July 26 – Seventeenth Sunday
St. Ignatius of Loyola and Discernment of Spirits
July 31 is the feast day of St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits and master of the spiritual life. He is perhaps best known for his 22 Rules for the Discernment of Spirits. These “rules” were developed by St. Ignatius through his own experience of conversion, mystical prayer and much suffering. The first 14 rules are called Week I rules. While all the rules always apply to any one individual, the first 14 rules are typically most associated with the person who is in a period of spiritual development we might call introductory or beginning. This first stage of discernment typically includes a lot of struggle with overcoming habitual sins and the desolation that accompanies that struggle. The final 8 rules, called Week II rules, are focused more on spiritual consolation, which is typically for those who are in a more advanced or experienced stage of spiritual growth.
To begin with an understanding of the Discernment of Spirits, we should be clear on what St. Ignatius means by consolation and desolation. He means by these terms spiritual consolation and desolation. We do have moments of natural consolation and desolation. Think of the refreshment one might experience while relaxing at a beach, or eating a favorite meal. These would be examples of natural consolation. If one receives a bad review at work and is down emotionally due to it, or if one is disappointed that a vacation is canceled because of the pandemic, these are examples of natural desolation. By spiritual consolation St. Ignatius means movements of the mind, heart and soul that raise us up to experience intimacy with God, and trust and confidence in Him. Increases in faith, hope and love of God is consolation. If that same consolation received by being at the beach is raised up beyond mere natural refreshment and becomes praise of God for His goodness, creativity and wisdom, then one is experiencing not natural but spiritual consolation. Likewise, if one is down in spirit and feeling very distant from God, darkness of soul, lacking in trust and being drawn not to God but to merely earthly things and pleasures, then one is experiencing spiritual desolation. If, in the example above, one feels more than just annoyance or a little down emotionally due to the pandemic but also a lack of trust in God and a loss of confidence in Him, then one is experiencing not natural but spiritual desolation. The distinction between natural and spiritual movements of the soul are very critical for discernment. The Rules of Ignatius are for spiritual movements, so one must first be able to distinguish spiritual movements from the natural.
St. Ignatius himself came to understand the difference between spiritual and natural movements of the soul and between consolation and desolation during his experience of convalescence after suffering a serious battlefield injury. He noticed how the things of God lifted his heart and made him desire to serve the Lord. Furthermore, that experience of spiritual consolation lingered and lasted. Conversely, the things of the world, such as the exploits of knights, excited Ignatius but not deeply and only for a short while. Those consolations did not last and were soon followed by desolation. Through this experience Ignatius began to learn his rules for discernment, which he would expand and perfect over the course of his life and spiritual experiences.
For more on the Rules for the Discernment of Spirits, please see materials from Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV
July 12 – Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
From Pope Francis: Catechesis on Hope
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The theme of today’s catechesis is “teaching hope”. This is why I will address it directly, with “you”, imagining that I am speaking as an educator, as a father to a young person or to any other person who is open to learning.
Think; there, where God has planted you, hope! Always hope.
Do not surrender to the night; remember that the first enemy to conquer is not outside: it is within you. Therefore, do not give space to bitter, obscure thoughts. This world is the first miracle God made. God has placed the grace of new wonders in our hands. Faith and hope go forward together. Believe in the existence of the loftiest and most beautiful truths. Trust in God the Creator, in the Holy Spirit who moves everything towards the good, in the embrace of Christ who awaits every man and woman at the end of their life. Believe, he awaits you. The world walks thanks to the gaze of many men and women who have opened up breaches, who have built bridges, who have dreamed and believed, even when they heard derisive words around them.
Never think that the struggle you engage in here on earth is completely useless. Ruin does not await us at the end of life. A seed of the absolute is beating within us. God does not disappoint: if he has placed hope in our hearts, he does not want to crush it with continuous frustrations. Everything is born to flourish in an eternal Spring. God also created us to flourish. I remember that dialogue, when the oak tree asks the almond tree: ‘Speak to me about God’. And the almond tree blossomed.
Wherever you may be, build! If you are down, stand up! Never stay down; stand up, allow yourself to be helped to stand up. If you are seated, set out on a journey! If boredom paralyzes you, banish it with good works! If you feel empty or demoralized, ask that the Holy Spirit may fill your emptiness anew.
Work for peace among people, and do not listen to the voice of those who spread hate and discord. Do not listen to these voices. As different as they are from each other, human beings were created to live together. In conflicts, be patient: one day you will discover that each person is the custodian of a fragment of truth.
Love people. Love them one by one. Respect everyone’s journey, be it linear or troubled, because everyone has their story to tell. Each of us too has our own story to tell. Every child born is the promise of a life which once again reveals itself to be stronger than death. Every love which springs up is a power for transformation which yearns for happiness.
Jesus has given us a light which shines in the darkness: defend it; protect it. That single light is the greatest treasure entrusted to your life.
And above all, dream! Do not be afraid to dream. Dream! Dream of a world which cannot yet be seen, but which will surely arrive. Hope leads us to believe in the existence of a creation which expands until the definitive fulfillment, when God will be everything in everyone. Men and women capable of imagination have given mankind the gifts of scientific and technological discoveries. They have sailed the oceans; they have tread on lands on which no one has ever set foot before. The men and women who have sown hope are also those who have conquered slavery, and brought about better living conditions on this earth. Think about these men and women.
Be responsible for this world and for the life of each person. Consider that every injustice against a poor person is an open wound and belittles your very dignity. Life does not stop at your existence, and other generations will come into this world, to follow ours, and still many others. Each day, ask God for the gift of courage. Remember that Jesus conquered fear for us. He conquered fear! Our most treacherous enemy can do nothing against faith. And when you feel afraid in the face of one of life’s difficulties, remember that you do not live for yourself alone. In Baptism, your life was already immersed in the mystery of the Trinity and you belong to Jesus. And if one day you should be taken by fear, or you think that evil is too great to be challenged, simply consider that Jesus lives within you. It is he who, through you, with his meekness, wishes to conquer all of mankind’s enemies: sin, hatred, crime, violence; all of our enemies.
Always have the courage of truth, but remember: you are not superior to anyone. Always remember this: you are superior to no one. Even should you be the last one who believes in the truth, do not for this reason spurn the company of men. Even should you live in the silence of a hermitage, bear in your heart the suffering of every creature. You are Christian; and in prayer you offer everything to God.
And cultivate ideals. Live for something that transcends mankind, and if these ideals should one day present you with a hefty bill to pay, do not stop bearing them in your heart. Faithfulness obtains all.
If you make a mistake, stand up again. There is nothing more human than making mistakes. And these same mistakes must not become a prison for you. Do not be trapped in your errors. The Son of God has come not for the healthy but for the sick; thus, he also came for you. And if you should err again in the future, do not be afraid; stand up again! Do you know why? Because God is your friend.
If bitterness strikes you, believe firmly in all the people who still work for the good: in their humility there is the seed of a new world. Associate with people who have safeguarded their heart like that of a child. Learn from wonder; nurture astonishment.
Live, love, dream, believe. And, with the grace of God, never despair.
June 7 – Trinity Sunday
Why the Trinity Matters
“The Father is greater and the Son is dependent!” This was the response St. Gregory of Nyssa received when he approached a baker in Constantinople in 381 AD and asked about the price of bread. St. Gregory testified that every one in the city was hotly debating the nature of the Holy Trinity throughout the city and the marketplaces.
Today, there are plenty of very hot debates in our cities and marketplaces but not usually about the nature of God. Today the hot topic debated is really about the nature of a human person. It is critical for us to know what the dignity of a person is and how to defend it. Every human person is made in the image and likeness of God with an eternal destiny available to him or her, regardless of race or class, age or level of productivity or even whether you are born or unborn. But to know the true dignity of a human being we must know the truth about God since we are made in his image.
When the early Church debated the nature of the Trinity and had to come to terms with the truth that One God is also Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, she had to understand the meaning of certain terms. It was during these intense early centuries of the Church that the idea of a person began to take shape. In the ancient world what mattered most was the nature of something. We all possess human nature, so to the ancients what mattered most was “humanity” not so much any individual human. The Roman people were more important, for example, than any one particular person. But as the Church began to study the truth about God she began to see that nature and person both matter. The Divine Nature (Godliness) is One, but the Divine Persons are Three. It was through the Church that the world began to realize that an individual person matters just as much as a whole nature does. If we human beings are made in the image of God, then one individual person matters just as much as “humanity” at large does. A human person has immense dignity, even more than “humanity.”
