A Christmas Birthday

Christmas is a particularly special time for me. My birthday is on Christmas Day. As my faith developed I came to the realization that even though my birthday lands on Christmas, that there’s something much more significant. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14) That is the realism we assist at in every Mass. The fact the Christ took on a human form, and we see His physical presence at every Mass under the veil of the Eucharist.

Christmas is not merely a jovial holiday, it is a holy day. The Nativity of our Lord is one of the holiest days we celebrate in the liturgical calendar.

The God of the universe took on human form and became one of us, yet He has two natures, fully human and fully divine. Christ took on human flesh to be the once and for all perfect sacrifice on our behalf, to save us from our sins, and to lay the foundation for the earthly Kingdom, the Church, as the cornerstone.

The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” (CCC 1324) Without the Nativity of our Lord there is no Eucharistic sacrifice. No foretaste of Heaven to prepare us for the banquet that awaits those who are in friendship with God (e.g. in the state of grace). The Eucharist is so important to Catholics that our intellects cannot fathom what life would be like without it. We as Catholics thrive on the graces received from the actual body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist.

“The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” –C.S. Lewis

At Christmas we receive Eucharistic overtones. Christ, the Living Bread from Heaven, was born in a town called Bethlehem, in Hebrew means “House of Bread,” and He was born in a manger, which is a feeding trough that animals eat from. These are foreshadows or antitypes of what would take place at the Last Supper with the institution of the Eucharist. Through Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection, He prepares us for the realism of what we’ll receive in Heaven, and we have a foretaste of that when we consume the Eucharist at Mass.

There are two times of the year where we should intensely focus our senses on the Eucharist: Christmas and Easter. Christmas because that is when the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us. At Easter, specifically the Triduum, the Eucharist was instituted at the Last Supper.

Prior to receiving Holy Communion at Mass we say, Domine non sum dignus, or Lord I am not worthy. We are not worthy, but God in His self-sacrificial love (Greek: agape) invites us to participate in the Eucharistic feast. The Eucharist being the perfect thanksgiving sacrifice worthy of God the Father. It would not be at all possible unless the Word had become Flesh, born on Christmas Day. There are some that may argue that Christ was not literally born on December 25, but the Church has celebrated the Nativity of our Lord on this day since the early ages of Christianity. It is one of the earliest feasts along with the Epiphany.

How splendid it is to lift up our hearts at a momentous time of the year. Christ offers us a super-substantial (Greek: epiousios) treasure in the Eucharist at Mass. A supernatural gift it is indeed. It’s important to remember the real meaning of Christmas. All the presents in the world cannot stack up to what we receive in the Liturgy. Christ’s Mass, or Christmas, is the beginning to an epic journey that reveals the truth of how much God loves us and wants us to be part of His family. Not only at Christmas, but every day of the year. The true meaning of Christmas is centered around Christ in the Eucharist.

“Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.” –Luke 2:14

by John Connor

Purgatorio: Prayers and Reparations

Our life on earth is an opportunity to respond to God’s love. We choose our eternal destination, Heaven or Hell, by how we respond to living out our Catholic faith on a daily basis. If we choose to love God, we also desire to follow Him, His Commandments, and the Church’s teachings. It’s not always easy, but the foretaste we consume from the Eucharist encourages us to do just that–live the Catholic faith. The Eucharist is indeed an “appetizer” of what we’ll receive in Heaven.

“Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) Denying oneself is an act of humility. We strip away our selfish pride, and we follow Christ to the best of our ability. Jesus also said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) We are called to love God and neighbor with our whole hearts.

God Almighty does not burden us with unnecessary requests or commands. He prepares us for what heaven will be like. In heaven we will worship God unceasingly (Revelation 4:8). We are invited to the heavenly banquet–the marriage supper of the Lamb. (Revelation 19:9) Preparations indeed are in order.

“People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” –Revelation 21:26-27

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” (CCC 1030)

Nothing unclean may enter Heaven. People who have died in the state of grace, meaning all mortal sins have been forgiven before the time of death, will one day bask in Heavenly Glory. There may be the remains of particular venial sins or even temporal punishment due to the sins already forgiven that require purification before crossing into the threshold of Heaven and experiencing the Beatific Vision.

“We must say many prayers for the souls of the faithful departed, for one must be so pure to enter heaven.” –Saint John Vianney

Purgatory is a purification process where the removal of all venial sins, vices, and inclinations to sin that are not considered grave matter (i.e. mortal sins). This purification allows us to enter into heaven, as clean Souls ready to encounter Christ face to face.

Fire is often the vision we incur when we think about Purgatory. Paul writes, “If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:15) The penalty, or loss, is not referring to the fire of Hell, because the person is saved. No one can be saved in Hell. The purification process may feel like fire, and it may hurt, because we’re being stripped of our desire to sin. For some people humility can be a painful process, but a necessary one. We yearn for Heaven as we are being purified.

“This mountain’s of such sort that climbing it is hardest at the start; but as we rise, the slope grows less unkind. Therefore, when this slope seems to you so gentle that climbing farther up will be as restful as traveling downstream by boat, you will be where this pathway ends, and there you can expect to put your weariness to rest.” – Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio

Praying for one another isn’t limited to our earthly life. No. We can ask the Saints in Heaven to pray for us. We can and, rightly so, should pray for the Souls in Purgatory. The Church has taught for many centuries that we should pray for the Souls in Purgatory. We do not pray for the Souls only on All Souls’ Day. The month of November is dedicated to the Souls in Purgatory, and even beyond that to praying for them daily. In recent decades praying for the Souls in Purgatory has been deemphasized. Requiem Masses and black vestments have been replaced with feast-like Masses with white vestments on All Souls’ Day and funerals. Our mortal minds cannot comprehend the importance of praying for the Souls in Purgatory.

Prayer is powerful and we should not limit our prayers only to the living. One of the great joys we’ll receive in Heaven is to see how our prayers had on the Souls in Purgatory. Once the Souls enter Heaven they too will be praying for us. Praying for the Living and the Dead is a wonderful Spiritual Work of Mercy and the effects of this pious act cannot be downplayed by the implications it can have on others lives.

We join with the Communion of Saints in praying for all Souls, including those in Purgatory. That is a powerful expression of how much we love God and want to feast together at the Banquet in Heaven. We get a foretaste of that at every Mass in the Eucharist. Let us together offer up prayers to the the Souls in Purgatory. They too will pray for us.

by John Connor

Related articles:
Born to Be Magnificent
Battling Sin
Angels & Demons

Battling Sin

Temptation can manifest from the “three enemies of the soul,” the world, the devil, and the flesh. There is an on-going spiritual war happening. Our soul’s eternal destination is at stake. We all have a choice to make. The Beatific Vision and eternal joy in Heaven, or eternal separation from God (i.e. Hell). God does not send us to Hell. Because we have free will, we can ultimately determine our fate by whether or not we cooperate with God’s Love.

From the residue of original sin, human beings have a tendency to sin by even the most subtle temptations. In order to battle these temptations, we have to be more aware of what tempts us, causing us to sin. We can win this spiritual battle.

It is time to put on the full armor of God.

“Finally, brethren, be strengthened in the Lord, and in the might of his power. Put you on the armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places. Therefore take unto you the armour of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and to stand in all things perfect. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice, And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace: In all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one. And take unto you the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God). By all prayer and supplication praying at all times in the spirit; and in the same watching with all instance and supplication for all the saints.” –Ephesians 6:10-18

Reminding ourselves of personal sinful struggles is not easy. In fact, it’s easier to hide from them or pretend they don’t exist. Satan will try to convince you that you are a “good person.” Why? Because “good people” believe they’ve “run up a very favorable credit-balance in God’s ledger,” but they risk committing the sin of pride. There is always a need for God’s love and mercy. The devout life is obtainable to anyone who seeks it.

On the opposite end of the spectrum of pride, there is despair. Despair occurs when you think you’re sins are too numerous for God to forgive. Hogwash! There is no sin too great or great in number that God cannot forgive you. The only sins that cannot be forgiven are those that you do not confess to Christ in the confessional. Ask for forgiveness with a contrite heart and your sins will be forgiven when the priest, through Christ, absolves you.

The closer you become to living a saintly life on earth, which is possible by the way, the more aware you become of those particular temptations and sins. It is like shining a light on your “blemishes.”

The saints are great examples of how to live a devout life. They were not born saints. And some were downright scoundrels before they found their conversion. Take St. Augustine of Hippo for instance, before his conversion he lived a very worldly life, even by today’s standards. It was through the prayers of his mother and saint, Monica, that he was transformed anew. Augustine made a choice, and that choice was to live his life for God. He is now a saint and doctor of the Church.

“There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.” –St. Augustine of Hippo

You take a big step forward by admitting you are a sinner in need of God’s love and mercy. God, along with the angels and saints, are on your side in this spiritual war. Christ did not die on the Cross and then leave it up to you to figure out how to conquer sin. Hardly. Christ, whether spiritually present, or physically present in the Eucharist, is leading the charge.

First and foremost, be authentic. Men, do not shy away from your masculinity. We live in an emasculated secular world. Look to Christ as an example of how to be authentic, masculine, Catholic men. Your role is to protect the women around you, both physically and spiritually. Ladies, your femininity is a gift from God. Do not hide from it either. Allow the Blessed Virgin Mary to be your role model of authentic Catholic femininity.

Avoid the near occasion of sin as best you can. Your eyes are the “gateway to the soul.” Custody of the eyes helps to avoid lust in particular. Socialize with other traditional Catholics. Socialize in places that will not lead you to sin, nor be tempted. Sometimes it’s helpful to keep yourself occupied. An idle mind can be dangerous. There are moments where you could feel spiritual dryness as if God has deserted you, or you may fall into depression. Do not let this deter you from living your life for God.

“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.” C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters

The Church has given us great weapons to battle sin and lead us to victory. Start with daily prayer. The Rosary is one of the greatest weapons against evil. Another very powerful prayer is the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. If I’m going into a spiritual battle I want St. Michael at my side. Pray it daily. Praying the Divine Office (Divinum Officium, 1960 Rubrics) is also very spiritually beneficial. Prayer is our communication with God, whether we’re talking or listening to Him. This assures us that God is part of our lives. There’s also mortification. Sometimes denying yourself of something you want can strengthen your soul. You may start with turning down dessert after dinner, or praying the Rosary in place of your favorite television program.

Be aware of your temptations. The spiritual attacks are often subtle. A venial sin can grow into a mortal sin before you know it. You have what it takes to battle the temptations and sins of the world, the flesh, and the evil one, Satan. If you commit a sin, go to Confession. Not only will you be forgiven, but you’ll receive graces to overcome the temptations next time. Then you’ll be prepared to get back into the fray. You can win this spiritual battle.

by John Connor

Angels & Demons

People have always been intrigued by angels (and demons). I think because there’s a certain mystery surrounding angels and their role in salvation history.

The word “angel” is derived from the Latin word angelus which means “messenger.” Angels are pure spirits. They do not have a natural body like you and I. Angels cannot die or be substantially changed. Sometimes angels have taken on a bodily form for specific purposes as we see in Luke’s Gospel at the Annunciation. The angel Gabriel visited our Blessed Mother in a human form to announce she was to be the mother of Jesus.  When an angel takes on a human form, he expresses its angelic power using the body as an instrument.

“We are like children, who stand in need of masters to enlighten us and direct us; God has provided for this, by appointing his angels to be our teachers and guides.” – St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica

Angels have intellectual knowledge, or creatural knowledge, and have no need to learn. At the moment of their existence God infused them with all the knowledge they need to perform their duties, and know only what God wills for them to know. The intellect of an angel is incomprehensible to us. All angels do not possess the same level of knowledge.

There is a hierarchy among the angels. The imparting of knowledge by God is given to the higher levels of angels and flows through to the lower level of angels. The lower angels are illuminated or instructed by the higher angels.

Within the angelic hierarchy there are three orders. The highest hierarchy includes the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones. Lucifer may have been either a Seraph or Cherub. The middle hierarchy include the Dominations, Virtues, and Powers. The lower hierarchy includes Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. The lower hierarchy has the most interaction with humans, especially our guardian angels.

To put into perspective how many possible angelic orders there are, every person that has ever lived or will live all have guardian angels.

Just like human beings, angels have free will. Even though angels have a great deal of knowledge they still have the ability to say no to God.

Although angels were created in heaven and in the state of sanctifying grace, they did not initially possess the beatific vision. Angels possess both an intellect and will. Because angels have free will means they are able to sin. Some of the angels did sin. These fallen angels (demons) wanted to be like God. The sin of pride is what caused the demons to fall from grace. The angels that did not reject God’s grace went on to possess the beatific vision. Beatified angels therefore cannot sin.

Demons are unrepentant of their sin, therefore have freely made their choice not to follow God, hence they are in hell for all eternity. Lucifer and the other demons desire to wage a spiritual war against mankind. They want nothing more than to separate us from God. The angels protect us from the diabolical attacks of demons, which are often times subtle. Demons are very good at temptation.

While in the desert for forty days, Jesus was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). The evil one threw everything he had at our Lord, yet Christ prevailed and is our example how we are to withstand his evil, yet subtle, attacks. Some believe that Lucifer tested our Lord to see if He really was the Son of God.

“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.” – C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters

People have asked what causes a person to be spiritually attacked by a demon, whether it be temptation, oppression, or worse case, possession. Demons can provoke subtle attacks even on the most devout Catholic, but they also look for a foothold in the door. Usually a “gateway” sin, such as pornography. I know people look a blind eye when pornography is mentioned, but there is a reason why it causes so much turmoil in a person’s life, especially married couples.

Thanks to Hollywood people have become infatuated with demonic possession and exorcism. Father Gary Thomas, an exorcist from the Diocese of San Jose, California gives an inside look to what it’s like to be an exorcist in  “Interview with an Exorcist” (Catholic Answers). Father Thomas experience as an exorcist became the inspiration for the movie, The Rite, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins.

“We should show our affection for the angels, for one day they will be our coheirs just as here below they are our guardians and trustees appointed and set over us by the Father.” –St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Jesus said in Matthew 24:13, “But he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved.” We have the Heavenly Hosts and the Communion of Saints on our side in this spiritual battle. With daily prayer and frequenting the sacraments, it’s a steep, uphill battle for Lucifer and the evil ones to attack us. The Real Presence in the Eucharist and the Rosary are powerful weapons against the evil one. We shall prevail.

Pray to your guardian angel and to St. Michael daily. Here is a great prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.

Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel
St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

by John Connor

Related articles:
Purgatorio
Battling Sin