Category Archives: Spiritual Life

Charity is the only good reason to do anything

The Cistercian
monk, philosopher and theologian Isaac of Stella (1100-1169) was featured in
the Office of Readings today: Charity is the reason why anything should be done
or left undone.

Charity is the only good reason to do anything, but it also
sometimes demands that we not do something we might think we want to do. There
are a lot of fine distinctions one has to make in this area to live spiritually
in common life and ministry. For example:

  • We are called to support one another,
    but not to enable maladaptive behaviors, debilitating addictions, and sins. We
    must bear with the burdens of others, and be willing to wash feet, but we
    should not take responsibility for the feelings of others.
  • We must seek ways to
    invite both individuals and institutions to benefit from our strengths, and
    invite them into the success that derives from them,
    but–again–we should be
    careful not to take interior or exterior responsibility for situations that the
    Holy Spirit
    has not, or not yet, seen fit to put in our care.
  • Sometimes the
    greatest charity–and often the most painful–is not giving someone what he
    thinks he wants
  • We must be good to ourselves, practicing good self-care, but
    that doesn’t mean taking it easy and just ‘being nice’ to ourselves. On the one
    hand, we must not be so hard on ourselves that our whole spiritual life becomes
    a rehearsal of faults and sins, for this is one of the devil’s tricks in making
    us fail to notice God, and on the other we must also be careful not be overly
    forgiving of ourselves so as to effectively give up struggling with certain
    selfishnesses and sins.
  • We must practice the sort of self-charity that
    nourishes our gifts and virtues
    , and is ruthless in the unwillingness to put up
    with sin.
Thanks to my friend Friar Charles for providing grist for the mill.

Breast cancer and St Agatha: supporting those who live with the disease

St Agatha GB Tiepolo.jpgThe Church has a ministry, a role, a work, in helping to restore a person to health and wholeness because the Church is the continuation of Jesus’ ministry of healing in the world today.

Last Friday and Sunday I spear-headed two gatherings for those who live with breast cancer for the feast of Saint Agatha, the patron saint for those living with diseases of the breast. These gesture of prayer and solidarity were done in conjunction with the Order of Saint Agatha, Dominican Friars Healthcare ministry and two churches.

Anointing with blessed oil is a sacramental way in which the Church through her priests is concretely present to those in need spiritual comfort by complementing the medical and social practitioners in the ministry of healing. Any illness can have the effect of personal and communal isolation. What the Church is saying by this gesture of prayer and anointing is that the person is not alone, that we, the community of faith, empathize with the effects of illness and want to be in solidarity with the ill person. As was said, “breast cancer was the best thing to have happened to me because I’ve had to live life differently, more intently, and in a God-centered way.”
Why anoint someone? There are 5 identifiable reasons to administer the Sacrament of the Sick:
  1. curing and healing, a distinction here: we ask God for a cure, we ask also ask for a healing; the person is looking for God to bestow the grace of a comprehensive experience of restoration of body and spirit — “the whole person is helped and saved, sustained by trust in God, and strengthened against the temptations of the Evil One and against anxiety over death”; the relationship between God and the person is bridged in the sacrament;
  2. the gift of strengthening against debilitating effects of despair, depression, fear and anger; this Sacrament asks God for the grace to recognize and hopefully to unite any and all suffering to the experience Christ faced on the cross; the strength prayed for is not to allow illness to define their person because one’s humanity is more than a medical diagnosis;
  3. forgiveness of one’s sins: no human person –except Jesus (and He was also divine) and the Virgin Mary were sinless– and therefore sins are forgiven with this Sacrament; our human condition is frail and sickness can enhance the ugly side of ourselves and what we need and want is a healing of the soul; the effect of forgiveness is the reconciliation of the person to God, self and others; I think it is true that an illness has the potential to bring out of ourselves sinful attitudes, actions and patterns of speech that are not truly who we are as persons;
  4. a preparation for life with God, i.e., eternal life: no one is going to live for ever; perhaps the sickness is an opportunity to take stock in one’s life as it has been lived up to now and to patiently and lovingly make a life’s examination to see where there’s been love and to see where love has been absent; sickness is God’s way to call us to a deeper conversion that we’ve never experienced prior to this moment; here the Sacrament is asking us to look at our immortal soul with a degree of seriousness and the sickness as an education to greater freedom in Christ;
  5. conforming oneself to Christ crucified and risen: to be conformed to Christ means to adhere to Him, to listen to Him as we would listen to a loved one in friendship; there is a new reality in the life of a Christian –Jesus Christ is no longer dead, He’s risen; that Christ is risen and seated at the right hand of God the Father tells us of a new reality, a fact, in our human existence; the Sacrament brings us closer to cross Christ carried and died on and tells us that our salvation is there on the cross with Christ; we are not alone –we are with Jesus who is total love, total compassion; the healing offered in this sacrament is one of total trust and love in the One who made us, sustains us and carries us along with Him.
On Friday (2/4) evening in the context of the Friday Mass Father John Lavorgna, the pastor of Our Lady of Pompeii Church administered the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick for about 35 women and men.
At the Noon Mass on Sunday (2/6) at St Catherine of Siena Church, Father Jordan Kelly and three other priests administered the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick to more than 125 women and men.

The New Evangelization TV (Currents on Net TV) in the Diocese of Brooklyn graciously covered the event for the second year in a row. Their story this year was titled “Victims of Breast Cancer find Spiritual Comfort” highlights the beauty of prayer and solidarity.
It was in the Middle Ages that it became the pattern of sacramental economy that the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick was given only when someone was on death’s door step and it was called the “last rites” or “extreme unction.” Human experience of civil strife –in the international and domestic scene– that propelled liturgical theologians to rethink pastoral practice and our liturgical imagination. The Sacrament of the Sick would sick be closely connected with those living with acute illness and those near death, but also the Sacrament would be administered more broadly to those living with chronic illness as well as those living with mental illness and the experience of old age. However, people –including priests educated since 1972– continue to refer this sacrament as last rites.
The question always remains: Who is to be anointed? In a terrific book on the subject, Understanding Sacramental Healing: Anointing and Viaticum, Monsignor John C. Kasza speaks of the Sacrament as given for the magna infirmitas which “…indicates a weakness, feebleness, infirmity, inconstancy, or sickness which debilitates a person’s functioning within society” (footnote, p. 215).
In 2010, the first time we observed the feast of St Agatha and praying for and with those living with breast cancer can reviewed here.

Real change in history not administrative but of the heart, Discalced Carmelite superior says

Personal and corporate renewal is always a timely topic. Recently, the Superior General of the Discalced
Carmelites, Father Saverio Cannistrà, speaking about the hope of renewing his
order answered a question in what he saw as essential to renewal. I think the renewal is not only for the Carmelites but for all us. Don’t you think?

In part Father Cannistrà said:
“it is rather like the way of prayer Saint Teresa [of Avila] talks about: a growth that
happens day by day, passing through moments of consolation and desolation, but
with the determination to forge ahead, without giving up. The real changes
which have had an effect on history, are not mere administrative reorganizations
they are changes of heart, as Scripture tells us. If we do not expose our heart
to the beneficial tempest of the Spirit, then generous and prophetic
initiatives cannot be born from it. Formation, both initial and ongoing, would
probably be the sole help that we could offer, as an institution, to tread this

The way of sanctity lies open to you

St Justin de Jacobis.jpgToday the Pontifical Ethiopian College enjoyed time
with Pope Benedict XVI on the occasion to mark the 150th anniversary of the
death of Saint Justin de Jacobis (1800-1860), patron of the College. The
Ethiopian College prepares men for priestly service in their home country. Part
of the Pope’s address was devoted to holiness. On holiness the Pope said:

“Sanctity lies at the very heart
of the ecclesial mystery; it is the vocation to which we are all called. Saints
are not some exterior ornamentation of the Church; rather, they are like the
flowers of a tree which testify to the endless vitality of the lymph flowing
through it
. It is good to see the Church like this, in ascension towards the
fullness of the ‘Vir perfectus’; in continual, demanding, progressive
maturation; dynamically driven towards complete fulfilment in Christ.”

Here is a minute’s worth of a video clip on the event. These are the same points the Pope has made to the rest of the Church since he ascended to the papacy and it is the very theme that Father Julián Carrón has called those of us who follow Communion and Liberation to heed.

Why forgive?

Adnan Agca.jpg

Time magazine asks an excellent question, don’t you think? I do. The only answer I am muster to give is: because it is the right thing to do AND our Savior forgave his killers. Therefore, we ought to do the same.
BUT, if you are ashamed to forgive and to receive forgiveness, you must be convinced that Jesus Christ is blowing smoke or not real. The 4th century Persian bishop, Aphrahat said as much in his treatise On Penitents where he taught that a Christian in the state of sin should seek sacramental forgiveness as the Church taught. Aphrahat decapitates the sin of presumption and pride when he says,
… the man wounded by Satan should not be ashamed to confess his, and leave it behind, and beg for the medicine of penance. For gangrene comes if a man is ashamed to show his wound, and then the whole is harmed. Whoever is not ashamed has his wound healed, and goes back to battle again; but if gangrene comes, he cannot be healed, and he cannot take up his arms again.

So, why forgive? Because if one doesn’t forgive the sins of another, how will you face your own humanity and the Savior face-to-face?

Aphrahat, On Penitents 2-3 (Demonstrations 7), adapted translation by Frank H. Hallock, Journal of the Society of Oriental Research 16 (1932), pp. 43-56.
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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]
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