promise, Hannah offered her son to the Lord: “For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition which I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord as long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord” (1 Sm 1: 27-28). Given by God to Hannah and then given by Hannah to God, the little Samuel becomes a living bond of communion between Hannah and God.

Samuel’s birth is thus an experience of joy and an occasion for thanksgiving. The First Book of Samuel contains a hymn known as Hannah’s Magnificat, which seems to anticipate Mary’s: “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord” (1 Sm 2:1).

The grace of motherhood that God granted to Hannah because of her ceaseless prayers filled her with a new generosity. Samuel’s consecration is the grateful response of a mother who, recognizing in her child the fruit of God’s mercy, returns his gift, entrusting the child she had so longed for to the Lord.

God intervenes in important moments

6. In the accounts of miraculous motherhood which we have recalled, it is easy to discover the important place the Bible assigns to mothers in the mission of their sons. In Samuel’s case Hannah has a determining role in deciding to give him to the Lord. An equally decisive role is played by another mother, Rebecca, who procures the inheritance for Jacob (Gn 27). That maternal intervention, described by the Bible, can be interpreted as the sign of being chosen as an instrument in God’s sovereign plan. It is he who chooses the youngest son, Jacob, to receive the paternal blessing and inheritance, and therefore as the shepherd and leader of his people…. It is he who by a free and wise decision determines and governs each one’s destiny (Wis 10:10-12).

The Bible’s message regarding motherhood reveals important and ever timely aspects: indeed, it sheds light on the dimension of gratuitousness, which is especially apparent in the case of barren women, God’s particular covenant with woman and the special bond between the destiny of the mother and that of the son.

At the same time, the intervention of God, who, at important moments in the history of his people, causes certain barren women to conceive, prepares for belief in the intervention of God who, in the fullness of time, will make a Virgin fruitful for the Incarnation of his Son.


Text taken from Blessed Pope John Paul II’s General Audience on March 6, 1996.

St. Vincent Ferrer and the Divided Papacy

The resignation of Pope Benedict and the election of Pope Francis have set the eyes of the world on the papacy, and in the midst of the great joy of Catholics everywhere, there have been no lack of prognostications and concerns, often from those who know little of the spiritual dynamics of the Kingdom, about the needs of our time. The Church, we are told, is in crisis: corruptions within, enemies without, challenges of all kinds to deal with, her own members to keep happy, non-members to mollify and perhaps bring into her communion. Underlying much of this talk is the unasked but implicit question: can the Church survive? At least, can she survive as something more than a meaningless artifact of history? Can she retain vitality and significance in this swirling and complex modern world?

At such a time it can be good to remember that the Church, from its beginnings, has always been in crisis. There has never been a time when a Judas was not betraying her, when a Peter was not denying her, when a crowd of those who should be honoring Christ were not instead shouting “Crucify him!” Touch the history of the Church at any point, and one finds overwhelming external challenges to her mission, and paralyzing internal rot threatening to destroy her most profound life. We can sometimes miss this by a kind of historical optical illusion. When we look to the past the true lines of the Church emerge: her saints grow larger and clearer as one recedes from them; the superfluous falls away and the Divine form, which is the Church’s true life, gains clarity. But like certain paintings that seem no more than meaningless splotches of color when viewed up close, but that resolve into intelligible patterns and shapes as one steps back, so the life and fortunes of the Church seem chaotic and troubled when viewed in their immediacy, and only sort themselves out by a retrospective gaze. Many seeming successes have thus ended in oblivion, and many seeming failures have become windows of light and heavenly life.

Identifying this pattern in the mode by which the Church makes her way through time is not to make light of such internal and external threats. It is precisely by honestly facing them and responding to them with the Holy Spirit’s wisdom that the Church’s inner life is renewed, and her foes diminished or brought into her fold. Rather, it is to remember that this is one of the notes of the Church: she seems ever to be dying, and yet she lives; she seems always to have become outmoded, and yet she springs up again young and fresh; she seems ever about to be overcome, and yet she sees all her enemies buried. Crucifixion and resurrection mark the Church in every age.

One such age of crisis unfolded in the fourteenth century, a seemingly grim time for the Church and for Western Christian civilization as a whole. That time witnessed the Hundred Years War between the English and the French, when France, Europe’s most populous and influential state, was repeatedly ravaged by battles and by the disease and famine that always accompany them. Intellectually, the great achievement of St. Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Aquinas looked to be breaking into pieces, as nominalist philosophies arose that questioned the sacramental vision of the Christian world. The Ottoman Turkish empire was on the rise and becoming an increasingly potent external threat. And for three horrible years at mid-century the Black Death stalked Europe, leaving a third of its population, tens of millions, dead. In the midst of this dissolution of Medieval Society, its most significant institution, the one that gave the civilization its fundamental unity, the key to the whole of its religious system, the Papacy, went into crisis. Europe found itself looking at not one successor of Peter, but two, and for a brief time even three, with half of the European states backing one of the claimants, and half backing another.

Juanes_Juan_de-St_Vincent_FerrerInto this maelstrom, while the Black Death was raging, Vincent Ferrer was born in Valencia, in the Kingdom of Aragon, now Spain. He entered the Dominican order as a young man; he was ordained in 1378, the year the Papacy went into schism. He died in 1419, having lived just long enough to see that schism healed at the Council of Constance. His priestly life was coterminous with this grave crisis in the life of the Church.

St. Vincent is among those saints whose life was so characterized by the miraculous that stories and legends of all kinds grew up around him. At the time of his canonization in 1455, those looking into his cause identified 873 miracles confirmed by direct evidence. His miracles were various and constant. He healed the sick, cast out demons, discerned hidden thoughts of those around him, correctly prophesied many events both large and small, controlled the weather, raised the dead. Many of his miracles were public, seen by thousands at a time. He would preach in his native tongue, and his listeners would sometimes hear the words in their own, a repetition of the miraculous preaching of the Apostles on the day of Pentecost. St. Vincent was the greatest preacher of his age, and during the last twenty years of his life he wandered up and down Europe, leading huge crowds too large to fit into a Church to embrace repentance and a life of virtue. He understood himself to have been given the task of preparing his hearers for the coming Day of Judgment. Many thousands were converted to or renewed in their faith by his strenuous labors.

His evident holiness of life, his contemplative spirit, his mastery of Catholic theology, and the miraculous signs of God’s presence that followed him everywhere, gained St. Vincent a place of great influence in his native Aragon and beyond. He was sought after for counsel by Kings and Popes as well as by the simplest of folk. And all along the way he steadfastly refused ecclesial honors, whether of a bishopric or a cardinal’s hat.

This kind of celebrity and these kinds of miracles might lead one to think of St. Vincent as something of a fanatic: a man of extreme views and of strange, if amazing, powers. But in this, St. Vincent was a true son of St. Dominic. His life and his teaching were characterized by a remarkable balance. He was a deeply prayerful man, and yet a man of action who was to die on the road, far from home, preaching. He led an austere life, but he would not let his followers go into excess in the practice of physical penances, insisting that it was rather the mind and the will that needed to be purified much more than the body. He spoke of the things of God with great feeling, but he was also a Doctor of Theology who took great pains to teach the truth accurately. He preached compellingly of God’s coming judgment, yet he was noted for his kindness, his compassion, his insistence on forgiveness as the very heart of God’s dealings with humanity. St. Vincent’s life and teaching expressed not the extremism of the fanatic, but the balance of the disciple: the truly human life.

If there was anything St. Vincent might be said to have been consumed by, it was the hope that the Papal Schism might be resolved and the grievous wound of disunity in the Church be healed. The situation was a complex and bewildering one. Since 1305, and for seventy years after, the Papacy had been situated in Avignon, still in Papal territory but surrounded by the kingdom of France. Largely by the influence of Saints Catherine of Siena and Bridget of Sweden, Pope Gregory XI had returned to the city of Rome in 1376. When he died two years later, a conclave was held and Pope Urban VI was elected his successor. There is no doubting that it was a difficult conclave; a great deal of pressure was put on the electors by the Roman populace, who insisted on an Italian pope even to the point of death threats. Nonetheless it seems clear that the cardinals acted not in fear but with resolve, and elected the man whom they thought should be Pope. Some three months later, a group of the Cardinals, intensely disliking Urban’s papal policy and claiming that the first conclave was invalid due to the duress under which it was held, elected another Pope who took the name Clement VII. There were now two Popes, both elected in conclave, both claiming to be the rightful descendant of St. Peter. The question turned on whether the first conclave was essentially free and therefore legitimate, or forced and therefore invalid. England, the Holy Roman Empire and northern Italy stood by Urban and the Roman line of Popes. France, Spain, Scotland and the Kingdom of Naples stood by Clement and the Avignon line. It is a sign of the genuine complexity of the case that two of the Church’s saints, both of whom were renowned for gifts of spiritual discernment, disagreed. St. Catherine of Siena upheld the claims of Urban, while St. Vincent was convinced that Clement and the Avignon line was the true one.

But St. Vincent’s main concern was that the two popes come to peace, mutually resign if need be, and a conclave be held to heal the deadly division. His authority and saintliness were so evident that his support of the Avignon line did much to secure its legitimacy. But when his own good friend, the Avignon-line Benedict, proved to be intractable and unwilling to take any steps towards unity, St. Vincent publicly withdrew his support, paving the way for an ending of the schism and a restoration of the unity of the Church.

If crisis is one of the marks of the Church, so also is the appearance of saints. St. Vincent Ferrer was one such bright light in the midst of the chaos of his time, a sign that Christ rules his Church even from the cross, then as now. And as with all the saints, St. Vincent’s light has not gone out, but continues to shine as a perpetual source of life and hope. A favorite teaching of his may be found to be of particular pertinence to our time: “The least desire for worldly greatness, no matter under what pretext of charity it arises, is the head of the serpent of hell. We must crush it with the cross.”

Source of Article: St. Vincent Ferrer and the Divided Papacy by Fr. Michael Keating, published online at Crisis Magazine on April 4, 2013.

Caleb, Joshua, and Relentless Hope

My husband and I were invited by the parents of our son Caleb’s best friend to a Passover Seder in late March. Our hosts, who are “cultural” Jews, asked each person to prepare a reflection to read at the table. Most of the guests chose to talk about current and historical events in the United States. I decided to explore the theme of faith in God’s promises in the Old Testament.

Abby and Bob, we’re all friends through Cooper and Caleb’s wonderful friendship. So, it seemed appropriate to me tonight to tell a story that’s linked to Passover, but also explains why we named our son “Caleb.”

Here’s a quick story about that hero of Hebrew history, CALEB.

After the Hebrews had been freed from slavery in Egypt, God promised them the land of Canaan.

The Promised Land had fertile fields, lots of fruit trees, but more important it was a place to call home.

The Hebrews so wanted to rest in that beautiful place after all those years of slave labor and humiliation.

But they began to wonder if they were perhaps dreaming. . . .

Wasn’t this promise just a bit too good to be true?

Could it be a figment of their desperate imaginations—like a mirage in the desert that shows a pool of water that’s not really there?

So Moses sent 12 of his leaders, they were really “lookouts,” or spies, representing each of the 12 tribes of Israel, into Canaan to get the “lay of the land.”

Moses wanted to know . . . What were the coordinates over there in Canaan? What were they up against? Could they realistically take possession of this place?

Well, the spies did what Moses asked. They went to Canaan, scoped out the territory, and came back to Moses with their report.

THUMBS DOWN, many of them said.

No way could the Hebrew army overtake Canaan. The Hebrew army was just too small and too weak.  Some of the people in Canaan were giants, and they’d crush the Hebrews underfoot.

But not everyone said thumbs down. . . . Two of  the spies—Caleb and Joshua—came back and said THUMBS UP.

They said the Hebrew nation would get this job done. They could vanquish their enemy, overcome the challenges, and the Promised Land would be theirs.

Even though what they had seen with their eyes and heard with their ears was not entirely encouraging, they had relentless hope. And faith in the promise God had made.

The 12 tribes of Israel decided to take a vote, and Caleb and Joshua were voted down 10 to 2. Not even close.

So the group backed off from the idea of entering the Promised Land.

But it’s interesting to see how things ended up for the Hebrew people. . . . Not what you’d expect . . .

As the story goes, God got pretty angry with the Hebrews who had no hope.

During the 40 years in the desert, most of the Hebrews died.  Those who thought they were protecting their families by not sticking their necks out too far, by not taking action to realize a promise—in short, those who wanted all their ducks in a row as a defense against a future they thought held very little hope for them—those were the ones who did not survive.

