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Valentine’s Day is difficult when you are single. I know that all too well, and I keep all single people in my thoughts and prayers on this day when love and romance are celebrated and loneliness and yearning are cast in darker, sharper shadow.

I’m not going to tell anybody not to feel sad or lonely or broken-hearted. It is only human to feel these things. Remember, however, that such things are only part of the ephemeral world, which is passing so quickly. They are not part of the eternal life that God wishes to share with us even, to some degree, while we are here in the world.  As such, we should never let ourselves become fixated on them. Feel them, yes–and then offer them up.  Today is Friday, right? Make it part of your Friday penance and your remembrance of the Lord’s Passion. Take those feelings and lay them at the foot of the Cross. Lift up your broken heart to the Crucified Lord and ask Him to make it whole. He will do it.

Instead of dwelling on what you lack, take some time to remember all of the many great blessings and wonders God has filled your life with. Remember that no person loves you and cherishes you more than God does. Let your heart be full of love and gratitude for Him. Also let your heart be full of love and gratitude for the people who are in your life: family members, friends, colleagues, teachers and mentors. The love we share with these people may not be as thrilling as romantic love, but it is generally more constant and loyal, every day of the year. There are also many, many people out in the world who are even more lonely and hurting and unloved than we are–even if they may not appear to be so. Look kindly on every person you meet. You never know how much good a smile or a hello might do for them–and for you too.

Know that you are not truly alone. I know that sometimes it feels like you are the only single person in the whole world on Valentine’s Day. You’re not. Your bonds with others who are in the same situation may span time and space–but they are there. This is especially true for Christians. We are never alone. No matter how isolated and alienated we might feel, the Church never fails to include us in her loving, universal embrace. We have people in Heaven, in Purgatory, and on Earth who share the familial bonds of the Church. None of them are ignorant of what we are going through and how we are feeling.

Have a happy and blessed day!


Today we celebrate a great and extremely interesting Saint, Mary Magdalene.  Maria_Magdalene_crucifixion_detail

A woman of considerable mystery and controversy, her exact identity is not clear.  Is she the same as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus?  Is she the unnamed sinner who anointed Christ’s feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair?  Was she a prostitute?

Her name brings to mind repentance, conversion, and liberation from evil.  One of the few clear statements about her in scripture says that she was exorcised of seven demons, and after that she followed Christ on His journeys.

We also know with certainty that she was present at the Crucifixion and that she was the first person to receive and announce the Good News of Christ’s Resurrection.  Dominicans regard her as a patroness of our Order, for she was the preacher to the preachers and the apostle to the apostles.

Even with such scarce evidence, we can conclude that St. Mary Magdalene had a remarkable and dramatic spiritual journey, a profound conversion.

While some might take umbrage with identifying her as a great sinner, the mention of her possession by seven demons suggests that for some period of time her life was far from saintly.  As a woman who has in the past has lived dangerously close to the demonic, I have long identified closely with St. Mary Magdalene.  When talking about my experiences with fellow Catholics, I have occasionally been met with appalled and scandalized responses, a very un-Catholic recoiling from my past as if it were still my present and my future, as if there were no such thing as repentance, conversion, and salvation of sinners.  And I have to admit that I am sometimes the most appalled of all, nearly tempted to doubt my own salvation.

But just as St. Mary Magdalene cannot be defined by her past errors, neither can I be, nor can anybody who turns their face to Christ and opens their heart to His saving grace!  The only sense in which we are defined by our past is that the great darkness which is behind us makes the transforming light of Christ gleam all the more radiantly!  Where sin abounded, grace abounds all the more, as St. Paul said.  And as St. Augustine said, every Saint has a past, and ever sinner has a future.  (Sts. Paul and Augustine should know very well, for they too are well-known as repentant and converted sinners.)

What greater grace could there be than to encounter the resurrected Christ in person?  And what greater future for a sinner than to announce that Good News for the first time in human history?  Those are the reasons we honor the great Saint, Mary Magdalene, and because she who was once Satan’s possession became Christ’s, preacher to the preachers, apostle to the apostles, and a glorious model of hope, repentance, and conversion for all of us sinners.

St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!

This is one of my favorite days of the year.  Even if the weather is still a bit on the warm side, All Hallows Eve means summer is over and autumn has begun.