Trinity Sunday matters because we remember that God is a community of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all equally God and sharing in the Divine Nature such that they are not three gods, but One God in Three Persons. Through that knowledge we came to know that the individual human person also possesses immense dignity and by recognizing that we have the basis for a community of love. We are called to have our voices included in the hot debates about the dignity of each human person. It is not “humanity” that has a potential destiny of resurrection to life with God, but you and me and any person who is a child of God. Proclaim it in the marketplaces.
May 17 — Sixth Sunday of Easter
Revelation Through Love
In the gospel for this Sunday, Jesus explains that the Holy Spirit is the Advocate sent by the Father and the Son to strengthen us in our pilgrimage of life. Our Lord says that the world does not know the Holy Spirit because knowledge of him does not come principally from science but by love. Loving God is the first and most important way of knowing him. If we seek to know God apart from love, we will never find our way to him.
Worldly knowledge certainly has its place in life. We need scientific knowledge that comes through experimentation. But God cannot be a science experiment and he cannot be known this way, which is why science is never enough. What makes up for the lack of scientific certainty when it comes to God is love. There are very few things in life that we can have certainty about. We must learn how to love and trust to continue through uncertain times. Jesus tells us that loving him, trusting him is the only way to the Father. By loving God and trusting him we open ourselves to the supernatural influence of the Holy Sprit and his gifts of wisdom, fortitude, piety, fear of the Lord, knowledge, understanding and counsel.
May 10 — Fifth Sunday of Easter: Deacons
In this Sunday’s first reading we see in the Acts of the Apostles the creation of the diaconate. The first seven deacons we called and ordained by the Apostles to assist them in carrying out the work of the early Church. Specifically, the role of the deacons was to administer the charity of the Church. It continues to be a very important part of a deacons vocation to be a servant of charity especially to those most in need.
Deacons also assist the bishops and priests at the altar of sacrifice of the Mass but are not concelebrants. They do not posses the spiritual power to confect the Eucharist. Neither are deacons able to hear confessions or anoint the sick. When a deacon is serving at Mass it is he who proclaims the gospel of the Mass and may be invited by the celebrating priest to preach the homily.
There are two “types” of deacons. One is a transitional deacon and the other permanent. A transitional deacon is a man who has been ordained a deacon but is on his way to becoming a priest. These are usually seminarians. A permanent deacon is a man who has been ordained a deacon and will remain so. Permanent deacons are permitted to be married but they must be married prior to ordination. God bless our deacons.
May 3 — Fourth Sunday of Easter: Faith and Science
Recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York lauded the work that has been done in his state to combat the Covid-19 virus. While doing so the Governor mentioned that it was not God or faith that brought the number of infections down, but “we” did. We people of faith, of course, acknowledge the very hard work being done by doctors and other first responders and by our civil leadership in addressing the current health crisis. But the Governor’s contemptuous statement about God and faith was an unnecessary and hubristic act for one who still claims to be Catholic. There is no opposition between faith and science. The two together make an incredible partnership in fact. How many hospitals are there in our country that are Catholic or Christian from another confession? How many doctors, nurses, policemen and firemen are there who are people of faith? The very reason that there can even be something called “science” is because we are able to discover natural laws in our world that are consistent and able to be studied and organized into a body of knowledge that can be shared by many generations. These consistent laws that do not change are the work of God who holds all things together at every moment. It is God who sustains every single thing in existence. Consistent natural laws point to a Mind that is consistent and benevolent. What do we people of faith have to say for all the hard work being done by our medical professionals and this time? Thank God for them! Amen.
April 26 — Third Sunday of Easter: Medical Care
Rosa* knew from experience the difficulties and expenses of watching a loved one die. She was totally devoted to her husband as he suffered and died from cancer eight years earlier. The idea of high medical bills, “tubes” and pain upset her, and even though she had not viewed her husband as a burden, she feared being one to her family.
Then, Rosa was hospitalized with a terrible urinary tract infection which made her dehydrated, weak and confused. Her daughter Teresa had been appointed as her health care agent. Teresa met with the medical staff, who helped her understand that the proposed treatments would not cause an undue burden to her mother. In fact, they would be temporary and appropriate care in Rosa’s situation. Teresa was grateful that the medications, nutrition and hydration that Rosa was given, all through “tubes,” cured her infection. Rosa is now as active as she has ever been and realizes that there are certain situations that can’t be anticipated when illness comes. It’s best not to refuse future care that may turn out to be very welcome.
Human life is good and to be protected. All medical decisions ought to reflect this core belief. Yet black-and-white answers to our questions about end-of-life issues are not always possible, and it can be very difficult to know how to make medical decisions. Each and every human person is distinct and unrepeatable, and each medical situation may be unique. In each set of circumstances we need to judge whether a given treatment will provide real benefit to the patient, without causing harm or other burdens that are out of proportion to the good being done.
We should each be prepared for those difficult situations when medical decisions must be made. We can safeguard our Catholic values by appointing a responsible and trustworthy person now to make decisions for us, in the event that we are incapable of doing so, either physically or mentally. It is important to be aware of the different legal or medical documents that are available or are often used to define a patient’s care. Depending on how they are crafted, some documents can be counter to Catholic morality and more harmful than we might realize.
Options for Catholics
The safest option is to designate a health care agent who not only understands our Catholic values but also shares them and can apply them to current situations and respond to questions as they arise. This person, usually a close family member or friend, acts as a proxy decision maker if the patient is not able to make his or her own decisions. In choosing an agent or proxy, a person can declare in writing that all treatment and care decisions made on their behalf must be consistent with and not contradict the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.
Less flexible is a living will, which simply lists treatment options or care that the patient wishes to accept or reject. No matter how well-crafted, such a document can never predict all the possible problems that may occur at a later time or anticipate all future treatment options. A living will can be misinterpreted by medical providers who might not understand the patient’s wishes.
Some states and healthcare systems have been implementing a troubling document known as a “Physician Order for Life- Sustaining Treatment,” also called by a confusing array of acronyms (POLST, MOST, MOLST, or POST). The POLST document is filled out by a doctor or other medical professional to define treatments to be withheld or administered in a future situation. It has been criticized for placing more power in the hands of physicians than in patients’ hands. Indeed, in some cases the patient need not even sign the document. Once signed by the physician, it becomes a doctor’s order to other medical staff, and may override the patient’s own past advance directives and even the patient’s appointment of a health care agent. It may be applied to patients who are not in a terminal situation and who might only need antibiotics, nutrition and hydration, or other proportionate care. Yet a POLST document signed months or years before, stating that the patient should not receive antibiotics, could still be followed even if the patient, like Rosa, faced a simple urinary tract infection which is easily cleared up by antibiotics.
Of course there are times when failing health is not so easily remedied as in Rosa’s case. In some situations, procedures are appropriately refused. One should consider the benefits and burdens of a prospective procedure and conscientiously judge whether or not to accept it. However, because of the inherent dignity of the person and our moral obligation to protect each human life, our Church teaches that we should take reasonable steps to preserve life and should never withhold or administer treatment with the intention of ending the life of the person.
A Culture of Life
It is incredibly difficult to see someone we love suffering, and it is natural for us to want to alleviate their hardship. Additionally, we live in a culture that places value on productivity and prefers to get rid of what is deemed useless. Some people therefore support measures that, at first, might seem like a compassionate response, but in fact are not. Advocates for legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia promote the illusion that we can “help” those in need by killing them or assisting them in killing themselves. However, this response ignores the person’s true needs and does not respect their dignity. Each person deserves real solutions and support when facing physical, emotional and spiritual challenges. Cutting someone’s life short before their time deprives them of unknown opportunities for God’s grace to work in their life.
God’s infinite love for each one of us helps us to grasp our identity and our worth. The recognition of this dignity leads us to respect and protect each person’s life, including our own, and ought to be at the core of whatever medical decisions we make. Let us place our trust in the Lord and ask for his continuous guidance, for these decisions and for all those we face in our lives.
*The story of Rosa and Teresa (their names are changed for their privacy) is just one example of how important it is to reflect in advance on how we would want decisions made on our behalf if we cannot speak for ourselves. To find out what pastoral and educational resources may be available locally, contact your diocesan pro-life office.
From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops