Sunday, November 29, 2015

7 ENORMOUS Benefits of Marian Consecration

Each year, I share the 33 days leading up to our celebration of the Immaculate Conception with St. Louis Marie De Montfort, going through his preparatory exercises to renew my consecration to Jesus through the heart of Mary. I've written of this consecration before, describing it as asking the Holy Spirit to knit our souls together with Mary's so that we can participate in her complete love and surrender of herself and all that she was entrusted with to her Son. Today, though, I wanted to share the seven specific benefits that St. Louis Marie recognized in asking the Holy Spirit to unite our souls to Mary's, in offering to Jesus (True Devotion, Nos. 213-225):

  1. We are communicated a portion of Mary's profound humility, and this allows us to see ourselves as we truly are: sinful, weak, completely dependent upon God's grace.
  2. We will be given a share of Mary's unrivaled faith.
  3. Our hearts, like Mary's, will become free of scruples and servile fear.
  4. We will be filled with Mary's great confidence in God, and we will approach Jesus arm-in-arm with Mary.
  5. Mary will reproduce her Magnificat in our hearts, her ability to "rejoice in God, her salvation" (Lk. 1:47), and to praise and thank our Lord.
  6. If Mary, the "tree of life" is cultivated in our souls then, in time, we will bear the same "fruit" in our lives - the Lord Jesus.
  7. By loving Jesus in union with the most perfectly consecrated of all of His disciples, we will give Jesus "more glory in a month than by any other practice, however difficult, in many years."

Those are some truly enormous benefits, wouldn't you say? The Communion of Saints is an amazing reality.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Book Review: "Chiara Corbella Petrillo: A Witness to Joy"

Unusual - that is the word that keeps coming to mind for this book. It may not sound like a compliment, but I assure you that it is. I knew that Michael Lichens, Sophia Institute Press's new editor, had worked hard to bring this Italian bestseller to English audiences; and I now understand why. Chiara Corbella Petrillo: A Witness to Joy is unlike any account of redemptive suffering and God's superabundant grace that I have encountered. Like me, you may have read brief online accounts of Chiara's life: Chiara carried her first two pregnancies to term, knowing that both of her children had developmental abnormalities that would allow them to live only a short time outside her womb. She then welcomed a third, healthy child into the world; but she heroically postponed cancer treatment to do so, and she succumbed to the disease a year later, in 2012. This book is the definitive telling of her story - written at the request of Chiara's husband, Enrico (who provides the Foreword), by the couple that the Lord allowed to intimately share his and Chiara's journey.

This book is unusual because, despite the presence of suffering, it is - from start to finish - a love story. It communicates the young romance that blossomed into a deep, ever-abiding love between Chiara and Enrico - two young Catholics who had put Christ at the center of their lives. Against the backdrop of Assisi and Rome it tells the on-again, off-again, nature of their courtship - the honest struggle Chiara and Enrico faced to move past their own baggage and fears to make a mature commitment to one another on the day of their marriage. This is a couple who took seriously John Paul II's Theology of the Body, with each spouse manifesting Christ's love for the other in their mutual surrender to each other and the absolute joy and love with which they welcomed each of their three children. This book is a story of Divine love - of Christ the Bridegroom's love and the unfathomable mystery of finding union with Him upon the marriage bed of the Cross.

The authors make no attempt to paper over Chiara and Enrico's pain, or seek to soften it with platitudes. They relate Chiara's darkest night and that fleeting moment, a year before her death, when the pain became so intense that she questioned how God could exist if he allowed her to suffer like that. And yet, even in that dark moment, she and Enrico experienced a Presence, a Love, that transcended the excruciating pain. Their story is not well-wishing but testimony - the lived experience of two of our contemporaries: 
"The cross cannot be avoided; because of this, Jesus made it his. Standing before the cross is truly difficult. But you make it much more difficult by refusing it, [because] then he will compel you to take it up" (p. 61). 
"I quit wishing to understand, otherwise I could go crazy. And I am better. Now I am at peace; now I take whatever comes. He knows what he is doing, and up to now He has never disappointed. Later I shall understand" (p.122). 
"Thinking of Jesus' phrase, 'my yoke is sweet and my burden is light,' [Enrico] asked, 'Chiara, is this yoke, this cross, really sweet, as Jesus said?' And Chiara, smiling and turning her glance from the tabernacle to her husband, said in a weak voice, 'Yes, Enrico, it is very sweet'" (p. 152). 
"We are born and we shall never die" (p. 147).
This book is unusual in the way it stays with you. I have found myself thinking about the way I show my love for the members of my family and striving to make it more visible. I have been thinking about the day of my own death and the difficulties that may precede it; and I pray to be focused on the Beloved more than my pain. I think about Jesus, and the way that He loves us fragile, little creatures. Chiara Corbella Petrillo: A Witness to Joy is an unusual little book, highlighting the enormously unusual life we Christians are invited to live in the midst of the world.

My thanks to Charlotte J. Fasi for translating this work into English.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Book Review: "Word by Word" by Sarah Reinhard

What a fascinating concept for a book: Sarah Reinhard and her 41 contributors unpack the Hail Mary one word at a time, and the result is the perfect blending of personal testimony and Catholic theology.

"Lex orandi, lex credendi" - the Church believes as she prays. The Hail Mary is a theological gold mine and Reinhard and her contributors dazzled me with their ability to point out the sizeable theological nuggets hidden in plain sight. The first reflection, Fr. Patrick Toner's for the word "Hail," is a perfect example:
"To greet [Mary] is to acknowledge that she is present to us" (p.7).
"Hail" as a one word testimony to the Communion of Saints! This book had me hooked right there. It is the best kind of theology, that done on one's knees: prayer yields insight, and that insight launches one back into prayer.  I found it in reflections over even the most seemingly insignificant words of the Hail Mary. Listen to contributor Val J. Bianco:
Of is a preposition meaning "from." It can indicate ownership or position, neither of which has any meaning unless the word forms a bridge between two other words. Here, those words are Mother and God...Mary is of God in that she is from him, and in her fiat she completely belongs to him. Jesus, in turn, is of her in that his humanity springs from her. His genetic code, eyes, hair color, blood type, and smile are all of his mother, Mary.
Take that thought with you into today's praying of the Hail Mary; I guarantee that you will be the richer for it.

I was also drawn into this book by the personal connection each author felt to the Blessed Mother and the important role the Hail Mary played in their lives. Their witnesses allowed me to recognize what a small mental world I inhabit when praying the Hail Mary and to appreciate the many different notes it strikes in the souls of my brothers and sisters.

Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary is an amazing tool to bring into your prayer life, especially as we enter Advent. With one reflection for each of the 42 words of the Hail Mary, I urge you to pick up a copy now; and let it enrich your approach to the great feasts that lie ahead: the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Christmas, and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Restoring Marriage Today

What is the most pressing need today? Sharing Christ's vision of marriage and the family. Here is an exciting opportunity for us to deepen our own understanding. Catholic Answers is offering a conference March 3-5, 2016, in San Diego. In addition to Catholic Answers' outstanding staff apologists such as Tim Staples, Trent Horn, and Jimmy Akin, we'll have the opportunity to hear from scholars the stature of Jennifer Roback Morse. For more information and to register, click here, or watch the trailer below.