That this past summer has been so arid and desolate–a real desert–makes this day all the sweeter and more rejuvenating, all the more blessed!  I am so relieved to have made it here, and I thank God and all my loved ones and supporters and intercessors for seeing me through the summer.

This day is a turning point in the year, and one that always brings about good things.  I can’t help but feel excitement and hope and energy!

And then, this is not only All Hallows Eve, it is also my Birthday Eve!  Life can never be too bad when you’ve got all the Saints in Heaven as your patrons. :D

Today is one of my favorite feast days, that of the Holy Archangels!

While there are undoubtedly a multitude of archangels in God’s court, there are only three that we know for certain by name: Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel.  Their identities have been passed down by holy scripture and tradition.  God has given us these three to turn to in confidence, and they each have a unique role and mission.  Michael is the mighty general and standard-bearer of the heavenly host; in fact, he is called the “Prince of the Heavenly Host.”  Raphael is known as a healer, a close companion, a guardian and guide.  Gabriel is the messenger of God’s word and God’s will.

There has been a tendency in modern times to “soften” or to “humanize” the holy angels in general–as, indeed, there has been a modern tendency to soften and humanize so many things.  Some of it is harmless sentimentalism–the dewy, innocent, and gentle aesthetic of the last couple of centuries.  Some of it is rooted in more sinister things–the atheist’s casting of all spiritual things as mere fluffy fairy tale made in man’s own image, and on the other hand, the occultist’s desire to be superior and dominate all things, including spiritual things.

Granted, it is not just a modern thing to portray angels as beautiful, somewhat androgynous, human-like creatures with wings and halos.  But I think we’ve lost our sense of what that representation originally intended to convey.  That angels are beautiful signifies their holiness, their goodness, their purity, their perfection, their closeness to God who is truth, beauty, and goodness.  Likewise the halos, brimming with ethereal light and power.  That they are androgynous signifies that they are not corporeal and not human.  The wings further emphasize this, signifying that angels are not bound by space, time, or anything physical. That they are human-like signifies that they are persons, individuals with intellect and free will–not objects or lower types of creatures such as animals or plants.

Consider a traditional religious icon.  Notice first that there is nothing white or fluffy or soft or comfy.  These are noble, dignified figures, robed in splendor like princes and carrying staffs which show authority and power.  They are very human-like, youthful, and beautiful, but they are imposing figures, nonetheless, evoking some degree of reverence.  At the same time, they are not the true center of this image, of course–Christ is.  St. Michael and St. Gabriel look at Christ, while St. Raphael looks at us as if to say, “You must follow our example.  Make Christ your center.  Look to Him, adore Him, love Him, and serve Him.”

That is part of the mission of each of these special angels: to help us and show us the way.  And we are meant to turn to them respectfully and trustingly.  We don’t need them to be soft or too human–we need them to be the strong, tireless, incredible beings that they are.  We need them to be mighty enough to stand against Satan and all of the evil angels who are out for our destruction.  We also don’t need them to be “nice” to us.  They have something far greater than niceness–they have perfect charity.  They love God perfectly and completely, and because of that they also love everything and everybody that God loves–and that includes God’s children above all!

So, just because they are greater than us by nature in many ways, we need never fear to call to them.  God revealed their names to us for a reason–so that we can call upon them and talk to them in a personal way.  I do so pretty often.  Whenever I feel in danger, whenever I feel pulled toward evil, or whenever I behold danger and evil in the world around me, I call upon St. Michael to protect and guard me and the world.  I pray Pope Leo XIII’s prayer to St. Michael after every Mass, and whenever else I need to.  Whenever I feel lonely, lost, tired, doubtful, depressed, or in any way ill or in pain, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally, I call upon St. Raphael to strengthen and guide me.  Whenever I am uncertain about what God is calling me to do or who God is calling me to be, either in my whole lifetime or in very specific circumstances, I call upon St. Gabriel and ask for help in hearing, following, and obeying God’s voice.

In every case, I have always found the holy archangels to be very effective and dependable in their aid and in their understanding of what I need.  I often look back later and realize that, in fact, they were providing exactly the help I needed before I called upon them.  But it is good to call upon them and to build a relationship with them anyway.  Give it a try, if you don’t do it already.  I think you will find your life wonderfully enriched.

A blessed Feast of the Holy Archangels to you!

Here we are again at St. Dominic’s feast day, one of my favorite days of the year!  I hope it has been a blessed and joyful one for everybody–especially my fellow Dominicans!

I had the good fortune to attend a very pleasant and educational celebration at the University of Dallas sponsored by the UD Alumni.  Several of my fellow Lay Dominicans were in attendance, and we enjoyed a talk and Q&A with Dr. John Sommerfeldt, Professor Emeritus of History, about St. Dominic and his world and his Order of Preachers.

One thing Dr. Sommerfeldt spoke about was the fact that we really know very little about St. Dominic.  There are some writings and testimonies about him, but they are more hagiographical than biographical.  We have even less that is from and by the saint himself.  It’s rather strange, isn’t it–that the man who founded the Order of Preachers should be such a quiet figure!

And yet, by the fruits of his labor, we know him.  The Order he founded not only outlived the Albigensian heresy it was founded to confront–it has outlived everything since, right up to the present moment.  It is approaching its 800th year!  800 years and an unbroken succession of Christian men and women who joyfully and lovingly call ourselves Dominicans, after our spiritual father.  Many of them have become saints themselves: Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas… Catherine of Siena and Rose of Lima… Martin de Porres and John Macias… Pope Pius V and Louis de Montfort… these are just a small selection of Dominican saints.

Prayer and preaching were the two foundations of St. Dominic’s life.  Contemporaries said that he always spoke with God or of God.  St. Dominic must also have been a very practical man.  He knew that in order to preach effectively, one must be dedicated to study.  In order to study, one must have things like access to books and a roof over one’s head.  And so, he sent his friars into all the cities of Europe and had them establish Dominican houses close to the newly-flourishing universities, where they studied and not long after began teaching.  These intellectual friars also attracted students and teachers to join the fledgling Order.

But of course, the growth and flourishing and survival of the Order was, and is, and ever will be largely a result of its founder’s prayers and sacrifices–all of the great works he did in secret, during the night.  His life and his mission and his Order were never about him.  He cared more about ensuring the future of the Order.  He wanted it to live long after he was gone.

Even in death, he probably would have been content to work behind the scenes, in ways fully known only to God and himself.  He died on 6 August–the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.  He would have been content to have his own feast day eclipsed by a feast of the Lord.  But the Church treasures her quiet light, and so we commemorate him on 8 August.

Pope Benedict spoke of St. Dominic and his deep prayer life in his Wednesday Audience today.  Read about it here.

(Photo: statue of St. Dominic at the priory of Santa Sabina, Rome – by Flickr user Lawrence OP)

Just as the Saints pray for us, we on earth can pray for the poor souls in Purgatory.  And more than that, we can also obtain indulgences for them that can partially or completely free them from their purgation!  This is a tremendous act of mercy that can nourish the sainthood within each of us.

1 – 8 November:

An indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, is granted to the faithful, who devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, even if only mentally, for the departed.

The indulgence is plenary each day from the 1st to the 8th of November; on other days of the year it is partial.

2 November:

A plenary indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, is granted to the faithful, who on the day dedicated to the Commemoration of all the faithful departed, piously visit a church, a public oratory or — for those entitled to use it — a semipublic oratory.

In visiting the church or oratory, it is required, according to Norm 16 of the same Apostolic Constitution, that “one Our Father and the Creed be recited.”

Here is more information about plenary indulgences and how they may be obtained.  Let us revive this tradition and partake in the rich graces of our Lord and Church!

Just think of all the poor souls who have nobody to pray for them after they die… perhaps they have no family or friends left… perhaps their surviving loved ones do not believe in Purgatory and in praying for the dead… perhaps their surviving loved ones simply haven’t been educated about Purgatory and praying for the dead.

Remember that the poor souls cannot pray for themselves (they can, however, pray for us, and especially for those who pray for them).

For their sake and the sake of our own souls, let us pray and obtain those indulgences!  If you don’t think you are in a state of grace to obtain a plenary indulgence, ask for it anyway!  Something I always say to God when I am asking for indulgences for the poor souls is:

Lord, I know I am not worthy to obtain such a blessed gift, but I pray that You may overlook my unworthiness and look instead to those poor souls who are suffering and yearning so greatly to be in Your presence at last!

If you are seeking a plenary indulgence for yourself, of course, then you want to make sure you have fulfilled all the requirements.

Note that you cannot obtain indulgences for other living persons.  Only for yourself and for the poor souls in Purgatory.

Happy feast day to my dear father, St. Dominic!

A blessed day to all my Dominican family and to all.

May the light of Truth, which was his guiding star,

illumine our souls and lead us to our heavenly home.

This past Sunday was the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday in the Church’s year. The Gospel reading gave me a mental and spiritual shaking:

The rulers sneered at Jesus and said,
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Luke 23:35-43

Hearing this story from Good Friday proclaimed at a time when our secular lives are occupied with preparing Thanksgiving dinners and buying Christmas gifts, among other things, makes quite an impact doesn’t it?  It forces us to pause and re-consider this time of year.  It can be easy to get swept up in worldly activities and busyness.  It is also easy to regard this time of year as a sort of pleasant countdown to Christmas and lose sight of the fact that the Advent season is meant to make us mindful of Christ’s second coming.  Likewise, this end of the Church year is meant to make us mindful our the end of our own lives, when we will present ourselves to Christ the King face-to-face.

Of course, the story itself is extremely striking, no matter when we read or hear it.

What strikes me first is always the tragic irony. Christ the King–not only of the Jews, but of all Creation–is sneered at and mocked as a false king. And yet even as He hangs crucified, bearing the enormous indignity and the excruciating pain with infinite patience, He acts as a King, issuing pardon to the repentant criminal. He rules even from the Cross.

What strikes me almost as much as the graciousness of Christ, however, are the humble words of the repentant criminal. He recognizes that he has earned crucifixion by his own deeds. He, unlike Christ, is being punished justly. He does not ask Christ to save him or release him from his torments. He simply asks, “Remember me.” And Christ does so much more than that–Christ indeed saves him, far beyond any worldly means.

When I read this story and the repentant criminal’s words, I often think to myself, “I wish I were that humble and that radically converted!” It inevitably leads me to examine my life and how I have lived in relation to God and to my fellow man and my fellow creatures. I ask myself who or what has ruled over me, to whom or what I have subjected myself. I ask myself how humble and obedient I have been before God.

When I am really honest and forthright with myself, when I make a real effort of humility–recognizing myself for who and what I am–I realize how very far I have to go to truly be a subject of Christ the King. I realize how profoundly self-serving and self-centered I am, how very stingy and stubborn and prideful. I realize how many boundaries I have established and built up between Christ and myself and between other people and myself. I realize how many limits I have placed upon how far I am willing to follow Christ.  Instead of freely and generously offering a simple fiat, I have tended to add lots of fine-print restrictions to my offering of self to God.

Is that really what I want to offer God when I stand before Him at the end of my life? What an absurd notion!

But the story of the repentant crucified criminal gives hope that it is never too late to change, never too late to turn to the Lord. There is no more merciful and magnanimous King than He who rules from the Cross! Let us kneel before Him, and let us thank, praise, adore, and worship Him! And let us thank Him and His Church for giving us this particular time each year–the Solemnity of Christ the King and the following week that leads up to Advent–to help us to examine ourselves and to consider endings.  It is also a time to perhaps make some Church New Year’s resolutions!

Obviously, I have plenty to think about. 

Many blessings to you all–and a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving to my fellow Americans!

This is a sweet feast, the feast of those who already live in God, those whom we have loved and who have attained to happiness and light; it is the feast of eternity. And what a fine idea to make the feast of the dead follow so soon! During these two days a vast stream of prayer and love flows through the three worlds: between the Church in Heaven, the Church on earth, and the Church in which souls wait and expiate. The Communion of Saints seems doubly close and doubly fruitful. We feel that all souls and all those we love are close to us in God; and this living dogma by divine grace gives life to many souls on earth and in Purgatory. Not one of our tears, not one of our prayers is lost, and they have a power that many people never suspect.

~ Elisabeth Leseur, November 1, 1905

Also, I am 34 years old today. :)

A blessed Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary!  She is also honored today under the title Our Lady of Victory.  The two titles really go hand in hand, as the Rosary is a proven instrument of victory over danger and evil.

I finally made it to Confession this evening, so that was a bit of a personal victory for me.  Or rather a victory of God’s grace and mercy within me.

And now I go forward on this blessed day, healed and whole once more.  I asked Our Lady of Victory for her prayers and help.  I asked her to help me be a strong and virtuous and faithful daughter of God, always victorious over sin–a woman modeled after her.  I prayed for a renewed dedication to the Rosary.  I also asked her prayers and help for the United States, since this county is under her patronage.

Lord, hear her prayers and mine!

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St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us!
(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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