Category Archives: Spiritual Life

The end times are indeed near at hand…

Corcovado jesus

Corcovado Jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

The end times are indeed near at hand. That is not to say that the “12/12/2012” Mayan prediction of the end of the world is true –it is not– or that the rapture approach is insightful. But if you really believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior then an acknowledgement of our living in the end times is the right way to live. The Scripture readings in these final weeks of the liturgical year, but especially this week, prepare the believer to face the fact of the final things, sometimes called the Four Last Things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. We can’t get away from these things. If we could, then there would be no need of a Messiah, of the Cross and Resurrection, the Eucharist, the sacraments, the Church, and a spiritual life; no need for salvation. If there is no probability of hell, then there is no need of salvation.

The subject of the Four Last Things was taken up by Pope John Paul II in the Wednesday Audiences in July and August of 1999. Look them up, they are worth a good review. By way of summary, let me draw attention to a few things the Pontiff said:
  • heaven “is not an abstraction nor a physical place amid the clouds, but a living and personal relationship with the Holy Trinity;
  • When this world has passed away, those who accepted God in their lives and were sincerely open to his love, at least at the moment of death, will enjoy that fullness of communion with God, which is the goal of human existence”;
  • the hell some will enjoy is not the result of God willing the death of the person but the result of the person not desiring the love and mercy God has offered, that he has freely given;
  • the Pope spoke of the danger of rigidly holding a literal interpretation of the Scriptural images of hell: for John Paul, and therefore us, “the inextinguishable fire” and “burning oven” in the biblical narrative points the hearer to “indicate the complete frustration and vacuity of a life without God”;
  • we know that hell exists; we don’t know the population of hell; Cf. Cardinal Avery Dulles’ famous First Things article, “The Population of Hell”; John Paul says that hell is not something that we can know but that real damnation “remains a possibility”;
  • On purgatory the Pope said, is the state of being “before we enter into God’s kingdom, every trace of sin within us must be eliminated, every imperfection in our soul must be corrected. This is exactly what takes place in purgatory”;
  • Purgatory is “the process of purification for those who die in the love of God but are not completely imbued with that love”; 
  • even though Christ holds His hand in friendship, that is, in love, the extension of our hand “does not exclude they duty to present ourselves pure and whole before God.”
  • Read the Catechism at paragraph 1861.
Perhaps tying all this together can be seen in Paul’s Letter to the Colossians where he says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you will appear with him in glory” (3:2-4) And in the collect for this week’s Mass: “Stir up the will of your faithful, we pray, O Lord, that, striving more eagerly to bring your divine work to fruitful completion, they may receive in greater measure the healing remedies your kindness bestows.”
What ought be my approach to the four last things today, and in the years to come? Well, if I truly believe that Jesus is real, then the nihilistic approach is not a winning one. If I believe what Jesus exhorted us to consider as genuine, “Do not be afraid” then fear (sinful activity) can’t rule my life. If I believe that God is always present, then I ought to receive the sacraments of Confession and frequently receive the medicine of Immortality –the Holy Eucharist– reminding myself that Jesus told us that he’d be with us to the end of the world. His presence is neither magic nor fiction, but a real presence that no other warm body can ever give. These are the things that our spiritual life needs to be fed with, these are the treasures given by the all-loving, all-powerful God.
One of the monks at New Skete Monastery (in New York) said the following at the Divine Liturgy:

So how can we honestly and proactively approach today’s feast, and this holiday season in a way that will get us past the public façade of wise-guy banter and beyond the disconnect between hard realities and sincere beliefs and honest ideals? How might we bravely allow our deeper humanity to shine forth in the midst of some extreme assaults on such things as tenderness, hope, and compassion?

Today’s readings, along with monastic wisdom and psychological insight suggest the following: Daily if not hourly slow down the frantic pace of our media interaction, verbosity, and endless tasks: daily if not hourly return to the temple of our own person and the holy and fertile ground of our interior life. Daily if not continually express appreciation for whatever someone does that makes my life richer today: Daily or at least once in a while do something simple but concrete and different, for the express purpose of nurturing the human spirit, within yourself, for someone else, and for the future.

In these days in the post Christ the King observance and before Advent, let’s pray for the grace to know ourselves more deeply so as to accept more fully “divine work” in our lives with the gift of discernment showing us the way to the Father.

Prayer at the Threat from Malevolent Winds and Sea Storm


An Orthodox friend of mine posted this prayer and icon in light of the weather storm Sandy coming our way, and I am reposting. State government predictions are sounding exaggerated right now, but one can really tell. In Connecticut, along the waterfront, it is predicted that four high tide cycles will be exceptional, and rough weather–high winds and rain– over 36-48 hours. In category four areas more than 362 thousand people expect some inconvenience. Let’s not tempt fate. In charity, let’s pray to the Divine Master, “A Prayer at the
Threat from Malevolent Winds and Sea Storms.”

Christ walking on water.jpg

O Master, Lord our God, Who by Thy
Consubstantial and Un-originate Word, and Thy Life-Giving Spirit Who is equal in
honor, hast brought all things out of nothingness into being; Who hast
established the sand as bounds to the sea, and weighed the mountains and the
valleys in a balance; Who hast measured the skies and holdest the water in the
palm of Thy hand; Who hast given to this visible world of the senses its laws
and rules, its harmony and order; Who hast appointed changes to the weather and
variations in the orbit of the sun; Who, through the mingling of the elements,
holdest all things together by Thine inexpressible power, and keepest them free
from harm and intact: Do Thou Thyself, O All-Good King, extending to us Thine
innate and customary love and goodness, visit the work of Thy hands. Do not
deprive us of Thy mercies and Thy compassion, and do not destroy Thine
inheritance, for Thou hast ineffably created us in Thine own image. 

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Goodness vs Greatness

Young man Memling.jpgToday’s gospel is the familiar narrative of the Rich Young Man: “go and sell follow me.” It is clear in Saint Mark’s rendering of the story that the young man is good. He does good things, he does what any respectable person would want to do; the young man asks the right questions; he follows what the tradition lays before him. So, the man actually is admirable according to the measure of this world. But the measure with which a person of faith judges is very different because it is a given, and not achieved. There is one that the young man’s not able to grasp: the greatness offered to him by God. He lacks the capacity to accept that it is not about the human will in attaining lasting happiness. As we know, it’s only the Infinite that suffices in answering the needs of the human heart. As the psalm indicates, filled with Love, we sing for joy. The eschatological hope we live in is one mercy’s face is more beautiful than any of the temporal riches we can conceive of. Jesus offers the young man the possibility of greatness and not mere goodness; the Lord shows him the path to eternal life, not just the best way to get through the city; God hands him holiness and not the safety of existence.

Our Lord offered the young man, and therefore us, the way to unity and deeper communion with him here, and in eternity — but the ultimate destiny for each of us is heaven. The young man’s response is understandable but not acceptable. Greatness, holiness, is a superior divine gift than being good. What do you want? What do you seek? How do you live?

God keeps us waiting because…


“Why does God, who is love, keep us waiting?
Because He is love, and seeks love. Love that does not know how to wait is not
love. To love is to give ourselves. No only for a fraction of a lifetime, nor
with a part of its strength: love is, and seeks, the total gift of self….
Delays in union [with God] are not time lost; far from it. God sees very far
ahead; He makes wonderful use of what we call evilof our wanderings, our
hesitations and detours
, although He does not love them or want them. It is at these
moments, above all, that we need confidence and perseverance. The prayer,
whether for ourselves or for others, that is not discouraged, which persists
and besieges Heaven, touches God’s heart; and that is why He tells us to
persevere.”


Dom Augustin Guillerand, O. Cart.
A French Carthusian monk (1877-1945) of the Charterhouse of La Valsainte, Switzerland

Christian living is a personal experience given by God

Recently I was reading some blog written by a Catholic extolling the virtues of a Melkite parish near to where she lives. Hurray! This woman found peace in the Byzantine East, and Melkite no less. What right-thinking Catholic would dismiss Eastern Christianity? All the things this blogger noted from icons, to incense, to singing the Liturgy, and the priest facing East are good and beautiful things; but the essential was missing from her comments. No mention of Jesus Christ and the personal encounter needed for the attainment of one’s Destiny. One can only say to her list of likes: so what!

The string of pearls this blogger noted are good and essential as they are constituent to an incarnational faith, that is, to our worship of the One Triune God. They are, however, meaningless if not backed by a familiarity with Scripture, an abiding love for the liturgical tradition of the Church, the clear, consistent teaching of the Church, the teachings of the Church fathers and mothers, a personal and ongoing conversion, and a humanity that is happy and making progress in working out salvation. Yet, let’s not confuse personal with private. Let me say it another way: an iconostasis doesn’t save – Jesus does; the icon of the Hospitality of Abraham doesn’t save – Jesus saves; the Trisagion doesn’t save, even if it’s a cool prayer – Jesus does. Unless there is a down-and-dirty conversion from sin to grace no piece of a religious aesthetic is meaningful or redemptive.

Remember that the Servant of God Pope Paul VI said: “the first fruit of the deepening consciousness of the Church itself is the renewed discovery of its vital relationship with Christ. A well-known thing, fundamental, essential, but never quite understood, meditated upon, celebrated enough.”

Yet, the icons, sacred music, gestures, prayers, and sweet smelling air, etc. do contribute to vitality of one’s spiritual itinerary. AND most of all, we need a renewed attention to the lex orandi tradition of the Church not just a moralist view that leads to individualism. “Church things” cultivate the beautiful aspects of Catholic living and thinking, they contribute to the process of conversion because they point to something deeper and more real than not. We are persons and not individuals who need to the beautiful, who need each other.

Today more than ever, following the indications “unto salvation’ of the saints and the angels, plus the authentic teachings and witness of church leaders like Pope Benedict, the Ukrainian Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Angelo Scola, Massimo Camisasca, Luigi Giussani, Julían Carrón, Enzo Biachi, Chaira Lubich, Sophia Cavelletti, Cristina Canetta and the like is critical for the flowering of the spiritual life. Some of these people are dead. But the point is that we are in desperate need of having a personal relationship with good men and women who point us in the right direction. These Christian leaders, through their writings and the communities they founded, are crucial because it’s only through the personal that we break out of our isolation and I dive into community, especially the community of faith. It is not easy for some to do this; all I ask is that you try. We know that the personal is respected and cherished.

The personal encounter with Jesus the Christ mediated through the Other is the logic of Christianity, indeed, that’s the point of today’s feast of the Guardian Angels: God so loves us that we have others to rely upon to help us on our way. The Guardian Angels help and support this encounter in the guided companionship we call the Church.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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