When the Pain Doesn’t Make Sense: A Catholic View of Suffering

Gabriel Gillen wasn’t sure what he was going to do with his life after graduating from college, but during his family’s Thanksgiving reunion he was quite vocal about the poor choice he believed his older sister was making.

She was a member of the 82nd Airborne, an elite division of the U.S. Army. Gillen was struggling to understand how she could turn down a promotion to Captain and an opportunity to teach at West Point to get a Masters in Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.

Gillen 01“I thought she had gone Bible Belt crazy,” said Gillen, who would one day become a Dominican priest. “I started riling her. ‘So what are you going to do with that degree? Couldn’t you get that part time and still teach at West Point? Take classes somewhere else? It would be a greater witness to teach at West Point. You’re throwing your life away!’”

But nothing he said dissuaded his sister, who had rediscovered her faith and who told him she knew this was what she was supposed to do. Unfortunately, his sister never got her degree. She died of leukemia at Memorial Sloan Kettering, the famous cancer hospital in New York.

When his sister left this earth, Gillen left the Church. He started to question everything. He needed to understand the problem of pain. He looked at philosophy, and eastern mysticism. He look anywhere and everywhere, except his own faith tradition because he thought he knew what the Church taught. But even beyond the grave, Gillen’s sister wasn’t finished reaching out to her little brother.

Angel solo with blue background“She had written a letter to a friend of mind that got him through Ranger school,” Gillen said. “He ended up going to Steubenville. He got engaged, broke it off,
and became a priest. Long story short, he got me out to Steubenville, brought me back to confession and daily Mass. I ended up joining a missionary order and then the Dominicans.

“My first assignment as a Dominican was Sloan Kettering! I almost said, ‘I can’t do this.’ Then, I realized I was able to relate with people, to share [what had happened in my own life]. People are angry. They direct it toward you. I was able to not be afraid of that; to talk them through that. I got it.”

Dominican Father Gabriel Gillen, O.P., who is now director of the Rosary Shrine of St. Jude in Washington, D.C. and who recently visited EWTN to talk about the Angelic Warfare Confraternity (see last weeks’ blog), said that, while he was at Sloan Kettering, he sometimes found himself ministering to people in the same room in which his sister had died.

“At one point, a lady was yelling at me because her daughter was dying. I was walking out of the room, and I really felt like I heard, ‘Get back in there!’”

carrying the crossWhen he returned, the woman who had booted him out was shocked.

“I said, ‘God hates suffering. This is why God took on suffering – to destroy death.’”

As they spoke, Father said she finally understood why Christ – and therefore His people – had to suffer. As Father says: “Once we understand why Christ had to suffer, everything else makes sense.”

To help us understand this spiritual reality, Fr. Gillen loves to use analogies from the natural world. He came upon one of his best analogies after being asked to give a talk on suffering to a group of children at a Wyoming Indian reservation who had been through a lot of trauma. After spending much time before the Blessed Sacrament, he still didn’t know what he was going to say. But, as he was leaving the church, his eye fell upon a statue of Our Lady of Grace, especially her foot under which she crushes the head of the serpent.

Our Lady of Grace

Our Lady of Grace Framed Artwork, available from EWTN Religious Catalogue, http://bit.ly/OurLadyofGraceArtwork.

He remembered a story he had heard about snakes. Until 1895, if someone was bitten by a snake, they died. But Albert Calmette, a French scientist and protégé of Louis Pasteur, discovered that if you milk venom from snakes and give it to sheep – to a lamb – you get an immune response and the blood of the lamb becomes an anti-venom.

Says Fr. Gillen: “No matter how big or how small, when we give the venom we’ve been stung with to the Lamb of God, He turns it into something else in the Body of Christ.”

As Father says, “You can’t make this stuff up! Suffering was useless until Christ came. Nothing was redemptive. Now it’s different. Even a deadly doses of venom can be cured with the Resurrection. Everything has been recreated.”

Crowning with thornsFather says many in the Early Church couldn’t understand how someone could be both fully human and fully divine. The Jews couldn’t accept the Messiah because they believed he was supposed to reign like David and be greater than David. They couldn’t understand that He was coming twice: first as the Suffering Servant and then in Glory.

The early Church used the term “Christ the Victor,” who was purposely taken into the prison of death, Father said. Early icons showed him kicking down the door and releasing Adam and Eve from their cell.

“Christ allowed Himself to be imprisoned so He could break open the doors. That’s how the Early Church used to describe suffering. Later, St. Basil described suffering as justice. Man had sinned and had to pay the price. It’s helpful to go back to the Church fathers.

“We get scandalized because we’re always wanting to be the Messiah and not the Suffering Servant. As sons and daughter of God, we want to be princes and princesses and to enter into His reign. We don’t realize we have to be Suffering Servants because He wants us to rescue the rest of the body that is still sick!”

Nail and crossSo how do we heal from the evils that are perpetrated upon us? We look to the Master. St. Peter denied Christ three times. After the resurrection, Christ appeared to the apostles. Three times he had Peter go back and revisit the evil of his denial. Three times, Peter affirmed his love, thereby undoing the denials and redeeming the situation.

“God sometimes has us revisit things to transform them so they won’t haunt us,” Father Gillen said. “I didn’t want to go near Sloan Kettering. We get caught up in the storms. But with Christ, we can walk on water. He says, ‘I want you to be totally free.’”

Today, secular psychologists sometimes help patients heal by reframing traumas from the past, but Father says God goes much deeper. He goes back and fills those things in us that need to be filled. In fact, many Popes have spoken about “returning to the School of Nazareth.”

Guy in hospital room“The only holy family was the Holy Family,” Fr. Gillen said. “Every family has different developmental stages. All have been given certain things or not given certain things. At your current age, you might have forgiven everybody, but you need to go back to those different ages. The nine-year-old [you], the 15-year-old [you], has to be filled with the things you weren’t filled with. God really goes back, out of time. You can go back to different stages with Mary as mother, Joseph as father, and Jesus. You can go back and nurture [your earlier self] and remove things.”

