Wednesday, 30 April 2014

There's Something About Mary

By Edmund Lo, S.J.


Editor’s note: Catholic devotions: why do they matter, what are they made of, what are they are not. In a strong and prescriptive phrase in his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote “we ought to praise not only the building and adornment of churches, but also the images and veneration of them according to what they represent.” He seemed to press the point even further, writing “we should show our esteem for the relics of the saints by venerating them and praying to the saints. We should praise visits to Station Churches, pilgrimages, indulgences, jubilees, crusade insults, and the lighting of candles in churches.” For some, these devotions are the spiritual life-blood of the believing Church; for others they may seem simplistic or quaint. But in the spirit of our founder, we, too, seek to explore and understand the powerful role of devotions in the Church today. 

“I am slow when it comes to these holy ladies.”

I used to say this jokingly to describe my relationship with the Virgin Mary. I have never had that strong of a devotion towards Our Lady of anything. Yet my appreciation for her has grown over time, and I believe that she has something very valuable to offer to our Christian faith.

First, I think that our general understanding of Mary's importance can risk being slotted into two categories: too much, and too little. “Too much”, is when we make the mistake of worshipping Mary, which no one in their right mind should do. Some Protestants think that Catholics engage in such behaviours, but this is more of a misunderstanding than anything else. “Too little” is when we think that Mary really ain't that special; she is just like one of us. There is some truth to this, but only to a certain extent. All arguments for or against Marian devotions essentially circle around her identity, and it is the focus of this short blog entry.

Monday, 28 April 2014

A Call to “Pray Always” – The Liturgy of the Hours

By Artur Suski, S.J.


Editor’s note: Catholic devotions: why do they matter, what are they made of, what are they are not. In a strong and prescriptive phrase in his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote “we ought to praise not only the building and adornment of churches, but also the images and veneration of them according to what they represent.” He seemed to press the point even further, writing “we should show our esteem for the relics of the saints by venerating them and praying to the saints. We should praise visits to Station Churches, pilgrimages, indulgences, jubilees, crusade insults, and the lighting of candles in churches.” For some, these devotions are the spiritual life-blood of the believing Church; for others they may seem simplistic or quaint. But in the spirit of our founder, we, too, seek to explore and understand the powerful role of devotions in the Church today. 

“Singing the psalmody refreshes and invigorates the mind for contemplation. It stores thoughts and images which renders the recollection of God constant and fruitful.” 
- St. Basil the Great 

Jesus called his disciples to “pray always and not lose heart” (Lk 18:1). A few decades later, the apostle Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). It seems that all her members were called to make their whole day an offering of prayer from the very beginning of the life of the Church. Yet at the same time, the unspoken, nagging question accompanying such a tall task is quite plainly: how are we to realize this invitation to “pray without ceasing”?

Friday, 25 April 2014

Sacred Heart/Divine Mercy: Different or the Same?

By John D. O’Brien S.J. 

The Sacred Heart by Michael O'Brien

Editor’s note: Catholic devotions: why do they matter, what are they made of, what are they are not. In a strong and prescriptive phrase in his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote “we ought to praise not only the building and adornment of churches, but also the images and veneration of them according to what they represent.” He seemed to press the point even further, writing “we should show our esteem for the relics of the saints by venerating them and praying to the saints. We should praise visits to Station Churches, pilgrimages, indulgences, jubilees, crusade insults, and the lighting of candles in churches.” For some, these devotions are the spiritual life-blood of the believing Church; for others they may seem simplistic or quaint. But in the spirit of our founder, we, too, seek to explore and understand the powerful role of devotions in the Church today. 

There is no Catholic devotional image more widespread world-wide today than the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Statuary, prints, holy cards, even graffiti and tattoos – the iconic representation of a pierced heart on fire has captured the religious imagination of all strata of society and cultures. And with reason. The burning heart of Christ is an aptly powerful symbol of the God who is Love, the Christian God.

Ever since St. Claude de la Columbière, S.J. counselled St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th Century, Jesuits have continuously promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This continues today through the Apostleship of Prayer and Hearts on Fire young adult retreats. We promote discovery of the heart of God because it is an essential part of the mission of the Church, and here’s why.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Devotions: Overcoming Our Embarrassments

By Adam Hincks, S.J.

