Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Courage to Conquer Fear

When the days for Jesus to be taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him. Luke 9:51–52

Shortly after Jesus spoke to His disciples about His pending suffering, death and resurrection, we read that Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” There is much to reflect upon in that short statement.

First of all, Jerusalem was the place of the Temple where the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament took place as a prefiguration of the one and ultimate sacrifice to come. Jesus came into this world as the Lamb of God, the Sacrificial Victim Who would die for our sins. He knew His ultimate end in this world, and He knew it would require much suffering. This knowledge of His future suffering is the foundational context of this passage today.

As Jesus’ suffering and death drew close, He became more and more determined in His human will to fulfill the will of the Father by laying down His life. Of course, Jesus always fulfilled the will of the Father, but little by little the human manifestation of Jesus’s determination became more and more pronounced. The specific human virtue that slowly became manifest was courage. Spiritual courage is the supernatural ability to embrace the will of the Father when His will leads a person into a life of sacrifice. Within our fallen human nature, we tend to avoid sacrifice. We often work to avoid conflict and suffering and to embrace the easy way in life. Therefore, to come face-to-face with some future suffering brings forth a temptation to fear—and that fear requires courage to overcome it. As His suffering drew closer, the temptation to fear grew stronger and, as a result, His perfect virtue of courage became more manifest. Note that Jesus not only decided to go to Jerusalem to offer His life sacrificially, He “resolutely determined” to do so. There was no wavering, no doubting the Father’s will, no hesitancy, no fear. His perfect sacrificial love slowly became manifest for all to see.

Another reason Jesus became resolute in His determination to travel to Jerusalem was to witness His love to His disciples. They needed courage themselves.  So, as they listened to Jesus speak about what was coming in Jerusalem and as they witnessed His unwavering determination, they were also encouraged and were strengthened to overcome the temptations to fear. Of course, they only perfected that virtue later in their lives when they also followed in the footsteps of our Lord, laying down their own lives as martyrs.

Source of content: mycatholic.life

Monday, October 2, 2023

Memorial of the Guardian Angels

So the Supreme Majesty has given charge to the angels. Yes, He has given charge to His own angels. Think of it! To those sublime beings, who cling to Him so joyfully and intimately, to His very own He has given charge over you! Who are you? “What is man that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him?” As if man were not rottenness, and the son of man a worm! Now why, do you think, he Has given them charge over thee? — To guard thee! ~Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father” (Matthew 18:10).  Jesus speaks these words immediately before he teaches the Parable of the Lost Sheep that shows Jesus’ deep love for each and every person, for each of the “little ones.” Not only does He seek out the lost and straying sheep, He also gives them their own guardian angels, who always look upon the face of God, and whose sole task is to care for us, to get us to Heaven. It is these angelic beings whom we honor today.

The fact that every person is assigned a personal guardian angel is deeply rooted not only in Scripture, but also in the writings of the saints and the teachings of the Church. In the Psalms we read, “For he commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:11–12). Saint Jerome, in commenting on the above-mentioned passage from the Gospel of Matthew, says, “The worth of souls is so great that from birth each one has an angel assigned to him for his protection.” Saint Thomas Aquinas says, “Each man has an angel guardian appointed to him. This rests upon the fact that the guardianship of angels belongs to the execution of Divine providence concerning men” (Summa Theologiae 1.113.2). More recently, Pope Saint John Paul II taught, in a General Audience on August 6, 1986, “God has entrusted to the angels a ministry in favor of people. Therefore the Church confesses her faith in the guardian angels, venerating them in the liturgy with an appropriate feast and recommending recourse to their protection by frequent prayer, as in the invocation “Angel of God.” Finally, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting Saint Basil, says, “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life” (CCC #336).

Though the reality of guardian angels is often spoken of to children as a comfort to them when they face fears, the guardian angels are for all of us, and we ought not forget about our own. Angels are not only intercessors, they are mediators. This means that God entrusts them with His divine power, to act in His name and on His behalf, to deliver His grace, reveal His Truth, direct us down the right path, and protect us from evil. Though God is fully capable of distributing His grace Himself, it is His will that all He bestows upon us come to us through mediators who are instruments, cooperating with His divine plan.

The memorial that we celebrate today did not become a universal feast until the latter part of the seventeenth century, when Pope Clement X placed it on the Roman Calendar. Pope Leo XIII elevated the feast and emphasized its importance in the late nineteenth century. Around the time he did so, he also composed the “Saint Michael the Archangel” prayer and mandated that it be prayed at the end of every Mass. The feast of the Archangels is celebrated September 29, and a few days later, the memorial for all the guardian angels. These two feasts emphasize the fact that God uses some angels for specific purposes that affect all people and that He uses guardian angels to care for each of our specific needs.

Based upon the Old and New Testaments, the teachings of early Church Fathers, and the detailed teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Church generally accepts that there is a hierarchy of angels consisting of nine choirs that are further divided into three triads. The first triad consists of the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones. Their duty is exclusively the service of God, worshiping Him continuously. The second triad consists of the Dominions, Virtues, and Powers. These three choirs are tasked with the governance of the created Universe. The third triad consists of the Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. These beings are closest to humanity and act as mediators between God and man. Thus, though Saint Thomas defined the guardian angels as the lowest of the choirs of angels, this should only be understood to mean that their direct concern is the care of humanity. Nonetheless, they continually behold the Beatific Vision.

Regarding the function of the guardian angels, Saint Thomas Aquinas gives the most detail (See Summa Theologiae 1.113). As mentioned, he teaches that every person receives an angel at birth. This means that guardian angels are not tied to baptism but to human activity in this world, specifically human activity that begins at birth. These angels are not recycled, so to speak, but are assigned to one person and one person alone. The guardian angels can act upon our senses and imaginations, inspiring us one way or another. They can put ideas before our minds to direct us toward God’s will, but they cannot control our wills. By working upon our senses, they can cause us to feel what is right or wrong and urge us to make the right choices. They act contrary to the fallen angels, or demons, who tempt us through false reasoning and base sensate delights. Finally, in Heaven, the guardian angel’s role of leading us to salvation will be complete., Saint Thomas believed that even in Heaven they will have the role of communicating with us and continuing to enlighten us with God’s never-ending and deepening Truth.

Source of content: mycatholic.life

Sunday, October 1, 2023

A Life of Ongoing Conversion

 Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people: “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.” Matthew 21:28–30

This parable presents a message of great hope to those who find it difficult to follow the will of God. The first son, the one who said he would not obey the father but then changed his mind, refers to those who have initially rejected the will of God but then repented and turned back to Him. The second son represents those who claim to be faithful followers of the will of God, but are not. This second son presents us with a very dangerous trap we can fall into. He represents the interior disposition of the chief priests and elders of the people. They said one thing but did another. They acted as if they were righteous but were not. They might have even been fooling themselves.

Of course, there is another possible scenario Jesus doesn’t present. Ideally, when the father asked his son to work in the vineyard he would have said “yes” and then followed through with his commitment. But this is not mentioned because no one falls into that category, except for our Blessed Mother. All people have sinned, and everyone needs to repent.

When we look at these two sons, we must humbly strive to be like the first one. We must begin by acknowledging that we have refused to obey the will of God in many ways throughout our lives. God has invited us to serve Him, and we have said “no.” Acknowledging this is an essential starting point for a life of true conversion and service of God. When we fail to humbly admit that we have sinned, we are acting like the second son. We are living a lie and are trying to convince ourselves that we are faithful to the will of God when we are not. This second son represents a very dangerous interior disposition that we must avoid with all of our might. It is the sin of impenitence, a sin against the Holy Spirit. It is dangerous because this type of self-righteousness keeps a person from truly serving the will of God. They believe their own lie and see no need to repent.

Source of content: mycatholic.life

Saturday, September 30, 2023


Penitent Saint Jerome

Lucas Franchoys the Younger: Flemish, 17th century

I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: “Search the Scriptures,” and “Seek and you shall find.” For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. ~Saint Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah

Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, later known as Jerome, was born in the town of Stridon, somewhere in the Balkans. Thirty years before Jerome’s birth, Emperor Constantine legalized the practice of Christianity in the Roman Empire, but many still clung to Roman and Greek religions and philosophies. Jerome had at least one brother, and the two were raised by good Christian parents who believed in the importance of education. 

While Jerome was in his mid- to late-teens, his parents sent him to Rome to study language, grammar, rhetoric, theology, and philosophy. He learned Greek, in addition to the Latin he had known since childhood, and engrossed himself in the classics: Virgil, Cicero, and Terence. Though Jerome had been raised a Christian, his morals lapsed in Rome, and he fell into sins of the flesh. This left him filled with guilt, and he would spend many Sundays visiting the catacombs to remind himself of death and the possibility of hell. As was the custom of that time, he had not been baptized as a child, so before he departed Rome, he chose to be baptized and began a conversion.

Around the age of thirty, after his baptism, Jerome traveled to various historic Christian sites. He traveled to Aquileia, in modern-day northern Italy where he spent time with a fervent Christian community under the leadership of Bishop Valerian. He then traveled to the Desert of Chalcis, south of modern-day Aleppo and Antioch in Syria, and became a hermit for several years. In the desert, he prayed, studied Greek further, and began to learn Hebrew. He also translated various Christian books into Latin. During this time, he had a vision in which he was “caught up in the spirit and dragged before the judgment seat of the Judge.” The Judge asked him who he was. Jerome replied, “I am a Christian.” Unsatisfied with the answer, the Judge said to him, “You lie, you are a follower of Cicero and not of Christ. For ‘where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’” This profoundly affected Jerome, for he realized that he was still more attached to pagan literature than he was to Christ and His sacred Word. With that realization, Jerome committed himself more fully to Christ and to a life of celibacy, vowing to devote himself solely to the Word of God and God’s will, and to turn away from his interest in secular literature. After several years in the desert, he returned to Antioch where he was ordained a priest.

Once ordained, Jerome traveled to Constantinople where he spent a few years studying under the future saint, Archbishop Gregory of Nazianzus. In Constantinople, his knowledge of the orthodox faith enshrined in the Nicene Creed grew immensely. He continued translating works into the common Latin language and entered more deeply into the life of prayer.

Around the year 382, Father Jerome was summoned to Rome by Pope Damasus to become the pope’s secretary and counselor. The holy father encouraged him to prepare a new translation of the Bible from the Greek and Hebrew translations. At that time, there were many versions of the Bible in Latin that had been translated poorly. The pope wanted one good version, and Father Jerome rose to the occasion. He began with the New Testament, translating it from Greek into Latin.

Father Jerome continued to live a prayerful and ascetical life and was not shy about confronting the corruption he saw within the Roman clergy and society. Some biographers claim he had a fierce temper, but others see it as the passion with which he preached against sin and called people to repentance. He also gathered around himself a group of holy women—noblewomen, widows, and virgins—with whom he shared his knowledge of the Scriptures. Because he spent so much time with these women, others accused him of inappropriate behavior with them, especially some of the Roman clergy who took personal offense at him. When Pope Damasus died, the accusations only got worse and included criticism of Jerome’s translations of the New Testament. As a result of the hostility, Jerome decided it was time to leave Rome, and some of the holy women left with him.

After Rome, Jerome traveled back to Antioch and then to the Holy Land. He arrived in Bethlehem, where he would spend the rest of his life. He became a hermit in the caves near the Church of the Nativity and continued his prayer, study, translations, and numerous other writings. He formed a monastery for men, and the women who accompanied him established a convent nearby.

In Bethlehem, Jerome continued his work of translating the Bible into Latin. He spent about eight years translating the New Testament from the original Greek and then spent about fifteen years translating the Old Testament from the original Hebrew manuscripts, something that had never been done before. The completed work received acceptance from scholars within the Western Church because of its accuracy and clarity. His translation was referred to as the “Vulgate,” meaning the common translation, because it had the goal of presenting the Bible in a way that was easily understood and clear to the common people, in their own language. Over the next millennium, it became more widely used. Finally, after the Protestant Reformation, in 1546, the Council of Trent declared Saint Jerome’s Vulgate to be the official Latin translation of the Church.

With his deep knowledge of Scripture, Father Jerome also wrote commentaries on many books of the Bible, especially offering insights gained from his work of translation. He wrote on the lives of the saints, leaving some of the earliest historical documentation about their heroic lives. He wrote extensively upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, on the value of virginity, combated heresies, and left behind many lengthy letters that reveal deep spiritual and historical insights.

After about thirty-eight years in Bethlehem, Father Jerome died, but his writings continue to live. Shortly after his death, he was recognized as a saint through popular consent, which was the method of canonization in the early Church. Though he has had a profound impact upon the Church ever since, he was not declared a Doctor of the Church until 1724.

Source of content: mycatholic.life

Friday, September 29, 2023

Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels

The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls “angels” is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition. Who are they?  St. Augustine says: “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit;’ if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel:’ from what they are, ‘spirit,’ from what they do, ‘angel’” (St. Augustine, En. in Ps. 103, 1, 15: PL 37, 1348). With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they “always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” they are the “mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word” (Mt 18:10; Ps 103:20). As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendour of their glory bears witness. ~Catechism of the Catholic Church #328–330

In the fifth or sixth century, an important Church theologian, given the name Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, used the many references in the Sacred Scriptures to clearly articulate what has become the traditional understanding of the hierarchy of angels. In the thirteenth century, Saint Thomas Aquinas built upon that teaching. Both taught that there are nine choirs in the hierarchy. The nine choirs are further divided into three triads. The three highest, comprising the first triad (Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones), is devoted exclusively to the service of God, worshiping Him continuously. The second triad (Dominions, Virtues, and Powers) is tasked with the governance of the created world and the entire Universe. The third triad (Principalities, Archangels, and Angels) is closest to humanity, acting as mediators between God and man. It is the Archangels whom we honor today.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, there are numerous mentions of the heavenly spirits. In the Old Testament, they stood at the entrance to the Garden of Eden, directed Abraham, stayed his hand at the sacrifice of Isaac, destroyed Sodom and protected Lot, spoke to and wrestled with Jacob, went before Moses and the Israelites, and interacted with Israel’s kings and prophets. In the New Testament, the Archangel Gabriel announced the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. Jesus often spoke of the workings of angels in His preaching. They ministered to Him during His agony in the garden, were present at His Resurrection, and helped set Peter free from prison. Saint Paul spoke about the hierarchy of angels several times.

Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that every human being is assigned a guardian angel. The archangels are next in the hierarchy of angelic spirits and serve humanity directly, performing the most important tasks. The three Archangels we honor today are the only three mentioned in the Bible. However, earlier Jewish traditions name seven archangels, and some speculate that there might be a whole host of archangels whom God uses to assist with the most important aspects of our lives. Raphael describes himself as one of the seven who stand before God.

Michael, whose name means “Who is like God?”, is mentioned several times in the Bible. The Book of Daniel speaks of him as the prince who stands up for the people of Israel in a protective way (Daniel 10:13, 10:21, and 12:1). The Letter of Jude speaks of Michael fighting against Satan in a dispute over the body of Moses, “Yet the archangel Michael, when he argued with the devil in a dispute over the body of Moses, did not venture to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him but said, ‘May the Lord rebuke you!’” (Jude 1:9). The Book of Revelation also reveals Michael’s battle with Satan, casting him from Heaven, “Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven” (Revelation 12:7–8). Based on these passages, Michael is seen as the great defender against Satan and his demons, the protector of the Church, and the Prince of the Angels. Though Saint Thomas assigns him to the second lowest level of the hierarchy of the choirs of angels, others (Saints Basil, Robert Bellarmine, and Bonaventure) have speculated that he directs the entire host of angels, taking the former place of Lucifer, the light-bearer, who was a Seraphim of the highest realm. The prayer to Saint Michael, who defends us in battle, was written by Pope Leo XIII and was prayed thereafter at the end of every Mass until the reforms after Vatican II. Today, it is still prayed in many churches and widely in private devotion.

Gabriel, whose name means “God is my strength” or “Strong man of God,” appears several times in the Bible. In the Book of Daniel, Gabriel appears to interpret Daniel’s vision (Daniel 8:15–27; 9:20–27). In the New Testament, Gabriel appears to Zechariah in the Temple to reveal the birth of his son, John the Baptist (Luke 1:5–20), and to the Blessed Virgin Mary to announce the birth of the Messiah (Luke 1:26–38). It might have also been Gabriel who spoke to Saint Joseph in a dream, dispelling his fear about taking Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:18–25). For these reasons, Gabriel often appears in sacred art blowing a trumpet for his role in conveying divine messages, guiding prophets, and participating in significant events that shape human history.

Raphael, whose name means “God has healed,” is mentioned by name only in the Book of Tobit. Tobit was a wealthy and devout Israelite who had been deported from his home to Nineveh by the Assyrian king. While in exile, he suffered from blindness and sent his son, Tobias, to his homeland to gather his money. On the way, Raphael appeared to Tobias in human form, using the name Azariah. Raphael protected him on the journey and led him to a woman named Sarah who lost seven husbands on the night of their weddings, due to a demon’s attack. The archangel united them in marriage, expelled the demon, and accompanied them back to Tobit, whom he healed. He then revealed to them, “I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand and serve before the Glory of the Lord” (Tobit 12:15). It is speculated that Raphael is also one of the seven angels in the Book of Revelation who each receives one of the seven trumpets, “And I saw that the seven angels who stood before God were given seven trumpets” (Revelation 8:2).

Though great mystery surrounds the full nature and function of these glorious angelic spirits, what is abundantly clear is that God has used them throughout the course of salvation history. Today, we can confidently assert that God continues to pour forth His grace upon us through the mediation of the angels, especially Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. For some reason, God specifically revealed the names of these spirits to us, and that invites us to call upon their mediation. As mediators, they do more than pray for us. They are entrusted with the duty of implementing God’s will.

Source of content: mycatholic.life

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Saint Vincent de Paul


"If God is the center of your life, no words are necessary. Your mere presence will touch hearts."

"We should strive to keep our hearts open to the sufferings and wretchedness of other people, and pray continually that God may grant us that spirit of compassion which is truly the spirit of God."

"Let us allow God to act; He brings things to completion when we least expect it."

"All beginnings are somewhat strange; but we must have patience, and little by little, we shall find things, which at first were obscure, becoming clearer."

"The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it."

"Fear not; calm will follow the storm, and perhaps soon."

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Saints Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs

Today, the Church honors Saints Cosmas and Damian—twin brothers, physicians, and martyrs who have been widely venerated in the East and West since the time of their deaths. Little is known for certain about these saints. What we do know is that they were martyrs, most likely under Roman Emperor Diocletian. What has come down to us by way of legend, however, offers an inspiring witness of faith and courage from the early Church.

Cosmas and Damian might have been born in Cyrrhus, modern-day Syria, and later moved to the Gulf of Iskenderun in Cilicia, modern-day Turkey, in the mid- to late-third century. They were twins, sons of a Christian mother and possibly a Christian father, who raised them in the faith. They were educated in the science of healing and became physicians.

At that time, physicians were often paid based on their reputations. Those who were highly skilled and successful often catered to the wealthy, receiving regular salaries from them. Others charged for services on a case-by-case basis. Because Cosmas and Damian were Christians, legend holds that they decided to evangelize the largely pagan community in which they lived by doing something extraordinary. They offered their healing services for free! This charitable work earned them the title “Anargyroi,” meaning “without silver.” Their counter-cultural practice caught the attention of their fellow citizens and drew many to the faith. Legends hold that they were excellent physicians who healed many, perhaps more through their prayers than by their science. One legend states that they were the first to transplant a leg to an amputee, which is often depicted in art.

In 284, Diocletian became the Roman emperor and embarked on many reforms within the empire. In 303, he began to issue a series of edicts that led to an empire-wide persecution and death of many Christians. Prior to that, persecutions were more localized and random. Around the year 287 or 303 (records are conflicting), the Roman Prefect Lysias of Cilicia arrested the twins Cosmas and Damian. Christians of prominence were often the first to be targeted.

As was the custom, the brothers were given the opportunity to publicly renounce their faith and honor the Roman gods to save their lives. They refused and were sentenced to death. Various legends surrounding their deaths state that they were first tortured in an attempt to get them to comply with the prefect’s wishes. However, they were miraculously preserved from suffering, sustaining no injuries. Multiple attempts were then made to kill them by drowning, fire, arrows, and stoning, but each attempt failed. Finally, Cosmas and Damian, along with three of their brothers, were beheaded. 

It is believed that Cosmas and Damian were buried in the city of Cyrrhus, their possible birthplace. From that time on, they have been widely venerated. Many miraculous healings have been attributed to their intercession. Within a century of their martyrdom, churches were built in their honor in Jerusalem, Egypt, and Mesopotamia.

In the sixth century, Roman Emperor Justinian I honored these saints by restoring the city of their burial. Shortly after, the emperor received a miraculous cure through their intercession. In gratitude, he brought their relics to Constantinople where he built a Church in their honor that became a popular pilgrimage site. In that church, a custom began where the faithful would remain all night at their tomb in prayer, seeking miraculous cures to their ailments. Many miracles have been reported over the centuries.

Also in the sixth century, Pope Symmachus inserted the names of Cosmas and Damian into the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) and Pope Felix IV repurposed a fourth-century pagan temple in Rome, within the Forum of Peace, renaming it the Basilica Santi Cosma e Damiano. Though it has gone through many renovations, the fifth-century mosaics depicting their story are among the most revered pieces of sacred art in Rome.

Though we will never know the exact historical details of the lives and martyrdoms of Saints Cosmas and Damian until we reach the glories of Heaven, the virtues they enshrine should be a source of inspiration and encouragement. Their work of evangelization through free and selfless service in the name of Christ is worthy of imitation. Their heroic martyrdom presents us with the virtues of courage and fidelity to Christ. Their miraculous intercession for those who have been ill should invite us to rely upon their intercession for the sick today.

Source of content: mycatholic.life