Father says we can pray the rosary and place ourselves at the different stages of Christ’s life.

“Feel the great love the Blessed Mother had, not just for Jesus, but for all the people who will be baptized into Christ. We need to place ourselves into the Body of Christ and let Jesus and Mary and Joseph fill us. That’s spiritual passages.”

CrucifixionSo let us go to the School of Nazareth, as Father suggests, and let God in. Let us ask Him for healing. Meditate on His Word and His life. Ask Our Lady, our Mother, through the mysteries of the rosary and other Biblical scenes to help. Turn to St. Joseph, foster father of the Savior and a carpenter, to help craft something beautiful out of something that may be very ugly. If we do this, then we will be able to resonate with Father Gillen’s final words:

“Evil is a lack of goodness; it has no substance. Lucifer imploded on himself. He was an angel, but instead of going outward in love, he became a black hole. God doesn’t create the void [which is how those who have experienced a tragedy sometimes feel]. He fills it. He allowed himself to be swallowed by death for three days; He went into a spiritual darkness that God did not create.

“You cannot fill a black hole on an actual level. How do you fill it on a supernatural level? Only God can do it. [God] allowed His uncreated light to be swallowed into that black hole to fill it and that’s how he destroyed it, so the game is never over. There is nothing in life we could be hit with that could destroy us.”

Amen Father Gillen!

Want to learn more? Fr. Gillen recommends: “Behold the Pierced One,” http://bit.ly/PiercedOne by Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) and Part 1 of “My Way of Life,” which he calls “a devotional way of going through the ‘Summa,’” by Fathers Farrell and Healy, http://bit.ly/MyWayofLife. Father likes the section about the angels. You can also watch a homily Father Gillen delivered while at EWTN this past November at http://bit.ly/FrGillenHomily.

Posted in Books, Catholic, Christian, Death, EWTN, Jesus, Priests, Religion, Reparation, Suffering | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Get Help From St. Thomas Aquinas and the Dominicans

He is a well-known saint, a doctor of the Church and one of the greatest intellects of his day, but did you know that St. Thomas Aquinas was once subjected to a great temptation against chastity?

Dominican Father Gabriel Gillen, O.P., director of the Rosary Shrine of St. Jude in Washington, D.C. who visited EWTN recently to talk about the Angelic Warfare Confraternity (more on that in a moment), tells the story. Aquinas was born into a wealthy family who did not want him to become a Dominican because, at the time, the Dominicans were a new community with no social standing. Instead, they wanted him to become a Benedictine.

Fr Gillen USE THIS ONE

Father Gabriel Gillen, O.P., director of the Rosary Shrine of St. Jude in Washington, D.C., recently visited EWTN in Irondale, Ala. to discuss the Dominican Order’s Angelic Warfare Confraternity.

When young Thomas refused to join any order but the Dominicans, Aquinas’ own family put him under house arrest! Unfortunately for them, their son could have cared less. For at least a year, he used his solitude as a time for study. In frustration, the family resorted to a desperate measure.

“His brothers brought in a prostitute!” Fr. Gillen said. “As soon as she came into the cell [where Thomas was housed], they locked the door! Thomas grabbed a brand from the fire and chased her out of the room [We assume she had the key!]. Thomas closed the door behind her, put a sign of the cross on the door with the firebrand, and prayed God would preserve him in his vocation, his chastity and his purity.”

Bernardo_Daddi_-_The_Temptation_of_St_Thomas_Aquinas_-_WGA5867Aquinas’ diary would reveal that the saint later had a dream in which two angels wrapped a cord around his waist saying, “On God’s behalf, we gird you with the girdle of chastity, a girdle which no attack will ever destroy.”

Said Fr. Gillen: “A lot of people who have touched a cloth to his cord have overcome whatever chastity problems they were having.”

The cord that Aquinas wore around his waist is now housed at the Dominican Church in Chieri, Italy, which is just outside of Turin.

Of course, sins against chastity aren’t only about fornication. Are you, or someone you know, struggling with an addiction to pornography, with lustful thoughts, or other sexual impurities? Are you a married or single person who struggles to be faithful to your state in life?

Gillen 01

Fr. Gabriel Gillen, O.P. delivers a homily while at EWTN in November 2018. Watch at http://bit.ly/FrGillenHomily

“You have to own the gift of yourself [in other words, your thoughts and your own body] to do the exchange of vows [in a marriage ceremony],” Father Gillen says.

If you’re struggling, don’t despair. Help is available! The Dominican order offers anyone who is interested the opportunity to enroll in the Angelic Warfare Confraternity (AWC), which owes its existence to St. Thomas’ victory! Although Aquinas lived in the 13th Century, it wasn’t until the 17th Century that another Dominican friar, Fr. Francis Duerwerders, established the confraternity at the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium.

The AWC is described on its website as “a supernatural fellowship of men and women bound to one another in love and dedicated to pursing and promoting chastity together under the powerful patronage of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

Aquinas memeAmong other things, the Confraternity formalized the praying of 15 Hail Mary’s daily for persevering in one’s own state of life, as well as for others struggling with the same problem. Pope Benedict XII officially founded the Angelic Warfare Confraternity for the entire Church in 1727.

“I lifeguarded and rescued people out of the ocean throughout high school and college,” Fr. Gillen says. “You can be a great swimmer, but if the waves are really rough, you need help. That’s kind of what a confraternity does. Father Benedict Groeschel used to say: “The saints know they are sinners. The sinners think they are not.’ The Angelic Warfare Confraternity helps you with the spiritual warfare which is always going on. A lot of saints enrolled in it before pornography ever existed. Jesus set some high demands: ‘Whoever looks lustfully at a woman commits adultery.’ It’s about excellence!”

It is encouraging to note that the Dominicans who run this association do not focus on avoiding the seven deadly sins. “As Dominicans, we don’t deny there are weeds in the garden of a soul, but we concentrate on what can grow, on the lively virtues!”

January 28 Thomas Aquinas (2)Of course, Father Gillen says the AWC is not a magic wand!

