Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Eighth Commandment: "You Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbour"

Bishop Philip Egan, Diocese of Portsmouth, England

As we enter into the Third Week of Lent, I thought it appropriate to share a pastoral letter for Lent that in particular addresses bloggers, those who use Facebook, Twitter and engage in other social networking. The pastoral letter, Sin, Lent, Redemption was written by Bishop Philip Egan from the Diocese of Portsmouth, England. For those who are from Portsmouth, have been to the Diocese of Portsmouth, visited the web site and know of Bishop Egan, I am sure you will enjoy reading today's post. 

In the pastoral letter, Bishop Egan sets the tone immediately by stating, "I need to raise with you a very serious matter, one that it is appropriate for us to consider during this season of Lent." This initial sentence is sure to intrigue the reader and as one who has read this document, I can assure you that it will not disappoint those who will do likewise. In the first paragraph, it is made clear that Lent is a time of "Christian warfare," when we journey with Christ in the desert during the great combat. In addition to explaining mortal and venial sin, the necessity to be reconciled with God and neighbour, to listen to the word of God, convert and remember our Baptism, Bishop Egan asks the reader to consider the 8th Commandment, "You Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbour," not least within the context of today's digital age. Bishop Egan provides a concise explanation as to how the Eighth Commandment should guide our thinking and actions when blogging and social networking: 
The Ten Commandments make explicit the natural law written into every human heart. They tell us to love God (Commandments One to Three) and to love our neighbour (Commandments Four to Ten). The Eighth Commandment says this:“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.” In other words, we must exercise discretion, respect others and their privacy, and not engage in slander, gossip and rash judgment. We must avoid calumny, that is, slurring and damaging people, and not spread abroad their sins and failings. How do I use Facebook or Twitter? Am I charitable when blogging? Do I revel in other people’s failings? All this is grave matter.
In my view, Bishop Egan has spot lighted a very important aspect of today's culture in the internet age we live in. How subtle can the temptation be to slander some one, to gossip, to spread rumours, to criticize and in essence, to condemn? Some times such sins occur in a very nonchalant manner amongst family, friends, colleagues, neighbours and with those who we briefly communicate and come into contact with. We must be on guard against such subtleties and demonstrate the moral courage and certitude to completely remove them from our interactions with others, including our on line activity. This also ensures we are not guilty of any one of the Nine Ways of Being An Accessory To Another's Sins.

By putting forth such a diligent effort to be ever on guard against the subtlety of sin, we strive to live the truth. We must not make any compromises against the truth and this may require us to be very candid and direct with those who initiate gossip, rumours and criticism with us. Such sinful activity should be rebuked and rightly considered as Offenses Against Truth. Here is one part of the Catechism of The Catholic Church that I would like to spot light, that specifically details some of the offenses against the truth, Article 8, No. 2477 states:
Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:
  • of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbour; 
  • of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
  • of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.
I encourage everyone to read Article 8 in its entirety for a complete and thorough understanding of, as Bishop Egan rightly states, a very grave matter in today's digital world. By so doing, it will better your understanding of the truth and further encourage you to never make any compromises against it. Understanding the truth is important if we desire to live it. Bishop Egan states, "The truth is always graced. When we speak the Truth, our words are always laden with the Holy Spirit, piercing the heart of the listener and inviting them to accept our words and put them into action."

As one continues to read on, Bishop Egan focusses on something that we all need to remember during Lent, the need to think about "our choices, our sins and our redemption." We must journey through Lent with a focus of purifying our desires through prayer:
In Lent, we think about serious things, our choices, our sins, our redemption. In this season, the Church invites us to purify our desires, especially our deepest desire for happiness, for love, for goodness and truth. In making a moral decision, we cannot choose simply on the basis of what gives us pleasure and what causes us pain. We must also take account of our values, of what is right and what is wrong, recognizing that often, to do the right thing involves self-sacrifice. This is why to purify our desires, to be happy in life, to be psychologically healthy, we must pray. We must be people of prayer. We must develop a personal relationship with God. St. Theresa of Lisieux once said: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart, a simple look towards heaven, a cry of recognition and love.” We must find time and space every day to pray our morning and night prayers, from the heart to the Heart of Jesus. We cannot be saved unless we pray. We must read the Gospels, use a prayer book, visit the Blessed Sacrament, listen in silence, say the Rosary and the Angelus, maybe recite part of the Divine Office, and take part in the greatest prayer of all, the Sacrifice of the Mass.
In addition to prayer, Bishop Egan urges the faithful to revisit the Sacrament of Reconciliation as there is, "no better way to effect Lenten renewal than to meet Jesus One to one, Face to face, in the Sacrament of Penance, burying our sins in Him and rising with Him to new life."

