Spiritual Fatherhood

Blogger’s Note: This is the latest in a collection of daily posts outlining my journey to the Sacred Heart over the past year or more. See an overview and links to past posts here.

Yesterday was Father’s Day. Providentially my re-consecration readings in 33 Days to Morning Glory were focused on Mary’s gradual discovery of her vocation not just to be the mother of Jesus, but the mother of the whole Church and all Christians. The book drew my attention to one scripture passage in particular, Matthew 12:46-50.

While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with him. Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.” But he said in reply to the one who told him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

Fr. Gaitley explains that, among other things, this passage indicates the primacy of spiritual realities over physical realities, and in particular, spiritual parenthood over natural parenthood. Although the focus of his writing was Mary, on Father’s Day I couldn’t help but think in terms of St. Joseph and spiritual fatherhood. Continue reading

Motherland of Mercy, Part 3: Pope St. John Paul II

Blogger’s Note: This is the third of three posts along my path to the Sacred Heart about the three Polish saints whose loving example pervaded World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland.

Pope St. John Paul II

“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.” — Pope St. John Paul II

jpiiBorn Karol Wojtyła in Wadowice, Poland, in 1920. Suffered the loss of his family, freedom, and country by the time he was 21 years old; risked his life under the Nazi regime to promote Polish cultural  resistance and study for the priesthood. Recognized as a gifted theologian, pastor, and bishop; elected pope in 1978 and brought the Good News to 129 countries. Instrumental in the fall of dictatorships and Communism; wounded critically in an assassination attempt in 1981; credited Our Lady for preserving his life and met with and forgave the assassin. Served as pope until his death in 2005, despite declining health due to Parkinson’s and old age. One of the most recognized figures of the 20th century.   View a more complete biography here.

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My photo of a saint, taken at World Youth Day in Toronto, 2002.

Unlike yesterday’s saint, Faustina Kowalska, St. John Paul II is the Polish saint I know best. I’ve read countless articles and two biographies: Witness to Hope by George Weigel and Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves by Jason Evert. He was the pope during my return to Catholic church and for more than half my life so far. Additionally, he is the one (known) saint I’ve had the privilege of seeing and hearing in person, at World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Continue reading

Motherland of Mercy, Part 2: St. Faustina Kowalska

Blogger’s Note: This is the second of three posts along my path to the Sacred Heart about the three Polish saints whose loving example pervaded World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland.

St. Faustina Kowalska

“I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to my merciful heart.” — Jesus to St. Faustina

faustinaBorn Helena Kowalska in Głogowiec, Poland, in 1905, to a poor, religious peasant family. Felt called to religious life at an early age, but went to work as a housekeeper to help support herself and her family. Accepted to the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy (OLM) in Warsaw in 1924, and in 1926, received her habit and the name Sister Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament. Began having visions of Jesus as “the King of Divine Mercy” in February 1931, instructing her in His love and mercy, asking her to to paint His likeness with the inscription “Jesus, I Trust in You,” and to establish a feast of mercy in the Church. View a more complete biography here.

I have to admit, of the three Polish saints I am profiling, I know the least about Faustina. Unlike  Maximilian Kolbe, whose zeal for saint-making, boundless energy, and prolific publishing career made him known even before his martyrdom, or John Paul II, who was the most well-traveled pontiff in history and one of the most recognizable figures of the 20th century, St. Faustina lived out her vocation and mystical experience primarily in private. Like many Catholic mystics, she suffered poor health, and she died at just 33 years old. She is one of a handful of saints for whom an autobiography exists; it was written at the urging of her confessor, is some 600 pages long, and is on my reading list for this fall. Continue reading

Motherland of Mercy, Part 1: St. Maximilian Kolbe

Blogger’s Note: I have no set order for these Sacred Heart posts, but am writing as Providence provides and the Spirit moves. Today the readings in 33 Days to Morning Glory shifted to focus on John Paul II, and I was called back to July 2016, World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland

Rome may be the the Eternal City and the seat of Catholic teaching authority, wisdom, and creativity in the world, but it seems to me that Poland is its bleeding, beating heart. Ravaged by wars and neighboring countries, ripped apart and reconstituted, invaded and occupied, the Poles have fought, suffered, and died for centuries, surrendering everything they had except their faith. Today, Poland is the homeland of ten 20th-century canonized Catholic saints and, I would argue, serves as the counter-cultural, Catholic conscience of Europe.

In summer of 2016, however, three specific Polish saints loomed large over World Youth Day in Kraków: the martyr of Auschwitz, St. Maximilian Kolbe; the visionary nun, St. Faustina Kowalska; and the prophetic pope, St. John Paul the Great. Each in his or her own way lived out the love of Christ in the world, pouring themselves out for the salvation of souls. Each embodied His suffering Sacred Heart. Over the next three days I will look at them, one at a time, and explain as best I can what captured my imagination about each of them. Continue reading

Heart First: The Spirituality of St. Francis de Sales

“Since the heart is the source of actions, as the heart is, so they are. … I have wished above all else to engrave and inscribe on your heart this holy, sacred maxim, LIVE JESUS!” — St. Francis de Sales

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St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantal by Valentin Metzinger, Wikimedia Commons

From the outset, let me say I am no expert, nor even a novice, in the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. I’ve read just enough to be dangerous now. I was confirmed as a twenty-something husband and father of two, taking the name of St. Francis as the patron saint of journalist and writers. I knew a bit about the man, and almost nothing about his teachings.

Several years later I read probably his most famous book, An Introduction to the Devout Life, which is a practical guide for lay people pursuing holiness, whatever their state or station. I remember it being thorough, simple, solid, and encouraging. Under his direction, sanctity seemed challenging but achievable.

Then a couple years ago, I discovered a book in library at Demontreville while making a silent retreat: Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction. I barely scratched the surface of the lengthy introduction during our down time at the retreat, but I knew I needed to read it. I tracked down a copy on eBay, and over the past few weeks, finally finished the the introduction and began to read the letters themselves. The more I learn about the approach of the “Gentle Doctor” to prayer and holiness, the more I see God’s providence in my choice of patron. Continue reading