Friday, October 31, 2014

Sin Doesn't Keep us from Becoming Saints

In this time of the liturgical year, the Church asks us to consider our eternal destinies as we celebrate the feast of All Saints, commemorate All Souls, and are encouraged to remember and pray daily for those who have died.  

With this in mind, I have been pondering the topic of saints and sinners, recognizing that, "All of us sin and all of us fall short of the glory of God" (cf. Rom. 3:23).

Even the greatest of Saints, have also been the greatest of sinners: St. Augustine, St. Peter, and St. Paul to name a few.  

So what makes one person a saint and another a sinner?

I wonder this because of my sinfulness.  

Because sometimes the weight of my sin overwhelms me. 

I humbly recognize all my sins, frailties and failures.  

I mourn and weep for all my sins and omissions.  What I have done and what I have failed to do.  The words I've spoken and left unspoken. The things I've done that have hurt others. I beg pardon and weep for the times I have not loved generously, the times I've been selfish and self concerned, for the times I've been stuck in pain and regret, anger, pride, vanity, laziness, self-righteousness, guilt and shame.  Jesus told St. Faustina that those who fail to trust in Mercy break His Heart, so I weep also for the times I have failed to receive God's Mercy and Grace and transforming forgiveness, and so I likewise failed to be an instrument of this Mercy and Grace to others ... for all the times I've failed to hope and trust in God's Power to save "Who can do immeasurably more for us than we could ask for or imagine" (cf. Eph. 3:20), I beg for mercy!

I fall on my face in humility -- knowing the depth of my sin and knowing that I should be counted as the worst of sinners.


Recognizing the truth about ourselves and repenting of our sinfulness doesn't lead to self-condemnation.  
God does not condemn us.  

All of us sin.  All of us fall short of the glory of God, but sin isn't what keeps us from becoming saints. 

It is Satan who condemns us and urges us to condemn ourselves -- he is the one who tempts us to despair. Who tempts us to give up, to lose hope, to wallow in guilt and shame and regret, or to continue to live in rebellion and unforgiveness, hatred and selfishness.  Either way he wins, because his only desire is to see us destroyed.

God, on the other hand, wants to show us mercy.  Jesus came to earth in order to bind up our sins and our wounds, pouring the wine and oil of loving mercy upon them -- cleansing them, healing them, transforming them!  God never burdens or weighs us down with the oppression of guilt and shame, rather He leads us to true repentance, which consists in true and deep sorrow for our sin - but a sorrow that is immersed and confident in God's redeeming LOVE.  Thus, it is a receptive sorrow -- a sorrow that is open to receive the UNCONDITIONAL LOVE AND MERCY of our Father, Who wants to be known as our Daddy as well as our Creator.  True sorrow opens us to trust and acknowledge the sacrifice of Jesus, Our Savior and Lord, who came to save us and to be the Lover of our souls!  Sorrow steeped in trust leads us to greater love, appreciation and humility of this LIGHT of Pure Holiness, Truth, Sacrifice and Mercy.  It is a sorrow confident in the transforming grace and power of the Cross and of the Holy Spirit, who is the Love, Spirit, and Grace who inspires, advocates for us and leads us to all Truth, Goodness and Beauty.

Satan wants us to get stuck in ourselves -- our pain, our sin, our guilt and shame, our addictions, our weaknesses, our bondages.  He is so good at tempting us to sin; and then, after we have fallen, he is masterful at condemning us.  He convinces us that our sin is too great, that we are too far gone to ever receive mercy.  He convinces us that we don't want holiness; that his lies are truth.  His ugliness is beauty.  That sin is freedom.  He is the master deceiver.

God, in contrast, wants to free us!  To free us from a life centered in ourselves -- to go beyond ourselves to be immersed in SOMEONE -- in LOVE who is so much bigger, more infinite, good, healing and beautiful than we can ever imagine!  And when we receive and acknowledge this Love, by opening up to it -- it changes us!  It changes us because we place ourselves into our God, who is an unfathomable ocean of mercy, who has a Heart on fire and consumed with Love for us, whose Love, Grace, Mercy, and Peace washes us clean -- healing us, consoling us, filling us and surrounding us!  In laying bare all our deepest sins and our most horrible offenses at the feet of Jesus on the Cross, who is Mercy Incarnate, we and our sins are transformed!

It is the attributes of God: His intimate and immeasurable love, mercy, goodness, truth and grace for each of us that transfigures and transforms us!

Satan wants us to implode us in upon ourselves; wrapped up in refusals to forgive ourselves and others, in pride, sinfulness, selfishness, despair, guilt, shame and regret.  

But God wants to expand us and give us so much more than a life of sin has to offer: "I came that you may have life and have it to the full!" (Jn 10:10). When we choose to run to God is true sorrow, humbly confessing our sins, He spurs us on in, through, with and by love.  If we acknowledge and receive His Mercy, a tremendous gratefulness, praise, and joy will resonate within us and flow through us so we long to share the Good things He has done in our lives!  

Often the world jokes about Catholic guilt.  Actually Catholic guilt shouldn't really exist.  Overwhelming guilt is completely different from true humility and sorrow for our sins.  True sorrow leads us to confession in order to receive the Mercy and Strength of Christ's Love and Sacrifice. Through the Grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus washes away our sins, and gives us a fresh slate, a brand new beginning! 

What tremendous news!  We are only a confession away from being a new creation in Christ! 

God transforms!

Nothing is beyond His Power, or Goodness or Compassion to save!  May we be confident in this Loving Mercy and receive it so as to become transformed by it; in order for it to pour forth in compassion, mercy, power and goodness in return.  

Lord, in Your Mercy, make us saints!!!!

O Lord, I love You! I praise You and I thank You for You art all good and deserving of all my love! 

Copyright 10-31-14 Janet Moore

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Saint Pope John Paul II and Medjugorje

Happy Feast Day, Saint John Paul II! 

On this day in which the world celebrates the one of our greatest saints and Popes of the Church, I wanted to share some information about the Pope and his connection to the most reported modern day apparition site of our time!

Never heard of Medjugorje or have no idea what it is? 

Medjugorje is a small village in the former country of Yugoslavia (now Bosnia-Herzegovina) where, since June 24, 1981, the Virgin Mary has reportedly been appearing everyday!
Six alleged visionaries tell us that Our Blessed Mother comes as the Queen of Peace to remind us that God exists and to "call us to conversion for the last time."  This conversion consists of living lives of Eucharist, confession, peace, heartfelt prayer and fasting.  Such an outpouring of graces have flowed from the messages of Medjugorje that hundreds of priestly and religious vocations, tremendous miracles of healing of the body and the spirit, and thousands of conversions have been reported. 

Ivan Dragicevic, one of the alleged visionaries of Medjugorje, shared that the Virgin Mary brought Pope John Paul II with her when she appeared to him in the evening of April 2nd 2005, just hours after the Pope died. 
He  related this at the time:
"When Mary appeared to me, I saw him by her side: the Pope was smiling, he looked young and was really happy. He was dressed in white and with a golden coat. The Virgin Mary turned toward him, and the two, looking at each other, both smiled, an extraordinary, wonderful smile. John Paul II was ecstatic as he watched her and Our Lady said to me:
"My dear son is here with me."
"He did not add anything but his face was radiant like that of the Pope who was next to her and kept on looking at her face."
Below is a post taken from Medjugorje Today that highlights the Pope's regard for Medjugorje (which I have rearranged somewhat and added additional pictures to).
On the first Feast Day of Saint Pope John Paul II
Saint Pope John Paul II strongly believed in the Virgin Mary's still ongoing apparitions in Medjugorje. The first signs of his belief appeared as second-hand quotes passed on by (often high ranking) members of the clergy who had talked to the Pope about Medjugorje.
Monsignor Slawomir Oder

About ten years ago his handwritten letters to private friends in Poland were published, with Medjugorje warmly mentioned - and recently, a close personal friend [Monsignor Slawomir Oder] who served as postulator for John Paul's cause as a saint also confirmed this to be accurate.

Here are some of the sentences other people said the Pope spoke to them about Medjugorje
"Busy yourself with Medjugorje, look after Medjugorje, don't tire, persevere, be strong, I am with you. Watch over, follow Medjugorje!"
( Photo taken - July 20th 1992, to Fr. Jozo Zovko, parish priest in Medjugorje when the apparitions began)
Mirjana Dragicevic
""If I were not the Pope, I would be in Medjugorje already, hearing confessions."
(1987, to Medjugorje visionary Mirjana Dragicevic)

Vicka Ivankovic

"Are you not Vicka from Medjugorje? Pray to the Madonna for me. I pray for you."
(March 22nd 1995, to Medjugorje visionary Vicka Ivankovic who followed a group of 350 wounded Croatian soldiers to a private audience with the Pope. She gave him a Rosary blessed by the Virgin Mary during an apparition. The Pope blessed her and prayed over her for a long time)

"Medjugorje, is the spiritual heart of the world" AND
"Pray for me in Medjugorje!"
(Words spoken in 1988 to Mons. Maurillo Kreiger, former bishop of Florianopolis, Brazil)

"Don't you be concerned about Medjugorje because I am thinking about Medjugorje and I pray for its success every day. You be concerned with the vocations, and pray for me every day."
(to Fr. Gianni Sgreva, founder of the Oasis of Peace community)

"Today's world has lost the sense of the supernatural, but many are searching for it and find it in Medjugorje, through prayer, penance, and fasting."
(August 1st 1989 address to a group of Italian physicians dedicated to defending unborn life and to making scientific and medical studies on the apparitions, as reported by Bishop Pavao Hnilica, SJ, Auxiliary Bishop of Rome, a close friend of the Pope)

"Let the people go to Medjugorje if they convert, pray, confess, do penance and fast."
(June 1986 response to a group of twelve Italian bishops seeking pastoral advice on people making pilgrimages to Medjugorje)

"Approve everything that is related to Medjugorje."
(November 1994, to Archbishop Felipe Santiago Bentez of Paraguay)

"I want to go to Split, to Marija Bistrica, and to Medjugorje."
(April 6th, 1995, to an official Croatian delegation including president Franjo Tudjman and Cardinal Franjo Kuharic of Zagreb)

There are more such quotes, at least twice as many. But really, do we need more...?
Over the years Medjugorje Today has written five news articles about Pope John Paul II and Medjugorje, each one of them covering aspects not mentioned above. 

The article list can be accessed here:

Do you Want to Be a Saint? Seven Saints for Seven Virtues

Do you want to be a saint?  
Do you think its something that is beyond your grasp? 
Something that only the perfect -- those who do amazing fasts and penances -- or only those who died heroically for Christ can achieve?  

If this is your idea of sainthood -- very few of us could pass the test.  

But, providentially, holiness doesn't consist in perfect behavior and it doesn’t necessarily include extreme penances or heroic bodily martyrdom. ... Holiness, instead, is at its essence -- a response to LOVE.  

Not any love, but LOVE, which is the most apt description of God that can be expressed in human language.  It is the core of Who God IS; Who He is in His very nature.  

Because God is LOVE, he cannot not love.  

To not love goes against His very self -- against His very core, His Being.  

To be holy, then, is to recognize and receive this LOVE that God has for us. The Father showed us the depth of His Love for us when He sent us His Only Begotten Son, Jesus, (a name that literally means God saves!) to redeem us by offering His Life for US -- for our salvation! (cf. Jn 3:16). 

Jesus is the Revelation -- the revealing -- of His Father's LOVE for us! 
It is the greatest revelation that Jesus shared with us.  His whole life is a revealing of this LOVE -- a manifestation -- a making present -- of what we could have never known on our own.  

Jesus' INCARNATION - His becoming flesh -- His taking on our body as His own -- is a sign of the immense dignity we have as human beings and the great heights that God has in mind for us!  For “God became man, so that we can become god” (St. Athanasius). This quote expresses the fact that God took our human nature when He became man, in order to raise it up and transform it by uniting it to His Divine Life. He died to free us from sin and death that kept us separated from Him, so that we could “live with Him, in Him and through Him in unity with the Holy Spirit”(cf. the concluding part of the Eucharistic Prayer, called the Per Ipsum).  He has no favorites.  He came to save all mankind -- loving each of us completely and uniquely; and desiring each of us to receive His love and allow its Beauty, Grace and Truth to transform our lives.

This is what being a saint is -- it is living in love with our God who created, redeemed, knows and loves us -- even to counting every hair on our head and every beat of our heart – to the very depth of our being (cf. Ps 139).  A saint is only a saint, therefore, in and through their relationship with God.  No matter where we come from, no matter what we've done, if we accept the unfathomable Love that God has for us and respond with love in return, we are living in union with God and thus living in holiness.  We think of saints as being only in heaven, but saints also are alive on earth. That's why the Church urges us on and reminds us that we are called to be saints.

All those in love long to be close to those they love.  Similarly, our love of God inspires a longing in us to be close to Him, to communicate with Him. This communication is called prayer.  Therefore, if we love God, we don't pray to fulfill an obligation, to “get it over with,” to keep us from hell or engage in it mindlessly or superstitiously.  If we understand that prayer is communicating with the Lover of our souls, we come to realize that we can share with Him our deepest joys, sufferings, fears and failures, recognizing that He did not come to judge but to save and to love us (cf. Jn 3:17).  The more we come to know Him, the more we that He alone understands us completely, loves us infinitely and unconditionally, and fulfills the deepest longings in our hearts.  Our understanding and love of God is deepened and grows through our relationship with Him, one that is nourished especially through the Mass, our greatest prayer.  Although our understanding deepens, it is in this understanding that we recognize that we can never fully“comprehend the breadth, the length, the height and depth of the fullness of the Love and Mercy of God” (cf. Eph 3:18), but we do experience a taste of His Presence, which is joy, peace and grace even in the midst of circumstances filled with sorrow and pain.

Thus, prayer is talking to God, and listening to Him.  Perhaps you are someone who struggles to hear God.  “That may be fine for other people, but I can't discern His voice,” you may insist.  I have, however, one sure-fire way to hear His voice! It is to read the Sacred Scriptures. The Bible not only shares the story of God and the immeasurable love He has for us; but, if we pray with and in the Scriptures, we can assured of hearing His voice, for the Bible is truly the Word of God – it is “living and effective” (Heb 4:12) and inspired by the Holy Spirit.  You may say, “But I don’t hear his voice when I read Scripture!” This is where our persistence in love and our virtue comes in; because much of the time, whether in Mass or when we pray with the Scriptures, we must remain rooted in love in order to hear the “still, small voice” of God (1 Kings 19:12) amidst the noise and busyness of our lives often drown out His whisper.  If we persist in love -- then, we, too, like Jeremiah, can say, “When I found your words, I devoured them; your words were my joy, the happiness of my heart” (Jer 15: 16).

It is our love of God (charity) that spurs us on to be patient, diligent and humble enough to persist in seeking Him, to persist in attending Mass and reading and rereading the Sacred texts asking the Holy Spirit to come alive in our understanding of Jesus and in what He is saying to us.  It is our love of God that is rooted in these virtues that enables us to wait upon Him, and to seek His Face even in silence and painful circumstances -- even when we experience dryness and there is no consolation. This is where Love comes in, because Love enables us to persevere in loving a person for who he is and not for what he can do for us. We do not pray in order to gain consolations and graces, but in order to grow in love and closeness to God. That is why Love is the means, the key and the goal of all we do. We will go nowhere in our spiritual lives if we only “love” a set of rules, or even the truth of our religion… the only way we will progress in holiness and in prayer is because we love a Person – Jesus Christ – Who lives and reigns within the Trinity of three Divine Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Whom He revealed to us by “pouring out His spirit in us, which cries out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (cf. 1 Jn 4: 19; Gal 4:6 emphasis mine).

Everything hinges, then, on LOVE --the first and the most vital virtue. 

If we have LOVE, then we long to give ourselves in love.  We long to give all of ourselves --our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits as pure offerings to God as they were first intended to be at our creation (this is the virtue of chastity) in order to see, recognize and respond to His Beauty, Goodness and Truth amid the clamoring and blaring voices that push us toward false and superficial counterfeits of His Real LOVE.  

We must practice kindness with ourselves and be patient, diligent and humble with our frailty and our faulted, sinful human nature so that we never tire of beginning again.  So that we never tire of striving for union, or of confessing our sins in order to live in closeness to God, who is always willing to forgive us.

No one can live a sinless life -- we must be humble with ourselves (and others) -- not only in accepting this fact, but also in clinging to who we are in Christ – recognizing that we are members of His Body and temples of the Holy Spirit by virtue of our baptisms.  Humility isn’t thinking less of ourselves – it is thinking the Truth of ourselves – which is to recognize that although we are faulted, we remain God’s beloved sons and daughters who have an everlasting inheritance awaiting us if we respond in love to God.

Responding to this LOVE finds its roots in prayer and is expressed in action.  Both prayer and action are means of growing closer to and becoming more like our Beloved Savior. And as expressed in our reflections on prayer, our actions, likewise, are steeped in struggle and frailty; and therefore, can only be pursued by persisting in the virtues named above.  These virtuous habits enable us to persevere when our feelings of love fade.  They carry us beyond our feelings into true sacrificial love – which leads us closer to God, strengthens our union with Him, and enables us to become more like Him. 

Jean Heimann’s wonderful new book, Seven Saints for Seven Virtues, holds up these virtues, and shares true stories of people who recognized and responded to God’s love by entering deeply into communion with Him in and through prayer. True prayer leads us to share in Jesus’ Divine Life, which overflows out of our union with God into an abundant life of love and fruitfulness. To illustrate this, Heimann showcases two different kinds of saints:  one that is recognized by the Church, and one that is unrecognized.  Both of whom lived (or are living) lives rooted in virtue and exemplify this overflowing of grace that comes from communion with God.  In particular, Heimann writes about seven saints and seven virtues for us to emulate.  They include:

Mother Teresa of Calcutta: Model of Charity
St. Agnes: Model of Chastity
St. John Paul II: Model of Diligence
St. Joseph: Model of Humility
St. Catherine of Siena: Model of Kindness
St. Monica: Model of Patience
St. Augustine: Model of Temperance

Interesting and profound anecdotes can be found frequently within the pages of this beautiful book, serving as practical examples of holy men and women living these virtues.  It was these stories that especially touched my heart.  Reading stories of virtue can inspire us to continue striving for this union with God that is expressed so uniquely in each of the ordinary lives that Heimann shares with us in her book. To put the premise of the book in my own words, would be to say that this book was written to demonstrate that ordinary people can become extraordinary through accepting and embracing God’s love so deeply and interiorly, that they can say with St. Paul: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2: 20).

I shared previously in another postthe story that touched me most deeply.  But, to highlight other gems in this book, I will share two insights which were shared from Mother Teresa’s writings.  These beautifully highlight that her love was something that went far beyond any feeling of consolation.  Rather, her love for God (and for others in Him) was one deeply rooted in Christ's love and was a response to this love. Her holiness, therefore, came from her continual choice to love, seek, accept and live rooted in this communion of LOVE, (which all of us are called to, for God shows no partiality).

This first passage comes from Mother Teresa’s diary.  It expresses the pain and struggle that accompanied the early years of founding her new order, and perfectly exemplifies the practice of virtues in her love of Christ:

“Today I learned a good lesson.  They poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached.  I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and health.  Then the comfort of Loreto [her former order] came to tempt me. ‘You have only to say the word and all that will be yours again,’ the Tempter kept on saying... Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard.  I did not let a single tear come.”

Another passage from Mother Teresa’s writings express that our ultimate means of achieving communion with God is through the Eucharist:

“Where will you get the joy of loving?  --- in the Eucharist, Holy Communion.  Jesus has made Himself the Bread of Life to give us life.  Night and day, he is there.  If you really want to grow in love, come back to the Eucharist, come back to that adoration….
See Him in the tabernacle; fix your eyes on him who is the light; bring your hearts close to His Divine Heart; ask Him to grant you the grace of knowing Him, the love of loving Him, the courage to serve Him.  Seek Him fervently.”

To summarize, Jean Heimann writes beautifully about the virtues and about those who exemplified the virtues in their lives.  Sharing with her readers that those who have journeyed before us were not superhuman “plaster paris” saints, but real human beings like us, who did great things because they accepted and responded to God’s love concretely and devotedly -- choosing to stay close to Him in prayer and the Sacraments amid trials, struggles and dryness.  This love they manifest is, first of all, a grace of God; but their response (and ours) to this grace is practically worked out in our lives by living lives filled with the virtues of charity, chastity, diligence, humility, kindness, patience and temperance, which we gain through cooperating with the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.  (Thankfully, we can never do anything truly on our own!)

So, if you are interested in growing in virtue and enjoy hearing stories of holiness shining forth in concrete, day-to-day circumstances of life, I believe you’ll greatly enjoy and be inspired by this wonderful book. 

And as an added bonus, Servant Books has graciously offered 2 FREE COPIES of this book for me to give away to my readers.  If you are interested in receiving one of these copies, please send your complete name and mailing address to my email.  The contest will end on 10-29-2014.  The winners will be awarded this inspirational book free of charge. 

Good Luck!

Copyright Janet Moore 10-22-14