This pastoral letter is a much needed reminder for everyone. One does not need to blog, use Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter and other social networks to break the Eighth Commandment, but due to the nature of the social networking and the ease with which a negative and uncharitable comment can be posted, it can at times represent a greater occasion of sin. From my experience, the temptation to be uncharitable can increase when visiting certain news sites that publish negative and condemning reports, especially when accompanied by on line forums for visitors to post comments. Even amongst some fellow Catholics, I find some journalists and writers to be somewhat pharisaical in their reporting on Church matters, issues and controversies. In other words, there can be a lack of mercy and charity in their writing. It also begs the question, should they be publishing this information, truthful as it may be? By doing so, does it cause harm to anyone's reputation, cause scandal for the Universal Catholic Church and incite hatred and anger? Are they breaking the Eighth Commandment? 

Lastly, I wanted to point to out that Bishop Egan's pastoral letter includes eighteen endnotes citing many references for further reading including: scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, wisdom from different saints and Canon Law.  

May Bishop Egan's pastoral letter and this blog post better your understanding of the truth and strengthen your resolve to live it. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Medjugorje Message: Pray Three Hours Each Day

Our Lady's statue at Gospin Trg (Our Lady's Square), St. James Church
Statue of Our Lady at Our Lady's Square (Gospin Trg), St. James Church

Our Lady is asking us, her children, to dedicate a total of three hours of prayer each day.

Prayer is one of the main core messages Our Lady has given us in Medjugorje. Our Lady's "little stone" of Praying the Rosary Everyday With The Heart is the main aspect of her prayer request. Prayer could also include devotional prayers such as the Peace Chaplet (Creed, 7 Our Fathers, Hail Mary's, and Glory Be's), prayers to individual saints, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Litany of the Saints and novenas. 

Part of today's post draws from a talk given by one of the Medjugorje visionaries, Ivan Dragicevic, Our Lady Wants to Lead Us From This Darkness Into the Light. In that talk, Ivan spoke specifically about prayer. There were many key points made about prayer including a general guideline:
Also Our Lady’s wish is that we pray everyday for three hours, not three hours at once, or not just three hours of the rosary; we are talking about, Holy Mass, reading of the Holy Scriptures, also, praying the rosary, family prayer, adoration, to do good deeds, to help each other, this is what Our Lady is asking from us.
Our Lady has put her prayer request into perspective when she stated that it does not even constitute one sixth of our day. Yet for some, such a request becomes an immediate struggle in trying to determine how to add three hours of prayer into an already very busy schedule. If you are one such individual, today's post will help you deal with that concern.  
Prayer is an aspect of our daily lives that we must accept with great responsibility, if we truly desire to live Our Lady's messages. As Ivan states in the aforementioned talk,  "...We have to accept with great responsibility these things in which Mother is inviting us, we have to be responsible to be able to accept the word of Jesus and the word of Our Lady." 

