What is the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe?

The title “Our Lady of Guadalupe” comes from an event in the life of St Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531. He was walking to church for Mass on the Immaculate Conception and passed by the hill of Tepeyac (near modern Mexico City). He saw a lady standing upon it, who called to him and introduced herself as the immaculate Mother of God. Mary asked for a church to be built on that hill where God could give his blessings (this was before the Christian faith was widespread in Mexico). She sent him to the bishop with the request. The bishop asked for a sign before he would accept this message, and at the same time Juan Diego’s uncle fell very sick. Juan Diego was torn by his sense of being an unworthy messenger and the needs of his uncle, and so tried to avoid the task. But, Mary encountered him again and assured him with the words, “Am I not here? Am I not your mother?” She directed him to some flowers that had bloomed on the hill (out of season for December), and so he gathered these in his tilma (a cloak made of cactus fibers) to present as the sign for the bishop. However, when he lowered the tilma to release the flowers, the image of our Lady of Guadalupe appeared upon it (the name comes from a title she was heard to say which refers to the act of crushing the head of the serpent, as in Genesis 3:15). At this, the bishop accepted the message as authentic and the church was built. Juan Diego stayed on as the caretaker, with the general public not knowing his role in the events until after his death. It became a place of great pilgrimage and the tilma with the image is still intact in the Shrine in Mexico City, despite almost five centuries (and the first few of those without any form of preservation).

The impact of this encounter was massive. It made a statement that God desired to be present here, and in communion with the people here. As in the “original Advent,” Christ was about to come to birth, and Mary was carrying his presence (see Luke 1:39-46). Mary had appeared to an indigenous, humble man. She had likewise arrived in an appearance that the people of the time would recognize, as one of them. The continued presence of the tilma throughout the centuries has corresponded with the continued faith in what it represents: God with us. It presents both a comfort and encouragement to us, and also a reminder of who we are called to be. We encounter the love of God, and then this encounter develops into a relationship. By discipleship we allow God to form us in His own image (rather than seeking to remake God in our own image). Then, we are sent out as Christ-bearers into the world.

The traditional acclamation for the day is, “¡Que viva la Virgen de Guadalupe! – ¡Que viva!” “Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe! – May she live!” (similar to the cry of ¡Viva Cristo Rey! – Long live Christ the King!). The acclamation emphasizes that this is a faith of life. Christ is no longer dead, but continues to live. The saints continue to live with Him. We are invited to enter into this same life. God continuously invites us to an encounter that can blossom into a new life. May He live in us, and us in Him. ¡Que viva!

Who was Blessed Miguel Pro?

Miguel Pro was born in the state of Zacatecas in Mexico in 1891. He entered the seminary to study to be a priest in 1911, but had to leave when anti-Catholicism in Mexico caused the seminary to close in 1914. He snuck out of the country and was able to complete his studies in Spain. His family wasn’t able to attend his ordination and so after the Mass he blessed pictures of his family instead.

In 1926 he was allowed to return to Mexico, despite the fact that President Plutarco Calles had effectively outlawed practicing the Catholic faith. Miguel Pro had been known for his sense of humor, and began to use his skill at disguises to continue his priestly ministry. He would dress as a janitor or other worker to gain entrance to houses. My favorite ruse was that he carried a police officer’s uniform and at times was able to change into it when the authorities arrived, and escape by joining in on his own search!

Eventually, however, Calles created false charges that he had been involved in an assassination attempt on one of his officials. He arrested Miguel and had him executed by firing squad without trial. Calles even had each step of the execution photographed in an attempt to scare off others protesting his persecution of the Church. Miguel asked for permission for time to kneel and pray, forgave his executioners, and then stood facing them with his arms outstretched in the form of a cross (holding a crucifix and rosary in his hands). He declined a blindfold and died proclaiming the motto of the Cristero movement: “¡Viva Cristo Rey! – Long live Christ the King! Forty-thousand people attended his funeral. Rather than crushing opposition to Calles’ rule, Miguel served as a powerful witness against him. He was declared “blessed” (the step before sainthood) as a martyr by Pope John Paul II in 1988.

It can be difficult to imagine why someone dedicated to the simple life of celebrating the sacraments for his people should have met with such firm resistance and a brutal death. Unfortunately, all too often Christ’s words have proven true: “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Christianity calls its members to serve as “salt and light” in the world, but history is full of times that governments have found this way of life unacceptable. Why is this? There are different reasons at different times, but we see the patter of Christ’s life repeating in them. By proclaiming a limit to human authority the Gospel stands as something opposed to absolute claims of power made in this world. It challenges every one of us to examine our own heart, and then proposes this challenge to the culture at large. Miguel’s love for Christ over-flowed into sacrificial love for his people. May his example continue to shine for us.

What is Catholic about Halloween?

On the surface there isn’t much that looks Catholic (or even religious) about Halloween. One of the most basic elements is, though—the name! It is a shortening of the phrase “All Hallows’ Eve” (“e’en” and “eve” are both short forms of “evening”), which in turn indicates that it is the evening before All Saints’ Day (“hallowed” is another way to say “holy,” as in the Our Father “hallowed be Thy name”). It forms part of what might be called the Fall Holy Week! Like the celebration of Easter in the Spring, we have a whole run of special days.

October 31st, as the vigil for a major feast day, is a time in the Catholic liturgical cycle to prepare and/or begin to celebrate the coming day. Parts of the current cultural celebration flow from other sources, but still the opportunity remains to keep this context in mind. A classic way would be to spend the first part of the day as a time of preparation (maybe by setting aside time for prayer/reflection, making a sacrifice for the day, or doing work of mercy), and then spending the latter part with a celebration/thanksgiving!

On November 1st (a holy day of obligation for us) we take a moment to commemorate all of the saints in heaven—named or unnamed. We give thanks God for the gift of their holiness, we ask for their prayers, and we seek to learn from their lives. I’ve already mentioned this a number of other times on this blog, but I have found the communion of saints to be a tremendously strong help in the spiritual life!

November 2nd is generally referred to as All Souls’ Day in the US (or Día de los Muertos in Spanish), and on it we commemorate all of the faithful departed. We pray that by the purifying power of the Redemption of Christ they may enter into the full company of the saints (I’ll have to post more about praying for the deceased another time!). Black vestments may be used, which is not to signify despair but rather compassion for the solemnity of the loss of a loved one (like waiting with them during the night for the dawn). As with a funeral, the priest may also wear white vestments (signifying the Resurrection) or purple (which we wear in times of purification or petition). There is a special indulgence (again, something for another post!) if we visit a cemetery to pray for the deceased in the week following. Finally, in this spirit of compassion, many places also include prayers for those who have lost loved ones in the past year on this day. All Souls’ is a fitting time since it falls just before the start of the holiday season (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, etc), which can be especially difficult after a significant loss. Consider reaching out to someone you know that might be in need of support, or searching for support if you are struggling.

I encourage you to enter into these holy days. The liturgical calendar of celebrations gives a powerful way to let our daily life enter into harmony with our life of faith! It gives us moments to renew our devotion or to focus on particular needs. May we support each other this week through the Communion of Saints!

How do you conduct a disputation?

Disagreements are often… disagreeable. Some people seem to like conflict too much and others avoid it at all costs. Jesus was a master of handling those that tried to trap him in speech (e.g. the question on paying the tribute to Caesar, Matthew 22:15-21). I thought today we might look at some tips on handling disputations ourselves.

I want to take St Thomas Aquinas as a model to examine. He studied/taught at the University of Paris in the 13th Century, where “disputation” was a technical term for a form of debate. He used this as the structure for his main writing, the Summa Theologiae (a summary of theology). A disputation would begin by stating a question (e.g. “Whether baptism is a sacrament”). Objections would be raised, and then responses given—a statement of authority, the author’s own reply, and then responses to the individual objections.

This structure makes reading his work a little different from something written in prose, but is very helpful for working through a problem. It pursues truth while maintaining charity and fairness to the opponent. Many of these points may strike us as common sense, but it’s good to review them from time to time! Let’s break down his steps and see what can be gained from them:

  1. A disputation remains focused on a single question. A common problem in arguments is to continue to raise more and more points and not allow the other side to respond. This stops being a search for truth and instead becomes an attempt to bury the opponent in words. Stay on topic!
  2. Second, by examining objections, it takes the time to understand the other person. Listing the objections is not supposed to be an exercise in distorting them! Aquinas would seek to put himself in the shoes of his objectors and be fair to their argument. Again, this is an extremely common mistake that ruins discussions. We need to understand what others are saying and not turn their statement into a “straw man” (the term for misrepresenting the opponent to weaken their argument). Aquinas studied pagan, Jewish, and Muslim authors as part of his philosophical/theological investigations as well. He wanted to seek truth and to think clearly about the places of disagreement. Otherwise, the step of listing objections will not bear any fruit.
  3. Third, Aquinas would quote a text that he held as an authority (usually Scripture or another saint). Citing an authority isn’t always convincing (e.g. your interlocutor may not accept the same authorities), but it does remind us of the importance of doing our research. Sometimes the better answer is to pause the discussion and say, “I do not know” or “I’ll look that up” rather than to just make something up that sounds good!
  4. Fourth, Aquinas would give his own answer to the question in a simple, logical fashion. He didn’t rely upon emotional pressure or insulting attacks. This might be another time where we defer to a later time so that we have a chance to get our thoughts in order before offering an immediate response.
  5. Finally, he went back and responded to the specific concerns of his interlocutor. Like before, there is a temptation here to lose track of the actual point of the conversation. We might give an answer to an imaginary objection rather than the concerns of the person we are actually speaking with. Even if we do respond to them, it may be the case that they still aren’t convinced of our point. We need to have patience and not feel like every conversation is a matter of life or death. We can’t forget to leave time for thought, reflection, and future discussions. Our goal isn’t just to “win” a disagreement but to be faithful to truth and charity, and to leave the rest to God.

I know that I myself don’t always put this into practice perfectly, but studying Aquinas certainly helped! I highly encourage anyone who wants to think clearly (and dispute charitably) to spend some time studying his work. God bless!

What led me to the rosary?

The rosary is one of the most distinctive Catholic prayers, but it didn’t come easily to me. It seemed so long, and kind of outdated. Others have concerns about devotions to Mary in general—do they lead us to Christ? In the end the rosary proved to be one of the devotions that most helped me grow closer to God—and a key step in beginning to consider a vocation to the priesthood.

When I entered college I joined the campus council of the Knights of Columbus (around November). They gave out rosaries, asked us to carry them, and encouraged us to pray them as often as we could. I did begin keeping mine in my pocket but never prayed it. I don’t think I had prayed a rosary since Sunday school, but it did intrigue me. I knew other people prayed the rosary and spoke highly of it. So, when it came time to pick a Lenten goal in the spring my mind went back to the rosary. I had a sense it would be a good thing to do, and a little sense of responsibility since I had not followed through on praying it yet. I set a goal to pray it each day during Lent.

At first I had to look up the instructions online. I knew the basic prayers by memory, but was fuzzy on some of the details. In particular, I needed a refresher on the “mysteries” of the rosary. These are one of the keys to what makes the rosary such a powerful method of prayer. If you aren’t familiar with them, how it works is that each “decade” of the rosary is made up of an Our Father, 10 Hail Marys, and a Glory Be. During each decade you call to mind a particular event from the life of Christ or Mary (called the “mysteries”) and reflect on it. These mysteries are grouped into four categories (Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious). A standard rosary consists of praying all five decades of one group of mysteries. For example, the Joyful mysteries include the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus to Mary, the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, the birth of Jesus, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple.

It was a tough habit to start. In the beginning most of my effort was focused on the logistics (what to say and when). After a little while I began to be able to focus on the mysteries and really think about them. The set of prayers gave me a fixed amount of time to think, and something to “do” to help focus. I gradually realized that the mysteries basically took you through the life of Christ, from the Annunciation all the way through our entrance into the life of heaven. These reflections began to bring together the “big picture” for me, and I began to really think about these things. I came to understand more about what the mysteries meant and how they connected with events I was facing. It wasn’t an abstract or solitary reflection, but one carried out in union with Jesus’ mother, Mary. Thanks be to God, I was able to continue this practice throughout all of Lent, and it really changed me. It’s hard to exaggerate how much this helped me to grow in an adult understanding of my faith and in my ability to enter into conversation with God during prayer. It ended up being my Lenten practice again my sophomore year of college, and it was shortly after that when I began to consider my calling from God. Developing this serious life of prayer (even if just 15-20 minutes a day) was something essential in becoming who I am today. Providentially, I later found out the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is the anniversary of my baptism—a connection that brings me great joy!

There are different forms of prayer, but I wanted to share this one since it was a powerful avenue of grace in my life (and in countless others over the past 800 years or so!). It can be prayed in its fuller form, or even just one decade at a time. It is a great prayer for groups or to pray alone. It can be prayed in a church, on a walk, or in the car. Each decade can be offered for a particular intention, which makes it a great prayer of petition. It is a prayer that continues to adapt with you throughout life! I really had no idea where it would lead me, but am so grateful for what God has done. It humbles me to realize how God overcame my resistance and led me to follow Him

Take the time to pray. If you don’t know where to start or how to grow, take the time to have a conversation with someone that does have a serious life of prayer. You won’t regret it. God bless!

Who are the archangels?

September 29th is the feast day for the archangels in the Catholic Church. We list three- Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. Michael is referenced in the Old Testament book of Daniel (chapters 10 and 12), the letter of Jude in the New Testament, and the book of Revelation. Gabriel also appears in Daniel (chapters 8 and 9), and in the first chapter of Luke (appearing to Mary and Zechariah). Raphael appears in the Old Testament book of Tobit, and is sometimes connected with the angel in John 5. They represent three ways that angels serve in the Scriptures: to protect, to announce, and to heal. I’ll let St Gregory the Great take it the rest of the way! (From Homily 34)

You should be aware that the word “angel” denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels. And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages.
  Some angels are given proper names to denote the service they are empowered to perform. In that holy city, where perfect knowledge flows from the vision of almighty God, those who have no names may easily be known. But personal names are assigned to some, not because they could not be known without them, but rather to denote their ministry when they came among us. Thus, Michael means “Who is like God”; Gabriel is “The Strength of God”; and Raphael is “God’s Remedy.”
  Whenever some act of wondrous power must be performed, Michael is sent, so that his action and his name may make it clear that no one can do what God does by his superior power. So also our ancient foe desired in his pride to be like God, saying: I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of heaven; I will be like the Most High. He will be allowed to remain in power until the end of the world when he will be destroyed in the final punishment. Then, he will fight with the archangel Michael, as we are told by John: A battle was fought with Michael the archangel.
  So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle. Raphael means, as I have said, God’s remedy, for when he touched Tobit’s eyes in order to cure him, he banished the darkness of his blindness. Thus, since he is to heal, he is rightly called God’s remedy.

John Chrysostom Homily on “You are the Salt of the Earth”

Today I am going to include a “guest post” from St John Chrysostom (a bishop of Constantinople, d. 407 AD). It is a favorite of mine, and I think a powerful witness to the truth that we as Christians are not called to be transformed by the world into its own image, but to transform the world through God’s work in us. God bless!

(From his 15th homily on the Gospel of St Matthew)

“You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13).

It is not for your own sake, he says, but for the world’s sake that the word is entrusted to you. I am not sending you only into two cities only or ten to twenty, not to a single nation, as I sent the prophets of old, but across land and sea, to the whole world. And that world is in a miserable state. For when he says: You are the salt of the earth, he is indicating that all mankind had lost its savour and had been corrupted by sin. Therefore, he requires of these men those virtues which are especially useful and even necessary if they are to bear the burdens of many. For the man who is kindly, modest, merciful and just will not keep his good works to himself but will see to it that these admirable fountains send out their streams for the good of others. Again, the man who is clean of heart, a peacemaker and ardent for truth will order his life so as to contribute to the common good.
  Do not think, he says, that you are destined for easy struggles or unimportant tasks. You are the salt of the earth. What do these words imply? Did the disciples restore what had already turned rotten? Not at all. Salt cannot help what is already corrupted. That is not what they did. But what had first been renewed and freed from corruption and then turned over to them, they salted and preserved in the newness the Lord had bestowed. It took the power of Christ to free men from the corruption caused by sin; it was the task of the apostles through strenuous labour to keep that corruption from returning.
  Have you noticed how, bit by bit, Christ shows them to be superior to the prophets? He says they are to be teachers not simply for Palestine but for the whole world. Do not be surprised, then, he says, that I address you apart from the others and involve you in such a dangerous enterprise. Consider the numerous and extensive cities, peoples and nations I will be sending you to govern. For this reason I would have you make others prudent, as well as being prudent yourselves. For unless you can do that, you will not be able to sustain even yourselves.
  If others lose their savour, then your ministry will help them regain it. But if you yourselves suffer that loss, you will drag others down with you. Therefore, the greater the undertakings put into your hands, the more zealous you must be. For this reason he says: But if the salt becomes tasteless, how can its flavour be restored? It is good for nothing now, but to be thrown out and trampled by men’s feet.
  When they hear the words: When they curse you and persecute you and accuse you of every evil, They may be afraid to come forward. Therefore he says: “Unless you are prepared for that sort of thing, it is in vain that I have chosen you. Curses shall necessarily be your lot but they shall not harm you and will simply be a testimony to your constancy. If through fear, however, you fail to show the forcefulness your mission demands, your lot will be much worse, for all will speak evil of you and despise you. That is what being trampled by men’s feet means.”
  Then he passes on to a more exalted comparison: You are the light of the world. Once again, “of the world”: not of one nation or twenty cities, but of the whole world. The light he means is an intelligible light, far superior to the rays of the sun we see, just as the salt is a spiritual salt. First salt, then light, so that you may learn how profitable sharp words may be and how useful serious doctrine. Such teaching holds in check and prevents dissipation; it leads to virtue and sharpens the mind’s eye. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor do men light a lamp and put it under a basket. Here again he is urging them to a careful manner of life and teaching them to be watchful, for they live under the eyes of all and have the whole world for the arena of their struggles.