Dear Christopher Friend,

 

Have you ever considered that a story from your life can change someone else’s life for the better? We believe it can, so we invite you to join us throughout the year of 2016 for Leadership in Mercy – Hope, a storytelling platform aimed at highlighting the many ways that people have been transformed by the call to bring mercy into the world. 

 

Attached you will find a write-up on Leadership in Mercy – Hope, which coincides with the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis. We hope you will take the time to learn about our program and share with friends and loved ones how everyone can get involved in spreading this powerful message of hope in our time.

 

If you’ve ever felt called to reach out to someone and found that in doing so, your life was immeasurably enriched; if you’ve ever found yourself in need of a helping hand and been met by the mercy of another; if you’ve ever witnessed or learned of profound acts of mercy that transformed people’s lives, we want to hear from you! 

 

Please share these life-changing stories with us via letter—or email them to mail@christophers.org. Also, encourage others to do the same so we can put a spotlight on the good news of God’s mercy at work in the world. 

 

Thank you for being a Christopher friend and for lighting candles in the darkness. May the healing presence of God’s mercy be with you and your loved ones throughout this jubilee year.

 

 

 

 


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The Christophers Present…

 Leadership in Mercy – Hope

      The Christophers are pleased to present a storytelling platform focused on leadership initiatives that answer God’s call to bring mercy into the world. We invite people of all backgrounds to submit stories of family, friends, and leaders in their midst as well as first-hand accounts of their own efforts to reach out to others in a spirit of mercy.

In a homily declaring the upcoming year an extraordinary Jubilee dedicated to mercy, Pope Francis said, “I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this Jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time.” 

Many of us have stories of being drawn deeper into the transformative power of mercy, whether through a kindness we have chosen to perform or the mercy others have shown us. These are the kinds of stories we seek to highlight in Leadership in Mercy – Hope, and they are stories the world needs to hear. 

We encourage everyone to take a bit of time to consider the stories of mercy in their midst and the people whose lives have been transformed by the call to service. We are particularly interested in the kind of small vignettes that shed light on the unexpected connections people make when they open their hearts to those in need. Everyone has a story to tell and we encourage people to spread the word about Leadership in Mercy – Hope, so we can all join together in spreading the good news of this Jubilee year for mercy!   

 

 


Jim Collins


Missionaries of the Poor

For the past two years, I have had the opportunity to travel to Kingston, Jamaica to live and work alongside the Missionaries of the Poor (MOP).  This experience has been transformational and has deepened my own faith.  The founder of the Missionaries of the Poor is Father Richard Ho Lung, who once said:  “The call to serve the poor is an invitation to happiness.”  These words become alive when you actually live the life of serving the poor, even for a short period of time.  In the following paragraphs, I would like to explain to youwho the Missionaries of the Poor are, who their founder, Father Richard Ho Lung, is, and share some of my own experiences working alongside the Missionaries of the Poor.

The Missionaries of the Poor is a religious order founded in 1981 and dedicated to "Joyful Service with Christ on the Cross" to serve the poorest of the poor. It was started in 1981 by Father Richard Ho Lung, O.J. in Kingston, Jamaica and has now grown to over 550 brothers from 13 countries and located in eight different countries.  In 1997, on the Feast of the Holy Rosary, the Missionaries of the Poor were formally recognized by the Vatican as a religious community.

One of the most striking characteristics of the life and works of MOP is the award-winning Caribbean-style Christian music that they produce. Most songs are written by Father Ho Lung and performed by Father Ho Lung & Friends.  The music generates revenue for the mission.

Fr. Richard Ho Lung is a Jamaican, born to Chinese parents in 1939. His father and mother were born in Hong Kong, but came over to Jamaica as immigrants.   His family was Buddhist but he ended up converting to Catholicism and later became a priest with the Jesuits. For a while, when he first became a priest, he served in Boston but always wanted to come back to serve the poorest of the poor in Jamaica.  This desire resulted in the formation of the Missionaries of the Poor in 1981.  His work and dedication to the poor have led many people to refer to him as the Mother Teresa of the Caribbean.  In addition to his music, he has written several books, including one entitled “Diary of a Ghetto Priest.”

To provide a little context on the people they serve, they are most often the poorest of the poor, and they often have no family, no one to care for them, are often developmentally or physically disabled and sometimes found literally abandoned in the gutters of Kingston.

My own experience in the Missionaries of the Poor began two years ago.  I went with a group of people from Our Lady Star of the Sea parish in Staten Island.    I am from Westchester County and a friend from Staten Island invited me to go with people from his parish and surrounding parishes.    

When you go to Kingston, it is not like anything you can imagine.  You see the poverty in the streets, the ramshackle homes and you immediately recognize that it is a very dangerous city when you notice homes surrounded by walls with barbed wire on top and a steel door guarding the entrance.     The Missionary of the Poor center is no exception.    Despite the surrounding community, inside the walls there is an oasis of carefully tended gardens and the building.  

While living at the mission, we lived the life of a Missionary.    We woke up at 5:30 a.m., had Mass, morning prayer and adoration.  This lasts about an hour and half.  The music at Mass was joyful and inspirational with a Caribbean flair.  The brothers’ reverence during Mass and prayer was inspiring.   After prayers, we ate breakfast then went to one of the six centers operated by the Missionaries of the Poor serving different populations of people.

I will not tell you that walking into the centers as a new person is filled with joy and an immediate transformation of heart.  For me it was a gradual softening of my heart, letting go of my busy life and doing things that I would have never ever imagined doing.    The first day I was there, we went to one of the centers called Faith Center. We were asked to bathe 12 men, many of whom were dying, some of them from AIDS.   While doing the bathing, almost every sense I had was overwhelmed.  Between the sight of the dying men, the smell, the sounds of the men when in pain as we gently tried to move them.   At the end of the day, I shared with one of my friends that this was not for me.   He encouraged me to stay.    With the encouragement of my friend and deciding to fully participate in the prayer life of the missionaries, I felt the Lord begin to work on me.  I no longer saw a sick and dying man that I was going to bathe, I saw Christ.  As each day went by, I was enthusiastically getting up, praying and ready to go out to the centers to serve.   We did various things, including shaving men, applying women’s nail polish, putting lotion on dry arms and legs, clipping finger nails and toe nails, and giving haircuts.  This happened at the different centers:  Faith Center, Lord’s Place, and Jacob’s Well.  It was amazing watching the people who were not only cared for by the brothers but by each other.   Everyone helped to the best of their capacity to make their home operate with the help of the volunteers and brothers. 

There were several memorable events on my visits.    I will share two in the paragraphs below: 

The first one was the story of Mr. Walters.  Mr. Walters was an elderly man who I helped care for and who passed away at the end of my week there.    I still recall how I found out that Mr. Walters passed away.  I saw one of the brothers who told me that the man I fed earlier in the week went home to Jesus.   He looked at me square in my eye and said, “When you go home to Jesus yourself, he will tell you, when I was hungry and sick you fed me.”  When I thought of the enormity of that statement, I felt as if Christ was talking to me himself.  He concluded with reminding me “that the poor knew you byname.”  I asked the brother, “What do they do once a resident dies?”  He looked at me and said, “We have a Mass and bury them ourselves.  Each one of them will leave us with the dignity they are entitled to.”

The second story I will share was getting to know the missionaries themselves.   The missionaries are from all over the world, and it was amazing to get to know them and witness their faith.  These men were focused on service and Christ. I enjoyed the dichotomy of my normal life and the life of the brothers.   I do remember one of the Brothers said “you came here to live the life of the Missionaries of the Poor so you need to live it as we do.” Once I let go of my life in the USA and began to pray and serve and pray again, my paradigm shifted.   My life in the USA is hectic, with a corporate and demanding job, three hours of commuting a day and commitments at home and community. Experiencing the life of a missionary for just a week made me realize I was not fully participating in the apostolic life.  I was surprised by how much I changed from wanting to leave on the first day to craving to be a part of that life, going back once again, and wanting to go back again.  Living without the distraction of emails, cell phones and televisions, and increased prayer certainly helped me to get to that point.    

My intent in sharing my story was not about me or what I experienced but more about the amazing journey of Father Richard Ho Lung, his co-founders and the brothers and sisters of the Missionaries of the Poor.   I realized while I was there, what would happen to the residents of the MOP if not for Father Richard Ho Lung having the courage to start his mission?   The outcome for the MOP residents would not be very promising. They live each day, being cared for, loved and in community.