“A gardener can’t make it rain; they just prepare the soil. This is a way to prepare the soul for the rain, the grace. We have to put in the work.”

While the AWC has no regular meetings, there is an enrollment ceremony, as well as other informal gatherings. Find out everything you need to know about enrollment in the AWC at https://www.angelicwarfareconfraternity.org/. While enrollees are asked to say 15 Hail Mary’s a day, Fr. Gillen assures those who enroll that they won’t be penalized if they don’t. “Only good things can come from [enrollment],” he said.

Today, Father Gillen says the AWC boasts 10,000 members. In addition to Aquinas, other saints and blesseds who have enrolled in the Confraternity include St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Blessed Columba Rieti and Blessed Stephana Quinzan, who promoted the AWC among women.

Gillen 02

Fr. Gabriel Gillen, O.P., who was recently at EWTN discussing the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, is no stranger to EWTN. He previously discussed Fatima in a 2017 episode of “At Home With Jim & Joy.” Find it at http://bit.ly/FrGillenJimJoy.

“Jesus is always telling us to store up virtue in heaven,” Fr. Gillen said. “Any acts of virtue are like a fruit in the garden of our souls. Weeds – we will always have them! Give them to the Lord. He takes and removes them. It’s a constant process of growth. That’s what a confraternity does. It helps you bear fruit in the garden of your soul. Get enrolled in this confraternity!”

Note: Don’t miss Fr. Gillen in a soon-to-be-posted episode of “Life on the Rock,” which you will find on EWTN’s YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/ewtn in the coming weeks.

 

 

Posted in At Home With Jim & Joy, Blessed Mother, Catholic, Catholic Apostolates, Chastity, Dominicans, EWTN, Michelle Laque Johnson, Pornography | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How a Texas Wildcatter and an Agnostic Archeologist Discovered St. Peter’s Bones

It was 1939 and the world was going to war. However, at the Vatican, a bevy of men were working feverishly underneath St. Peter’s Basilica to fulfill Pope Pius XI’s request to be buried in that mostly forgotten and unused space. Because the space was only six feet high and Pius’ successor, Pope Pius XII, wanted to add a small chapel to the gravesite, workers were forced to dig deep.

Suddenly, the ground gave way and one of the workers fell 30 feet – and into a wonderland!

View_down_Via_to_St._Peters_Basilica“Very quickly he found himself in an amazing and until-then unknown world, with bright mural paintings of flowers (particularly roses), birds, vases full of vividly colored fruit, idyllic landscapes, cupids, and pretty winged beings. … Digging further, the workmen discover the remains of the daughter of a Roman consul, wrapped in purple garb with a golden brooch. Then they encountered the most amazing find of all: the much simpler grave of a woman from the mid-second century, with Christian inscriptions on her tomb.”

This astounding discovery was the impetus behind Pope Pius XII’s decision to begin a search for the bones of St. Peter. He was well aware that three previous Popes tried and failed to do this, so he resolved to keep the project secret lest a failure shake the faith of a people burdened by war. To keep the secret, he decided to hire only priests and Vatican workers to do the excavation. This would prove to be a serious mistake.

The incredible story of how St. Peter’s bones were found and authenticated (as well as the quote above) can be found in an exciting new book, “The Fisherman’s Tomb: The True Story of the Vatican’s Secret Search” by New York Times Best-Selling Author John O’Neill, http://bit.ly/FishermansTomb. Before O’Neill’s guest appearance on “EWTN Live,” http://bit.ly/EWTNLiveFishermansTomb, the lawyer turned author stopped by “Inside EWTN” for an interview about his fascinating and easily digestible book, which reads like a true-life detective novel. What follows are just a few of the highlights.

Pope Pius XII knew that before the search could begin, he needed money – and lots of it. Enter Texas wildcatter George Strake, who O’Neill says owned the third largest oil field ever discovered. “He believed God had given it to him to give back to projects for the Catholic Church.”

As O’Neill tells it, Pope Pius XII sent a priest to meet with Strake saying: “’The Pope would like to know if you’d be willing to finance the most secret, the most important project, of the Catholic Church. It could fail. If you do it, no one will ever know.’” Despite the conditions, or maybe because of them, the humble oilman agreed.

image002

Scene from the movie “St. Peter” starring Omar Sharif.

It’s hard for present day Catholics to imagine how the burial place of the first Pope could be lost to time, but a little understanding of the period in which St. Peter lived makes clear why and how this happened.

The Roman Emperor Nero executed Saints Peter and Paul between A.D. 64 and A.D. 66. Nero’s cruelty was legendary even in his own time. O’Neill says Nero killed his mother, his first wife, his brother, and his pregnant second wife (whom he kicked to death), and he was “involved” in the poisoning of his adopted father, who he killed in order to become emperor.

Most Catholics have heard about or seen images of Christians being used as human torches to light Nero’s palace gardens. Nero supposedly inflicted this cruelty on them in retribution for the Great Fire of Rome. However, O’Neill says it was most likely Nero himself who had the fire set. This would allow the egomaniac to use the land, now conveniently cleared of homes, to build a mega-palace for himself.

After Peter’s death by crucifixion, the Romans discarded his body on nearby Vatican Hill, with the rest of the city’s trash. However, because of the persecution at the time, Peter’s “grave” had to be  secretly marked by Christians, who had developed inscriptions that could be read by the faithful but not by the pagans. Around A.D. 150, a structure was built near Peter’s grave on Vatican Hill to further mark the spot, and sometime between A.D. 250 and A.D. 300, Peter’s bones were secretly entombed in the nearby Graffiti Wall.

The bigger problem occurred during the construction of the first St. Peter’s Basilica. Vatican Hill was now overflowing with the tombs of wealthy Roman families. To level the hill for construction of the Basilica, these tombs had to be covered with tons of fill — and so the secrets of those graves would lay hidden for more than a thousand years.

0_Place_Saint-Pierre_-_VaticanCredit_Jean-PolGrandmontPius XII’s search for St. Peter’s remains began in the Vatican library, which boasts more than 75,000 ancient documents that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Three separate documents seemed to support the burial of Peter under St. Peter’s.

The priests and Vatican workers appointed to do the excavation were well meaning, but inexperienced at best. As O’Neill tells it, the person who assumed “practical control” of the project was Father Antonio Ferrua. He had obtained a doctorate in archeology two years before the project commenced, but obviously had little to no real world experience.

“In 1951, the Pope became very uncomfortable with the nature of the excavation,” O’Neill said. “At the suggestion of [a close advisor], he brought in the greatest archeologist in the world – a woman and an agnostic: Margherita Guarducci. She was supposed to be there a week. She said to the Pope: ‘They’ve done a terrible job! Inscriptions have great meaning. No one has done anything to preserve the murals. The bones should be forensically examined.’ The Pope fired [Ferrua and his workers] and put Guarducci in charge. Her one-week [consultation] turned into a 25-year assignment.”

The book details how Guarducci went about figuring out the puzzle of where St. Peter’s tomb actually lay – and how she discovered the saint’s bones amidst myriad other bones, including those of a mouse. In 1964, the former agnostic, who converted to Catholicism during her search for the truth, wrote a report for the Vatican, which published in early 1965.

She asserted that the bones of the fisherman had indeed been found. This ignited a firestorm, with Father Ferrua, who had been appointed head of the Vatican’s Commission on Archeology in the 70s, leading the charge in denying the authenticity of the find. Guarducci spent three years adding even more evidence to her claim and answering her critics.

image004

Scene from the movie St. Peter starring Omar Sharif.

Unfortunately, after the death of Pope Paul VI (who had taken over the project from his predecessor), there remained only two people alive who had anything to do with the excavation: Guarducci and Ferrua. Three days after the Pope’s death, Ferrua fired Guarducci, who was then 76 years old.

“He ordered the bones to be put in storage, eradicating any mention of her or [St. Peter’s] bones,” O’Neill said. “But if he thought that was the end, he made the mistake of a lifetime. Guarducci went back to teaching at the University of Rome and became even more famous. She solved even more mysteries, including the one about the black Madonna.”

In 1992, the 88-year-old Guarducci was interviewed at the University of Milan by Federico Zeri, who O’Neill describes as “a major television figure, a Sotheby expert on antiquities, and another great detective in outing fakes.” Ferrua had accused Guarducci for years of allowing her faith to control what she did. However, O’Neill said the former agnostic told the crowd that she had been devoted to science her whole life and that her faith came from her scientific discoveries.

O’Neill summarizes Zeri’s eloquent statement at the conclusion of their interview, paraphrasing it like this: “I’m not a Christian Margherita, but I’ve tracked your work. There is no question you’ve found Peter!”

It’s not hard to imagine this as a movie.

For readers, the question remains: How did O’Neill get the inside scoop for this book? He says he came to Houston after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy and the University of Texas School of Law, and after completing a clerkship at the U.S. Supreme Court. With that pedigree, he had a wonderful legal practice centering on the oil industry with a large law firm.

Fishermans TombThanks to that work, he met and befriended Strake’s son and grandson, which is how he first heard about the secret project. Later, he became close friends with the elder Strake. As he says in the Forward to his book, “Sometimes a story finds an author rather than the reverse.”

It’s a good thing. As O’Neill noted: “If Strake had died without this coming out, all would have been lost. He started high schools, colleges, and scout camps, and would never allow his name to be used, but he was willing to tell the story now. After his death, his kids [let people know] his name. There’s not even a Wikipedia entry for George Strake. His son is on it, but not senior!”

Thanks to O’Neill’s book, the humble wildcat oilman will now go down in history posthumously as the person who funded one of the Vatican’s most important projects, a former agnostic as the woman who made one of the Church’s most astounding discoveries – and lawyer John O’Neill as the man who had the privilege of telling the world about it.

Posted in Catholic, Catholic History, Christian persecution, EWTN, martyrs, Michelle Laque Johnson, Religious, religious persecution, Vatican | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

EWTN’s Original Movie “Mother Cabrini” Shows That, With God, Nothing Is Impossible

She was a woman who admired St. Francis Xavier so much that she added his name to hers when she became a nun. She was a religious who dreamed of imitating her namesake by traveling east to China as a missionary. Instead, she would go west to the United States as soon as she understood that this is where God wanted her to go.

MC image of Mother Cabrini looking prayerful or pensiveShe was the foundress of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who crossed an ocean in the expectation of staffing an orphanage, a school and a hospital. Instead, she arrived in New York to find a rat-infested tenement and many Italian immigrants who were not only living in horrible conditions, but who had lost their faith because there were almost no clergy or religious who spoke their language to help them.

Mc little boyShe was Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first American saint and the subject of a fascinating EWTN Original Movie, “Mother Cabrini,” which premieres at 8 p.m. ET, Saturday, Nov. 10, with an encore at 1:30 a.m. ET, Monday, Nov. 12.

Daniela Gurrieri of CRISTIANA Video, who wrote, directed, and co-produced the movie with her husband Fabio Carini, says she and her husband were not interested in simply chronicling the more than 67 schools, orphanages, and hospitals Mother Cabrini founded in America and around the world. Instead, the filmmakers wanted to tell the audience about the way Mother Cabrini overcame all the unexpected obstacles that she encountered.

MC lots of rich women in period costumesThat decision is what makes the film so dramatic and what makes Mother Cabini such a compelling figure. Gurrieri says her problem was not in finding obstacles, but in editing them down to a manageable few.

One of the big obstacles – the Italian immigrants’ crisis of faith – was something with which Mother Cabrini and her nuns were familiar. The nuns came to the U.S. from northern Italy, where the scourge of freemasonry was rampant.

MC dramatic scene of woman crying MC running after her“In that period in Italy, the people felt this big clash, the opposition of ethics, of the freemasons against the Pope,” Gurrieri said. “She witnessed, on one hand, the growth of atheism and also of this attitude of hate against the Church, against Jesus Christ, against God and against the priests and the nuns. On the other, she witnessed great love and support of the Church, which had been so attacked. She was used to this kind of opposition. She felt a great danger in the growth of a culture against faith, against the Church, and against life.”

As the film shows, Mother Cabrini and her nuns would be responsible for bringing many people back to the Faith.

MC on the shipAnother reason Gurrieri was interested in doing a film on Mother Cabrini is that her life was so adventurous and challenging.

“She was the first to found [a group of nuns who were] independent of any institution or congregation,” Gurrieri said. “Women in Italy didn’t have any freedom at that time. They were not allowed to have a job. They were not allowed to sign contracts. They were not allowed to manage any kind of property. She did all these things. She traveled alone. She bought houses and hospitals. She was very much in relationship with the Pope, many Cardinals, and the bishops, but she was never dependent on them.”

MC behind the scenes in chapelMother Cabrini was inspired by the love of God for her brothers and sisters in need — whatever their ethnic background – and always sought to show respect for the dignity of each person, no matter how badly they treated her or her nuns. Following her death on Dec. 22, 1917, Gurrieri says, “the Pope received more than 150,000 reports of miracles from people all over the world.” She was canonized on July 7, 1946.

MC children image“I will feel satisfied if this movie inspires great confidence in God and in making the gifts that God gives us bear more fruit,” Gurrieri said. “I will feel satisfied if [this movie helps people understand] that even if society tells us we are weak — because we are women, or weak because we are immigrants, or weak because of whatever does not make us comfortable – that can be overcome. The only thing we need is God, [who taught us in the person of Jesus] to live our life at the service of others.”

Posted in EWTN, Michelle Laque Johnson, Religious, saints, Television | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Get Out of Your Christian Comfort Zone… and Other Ways to Think Like Jesus

If you watch “Living Right With Dr. Ray [Guarendi]” on EWTN, you know that this psychologist and father of 10 likes to be provocative! So he began our interview about his new book, “Thinking Like Jesus: The Psychology of a Faith Disciple,” saying: “Jesus says forgive 70 times 7. In my book, I disagree with that. I probably don’t even have to forgive half the time.”

Dr_Ray horizontalDr. Ray pauses to gauge his listener’s reaction – puzzlement, disbelief – before chiming in with an explanation.

“The reason is that, much of the time, when I feel magnanimous about forgiving, there was nothing to forgive! It was my sensitivity, my prickliness, my misinterpretation of a person’s motives. The majority of the time, the offense was in my head. It didn’t exist.”

Dr. Ray says that, too often, we personalize what people say. We think: “’They’re deliberately offending ME. They’re disrespecting ME. They’re attacking ME.’ As soon as we personalize, we immediately become offended. We think: ‘My husband doesn’t pick up his underwear; that means he doesn’t love me.’” But Dr. Ray says: “It has nothing to do with you!”

If that doesn’t cause you and me to do some self-examination, what will? (You can watch Dr. Ray talk about his new book as well as “Being a Grandparent” with Doug Keck on “EWTN Bookmark,”  http://bit.ly/GuarendionBookmark.)

Of course, a little self-examination (maybe a lot of self-examination) is exactly the reaction Dr. Ray is hoping his new book will elicit.  In examining our own conduct, he hopes we find that we become more like Jesus and, in the process, our lives may be filled with a little more joy.

“The last thing I want to be is critical, hyper-vigilant at offense,” says Dr. Ray. “Christians of all people should, probably by far, be the least offended.”

Thinking Like Jesus

Dr. Ray devotes much of his book to helping us see that it will benefit us to be more loving and less offended. In fact, Dr. Ray says the majority of things that offend us are caused by relatively few people who commit repeat offenses — yet we get hurt or upset every time.

“We say, ‘My mother-in-law is a snotty woman.’ When are you going to decide that’s who she is and you’re going to live with it? We say, ‘Christmas Eves around here are no fun.’  But they haven’t been fun for 34 years. When are you going to realize that’s the way she is? People say, “That may be how she is, but I don’t have to like it.’”

Dr. Ray says you’ve got to settle your thoughts to get some peace. However, he does NOT say the answer your problem is to cut the repeat offender out of your life. Why not?

“Christians really cannot have comfort zones,” he says. “You say you don’t want to visit your mother in a nursing home because nursing homes make you nervous. You’re a Christian, you don’t have a comfort zone. But you say, ‘I’m ill at ease there.’ [I say,] ‘But that’s your mother.’ You say, ‘But I’m not comfortable.’ So what? That’s not an excuse for a Christian.”

Dr. Ray says that while there are some toxic people, in his opinion psychologists are too quick to label someone as such. He says for Christians, there should be very few toxic people. He says: Are they physically abusive? A threat to your children?

Dr. Ray Vertical“The vast majority of time we label people toxic who are just difficult. People say: ‘He’s so opinionated; he’s always looking for an argument. I feel better when I’m not around him.’ I say, ‘He’s your dad’s brother.’ They say, ‘He’s there at Christmas. We’ll stay away and find out when he leaves.’ I say, Did he ever punch you in the face? Set your car on fire? No, you just don’t like him!”

“You’re not allowed to NOT talk to a person unless that person is seriously dangerous. I even get nervous about the term emotional abuse. How much of it is her and how much is you? I know very few people in life who are emotionally abusive. You have to be screaming in my face. I’m not going to write you off, especially if you’re family. If it’s the mail carrier, okay, you can write them off.”

The following two examples demonstrate that the good doctor endeavors to practice what he’s preaches.

In the first example, Dr. Ray says he had a neighbor who took dog poop and threw it in his driveway, who called the dog warden on him, and who would take his children’s balls and keep them. Yet one winter, his family shoveled her driveway and they always tried to say hi to her when they saw her outside.

“We said, ‘Yes, she’s obnoxious, poor thing. How’d you like to be her?’ She died a couple years ago, but we could live in peace knowing that we didn’t make her toxic. I think Christians should be at peace. You’re not going to be at peace if you’re vigilant for all kinds of offenses.”

Dr. ray back coverIn a second example, Dr. Ray talks about his family’s frequent interactions with a curmudgeonly alcoholic. “I started calling her Grandma Carol. She loved my first child, a son. She didn’t like my second child, a girl. We continued to call her Grandma Carol. Eventually, we won her over. In the end, we visited her in the nursing home when she was dying.”

Most of us will feel a bit uncomfortable with at least one of the many examples above. So why should we buy a book that makes us feel uncomfortable?

Says Dr. Ray: “Because it will make you live in a way much more like Christ, which is people to people. I always say this, “It’s much easier for me to pray a decade of the rosary than it is to forgive my difficult brother-in-law.” Of course, Dr. Ray can’t resist a joke: “I can make myself look pretty holy by going to Mass every day while saying the Aramaic rosary while I levitate, but it’s going pretty far to forgive my brother-in-law!”

But then he gets serious: ““When you get feedback you don’t want to hear, you need to ask: Is it true? Don’t give a superficial answer! Am I arrogant? Do I come across opinionated? No? Elaborate.”

In the end, says Dr. Ray: “We only have ourselves to give to other people. Most people don’t need food or shelter. They need me to be a Christian.”

Amen?

Note: You can purchase Dr. Ray’s provocative book here: http://bit.ly/ThinkingLikeJesusBook. Readers, if you put some of Dr. Ray’s suggestions into practice, we’d love to hear from you! And, if you don’t already, please tune into “Living Right With Dr. Ray,” which airs 9 a.m. ET, Tuesdays; 5 a.m. ET, Fridays; and 10 p.m. ET, Saturdays on EWTN! (Find EWTN at www.ewtn.com/channelfinder.)

Posted in Books, Catholic, Christian, EWTN, Michelle Laque Johnson, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Divine Mercy for the Sick and Dying

Twenty-five years ago, Dr. Bryan Thatcher was a young physician with a very successful medical practice. He still remembers how he felt the day a young alcoholic bled to death in his arms. Physically, he had done all he could for him. But on a spiritual level, he had the sense he had missed an important opportunity.

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Dr. Bryan Thatcher

“I was so distraught,” Dr. Thatcher said. “I didn’t know back then, but I could have helped usher him into Eternal Glory.”

At that time, this man of medicine would never have guessed that he was destined to become founder and director of a ministry known as the Eucharistic Apostles of Divine Mercy (EADM). It would never have crossed his mind that this ministry would encourage people the world over to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for the sick and dying – people very much like his young alcoholic patient.

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Members of the Eucharistic Apostles of Divine Mercy prayer group in Dallas.

With Dr. Thatcher’s then-secular mindset, he also could never have imagined that EADM would eventually become an apostolate of the religious order that runs the Divine MercyShrine in Stockbridge, Mass., officially known as the Congregation of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception (MIC). Nor could he have believed that the EADM would give birth to 4,000 prayer groups in the U.S. alone and activity in 45 countries – and the apostolate is still growing!

All that and a lot more was hidden from the young doctor’s eyes. All he knew then was that his marriage was falling apart because he was never home. He also says that, back then, he thought being a great dad consisted in giving his kids anything they wanted to make up for the time he wasn’t spending with them.

Fortunately, a friend saw that this physician of the body needed some medicine for the soul and gave him a copy of a book many Catholics in the U.S. would eventually come to know and love: “The Diary of St. Faustina.”

“As I began to get into the Diary, the fonts used to jump out at me,” says Dr. Thatcher, who was at EWTN recently filming two episodes of “At Home with Jim  & Joy,” which you can find here: http://bit.ly/BryanThatcher1, and here http://bit.ly/BryanThatcher2. “It was medication – balm – for a wounded heart. … One of my favorite quotes [from the Diary] was [Jesus’ declaration that]: ‘The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My mercy.’” (Diary, 723)

In tears, Dr. Thatcher told the Lord he would go wherever he wanted him to go. As many a Catholic knows, that was all the Lord was waiting to hear!

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At 15 months old, John Paul Thatcher, fruit of a healed marriage, almost died. This little boy is now 20 years old.

Sometimes, we imagine that, as soon as we turn our hearts to Jesus, nothing bad will ever happen to us again. However, it’s more likely that this will result in an infusion of grace that helps us handle the path that lies ahead. As a result of his healed marriage, Dr. Thatcher and his wife were soon blessed with the birth of a son, John Paul, who nearly died at birth. For a time, all was well.

“When he was 15 months old, I had come back from a conference in Denver and was getting ready for a Mass in my home. We have a swimming pool with a screened in enclosure. My oldest boy, 11 years old, asked me if I could start the lawn mower. I did that, and then my daughters asked me to take them to swim practice. Twenty minutes later, little John Paul was dead. Someone had left the gate open [and he drowned in the pool.] I was in a state of shock. I told them to call 911. My wife is a nurse. She started CPR. The girls were praying and crying.”

The ambulance arrived. The family drove to the hospital. “We hit every red light. I was praying my heart out.”

As Dr. Thatcher prayed, he remembered that just the day before he had been telling people at a conference to pray, “Jesus, I trust in You.” He also remembered the Scripture verse in which Abraham offers Isaac to God. He told himself, he had to have the faith of Abraham. In his mind, he walked his son up a mountainside and gave his son, “the apple of my eye, the fruit of a healed marriage,” back to God.

The ambulance arrived. His wife, who had ridden in the ambulance, had gotten a weak pulse. Dr. Thatcher’s prayer group also heard about the accident and joined the family in prayer. John Paul began to heal.

“I took him home – normal – a few days later,” he said. “I saw my sister at Thanksgiving. She told me they had prayed for John Paul the night of the accident. She said the next morning, her best friend Norma said, “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine. I saw a vision of Abraham giving Isaac to God, and Jesus giving him back!’”

As Dr. Thatcher pondered over the Divine Mercy messages, and his own private miracles, he began to realize how profoundly Eucharistic the message of Divine Mercy is. He and his family began to tour Eucharistic miracle sites around the world. “All I wanted to do was tell people of God’s Mercy; that he loves us right where we are, not where we feel we need to be.”

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Over the years, the Eucharistic Apostles of Divine Mercy (EADM) have shipped 44 containers containing several hundred thousand dollars worth of donated medical supplies to India, the Philippines, countries in Africa, and more. “We throw so much stuff away in America,” said EADM Founder and Director Dr. Bryan Thatcher. “Hospitals, hospices call me. I have two containers on the grounds of [my church here in the U.S.] When I get a full load, people load it and off it goes!” Dr. Thatcher says this is another part of “living the Divine Mercy message.”

In the mid-90s, Dr. Thatcher said he contacted the Marians as well as St. Faustina’s former convent in Poland, and asked if they had a formation program for lay people. Neither of them did, so Dr. Thatcher started a prayer group at his own home in Brandon, Florida, which would become the future EADM’s first cenacle.

The group only read five pages a week, so it took several years to get through the whole book,’ he said. “We had a format: a prayer, faith sharing, more prayer, the chaplet and some social time.”

When the group became part of the Marians in 1999, that format became more formal. Dr. Thatcher was asked to integrate Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church into the meetings and a program of spiritual formation was developed.

As Dr. Thatcher read the Diary with his prayer group, he began to realize how often Jesus talked to St. Faustina about praying with the sick and dying. In fact, one of the key promises to those who pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at the bedside of the sick and dying is that Jesus will meet the dying person as a merciful Savior and not as the just Judge!

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Last summer, Dr. Bryan Thatcher, founder and director of the Eucharistic Apostles of Divine Mercy, visited the Solomon Islands where he spoke with representatives from every parish and three dioceses and was warmly welcomed by the Archbishop. “They’ll be starting Divine Mercy prayer groups,” Thatcher said.

Dr. Thatcher wanted to know more. “What if my wife is in an accident in Florida,” he asked, “and I’m in Alabama. If I say the Chaplet and I’m not at her bedside, will the promise still hold?”

Who could tell him the answer to that question?

Dr. Thatcher had previously managed to get an apostolic blessing for those saying the chaplet in reparation for infants dying in the womb. (For more information on this, please go to http://bit.ly/EADMProLifePapalBlessing. He made that request after reading that, on several occasions, St. Faustina had suffered the passion for three days. The Lord told her it was to make reparation for these infants.

However, Dr. Thatcher now hoped to get a papal blessing for those who would say the chaplet for the sick and dying, even if they were not by the person’s bedside!

Papal Blessing - sick and dying“In 2003, a Polish priest came to me in Jacksonville for some medical care,” Dr. Thatcher said. “I hadn’t thought about the papal blessing for a year. In my office, the priest said, ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’ I said, ‘Why don’t you ask the Pope for a papal blessing [for those who say the Chaplet for the sick and dying]?’ The priest said, ‘The Pope will never grant that to you.’ I said, ‘Okay, I just want you to ask.’”

The priest later called him from Rome, saying that he was preparing to see the Pope the next day. However, he reiterated that there was no way the Pope was going to give Dr. Thatcher the papal blessing he sought. Can you guess what happened?

“The next day, the priest called me and said, ‘The Pope saw the blessing, loved it, and signed it on the spot!’” (Click here to read the blessing: http://bit.ly/EADMSickDyingPapalBlessing.)

Today, people in more than 1,000 chapels around the U.S. pray the chaplet during Adoration for the sick and dying. Dr. Thatcher is currently trying to get parishes to set up teams of three Eucharistic Ministers to go to the bedside of fellow parishioners who are sick and dying. “”If a family calls, you want the priest, of course. But you also want the Church [in the person of the laity] to be more present to the sick and dying.”

Dr. Thatcher knows firsthand the importance of prayer at the beginning and the end of life (and everywhere in between). He helped care for his father during the last years of his life.

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Members of a Eucharistic Apostles of Divine Mercy cenacle (prayer group) in Milwaukee.

“I was doing this while working, doing ministry, and taking care of my family,” he said. “I look back and think, ‘How did I ever do all that?’ But it was the happiest time of my life. My dad used to call me frequently, particularly in the last few months and say, ‘What are you doing?’ I’d say, ‘Just working Dad.’ Those days are gone. No more calls. No taking him out for ice cream. We’re here just a short time.”

Dr. Thatcher admits that being a caregiver isn’t always easy. “When you get that eighth call within an hour – well, we’re human. It’s difficult work. That’s why we have to have that spiritual foundation.”

Today, Dr. Thatcher’s ministry includes travels to some of the poorest countries in the world bringing needed supplies to people from the EADMs and teaching the importance of LIVING the message of Divine Mercy. Prayer provides the foundation for the action in this merciful outreach – and that’s the complete spiritual package that membership in EADM provides.

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Through the grace of God, Dr. Bryan Thatcher, founder and director of the Eucharistic Apostles of Divine Mercy, says his group was able to ship this 18-foot one-ton statue of the Divine Mercy to Rwanda in 2004. The group also sent clothing, religious items, and medical supplies for the local people and raised needed monies to purchase a microscope for the medical clinic in Kibeho.

If you are interested in joining or starting a cenacle in your area, please go to http://bit.ly/JoinOrStartaDMCenacle and to http://bit.ly/DMCenacleGuidelines. You can also watch a cenacle in action by investing in this 13-part series on EWTN: http://bit.ly/WatchDMCenacle, as well as its accompanying EWTN Cenacle Guide at http://bit.ly/EWTNCenacleGuide.

Jesus, I trust in You!

Posted in Africa, Catholic, Divine Mercy, EWTN, Michelle Laque Johnson, Prayer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Why Eucharistic Adoration is the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Spiritual Life

“A lot of people spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration every week, but in speaking about it, you can tell it’s definitely an obligation – which is beautiful – but how does it turn into something sweet? How does Eucharistic Adoration become the thing you most look forward to in the week?”

cropped-ewtnchapelinterior.jpgThe speaker is Father Barry Braum of the Missionaries of the Most Holy Eucharist (MSE). He has so much to tell us about how to make this shift that he’s written an entire book about it entitled “That I May See,” http://bit.ly/ThatIMaySee.

