28 Apr

She Dies Out of Love

First Holy Communion is received around this time of year by second graders, and it is inspiring to hear stories of saintly First Communicants.  For example, we have that of Blessed Imelda Lambertini from the 1300s.  The age to receive First Communion back then was twelve.  Imelda was nine.  She begged to receive the Eucharist, and though she prayed daily with the nuns in the nearby church and exhibited an understanding of the sacrament, she was denied.  One night, on the eve of the Feast of the Ascension, the young girl was praying in the chapel after Mass.  The nuns present smelled roses and saw a bright light.  Suddenly, a consecrated host floated in the air and hovered above the girl.  The priest was immediately summoned and, placing a paten underneath the host, he gave Imelda her First Communion.  The girl proceeded to enter into an intense, ecstatic prayer.  Her First Communion was her last.  When the nuns lifted her up, she was dead.  Imelda was known to have said in the past when arguing her cause, "Tell me, can anyone receive Jesus into his heart and not die?"  She died out of love.

Saint Gemma Galgani was born in the late 19th Century.  The seven-year-old begged her pastor to give her communion.  He finally relented, saying, "there was no alternative but to admit her to holy Communion; otherwise we will see her die of grief."  He had learned from Imelda's case.  Gemma received her communion and would treat each communion until her death eighteen years later at age twenty-five as if it was her first and last.  "Oh, what precious moments are those at Holy Communion!" she said. "Communion is happiness that seems to me cannot be equaled even by the beatitude of the saints and angels."

21 Apr

Neurogenesis, Prayer, Resurrection

The recent advancements in the field of neurobiology are a fascinating compliment to prayer and the Resurrection.  The firing of neurons in the brain determines our feeling or reaction to an event.   For example, if we were embarrassed in front of the entire class when we were in 6th grade about answering a question incorrectly, when we are in a situation where we have to perform in front of an audience, we may be anxious or we may shut down.  This is because of the neurocircuitry in our brain.

We need not, however, be enslaved by our core wounds. It is possible for us to change these negative neural firing patterns, hence changing our internal state in the midst of an experience.  The key is awareness, which is also called interoception.  If we are attuned to our thoughts and feelings, and open to acknowledging the past, we can change.  When we simply notice we grow agitated in a particular scenario, or are consoled by something else, we create new neurons, as well as neural firing patterns.  Myelin, which is a coating around the neuron that allows the electrical pulse to pass to the next neuron, is also enhanced.  With more myelin, we can catch ourselves more quickly in an experience and not fall into the default state of anxiety, accusation, shame or whatever else is negative inside us.  This whole process of re-creation is named neurogenesis.  We could also label it conversion or healing. Something new is created from something old.  Neurogenesis happens, fundamentally, in prayer.

Prayer is the best opportunity to sit in this awareness with Jesus, the Divine Physician.  We lift our history and our emotions to the Lord, and he will literally rewire our brains.  Then, we will be fully alive—sons and daughters of the Resurrection.  

14 Apr

Adauctus - the added man

We do not know much about the life of Saint Felix, other than he was martyred in the year 303 during the persecution of Emperor Diocletian.  The shrewd administrator forced all Christians to turn in their Bible and other sacred texts to be burned.  Felix refused and was ordered to be beheaded. The story has it that a man observed Felix on his way to the spot of execution in Carthage and was so inspired that he yelled out that he too was a Christian.  The man was quickly enchained next to Felix and beheaded alongside him.  No one ever discovered the martyr's real name, so he was called "Adauctus," which means "the added man."  Saints Felix and Adauctus share a feast day.

There have been other Adauctuses throughout the history of the church.  The latest was a West African named Matthew.  He was taken hostage by ISIS in February 2015 alongside 21 Egyptian Christians, construction workers on a job site in Libya.  Though he may not have been Christian, Matthew refused to be separated and had his throat slit along with the others.  He is listed as one of the 'Coptic Martyrs of Libya.' 

Speaking of Libya, who could forget the first Adauctus, Simon of Cyrene?  Cyrene was a Greek town in Libya.  Simon had either lived there or his ancestors had come from that part of Northern Africa.  Returning from the fields to Jerusalem, he happened upon Christ carrying his cross.  For whatever reason, Simon was singled out from the crowd to help.  He may have been unwilling at first, but he made the way of the cross alongside Christ.  To literally help Christ redeem the world by carrying the cross—is there no more saintly action possible?

Let us listen (audire) for our chance to be the next Saint Adauctus.

 

07 Apr

God is Beauty

One of the ways we encounter God is beauty.  Our hearts can be elevated to the transcendent when we see a stunning mountain landscape, gaze upon a priceless work of art, or hear a magnificent piece of music.  Encountering beautiful people (not physically, but on the level of the soul) can also inspire us. It happened in the case of Malcolm Muggeridge, a British journalist who described himself as a "religious maniac without a religion." While working as a producer for BBC he came across Mother Teresa and, after researching her story, interviewed her.  He was mainly responsible for introducing this future saint to the world, thanks to his 1968 documentary "Something Beautiful for God."  The documentary covered the heroic lives of the Missionaries of Charity, who served the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta.  Muggeridge then wrote a book about Mother Teresa.  Author Robert Spitzer writes about the impact of the woman on the 'avowed atheist',

It was at once the beauty of [Mother Teresa's] actions toward the poor, the beauty of her genuine love for them, the beauty of seeing Christ in them, the beauty of her defiance when Muggeridge tried to suggest that it didn't make much difference amid the sea of poverty in India, the beauty in her eyes, and the beauty of her spiritual discipline.

Mother Teresa prompted Muggeridge to become Catholic.  He wrote, "it is impossible to be with her, to listen to her, to observe what she is doing and how she is doing it, without being in some degree converted." The formally-socialist reporter became a defender of Humanae Vitae, opposed abortion, and produced documentaries on prayer.  He titled his autobiography, Chronicles of Wasted Time.

May our simple holiness spur the conversion of those around us.