If you are somewhat new to prayer, this will take time and effort. It can not be approached in an irresponsible manner, as a quick "add on" to a busy schedule, hoping to swiftly recite the prayers and be finished with it. To do so fails to properly enter the spirit of prayer and does not comply with Our Lady's request. To make way for three hours of prayer each day, you will need to seriously review and prioritize your schedule accordingly. Ivan quotes Our Lady to emphasize the importance and seriousness of daily prayer:
“Dear children, if you want to attend this school of prayer, then you must be aware that this school of prayer has no vacations, no holidays, and no weekends. You have to know in this school of prayer is every single day, and my dear children if you want to pray better, then you always have to pray more, because if you pray more it is always a personal decision, and to pray better that is grace.”
Step by step, slowly but surely, you can make the transition to include more prayer in your day until you finally reach the goal of three hours of prayer. I can speak from personal experience that once the transition has been made to three hours of prayer, you will come to realize just how unimportant and unnecessary some of your previous daily includes actually were.

Depending on what type of prayer life you currently have, to comply with Our Lady's request may require a serious rethink about your daily calendar. The Rosary comes to mind immediately as an example of the necessary adjustment some may have to make.

The daily recitation of the entire Rosary, that is, all four sets of mysteries, takes approximately two hours to complete and can not become a daily include if you have never done it before. It will require a bit of training. Begin by setting reasonable and attainable goals, such as a decade or two each day and be consistent in reciting them. By doing so, like an athlete who trains for a marathon by running only a few kilometres, and builds upon that, you too will build up your prayer capacity and eventually recite the entire Rosary each day, completing the Marathon of Grace

Even after reading up to this part of the post, some may still be holding on to the notion that your schedule is non-negotiable, that you are just too busy and you can not free up three hours each day for prayer. In the aforementioned talk, the visionary Ivan stated there are many excuses why people do not pray:

There are so many situations in our daily lives that we are trying to find excuses why not to pray, we say, we don’t have time, it is impossible to get the family together, children are going to school, the father works and returns really late from work. I don’t have time for the family and my children, and when we come back home from work, we have to cook, we have to watch television, we have to go shopping. Actually time is always a problem, but Our Lady says, “Dear children, time is not a problem at all, the problem is love, because, dear children, if the person loves something he always finds time for it.” Of course if man doesn’t love something then he is not going to find time for it.
Love is an important aspect of prayer and absolutely necessary to comply with Our Lady's request. Not only will love compel us to dedicate our day to prayer, but it will allow us to properly pray with the heart. There is no other better way to prove our love for Our Lady than by our actions by living her messages. The importance of love in our prayer life can not be overstated. I would like to conclude this post and leave you with a thought from Ivan:
Love conquers, love is always victorious, whoever has love will find the time, and this is why Our Lady in these 28 years has been trying to wake us up from this spiritual coma that mankind has been in. She wants to straighten us up in faith and in prayer, and I do hope that we are going to respond to Our Lady’s call, that we are going to accept Her messages, and that we are going to be co-creators in the creation of a better world, a world which will be dignified of the children of God.

Our Lady Queen of Peace, pray for us.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Medjugorje Message: Wear Something Blessed

An image of the Medjugorje visionary Vicka in 2014, speaking to pilgrims.
Vicka Mijatovic speaking to pilgrims at the Pope John Paul II Orphanage

If you have been following my blog, then you certainly have become familiar with Medjugorje and the main core messages given to us by Our Lady of her "Little Stones." In addition to these, Our Lady has given us many other messages as well, and today's post focusses on one of those messages, "...[T]hat we wear something blessed on us." 

This is Our Lady's recommendation that Vicka—the oldest of the visionaries who continues to receive daily apparitions and whose prayer mission is to pray for the sick—has revealed to us, one that personally resonates with me in a big way. I hope that by the end of your reading of today's post, it will be likewise for you.

Vicka currently lives in Bosnia-Herzegovina in a small village, Gradac, which is only a few kilometers north of Medjugorje. Vicka provides talks to hundreds of pilgrims at the Pope John Paul II Orphanage in Medjugorje.

Our Lady's message of "wearing something blessed" is of great significance for us on our earthly pilgrimage because it specifically deals with how we can better protect ourselves against Satan. Our Lady has communicated to Vicka that Satan works very hard to disturb our prayers and take away our peace. To remedy this, Our Lady has told Vicka that the strongest weapon in our hands against Satan is the Rosary. In addition, Our Lady recommends that we wear something blessed, "Dear Children! Today I call you to place more blessed objects in your homes and that everyone put some blessed objects on their person. Bless all the objects and thus Satan will attack you less because you will have armour against him." (July 18, 1985) 

You might be clear as to what blessed objects to add to your home—a statue of Our Lady, an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a crucifix—but not very clear about what to place on your body; that is, what medal or object would properly comply with Our Lady's recommendation. Although there are many approved objects and medals that one could choose from, long established in the Church, I would respectfully recommend three in particular: the Miraculous Medal, the Brown Scapular, and the Saint Benedict Medal. Anyone one of these objects will suffice and if you so choose to, you could wear all three!

Miraculous Medal

Two images of the Miraculous Medal, back and front.
Miraculous Medal
The Miraculous Medal was designed by the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our Lady commissioned the design in 1830, as a mission to Saint Catherine Labouré; a novice in the community of the Daughters of Charity in Paris.

Saint Catherine was specifically told by Our Lady, “Have a medal struck upon this model. Those who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it around the neck.”

The specific meaning of each side of the medal has been referenced from the Association of The Miraculous Medal; a Vincentian Community in Missouri that generously offers a free Miraculous Medal to visitors at their site

  • Front: Our Lady is standing on a globe, as Queen of Heaven and Earth, crushing the head of a serpent beneath her feet. The crushing of the serpent is to proclaim that Satan and all his followers are helpless before Her (Gn 3:15). The year 1830, marks the year of the medal's commission to Saint Catherine. The reference to Mary conceived without sin supports the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. 
  • Back: There are twelve stars, one for each Apostle, who represent the entire Church as it surrounds Mary. The cross symbolizes Christ Our Redeemer and our redemption; the bar under the cross is a sign of the earth. The “M” stands for Mary, which illustrates Mary’s close involvement with Jesus and Her mission in the world. The two hearts represent the love of Jesus and that of Mary.

For further reading on the Miraculous Medal, I would also recommend Father Robert J. Billett's article, St. Catherine Labouré and the Miraculous MedalIf you do decide to obtain a Miraculous Medal, you will need to make an appointment with a priest for its investiture: a special blessing. 

Brown Scapular

An image of the Brown Scapular.
Brown Scapular
The Brown Scapular is the physical object worn by many Catholics as part of the Brown Scapular Devotion; a universally established devotion in the Church since the seventeenth century and is considered together with the Rosary, a customary Marian devotional practice.

The scapular that you see from the image associated with this post derives from a garment worn by religious—those who have consecrated themselves to God and live as members of various Orders of the Church—would wear over their shoulders, that would extend to the front and back.

From the Brown Scapular Devotion, there are two main aspects that one should come to know and understand: the Scapular Promise and the Sabbatine Privilege:

  • Scapular Promise: Wearing the Brown Scapular is a physical confirmation in one's confidence in the intercession of Our Lady to obtain for those who wear it, the grace of final perseverance or a "happy death." The two general conditions necessary to obtain this benefit are: first, one must honour Mary by wearing the Scapular faithfully until death and two, endeavour to sincerely lead a Catholic life. The revelation of this promise was made by Our Lady to Saint Simon Stock, Prior General of the Carmelites (1247-1265), during which She stated that all who wear the Scapular will not suffer the eternal flames of Hell. This assurance by Our Lady has become known as the Scapular Promise
  • Sabbatine Privilege: Our Lady's aid may be confidently expected in Purgatory for those who have worn the Scapular and fulfilled two other conditions: the first, the practice of chastity according to one's state of life and two, the daily recitation of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin. The second condition, praying the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin can be commuted; that is, substituted with other prayers, typically five decades of the Rosary or some other pious practice such as fasting. This commute must be given by a Catholic priest. A similar commute can be given to substitute the abstinence of meat on Wednesday and Fridays; an original form of penance associated with this devotion and forms part of living a Catholic life together with prayer. The specific aid that one can be assured of from Mary is that after death, upon the first Saturday, one will be released from Purgatory. This release from Purgatory on the first Saturday is referred to as, the Sabbatine Privilege.

