Category Archives: Spiritual Life

Is self-sufficiency enough? Or, is Christ and the Christian community enough?

Saint Basil the Great tells us that we can’t go it alone…

If anyone claims to be able to be completely self-sufficient, to be capable of reaching perfection without anyone else’s help, to succeed in plumbing the depths of Scripture entirely unaided, he is behaving just like someone trying to practice the trade of a carpenter without touching wood. The Apostle would say to such: ‘It is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the Law who will be justified.’ [Rom. 2:13]

Washing the feet.jpgOur Lord, in loving each human being right to the end, did not limit himself to teaching us in words. In order to give us an exact and telling example of humility in the perfection of love, he put on an apron and washed the disciples’ feet.

So what about you, living entirely on your own? Whose feet will you wash? Whom will you follow to take the lowest place in humility? To whom will you offer brotherly service? How, in the home of a solitary, can you taste the joy that is evident where many live together?

The spiritual field of battle, the sure way of inner advancement, continual practice in the keeping of the commandments, this is what you will find in a community. It has the glory of God as its aim, in accordance with the word of the Lord Jesus: ‘Let your light so shine before your fellows that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’ [Matt. 5:16]

What is more, community preserves that particular characteristic of the saints which is referred to in the Scriptures thus: ‘All who believed were together and had all things in common.’ [Acts 2:44] ‘The company of those who believed were of one heart and soul and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common.’ [Acts 4:32]

Thomas Spidlik. Drinking from the Hidden Fountain : A Patristic Breviary: Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World. Minneapolis: Cistercian Publications, 1993. 215.

Veni, Creator Spiritus

At the beginning of the new calendar year we pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us. You will recognize the text if you’ve attended an Ordination and Confirmation Masses or if you recall the Liturgy from Pentecost. Veni, Creator Spiritus is frequently used at the annual Red Mass which marks the beginning of the academic year or the opening of the judicial year. This hymn to the Paraclete is attributed to Rabanus Maurus (776-856). A plenary indulgence is granted if it is recited on January 1st. 

Holy Spirit2.jpgCreator Spirit all Divine,
come visit every soul of Thine.
And fill with Thy Celestial Flame
the hearts which Thou Thyself did frame.

O Gift of God, Thine is the Sweet
consoling name of Paraclete.
And spring of life and fire of love,
and unction flowing from above.

The mystic seven-fold gifts are Thine,
finger of God’s Right Hand Divine.
The Father’s Promise sent to teach,
the tongue a rich and heavenly speech.

Kindle with fire brought from above
each sense, and fill our hearts with love,
And grant our flesh so weak and frail,
the strength of Thine which cannot fail.

Drive far away our deadly foe,
and grant us Thy true peace to know,
So we, led by Thy Guidance still,
may safely pass through every ill.

To us, through Thee, the grace be shown,
To know the Father and the Son,
And Spirit of Them Both, may we
forever rest our Faith in Thee.

To Father and Son be praises meet,
and to the Holy Paraclete.
And may Christ send us from above,
that Holy Spirit’s gift of love. Amen.

Magdi Cristiano Allam speaks of his conversion to Christ

Given that today’s feast is of a saint who brought thousands to Christ, I thought reprinting a recent article about a rather high profile baptism this past year. It is no small thing that a Muslim accepts Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and lives to tell about it. Magdi Allam’s story is unique.


Converted Muslim Tells Story Behind Papal Baptism


By Luca Marcolivio

December 1, 2008

The high-profile baptism of Magdi Cristiano Allam at the Easter Vigil ceremony presided over last year by Benedict XVI has a story behind it. According to Allam himself, his conversion journey was possible because of great Christian witnesses.

One of the directors of the Milan daily Corriere della Sera, he spoke about his conversion and the experiences that led to it when he met with university students of Rome last week to tell the story of his path to Catholicism.

Starting from the Easter Vigil of 2008 — which Allam called the “most beautiful day of my life” — when he received baptism from Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Italian-Egyptian journalist spoke of his life journey and the reflections that brought him to embrace “a new life in Christ and a new spiritual itinerary.”

Allam.jpg“This journey,” he recalled, “began apparently by chance, [but] in truth was providential. Since age four, I had the chance to attend Italian Catholic schools in Egypt. I was first a student of the Comboni religious missionaries, and later, starting with fifth grade, of the Salesians.

“I thus received an education that transmitted to me healthy values and I appreciated the beauty, truth, goodness and rationality of the Christian faith,” in which “the person is not a means, but a starting point and an arriving point.”

“Thanks to Christianity,” he said, “I understood that truth is the other side of liberty: They are an indissoluble binomial. The phrase, ‘The truth will make you free’ is a principle that you young people should always keep in mind, especially today when, scorning the truth, freedom is relinquished.”

The journalist continued: “My conversion was possible thanks to the presence of great witnesses of faith, first of all, His Holiness Benedict XVI. One who is not convinced of his own faith — often it’s because he has not found in it believable witnesses of this great gift.

“The second indissoluble binomial in Christianity is without a doubt that of faith and reason. This second element is capable of giving substance to our humanity, the sacredness of life, respect for human dignity and the freedom of religious choice.”

The journalist affirmed that the Holy Father’s 2006 speech in Regensburg — which caused uproar within the Muslim community — was for him a reason to reflect.

Allam said: “An event, before my conversion, made me think more than other events: the Pope’s discourse in Regensburg. On that occasion, citing the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, he affirmed something that the Muslims themselves have never denied: that Islam spreads the faith above all with the sword.”

He added: “There is a greater and more subliminal danger than the terrorism of ‘cut-throats.’ It is the terrorism of the ‘cut-tongues,’ that is, the fear of affirming and divulging our faith and our civilization, and it brings us to auto-censorship and to deny our values, putting everything and the contrary to everything on the same plane: We think of the Shariah applied even in England.

Allam2.jpg“The one called ‘a great one,’ that is, to always give to the other what he wants, is exactly the opposite of the common good, perfectly indicated by Jesus: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ That evangelical precept confirms for us that we cannot want good for the rest if we do not first love ourselves. The same is true for our civilization.

“Contrary to that principle is indifference and multiculturalism that, without any identity, pretends to give all kinds of rights to everyone. A result of multiculturalism was the imposition of social solidity and the development of ghettos and ethnic groups in perpetual conflict with indigenous populations.”

The journalist recounted: “This led me to consider the third great binomial of Christian civilization: that regarding rules and values, a key for a possible ethical rescue of modern Europe. The old world, nevertheless, is a colossus of materiality with feet of clay. Materialism is a globalized phenomenon, unlike faith, which is not.”

Responding to a question about a possible compatibility between faith and reason in Islam, Allam contended that “unlike Christianity, the religion of God incarnate in man,” Islam is made concrete in a sacred text that, “being one with God, is not interpretable.”

“The very acts of Mohammed, documented by history, and which the Muslim faithful themselves do not deny, testify to massacres and exterminations perpetrated by the prophet. Therefore, the Quran is incompatible with fundamental human rights and non-negotiable values. In the past, I tried to make myself the spokesman of an Islam moderate in itself.”

Regarding interreligious dialogue between Christians and Muslims, Allam said that it is possible only “if we are authentically Christian in love, including toward Muslims. If we make dialogue relative, we will instigate our questioners to see us as infidels, and therefore as land to be conquered.”

The journalist emphasized for the students the importance of an education that goes back to transmitting “an ethical conception of life, with values and rules at the center of everything.” A negation of such principles, he contended, “is wild capitalism, which, paradoxically, has its maximum development in communist China.”

“We cannot conceive of the person in ‘business’ terms,” he concluded, “and we have to find rules of co-existence that are not founded on materialism. We should redefine our society based on being and not on having.”

What is the cost of Discipleship?

The feast of Saint Andrew sparks the question in my heart about the nature –cost of discipleship. What is “discipleship” and what is its cost? Why is there a cost? Truth be told, obedience to the Gospel is not easy. Following the Lord is not easy when there are pressures from within and from without that say “go the other way” or “don’t be bothered, no one else is.” If one really wants to walk the path that leads to happiness, how does one do this? The monastic life which I am now trying to lead asks the same questions. There are days that the life is beautiful; there are days in which it’s a nuissance (to say the least). Doing the will of God must be easy, clear and satisfying for some people. I can’t always say the same. I think of the call of Andrew and Peter and what they must have felt and thought and did…


St Andrew and Peter's calling.jpgThe Cost of Discipleship

Dietrich Bonhoeffer


The call of Jesus goes forth, and is at once followed by the response of obedience. The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus. How could the call immediately evoke obedience?


The story of the call of the first disciples is a stumbling-block to our natural reason, and it is no wonder that frantic attempts have been made to separate the two events. By hook or by crook a bridge must be found between them. Something must have happened in between, some psychological or historical event. Thus we get the stupid question: Surely the disciples must have known Jesus before, and that previous acquaintance explains their readiness to hear the Master’s call. Unfortunately our text is ruthlessly silent on this point, and in fact it regards the immediate sequence of call and response as a matter of crucial importance. It displays not the slightest interest in the psychological reasons for a person’s religious decisions. And why? For the simple reason that the cause behind the immediate following of call by response is Jesus Christ himself. It is Jesus who calls, and because it is Jesus, the disciple follows at once.


This encounter is a testimony to the absolute, direct, and unaccountable authority of Jesus. There is no need of any preliminaries, and no other consequence but obedience to the call. Because Jesus is the Christ, he has the authority to call and to demand obedience to his word. Jesus summons us to follow him not as a teacher of a pattern of the good life, but as the Christ, the Son of God. In this short text Jesus Christ and his claim are proclaimed to the world. Not a word of praise is given to the disciple for his decision for Christ. We are not expected to contemplate the disciple, but only him who calls, and his absolute authority. According to our text, there is no road to faith or discipleship, no other road -only obedience to the call of Jesus.


And what does the text inform us about the content of discipleship? Follow me, run along behind me! That is all. To follow in Christ’s steps is something which is void of all content. It gives us no intelligible programme for a way of life, no goal or ideal to strive after. When we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to his person. The grace of his call bursts all the bonds of legalism. It is a gracious call, a gracious commandment. It transcends the difference between the law and the gospel. Christ calls the disciples follows; that is grace and commandment in one.


(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, English trans. R. H. Fuller, London, 1959, pp. 48-9.)


Christ’s beauty

Sometimes God sends me moments in which I am utterly at peace. In those moments I
Christ washing the feet2.jpghave constructed for myself a creed in which everything is clear and holy for me. Here it is: to believe that there is nothing more beautiful, more profound, more sympathetic, more reasonable, more courageous, and more perfect than Christ, and not only is there nothing, but I tell myself with jealous love, that there never could be.


Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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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