Tuesday, March 13, 2012

ALMSGIVING (Mark Aquilina)

Of the three marks of Lent — prayer, fasting and almsgiving — almsgiving is surely the most neglected.

And yet, in the only place where the Bible brings all three together, the inspired author puts the emphasis firmly on the last: “Prayer and fasting are good, but better than either is almsgiving accompanied by righteousness … It is better to give alms than to store up gold; for almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin. Those who regularly give alms shall enjoy a full life” (Tob 12:8-9).

Why is almsgiving better than prayer and fasting? Because it is prayer, and it involves fasting. Almsgiving is a form of prayer because it is “giving to God” — and not mere philanthropy. It is a form of fasting because it demands sacrificial giving — not just giving something, but giving up something, giving till it hurts.

Jesus presented almsgiving as a necessary part of Christian life: “when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Mt 6:2-3). He does not say IF you give alms, but WHEN. Like fasting and prayer, almsgiving is non-negotiable.

The first Christians knew this. “There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need” (Acts 4:34-35).

That was the living embodiment of a basic principle of Catholic social teaching, what tradition calls “the universal destination of goods.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it succinctly: “The goods of creation are destined for the entire human race” (n. 2452).

But they can’t get there unless we put them there — and that requires effort.

As with prayer and fasting, so with almsgiving. If we have a plan, we’ll find it easier to do. Throughout history, many Christians have used the Old Testament practice of “tithing” as a guide — that is, they give a tenth of their income “to God.” In practice, that means giving it to the poor, to the parish, or to charitable institutions.

My friend Ed Kenna, an octogenarian and dad, remembers the day he decided to start tithing. “When I was a senior in high school, back in 1939-40, I read an article on charitable giving in a Catholic newspaper,” he recalls. “And it had a lot of testimonies to the fruits of tithing. Breadwinners told how God provided whenever they were in need or had an emergency. I decided, then and there, to start tithing, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

For Kenna, those 65 years have had their financial ups and downs. He served in the military during World War II, went to college and raised a family of nine children. Through it all, he says, he was often tempted, but he never wavered in his tithing. “There were many times when I reached a point where I said, ‘Something has to give — but I’m not going to give up on my tithing.’”

It’s a matter of trusting God, Kenna adds, “and God will not be outdone in generosity.”

Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), but those who tithe often find themselves on the receiving end as well. “I worked as an industrial engineer through the highs and lows of American industry,” Kenna recalls. “Twice my job fell victim to corporate mergers, but the phone always rang just in time. I never lost an hour of work to layoffs.”

He sees the difficult times as God’s test of our trust. “It’s especially hard in the beginning. On your first paycheck, it hurts. On the second, the pain’s a little less. At about the third or fourth, there’s no pain at all. You get used to it. It’s a habit. But you have to make that firm resolution: I’m gonna do it and not give in.”

Kenna, like many others, interprets tithing to mean taking ten percent off the “first fruits” — gross income, rather than net. He divides this up as “5 percent to the parish and 5 percent to other Catholic institutions.” He also gives of his time and has, for many decades, been a volunteer for the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Indeed, many Catholics extend the concept of almsgiving beyond money to include time and talent as well, donating a portion of these to worthy causes.

In the late fourth century, St. John Chrysostom looked at the good life people were living in the imperial court, and he was filled with righteous anger. In the name of God, he raged against those who owned toilet seats made of gold, while other people starved in cold hovels.

While our commodes may be made of less precious materials, many Americans today enjoy a better standard of life than any Byzantine emperor ever knew. Central heat, central air conditioning, electric lights, consistently safe food and water, antibiotics, and even aspirin — these are luxuries beyond the dreams of our ancient ancestors.

We are living high, but are we giving high?

It’s a good question to ask ourselves during Lent. It is a scandal, after all, for Christians to have closets overstuffed with clothing when there are families who are shivering because they can’t pay their heating bill. It is a scandal for Christians to be epidemically overweight when they have near neighbors who go to bed hungry.

We need to give to God — whom we meet in our neighbor — until these problems go away. Whatever we give, whether it’s a tenth or a twentieth or half, is symbolic of the greater giving that defines the Christian life. As God gave himself entirely to us, so we give ourselves entirely to Him. In the Eucharist, He holds nothing back. He gives us His body, blood, soul and divinity — everything He has. That’s the giving we need to imitate.

Charity begins at home, where we daily make the choice to give our time, our attention, our affirming smile, and give generously. But charity must not stop there, because for Catholics “home” is universal, and our family is as big as the world. We need to dig deep and give much where much is needed. But, whenever possible, our charity should also involve personal acts, not just automatic withdrawals from our bank account. Pope John Paul asked us to see, and be seen by, “the human face of poverty.”

We give what we have till we have nothing left to give. My friend and sometime co-author Regis Flaherty remembers his sister Pat as a woman who practiced giving all her life, to her sibilings, her husband, her children and her friends. To the end, she gave what she could. “When she was dying she was in and out of consciousness, but whenever she looked up at us, she would invariable smile — absolutely amazing considering how much she was suffering.”

Sometimes all we can give is a smile, but sometimes that is the greatest sacrifice, the greatest prayer, and indeed the most generous and most sacrificial alms.

Monday, March 12, 2012

FASTING (Article by Mark Aquilina)

“Why do Catholics have to fast?”

The question came from a non-Catholic Boy Scout in my son’s troop. We had spent a long, soggy weekend in the middle of the woods. And now, Sunday morning, the adults announced that breakfast would be delayed so that the Catholics could keep the Communion fast. He was not a happy camper.

His question comes to mind again as Lent begin, because fasting is the most distinguishing practice of the season. On two days in Lent, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Catholics limit their eating to one full, meatless meal. On all the Fridays of Lent we abstain from meat.

Why do Catholics fast? Our reasons find firm grounding in the Bible.

When we fast, we follow holy example. Moses and Elijah fasted forty days before going into God’s presence (Ex 34:28, 1 Kgs 19:8). Anna the Prophetess fasted to prepare herself for the coming of the Messiah (Lk 2:37). They all wanted to see God, and they considered fasting a basic prerequisite. We, too, wish to enter God’s presence, so we fast.

Jesus fasted (Mt 4:2). And since He needed no purification, He surely did this only to set an example for us. In fact, He assumed that all Christians would follow His example. “When you fast,” he said, “do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting” (Mt 6:16). Note that He did not say “IF you fast,” but “when.”

And WHEN is now. In Lent the Church extends the idea of fasting, beyond the minimal skipping of meals, to a more far-reaching program of self-denial. Jesus said: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself … daily” (Lk 9:23). So we “give up” something that we’d ordinarily enjoy: sweets, soda pop, a favorite TV show, or the snooze alarm.

Fasting has its health benefits, but it’s not the same as dieting. Fasting is something spiritual and far more positive. Fasting is a spiritual feast. It does for the soul what food does for the body.

The Bible spells out specific spiritual benefits of fasting. It produces humility (Ps 69:10). It shows our sorrow for our sins (1 Sam 7:6). It clears a path to God (Dan 9:3). It is a means of discerning God’s will (Ezr 8:21) and a powerful method of prayer (8:23). It’s a mark of true conversion (Jl 2:12).

Fasting helps us to be detached from the things of this world. We fast, not because earthly things are evil, but precisely because they’re good. They’re God’s gifts to us. But they’re so good that we sometimes prefer the gifts to the Giver. We practice self-indulgence rather than self-denial. We tend to eat and drink to the point where we forget God. Such indulgence is really a form of idolatry. It’s what St. Paul meant when he said, “their god is the belly … with minds set on earthly things” (Phi 3:19).

How can we enjoy God’s gifts without forgetting the Giver? Fasting is a good way to start. The body wants more than it needs, so we should give it less than it wants.

St. John of the Cross said that we cannot rise up to God if we are bound to the things of this world. So we give up good things, and gradually we grow less dependent on them, less needy.

All of this is part of our preparation for heaven. For we’re destined to lose our earthly goods anyway. Time, age, illness and “doctor’s orders” can take away our taste for chocolate, our ability to enjoy a cold beer, and even the intimate embrace of a loved one. If we have no discipline over our desires, then these losses will leave us bitter and estranged from God. But if we follow Jesus in self-denial, we’ll find a more habitual consolation in the ultimate good — God Himself.

How is it that some people are able to remain serene and cheerful amid extreme suffering and even when facing imminent death? It’s not just a matter of temperament. They’ve prepared themselves for the moment by giving up the things of this world, one small thing at a time. They’ve grown so accustomed to small sacrifice that the big one isn’t such a stretch.

No one says that fasting is easy. In fact, says Benedictine Father Thomas Acklin, author of The Passion of the Lamb: God’s Love Poured Out in Jesus. “Fasting can seem very hard, and it can seem that if I do not eat I will become weak and will not be able to work, or pray, or do anything.

“Yet there is that marvelous moment,” he adds, “when, after some hours have passed, my stomach has stopped growling and I’ve even forgotten what I’ve given up, when there is a lightness, a freedom, a clarity of the senses and a brightness of attitude and feeling, an incomparable closeness to the Lord.”

Lent is a special season, but God wants these forty days to have a lasting effect on our lives. So, in a sense, fasting is for always. Father Rene Schatteman, an Opus Dei chaplain in Pittsburgh, says that he received this lesson directly from a canonized saint. “I learned from St. Josemaria Escriva, whom I had the privilege of knowing personally, that a person should make some small sacrifice at each meal, always, and not just during Lent.”

Fr. Schatteman emphasizes the importance of little things, and the big effect they can have: “We should all feel the need to help Christ redeem the world by practicing self-denial in everyday, ordinary eating and drinking … to take a bit less, or a bit less of what we like most, to avoid eating between meals, to skip a snack or dessert, etc., without making a big deal of it.”

A Pittsburgh businessman (who asked for anonymity) told me of his longtime practice of fasting on Fridays, “a 12-15 hour fast from food, water-only.” He said, however, that this can be difficult to carry out, not because of the hunger, but because it can disrupt family life. “It’s very hard to sit at the family table and not eat. It’s not so much a question of resisting the temptation of the food. I always felt like I was breaking fellowship. My fasting actually felt selfish, like I was taking something away from our time together as a family.”

He has since modified his fast, “to be broken at the family dinner in the evening.”

Why do Catholics fast? Our anonymous businessman put it well: “It’s medicine for my biggest problem — selfishness and lack of self-control. To force myself to curb my appetites, to not satisfy my desires — even for a short period of time — this is a good thing. To offer up the little sacrifice to God, for my family, for people who are hungry through no choice of their own, this I think is also good.”

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A wonderful article about PRAYER

PRAYER (by Mike Aquilina)

How do you know it’s Lent?

It’s not so much by the ash mark on your forehead or fish marks on the calendar. Tradition tells us that Lent has three distinguishing marks: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

This three-part series will examine those practices. Prayer is surely the best place to begin, because it’s the one that unites them all. Fasting and almsgiving are themselves just forms of prayer.

There are two classic definitions of prayer. The one in most catechisms comes from St. John of Damascus (eighth century): “Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God.” The other comes from St. Clement of Alexandria (third century). He defined prayer as “conversation with God.”

In prayer we talk to God, and He talks to us. As in any relationship, this conversation takes many forms. Think of all the ways a husband and wife communicate: formal marriage vows, casual chat, winks across a crowded room, affectionate caresses, and phrases they never tire of repeating.

Our communication with God includes a similar range of expressions — set phrases, quiet conversation, gestures such as the Sign of the Cross, and the intimate embrace of the sacraments. Just as a man and woman grow in love by repeating “I love you,” so we Christians grow in love by repeating the Church’s prayers.

Prayer comes in many forms and styles. These are usually divided into “vocal” and “mental” prayer. The categories are helpful, but not watertight. All prayer, after all, should involve our mind; so, in a sense, all prayer is mental prayer. Modern writers sometimes speak of the two types as formal prayer and spontaneous prayer.

Again, such distinctions are useful; we should, however, step beyond them for a moment. When we look at all prayer as conversation, it can change the way we go about it. Thinking of prayer as conversation can help us also to overcome obstacles — such as distractions, dryness, inability to focus — because all these things also come up in human conversation.

Prayer is a conversation that never ends. In the Scriptures, St. Paul says: “Pray at all times” (Eph 6:18); “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:1); and “be constant in prayer” (Rom 12:12). He saw prayer as endless conversation.

That seems to be asking a lot, but it’s really the best way to think about it. If we are to pray this way, we have to form the habit of prayer. And, like any good habit or skill, prayer requires a sustained effort, over time, with much repetition.

Many people bristle when they hear about discipline in prayer. They think prayer should always be spontaneous. And sometimes prayer does come spontaneously, as when we experience some great joy or great sorrow. But spontaneity is most often the fruit of discipline. It is usually the best-trained musicians who are able to improvise freely. To do anything well takes time, dedication and patient endurance through sometimes-tedious exercises.

The most effective way to discipline our prayer life is by following a program, a schedule of sorts — what the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin called “a game plan for the Christian.” The best time to set up such a plan is during Lent.

A “plan of life” is a firm but flexible program that schedules our prayer amid the ordinary duties of work, family life and social activity. A daily plan should include some vocal prayers, such as the Rosary or other devotions; plus reading of the Bible and some spiritual book (the writings of the saints are best); attendance at Mass (at least on Sundays and holy days, but more often if possible); and quiet time for more focused conversation with God in mental prayer. The best place for this prayer is in church, before Jesus in the tabernacle.

“Prayer first means God is speaking to us and not the other way around,” says Father Kenneth Myers, a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. “That requires silence — the art of listening carefully to the Lord. And the best place to do that is in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament requires real effort and commitment, but even when our hearts are dry and it seems fruitless to keep on praying, being before the Eucharistic Lord is like being in the sunlight — even by doing nothing we still absorb those powerful rays of light.”

Our plan should also include weekly or monthly practices, such as confession, fasting, almsgiving and so on.

It helps to set standard times, or to key each practice to other activities, so that we never forget. We can keep our spiritual book by the coffee pot and read while the java is brewing every morning. We can use the beginning of our lunch hour as a reminder to say the Angelus. We can pray the Rosary while waiting for the bus home in the evening. We can listen to ten minutes of the Bible on tape as we drive.

We should plant prayers throughout the day like vines. Put one here, one there — and pretty soon, like ivy on a wall, our prayer will cover our day.

This is how Jesus modeled prayer for us. His own prayer life was rich and varied. Sometimes He offered formal prayers (Mk 12:29, 15:34). He kept holy days, made pilgrimages and attended the rich liturgy of the Jews (Jn 7:10-14). He also prayed spontaneously (Jn 11:41-42). He made time to pray alone in silence (Lk 3:21-22). Yet He also prayed together with His friends (Lk 9:18). He fasted, and He studied the Scriptures.

The first Christians followed their Lord in all these practices, and so do we.

Not that it’s always easy to do. But the formal quality of prayer helps us know what to do when we meet with obstacles. “Never, Never, never, never give up!” says my friend Steve Galvanek. A systems analyst, husband and dad, Steve says his plan sustains him even when he’s tired and preoccupied. “If in my feeble attempts to say a Rosary, I manage just one or two heartfelt Hail Marys, that’s far better than if I hadn’t tried at all”

Even the more unpleasant and difficult things in life can become reminders to pray. The key is to think of them as opportunities rather than obstacles. Another friend of mine, Sarah Scott, admits that it’s hard to find time to pray. She’s a mother of five, owner of a home-based business and volunteer at her children’s Catholic school. “It helps to offer everything up all the little things that you don’t like to do,” she says. “I hate folding laundry. But, instead of getting annoyed about it, I try to offer it up and think about what other people have to deal with. Efforts like this keep me talking with God throughout the day.”

Sounds like a plan. 

FROM: http://www.salvationhistory.com/blog/intro_to_lent_1_prayer/ 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012



1. Controlling the Central Sense

The central sense makes us conscious of the operations of the external senses. Its subjugation consists in guarding against the two extremes of sense-consciousness, lethargy, and sensitiveness. A good will ought to turn instantly from any dangerous impression on the one hand, and, by distinguishing between impression and consent, have no grounds for vain fears on the other hand. We should turn as promptly from moral evil as we instinctively recoil from physical pain; but over-sensitiveness is founded neither on reason nor on faith, and retards our progress by paralyzing our energies.

2. Purifying the Imagination

The imagination receives and reproduces the impressions made on the external senses. Though the first impressions, called phantasms, are usually vague and indistinct, their reproduction and elaboration may be brought out clearly by a reflex action of the will. The subjugation of the imagination consists in preserving and purifying it from all sinful and dangerous impressions. To attain this end we must guard against idle, dangerous, and sinful impressions, and try to forget the dangerous ones we have received. Hence we should (1) not permit the imagination to roam aimlessly; (2) not excite it uselessly; (3) not permit it to dwell too much on worldly things; (4) not over-indulge it even on indifferent subjects; (5) not believe it too readily; (6) not blame it for our levity, impatience, or laziness; (7) but constrain it gently to become preoccupied with useful and devotional subjects.

3. Restraining the Instinct.

The instinct perceives what is conducive and what is harmful to animal life. It impels man, says St. Bernard, to seek his ease, his comfort, and especially his carnal gratification. The baser the passion it arouses, the more violent also is its impulse.

To subdue the instinct we must (1) guard against impressions that may arouse wicked suggestions; (2) energetically subdue those we cannot avoid; (3) guard against the gratification of idle curiosity; (4) deny ourselves in some things lawful; (5) strengthen ourselves by recollection and prayer; (6) obey our spiritual director; (7) never grow discouraged in the conflict; (8) and never imagine ourselves immune from the assaults of the flesh.

4. Purifying the Memory

The memory retains and identifies past impressions. The voluntary reproduction of these impressions in man is called reminiscence, while the retention and reproduction of past thoughts is the work of the mind.

We subjugate the memory by purifying it of impressions that are dangerous to virtue, or that hamper us in concentrating our energies on elevating and useful things. To succeed we must (1) avoid sinful occasions and association; (2) not recall in too vivid a manner the memory of past sins; (3) forget injuries received; (4) cultivate detachment from earthly things; (5) not dwell too frequently or too fondly on the pleasant recollections of life.

To succeed we should (1) cherish the benefits of creation, redemption, and sanctification; (2) think of the wants of the Church and of the trials of the Holy Father ; (3) remember the sad condition of sinners, the poverty of the poor, and the suffering of the sick; (i) often recall our own humble origin, our obligations and infidelities, the shortness of life, the value of grace, the certainty of death and of judgment, the suffering of the souls in purgatory, the terrors of hell, and the beatitude of heaven.

The benefits we derive from this subjugation of the memory are: (1) tranquility and peace of heart: (2) purity of conscience; (3) freedom from countless temptations: (4) the special protection of Divine Providence; (5) the inspiration of grace; (6) the special guidance of the Holy Ghost.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012



By following their senses instead of regulating their conduct according to the word of God, our first parents lost happiness and brought sin and misery into the world. In consequence of their sensuality human nature inclines to evil, the world allures to sin, and Satan has grown astute in tempting mankind.

Before us stand the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The spirit inclines to the former, the flesh to the latter. As we obtain knowledge primarily through the senses, St. Augustine aptly calls them "the doors by which life and death enter the soul.'' If we do not wish death to enter our souls through the senses we must keep them so completely under the control of reason enlightened by faith that we can turn them instinctively from any unforeseen danger and concentrate them on what is conducive to life eternal.

This subjugation of the senses, says Thomas a Kempis, purifies the heart, gives peace to the soul, and inclines the will to devotion. By subjugating our senses in a Christian spirit we offer them as holocausts to the Lord on the altar of repentant and purified love.

1. Custody of the Eyes

The most numerous and the most lasting impressions made on the soul usually enter through the sense of sight. To cultivate purity of heart it will therefore be necessary to exercise specially custody of the eyes. Without doing anything extravagant or ridiculous this can easily be accomplished by those who keep the Christian ideal constantly before their minds and are determined to attain it in their daily lives. In all things let them (1) act from principle and guard against natural impulse; (2) watch and pray that they may enjoy the special protection of Divine Providence; (3) conquer fickleness of heart by cultivating a tender conscience; (4) not fix their gaze on a person of the opposite sex that might easily incite them to impure thoughts or desires; (5) avoid suggestive books, pictures, and plays; (6) guard against idle curiosity; (7) and by the contemplation of the beauties of nature learn to raise their minds and hearts to God.

2. Custody of the Ears.

Countless souls have been harmed by listening with pleasure to the vanities and wickedness of the world. If we do not wish to be imbued with false principles and desire to preserve our hearts undefiled, we must turn away from (1) all irreligious and immodest conversation; (2) from all uncharitable remarks and criticism; (3) from all idle gossip, especially with persons of the opposite sex; (4) and from all sensational rumors and idle reports.

Let us rather treasure these sayings of the saints: (1) Turn instantly from the immodest tongue lest it defile you (St. Gregory Nazianzen). (2) Four things are becoming to the listener: to listen patiently, to weigh wisely, to report the good, and to forget the rest (St. Thomas). (3) The more you relish spiritual things, the easier will you escape the poison of an evil tongue. (4) Three things defile the hearing: boastful words, detracting remarks, and vain flattery (St. Anthony). (5) Whatever pertains to the salvation of our souls should be willingly heard, devoutly received, and carefully preserved (St. Bernard).

3. Custody of the Sense of Smell.

The use of perfumes is unbecoming to devout souls. When habitually indulged in it tends to moral effeminacy. Hence St. Bonaventure exhorts his readers to dispense with the perfumes of earth, and to fill their lives with the fragrance of virtue, that they may abound in the dew of heavenly grace, in the scented air of holy aspirations, and in the burning fire of divine charity. By exhaling the odor of virtue in their private lives the children of God will counteract evil, be an incentive to good, and give glory to God.

4. Custody of the Taste.

An unmortified taste is most pernicious, especially in this age of materialism and sensuality. Two evils result from a want of mortifying the taste: (1) the vices of gluttony and intemperance; (2) and a perversion of the sense of taste and of the craving for nourishment. According to St. Gregory the Great we may be intemperate in eating and drinking in five ways: (1) by eating or drinking out of season; (2) by desiring expensive food or drink; (3) by desiring things prepared with great care; (4) by too great eagerness in eating or drinking; (5) by an inordinate use of food or drink.

To exercise custody over the taste we should (1) be indifferent to food and drink, and take what is placed before us; (2) not take nourishment out of meal-time without necessity; (3) take nourishment to strengthen our bodies and not merely to gratify the palate; (4) always observe moderation in eating and drinking; (5) when at table always deny ourselves something for the love of God.

5. Custody of the Sense of Touch.

The sense of touch is not easily kept under the control of reason (1) because it seems so harmless that often not sufficient attention is paid to it; (2) it covers the entire body and is not easily subjugated; (3) it easily excites impure feelings.

To subjugate the sense of touch we must avoid whatever enervates it. Hence the saints advise us: (1) to live a simple life; (2) to wear plain clothes; (3) to sleep on a hard bed; (4) to cultivate habits of industry; (5) to suffer the inclemency of the weather patiently; (6) never to pamper the body; (7) to avoid all unnecessary physical contact with others; (8) to be modest with ourselves; (9) to practice some austerity with the advice of our director.

6. Custody of the Tongue.

Though the tongue is not a sense it is appropriately treated here as the organ of speech. God gave us the gift of speech to worship Him, and to communicate with our neighbor in a Christian manner. A right use of the tongue is made (1) in honoring God by prayer and divine praise; (2) in communicating with a neighbor in justice and kindness on business, social, and charitable affairs; (3) especially by consoling the unfortunate, in speaking well of all, in conversing on edifying subjects. But a wrong use of the tongue is made by all irreverent, disrespectful, uncharitable, and indelicate remarks.

We exercise custody over the tongue (1) by always thinking well of all; (2) by always wishing well to all; (3) by repressing all impetuosity to speak; (4) by weighing what we are about to say, so that we speak in season and offend not against modesty, charity, justice, or truth. St. Alphonsus exhorts us to speak with simplicity, humility, moderation, and modesty. And the Psalmist prayed the Lord "to set a watch before his mouth; and a door around his lips that his heart incline not to evil words'' (Ps. cxl. 3).

Monday, February 27, 2012



Our first duty in the practice of mortification is the subjugation of the carnal man. This we accomplish by assuming an attitude towards our environment which will be favorable for the development of virtue, and by acquiring those habits that, according to the teaching and example of our divine Model, must serve as the basis of the interior life.

1. Spirit of Retirement.

"Go forth out of thy comfort, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father's house, and come into the land which I will show thee. And I will make thee great and bless thee and magnify thy name'' (Gen. xii. 1).

These words the Almighty addressed to Abraham of old. He repeats them to every soul of good will. To be His devoted children we must withdraw at least in spirit from that world which is at enmity with God. We hearken to this invitation of the Lord by cultivating a spirit of retirement. This spirit consists (1) in being indifferent to the follies of the world; (2) in shunning notoriety; (3) in appearing in public only when actuated by some good reason. ''God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world is crucified unto me" (Gal. vi, 14).

2. Plain Dwelling.

''I have chosen to be an abject in the house of God, rather than dwell in the tabernacles of sinners" (Ps. Ixxxiii. 11). To cultivate a spirit of retirement we must banish the spirit of the world from our homes. The greatest slaves of the world make their dwellings places of luxury and cultivate a haughty reserve in their conduct. A true child of God, however, manifests his indifference to the follies of the world as well as his spirit of faith in the erection and furnishing of his earthly dwelling without violating the canons of taste or sacrificing his station in life. He manifests his simple, Christian taste especially in decorating his home with the images of his crucified Master, of the Virgin Mother, and of the saints, and thus he hopes, after dwelling in intimate union with them on earth, to be found worthy one day to dwell with them in the mansions of heaven.

3. Modest Dress

The Scriptures tell us that our first parents invented clothing to cover their nakedness. In our day clothing is often a necessary protection against the inclemency of the weather. But the fashions of dress are indicative of Christian modesty, or of a worldly spirit. For this reason St. Paul wrote: “Let your modesty be known to all men'' (Phil, iv. 5). For the same reasons the world makes use of clothes to gratify its desire of luxury and thereby seduces many thoughtless souls.

As children of God we must therefore (1) remember that our clothes should indicate our Christian modesty; (2) dress according to our station in life; (3) prefer utility and modesty in dress to style or fashion; (4) and guard against taking scandal from the immodest clothing of the slaves of the world — ''There is a shame that bringeth glory and grace" (Eccles. iv. 25).

4. Plain Fare

The world deifies the flesh and worships it by ministering to its cravings. According to St. Paul those are the slaves of the world, '' whose end is destruction; whose God is their belly; and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things" (Phil. iii. 19). We must indeed eat to live, but we should not live to eat. The slaves of the world gratify their vanity and pervert their taste by serving costly viands, and they degrade themselves and court sickness and death by intemperance in eating and drinking. Plain fare on the other hand is more nutritious, more easily digested, and more conducive to health, happiness, and a ripe old age.

5. Simplicity.

"The simplicity of the just shall guide them" (Prov. xi. 3). Simplicity is that fidelity to truth which abhors all duplicity and deception. Truth is from God, deception from Satan. Hence the Savior says: "Let your speech be yea, yea; no, no: and that which is over and above this is of evil" (Matt. v. 37).

Simplicity in thought, word, and deed makes us (1) humble in our own estimation; (2) pleasing in the sight of God; (3) honorable among men; (4) confiding in God; (5) and generous towards our neighbor.

6. Cheerfulness.

Cheerfulness is the disposition of looking on the bright side of life. It manifests itself in looks, words, and actions that have a soothing influence on all present. Cheerfulness results from a conscientious performance of duty, united to a strong trust in divine Providence.

Cheerfulness has a tendency to lighten our burdens, to sweeten our sorrows, and to give us a relish for labor, endurance, and prayer. It disposes us to be generous with God, indulgent with our neighbor, and forgetful of ourselves. No wonder, then, that the Scripture says: "God loveth a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. ix. 7.)

