Thursday, June 26, 2014

Penances for Busy Moms and Dads

I received a phone call today from a homeschooling mom of five small children. She wanted to do penance for the souls in Purgatory and wondered what she could do. What were good sacrifices to make for the Poor Souls and would the Lord accept them?

Saint Francis de Sales had some good answers for busy parents. Offer up the daily grind as penance and sacrifice, because that is what it is. When we are responsible for little souls and growing and active bodies, we are frequently so busy that we collapse into bed at night. Forget about doing an hour of contemplation as nuns do in convents. A busy house of small children is definitely not a convent. We all have to learn to sanctify our time where we are. "Bloom where you are planted" is definitely an appropriate saying for busy parents.

So what are moms and dads to do? Certainly they can live the CFP Rule and Constitutions! These were written for lay people including parents of small children. But parents should never think that the not eating meat four days a week or the simplifying of their wardrobe or the praying of certain prayers outweighs being patient with reading The Pokey Little Puppy for the 69th time to a toddler. The penances of the CFP Rule and Constitutions are intended to develop the virtues that help us, parents or not, to become more attuned to neighbor and to God, and to see God in our neighbor. That neighbor might be a whiny two year old who insists on eating in the living room when Mom wants her to eat in the kitchen over the linoleum.

Most of us tend to think that our lives are not really holy nor are they avenues to sanctity. The very opposite is true. Our lives can offer the most opportunities for sanctity if we only take advantage of them. This extends from giving your four year old the last cookie when you'd like to have it for yourself to charging out of a warm bed on a cold night because a child is crying over a loud noise heard in the dark. "Offer it up" does not apply only to losing one's job or being rebuffed by an acquaintance. It also extends to having to wash the laundry again because a magic marker was lost in a child's pocket and dyed everything blue.

Parents, don't miss out on the opportunities for holiness right there among the crushed crayons and the corn flakes dumped out into the sink. "Offer it up" along with your CFP penances and do so with as much joy and patience as you can muster. Ask the Holy Spirit to bolster your intentions and your actions. You will find that you are growing in holiness, not only through the penances you seek, but in the ones that come to you. May God sanctify you right where you are!

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Pentecost: New Life into Old Bones

Pentecost is the final and greatest day of the Easter Feast. Historically, Pentecost commemorated the Giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. It was on this day that God gave His chosen people the Ten Commandments as a guide to covenant living. The beginning of wisdom, the beginning of true religion, is the realization that we are limited and shortsighted creatures. The second step of wisdom is to surrender to God's love and will so that He can transform us into the people that He created us to be. 

The Prophet Ezekiel talks about God's Spirit coming into a field of dry bones and bringing them to life. The reading reminds me of a remark made by Fulton J. Sheen. “Even though we are God's chosen people, we often behave more like God's frozen people.” God's frozen people indeed: frozen in our prayer life, frozen in the way we relate with one another, frozen in the way we celebrate our faith. We don't seem to be happy to be in God's house; we are always in a hurry to get it over and done with as soon as possible. Pentecost is a great day to ask the Holy Spirit to rekindle in us the spirit of new life and enthusiasm, the fire of God's love. 

We can identify with the dry sun-bleached bones that covered the desert. We are always talking about life but afraid of living. The Spirit of God hovered over that valley filled with death and despair. The vision was to encourage the despondent Jews--to predict both their restoration after the captivity, and also their recovery from their present and long-continued dispersion. For us, it is a foreshadowing of the resurrection of the dead; and it represents the power and grace of God, in the conversion of the most hopeless sinners to himself. Through the outpouring of the Spirit, God gives himself to us as the Breath of Life and the Fire of Divine Love.  

The disciples were prepared to receive the Holy Spirit by the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. St. John tells us that Jesus stood up and exclaimed to all the people, "Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. As Scripture says: 'Rivers of living water will flow from within him who believes in me.'" This happened on the last day of the Jews' great seven-day celebration called The Festival of Booths. During this annual liturgical celebration, pilgrims who came to Jerusalem would live in huts made of branches. In the course of the celebration, the high priest drew water from the Pool of Siloam, carried it into the Temple and poured it on the altar of sacrifice, commemorating the time when God provided His people water flow from a rock. It is against the backdrop of this celebration that Jesus stands up and exclaims that he is the source of spiritual water and that it is he who satisfies all that we thirst for. 

This thirst speaks to the strong desires for spiritual blessings which nothing else can satisfy; so when Jesus called on the people to come to Him and drink, He was intending to refer to the sanctifying and comforting influences of the Holy Spirit. The comfort flows plentifully and constantly as a river, strong as a stream to bear down the opposition of doubts and fears. There is a fullness in Christ, of grace for grace. The Spirit, dwelling and working in believers, is as a fountain of living, running water, out of which plentiful streams flow, cooling and cleansing as water. These streams have flowed from our glorified Redeemer, down to this age, and to the remote corners of the earth. May we be anxious to make them known to others. 

Acting like Christians means opening ourselves towards others; it means welcoming the whole Church within ourselves or, better still, allowing the Church to welcome us. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of unity and truth, continues to resonate in people's hearts and minds, encouraging them to meet and welcome one another. Precisely because it acts in this way, the Spirit introduces us to the whole truth, who is Jesus, and guides us to examine and understand it. We do not grow in understanding by closing ourselves off inside ourselves, but only by becoming capable of listening and sharing, in the “ourselves” of the Church, with an attitude of deep personal humility. I will close with the prayer to the Holy Spirit offered by St. John XXIII at the opening session of Vatican II. 

We stand before you, Holy Spirit, conscious of our sinfulness, but aware that we gather in your name. 
Come to us, remain with us, and enlighten our hearts. Give us light and strength to know your will, to make it our own, and to live it in our lives. 
Guide us by your wisdom, support us by your power, for you are God, sharing the glory of Father and Son. 
You desire justice for all: enable us to uphold the rights of others; do not allow us to be misled by ignorance or corrupted by fear or favor. 
Unite us to yourself in the bond of love and keep us faithful to all that is true. 
As we gather in your name may we temper justice with love, so that all our decisions may be pleasing to you, and earn the reward promised to good and faithful servants. 
You live and reign with the Father and the Son, One God, forever and ever. Amen. 

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO