Catholic Exchange: Ecclesia de Eucharistia, St. John Paul II on the Eucharist

Today is the feast of St. John Paul II. On this day, it is fitting to look at his writing on the Holy Eucharist since it was the center of his life and it is the center of the Church. His devotion to the Eucharist was evident to those who were at Mass with him or who saw him during Eucharistic Adoration. Jason Everet quoted an observer in his book St. John Paul the Great: His Five Loves, “He lingered lovingly over every syllable that recalled the Last Supper as if the words were new to him.” He would follow the words of Consecration with profound genuflection. Everet goes on to explain that John Paul became a priest precisely because of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, “For me, the Mass constitutes the center of my life and my every day…nothing means more to me or gives me greater joy than to celebrate Mass each day and to serve God’s people in the Church.” It should come as no surprise given his great love for the Holy Eucharist, that he devoted an encyclical to the topic.

On April 17, 2003, which was Holy Thursday, then Pope John Paul II promulgated his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia: On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church. It is a rich, profound, and beautiful reflection on the theological connection between the Eucharist and the Church. It is an encyclical worth reading and praying with over and over again. It begins:

The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church. In a variety of ways she joyfully experiences the constant fulfillment of the promise: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20), but in the Holy Eucharist, through the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord, she rejoices in this presence with unique intensity.

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Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: The Spiritual Depth and Friendship of St. Teresa of Avila

The Church celebrates the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila, also known as St. Teresa of Jesus, on October 15th. She was born in Avila, Spain in 1515. Her family consisted of her mother, father, and twelve siblings. She described her parents as devout in her autobiography. Teresa began her spiritual journey early on and read the lives of the martyrs when she was nine years old. She had a great desire to die a martyr’s death and repeatedly told her parents that she wanted to see God. It was in her childhood that she learned that “all things of this world will pass away” and God alone is “for ever, ever, ever” (Vida).

At the age of twenty she entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila. Her religious name was Teresa of Jesus. While she was in the monastery she became seriously ill with malaria and spent four days in a coma, looking as though she would die. During her illness she realized her own weakness and resistance to God’s call. It greatly changed her spiritual life. She recovered, but shortly after her father died and all of her siblings emigrated to America.

Teresa was a rather prolific writer considering that she had no academic education. She relied greatly on the teachings and great resources of theologians, men of letters, and spiritual teachers. She was a woman of reform and set about reforming the Carmelite Order. In 1562 her first reform was Carmel in Avila with the support of the Bishop, Don Alvaro de Mendoza, and the approval of the Order’s Superior General, John Baptist Rossi. In 1580 she received approval from Rome for her own separate Province and so began the Discalced Carmelite Order which she established with her good friend, St. John of the Cross.

She wrote many books throughout her lifetime. Her most famous work is her own autobiography, The Life of St. Teresa (Vida), The Way of Perfection, a commentary on the Our Father, her most famous work on prayer, The Interior Castle, various works for her Carmelite Order, and Book of the Foundations. It is easy to see why St. Teresa is one of the four women saints to be given the title Doctor of the Church.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: St. Padre Pio’s Unification with Christ

I am going to be honest. The saint whose feast day the Church celebrates today both fascinates and intimidates me. St. Pio of Pietrelcina, also known as Padre Pio, was born the son of two peasant farmers on May 25, 1887. His given name was Francesco after St. Francis of Assisi and at the age of five years old he made the decision to dedicate his life to God. His family was devout. They prayed the Rosary nightly, attended daily Mass, and abstained from meat three days a week in dedication to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Even though his parents could not read, they made a point of memorizing Scriptures and shared them with Pio and his siblings. His mother reported that he could see and speak with Jesus, Our Lady, and his Guardian Angel from a young age. This was so common in his life that he assumed that everyone could do the same. He was reported to have experienced heavenly visions and experience ecstasies in his youth, as well as throughout the rest of his life.

At a young age Pio expressed a desire to be a friar. He had great interest in the Capuchin Order, but discovered that he needed more education before they would accept him. His father arranged for him to have private tutoring so the he could meet the academic requirements of the Order. In 1903, at the age of 15, he entered the novitiate of the Capuchin friars at Morcone and on January 22 he took the Franciscan habit and the name Friar Pio, in honor of Pope St. Pius I, whose relic was in the Santa Anna Chapel at Pietrelcina. It was then that he took the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and committed to living the evangelical counsels.

After seven years of study and a period of severe illness, Pio was ordained to the Priesthood in 1910. A few years later World War I broke out and he was drafted into military service. He assigned to the 10th Medical Corps in Naples. His service did not last long, however, due to his poor health. It took a few years for the Italian military to figure out that Pio was too sick to serve and he was finally declared unfit for service in 1918.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

Preparing for Advent: Waiting in Joyful Hope

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Growing up in my family home, we were ready to celebrate Christmas the day after Thanksgiving, just like the rest of America.  Advent was something we  did at Mass on Sunday with the lighting of the Advent wreath.  It was not something that we did at home.  It was not something we lived.  Then I got married 3.5 years ago, and I began meeting godly women who try to live out the liturgical year over the secular calendar.  I started to pay attention to the movements and rhythms of the Church and discovered what I had been missing.

Advent makes us give up instant gratification.  It is a season of waiting in joyful hope.  As Catholics we wait for two things: First the Incarnation on Christmas and Second, we are still waiting for the Second Coming of Our Lord.  Look at it is this way.  The Jews waited 4000 years for the Messiah.  I can wait a month to jump into Christmas in order to fully live out Advent.  My husband and I go shopping for our Christmas Tree on Gaudete Sunday (3rd Sunday of Advent).  If we did not travel at Christmas, we would wait until Christmas Eve.  The Church does not start celebrating Christmas until Christmas Eve Vigil.
Waiting can be hard.  We are surrounded by Christmas carols, trees, decorated houses and stores, and holiday food.  It is hard to not partake.  Perhaps slowly work Advent into your family’s traditions this year.  Get an Advent wreath and light it each night.  Imagine what the Jews felt like as they waited for the promised Messiah.  Truly think about what it means to wait for the Second Coming.  Are we all ready?
Here are some suggestions for living out Advent more fully:
*If you have not done so already, push back buying your tree a week or two.  Or wait until Gaudete Sunday like us.
*Wait to turn your Christmas lights on outside until Christmas Eve and then keep them up during the liturgical Christmas season that can go well into January depending on when you decide to stop.  Some cultures celebrate Christmas until the Presentation of Our Lord and others until his Baptism, and some until Epiphany.
*Do a Jesse Tree with your family.  My friend Christine over at Domestic Vocation has a full guide to doing a Jesse Tree.
*Light the Advent wreath during dinner.
*Light the Advent wreath and do a prayer reflection with your family.  End singing O Come, O Come Emmanuel
*Postpone Christmas music at least until Gaudete Sunday. Now this one is hard in our culture.  You may have to bring CDs or your iPod in your car.
*If you are not ready to jump fully into Advent, perhaps just make Sundays a Christmas free time that focuses on the beatiful season of Advent.
Remember we are a joyful people.  We know that Christ is coming and that is why we wait in joyful hope.  Advent can teach us a lot about the spiritual life.  Sometimes we must be patient and wait for joy, but God uses that waiting to shape us.
How can you bring Advent into your home? Do you have Advent traditions that you do in your family? Share them in the comments section.