Father Barry recently visited EWTN, where he appeared on “EWTN Live” (http://bit.ly/EWTNFrBarryBraum), taped an upcoming segment for “Life on the Rock,” and delivered two awesome homilies, http://bit.ly/FrBraumHomilyEWTN1 and http://bit.ly/FrBraumHomily2, The latter was also dubbed into Spanish, http://bit.ly/FrBraumHomilyEnEspanol. Fortunately, Father was also able to spare some time to talk to “Inside EWTN” about the practical things all of us can do to become the saints Mother Angelica always encouraged us to be!

Fr Barry on LOTR setFather Barry says his community’s mission is to make Christ more known and loved. To that end, he has identified five things that he says are essential to the spiritual life. He walks us through them in the same way as he organized his book.

“In speaking to people who have trouble in their spiritual life, who aren’t able to hear God, who are in general confusion, I find that sometimes they haven’t been to confession in a long time. They must enter back into grace and become children of the Heavenly Father again. They must open up communication with the Lord. That’s why that habit of confession is so important. (#1)

“Of course, every new life requires a mother, The Church is our mother but, most especially, Our Lady is our mother. The second chapter of my book deals with Consecration to Our Lady as another fundamental principle in coming to know and love Christ more deeply. (#2)

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“The final chapter of the book deal with how to better prepare for a deeper active participation in the Mass [and communion]. (#5) However, the central chapters of the book are dedicated to Eucharistic Adoration, [where we spend time with Jesus sharing everything that’s in our hearts], (#3) and daily Scriptural meditation, [where we ponder the words of Christ and listen to what He has to tell us.] (#4).”

Fr. Barry quotes St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. Augustine who say that just spending time in front of the Blessed Sacrament effects changes in our souls; that every instant there increases the glory of our soul in heaven; that spending one hour in adoration every week is necessary for a deeper union with Christ in Holy Communion.

So meditating on Christ’s life in the presence of the One upon whom we are meditating is endlessly fruitful. (As Mother Angelica used to say, “Go, get a SON tan!”) However, how do we get a place where, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, our hearts are burning within us?

That I May See book photoIn his book, Father suggests we go through the Gospels chronologically, taking one scene every day or every week, and that we begin to imitate Our Lady by pondering her Son’s words in our hearts. Another way to do this would be to take the Sunday Gospel and bring it into our daily prayer for the week. The main thing, Father says, is to avoid “spiritual roulette,” where we just pick something random and then spend our time in prayer wondering if that’s really what the Lord wants us to read!

Go slowly. Ask the Lord what he wants you to see. Pray about it. Question everything.  Why does this scene take place in the morning? Why does the Lord mention this person’s name and not that person’s? Why do we know the name of one town in which an incident takes place but not another? REALLY tear it apart! Father Barry’s book gives a great example of how to effectively use this method of prayer, which is known as Lectio Divina. When you receive an insight, stay with it. What is the Lord trying to teach you? How can you apply it to your life?

There are so many advantages to getting to know Christ better. As Father notes, our life on earth is often filled with tragedy and suffering. Frequently, there is nothing we can say or do to console another person – or ourselves – after the death of a spouse or child. However, when we encounter Christ in Adoration or Scripture, we find someone who can understand.

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“Christ knows the cross,” says Father Barry. “He knows every suffering, interior or exterior, of the human condition. In Christ, we find someone who not only understands but also consoles.”

That’s quite a revelation, especially if our prayer has mostly been about begging the Lord for favors. Father says that prayers of petition aren’t a bad thing, but they shouldn’t be the only thing we do in prayer.

“Prayer is measured by the intensity of love. The Lord judges the heart. Vocal prayers [like the “Our Father” and the “Hail Mary”], unless you’re bound to certain types of prayer like the Liturgy of the Hours, should give way to meditation.”

Of course, there’s a difference between reciting vocal prayers and meditating upon them, as St. Teresa of Avila did with the “Our Father,” for example.

Father says the bottom line is that whatever leads us to love the Lord, and to a determination to spend more time with Him, is what is best for us – and that can and often does change over time.

PR_Holy_Hour_Healing_1As we progress in our prayer lives, Father says there are several common temptations of which we should be aware. As we turn away from the evil we used to do, the devil tempts us by showing us ALL the good things we could do – which often leads to paralysis. It’s true, there are an infinite number of good things to do. However, the question we should be asking ourselves is: What does GOD want me to do?

“You have to have an intimacy with God to be able to know that; to allow him to inspire you daily to live according to His will.”

And intimacy can best be acquired by spending time with Jesus in Adoration.

Father notes that those who have a conversion of heart often have images of all the extraordinary things they want to do for the Lord. But he reminds us that the Gospel message is to love our neighbor.

IMG_3401“Don’t neglect the souls the Lord is sending you,” Father says. “You can affect the multitude by helping one soul at a time because they will go off and do the same.”

The converted soul may end up doing the same things he or she was doing before. The only difference is that he or she is now doing them for Christ – and that will make all the difference!

Father decries the “virtue signaling” that goes on in social media where people talk endlessly about all the good causes they support.

He reminds us of the “little way” of St. Therese, when he says: “The Lord is not asking for extraordinary things, but for little things done with great love. It’s harder to sacrifice in your daily life where no one sees it, but THAT is true heroism.”

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To learn more, and for help in what to do during that hour of Adoration, pick up a copy of Father’s outstanding book, “That I May See,” http://bit.ly/ThatIMaySee. You’ll also want to tune into the many EWTN shows on which Father Barry appeared, as linked to earlier in this blog. You can also log onto the Missionaries of the Most Holy Eucharist’s website, https://mostholyeucharist.com/, for even more tips on how to make Jesus better known and loved.

Posted in Eucharistic Adoration, EWTN, Jesus, Prayer, Priests | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments