Thursday, December 12, 2019

Reflection for Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

"Mary, because she believed, loved; she is the handmaid of the Lord and the servant of her brothers. Celebrating the memory of Mary is to celebrate that we, like her, are invited to go out and meet others with the same gaze, with the same mercy within, with their same gestures. To contemplate her is to feel the strong invitation to imitate her faith. Her presence leads us to reconciliation, giving us the strength to create bonds in our blessed Latin American land, saying “yes” to life and “no” to all kinds of indifference, exclusion, or the rejection of peoples and persons. Let us not be afraid to go out and look upon others with the same gaze. A gaze that makes us brothers. We do so because, like Juan Diego, we know that here is our mother, we know that we are under her shadow and her protection, which is the source of our joy, and that we are in the cross of her arms."

--Pope Francis, Homily, December 12, 2016

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Quote of the Day

"To evangelize the poor: This is the mission of Jesus, according to what He Himself says; this is also the mission of the Church, and of every person baptized in the Church. To be Christian and to be a missionary is the same thing. To proclaim the Gospel, with words, and, even before that, with one’s life, is the principle end of the Christian community and of each of its members."

--Pope Francis, Angelus Address, January 24, 2016

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Reflection for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

"What do we see, then, when we turn our gaze towards the Cross where Jesus was nailed? We contemplate the sign of the infinite love of God for each and every one of us and the roots of our salvation. From that Cross flows the mercy of the Father who embraces the whole world. Through the cross of Christ, evil is overcome, death is defeated, life is given to us, hope is restored. The Cross of Jesus is our only true hope! This is important! Through the Cross of Christ hope is restored! That is why the Church “exalts” the holy Cross, and that is why we Christians bless ourselves with the Sign of the Cross. That is we do not exalt a cross, but the Glorious Cross of Jesus, a sign of the immense love of God, sign of our salvation, and the path towards the resurrection. And this is our hope."

--Pope Francis, Angelus Address, September 14, 2014

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Quote of the Day

"I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing - direct murder by the mother herself. And we read in the Scripture, for God says very clearly: Even if a mother could forget her child - I will not forget you - I have carved you in the palm of my hand. We are carved in the palm of His hand, so close to Him that unborn child has been carved in the hand of God. And that is what strikes me most, the beginning of that sentence, that even if a mother could forget something impossible - but even if she could forget - I will not forget you. And today the greatest means - the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion. And we who are standing here - our parents wanted us. We would not be here if our parents would do that to us.”

--Saint Teresa of Calcutta, MC (Mother Teresa), Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, December 11, 1979

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Quote of the Day

Coronation of the Virgin, Diego Velasquez
"From above, from where Christ reigns, the Mother of the Church accompanies the journey of God's people, supporting even the most tiring steps, comforting those who are undergoing trials and keeping open the horizon of hope."

--Pope Francis, General Audience, August 20, 2014

Friday, August 16, 2019

Quote of the Day

"Our day is rather harsh and unforgiving toward human frailty, an attitude that, sadly, characterizes the manner in which many Catholics relate to one another. Yet God is rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4) and no one can survive without divine forgiveness (Psalm 130:3). From the frequent cry for mercy in the Divine Liturgy we learn the foundation of true human solidarity: since all are in need of God's tender compassion, we must be merciful toward one another."

--Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, August 22, 2013

Friday, August 2, 2019

A Brief But Grace-filled Retreat

Last week I was blessed with the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama and the world headquarters of EWTN in Irondale (Birmingham), Alabama, established by Mother Angelica in 1999 and 1981, respectively, for the first time in thirteen years. I had visited both places several times with my parents and sister in the mid-2000s when I was in my late teens and twenty years of age, a rather difficult period in my life when I was struggling with physical and mental health issues, trying to discern my vocation in life, somewhat lacking in maturity and also, unfortunately, growing spiritually lukewarm. Now in much better health, looking forward to marriage, more mature and serious about my faith, I saw both places with new eyes and enjoyed my solo visit immensely.

I was concerned that visiting Alabama in July might not be a good idea due to hot humid weather and the possibility of tornadoes, but as it turned out, the weather was both peaceful and not too hot. I drove through several light and heavy rain showers in southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee on my way down there on Monday, July 22, arriving at my motel in Hanceville to partly cloudy conditions. When I went to visit the Shrine Tuesday morning the 23rd, the sky was overcast and it looked like rain, but no rain fell, and in the afternoon the clouds broke up and the high temperature was only 85 degrees. The Main Church of the Shrine with its marble, stained glass and gold leaf Gothic interior was just as magnificent as I remembered, and I spent several hours that morning and afternoon praying to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Who is perpetually enthroned in the massive golden monstrance, and drinking in the majestic splendor of this great Temple. The periodic and rhythmic chanting of the invisible Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration contributed to the prayerful atmosphere. Out of respect for the Blessed Sacrament and praying pilgrims, no photography is allowed inside the church, so I made sure to buy some postcards of the interior in the nearby Gift Shop of El Nino. I also briefly descended into the crypt church and saw Mother Angelica's grave in the burial vault.

I had previously decided to check out the Saint John Paul II Eucharistic Center, a new addition to the Shrine complex that did not exist when I last visited. So I joined the 10:30 AM tour and was stunned by the quality and scope of the numerous video and audio exhibits and tutorials on the biblical, theological, doctrinal and historical foundation of the Mass and the Holy Eucharist as well as on Eucharistic miracles and martyrs. All in all, I found this Center to be an incomparable treasure trove of information on the Holy Eucharist.

In the afternoon, I explored the beautifully landscaped grounds surrounding the Shrine, including the Lourdes Grotto, a replica of the famous French pilgrimage site that features an actual piece of rock from the real shrine. I also walked a short outdoor path featuring Stations of the Holy Eucharist, a series of reflections on twelve biblical and historical events that shed light on this great mystery of our Faith such as Melchizedek's offering of bread and wine, the Passover lamb, the manna in the desert, the wedding at Cana, the multiplication of loaves, the Last Supper, and the road to Emmaus.

Early on a sunny Wednesday morning, July 24, I took part in a beautiful, reverent, unhurried, and traditional ad orientem conventual Mass in the Shrine main church celebrated by Father Barry Braum, a young priest who preached in a simple, direct and attractive style on the day's Gospel reading of the parable of the sower, applying Christ's teaching to our own lives. The seventy or so people present in the nave participated devoutly and attentively in the Mass. The hymns and ritual music were chanted a cappella by the nuns, and the organ meditation music during Holy Communion was both majestic and comforting. Like the other worshipers, I received Communion at the altar rail. Surrounded by so much beauty in architecture and music and the presence of God Himself, I felt like I was in Heaven. That's what the Mass is, after all: a participation in the liturgy of Heaven. The magnificence of the Shrine, and the calm solemnity of the sacred liturgy that takes place within it, powerfully remind the worshiper of that fact. At the end of Mass, the huge decorative wall blocking the monstrance from view slid back down into its vault behind the tabernacle, revealing the Blessed Sacrament once more. The sun had now risen far enough that the eastern Holy Spirit rose window appeared to be completely on fire. I finished my thanksgiving and then reluctantly took my leave of this beautiful church.

Taking a short drive south on I-65, I arrived at EWTN headquarters around noon and found a parking space around back near the satellite dishes. I strolled around the shady grounds and took some pictures of the chapel, the grotto, the Stations of the Cross, and the very tall pine trees; then I returned to my car which was parked in full sun, opened the windows, put the sunshade across the windshield, and had some lunch (it was 89 degrees). After that, I briefly visited the chapel of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word where, as in the Shrine at Hanceville, the Blessed Sacrament is perpetually on display. Built in the early 1960s, this architecturally modern chapel with its distinctive curving roof design, large glass area and vivid red carpet is much smaller than it looks on TV. Exiting the chapel, I said hello to Father Mark, who courteously showed me the way to the gift shop. I joined about twenty-five other people for a guided tour of the network at 2:45 PM and saw the various offices and control rooms up close, including Mother Angelica's former office adjoining the studio where she experienced a miraculous healing of her back and leg injuries through the prayers of an Italian mystic in 1998.

That evening, I was in the studio audience with most of the people from the tour for the flagship TV show EWTN Live with Father Mitch Pacwa. Twenty minutes before showtime, he came striding into the studio in his trademark cowboy hat and boots and made sure we turned off our cell phones. That evening's guests were two doctors, the president and president emeritus of the Catholic Medical Association, and they had an important discussion about the depersonalization of modern medicine, radical secularists' attack on human life, and how these factors are affecting doctors who want to adhere to natural law and traditional moral values in their practice. Following the show, the two doctors chatted informally with us in the audience, and then Fr. Pacwa entertained us with stories and photos of his latest big-game hunting adventures.

I had planned to conclude my visit to EWTN by attending 7 AM Mass in the chapel on Thursday, July 25, the Feast of Saint James the Apostle. I woke early, showered and headed for the chapel shortly after 6:30 AM, but the roads from my motel to the network were confusing and I got lost. I finally arrived right at 7 as the Entrance Chant was being sung and the chapel was already filled to capacity, so I had to sit in the nearby overflow chapel and participate in the Mass through the live TV feed. But I was thrilled just to be there; the organ and choir music were heavenly, and Father Pacwa's excellent homily focused on the Christian meaning and value of suffering. After Mass was over, I spent a few minutes praying in the main chapel and then returned to the motel to prepare for the long drive back to western Virginia. I was pretty tired when I got home that Thursday evening, but I was filled with the joy and peace that come from being loved by God and striving to love Him and others.

My four-day trip to Alabama was the brief but grace-filled retreat I sorely needed. I returned home mentally refreshed and renewed and spiritually confirmed and strengthened in my lifelong Catholic faith. My current single life as a church music minister and small farmer with a chronically ill mother to care for is a busy one filled with the pressure of many commitments, and it's easy to become too focused on getting things done while losing sight of the bigger picture. Through this unforgettable retreat experience, I realized that I had become too hard on myself in certain ways; I needed to be reminded how much God loved me, and that I need to stay close to Him and allow Him to act in and through me. I'm very thankful to the Lord for granting me this experience and to His Holy Mother and all the Angels and Saints for obtaining it for me, and I can't wait to visit the Shrine and EWTN again!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Quote of the Day

“We can obtain no reward without merit, and no merit without patience.”

--Saint Alphonsus Liguori

Monday, May 27, 2019

Quote of the Day

"We go to great lengths to recover fallen comrades, we honor them in the most precise and exacting ceremonies, we set aside national holidays to remember and celebrate them. We do these things for them, of course, but also for us, the living. Their stories of heroism, of sacrifice, and of patriotism remind us of what is best in ourselves, and they teach our children what is best in America."

--U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, April 9, 2019

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Reflection for the Octave of Easter

"Often what blocks hope is the stone of discouragement. Once we start thinking that everything is going badly and that things can’t get worse, we lose heart and come to believe that death is stronger than life. We become cynical, negative and despondent. Stone upon stone, we build within ourselves a monument to our own dissatisfaction: the sepulcher of hope. Life becomes a succession of complaints and we grow sick in spirit. A kind of tomb psychology takes over: everything ends there, with no hope of emerging alive. But at that moment, we hear once more the insistent question of Easter: Why do you seek the living among the dead? The Lord is not to be found in resignation. He is risen; he is not there. Don’t seek him where you will never find him: he is not the God of the dead but of the living (cf. Mk. 22:32). Do not bury hope!"

--Pope Francis, Homily at Easter Vigil, April 20, 2019

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Quote of the Day

"In a world pervaded by individualism, it is essential to rediscover the importance of fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness. Scripture tells us that even 'the upright falls seven times' (Prov 24:16); all of us are weak and imperfect (cf. 1 Jn 1:8). It is a great service, then, to help others and allow them to help us, so that we can be open to the whole truth about ourselves, improve our lives and walk more uprightly in the Lord's ways. There will always be a need for a gaze which loves and admonishes, which knows and understands, which discerns and forgives (cf. Lk 22:61), as God has done and continues to do with each of us."

--Benedict XVI, Lenten Message, February 7, 2012

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Reflection for the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary

"How does Joseph exercise his role as protector?  Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care.  As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.

"How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church?  By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own.  This is what God asked of David, as we heard in the first reading.  God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan.  It is God himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit.  Joseph is a “protector” because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions.  In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ!  Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!"

--Pope Francis, Homily at Papal Inauguration Mass, March 19, 2013

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Reflection for First Sunday of Lent

Detail of The Temptations of Christ, Sandro Botticelli (1482)

"From this scene on the pinnacle of the Temple, though, we can look out and see the Cross. Christ did not cast himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple. He did not leap into the abyss. He did not tempt God. But he did descend into the abyss of death, into the night of abandonment, and into the desolation of the defenseless. He ventured this leap as an act of God's love for men. And so he knew that, ultimately, when he leaped he could only fall into the kindly hands of the Father. This brings to light the real meaning of Psalm 91, which has to do with the right to the ultimate and unlimited trust of which the Psalm speaks: If you follow the will of God, you know that in spite of all the terrible things that happen to you, you will never lose a final refuge. You know that the foundation of the world is love, so that even when no human being can or will help you, you may go on, trusting in the One who loves you. Yet this trust, which we cultivate on the authority of Scripture and at the invitation of the risen Lord, is something quite different from the reckless defiance of God that would make God our servant."

--Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: Part One: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (New York: Doubleday, 2007), pp. 37-38

Monday, February 18, 2019

In Praise of Democrats

No doubt many readers will be put off by the unexpected title of this essay, so I'll hasten to add a crucial disclaimer: This article will not extol the godless, radically secularist ideology of the current Democratic Party leadership or its abominable methods of putting it into practice. Nor will it condemn the traditional Judeo-Christian values, strict constitutional government, and fiscal responsibility espoused by the current Republican Party leadership. Rather, my intention here is along the lines of Jesus' famous remark to his disciples that the children of this age are wiser in their generation than the children of light. My goal is to demonstrate that there is something truly praiseworthy in our worst political enemies, the Democrats, and that there is something truly blameworthy in our best political friends, the Republicans.

Looking back over the past ten years of contemporary American history, which includes eight years of President Obama and two years of President Trump, it becomes painfully obvious that the Democrats have been steadily gaining the upper hand in national and state politics. This increasing concentration of power in Democratic hands has been taking place despite the remarkable growth and ascendancy of the Tea Party movement which swept historic Republican majorities into the Senate, the House of Representatives, and state legislatures and state governorships across the nation in 2010 and 2014 and propelled Donald Trump into the White House in 2016. Ironically, Democrats are even more powerful and dangerous now in 2019, with majority control of the House alone, than they were in 2009 when they controlled the White House, the House and the Senate with a filibuster-proof supermajority in the latter chamber. How so?

In today's money-driven, politically polarized, social media-saturated culture, a political movement easily claims victory over its opposition based on the sums of money it raises and spends on advertising, the amount of media publicity it gets, and the number of seats and chambers it wins and holds in Washington and state capitals. Although these factors are to some extent important and necessary for any political movement to achieve national prominence, their sum does not automatically equal enduring influence. The true yardstick for measuring the long-term success of any U.S. political movement is its ability to accomplish its stated objectives. And the absolutely critical factor here is the movement's determination (or lack thereof) to implement its agenda.

During the past ten years, the Democrats have made it very clear that their agenda is to fundamentally transform America from a Judeo-Christian, Constitutional, pro-life, pro-family, small-government, low-tax, balanced-budget, market-economy-based, secure-borders nation into a godless, lawless, pro-abortion, anti-family, big-government, high-tax, high-debt, socialist, open-borders nation. Their toolkit to accomplish this has included lies, propaganda, secrecy, name-calling, character assassination, threats, and blackmail. Frankly, they've made substantial progress toward their revolutionary goal with the continued expulsion of God from our national life and public places, a litany of unconstitutional laws and executive orders from ObamaCare to DACA, maintaining taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, Supreme Court decisions upholding ObamaCare and striking down state marriage laws, swelling of the federal bureaucracy, high taxes, a national debt increase of $12 trillion, stifled economic growth, and a massive population of illegal immigrants.

The fact that most of this was accomplished with Republicans controlling one or both houses of Congress is a shining reflection on the bulldog tenacity of Democrats to see their agenda through, come what may. It's also a glaring reflection on the disappointing lack of determination by Republicans to implement their own agenda for the country. Supposedly, the Republicans want to keep America a Judeo-Christian, Constitutional, pro-life, pro-family, small-government, low-tax, fiscally responsible, market-economy-based, secure-borders nation. And it's true that in the past two years, President Trump and Congressional Republicans have taken some important steps to implement their agenda, reversing some of the damage wreaked by Democrats under President Obama. However, the Republicans have not been anywhere near as aggressive in implementing their good agenda as the Democrats have been in implementing their evil one. Worse, Democrats consistently make agenda-driven campaign promises and deliver on them, while Republicans tend to make agenda-driven campaign promises and renege on them.

Case in point: the ObamaCare monstrosity. Democrats promised it during the 2008 election campaign, and after winning that election, despite opposition from Republicans and two-thirds of the American people, they delivered, ramming the controversial bill through Congress and into law in 2010. Republicans promised to either repeal or de-fund it during the 2014 election season, but after winning that election, despite massive support for fulfilling their campaign promise, in 2015 Republicans led by House Speaker John Boehner caved in to President Obama's demand for money for his pet law. Again in 2016, Donald Trump and the Republicans solemnly pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act [sic] and replace it with entirely new healthcare legislation in line with their own agenda. But while a Democratic-controlled White House, Senate and House in 2009 and 2010 proved entirely capable of enacting ObamaCare, a Republican-controlled White House, Senate and House in 2017 and 2018 proved entirely incapable of repealing it.

The fact that ObamaCare is still on the books today certainly demonstrates the staying power of the corrupt Washington establishment behind it (with which the Democrats are fully in bed), but more to the point here, it exemplifies the ominous trend of the past ten years in which Republicans are quickly throwing their campaign promises out the window, quietly setting their agenda aside, and gradually ceding more power to their Democratic enemies. The donkey's iron determination combined with the elephant's hushed timidity effectively renders the Democratic Party the majority party in America today. If this trend continues, within twenty years the Republican Party will find itself an irrelevant minority party, leaving the Democrats firmly in charge of national affairs.

Why have Republican politicians abandoned their core principles, betrayed their loyal constituents, and compromised their cherished values in this fashion? Apparently, for fear of the Democrats who are threatening them and have added the incitement of mob violence to their toolkit in their increasing desperation to further advance their radically secularist agenda. And apparently, Republicans are so scared of the above-mentioned establishment that they've been transformed into creatures of that very establishment, while still claiming to represent "we the people." They are now followers disguised as leaders. The Republicans' hypocrisy is sickening and their cowardice is frightening. I have to hand it to the Democrats: they know exactly what they want to achieve and how to achieve it, and come heck or high water, they're accomplishing it. Meanwhile, much of the wholesome agenda our country sorely needs languishes in the comfortable offices of House and Senate Republicans.

Yes, the Democratic bullies have lots of money and power thanks to the corrupt establishment and the "mainstream" media. But that's a poor excuse for Republicans to roll over and play dead. The Republican principles that made America great are worth defending as strenuously as possible, and since the Republican agenda based on those principles holds the key to America's long-term survival, it must be pushed with even more determination than the Democrats are pushing their rotten agenda if it is to succeed long-term. This means the Republicans must be "wise as serpents and simple as doves," taking full advantage of their own strengths and fully exploiting the Democrats' weaknesses. The Democrats may seem stronger at the moment in worldly terms, but Republicans have the far greater strengths of faith and trust in God, the revealed truths of natural law regarding human life and liberty, the wisdom and example of the Founders, prayer and fasting, and divine grace. If Republicans utilize their own strengths with sufficient determination and resolve for a sufficient period of time, America will be rescued from the tyranny of radical secularism. If not...

Copyright © 2019 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Quote of the Day

"As people of faith who believe God’s truth about life, we must support and seek justice for all of God’s children. We must do all we can to be God’s witnesses of merciful love in the world. We know and give thanks for the great dignity God has given to us from the moment of conception, to be made in his image. We also must pray for the grace to remind others of this inherent dignity, in our words and in our actions."

--Archbishop Joseph Naumann, USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, January 18, 2019

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Quote of the Day

"Christmas fills us with joy and makes us certain that no sin will ever be greater than God’s mercy; no act of ours can ever prevent the dawn of his divine light from rising ever anew in human hearts. This feast invites us to renew our evangelical commitment to proclaim Christ, the Saviour of the world and the light of the universe. “Christ, ‘holy, blameless, undefiled’ (Heb 7:26) did not know sin (cf. 2 Cor 5:21) and came only to atone for the sins of the people (cf. Heb 2:17)."

--Pope Francis, Address to Roman Curia, December 21, 2018