Alcove shrine, San Antonio, Texas

Editor's note: This begins a series on Catholic devotions  why they matter, what they're made of, what they are not. In a strong and prescriptive phrase in his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote "we ought to praise not only the building and adornment of churches, but also the images and veneration of them according to what they represent." He seemed to press the point even further, writing "we should show our esteem for the relics of the saints by venerating them and praying to the saints. We should praise visits to Station Churches, pilgrimages, indulgences, jubilees, crusade insults, and the lighting of candles in churches." For some, these devotions are the spiritual life-blood of the believing Church; for others they may seem simplistic or quaint. But in the spirit of our founder, we, too, seek to explore and understand the powerful role of devotions in the Church today.

Once when I was at mass in the village of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, I heard a disturbance at the main doors behind me. Some village folk were coming down the warped wooden aisle of the seventeenth century church carrying large dolls or statues of the Virgin Mary. They placed them a little to the side of the front of the church, and I noticed for the first time that there were other such statues gathered there; they seemed all to be home-made. Meanwhile, the priest did not bat an eyelid, but continued with the service, and the newcomers, having completed their delivery, joined the congregation. After mass, I learned that all the statues would be blessed by the pastor.

Monday, 21 April 2014

An Encounter with Love

By Santiago Rodriguez, S.J.


Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of The Little Prince, was a pioneer of commercial aviation. He flew in the Spanish Civil War and World War II. He loved flying. He also loved writing about friendship and love. Because of this, he was nicknamed the 'winged poet'. In his book Airman's Odyssey, de Saint-Exupéry wrote about how love transforms us. When we encounter love, it refashions our lives. Love invites us to contemplate a new horizon, the place where our hearts encounter the heart of the beloved. Love incites us to contemplate and to journey towards that horizon because intimacy is beyond fear. As de Saint-Exupéry states, “Love is more than gazing at each other. It consists in looking outward together in the same direction.”

Friday, 18 April 2014

May Your Death Be My Life

By Santiago Rodriguez, S.J.

By Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Good Friday. Today, we place ourselves with Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, at the foot of the cross. We fix our eyes on the One who was pierced, asking him to help us to enter into the mystery of his life and death. Today, our duty is to dwell in his heart – to remain at his feet with an attitude of listening and contemplation.

Dispose your heart. Place yourself at the foot of the tree of life. Use your imagination to contemplate Jesus on the cross – to contemplate his Eucharistic love, his crucified love poured out for the sake of a broken world. See how he makes all things new. Close your eyes and behold Jesus on the cross. Uses your spiritual senses to experience the happenings on Calvary. Let Jesus engage all your senses.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Wash This, but Don't Wash That

By Edmund Lo, S.J.



One of the many headline-makers of Pope Francis was the foot-washing ceremony from last year's Holy Week. It looks like he will continue the tradition this year, as well. It is a pity that we couldn't get past the obvious, that women's or a Muslim's feet were washed. The fact is that the act of washing the feet of another is radical in itself.

As we know, the washing of feet was the servant's job during the time of Jesus. A master is not to do a servant's job, but Jesus shattered this conception. Nowadays, we may praise someone for his willingness to humbly serve others through such an act. We may even engage in such an act ourselves. But the danger exists of a hidden unwillingness to serve in ways I feel uncomfortable with. I may wash the feet of others in a specific ceremony because it is powerfully symbolic, but I may remain unwilling to step outside of my comfort zone to serve others in things great and small. When this happens, integrity is lacking, and the washing of the feet can be relegated to a mere pious show.

Monday, 14 April 2014

A Spiritual Quest for Identity Courtesy of Hollywood and Benedict

By Brother Dan Leckman


About a month ago I had a movie-watching experience which inspired extensive philosophical reflections that lasted for days!  The movie was Divergent. I kind of stumbled upon it on a night when I was not planning to go to the movies, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I had seen the previews and it sort of reminded of The Hunger Games, so I was intrigued enough to invest time and money for what I thought would be some frivolous entertainment. Little did I know that within a few hours, this movie would help ignite some rather intense reflections around the concept of identity.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and the Dominion of Man

By Adam Hincks, S.J.


Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell,
There God is dwelling too.
– Blake

Consider the following well-known passage from the Bible.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; may they rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the beasts and over everything of the earth and over all creeping things that creep upon the earth.” And God created man in his image: in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:26–27)
Much Christian theology and anthropology is based on the doctrine that man is created in God’s image, but rarely is the connexion made today between man being made in God’s image and man being made to rule over the creatures of the world. Clearly, the Biblical text links the two, if only by their proximity. It is, moreover, possible to translate the first verse as, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness, so that he may rule etc.” (c.f., the NIV rendering). Finally, it is not possible to soften the notion of man ruling over other creatures. The Hebrew verb used here (רדה) is consistently employed elsewhere in the Bible to denote ruling, having dominion, and even subduing (e.g., 1 Kings 4:24, Ezekiel 29:15, Isaiah 14:6).

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

No Fire Can Stop a Burning Heart!

By Artur Suski, S.J.

Credit: http://flickr.com

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21)

For some time now, I’ve been regularly attending Saturday night Vespers and the occasional Divine Liturgy at a Byzantine Catholic parish not too far from Guelph, Ontario: St. Elias Ukrainian Catholic Church in Brampton. I initially went out of curiosity. I was brought up in the Roman Catholic tradition and my exposure to other Catholic traditions was close to nil. In fact, for a very long time I thought that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was like the Polish Church – they have mass, like our Polish mass, but in Ukrainian! This was the extent of my familiarity with the Byzantine tradition until about four years ago, when I had the chance to study early Church history, especially the development of liturgy in the East and West.

Some of you may have heard on the news recently that St. Elias Church was completely devoured by fire on April 5, 2014. When I found out about the disaster, I went into a state of shock for about half an hour. The magnitude of the disaster didn’t truly sink in until I had the chance to make the rounds of the remains of what used to be the Church. It was heart wrenching. I cannot truly put into words what I felt. All I can say is that it was difficult to face the truth.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Some Grapes in the Desert. We’re Almost There.

By John D. O’Brien, S.J. 


Thus begins the final week of Lent, at least before the drama of Holy Week. Courage, dear friends. It’s the last lap, the final round. We’re at the point in the sojourn when we just.want.to.get.to.Canaan. It’s when Lenten penitential observances start to wobble. We sneak-spoon some ice cream. We watch part of a hockey game. We go on Facebook for just a quick look. No worries, the Lord loves us anyway. But fortitude, friends, fortitude.

Friday, 4 April 2014

The Sign of Jonah: You Can't Run Away From God

By Santiago Rodriguez, S.J.

Credit: http://christianpost.com

The story of the prophet Jonah is the ultimate big fish story. When Jonah ran away from God, the Almighty stormed after him and engulfed him in the belly of the fish. We see it happen all the time, where people run away from those who love them the most. We see it with the teenage girl who rejects her mother's wisdom and gets into trouble while hanging out with the wrong people. There is the young man who is afraid of commitment because he is afraid of losing his prized freedom. But that is only half of the story. The other half is the story of the mother who cares lovingly and patiently for her daughter. There is the girlfriend or fiancee who shows her beau the true purpose of freedom – how only love can satisfy the human heart. There are many other stories like these – fathers who seek their sons, friends who continue to make themselves available for others, spouses who give it all for the sake of their marriages.

In the same way, God seeks us. And he does it with an unimaginable effort. The human heart is created to be generous, but due to original sin, it is not generous enough to give it all up and be satisfied with the love of God. We desire other things besides God, without recognizing that God has given us everything that we may find him in all things. But we desire other things in and of themselves. The human heart fears the love of God which demands sacrifice, and it sacrifices God instead. God is not satisfied with this, for he is a jealous God. God will have no other love in his place. God will seek us. And he will make an unimaginable effort to do so.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Agere Contra: Why Go The Opposite Way?

By Edmund Lo, S.J.

Image: oddrun@oddrun.com

Ah yes, another fancy Latin term from the Jesuits. From the producers of magis, ad majorem Dei gloriam and others, we bring you agere contra. Compared to its more famous counterparts, agere contra belongs to the “underrated” category. It means “to act against” in English. This begs the question: What exactly are we acting against?

Agere Contra is to act directly against my behaviours that are not life-giving. For example, if I find I chronically overeat, I act against this tendency by fasting a little, even from a just amount of food. Let's face it: We all have such behaviours in our lives, and they often take the form of avoidance. It could be the undesired chores that literally dirty our hands, being in situations in which we feel uncomfortable, or interactions with certain people whose personalities we find particularly jarring. We should note that agere contra is not simply about doing the opposite for its own sake. Otherwise, it would be a matter of “I go against these tendencies because I am strong, I am capable, and I can do it! Don't let anyone tell you that you can't!” Such a sentiment would be merely a self-centred demonstration of will-power. While exercising the will is important, our motive should be the God-centred desire to put off the “old man”, and put on the new in Christ.