7. Habit of Industry.

A habit of industry is a disposition for work. Labor is life's first law. "If any man will not work, neither let him eat" (2 Thess. iii. 10). A habit of industry is conducive to happiness (1) by giving us an object in life; (2) by compelling us to take exercise, which is necessary for the preservation of health; (3) by supplying diversion for the mind; (4) by giving us profitable occupation for our time; (5) by imparting a relish to our recreation; (6) by insuring rest in our repose; (7) by keeping us from vice; (8) by disposing us to help a neighbor in need. A habit of industry is likewise essential to success. It (1) teaches concentration of our energies; (2) imparts method to our procedure, (3) and insures perseverance in our efforts.

Finally, a habit of industry disposes us for a Christian life (1) by teaching us self -discipline; (2) by giving us the mastery over ourselves; (3) and by grounding us in natural virtue.

8. Patient Endurance.

It is impossible to escape all suffering in this valley of tears. Our only choice in the matter is between the patient endurance of the sufferings Providence sends us, or the enforced endurance of the greater sufferings of our own choice.

Patient endurance of the sufferings of life (1) gives stability of character; (2) grounds us in self-knowledge; (3) dispels delusions; (4) detaches us from things of earth; (5) broadens our sympathies for struggling mankind; (6) disposes us for the grace of God; (7) and leads to solid virtue and true spiritual progress.

Patient endurance in the trials of life is facilitated (1) by not wasting our energies about the past; (2) by not worrying about the future; (3) by not magnifying our present trials; (4) by recalling the sufferings of Christ and His saints; (5) by cultivating conformity to the holy will of God.

9. Avoidance of Singularity.

Singularity is affectation in practical life. As humility produces simplicity, so pride be- gets singularity. Singularity is primarily a vice of the interior, but manifests itself exteriorly in various ways. According to its particular tendency it poses (1) in the seriousness of the magistrate; (2) in the science of the learned; (3) in the independence of the rich; (4) and even in the humility and devotion of a Christian soul. Singularity (1) gives a false view of the minor affairs of life; (2) pursues fancies instead of acquiring solid virtue; (3) multiplies one's cares; (4) and imparts the impression that those who practise it are not quite sound of mind.

The remedy for singularity is "to put off the old man, and put on the new man, who is created in justice, holiness, and truth'' (Eph. iv. 22).

10. Home Life

Home life consists of our conduct in the family circle. The qualities that contribute to its happiness are sincerity, charity, cheerfulness, cordiality, patience, and a spirit of sacrifice.

There is a profound attachment in every heart for that sacred spot we call Home. It is en- shrined in the fondest memories of our earlier days. Though the lapse of time may have changed our abode, our home is always the place where those dwell whom we love and trust, our safe retreat from an unsympathetic world, the reward of our labor and sacrifice, and the natural source of our energy and strength.

In the struggle and conflict of daily life we may be forced to put on an exterior reserve and retire into our inner selves to preserve peace of mind and heart. But at home, if our interior be unselfish, we may safely lay aside all reserve and enjoy the peace of security and familiar intercourse with our own.

11. Recreation.

Recreation is relaxation after the strain and strife of duty. It is necessary to relax and renew our energies from time to time, if we are to bear the burdens that await us. Three things may be remarked in regard to our recreations.

(1) Recreation should be an innocent relaxation, suited to our age and station in life. For some it may take the form of physical exercise, for others a social visit with friends may be more profitable, while a third class may find sufficient recreation in a change of occupation.

(2) To balance the mind recreation should be taken with moderation. Over-indulgence will dissipate instead of recreating our energies, while a want of recreation will make us dull and mechanical.

(3) Congenial surroundings contribute very much to our recreation. Under normal circumstances the home is the best place for our recreations, though on special occasions we may take our recreation away from home without injuring home life.

12. Care of Health.

Life and health are gifts of God. In bestowing them upon us He also imposed the obligation of caring for our health and thereby prolonging life. Both extremes should be avoided in fulfilling this obligation. "Be not solicitous therefore,” warns the Savior, "saying, What shall we eat: or, what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed?”  (Matt. vi. 31).

On the other hand St. Paul says: "Know you not that you are the temples of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? But if any man violate the temple of God, him shall God destroy'' (1 Cor. iii. 16). We would manifest an inordinate care of health (1) by unnecessarily thinking, talking, and worrying about it; (2) by developing fads and eccentricities in caring for it; (3) by neglecting our duty on account of it ; (4) by being more solicitous about the body than about the soul.

We would be wanting in the proper care of our health (1) if we did something positively to injure it; (2) if we did not use the ordinary means of preserving it; (3) if we wantonly exposed it to danger; (4) if we refused medical aid when sick.

13. Friends.

Friends are persons who cherish a mutual attachment and have one another's welfare at heart. Affability, cheerfulness, and integrity give our intercourse with acquaintances that flavor which enables us to make friends. Thinking of them with affection, trusting them cordially, and doing them a favor whenever the opportunity presents itself, enables us to cement the bonds of friendship.

We should (1) be careful in the selection of our friends; (2) have but a few; (3) be faithful to them unto death; (4) gladly make their interest our own. Listen to the advice of Sacred Scripture: "Be at peace with many, but let one of a thousand be thy counselor. If thou wouldst get a friend, try him before thou takest him, and do not credit him easily. For there is a friend of his own occasion, and he will not abide in the day of trouble. And there is a friend that turneth to enmity; and there is a friend that will disclose hatred and strife and reproaches. And there is a friend a companion at thy table, and he will not abide in the day of distress. A friend if he continues steadfast, shall be to thee as thyself, and shall act with confidence in thy household. A faithful friend is a strong defense: and he that hath found him, hath found a treasure. Nothing can be compared to a faithful friend, and no weight of gold or silver is able to countervail the goodness of his fidelity. A faithful friend is the medicine of life and immortality; and they that fear the Lord shall find him. He that feareth God shall likewise have good friendship; because according to him shall also his friend be" (Eccles. vi. 6-17).

14. Catholic Spirit.

A Catholic spirit makes us loyal children of God. This spirit is made of four things: (1) Catholic views, which harmonize not only with dogmatic teaching, but also with the opinions of our ecclesiastical superiors; (2) Catholic desires, desires for the glory of God, the welfare of His Church, and for the temporal and eternal happiness of mankind; (3) a Catholic instinct which identifies us so intimately with Jesus Christ that it readily detects and abhors whatever is foreign to His spirit; (4) a Catholic life, a life actuated so completely by the teaching of the Catholic Church that it devoutly spends itself in the faithful discharge of its Christian duties.

A Catholic spirit (1) makes us living, active members of Christ's mystical body on earth by identifying us with the congregation in which we live; (2) it gives us the true liberty and peace of children of God; (3) and it enables US to exercise a most powerful influence for the good of the community.

To acquire a Catholic spirit we must cultivate humility, docility, generosity, and fervor in the service of God.

15. Intercourse with the World.

On earth the children of God must have more or less intercourse with the people of the world. To guard them against injury and scandal in these dealings with mankind the Savior gave His followers a practical rule of conduct when He said : ''Be ye wise as serpents and simple as doves" (Matt. x. 16). We must be wise or prudent without being crafty and charitable without being foolish. To exercise this prudence we must avoid all rash judgments, words, and actions on the one hand, and on the other give no one our trust or confidence till they have shown themselves worthy of it. "Separate thyself from thy enemies, and take heed of thy friends" (Eccles. vi. 13). We are simple as doves when (1) we do nothing in look, word, or deed to deceive our neighbor; (2) when we edify him by our self-possession, and by the integrity of our speech and deportment; (3) and especially by our forbearance and Christian charity.

To avoid the dissipation of the world we should therefore (1) not appear among the people of the world without a reason; (2) guard against the principles, maxims, standards, and motives of the world; (3) guard against injuring others in any way; (4) let the light of our good example shine in the darkness of the world; (5) avail ourselves of every opportunity of converting the world to Jesus Christ.

16. Christian Charity.

Christian charity is that divine virtue whereby we love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. The infallible test of Christian charity is our charity towards our neighbor. The noblest acts of fraternal charity are summed up in the Seven Corporal, and the Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy.

The Corporal Works of Mercy are: (1) to feed the hungry; (2) to give drink to the thirsty; (3) to clothe the naked; (4) to ransom the captive; (5) to harbor the harborless; (6) to visit the sick; (7) to bury the dead.

The Spiritual Works of Mercy are: (1) to admonish the sinner; (2) to instruct the ignorant; (3) to counsel the doubtful; (4) to comfort the sorrowful; (5) to bear wrongs patiently; (6) to forgive all injuries; (7) to pray for the living and the dead.

St. Thomas calls mercy the greatest of the moral virtues. And our divine Savior Himself declares that at the general judgment He will pronounce sentence upon mankind according to the works of mercy they have performed.

“Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me'' (Matt xxv. 40). Hence St. Paul, so zealous in the cause of his Master, exhorted his converts: “Put ye on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, the bowels of mercy'' (Col in. 12).

17. Patriotism.

Patriotism is love for one's native or adopted country. It was implanted in the human heart by God when He made man a social being.

Patriotism manifests itself (1) in an esteem of one's country; (2) in attachment to it; (3) in the observance of its just laws; (4) in furthering the general welfare by one's influence, especially by a conscientious use of the ballot; (6) in serving one's country faithfully; (7) and in dying for one's country if circumstances require it.