Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

[Week 7 of the Imagination in Action reflection series. Theme this week: True Faith]

Is magic real? If so, what is its truest expression? These questions stand at the heart of Susanna Clarke’s 2004 novel “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.” The story is set in the 1800’s in an alternate history of England in which magic once existed. It follows various scholars of magic as they seek to reawaken the practice. I found this book fascinating, and in large measure because of the reflection that it offers on living faith. (Note: there is also a miniseries adaptation available on Netflix. It is not bad, but varies in a number of ways from the book and loses some of my favorite parts).

The first two paragraphs of the book provide a good context for how we can make a parallel with faith:

Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians. They met upon the third Wednesday of every month and read each other long, dull papers upon the history of English magic.

They were gentleman-magicians, which is to say they had never harmed any one by magic – nor ever done any one the slightest good. In fact, to own the truth, not one of these magicians had ever cast the smallest spell, nor by magic caused on leaf to tremble upon a tree, made on emote of dust to alter its course or changed a single hair upon any one’s head. But, with this one minor reservation, they enjoyed a reputation as some of the wisest and most magical gentlemen in Yorkshire.

After this, the chapter describes how one of the meetings was disrupted by the question of why they never practiced magic, and the many excuses offered by the members of the society. They saw practicing what they studied as undignified and beneath their social station. Here we can see a parallel with the strength that faith once possessed in England, and the way that many of the “gentleman-theologians” of the 1800s had continued to study faith, but merely as something historically interesting, and not a living part of their life. Modifying the questions I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we can first ask “Is faith real?” Then, “What does its true expression look like in our lives?”

Is faith real?

I think many people discount faith because they think of it in terms of “blind faith.” I dislike this phrase because I do not think it is accurate to Christian belief. “Blind faith” implies believing something without evidence, and can easily lead into unhealthy or destructive expressions of belief. Although it is true that faith ultimately requires a step of belief, we do not make this step “blind” but can look at motives of credibility (reasons to believe). We might look at the predictions of Christ in the Old Testament (existing long before Jesus walked the earth) or accounts of His miracles. But, I think the most compelling is to look at the Resurrection and the transformation of the Apostles.

If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then why does Christianity exist? Some religions were the development of folk myths that did not face any particular challenge from the surrounding culture (eg the belief in the Greek gods). We can look at other religions that were accompanied by gains in wealth, military power, or public prestige in their early years. While it is true that after the time of Emperor Constantine Christianity became publicly accepted and there was the temptation to profess faith simply for its worldly benefits, this was almost 300 years after the time of Christ and cannot explain the origins of Christianity. The early followers of Christ had to embrace serious public difficulties in accepting the faith.

We have many writings from the first century of Christianity (many overlapping with the life of the Apostles) that we can look at – St Polycarp of Smyrna, St Ignatius of Antioch, St Irenaeus of Lyons, St Justin Martyr, or the letter of the Roman Governor Pliny to Emperor Trajan (to give a few examples). So, it is not credible to say that the account of Christ’s life was manufactured hundreds of years after His lifetime when there was no means of knowing the truth.

Most of all, I think we have to look at the transformation of the Apostles. St John Chrysostom points out that we have to wonder why they were afraid to follow Jesus while He lived (running away at the time of the crucifixion), but were bold to profess Him after His death. Why suffer and die for something you knew was a lie? Likewise, the claim that they all had the exact same hallucination and all held firm to it to the end seems hard to believe. These could have been disproven in the early years by presenting the body of Jesus still in the tomb. I think the most credible explanation is that they did encounter the risen Christ, and this was the source of their transformation. Therefore, we are not asked to accept a “blind faith,” but one that rests on solid witness.

What does faith’s true expression look like in our lives?

This leads us to our next question in regards to true faith: its lived experience. Returning to “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell,” we see that even if some of the magicians believed that magic actually had existed, it had no impact in their life. They felt more pressure to follow the social conventions of their time than what they studied. This is likewise a great challenge to us today. The obstacle to faith in many people may not be historical questions about the Resurrection, but the poor witness that we as Christians sometimes give. St James writes in the Bible that, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). True faith is built upon confidence in the words of Christ, and it is expressed in allowing transformation in our life. Too often we hold back in fear from letting go of the worldly promises for happiness: power, popularity, possessions, or pleasure. We see the good fruit of faith in the lives of saints and holy people we know, but aren’t ready (or sure) how to follow them.

