The year of the Lord 1917 was perhaps one of the most consequential years in human history, and the events of this year have affected the history of the world ever since. The so-called “Great War,” World War I, was in its third year and had already costs millions of lives (by the end costing about 16 million dead and another 24 million wounded). The United States had entered the war early in April of 1917 in response to Germany’s practice of unrestricted submarine warfare, which lead to the death of American civilians. Austria, under the newly corronated Emperor Charles, was trying to reach a peace agreement with the Entente powers through secret negotiations. All of the countries involved in the war were approaching the breaking point.
Russia reached the breaking point first. Czar Nicholas II had releaved Grand Duke Nicholas of command of the army and gone to the front to take command personally. Unforturnately, the government left behind were as ineffective as they were incompetent. In March food shortages in Petrograd and Moscow lead to riots. The first shots were fired in Petrograd as soldiers were ordered in to disperse the crowds, but the soldiers were starving, too, and they didn’t want to fire on civillians who just wanted food. More and more soldiers and even entire units went over to the rioters side, which soon became a revolution. Within days the Czarist governement fell, Czar Nicholas abdicated, and the struggle for the fate of Russia commenced. Almost no one was fighting to keep the old emperial system. Some wanted to form a new, representative government as a democratic or republican model. Others, like the socialists and Marxists, wanted to go further. In the midst of it all, three key figures leapt into the fight: from New York City, Leon Trotsky boarded a ship for Russia, from Siberia, Joseph Stalin returned from political exile, and in Zurich, where he’d been planning for revolution for years, Vladimir Lenin realized this was the opportunity to put his plans into action.
World War I began because of grudges and national hatreds both ancient and recent. People in every country wanted peace, and nearly everyone wanted the war to end, but no one could stand the thought of giving in and letting the horific sacrifices and suffering of three years of war be for nothing, but they would be for nothing. There were no true victors in the Great War; there were those who lost, and those who lost more. Nearly everyone person, every family in Europe lost someone in the war. Their culture and civilizations were torn apart, and it would all start over in just a few decades. Meanwhile, the revolution in Russia would lead to the rise of the Soviet Union, a dark cloud settling over every nation under its influence, and decades of Cold War.
While it is true that Satan never tires of feeding the fires of hatred, it’s also true that the Lord never abandons His people. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Where sin abounded, grace did more abound.” Pope Benedict XV called for an end to the war and death. Since appeals to the leaders and kings of Europe had failed, he launched a prayer campaign in Holy Week of 1915, saying, “Thou Who didst shed Thy Precious Blood that they might live as brothers, bring men together once more in loving harmony. And as once before the cry of the Apostle Peter: Save us, Lord, we perish, Thou didst answer with words of mercy and didst still the raging waves, so now deign to hear our trustful prayer, and give back to the world peace and tranquility. And do thou, O most holy Virgin, as in other times of sore distress, be noew our help, our protection and our safeguard.” Then, on May 5, of 1917, he directed the Christian world to pray for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, writing, “To Mary, then, who is the Mother of Mercy and omnipotent by grace, let loving and decout appeal go up from every corner of earth... Let it bear to her the anguished cry of mothers and wives, the wailing of innocent little ones, the sighs of every generous heart: that her most tender and benign dolicitude may be moved and the peace we ask for be obtained for our agitated world.” 8 days later, on the 13thof May, 1917, as war and revolution raged on, in a field outside the little town of Fatima, Portugal, to three children, Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco, she came herself, the Queen of Peace, to deliver a message of peace.
Hans Christian Andersen lived from 1805 to 1875, and he left the world 156 stories. His fairy tales are a wealth of storytelling that are still inspiring people today. It’s no coincidence that so many of the most popular children’s movies and shows are based on his work, like “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “Thumbelina.” In the last few decades we’ve seen a lot of shows that are dark, gritty, and morally ambiguous. It can be good to remember that life sometimes presents us with difficult situation where it’s difficult to know right from wrong, and that even good people are tempted to sin and sometimes fall. However, we have to remember that there’s a golden ideal to aspire to. Andersen’s fairy tales don’t shy away from the reality of sin, but he uses it to highlight everything that is true, good, and beautiful. He reminds us to put the most important things first and not to compromise our principles.
These stories are good for children, because they show us the higher ideals. They present the beauty of virtue and the baseness of sin and vice by holding both of them up to the light and revealing their true nature. They show that virtue is worth working and sacrificing for. They do it by presenting a stark contrast. They show that virtue doesn’t depend on how you were born but on how you live, like in “Children’s Prattle.” They express the teaching of the Bible that we must become like little children to inherit the kingdom of heaven, as in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Old House.” They illustrate the Lord’s question, “For how does it benefit a man, if he gains the whole world, and yet causes harm to his soul,” and the parables of the pearl of great price, in stories like “The Swineherd” and “The Goblin and the Huckster.”
They’re also good for adults, even if you’ve already read them as children. We often get caught up in the details of life and our adult responsibilities. We learn to “go along to get along,” and we learn that life is full of compromise. There are things in life that are urgent and things that are important, and they aren’t always the same things. Urgent things need to be taken care of because they’re on a deadline. Important things are concerned with higher things, the things that make life worth living, like God, family, love, and joy. Some things aren’t important or urgent, and those can be safely ignored. Some things are both important and urgent, like a sick family member or friend, and those are easy to place at the top of our list. The difficult choice is when something is urgent but not important, like paying our bills, or important but not urgent, like prayer. We often let the urgent things distract us from the important things, because the urgent things get worse if we ignore them. Hans Christian Andersen can teach us that ignoring the important things can have consequences as well, so we need to make time every day to give some of our attention to God, in prayer, to family, in conversation, and to putting first things first. One of the ways you can do that is by taking the time to read some old stories with your children or grandchildren.
Two weeks ago I made the point that art informs the way we think about the world, it forms our imaginations, and it influences our lives in a powerful way. That’s why it’s so important that we make sure only the best works of art, that truly reflects what is true, good, and beautiful. If it’s important for adults, then it’s even more important for children, because the movies, tv, music, and books that we take in as children influences us for the rest of our lives. When I was a kid, my mom struggled to get me to read. Instead of trying to force me, she tried to find something that I would get excited about. What finally caught on were a series of abridged classics that we would read together. She would read a chapter out loud, and then I would. This gave me a love for reading good literature, and I would go on to read the full and complete versions of many of those classic novels. The interesting thing is that reading those classics to me influenced my mom to read more classic novels, too.
One of the classics of children’s literature is C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Lewis was a convert to Christianity through the influence of other Christian and Catholic writers, like G. K. Chesterton and J. R. R. Tolkien. He didn’t become Catholic, but he did become a very effective defender of Christianity with books like Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters.
The seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia series, of which The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the first, are explicitly Christian books that try to illustrate the truths of the faith through stories. The lion, Aslan, is the Christ figure. He has gone to other lands, but is prophesied to return one day to drive off the enemy, the witch, and restore the Kingdom. The story is told through the eyes of four children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. They live in World War II era England during the bombings of London, and are sent out to the country for their safety. They find an old wardrobe through which they enter the mythical land of Narnia.
If you’ve never read these books (and watching the movies doesn’t count) then you definitely should, no matter what age you are. If you’re a parent or grandparent, then you should get these books for your children or grandchildren and read it with them. Don’t just give it to them to read, read it with them. That’s a way of showing that this is something special, something different, and that we should pay extra attention to it. It’s best to form a Christian imagination and outlook on life when we’re children, so that we begin to think about life from a Christian perspective. However, as C. S. Lewis shows us, it’s never too late to start forming our Christian imagination.
A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist by Abbot Vonier
Since it’s the year of the Eucharist here in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, I’ve been rereading a book that we were assigned in seminary when we studied the theology of the Eucharist, A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist by Dom Anscar Vonier, published in 1925. He was a Benedictine monk, and latter abbot, at the Monastery of St. Mary at Buckfast in Devon, England. In the book, Abbot Vonier sets out to answer a question about the faith, salvation, and grace, and in the process writes one of the very few great spiritual classics that were originally written in the English language. That question is, in his own words:
“Catholic doctrine says that Christ’s sacrifice, besides being an atonement, was also a salvation,--in other words, a buying back into spiritual liberty of the human race which had become a slave of Evil. But even this aspect of Christ’s divine act, though a perfectly human aspect, is still a universal aspect; salvation is primarily for mankind as a species; the entry of the individual into the redemptive plan remains still to be effected. How am I to be linked up effectively with that great mystery of Christ’s death? When shall I know that Christ is not only Redeemer, but also my Redeemer?”
He starts off by looking more closely at faith itself, then focuses in on the sacraments for several chapters, and dives in to the mystery of the Eucharist itself, speaking of the Mass, the Cross, Transubstantiation, the “Eucharistic Banquet,” and more. This is not a work for beginners, or for those who want a book that you can read through quickly one time and get the idea. This book requires slow reading, re-reading of difficult passages, pondering the depth of the Mystery of Faith, and an investment of time and attention. It is well worth the investment.
Abbot Vonier gives the beginning of his answer to that question later in the very first chapter, and then he proceeds to expand upon that answer. So, how are we effectively linked up with the mystery of Christ’s death? As Abbot Vonier writes, “The sacraments are essentially sacraments of the faith, sacramenta fidei, as St. Thomas invariably calls them; both faith and sacraments have that power of divine instrumentality which will open to man the treasure-house of Christ’s redemption.”
I recently watched the 1988 movie Bernadette on Formed.org, and I highly recommend it. I’d never heard of this version before I saw it on Formed, which isn’t surprising because it had very limited distribution in the US, but apparently this is the telling of the story of Our Lady of Lourdes that is actually shown at the shrine at Lourdes, France (the French version, anyway).
As our parish is dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Bernadette and her visions of the Blessed Mother are very important for our parish. Our Lady entrusted the message of God’s mercy and love to St. Bernadette, and that message has continued to reach new generations through the shrine at Lourdes, France, and the miraculous healings, both physical and spiritual, which take place there.
The movie appears to be very historically accurate, as far as I can tell, and the few reviews that I’ve checked agree. The director, Jean Delannoy, takes the story very seriously and begins with a promise that everything in the movie is based on the historical record and nothing is added to it. My one small complaint is that some scenes are a bit overly dramatic for my taste. It takes the teachings of the Church and Catholic spirituality very seriously and presents a Catholic family and community that that would be at home in the Church today, even though these events happened over 160 years ago.
The actors and actresses do a very good job. The portrayal of the two parish priests was very good, even down to their conversations with each other. They really sounded and acted like priests. The child actors and actresses were very good, as were St. Bernadette’s parents, but the actress who played Bernadette herself, Sydney Penny, stole the show. It’s not easy to portray a saint, especially a child saint, and show the genuine holiness of the saint while also showing that they’re a real person that any of us could know.
Remember that Our Lady of Lourdes Church has our own subscription to Formed.org, and it’s free for any parishioner to use. We pay for the subscription out of our Religious Education Fund, which is reserved to be used only for Religious Education for kids and adults. If you want to help pay for our subscription you can do it through our online giving on our website or by putting “Rel Ed” in the memo area of a check. It can be accessed on your computer, smartphone, or tablet, or on a smart TV, Roku, or Firestick. Just download that app for your device and follow the directions below. Once you’re logged in, just search for “Bernadette.”
To Sign-up for Formed.org
The novena is an ancient Catholic tradition of prayer by which we dedicate nine days (either consecutively or the same day of nine weeks or months) to prayer. A novena can be prayed either for the living or the dead. There are novenas of mourning, or preparation, and of petition. There are novenas directly to the Lord and novenas through the intercession of the Blessed Mother and the angels and saints. Some novenas have a special place in Catholic devotion, such as the Novena of Masses offered on the death of the Holy Father for the repose of his soul and the novenas in preparation for Christmas, Pentecost, and Divine Mercy Sunday. However, there are hundreds of other novenas for dealing with different things in life or through many different saints.