An essential aspect of the Brown Scapular Devotion is to obtain the Blessing and Enrolment. This can be obtained within a group setting or an individual one. For individual purposes, there is the option of a short form of investiture, whereby a priest or deacon recites a Marian prayer, such as the Hail Mary, Memorare or Salve Regina, while placing the scapular over the head of the individual who intends to wear it. Once completed, the individual is invested. It does not matter whether you choose to invest within a group setting or on an individual basis, just so long as you are invested. In so doing, you properly receive the Brown Scapular and begin your devotion following Jesus in a closer manner, in the example of Mary, Our Mother.

Saint Benedict Medal

An image showing the front and back of the Saint Benedict Medal.
St. Benedict Medal (Jubilee Medal of 1880)
Saint Benedict, who lived from 480 to 547, is one of the greatest saints in the Catholic Church; a saint whose deep faith in the Cross had performed many miracles.

Saint Benedict's faith and devotion to the Cross was passed on to succeeding generations of Benedictines, who received this special gift and made it available to the universal Catholic Church through the creation of the Saint Benedict Medal.

The medal that we have today was designed and created in 1880, under the supervision of the monks at Monte Cassino, Italy to mark the 1400 anniversary of the birth of Saint Benedict.

Prior to this time, other medals were created, but not as complete and thoroughly designed as the most current one, referred to as the "Jubilee Medal." The medal of Saint Benedict is one of the Sacramentals of the Church, whose value and power must always be attributed to: the merits of Christ; to the efficacious prayers of Saint Benedict; to the blessing of the Church; and to the faith and disposition of the person wearing the medal.

The spiritual benefits for those that wear Saint Benedict Medal are many and not limited to the following:

  • It wards off from both the soul and the body all dangers arising from the devil
  • The medal is powerful in obtaining for sinners the grace of conversion
  • It obtains protection and aid for persons tormented by the evil spirit, and in temptations against holy purity
  • It procures assistance in the hour of death
  • It has often proved an efficacious remedy for bodily sufferings, and a means of protection against contagious diseases
  • Expectant mothers have obtained special assistance for a safe delivery
  • In time of storms, tempests and other dangers on land and sea it has been found to be a protection

Being the sacramental that it is, the Saint Benedict Medal has been long been regarded as an efficacious instrument to protect all who wear it from demonic attacks and obtaining many special graces. This medal can be worn around your neck, attached to a Scapular or Rosary, as part of a devotional bracelet, or carried somewhere else on you.

Before you actually use this medal, you first must obtain an Approved Blessing from a priest or deacon.

Below are the design details of the Saint Benedict Medal:

Front Side of Saint Benedict Medal
  • An image of Saint Benedict, with a cross in his right hand and the Rule For Monasteries in his left
  • To the right of Saint Benedict on a pedestal is a poisoned cup, shattered when he made a sign of the cross over it. To the left, a raven on a pedestal carrying a loaf of poisoned bread sent by a jealous enemy to Saint Benedict
  • Above the cup are the Latin words, "Crus s. patris Benedicti" (The Cross of Our Holy Father Benedict)
  • On the margin encircling the figure of Saint Benedict are the Latin words, "Eius in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur" (May we be strengthened by his presence in the hour of our death)
  • Below Saint Benedict's feet we read, "SM Casino MDCCCLXXX" (From Holy Monte Cassino, 1880)

Back Side of Saint Benedict Medal
  • The Latin word, "Pax" at the top which means "Peace"
  • The cross image is dominant with the Latin inscriptions on the arms, "Crux sacra sit mihi lux! Nunquam draco sit mihi dux!" (May the holy cross always be my light! May the dragon never be my guide!)
  • In the angles of the cross, the letters "CSPB," which stands for "Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti" (The cross of our holy father Benedict)
  • Around the margin are the letters, "VRSNSMV-SMQLIVB," which is a Latin prayer of exorcism against Satan, "Vade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana! Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas!" (Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!)

May Our Lady Queen of Peace, inspire and guide you in your selection.