I don’t write this to discourage anyone in their faith, but for encouragement to embrace the season of Easter. The transformation of the lives of the Apostles is not described as happening in a single day. Instead, Jesus spends forty days with them until the Ascension, strengthening them in their new-found faith. He then instructs them to spend nine days in prayer before receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (the fiftieth day). It is at this point that we see them sent forth to begin preaching.

So, if our assessment of our life of faith right now leaves us feeling down, let us remember that Easter is not a single day. It is a season that stretches across those same fifty days that the Apostles experienced. It is a time to ask the Lord to give us strength and confidence, as well as a deeper outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This is difficult to do alone, and so I am going to change the focus of my reflections leading up to Pentecost. During Lent I looked mainly at our personal spiritual life. During Easter I will look at the mission of a parish and how connection with our parish helps to nourish this transformation of faith. God bless!

Friday Penance

One of the classic parts of Lent is not eating meat on Fridays – but why?

The practice of penitential days has a long and varied history. The words “penitential” and “penance” come from the same word as “repentance.” They indicate sorrow for sin, as well as a resolution for change. The practice of penance is ultimately about disconnecting from whatever is keeping us from authentically following Christ, healing the wounds that have been caused (to ourselves, to others, or to our relationship with God), and seeking to follow Christ more closely.

Different types of fasting have been practiced throughout the history of the Church and in different regions. The days chosen have mainly been Wednesdays (the traditional day of Judas’ decision to betray Jesus), Fridays (the day of the Crucifixion), and Saturdays/Vigils (in preparation for the feast day to come). Abstaining from “flesh meat” (the meat of warm-blooded animals) represents embracing a poorer meal, giving up luxury, and seeking to follow our spiritual vocation rather than just living for earthly things. Doing this publicly as a group gives us mutual support and a common witness to living our faith. It helps connect us with the poor and suffering. The Christian is called not to an easy life, but a great life. St Paul uses the image of an athlete training for competition (1 Corinthians 9:27). The path of penance helps to set us free from slavery to “the path of least resistance” and to embrace our true vocation!

As many remember, in the United States it used to be required to abstain from meat every Friday of the year. In 1966 a statement was issued by the National Conference of Bishops that removed this particular requirement (except for Ash Wednesday and Lenten Fridays). The goal of this was not to remove the spiritual significance of Friday. The Bishops saw that for many people the practice of abstaining from meat had lost its meaning. They encouraged creativity to find new ways to make Friday special – whether that meant giving up something that was more personally significant, engaging more fully in prayer/piety, or seeking opportunities for works of charity. Here is an excerpt from the 1966 statement:

Every Catholic Christian understands that the fast and abstinence regulations admit of change, unlike the commandments and precepts of that unchanging divine moral law which the Church must today and always defend as immutable. This said, we emphasize that our people are henceforth free from the obligation traditionally binding under pain of sin in what pertains to Friday abstinence, except as noted above for Lent. We stress this so that no scrupulosity will enter into examinations of conscience, confessions, or personal decisions on this point… Friday, please God, will acquire among us other forms of penitential witness which may become as much a part of the devout way of life in the future as Friday abstinence from meat…

It would bring great glory to God and good to souls if Fridays found our people doing volunteer work in hospitals, visiting the sick, serving the needs of the aged and the lonely, instructing the young in the Faith, participating as Christians in community affairs, and meeting our obligations to our families, our friends, our neighbors, and our community, including our parishes, with a special zeal born of the desire to add the merit of penance to the other virtues exercised in good works born of living faith.

In summary, let it not be said that by this action, implementing the spirit of renewal coming out of the Council, we have abolished Friday, repudiated the holy traditions of our fathers, or diminished the insistence of the Church on the fact of sin and the need for penance. Rather, let it be proved by the spirit in which we enter upon prayer and penance, not excluding fast and abstinence freely chosen, that these present decisions and recommendations of this conference of bishops will herald a new birth of loving faith and more profound penitential conversion, by both of which we become one with Christ, mature sons of God, and servants of God’s people.

(I highly recommend reading the full text here- https://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year-and-calendar/lent/us-bishops-pastoral-statement-on-penance-and-abstinence)

Sadly the hopes of this document were not realized, and most Catholics are unaware of what this instruction actually said beyond removing the old requirement. Instead of renewing our practice and developing new methods (or embracing the old methods with personal commitment rather than obligation), the special character of Friday was almost completely lost. Yet, it remains part of the current practice of the Church. The current Code of Canon Law for the universal Church states:

The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent. Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast. (canons 1250, 1251, and 1253)

What does this mean for us? It means that Friday is still called to be observed as a special day each week, even though the requirement to abstain from meat only applies during Lent in the United States. For other Fridays of the year we may freely choose what practice we will undertake, guided by the classic categories of Lent (prayer, fasting, and almsgiving/works of mercy).

By sharing this I don’t mean to just add another burden to your plate! Instead, I want to make this known because I see a deep wisdom in this. I have found in my own life the value of the weekly reminder to add a little more spiritual focus. It is good to have a plan for what we will do on Fridays, or for what intention we will offer our sacrifice. We all need spiritual discipline to really thrive at life and develop our faith.

Likewise, I think there is another important reminder in this text of canon law: we are preparing for a celebration! It points out that things are different on a solemnity. Fulton Sheen said that we can either practice a fast that leads to a feast, or a feast that leads to a headache! In other words, when we take the time for penitential days, the days of celebration have greater value. When we merely binge/indulge without structure, however, the true joy of the celebrations is lost. The end goal is to rejoice in the gift of salvation. For this reason, Sunday is never considered a day of fasting. Likewise, neither are Solemnities (first-class feast days), even when they fall on a Friday. An example of this is the Solemnity of St Joseph (March 19), which falls on a Friday this year – even though it is Lent, we are not required to abstain from meat (although prayer and works of mercy are still fitting!). As the book of Nehemiah says, “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10)

Advent 2020 Prayer Study – Week 2

The second step of the “lectio divina” method of praying with the Bible is called “Meditation.” This word can be used to mean many different things, and nowadays often is used in terms of what we spoke about last week – mental preparation for prayer in order to focus our attention, etc. However, in the classic sense this word refers not just to mental preparation, but to prayerful reflection and consideration of the Scripture passage. Last week we sought to read through the passage and pay attention to where we felt called to “go deeper.” The first step was like searching for spiritual food, and now in meditation we begin to chew and digest what we encountered. Our prayer to the Holy Spirit is important here so that it can be more than just human reflection or talking to ourselves in our head. What does this passage seem to be saying to us? How does it connect with or shine light on other parts of the Scriptures? What does it tell us about Christ, the Christian life, or heaven? All of these questions can help us to enter into a conversation with God, which we will discuss next week! Below are some daily reflections I posted on Facebook-

Monday: Can a word in Holy Scripture have several senses? St Thomas Aquinas considers this question in the beginning of his famous work called the Summa Theologiae/”Summary of Theology” (Q. 1 A. 10). He answers that yes, a word can have several senses, because God is able of speaking on many levels at once! St Thomas speaks of the literal sense of the text, and then three levels of spiritual meaning – the allegorical, the moral, and the anagogical. The rest of this week we will be looking at each of these for an aid to our meditation and prayer with Scripture!

Tuesday: The first “sense” of Scripture that St Thomas Aquinas identifies is the literal or historical sense. We may be tempted to skip over the account itself to look for other meanings, but taking the time to consider the scene in depth may help to shed new light on it. A method that could be helpful here is one we spoke of last week – the encouragement of Ignatius Loyola to put ourselves somewhere in the scene as an observer or participant. This can help us to understand the text in a way that prepares us for deeper spiritual senses contained within it!

Wednesday: In addition to the literal/historical sense of a passage, St Thomas identifies three spiritual senses. The first is the Analogical Sense, insofar as “the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law.” The Old Testament prepares for what happens in the New Testament. For example, St Paul sees a symbol for baptism in the Israelites crossing the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10), and St Peter sees one in Noah’s Ark (1 Peter 3). In a related way, we may even see analogies within the New Testament itself (eg Jesus being lost in the Temple for three days in Luke 2 and Jesus being in the tomb for three days). So, one way of meditating on a passage is considering what analogies/connections it may have with other parts of the Bible!

Thursday: St Thomas’ second spiritual sense is the Moral Sense, “so far as the things which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do.“ This is probably the most common one that comes to our mind, as it involves asking how the passage at hand can guide us in living a Christian life.  Our temptation can often be to try to change Christ into our own version of Him, but here we are invited to let him renew our way of thinking and acting so that we can be transformed into His image.

Friday: The final spiritual sense has the oddest name… the Anagogical Sense! St Thomas says this refers to “so far as they signify what relates to eternal glory.” In other words, how does this passage direct us to better understand the life of heaven? For example, the healing of the blind or lame may invite us to reflect on the joy of being set free from what binds us here. This sense can especially help to nourish our hearts with hope and desire when we are tempted by discouragement or sadness!

Dyngus Day

My mother’s side of the family is Polish, and through this I was introduced to the celebration of “Dyngus Day” the day after Easter Sunday. I thought I’d share a little about what this celebration is about, and how it connects in a Catholic sense with the Easter season!

The celebration of Dyngus Day in the United States (and my experience) is sort of a combination of what St Patrick’s Day is for the Irish and what Mardi Gras is before Lent. It celebrates the cultural heritage of Polish Americans with polka music, authentic Polish sausage/kielbasa, pierogi, and other traditional things. It also is connected to celebrating the end of Lent, and this is something I have come to appreciate more and more over the years!

Whereas Mardi Gras has a sense of cramming in a last bit of celebration before the fasting of Lent, Dyngus Day has a note of continuing and developing the joy of the Resurrection! Too often we can think of Easter as a single day, when in our faith Easter Sunday is celebrated for an entire octave of eight days, and the Easter season the fifty days until Pentecost! Commemorating Easter Monday helps to prepare for a season of joy. This reminds me of a reflection given by Venerable Fulton Sheen, who spoke of two approaches to life: the pattern of feasting followed by headache (the approach that seeks to grab what it can today at the expense of tomorrow) and the pattern of fasting followed by feasting (the approach that takes the effort to lay the groundwork today so that tomorrow can be a true celebration).

I am thankful to the great tradition of faith connected with my Polish ancestry – Our Lady of Czestochowa, St Faustina and the Divine Mercy devotion, St Maximilian Kolbe, and Pope St John Paul II, to name just a few parts of it! And although (as with St Patrick’s Day) some would see Dyngus Day as merely an excuse for a party, I would include it as a part of this list for the way that it inaugurates a great season of thanksgiving. God bless!

Easter Homily 2019 (summary!)

Alleluia, He is Risen!

Today I think of an experience that we probably all have had as a child – what I call the “reassuring glance.” I can remember times as a kid of being nervous about an at bat in baseball, or jumping off the high dive in the pool, or having to speak in public, and then looking over and seeing my mom, dad, a coach, or a friend. In seeing them present, I was given courage to face the situation before me. When we see a child in one of these nervous situations make a reassuring glance like that, we can see their whole mood and expression change. They become more confident. Their fear is overcome and they can deal with the challenge.

For us as Christians, our ultimate source of assurance can be found in the Resurrected Christ. He has conquered death! Death no longer has power over Him, as St Paul says. As Christ drew all of our sufferings and failures to Himself in His death, He now includes all of our victories in His resurrection. This is what transformed the Apostles. As a saint said, if they were afraid to follow Him publicly while He was alive, what makes them rise up courageous and unconquerable after His death? It is their encounter with Jesus in His resurrection. For this reason St Paul can say that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him.

However, this change didn’t reach its fulfillment in one day. Jesus spent forty days after His resurrection with them before His ascension, strengthening them and letting this reassurance deepen. They spent the next ten days in prayer waiting for the Holy Spirit, and on the fiftieth day – Pentecost – they were ready. No matter how many Easters we have celebrated, we are invited in these next fifty days to return to this meditation on victory! When we face challenges – whether the every-day sort or the types that shake us to the core – let us repeat those words, “Jesus, you are risen. You are victorious. You are with me. I can face this situation in the light of your victory over death.” May we arrive at the end of this Easter season more deeply connected with our Risen Lord. Amen, alleluia!

Lent 2019

I thought I’d post a few thoughts about Lenten goals for this year, based around the three classic works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Many of these suggestions are similar to what I’ve written in past years, but there’s always a little something new!

1. Prayer

A. Sacraments

The sacraments are our baseline for prayer. Sunday Mass gives the core to our week. We should find a time to make a good sacramental Confession/Reconciliation at some point during the season. Daily Masses are a great way to keep the season holy, too.

B. Personal Prayer

Personal prayer and other devotions deepen our sacramental prayer. Scripture reading, books of reflection, the rosary, or the Stations of the Cross are all great aids to prayer. At its root, personal prayer develops a conversation between us and God.

C. Spiritual Reading

I’m going to add a separate category here because I think spiritual reading is so important! This is a little different than prayer, but nourishes our growth in faith. Search for great books or guides for reflection. If you are a member of St Malachy/St Elizabeth, Formed is a tremendous resource. You can gain access through stmalachyrantoul.formed.org. It includes not just books, but videos, talks, podcasts, and movies. Matthew Kelly organizes another daily option called “Best Lent Ever” (https://dynamiccatholic.com/best-lent-ever). I also provide resources on my website (if you’re reading this in another format, the address is borrowedlore.com).

2. Fasting

A. The basic regulations for Catholics are that all those 14 years of age or older are required to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent. Those 18-59 are required to limit their food to one main meal (with two smaller meals/snacks) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In case of medical necessity this requirement doesn’t bind.

B. In addition, we may personally choose to give something up for Lent. Screen time is always a recommendation that I give. I think it’s important to connect this to prayer and almsgiving. Our sacrifice could give us extra time to pray. Feeling the absence of something could be a reminder to pray. Money saved could be given to charitable causes.

3. Almsgiving
This can include any of the works of mercy. It is often the most neglected of the three works, and to be honest will be the shortest of my points here. However, that is because I plan to make this the focus of my reflections during this Lent- so, more to come on this area!

I encourage you to take some time in these next few days to discern what goals you are being called to set. Some might be daily goals, or weekly, or even once per Lent. Please pray for me, and be assured of my prayers for your Lenten season. God bless!

The Christmas Octave

The Catholic Church celebrates Christmas as an “octave.” What does this mean? It refers to extending the feast from a single day into an eight day celebration because there is just too much to fit into twenty-four hours! Octaves have a long tradition, and in the past many other feasts received this treatment (Easter is the only other Octave in the Church right now). The practice flows from a number of Old Testament feasts that celebrated the “eighth day,” as well as the eight-day dedication of the Temple. Here are some highlights from the Christmas Octave – these days help to extend the grace of the 25th, and draw out more aspects of its meaning!

December 26th commemorates St Stephen, the first martyr (see Acts of the Apostles, chapter 6). This is referenced in one of my favorite Christmas carols, Good King Wenceslas, which is set “on the feast of Stephen!” Stephen shows the strength of the Gospel being put into practice, as well as a powerful symbol of forgiveness. St Paul (before he was St Paul) was present at the stoning of Stephen, and the Office of Readings on this day reflects on this in light of Paul’s later conversion. It quotes a sermon by St Fulgentius, who wrote, “Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen. This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen’s death, and Stephen delights in Paul’s companionship, for love fills them both with joy. It was Stephen’s love that prevailed over the cruelty of the mob, and it was Paul’s love that covered the multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven.” (You can find the full text here towards the end of the page: http://www.liturgies.net/Liturgies/Catholic/loh/christmas/stephen/officeofreadings.htm).

December 27th marks the feast St John, the Apostle and Gospel-writer. His books of scripture give a special insight into the heart of Christ, and emphasize that Jesus is the Word made flesh (born to save us and offer us the opportunity for encounter with Him). He alone among the Apostles stood faithful at the Cross, and was entrusted with/to the care of Mary, the mother of Jesus. As Stephen represents those who give their life by martyrdom, John represents those who give their life by fidelity to the end of natural life.

December 28th remembers the “Holy Innocents,” the children killed by Herod in his attempt to kill the Christ-child.  In a way they represent all of those that gave their life before the arrival of the Messiah, as well as all those that suffer unjustly. This event required Mary and Joseph to flee to Egypt with Jesus for a time. So, although Christmas is a joyful time, this day invites us to remember those who suffer and wait for the full peace of the Kingdom (As an interesting cultural note, in Mexico this is the equivalent of April Fools’ Day. The idea is that everyone wants to be seen as a “holy innocent” even while pulling the pranks!)

The Sunday after Christmas (or, December 30th if Christmas is a Sunday) is the feast of the Holy Family. We focus on the dynamics of the relationship of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. In their home at Nazareth they began to embody and live the Gospel. I always appreciate this feast as a day of gratitude for my family, and to pray for all those that are in particular need at this time. It is also a time to reflect on what I can do to support my family and those around me.

Finally, I want to say a little about the “octave day” (January 1st). It is celebrated as the feast of Mary, the Mother of God (this day has a history of many names, which may be its own blog post at some point!). The title “Mother of God” was strongly promoted after the Council of Ephesus (431 AD) in contrast to the preaching of Nestorius (who denied the unity of Jesus as one Person, true God and true Man). We believe Mary gave birth to a Person, Jesus – who was the Son of God from all eternity, and took to himself a human nature in his birth in time from Mary. This is a key point because the whole work of redemption was to reunite fallen human nature with the abundance of the divine nature. Jesus realizes this in His person. Therefore, this feast brings us back to the beginning by reinforcing the full impact of what happened on Christmas Day; not just the birth of a good human child, but the birth of Salvation itself!

Starting a New Liturgical Year

The Catholic phrase “liturgical year” refers to the schedule of celebrations, seasons, and feast days that we commemorate throughout the year (the most famous being Christmas and Easter). It actually gives a tremendous way to bring the Gospel into every-day life and to experience the scope of salvation history.

The “liturgical new year” begins with the first Sunday of Advent (four Sundays before Christmas). This time sets the stage of waiting and expectation for the coming of the Messiah, the birth of the Christ child. It gives a chance to begin again our reflection on the life of Jesus. We then celebrate the season of Christmas for about three weeks, which covers Jesus’ “hidden” life—from His birth to baptism. There is a period of “Ordinary Time” that leads up to Lent, which gives a more general reflection on His earthly ministry. With Ash Wednesday we start the forty days of special preparation for Easter Sunday, the day on which we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. Easter Season lasts for fifty days until the feast of Pentecost, when the apostles received the Holy Spirit and went out to begin preaching. Finally, the Church returns to Ordinary Time to meditate on our Christian life until the end of the year. The final Sunday of the year commemorates Christ the King—giving us a chance to reflect on the everlasting kingdom.

That is a very brief sketch, but hopefully shows the way that the whole of salvation history is summarized in each year! Why go over it again and again? I think the best reason is because we need that to really let things sink into our understanding. Every time we walk through this path we have the opportunity for deeper insight and better application. May the Lord bless the new liturgical year, and may it bear much fruit. God bless!

What is the Pentecost Novena?

Novenas are a popular form of Catholic prayer. It refers to spending nine days in a row praying for a particular intention. They may have a set prayer, a set of reflections, or another practice along with it (eg, giving up something for the time period or doing some work of mercy each day during the novena). Usually a novena is prayed in preparation for some specific feast day. It’s almost like a little mini-Lent. I personally have gained a lot of fruit from this devotion and have certain novenas that I pray every year.

However, I think that often people do not know that the origin for the practice is very Biblical! – not just some crazy thing Catholics made up :). It comes from the days of prayer that the disciples spent in preparation for Pentecost. Jesus spent forty days with his disciples after the Resurrection speaking to them about the Kingdom of God, and then before ascending into heaven gave the Great Commission for them to go out and preach the Gospel to all nations. But, Jesus did not instruct them to immediately begin the work. First, he told them to wait and pray in Jerusalem until they received the “promise of the Father” (see Acts of the Apostles 1:3-4). This promise was fulfilled just over a week later when the disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (a word that means “fiftieth day”). This meant there had been nine days of prayer between the Thursday of the Ascension and Pentecost.

A novena can be as simple or involved as you desire. May the Lord create within us the space to receive the gift he desires to give!

A Famous Quote from St. Catherine of Siena

St. Catherine of Siena (feast day April 29th) lived in the late 1300’s and is considered one of the masters of the spiritual life despite her simple life and training. She also worked vigorously to correct the disunity and dysfunction of the Church at her time. This letter was written to her friend Stefano Maconi, who she believed was resisting God’s call to enter monastic life. She saw this as emblematic of the problems of the time, and wished his help in the work she had undertaken. After her death Stefano did become a Carthusian, eventually being named General of the Order. A quote from the end of this letter has become somewhat famous, and I think knowing this context makes it even more powerful! If we are what we ought to be (i.e., if we follow the call God has for us), we will set the world on fire! God bless-

From a Letter of St Catherine Sienna to Stefano Maconi

In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

Dearest son in Christ Jesus: I Catherine, servant of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to you with desire to see you arise from the lukewarmness of your heart…  For in truth, if we did see [the utter love of Christ], our heart would burn with the flame of love, and we should be famished for time, using it with great zeal for the honor of God and the salvation of souls. To this zeal I summon you, dearest son, that now we begin to work anew…

Be fervent and not tepid in this activity, and in encouraging your brothers and elders of the Company to do all they may in the affair of which I write. If you are what you ought to be, you will set fire to all Italy, and not only yonder. I say no more to you. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God….