Their strategy of self-preservation completely backfired and ended up in self-destruction.

The only two adults in the story whom God allowed to make it through the desert and into the Promised Land were . . . CALEB AND JOSHUA. . . .

So the guys who had the perseverance, the ones who decided to be relentlessly hopeful—those were the ones who made it through.

Like those ancient Hebrews, it seems every single person I know is anxious—really anxious—about the future. And from what we can see with our eyes and hear with our ears, it looks pretty challenging out there.

Will our children get a job at a time when there aren’t many jobs around? Will they be able to afford an apartment or a house? In 20 years, will they be able to drink water that’s safe and unpolluted?

This keeps me up at night, and it is so, so tempting to retreat like the Hebrews.

That’s why I’ve been thinking a lot these past few days about Caleb and Joshua. They said YES, we can do this, and we’ll find a way to do this. And it seems the scriptures are telling us that hope actually WORKS. It’s essential to improving things.

I love positive people; I instantly feel better about life when I’m around them. Hope has a way of spreading from person to person, like viral messages in cyberspace.

That’s why dictators around the world—who are our new Pharaohs—fear the Internet so much. Cyber-messaging has the ability to ignite hope instantly among thousands of people that there is a chance for freedom, that they are not alone.

Hope, when it spreads from person to person, can move events and change the world.

So, this Passover, let’s remember Caleb and Joshua.

mrs. Christine Tansey, O.P.

Three things concerning the Passion of the Lord

WE ought to consider three things concerning the Passion of the Lord — firstly, its nature; secondly, its power; thirdly, its benefit.

I. On the first head it is to be noted, that the Passion of Christ was very bitter for three reasons — (1) On account of the goodness of Him suffering. (2) On account of the indignity of His Passion. (3) On account of the cruelty of those carrying out the sentence. The goodness of Him suffering is manifest from three circumstances — Firstly, because He harmed no one: 1 S. Peter ii. 22, “Who did no sin.” Secondly, because He most patiently sustained the injuries laid upon Him: 1 S. Peter ii. 23, “Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again;” Jer. xi. 19, “I was like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter.” Thirdly, He was doing good to all: Acts x. 38, “Who went about doing good;” S. John x. 32, “Many good works have I shewed you from My Father.” The indignity of His Death is manifest from three things — Firstly, he was judged, which was the most wicked of all: S. Luke xxiii. 21, “But they cried, saying, Crucify Him, crucify Him.” Secondly, because of the many indignities which He suffered: S. Matt, xxvii. 27-30, “Gathered unto Him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped Him, and put on Him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head, and a reed in His right hand ….. And they spit upon Him.” Thirdly, because He was condemned to a most shameful death: Wisd. ii. 20, “Let us condemn Him to a most shameful death.” The cruelty of those who crucified Him is seen from three things — Firstly, very cruelly flagellated Him before death: S. Matt, xxvii. 26, “When he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.” Secondly, in giving Him at the point of death vinegar and hyssop to drink: S. John xix. 29, “They filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to His mouth;” Ps. Ixix., “In My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink.” Thirdly, in wounding Him even after death: S. John xix. 34, “One of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side.”

II. On the second head it is to be noted, that the power of His Passion appeared in three things — (1) In heaven; it took away the light from it, S. Luke xxiii. 44, 45, “There was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened.” (2) In earth, for it trembled, S. Matt, xxvii. 51, “The earth did quake and the rocks rent.” (3) In Hades, who delivered up its dead, S. Matt, xxvii. 52, “Many bodies of the Saints which slept arose.” The heavens declare the power of the Passion of Christ; the earth proclaims it; Hades announced it. Phil. ii. 8, 9, “Obedient unto death ….. That at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.”

III. On the third head it is to be noted, that the benefit of the Passion extended to inhabitants of heaven, earth, and hell. By the Passion of Christ the heavenly ones were recruited; earthly men were liberated from the hand of the Devil; and the holy fathers who were in Hades, were delivered from that place. Of the first, Coloss. i. 20, “To reconcile all things unto Himself by Him, whether things in earth or things in heaven.” Of the second, S. John xii, 31, “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the princes of this world be cast out;” Coloss. ii. 15, “Having spoiled principalities and powers.” Of the third, Zech. ix. 11, “I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.”

-St. Thomas Aquinas, Lenten Homily #12

A thought on suffering

We can if, in each personal suffering and in those of others, we recognize a shadow of his infinite suffering, an aspect, an expression of his.  Then, each time this suffering shows itself, we do not distance ourselves from it, but accept it fully as if we were accepting him.  Forgetting ourselves, we cast our whole being into what God asks of us in the present moment, in the neighbor he places before us, motivated only by love.  Then, very often we will see our suffering vanish as if by some magic, and only love remains in the soul.

Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, Testimony of Hope, pg 93.


Reflection for fourth week of Lent

Even a person minimally versed in Scripture will recognize the parable of the Prodigal Son. The terms “prodigal son” or “prodigal daughter” are part of daily parlance. Once when I returned late from a college party my mother was sitting up waiting. As I closed the door behind me she said, “The prodigal son has returned.” See what I mean? Of course such familiarity with biblical stories is not always advantageous since the familiar might just evoke the same response we made when last we approached the text. “What’s new?” It’s the question the preacher wrestles with this Sunday as we ponder the parable of the Prodigal Son. If the Word of God is always fresh bread then, potentially, everything is new.

Speaking of bread, before we go on, let’s look at our first reading. It’s about the cessation of one form of bread and the beginning of another. In Joshua we read that the Israelites are completing their arduous and long journey under God’s guidance; they came out of Egypt and spent 40 years on their wilderness journey. They have finally crossed the Jordan and entered the Promise Land. They have left the land of Egypt and can now claim the land of Canaan. In the new land they finally eat “the produce of the land.” No longer would food be scarce when they had to rely on the daily manna God provided for them. Now the land would produce more than enough to satisfy the people.

There is a danger in that, isn’t there? During the hard times they had to learn to trust that God would take care of them. It was a daily act of trust because each day the manna had to come anew. Now, in the Promise Land, they could care for themselves – or so it would seem – planting, harvesting and shepherding. It’s a danger for us too. No one wants hard times, but for the believer who learns to lean on God each day, difficult times can teach us trust. In good times, we risk forgetting God.

Whatever sins the people committed in the desert, especially their disloyalty to God and the temptation to turn to other gods, would now be forgiven. As our Psalm says, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” The manna may have ceased, but God is still providing the daily bread of forgiveness.

The Israelites, like our parable’s younger son, wandered in the wilderness and lost their way. God takes them back after their infidelities and declares to them, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” While, in the parable, it is the father who rescues and redeems his son from his past wanderings. “He was lost and has been found.” The Israelites feast after God’s cleansing; the prodigal son enters the feast after his father’s words and embrace. Our Eucharistic feast today is our welcome back from wandering and our acceptance to the banquet.

The context for a parable can give us a clue to its meaning. The parable of the prodigal is one of the responses Jesus gives to his critics. The scribes and Pharisees have complained that he associates too closely with sinners. So, he responds with three parables about things lost and found. However, they are not repetitious: the first two are about lost things which, when found, are cause for rejoicing – the lost sheep (15:1-7) and a lost coin (8-10). Both parables link the findings with repentance, “In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (15:10).

The Prodigal Son parable brings us into a household under stress. This is a comfortable family with “issues.” There would be very few families in the congregation this weekend who wouldn’t be able to put a specific name of a family member, or someone from a friend’s family, in place of the wayward son in the parable.

Who hasn’t heard about a parent who helped a particularly needy or wayward child with financial assistance, only to cause rancor among the siblings, who claimed, “You’re wasting our inheritance on your no good son/daughter!” Parents will claim to love all their children, but if you were to ask, “Which one do you love the most?” – the response would sound like a version of today’s parable, “The one who needs me the most.”

The atmosphere in the parable is complicated from the beginning, when the younger son asks for part of the inheritance. The nerve! It was as if he couldn’t wait for his father’s death so that he could get his hands on some money. Those of us listening to the parable would want to interrupt to tell the father, “Don’t be such a foolish old man! Don’t waste your hard-earned money on that ne’er-do-well son of yours!”

But there’s no stopping this father, he’s going to go ahead and risk his property and reputation on this irresponsible son. Imagine what the father’s associates, family and townspeople would say about his reckless generosity. What will happen to his standing in the community? The father has risked more than his money on the boy.

God could be accused of a similar foolish risk. God is taking a big chance on us by generously giving us: our faith, talents, other people and the created world. We do tend to go off on our own, into a “distant country,” forgetting our connection to God; focusing more on what we have been given and less on gratitude to the Giver; using and spending as if all we are given is just for our sole use.

“In coming to his senses,” the conniving boy hatches a plan to fill his belly and so, once more, he goes to his father for help. Forget whatever notions we might have about how the father should teach the boy a lesson or two for his reckless behavior before taking him back. The father puts all his dignity, as head of the household aside, to rush out to welcome his son home. He even cuts the son off before he can finish his rehearsed speech of contrition.

While we might like to interject some words of wisdom on good parenting to the father, this isn’t a lesson on how to raise children. It’s a parable about how it is between us and God. The first two of these three parables were about repentance, but the emphasis in this parable is less on the son’s repentance. It doesn’t say he was sorry for taking advantage of his father, rather he “came to his senses” – an ambiguous description.

It’s a story of grace. Forgiveness does not rely on the son’s doing acts of penance and reparation. Nor did he have to confess his contrition and plans for reform with a properly worded speech. What got the boy’s welcome and his re-installment back into the heart of the family (symbolized by “the finest robe… a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet”) were the embrace and words of the father. Who gets a welcome, or welcome-back, into God’s kingdom? Judging from the dynamics of this parable, anyone who even dares approach and hope for a reception.

The older brother didn’t appear to be a “lost sheep or lost coin” – not the way his younger brother was. Still, the older, like the younger son, was a lost child as well. He reasons the way we do: he did the work, did not break the rules and stayed around while his brother went off. He is like a lot of us good church folk. But, while he did everything he was supposed to, he never appreciated the uniqueness of his father. He misinterpreted the world in which he lived: he did his work, but missed the grace of what it meant to live in his father’s house. “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.”

What we can say about the older son is that he gets it: he names how foolish and outrageous his father’s princely welcome is to his younger brother. He understands that the boy has done nothing, not even finish his apology, yet he receives a royal welcome home. What the father showed the younger son, he now offers, in a slightly different way, to the resentful brother. He doesn’t cast him off for his disrespect, but reaffirms their relationship by calling him, “My son,” reminding him that he is a member of the household – “everything I have is yours.”

We presume the younger son grabbed the opportunity to get back into the bosom of his family. We don’t know how the observant son responded. Will he also “come to his senses” and reenter the family home to join the feast and celebrate the gifts of his life? Will we?

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

What a Great Time to Evangelize! A Reflection

Greetings All:

The conclave is big news not only for Catholics but much of the world is fascinated with the whole affair. I’ve been approached by curious Protestants, agnostics and atheists alike with questions and opinions about the Popes abdication and its significance.

Some have strong opinions, others just want to know what we Catholics are thinking about the whole thing. Invariably, the conversations lead to discussions about Church history, governance, theology of the Papacy, inerrancy and infallibility, the power of the Holy Spirit, free will and sin.

This is a fantastic time for evangelization. We don’t even need to bring up the topic of the Church. It is the news de jour.

Case in point. Craig is a friend who has been a regular guest at our home for several years. He is a non-churched, non-practicing Methodist but still has strong faith and prays regularly. His pithy, cogent spiritual insights regularly remind me that God works wherever we are and with whomever he chooses.

I was a little bemused that Craig was so bothered that the Pope had resigned. He felt that the Pope was abandoning his post prematurely and that he had a duty to work until he died – just like all the other Popes in his lifetime.  He had been deeply moved by the heroic witness of John Paul the Great during his final months. During our talk, I realized that the Pope is not just a rock for Catholics but the Pontiff is a sign of holiness and stability to the whole world.

As recounted above, the conversation led to discussions ranging from the Magisterium and infallibility to Church history and theology and especially the power of the Holy Spirit to bring good out of bad. (We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. Rom 8:28)

Finally, I suggested to Craig that he needn’t take my word for any of it and invited him to come to Mass and see for himself. I was very pleasantly surprised when he responded, “Sure, why not?”

Even the sex scandals present opportunities to discuss sin, depravity and redemption.  Some of you know Herb N. a Southern Baptist attorney who visited with us many times, attended Mass and studied the Catechism – all after intense discussions about the scandal of pederast priests. I still recall how disappointed he was in the Church. He took it personally, as if the affront was to his own Church.  (Which it was, of course)

Herb has yet to convert – it is very difficult to give up a lifelong faith tradition, one in which you and your family and friends were raised and nurtured, baptized, married and buried. But Herb is now an apologist for the Catholic Church and he may yet swim the Tiber.

What I’ve learned and am learning is that personal evangelization depends as much on listening as it does talking – maybe more so. Don’t be afraid of challenging topics – they are actually opportunities for dialog. And finally, don’t push and never argue.  Consciously love the person and be sure to acknowledge the value and earnestness of their prayer life and their love for God. It is very important that we respect their views and opinions. We don’t need to agree with them but we do need to respect them. It helps me to remember that if they are baptized they are already members of the Church and loved by Jesus.


Steve Graves

St. Ambrose on the parable of the fig tree

Today’s gospel reading for the Third Week in Lent is taken from the 13th chapter of Luke’s Gospel and contains the parable of the barren fig tree.

And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. [So] cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down’” (Luke 13:6-9).

The following excerpt is taken from the Catena Aurea (i.e. The Golden Chain) and features St. Ambrose reflection on the above parable:

But our Lord sought, not because He was ignorant that the fig tree had no fruit, but that He might show in a figure that the synagogue ought by this time to have fruit. Lastly, from what follows, He teaches that He Himself came not before the time who came after three years. For so it is said, Then said he to the dresser of the vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none. He came to Abraham, He came to Moses, He came to Mary, that is, He came in the seal of the covenant, He came in the law, He came in the body. We recognise His coming by His gifts; at one time purification, at another sanctification, at another justification. Circumcision purified, the law sanctified, grace justified. The Jewish people then could not be purified because they had not the circumcision of the heart, but of the body; nor be sanctified, because ignorant of the meaning of the law, they followed carnal things rather than spiritual; nor justified, because not working repentance for the their offences, they knew nothing of grace. Rightly then was there no fruit found in the synagogue, and consequently it is ordered to be cut down; for it follows, Cut it down, why cumbers it the ground? But the merciful dresser, perhaps meaning him on whom the Church is founded, foreseeing that another would be sent to the Gentiles, but he himself to them who were of the circumcision, piously intercedes that it may not be cut off; trusting to his calling, that the Jewish people also might be saved through the Church. Hence it follows, And he answering said to him, Lord, let it alone this year also. He soon perceived hardness of bears and pride to be the causes of the barrenness of the Jews. He knew therefore how to discipline, who knew how to censure faults. Therefore adds He, till I shall dig about it. He promises that the hardness of their hearts shall be dug about by the Apostles’ spades, lest a heap of earth cover up and obscure the root of wisdom. And He adds, and dung it, that is, by the grace of humility, by which even the fig is thought to become fruitful toward the Gospel of Christ. Hence He adds, And if it bear fruit, well, that is, it shall be well, but if not, then after that you shall cut it down.

For other reflections from the Early Church Fathers on the same text, you can click here.

The Master of the Order writes to the Holy Father

Most Holy Father,

Screen Shot 2013-02-28 at 1.00.23 PMI ask you to accept the immense gratitude of the Order of Preachers for the great generosity and beautiful simplicity with which you have exercised your ministry, ‘a humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard’. The Brothers, Nuns, Apostolic Sisters, Lay Dominicans and the entire Dominican Family join me in assuring you of our communion in prayer and thanksgiving.

On several occasions during your ministry, in the course of your teaching, you evoked some great figures of holiness that God by His grace has given to the Order of Preachers. It was for us a strong invitation to draw anew and constantly from the source of the charism of St. Dominic.

When you did me the honor of receiving me, you insisted that the Order should deploy its rich tradition of “study and worship” and take its place in the “new evangelization” to which you have invited the Church in continuity with the Second Vatican Council. This reminder, I believe, provides us with the horizon in view of which we are preparing to celebrate, in 2016, the eighth centenary of the confirmation of the Order of Preachers.

I ask you to assist us with your prayers, that the Lord may grant us the grace always to seeks always to serve the Church and its unity, “totally committed to the evangelization of the Word of God” as it was expressed by Pope Honorius III.

fr. Bruno Cadoré, O.P., Master of the Order