What is the purpose of life? From Conan the Barbarian to Conan O’Brien, this question has been answered in many different ways. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph number 1, answers it in this way, “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, and to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Saviour. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.”
Through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and through the Body of Christ, the Church, God has given us the means to draw close to Him and share in His life. Those means, those tools, are the sacraments, prayer, the devotions of the Church, the lives of the saints, and the Sacred Bible and Sacred Tradition as taught in the Magisterium of the Church. Through them God forgives our sins, renews the life of grace within us, and enables us to grow in virtue, even heroic virtue. Remember that there is no standing still in the spiritual life; you are either moving forward or falling back.
Prayer, even daily prayer, is absolutely essential to the spiritual life. Prayer is basically conversation with God. When we talk with our family and friends and share our lives with them, we come to know them better and love them more. When we pray we come to know God better and to love Him more. In prayer we meditate on the life of Christ, the nature of God, and the mysteries of the faith. God speaks to us through these mysteries, revealing Himself to us throughout the course of our lives. In the silence of prayer we come to know ourselves better as well, because God shines a light on our souls that reveals us to ourselves. We are able to see how God has made us in His image and likeness, and how we have distorted that image through sin. Then, in prayer, God gives us the grace to face our faults, to overcome our sins, and to grow in virtue.
Prayer naturally leads to sorrow for our sins and a desire to amend our lives, and so God has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation to receive forgiveness and the grace to fight temptation. In Confession we admit to our sins before God, and God’s minister, the priest, receive penance to begin making up for our sins, and are absolved of our sins. Having the knowledge of our failures without the possibility of forgiveness would be a kind of despair, but God desires to draw us out of our sins, free us from them, and restore us to the life of grace. People often say that they don’t go to Confession because they confess directly to God. Confessing directly to God is a good thing, and every Christian should do it, but Christ Himself gave the Apostles the ability to forgive sins (Jn 20:22-23) and James instructs Christians to call on priests to have their sins forgiven (Jm 5:14-15).
The Sacrament of Reconciliation has a close connection with the Most Holy Eucharist and the Holy Mass. Through Reconciliation we are made ready to approach the Lord in the Eucharist and to receive Him in Holy Communion. The Holy Mass is the representation of the one sacrifice of Christ. The Body and Blood of Christ are offered to the Lord, are consecrated by the power of the Holy Spirit, and are lifted up to Him. We unite ourselves to that sacrifice by receiving it in Holy Communion, just as the ancient Israelites united themselves to the sacrifices of the altar by eating the sacrificial lamb. All grace flows through the Cross of Christ, and there’s enough grace in receiving the Eucharist one time to make us a saint, if only we believe and surrender ourselves to the Lord.
As I approach my last week here at Our Lady of Lourdes, I would like all of you to know that I loved my time here, that I will remember this community and the welcome I received here, and that I love all of you. I will pray for you, and I ask you to pray for me, and pray for your incoming pastor. Inoculate your families against the poison of worldliness by holding fast to our ancient traditions, keeping the faith, and growing daily in the love of Christ through prayer, Reconciliation, and the Most Holy Eucharist.
Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you. – Matthew 5:11-12
The final beatitude is for those who are persecuted for the sake of Christ, which is the summit of all blessings in this life. At the canonization of the Martyrs of Uganda, Pope St. Paul VI said, “Who could have predicted to the famous African confessors and martyrs such as Cyprian, Felicity, Perpetua and — the greatest of all — Augustine, that we would one day add names so dear to us as Charles Lwanga and Matthias Mulumba Kalemba and their 20 companions? Nor must we forget those members of the Anglican Church who also died for the name of Christ. These African martyrs herald the dawn of a new age. If only the mind of man might be directed toward persecutions and religious conflicts but toward a rebirth of Christianity and civilization! Africa has been washed by the blood of these latest martyrs, the first of this new age (and, God willing, let them be the last, although such a holocaust is precious indeed).” The Holy Father sets the Catholic attitude towards persecution and martyrdom by praying that persecutions might end while, at the same time, seeing them as a gift from God for the life of the Church.
We are blessed when we are persecuted for the sake of Christ, but only when we are reviled falsely. It may be that the accusations against us are true, or that we’re persecuted for some other reason and not for the sake of Christ. This blessing is reserved for those who are accused, reviled, and persecuted falsely for faith in Christ. Members of the Church are falsely accused of many horrible things, including being spies or traitors because of our allegiance to the pope. The term papist (from papacy) was originally an anti-Catholic slur (one that we can proudly make our own).
To those who are being persecuted St. Gregory the Great says, “What hurt can you receive when men detract from you, though you have no defense but only your own conscience? But as we ought not to stir up willfully the tongues of slanderers, left they perish for their slander, yet when their own malice has instigated them, we should endure it with equanimity, that our merit may be added to.” First, remember that insults, persecution, and even physical violence cannot hurt your soul, nor rob you of the grace God, nor deprive you of salvation. Only you can do those things to yourself. Second, be concerned for you persecutor and pray for them, because their sins do hurt their own souls and their hope of salvation. Finally, endure it with patience. Try not to complain or to give in to it. When St. Therese of Lisieux gave in under extreme torture, she retracted it as soon as she returned to her right mind. St. Gregory adds, “Yet ought we sometimes to check our defamers, lest by spreading evil reports of us, they corrupt the innocent hearts of those who might hear good from us.”
About the blessing awaiting those who are persecuted, St. Augustine said, “Do not suppose that by heaven here is meant the upper regions of the sky of this visible world, for your reward is not to be placed in things that are seen, but by ‘in heaven’ understand the spiritual firmament, where everlasting righteousness dwells. Those then whose joy is in things spiritual will even here have some foretaste of that reward; but it will be made perfect in every part when this mortal shall have put on immortality.”
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:10
Now, we’re getting to the end of the Beatitudes, and the last two beatitudes are on persecution. First, those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, or righteousness, and then those who are persecuted for Jesus’ sake. Persecution can take many forms, from being socially excluded to being tortured or killed. However, we shouldn’t take pride in our persecution or brag about being persecuted more than someone else, as if that makes us better than them. Rather, we should persevere in doing the good and speaking the truth regardless of any persecution that comes. The blessings of God are greater than any persecution.
St. Jerome wrote, “For righteousness’ sake He adds expressly, for many suffer persecution for their sins, and are not therefore righteous.” We are not blessed simply because we are persecuted. We may deserve what happens to us, in which case it is just punishment, or we may have brought it upon ourselves by our own actions. A Catholic apologist, Trent Horn, often says that people shouldn’t get upset because of the way that we present the faith, but because of the content of the faith. In other words, if I present the faith in a rude or insulting way, then I shouldn’t be surprised when people don’t want to listen to me. However, if I’ve presented the faith charitably and clearly, and people still get upset, then I have at least done the best that I can. The way in which we speak the truth and pursue the good matters. Doing in good thing in the wrong way or for the wrong reason can still be a sin.
St. John Chrysostom said, “Blessed are they who suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake, that is for virtue, for defending others, for piety, for all these things spoken of under the title of righteousness. This follows the beatitude upon the peacemakers, that we may not be led to suppose that it is good to seek peace at all times.” The Lord blesses those who are persecuted for seeking any good thing, not just for the faith, because all good things come from God. This beatitude includes anyone who is persecuted for trying to live a virtuous life, for defending the innocent, for promoting the truth, for doing good. Remember that the Lord said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” and “God alone is good.” Everyone who seeks goodness and truth is, in some way, seeking God, because all truth and goodness come from God and lead back to Him. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 1260, says, “Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.” Those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel can still be saved by genuinely seeking the truth and living it through the grace of God.
How should we react to persecution? St. Paul said, “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them” (Rm 12:14), and the Lord said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44). It is very difficult to pray for our persecutors and those who have harmed us. First, pray for yourself, that you will be able to forgive them and that you won’t wish harm to come to anyone. Then, pray for them, that they will repent and come to conversion. Praying for someone doesn’t mean we have to accept their actions; it means we love them anyway, just as the Lord loves us even though we continue to sin against Him. Remember that forgiveness is not feeling good about someone or forgetting what they did. Forgiveness means loving them anyway and acting for their good.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God. – Matthew 5:9
Once again, this beatitude is related to the ones that come before it, because purity, mercy, and justice all promote peace. Peace is what you experience when everything is in proper order. You have peace within yourself when your mind and soul in properly ordered. There is peace between people when their relationship is properly ordered. Peacemakers, therefore, are people who work to bring about his order. We know that we will not achieve that perfect peace in this life, either within ourselves or in the world, because sin damages or destroys peace, but we can, and should, work towards it. So, how can we be peacemakers?
As St. Jerome said, “The peacemakers are pronounced blessed, they namely who make peace first within their own hearts, then between brethren at variance. For what avails it to make peace between others, while in your own heart are wars of rebellious vices.” Entire libraries worth of books have been written about the interior life and how we can have peace in our hearts, but there is one thing that is absolutely necessary. In the Gospel of Luke (10:38-42), the Lord goes to visit Martha and Mary, and Mary sits at the Lord’s feet listening to Him, while Martha “was continually busying herself with serving,” so Martha asks the Lord to tell Mary to help her. What Martha is doing, serving her guests and being hospitable, is good, but Mary has “chosen the better part.” The Lord says that “only one thing is necessary,” and that is prayer, or listening to the Lord. We must practice silence. Find a quiet place with few, or no, distractions, silence your phone, turn off the tv, get away from people, and clear your mind of every concern. Focus your attention on the Lord by reading the Bible, thinking about the mysteries of God, such as the birth of Jesus, His teachings, or His Passion and Resurrection, or looking at a sacred image. This will allow you to take a step back from your life and see things from God’s perspective. This is the unum necessarium, the one thing necessary, to take some time each day to silence yourself and listen to the Lord.
A quote from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea says, “The peacemakers with others are not only those who reconcile enemies, but those who unmindful of wrongs cultivate peace.” We can promote peace with others by reconciling enemies and by forgiving others. How many friends and family members are separated from one another by petty grievances and long-forgotten arguments. We often demand that the other person be the one to come to us, to ask us for forgiveness, but are we willing to humble ourselves, admit to the part of the blame that we share, and take the first step towards reconciliation? We can’t force someone to reconcile with us, but we can at least do our part.
How can we bring peace to those who are at war, by which I mean those who are actively trying to hurt one another? Think of the example of St. Elizabeth of Portugal, Queen of Portugal. She prepared unceasingly for the king and her family. When her son, Prince Affonso, rebelled against King Diniz, St. Elizabeth rode out onto the battlefield between the two armies and reconciled father and son, ending the war. After the King died, she gave her property to the poor, became a Franciscan, and moved to the monastery of Poor Clares at Coimbra. When her son, King Affonso IV, went to war with the King of Castile to punish him for being a negligent and abusive husband to King Affonso’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth once again rode onto the battlefield to reconcile her family and prevent bloodshed. That is why St. Elizabeth of Portugal is the patron saint of peace to be invoked particularly in time of war.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.