After my first time in Jamaica last year, I reflected on something I heard at Mass while in Jamaica. The priest said, “Sometimes Jesus Disrupts Us.” We were certainly disrupted during this trip, and Father Richard Ho Lung was disrupted when he chose to serve the poorest of the poor in his hometown of Kingston, Jamaica.

I never could have imagined what I saw and did but Jesus prepares us each step of the way. Putting his statement about Jesus disrupting us into context, the priest added, “If you allow Jesus to disrupt you, what makes you a little nervous no longer does.”We lived like the poor, fed and cared for them and now what seemed impossible is now possible. If Jesus disrupts you, do not be afraid.  He will mold you, and shape you and bring you closer to him.

 

 

 

 


Feast of the Immaculate Conception

           "When we began The Christopher Leadership Course, the idea behind it was to get more people to become Christ-bearers. As Father Keller said - you don't have to be a foreign missionary to bring Christ to others; you can be a carrier of Christ right where you live and work. It's one thing to be an idealist, but quite another to be effective in leading people to move beyond their comfort zones. Helping  to make this a better world takes blood, sweat & tears.

           Teaching leadership skills is a work of mercy; it is our way of helping people to make a difference.

           I was once very timid, and not at all inclined to tell anyone what to do. For me, urging others to do more than they felt like doing was a no-no. But a grace hit me: Jesus did exactly that: "What you do for the least of My brethren you do for Me."

           These words were a call to action. Once I saw Christ in my weakest neighbor, it made a huge difference in how I responded to him or her.

           The corporal works of mercy are holy acts: "feed  the hungry, clothe the naked.” So are the spiritual works of mercy: "admonish the sinner, counsel the doubtful," etc. Pope Francis recently said that even acts which aim at protecting and defending the public from terrorist attacks are truly works of mercy. You can begin along those lines by supporting all law enforcement officers.

           Be brave, and be joyful - for you are called to be holy.

           I wish you God's choicest blessings in the days ahead. May the Lord be your strength and your joy as you help change the world for the better.


Sincerely in Christ,
Father John Catoir

 

 


To Sister Cecilia with Love and Gratitude,

          We want to go tell it on the mountain and proclaim our gratitude and love to Sister Cecilia of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who is leaving Manhattan and the Welcome Table at Saint Francis Xavier where she has spread bounteous joy for twenty-three years to the guests and everyone around her! 

           Braving storms and heat waves 89 year old Sister Cecilia would always be there with that twinkle in her eye, radiant smile and just the right caring word... all emanating from a goodness so vast and loving that the Grand Canyon couldnʼt hold it all!

           On the two long tables near the exit Sister Cecilia created just the banquet table Jesus would have planned! Something for Everyone..the sick,children,spanish,troubled, desperate; all searching for that sign of hope and grace which she gave them. There were Christopher News Notes, Our Daily Breads,The Troubled Mind,small,readable books by Norman Vincent Peale, Itʼs Not Fair, Trusting God When Life Doesnʼt Make Sense; bright slinkies adorning colored cards with wise messages for us to choose from (in spanish also). Beautiful photos of nature and animals to brighten up peopleʼs lives, rosaries, prayer, birthday and thinking of you cards and ones with God Bless You on them and a smiley face so that you might place them in your pocket close to your heart! When Sister Cecilia wasnʼt there,which was rare, we felt it and missed her! Everyone blessed to have been in her presence felt strengthened and that much closer to God! 

           Thank you Sister Cecilia for everything that you have done! Even if you arenʼhere, your spirit will be! Fortunately, the Bronx isnʼt too far away so we are ever hopeful that the angel of the St. Francis Xavier soup kitchen will grace us with a visit, with grateful love!

 

- Bettina Ridley

 

 

           Last year, I covered a story for Narratively on the topic of Native American inculturation within the Catholic faith. My journey began at the National Shrine to Saint Kateri Tekakwitha in Fonda, New York, and took me to the 75th annual Tekakwitha Conference in Fargo, North Dakota. Along the way, I had the opportunity to venture to the Mohawk Nation territory of Akwesasne, a 33 square-mile reservation occupying both sides of the Saint Lawrence River in northern New York State and Canada.

There, I met Orlo Ransom, an ironworker who fell two stories in 1985 while on the job in New York City. He broke his back in two places, broke four ribs and fractured his skull, and the doctors said he needed to undergo a risky surgery to have any hope of walking again.

Orlo’s wife, Alma, a former chief of the Akwesasne government, says, “There were 4,000 Mohawk ironworkers in New York City at the time, and large numbers of them lined up in the hallway of the hospital while he was in intensive care, waiting to see if he needed anything, a blood transfusion or anything else.”

“I got more visitors than the governor,” Orlo says.

Fearful of what this surgery would do to him, they refused the operation, turning instead to Saint Kateri. And Orlo astonished doctors with his slow yet steady recovery. He lost three inches in height but walked again, and he retained a sharp mind into old age, a gift for which Alma offers special thanks to the Creator. She highlights that prayers of thanksgiving are the traditional Mohawk way of communicating with God, and even during those trying times they constantly gave thanks for the gifts bestowed upon them.

Alma went on to become a vocal leader in Kateri’s cause for canonization, and in 2012 she and Orlo joined with several hundred Mohawk people to attend the canonization ceremony in Rome. Many of those present had their own stories of faith and healing, and the piece I eventually wrote touched on one such intercession within the context of exploring the practice of blending indigenous spirituality into the rituals of Catholicism.

Regarding Kateri’s relation to Mohawk culture, Alma says, “She was a strong Mohawk woman. Just because she became Catholic doesn’t mean she stopped being Mohawk.” For this reason, Kateri is a symbol in the Native American Catholic effort to remain connected to the profound truths expressed within the spirituality of their ancestors.

Orlo and Alma’s prayers of thanksgiving to the Creator even in dark times answer the call found in both Mohawk and Catholic spirituality to express gratitude to God regardless of the circumstances, and the leadership they have shown throughout their lives remains a beacon of light along the road of Native American Catholic inculturation.

 

– Garan Santicola

Here’s a link to the story I wrote: http://narrative.ly/stories/where-sunday-mass-is-in-mohawk/. Alma is featured in one of the photos, wearing the same regalia she wore during the canonization ceremony of Saint Kateri.

 

 

 

 

Rev. Richard (Rick) Curry, S.J., founder and director of the National Theater Workshop of the Handicapped, the Wounded Warriors Writers Workshop, and the Academy for Veterans, passed away on December 19 at the age of 72. Born without a right forearm, he took acting classes when he was six years old, and, as Sam Roberts writes in The New York Times, “He embraced stagecraft as his vehicle to overcome what others viewed as a handicap.”

            In a news release in Jesuit.org, his friend Rev. James Martin, S.J., retells a story Father Rick once shared with him about his childhood. When he was in first grade in Philadelphia, the reliquary containing St. Francis Xavier’s right forearm was displayed for veneration in the archdiocese’s Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul. The famous relic of the arm that St. Francis used to baptize 300,000 people and that Jesuit Superior General Claudio Acquaviva had detached in 1614 was on tour from its domicile in the Church of the Gesu in Rome, the Jesuit Mother Church. Rick’s mother arranged for him to visit and kiss the reliquary in hope for a miracle to restore his right forearm. His family, friends, and classmates prayed fervently for the miracle, but Rick himself was not expecting a miracle, and none occurred. All were depressed at the outcome except Rick and his sister Denise, who said to him, “I’m so happy that nothing happened because I like you the way you are.”

            Curry joined the Jesuits after high school and earned degrees in English and theater and, eventually, a doctorate in educational theater from New York University. He remained a brother in the Jesuit order until the age of sixty-six, when the Vatican granted a dispensation for him to become a priest despite canon law’s requirement of two hands to celebrate Mass.

            He was called to the priesthood after a profound encounter with a triple amputee who came to him for spiritual counseling and asked for absolution. Curry recounts the story in an article written about him in Saint Joseph’s University Magazine: “I explained that I was a brother and had never been called to be a priest. He asked, ‘What do you mean? Who has to call you?’ I said, ‘God or the Christian community.’ He replied, ‘Well, then, I’m calling you. I want you to be a priest.’ “

            In a 2011 interview for the theater journal Ecumenica, Father Curry tells of how his call to empower others with disabilities through theater workshops expanded to the veteran community, saying, “By teaching these vets dramatic monologue, it opens them up…. We teach them to think about what happens in drama. It forces them to put names on what they are feeling. Then people can work with them on PTSD.”

            Talking about his journey to defy the odds throughout his life, Curry said, “It’s funny. At six, because of my arm, I was told I could not be a soldier. I could not be a priest. I could not be a doctor. Well, I have a doctorate, I’m a priest and I’m working with the military. I think that’s proof that it’s not smart to circumscribe God.”

            A friend of The Christopohers, Father Curry remains in our prayers, and we pray that he continues to intercede on behalf of the wounded and disabled, guiding them towards healing and wholeness on their journey to God.

 

 

 

 

 One of my first assignments as a journalist was to cover the story surrounding an art exhibit featuring the work of landscape painters Athena Billias, Patti Ferrara, and Carol Slutzky-Tenerowicz. Featured alongside their work was the work of their mentor, Thomas Locker, who had passed away the year before. A student of the Old Masters, Locker once won a Christopher Award for his work in fine art children’s books. Later in life, he devoted his time to sharing his technique with other painters and to painting Kaaterskill
Clove.
    

The Clove, as it is commonly called, is a deep and narrow gorge that cuts its way from the northern Catskill Mountains into the Hudson River Valley. Red-rock walls rise up in places and then disappear into sharply ascending and heavily wooded cliffs. Kaaterskill Falls, a two-drop waterfall, tumbles off a ledge at the top and runs into a creek that winds its way down through the gorge. The rugged beauty of The Clove inspired some of the first truly American art in those who came to be known as Hudson River School painters.

Credited with reviving the Hudson River School tradition during his lifetime, Locker was profoundly saddened over the desecration of The Clove by visitors to its hiking trails, swimming holes, and waterfalls, some of whom have been known to leave garbage strewn around its pristine landscape. Even graffiti has been scrawled across the red-rock walls of the canyon.  

In a pamphlet he once prepared for his students about his process, Locker promoted a study of the techniques of the Old Masters, but he also encouraged landscape painters to explore a new vision to help redefine mankind’s relationship with nature, writing, “Perhaps painting might play a role in the preservation of the beauty of the world.”

Taking inspiration from this idea, Athena, Patti, and Carol displayed their Clove-themed work alongside Locker’s in an attempt to raise awareness about the importance of Kaaterskill Clove to the history of American art, and in so doing, they helped awaken the public to the need for conservation.

In his final book, “The Clove: An Artist’s Paradise,” which was a mere pamphlet Locker prepared to accompany an exhibition, he explores the mysteries underpinning The Clove’s significance to naturalistic painters and gives voice to legendary Hudson River School painters of old, echoing their call from bygone days to preserve this most unique American landscape.

Locker’s widow, Candace Christiansen, with whom he raised nine children, recounted for me a grueling hike he took into The Clove towards the end of his life. “I really didn’t think he was going to make it,” she said. “He could only walk a short distance at a time before he had to stop and rest, and when we neared the top, he kept telling me to go ahead of him and count off ten paces. Then he would walk that distance to me and rest.”  

Locker was whisked away from work on his final canvas for an emergency trip to the hospital on February 28, 2012 and he died on March 9 of that year. Christiansen approached him on his deathbed after being told by doctors that he should not leave the hospital. “Tom,” she said, “I would love to take you home, but the doctors say that it’s really best you remain here.” And Locker responded, “But I am home.” Then he added, “I’m in the Clove.”

That summer, Christiansen and two of Locker’s sons brought his ashes to the top of Kaaterskill Falls and scattered them towards a place where he used to paint beside the water.

 

– Garan Santicola

 

 

 

            The Christophers celebrate the leadership of all who are involved in prison ministry across the country. We are proud to support your work through the donation of our Christopher materials, and it is always heartening to hear from those on the front lines of this important outreach. Deacon Peter Andre, Director of Prison Ministry for the Diocese of Saint Petersburg, Florida, recently wrote:

                        “Over the years, our volunteers have shared with us what the generosity of

                        your gifts mean to the men and women at the prisons! Even a small item

                        such as a prayer card – can make such a great difference in their lives.”

 

            Deacon Peter goes on to describe Christmas day at their Pinellas Hope and Pinellas Safe Harbor shelters. Father Tom Tobin celebrated mass at both facilities, where the vast majority of attendees were former prisoners. Everyone received a Christophers’ bookmark and a gift-wrapped Three Minutes a Day book. Deacon Peter wrote:

                        “We could not have done this without you! May God bless you for your

                        compassionate generosity and may your New Year be one of good health,

                        safety, happiness and prosperity; both spiritual and temporal.”

 

            God bless you, Deacon Peter, and all who reach out to those on the margins of society. Your work embodies the mercy each and every one of us is called to in our daily lives. We pray that during this special Jubilee Year of Mercy, your spirits are enriched with the grace of God to continue this mission of hope to those in need.  

 

 

 

 

           In a recent communication with us, Father John Catoir, former Director of The Christophers, offered a brief reflection on the leadership of our founder, Father James Keller, M.M. Talking about Father Keller’s 10 Reminders for a Christopher, Father Catoir writes:

In my opinion the very first is the most important. Learn to

depend on God's strength. Pride goes before the fall because it

leads to self-centeredness. God is the only one with real power,

the wise person relies on Divine Strength. With God's help all

things are possible. May The Lord be your strength and your joy.

 

            Father Keller’s 10 Reminders for a Christopher are:

                        1) Depend more on God, less on self.

                        2) Share the truth, don’t hoard it.

                        3) Be world minded, not local minded.

                        4) Go among people, don’t avoid them.

                        5) Push on, don’t stand still.

                        6) Aim to serve, not to be served.

                        7) Be gentle, don’t hurt.

                        8) Submit ideas, don’t impose them.

                        9) Better to be optimistic than pessimistic.

                      10) Cheer, don’t depress.

            In his 10 Reminders, we find the essence of Father Keller’s simple yet profound Gospel-based message, and this wisdom can guide us on our journey to become the leaders God wants us to be.

Upon realizing we are called to make a positive difference in the world, we are faced with the question of how best to share the truth in our hearts. Remembering the call to service at the heart of the Christian message is a good place to start. When our efforts are geared towards contributing all we can to the happiness of those around us, we focus on lifting people up in ways God is opening for them. This is true leadership in mercy, and it is the approach we are called to renew in our lives in a special way during this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy in the Church.

As Father Catoir says, “The wise person relies on Divine Strength;” and when we know how to look for that strength and lean on it, we will have the wisdom to remain connected to God even in the most trying times. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, God says to Saint Paul, “My Grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Divine Strength is not found in worldly power but in our connection to Christ on the cross. This connection can guide us to better understand the suffering of others and show us how to make a positive difference in their lives. This is the kind of leadership in mercy we are called to renew throughout this jubilee year, and we know that Christophers around the world will respond to that call in their own unique ways so that our light shines brightly for all to see. 

 

 

 

 

 

 My wife had a medical conference in Philadelphia in February, 2015.  I tagged along with her and while she was attending the conference one day, I was walking around the area, taking in the sights, etc..  It was a bitterly cold day, one where the wind (which was blowing hard at times) would cut right through you.  As I contemplated what to have for lunch, I noticed a homeless man sitting on top of a sidewalk level grate trying to catch as much heat coming through the grate as possible.

              I walked across the street to order my lunch and while standing in line trying to decide what to get, I knew I had to get something for that man as well.  I kept looking out of the window to make sure he didn't leave that corner and while doing so, a woman who was also waiting for her meal must have seen the same man.  She asked if I was looking at him and I told her "yes".  She asked if I would give the man some money that she wanted to give to him and I told her I would be happy to do that.  She gave me a $20 bill and I knew the man would be quite happy to receive that.

 After receiving my meal as well as what I ordered for this man, I proceeded back to that corner and got down on my knees to give him the food.  I asked him if he had anything to eat that day and he told me that he did.......a banana, which he said he broke in half and gave some to a friend.  I then gave him the food that I ordered for him, along with a large cup of coffee and the money that the woman had given to me for him.  He proceeded to ask me what my name was and I told him "Jeff".  He then said "Jeff, I'm going to pray for you".  I was immediately taken aback by his statement then I asked what his name was and he told me it was "Gary".  I said "Gary, we're going to be praying for each other then".  I then asked him to promise me that he would try to find a warm place for the night and he said it would be difficult but that he would try.  As I was leaving, I said "God Bless You Gary" and he had a huge smile on his face.

 As I was walking away from this man, someone came up to me and said that they had seen what I had done.  I told him that it's very easy to do and if you're able to do it, just do it.

 You'd think that would be the end of my story.  When I returned home, I was retelling this story to my parish priest and he put a much different spin on it for me and because of what he said, it will help me to never forget "Gary".  He said that in many cases, homeless people only have a very few possessions and that he gave two of them to me.  He gave me his name (Gary) and his faith (by telling me that he was going to pray for me).  I am eternally grateful to him for allowing me to think of that encounter in a much, much different way.

 I am ever mindful of those who are not as fortunate as I am and I try to help whenever I can.  I know that by the grace of God we all may be just a few short steps away from being in a much harder life situation than what we may be today so I try my best to fully appreciate who I am, what I have and what I can do for others.

 

Best Regards,

Jeff Daws

  

 

 

The Witness of a Junebug
By Martha Smolka,

Holy Cross Parish, Youngwood, Pennsylvania

              Twenty years ago I started participating in weekend retreats at Saint Emma Retreat House in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. I found this to be a very rewarding experience. The first weekend retreats were with women from my church. Later, I would find other times when I would just register for a weekend retreat of my own.

            As time went on, I decided I wanted to register for a weekend silent retreat. The people who knew me felt I could never do this. However, I registered for the retreat, I found this to be an even greater rewarding experience. I was discovering God in a way I had not experienced Him before.

           My desire to grow in a spiritual way was coming alive within me. I found peace when I attended the retreats. The next goal was to attend a five-day silent retreat. When Saint Emma Retreat House sent their schedule for retreats for 2006, I knew this was the time I had been waiting for. This would be the year for my five-day silent retreat!

           The retreat was to start on the twenty-first of May. What a God-incident, my birthday, a gift to self to spend time away with God! I was very excited. I blocked the time off on my calendar. I didn’t want to schedule anything to interfere with this special time.

           I arrived at Saint Emma Retreat House and registered. The retreat started with the evening meal. Our retreat master was Father Thomas Acklin, OSB, from Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Dinner was followed by the celebration of Holy Mass.  Following the Mass Fr. Thomas asked us if we would like to have Eucharistic Adoration around the clock throughout the retreat. He reminded us that God would be in our presence during Eucharistic Adoration and would speak to us in many ways. We would probably not hear bells and whistles but being in God’s presence we would be still and listen.

           I had not been part of a retreat before where the Eucharist was exposed twenty-four hours a day throughout the retreat. This was so special. I would awaken during the night and go to the Chapel. Someone was always in attendance. It was so beautiful to see so many people wanting to spend time with the Lord.

           On Thursday evening, the last night of the retreat, I went to the Chapel to spend some time in prayer. Father Tom had shared with us in one of his talks what to do if we were distracted by thoughts during adoration. He told us to just refocus on Jesus and the Eucharist.

          Thursday had been a very warm day and the opened windows in the Fatima Chapel were without screens. As the evening progressed and the lights were turned on, it attracted many different bugs. The one bug in particular became very distracting. It was a June bug. It came flying at my head. I swatted it with my hand. It landed on its back on the pew in front of me. It was moving around on its back with six or more legs struggling to right itself to its feet while making a funny noise. I have never had a fondness for June bugs and thought they would die if they can’t return to their feet. I’m not quite sure why I thought this.

           At this point in time, I realized that I had been distracted. The purpose of being in the Chapel was for focusing on Jesus in the Eucharist; not focusing on a June bug. Immediately my focus returned to the Eucharist.

           I don’t know how long I was in adoration of the Eucharist, but eventually my eyes were drawn back to the June bug. It had righted itself and was slowly moving on. At this point in time there were the words God spoke to me, “Martha, for many years you were like this June bug. You struggled and were not able to move forward. However, when you started to focus on me you were, through my grace, able to right yourself and make progress.” Wow! Words of wisdom came through loud and clear.

           The next morning when I met with Father Tom, I shared my experience in the Chapel with him. I shared my concept that a June bug will die if it can’t return to its feet. He smiled and reminded me that people can die emotionally and spiritually when God is not part of their lives. He reminded me that it was God who had been with me through the many struggles. He had provided the people and the help I needed to bring to my awareness the One who was to be the focus of my life, Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God! I have through God’s grace, righted myself to move forward in my spiritual life!

 

 

Parallels Between Palm Sunday and a Green Meadows Visit: Sitio- I Thirst

          At the prompting of my mother, also a resident at Green Meadows nursing home, I visited Loretta Schrum, age ninety-one and ailing, near death, who happens to have been born on the same date as I, November twenty-second. She was happy to see me since I often spoke with her in the past. Yesterday she was bedridden but no one was at her bedside and so I stopped in.

          The first thing she asked for was “water,” not the stale water on her night table but a clean fresh glass that I promptly delivered. Then she asked me for a “kiss” which I gladly supplied. Then she took my “hand” and wouldn’t let go; she still has a strong grip. The whole ritual reminded me of Mt: 25, “Whoever offers food, drink, clothing and visits to others in need” shall inherit the kingdom.”

          I stopped to minister to Loretta but she really ministered to me. I did eventually give her my blessing for which she was thankful, smiling through her pain. Later on in the day when I rethought my whole visit, tears streamed down my face. I was feeling something again. Perhaps the musical I saw the evening before called Celebrate helped revive my drooping spirit and put me in touch with my feelings again.

          When I read through the Palm Sunday liturgy again, I noticed how short words such as “oil, water, jar, table and friends” were so meaningful in Jesus’ life and ministry and now in my own.

 - From Brother Benedict Janecko, O.S.B.

A Benedictine brother of over fifty years at the Archabbey of St. Vincent in Latrobe, Pennslyvania.

 

 

 

How Grace Changed My World  
By Father John Catoir

            Our planet needs hope and joy. It needs what you have to give. Each of us must try to find a way to help others find encouragement and inspiration in this darkened world. When these insights hit me; and I concluded that one person can make a difference, it changed everything.

            In 1977, I received word that a Catholic multi-media organization, The Christophers, was searching for a new director. My heart leapt. I had admired their recently deceased founder, Father James Keller, ever since my father gave me his book, “You Can Change the World” on my 18th birthday.

            The Christophers, a non-profit corporation, had two components: a radio & television production company, and a publishing house, which produced spiritual books and pamphlets. Communications was at the heart of their mission. Getting a job like that would be a dream come true. In college, I joined the Radio Station at Fordham, WFUV, hoping to prepare myself for a career in the media, but after I decided to be a priest all that changed. I put away those dreams and considered them to be a youthful fantasy.

            I was working as a pastor, and running the Marriage Tribunal of the Diocese of Paterson, and had no experience running a media organization. Why even bother to apply? I also felt unworthy to be Father Keller’s successor. Doubts like that killed my enthusiasm.

            Three weeks later a burst of energy hit me. I suddenly thought, “What have you got to lose?” I decided to write a letter to the Christopher Board of Directors applying for the position. This surprising shot of courage took over before I had a chance to question it. Looking back, I now see that God’s grace led me to act.

            St. Thomas Aquinas defined actual grace as “a light to the mind or an impulse to the will.” Without taking our freedom away, God influences us to see something more clearly, or to take some action we had once been afraid of taking. When I realized that the only thing holding me back from applying for the job was my fear of being rejected, I moved quickly. God’s grace spurred me on to follow this new surge of purpose and direction.

            It is extremely important for everyone to see the connection between the graces we receive in life, and the hidden hand of God. Fear and insecurity can never be allowed to prevail over the noble desires of the human heart.

            It took one year from the time I applied for the job, until the board actually chose me to be their new Director. I was both flabbergasted and jubilant. During my time as director, which lasted nearly 18 years, I devoted myself to recording radio spots, which were syndicated nationally, doing television interviews, writing books and articles, and running an office with 50 employees.

            Bringing the Christopher message to millions was a profound joy. To this inspiration, I added the theme that Jesus proclaimed in John 15:11, “I have told you all these things that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete. St. Francis de Sales embellished it in this way, “A sad saint is a sorry saint.” Pope John Paul II confirmed it beautifully, “Christ came to bring joy;  joy to children,  joy to parents,  joy to friends and families; indeed ‘joy’  is the key- note message of the Gospel. Go therefore and become messengers of joy.”  

 

Leadership & Mercy: How it affected and shaped my life

            Born in 1926, I was reared during the Great Depression by my beloved and merciful parents—Oscar and Nell Wheeler Burnett—my first guides, teachers and leaders who shared life and love selflessly with me and with my two brothers and two sisters. My Father, a Protestant, earned the family’s income as a bookkeeper; my Mother, a Catholic, was a housewife. My Father cheerfully provided adequately with his limited salary for the bonuses and onuses of our family including the children’s primary and secondary educations in Catholic schools. It was my pleasure to witness the laudatory examples of love and fidelity that my parents had for God, each other and their cherished children and neighbors.

Years ago, I completed a memoir entitled “A South-Georgia Catholic Family: Oscar and Nell’s Progeny: A good tree cannot bear bad fruit (Matt 7:18).” My parents glorified the Lord by their laudatory lives which manifested the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness and chastity (Gal 5:22-23). Their awe-inspiring legacy of leadership, mercy, compassion and empathy beginning some 95 years ago still endures.

            My family lived in Sacred Heart Parish in Savannah, GA, staffed by a Benedictine Priory of Belmont Abbey, Belmont, NC. My parents had me meet Jesus Christ—the epitome of leadership, mercy and redemption over the past 2015 years. As a vulnerable infant, Father Maurice McDonnell, OSB, Pastor, mercifully baptized me—causing me to become a member of Christ’s body—the Catholic Church—and entitled me to the Sacraments of the Church to fortify me in my weak human nature with supernatural graces so that I might be the person God created me to be—an adopted son of God and brother of Jesus Christ, my Savior. Pope St. Leo the Great prayed, “Through the mystery of the blessed incarnation may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.” John Newton (1725-1807) had it right when he wrote, “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now I’m found, Was blind but now I see…”

            A sickly child, my parents with love and mercy always and without hesitation or health insurance provided for all my medical needs: in infancy my tonsils were removed to prevent infections; Scarlet Fever caused my extended absence when attending the First Grade in Primary School but I was promoted to the Second Grade; I was diagnosed with having a chronic lazy (amblyopia) left eye with required numerous visits to the ophthalmologist; and as a child, I had an appendectomy. The Christian quality of leadership and selfless mercy of my parents taught me to follow in their revered footsteps.

            During World War II, I graduated from Savannah’s Benedictine Military School in 1944. Afterwards, I sought to join the Armed Forces to bond with my patriotic relatives and friends but with my lazy eye I was declared “4-F”. With my persistence my draft board provided numerous follow-up eye exams. Finally a military physician said to me, “You really want to join the Armed Forces?” I replied, “Yes.” I was immediately inducted and served honorably until December 1946. I was grateful for the officer’s military leadership extending understanding and mercy to me under these circumstances.

            Requiring higher education, I was mercifully given a scholarship to attend Savannah’s Armstrong Junior College. Upon graduation I was accepted by Emery University’s School of Law which was financed by the G.I. Bill. Upon graduation, I needed an office to practice law. Gilbert Johnson—a seasoned lawyer and father figure whom I had never met—invited me into his established offices where I practiced law for some six-years. Law was electrifying in adversarial situations but not fulfilling for me.

            Earlier in my youth I had admired the Benedictines that I had met and respected. Since practicing man’s laws was not gratifying, I thought I’d practice God’s law: Love the Lord, your God with all your heart, your soul and your strength - and love your neighbor as you love yourself. In my spiritual journey, I was accepted through the kindness of Belmont Abbey’s monks and have been fulfilled as a professed monk for over 57-years following the Rule of St. Benedict (6th Century A.D.). This worldwide Benedictine family endures and prospers today, still under the extraordinary leadership of Saint Benedict who taught his disciples how they might live together in harmony, fraternity and peace in spite of their individual differences: by letting them prefer nothing whatever to Christ and may He bring them all together to everlasting life (RB 72:11).       

            Rt. Rev. Oscar C. Burnett, OSB

            Abbot Emeritus—Belmont Abbey

 

 

 

            Last week, four nuns of the Missionary Sisters of Charity, the order founded by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, were among sixteen people killed by armed men who stormed the convent and nursing home in Aden, Yemen, where the nuns had devoted themselves to serving an interreligious group of elderly and infirmed patients. Responding to the attack, Pope Francis called it “diabolical” and referred to the nuns as “martyrs of today” who “gave their blood for the Church.”

            The martyred nuns are Sister Anslem, from Ranchi, India, Sister Judith, from Kenya, Sister Marguerite from Rwanda, and Sister Reginette, also from Rwanda. Indian Salesian priest Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who had been staying with the sisters, was abducted during the attack and has not yet been found. He had taken shelter in the convent after the Holy Family church in Aden was attacked and burned by unidentified gunmen last September.

              Due to recent troubles in Aden, the Missionary Sisters of Charity arranged for the return of the nuns to India, but they chose to stay and serve the 80 patients at the convent who relied on them for care. It is a tragedy for the Church and the world to lose such good people to this kind of senseless violence. But the witness of Sisters Anslem, Judith, Marguerite, and Reginette will live on. They were true leaders in mercy and may their courage inspire us all to follow more faithfully in the footsteps of Christ.

   

            The Christophers

 

"Courtesy of The Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia"
 

 

 

 

 


             Mother Angelica, founder of the Eternal Word Television Network, died on Easter Sunday at the age of 92. The Catholic News Service reports that she grew up in poverty, quoting her as saying, “We lived in rat-infested apartments – our life was so hard. I was interested in survival so I didn’t do well in school. It’s hard when you’re hungry and cold to study.”

She joined an order of cloistered contemplative nuns in 1944 and professed her solemn vows in 1953 as Sister Mary Angelica of the Annunciation. In 1962, she founded Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Irondale, Alabama, to fulfill her dream of starting a religious community that would appeal to African Americans in the southern states.                                           Photo Credit: EWTN

In 1981, she started EWTN with several hours of programing carried by three cable networks and built it into one of the largest religious media operations in the world. Her talks remain a lasting treasure of EWTN broadcasting as they capture her vivacious and loving personality.

Mother Angelica is one of the great leaders in mercy of our time. She will be sorely missed, but we pray now for the intercession of this holy woman who died and rose with Christ throughout her life and on this Easter Sunday. 

- The Christophers 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1950, on my 22nd birthday, I had the first of my five children, Susan Mary. I heard the sad sounds of the nurses as Susan was born and the doctor hushing them up. I wasn’t allowed to see my baby and I wasn’t taken to the maternity ward.

The doctor saw at birth that Susan was a “Mongoloid Idiot,” that was the term in 1950—before Dr. Down found the cause, an extra chromosome and Mongoloid was dropped and the children had a much more palatable name—Down syndrome.

My husband and I were told to place her in a state institution and tell everyone she died at birth. Days went by and social workers visited me trying to make my husband and I follow the doctor’s orders…the final straw was when they said, “Bringing her home would be an injustice to your neighbors, as she will lower the property value on your street.” My husband and I shed tears and we shared our feelings that this baby was given to us by God, we could not throw her out!

We asked my husband’s brother, Father Raymond Rolf—a diocesan priest, what we should do.  He went in search of an answer and came back with good news. In Santa Barbara, CA there was a group of nuns who cared for Down Syndrome children at the age of 5 and over. And he asked, “Why 5?” and the answer was, “These children require the same care as any baby and should have the loving care of their parents for at least the first five years.” Wow, that solved our problem.

The doctor then released Susan, and it wasn’t long after, when I had her in my arms and was talking to her and she looked at me moving her lips like she wanted to respond and her eyes spoke with love. We knew she would stay with us and not leave us when she was five years old.

The doctor had suggested we have another child soon and that recommendation we took to heart and Michael was born 15 months later. Downs are mimics and she learned so much from Mike. How to hold her bottle was one of the first things. Susan taught us all many things. And at her funeral 3 years ago, her four siblings stood up at church and said how they “learned unconditional love” from Susan.

Susan was a high functioning Downs, but schooling for Developmentally Disabled at that point did not teach reading or writing to Downs. I taught her to print her name and address and she had several stacks of records and could identify them by name—she memorized the labels. She enjoyed having tasks at home and when someone said I needed a housekeeper, she said, “No, I do that!” When I said everyone should make their bed before school, Susan took on the task of each of her siblings.

My husband died of cancer in 1977 (he had just had his 51st birthday and I was 48 ½). Our youngest child graduated high school that year. In 1995 when Susan was 45, I placed her in a Board & Care Home. I had high blood pressure and was concerned about my health and wanted her situated for good care, if I should die. She enjoyed the evenings watching TV with the group. They all attended the Sheltered Workshop that my husband helped organize many years before she was ready for it.

Special Education classes began for children 8 years to 18 years old, so I started a nursery school in our area for children 4 to 8 years of age. I was a very shy child and adult, until Susan came along. Our ARC group needed funds to establish programs so I spoke at service clubs to raise funds for our ARC programs. I hesitated about speaking to the University Women’s Club, but I looked at the back wall and gave my enthusiastic talk about the success of our Nursery School. At the end, a woman I hadn’t noticed came up to me—it was my third year high school English teacher and she said, “Wow, you did so good and to think I gave you a D in the English class!” [Due to my shyness I wouldn’t give an oral report.] And I said, “I deserved an F!”

Susan helped me in many ways. In her last year, she suffered from seizures and lost the use of her legs and arms, and eventually most of her speech. She was in a very nice convalescent home in her last months. The nurses and aids came to see her and they remarked how they were so fond of her and each felt they had a special relationship, as they would say, “Susan always told me, “I like you!” and they came to tell her that. She didn’t seem to know she said that to all of them, except a male nurse from a European Country who told my daughter, Janet, “In our country we let these people die.” He came to give Susan medicine and there was no conversation.

Susan would say to me, “Mom, I love you (not “like”). She liked to go to church and I had to insist she not speak in church. She loved music and when the organ began she had to move—I called it “shoulder dancing” and she never got the message that it was not OK with me. Now I want to move my feet to some of the songs and think, hey that’s a Susan thing—and realize maybe her movements were not so bad.

I was a lector and she would wait until we got to our door, then say, “Mom, you did a good job!” Oh, what special memories I have. And the other day I saw a Downs girl in church and I wanted to go and hug her... don’t know who she belongs to. Typical of Downs, she was smiling and happy and helping a lady she was with, whose sweater had turned up in the back and she was straightening it… like my Susan would have done. I thank God for the very special experience of having Susan and her brothers and sister who loved her dearly, as she did them.

I continue to miss my husband and Susan, but thankful for the wonderful years we had together—and I believe, “Love doesn’t die”. Don’t remember where I heard that statement, but I feel their love and expect to be reunited with them in Heaven.

May the love of God dwell in all our hearts, that we, like Downs, may share that love. I didn’t mean to go on at such length—but it was a wonderful trip back in my memory. I have enjoyed receiving the Christopher News Notes over the many years. After giving up being a Visitor of the Sick in my parish, I began writing a monthly letter to the sick and often quoted from the Christopher News Notes. I like to collect quotes—a favorite is from Erma Bombeck: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I hope that I would have not a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything You gave me.’” Wasn’t she fabulous! Don’t remember where I got that one. I have a stack of 20 of your Christopher News Notes, many that I brought with me when I moved to a retirement facility in an Independent Living apartment to live out the rest of my days on earth. Again thank you for stirring up special memories.

 

Sincerely,
Jean Rolf

 

 

 

          I have always been a big believer in getting involved in your community and especially your faith.  Every time I decided to accept our Lord’s calling or suggestions to get involved in an organization, my life has been blessed.
          One of the organizations I got involved in was the Knights of Columbus.  My decision to get involved  followed the tragic events of 9/11.  I remember all of the people who jumped in and volunteered in the following months.  I joined my local Knights of Columbus and quickly got involved.  I accepted every position and opportunity to serve and began to realize how fortunate I was that my life was expanding in such a positive way.  I did things I never thought I would ever do, like collecting food for the poor and delivering it to the needy at Christmas, or dedicating a statue of the Blessed Mother outside of the Knights of Columbus.  One of the highlights of my career at the Knights was organizing a response to storm ravaged areas of Staten Island and Long Island, NY.  We collected countless amounts of supplies, clothes, food and financial donations.  We collected so much that I had significant concern, as I had no idea how we would get all of these supplies to Staten Island.  We prayed on it and we ended up getting an army truck donated to help get the supplies to Staten Island.  We ended up putting a video together and have it on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smawYtgcizo
          I began to realize my life kept getting better each time I said yes to God’s call to serve others.  I got involved with the Christophers and successfully completed their leadership course and subsequently went on to be one of the Leadership Course Instructors and to even teach the course at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago.
          More recently, I got involved with a Catholic lay community named Cursillo.  This is a Catholic community of lay people who encourage each other in their journey of faith, study, and action.  I became friends with many in the community.  In April, 2016 I joined some from the community as part of a mission trip to Kingston, Jamaica to the Missionaries of the Poor.
          The Missionaries of the Poor was founded in 1981 (originally called the Brothers of the Poor) by Fr. Richard Ho Lung to serve the poorest of the poor in Jamaica.  Father Ho Lung was born and raised in Jamaica to Chinese immigrants.  He became a Jesuit priest, but later left the Jesuits to focus on serving the poor.  In the late 70s, Fr. Ho Lung, along with two companions, would regularly visit the abandoned, the sick and the destitute in Kingston.  These are the people Fr. Ho Lung and his community serve on a daily basis.  His community has grown to over 550 brothers serving in nine missions around the world, and they run about half a dozen centers in Kingston alone.  We lived and worked like the brothers of the Missionaries of the Poor from sleeping in their mission home, eating like they do, rising early in the morning for Mass, morning prayer and Eucharistic adoration, praying throughout the day and serving their residents, who are the poorest of the poor. 
          My first day there, I saw so many people who were sick, suffered from destitute poverty and what appears to be hopelessness but at the same time was amazed at the amount of love the brothers and the residents had for each other.  One of the priests of the Missionaries of the Poor said during his early morning homily, “God disrupts us.”  He went on to explain that God takes us out of our comfort zone to draw us closer to him.  We were certainly disrupted when we left our homes, lived like the poor, took care of the dying, the sick, the mentally ill and the orphan children.  I never could have imagined what I saw and the things I did but I felt God preparing me each step of the way.  As the days went on, I began to feel the love and joy these people had and began to see Christ in all of the people we served.  I also began to realize how easy it was to lift the spirits of the residents by a smile, a kind word, a hug or even a song.  While tending to the patients we began to sing the song “This Little Light of Mine I’m Going to Let it Shine.”   This is a very uplifting and catchy tune and we began to notice all of the residents we were tending were singing along. We ended up singing and putting on an entire show that afternoon.  I saw music join all of us together in community and witnessed the smiles spread across all the people.  I realized that all people just want to love and be loved, and I also realized they did a lot more for me than I did for them.
          This past year, I was a recipient of the Knights of Columbus, Westchester-Putnam, NY Conference Brendan Toohey Communion Award.  Brendan Toohey was a Knight from New Rochelle, NY, who exemplified a life of charity and faith and the award is given to those who exemplify his life today.  It was a humbling experience to receive the award.  I reflected back on my decision to “get involved” following the 9/11 tragedy and realize how much I was blessed by deciding to get involved.  My faith journey has been transformed by trying to live out my own personal apostolic mission.  Accepting God’s calling to follow Him by service to others has brought me to places and led me to meet people and do things I would have never done if I did not accept His calling. As a direct result, Jesus transformed my life and continually draws me closer to Him each day.  This is the goal of every Christian’s life.  If you accept God’s calling to serve others, the joy and happiness you will receive will far outweigh what you put into it, and you will be transformed into the living Christ here on earth, thus fulfilling your own apostolic mission. 

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
                                                                                     Sir Winston Churchill

Sincerely,       

Jim Collins

 

 

 



The Death of Prince
by Father John Catoir JCD

            The death of legendary Rock Star, Prince Rogers Nelson, April 21, 2016, led me to reflect on the impact that fame and fortune had on his life. Prince was once a wild youth; he grew up to be a person who could say with conviction: “I felt called by God to come into complete oneness with the Spirit of God and the knowledge of his truth.”

            Beatle John Lennon wrote these words: “Fame and fortune won’t ruin you, you do that to yourself.” Prince heeded that wisdom, and turned his life around. He concentrated on producing a body of work that many considered the gold standard of creative excellence. James Brown and Miles Davis, both amazing musicians, said that Prince was exceptional.

            Over the past forty years, Prince created music and films that touched the lives of hundreds of millions of fans all over the world. As an aging priest, I must admit I barely noticed him, but the outpouring of love that followed his passing opened my eyes to the phenomenal influence he had on the world.

            My niece, Dionne Benjamin Smith, who lives in Nassau, is the Founding Editor and Publisher of the weekly E-Magazine, Bahamian Art & Culture, (Cf. dionne@smith-benjamin.com). She has published it, free of charge, for the last 18 years. Here is the substance of the tribute she paid to Prince:

            “The first time I heard his music my mind was blown, it was so distinctive and captivating. Purple Rain was my favorite album. It helped me get through a turbulent time in my life. His music had a sadness to it, and as a misunderstood teenager, I identified with him and his music….I also admired how he stood courageously behind his work, as evidenced by the protracted legal battle he had with Warner Bros. over his copyright and his name. It was a battle he eventually won.”

            Prince was raised as a Seventh Day Adventist, and later became a devout Jehovah’s Witness. After he entered recovery, he spent hours talking to people about his faith in God and Jesus; confessing that he made many mistakes when he was young. He hoped to help others avoid his mistakes so they could become the new creation God wants all of us to be.

            It is for these reasons that I celebrate his life. Prince used his talents well. He understood this truth: God doesn’t raise us up to great heights for our own glory; he lifts us higher so that we can lift others up as well.

            I am aware of the fact that he was addicted to pain-killers, but he needed them, like so many millions who take such medication. I’ll leave that issue for God to judge.

            The sin of pride is the inordinate love of self. Prince loved himself, but in the way that God urges all of us to love ourselves; by perfecting our talents, and using them to serve the common good. To do this Prince became a man of prayer.

            Each of us fulfills our need for God in our own unique way. For Catholics, Pope John Paul II put it best.

            “The human desire to be with God is not just a wish, but a need that can be as physical as the need for food and water…One way this hunger can be satisfied is by receiving his body in the Eucharist.”

           

            May the soul of Prince, and all the faithful departed, rest in peace.

 

 

 

Death and Grief
by Father John Catoir JCD

“I have come that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete”- Matt. 15:11. These words of Jesus are an answer to the prayers of those who are suffering from a great loss.

As a priest, I have a vocation within a vocation. I’ve spent the last 30 years of my life writing about supernatural joy. The message is simple: faith, together with the discipline of controlling your thoughts can help you to overcome the emotional pain of losing someone very dear to you.

The pain of life is real, and seemingly unending, but in spite of tragic circumstances there is one word you need to focus on; namely, survival. You can go on grieving for a year, for ten years, or fifty years, but sooner or later you will have to decide whether or not you’re going to be a survivor.

 There is still a job for you to do in this world, a job that nobody else can do, and if you don’t do it, it will remain undone. Millions have come to the realization that they must be ready to carry one with courage.

A woman wrote me the following letter; which helped me understand a great deal about the pain of grief.

            “On a beautiful sunny July morning, my 26 year old son was killed in a car accident. He was on his way to work when a new young driver pulled out of a side street and killed my wonderful boy.”  Lynn Bain continued, “I never knew such desperation, such isolation and unending agony before. The depth of the pain, the flow of tears, and the deadening silence were overwhelming; I never knew one could still exist when everything inside had died.

             This broken-hearted woman managed to survive with the help of God. She wrote this follow-up later, “With time, and the help of God, and the writings of Father John Catoir, I found my bearings. He taught me how to find joy in the midst of the most excruciating pain. I wish I could give you the magic formula, but there is none. Just know that if you have suffered a terrible loss, you will laugh again and live again. Knowing that God is by your side, helping you every step of the way, you will come to learn the important lesson that joy really does prevail over sorrow.”

Lynn gave me some of the credit, but the truth is all I ever did for her was to repeat the words of Jesus: “I’ve told you all these things that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete…Come to me all you who are burdened and I will give you rest.”

One more story: a grief-stricken man was tempted to commit suicide. One day while riding on a bus he spotted a pamphlet on the floor and picked it up out of curiosity. It contained this message: “Today you may feel hopeless, but tomorrow or the next day you will remember that you have a purpose, a true mission in life. It will transform you, and give you the courage to carry on.

 He cancelled his suicide plans, and never thought of it again. He wrote to me several months later to explain how the idea of a God-given mission changed his life forever. Amen.

  “In this world your will have many troubles, but take heart, cheer up, for I have overcome the world, (John: 16:33).

 

 

 

 

Father John Catoir

"My Favorite Quote."

 

Communion with God should be a natural part of your life, like your very own heartbeat. Being aware of the presence of God is automatic, even if you only advert to God a few times a day. The Lord is present, whether you're praying or not.

With this in mind here is a favorite quote of mine: "The secret of sanctity and holiness rests in your fidelity to the will of God as it is manifested in the duty of the present moment" – Jean Pierre de Caussade, S.J.

You might think that this refers to duties like performing the corporal of works of mercy, but it also refers to doing the dishes and taking responsibility for your own health.

The abuse of illicit drugs has reached the epidemic stage. Children need to be taught that the essence of growth and development is found in one’s willingness to change for the better by shouldering one’s responsibilities with courage. Depending always on God's grace is, of course, a given.

Granted, many teenagers may be deaf to this level of spirituality, but remember, young people are idealistic, and most of them only need to be reminded of the holy desires of their childhood.

Living in the present moment means that you will not let the past drag you down, or any fear of the future cloud your life with doubt. It takes will power, decision making, and the desire to be your best self, that will enable you to reach this state of peace. With patience, you will learn to trust your good intentions. In other words you can become "fully alive".

"Gods great glory is the human person fully alive"- St.Irenaeus.

As a Saint-in-training, you have what it takes to produce rich and abundant good fruit. The Lord himself has told you this. Trust the words of Jesus more than your own fears.

50 years ago I was an MP at Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio Texas. The Post Chaplain asked me to be his assistant and my high school dreams of becoming a priest began to stir in me again. The rest is history. The decisions we make today have consequences tomorrow.

Deciding to be holy doesn't mean that you have a vocation, but it does mean that you are willing to follow the Lord's direction. For this He will give you supernatural hope, and you will enjoy a meaningful life.

Grant me O Lord, the joy of loving you and trusting your promises, for you always supply guidance to those who live on the foundation of your love, day by day.

What you are right now is plain to see, but what you can be in the future, with the help of God's grace, is hidden from your eyes. Jesus said, "be not afraid".

Permit me to insert an historical fact that may help you to see the reality of indecision and self-centeredness.

81,170 US military men and women died in the Korean and Vietnam wars over a 23 year stretch. But in one year alone, the year 2013, 550,000 Americans died from nicotine poisoning, alcohol abuse, and illicit drugs. An additional 20,000 died from the abuse of prescription drugs-that's 570,000 human beings who died in one year because they drifted into a life that lacked purpose and direction.

How are you using the present moment? Are you being your own best friend, or your own worst enemy?

Put on the will to choose an up-right life. Expect a good outcome and "your joy will be full".

 

 


The Divinity of Christ

By Father John Catoir, JCD 7/8/16

      "Jesus Christ is true God and true man"- (The Nicene Creed). This profound truth is a theological mystery. Christ gave it to us that our joy may be full.

       Faith enables us to believe the supernatural mysteries taught to us by divine revelation. The historical Jesus was God incarnate. 

      The Age of Faith may be fading, but millions of believers cling to their Catholic faith with courage. We are living in a world which exalts individualism and denial of the supernatural.

     Never be afraid to uphold the truths of revelation. Jesus Christ said, "The Father and I are One"-(John 10:30). This truth defines the Doctrine of The Incarnation. It may boggle the mind but we accept it as true.

     There are three Persons in One God: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus is God incarnate. God is love.

     When you also reflect on the fact that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, you enter into the mystery of Divine love on a deeper level. Catholics treasure their faith as a precious gift.

    Christ's divinity has been under attack for centuries. The Pagans have ridiculed this belief from the beginning, and attempted to turn the meaning of Scripture upside down.

    Biblical Criticism has caused a much of the confusion because it begins by denying the divinity of Christ. It attempts to answer the question: who was the historical Jesus? In itself this is a legitimate query for theologians to explore, but not if you reject the divinity of Jesus from the outset.

      Keep in mind that theology is the science that attempts to explain the unexplainable. The full authority of the Church has affirmed Christ's incarnation both from Sacred Scripture, and from our living Tradition going back to the Apostles.

     Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity. He assumed a human nature from his mother, Mary. The Holy Spirit came upon her, and she gave birth to Jesus nine months later.

     Faith enables us to accept this mystery, and to rejoice in the wonder of it. "God sent His only Begotten Son that the world may be saved," (John 3:16).

     Skeptics deny the divinity of Christ, and claim that he is irrelevant to the modern world. Nothing could be further from the truth.

     Our faith is knowledge that comes to us from Divine Revelation. Believers trust the words of Jesus, and are richly blessed for it. Saints and scholars have always maintained that the New Testament carries the Deposit of Faith through the centuries. 

      Holding fast to the Faith of our Fathers requires a certain amount of determination and courage. In a world full of agnostics, atheists, and neo-pagans, all of whom reject the supernatural, we are constantly challenged to stand up for Jesus Christ. There is no middle ground. Jesus said, "Either you are with me or you are against me."  

     The work demythologizing the Gospels got its start from a German scholar named Rudolf Bultmann, who denied the divinity of Jesus from the start. We pray for him and his followers.

The Church offers wise guidance in reading the scriptures. Fortunately, Jesus gave Peter the authority to protect his teachings from error. His words were being twisted even while Jesus was still alive, so He gave authority to Peter and all the popes after him to clarify his teachings down through the ages. Jesus said to Peter in the presence of all of the Apostles, "He who hears you hears me" (Luke 10:16).  

     In 1965, the Second Vatican Council stated, "Since Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted by the same Spirit by whom it was written, one must take into account, in order to draw out the correct sense of the sacred texts, the Tradition of the whole Church..." This implies that from century to century we have kept the valid tradition of Christianity alive. The Church has preserved the true Deposit of Faith.    

    The most important example of this is found in the Eucharist. We know with certainty that the literal interpretation of the following scriptural passage is essential: "Jesus offered the bread to the Apostles and said, "This is my body" (Luke 22:1).

   Jesus is truly present in the consecrated host. Those who deny the Doctrine of the Real Presence are in heresy.

     May the Lord be your strength and your joy!

 

 

 


Catholics and Our Blessed Mother

By Father John Catoir, JCD 9/13/16

      Of all the prerogatives of Mary, the divine motherhood is the one that takes hold of the consciousness of the average Catholic.  We can easily imagine the indescribable intimacy that exists between a mother and son. For this reason there are a variety of ways in which Catholics apply this awareness to their own lives.

          Here’s one example. During the years I was hosting The Christophers TV Show, I interviewed Joe Garagiola, the baseball star who turned to broadcasting. In the middle of the conversation he said, “Father let’s not talk about baseball anymore, let’s talk about Jesus, Mary and Joseph. ’’ I was caught off guard, this had never happened before. “OK Joe, what do you say to non-Catholics who say that Catholics make too much of Mary?”

          I’ll never forget his reply, “I feel sorry for them. Look Father, I’m Italian, and we know that if you want to get to the Man, you get to the mother.” We both laughed. It was funny, but it also had a wring of truth to it.

         Catholics see Mary as the one who gives them easy access to her Son. They think of her as their spiritual mother in heaven. She offers love, consolation and mercy. Her many titles reflect this very level of faith: Our Lady of Good Counsel, Our Lady of Consolation, Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

         Our Blessed Mother is known for her visitations to various shrines around the world like Lourdes and Fatima, where she has performed many miracles. For well over 150 years the sick have travelled by the millions to these holy places leaving their crutches behind as a sign of Mary’s healing presence.

         Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist put it best when she said, “Of all women, Mary you are the most blessed; and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” (Luke 1:42-45).

         Mary was chosen for the most privileged position in human history: to be the mother of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.                              Catholics continually ask Mary to pray for them. To understand why, let’s turn to the Hebrew Bible to help us imagine how Jesus might relate to Mary in heaven.

         We read that King Solomon had his mother sitting to the right of his thrown. She often interceded on behalf of his subjects saying, “I have a favor to ask of you….do not refuse me.” Solomon would answer, “My mother, make your request for I will not refuse you,” (1 Kings 2:21).

         When Catholics recite the Hail Mary: “Pray for us, now and at the hour of our death,” they do not think of Mary as a goddess with independent power. They know that all the power comes from her divine son. They simply ask her to intercede for them, knowing well that Jesus will honor her request.

         St. Elizabeth is recorded in scripture as saying, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Mary believed and then surrendered herself to the Lord in perfect submission, “Be it done unto me according to thy word,” (Luke 1:38), and the miracle of the Incarnation took place in her womb. Jesus became flesh of her flesh, and bone of her bone.

         The divine command to honor one’s mother is found in Exodus 20:12. Jesus honors his mother, just as any good son would. His love for her flows through His children, as we honor the Holy Mother of God, in Him and with Him.

 

 

 

 

 

Faith and Daily Life
By Father John Catoir

                  Do you really see the connection between your Catholic faith and your daily life? In order to understand Christ’s teachings, and make them more effective, you need to see them as more than abstract principles.

         The Second Vatican Council had this to say on the topic: “Christianity pervades a whole way of life, and transforms it. In a home, where the husband and wife find their proper vocation in being witnesses of their faith to one another and to their children, Christ’s love is made visible. (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, N. 34).

         Faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ is an essential part of the Church’s teachings. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John. 1:14). Jesus came as a Light into the world, to dispel the darkness. He gave up his life to bring supernatural love and joy to the human race.

            The doctrine of the Incarnation teaches us that each day we grow from darkness to light. The Church blesses the concept of human progress. As we carry His Light within us, we can show that Light to others by the choices we make.  We show how our beliefs influence our lives by our joys and aspirations, by the words we use in our contacts with others, and especially by the way we show love for our family members.

         Our faith is not merely a series of abstract principles. To rise above that superficial level of faith, Cardinal John Henry Newman recommends that “Teachers of doctrine should focus their attention more on creative Christian love and witness, than on religious prohibitions”.

          Condemnation is no substitute for positive, constructive action. It’s always better to light one candle than curse the darkness. You’ll be rewarded if you study one of the great truths of our faith; namely, the doctrine on Grace.

         Grace tells us that God’s help is always available, enabling us to illuminate the world around us. With God’s help we can change the world for the better, by influencing the way people think and interact with one another socially, culturally and politically. The doctrine on Grace teaches us about God’s active presence among us.

         God dwells among us, and within us, transforming us, and working through us. In this way we become instruments of His love. We can radiate His justice, truth and love. Through grace we become the shapers of human history. We can contribute to the fulfillment of the divine plan by speaking out against those actions in society, which are clearly not in harmony with God’s holy will. We can speak the truth with love; we can choose to write a letter to our government representatives about issues that concern us, like respect for life from conception to natural death.

Eschatology is the study of “the last things.” The end of time is a concern for everyone. We need to look beyond this present life to the Kingdom of Heaven, which offers the promise of endless joy in paradise. This is the basis of our hope. It is essentially the Good News of the Gospel.

It is easier to endure the hardships of life when you see today’s troubles in terms of eternity. Jesus put it this way, “In this world you will have many troubles, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.”

Christian Joy is found in our deep participation in the life of God. May the Lord be your strength and your joy.

 

 

 

 

The Classroom I Remember

The first set of classrooms I remember were taught by the wonderful Dominican nuns. Then from the fifth grade to the eighth the Del Lasalle Christian Brothers instructed me. In High School I was privileged to be taught by the Christian Brothers of Ireland. In my college classrooms I learned how to think thanks to the Jesuits who instructed us. My graduate classrooms enabled me to hear from people of varying backgrounds to understand the world better.

The best classroom, however, was the classroom filled with mustard seeds of possibility led by volunteer instructors. I heard that the class was called a Leadership Class. Always seeking to grow, this sounded great to me, so I signed up for the eight session course.

Finding out that giving one or two talks each week would be involved, early panic set in. The wonderful volunteer instructors quickly set us at ease and pointed out how they had encountered the same sense of dread but were quickly comforted by their instructors. As each session unfolded we began to feel comfortable as each of the students told their stories. The basic message from each of the instructors was talk about what you know or have experienced, don’t try to explain rocket science.

By the final session, we students and instructors had built a marvelous bond of friendship and understanding. For me, I had gained so much, that there was only one thing to do and that was to become an instructor.

For all that I had gained from the class, so much more  was to come from instructing. In one of our earlier classes, we had a very shy man who wore thick glasses and was a treasurer for a small union. A couple of months after the class  concluded, we received a letter from him, thanking us for how we helped him. He had been promoted to head the financial part of the union and had to speak to an audience of 250 members. He was so proud that he could now do this with great confidence. Then he added that he had discarded his thick glasses and now uses contacts.

A woman in a later class was looking for a job and was a little hesitant about how to go about it. We later received a letter from her indicating that she went on a job interview but made up her mind that, whether or not. she got it she would remain positive. The woman who interviewed was so impressed that she said she could not hire her but contacted someone she knew who was looking for an applicant like this. Our graduate got that job.

Over time more stories like this have been brought to my attention. I have to say that at this time I miss all the wonderful people I have been exposed to because that class and classroom existed.