The main Biblical reference for novenas comes from our Lord and the apostles. After His Passion and Resurrection, the Lord Ascended to heaven on the 40th day. The Gospel of Luke records that He told the apostles to stay in Jerusalem until they receive “the Promise of my Father” and are “clothed with power from on high” (Lk. 24:49). St. Luke also wrote, “And when the days of Pentecost were completed, they were all together in the same place. And suddenly, there came a sound from heaven, like that of a wind approaching violently, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them separate tongues, as if of fire, which settled upon each of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:1-4). There are 9 days in between the Ascension and Pentecost, and on the 10thday, Pentecost, they received the Holy Spirit. Whatever else we’re praying for, in every novena and in every prayer we’re asking the Lord to send us the same Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to pray novenas, even if most of them are fairly short. The biggest challenge I have with praying novenas is actually remembering to pray it every day for nine days. I almost always forget to pray the novena prayers at least one day. Sometimes I’ll get discouraged and quit and sometimes I’ll go on to finish the novena, but if I’m trying to finish by a certain date it can be really annoying. That’s where this app comes in. It has the prayers for hundreds of different novenas, and you can set it to automatically remind you at whatever time you want every day by setting a notification on your phone or tablet. It’s available for both iOS and Android devices, and it’s free, although there is a way to donate to the developer. You can get the app by searching for “Pray Catholic Novenas” in the App store or visiting www.catholicnovenaapp.com.
Novenas, because they’re short, are great for families to pray together, and it gives you a reason to get the family together. You can do the novena prayer before a meal every day for nine days or for nine Sundays in a row (if you have a family dinner on Sunday or some other day).
The Rosary Novena begins Monday, September 28, in preparation for the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on Wednesday, October 6. You do the novena simply by praying the Rosary for those nine days. I’ll offer this novena and I invite all of you to offer it with me. If you want to do this with your family but don’t have time for the whole Rosary, pray one decade of the Rosary each day. We’ll offer it for those in our families who are most in need of the graces.
Lectio: Mary with Dr. Brant Pitre on Formed.org
Throughout my eight years in seminary I had a number of classes on the Sacred Scriptures taught by different professors. Most of these professors certainly knew their subject and knew the Bible, but they way they presented the information seemed to suck all of the life out of it. They mainly focused on the facts and on the intentions of the human authors of the Bible, sometimes to the point of neglecting the fact that God is the primary author of the Bible and there is also a spiritual meaning to every passage of Scripture. As St. Augustine put it, “In every page of these Scriptures, while I pursue my search as a son of Adam in the sweat of my brow, Christ either openly or covertly meets and refreshes me” (Contra Faustum 12.27). That is, since the entire Bible is the Word of God, Jesus Christ is present in the entire Bible, not just the New Testament.
At Notre Dame Seminary I had one class with Dr. Brant Pitre, Pentateuch. If you’ve read any of his books or listened to any of his talks, then you know that Dr. Pitre loves to show the unity of the Bible by showing how to read the Old Testament in light of the New and how the New Testament opens up the Old. That is exactly what you’ll get in the Lectio Bible Study on the Blessed Virgin Mary that Dr. Pitre did for Formed.org. In this Bible study Dr. Pitre talks about Mary as the New Eve, the New Ark, the Mother of the Messiah, the Queen Mother, the Perpetual Virgin, the Mother of Sorrows, and the New Rachel. In each 30-40 minute talk he shows the continuity of the Old and New Testaments and how the Church’s teaching on Mary is foreshadowed in the Old Testament, fleshed out in the New Testament, and present in the ancient Tradition of the Church.
If you’ve had trouble answering questions from non-Catholics about the Church’s teachings on the Mother of God, or if you simply want to dig into the Scriptural roots of those teachings, then you need to watch this series. It can be found on Formed.org, in the Bible Studies section. If you are a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, then you can use our subscription for free.
To Sign-up for Formed.org
1. Go to the Formed.org website or download the app.
2. Click Sign Up.
3. Click “I Belong to a Parish or Organization.”
4. Put in the Zip Code of Church: 70092
5. Put in your email address.
Every once in a while I like to recommend a book, website, app, or movie, because there’s so much out there now that it can be hard to separate the good from the bad. Today, I want to recommend that you look at the works of Dr. Peter Kreeft. He’s a professor of philosophy at Boston College, has published 95 books, and has given many talks, speeches, and lectures on philosophy, theology, and Catholic spirituality.
I first encountered Dr. Kreeft when he book, The Summa of the Summa, was assigned in one of my classes in seminary. That’s probably his most well-known book, but he’s also written, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Christianity for Modern Pagans, Fundamentals of the Faith, and Forty Reasons I am a Catholic. His books are good, but I really want to recommend his website, which has sections on Featured Writing and Featured Audio, including payed and free recordings of talks that he’s given at various conferences and events.
Most of all, I want to recommend his talk on “Pro-Life Philosophy” in which he gives the philosophical case against abortion. It’s a very good talk which can help us to defend our pro-life position in a rational way against the arguments of the pro-choice movement. The talk is free on Dr. Kreeft’s website under Featured Audio – More.
Fr. Bryan Recommends
Signs of Life by Scott Hahn
Dr. Scott Hahn is a Bible scholar and convert from Protestantism who writes books and gives talks and conferences helping us to understand the Bible in a way that is accessible but not dumbed down. His talks and books, along with others like Dr. Brant Pitre, Dr. Michael Barber, and Dr. John Bergsma, have helped me to understand the God Word in the Holy Bible in a deeper way and, I hope, helped me to become a better preacher and teacher of the word of God.
I’ve recently started reading Signs of Life and I already know that I want to recommend it to you. In it Dr. Hahn covers 40 different Catholic customs, their roots in the Bible, how they can help us in our spiritual lives, and answers common questions and misconceptions. He covers things like holy water, the sacraments, the liturgical year, incense, relics, devotion to the saints, preparation for death, and more.
Everything we do in Church and in our spiritual lives has a meaning and a purpose, because it comes from God, and knowing the origin and meaning of them can make them more beneficial. For example, the Rosary is basically a very easy prayer but it’s also a very difficult prayer to pray well. If we just recite the prayers while thinking about what we need to do latter in the day, just so we can get it done, then it’s still does a little good, but not nearly as much as it could do. When we know that the Rosary is rooted in the Bible, is meant as a way to meditate on the life of Christ, and that it was developed as a way to teach people the truths of the faith, then we can get much more out of it. It becomes one of the most beneficial prayers in the Church and a powerful weapon against Satan. This book can help us to better understand things we do every day and give us more ways to grow in devotion to God.
The internet is one of the most revolutionizing inventions of the past 100 years. It’s like a mirror reflecting all that is good and bad about humanity back to us. It reflects back our desire to build communities through social media, our desire to learn through educational materials, and our creativity in countless ways. It also reflects our negative and unhealthy desires back to us as well, in the form of human trafficking, violence, and distorted forms of human sexuality. The pornography industry in the US makes between 6 and 15 billion dollars a year; for comparison, all of Hollywood makes about 11 billion dollars a year. In the past pornography was rare and difficult to get, but now it’s as easy as taking our smart phone out of our pocket.
Pornography addiction is an increasingly big issue, especially considering that most children have the first exposure to it between 8 and 11 years old. Exposure to these sorts of things leaves mental, emotional, and spiritual wounds. The Lord wants to heal these wounds in our hearts. He wants to free us from addictions and compulsions. He wants to bathe us in His grace and mercy.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans is offering you a resource to get information and help: CleanHeartNOLA.com. The website has information men and women struggling with pornography addiction or a spouse struggling with this issue. It also has suggestions for parents to get the tools they need to teach their children about these issues.
Know that you are not alone, and you don’t need to bear this burden alone. Whether you’re struggling with this yourself or a parent wondering how to talk to your children about it, you’re welcome to come see me in the Sacrament of Reconciliation or make an appointment for a more in depth conversation. In Psalm 51 we pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Ps 51:10). Let us all pray that the Lord me give us all clean hearts and renewed spirits, so that we may live in the presence of God.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.