The Cross Shows the Father’s Love

The Faith Pope Benedict XVI(from The Faith: Reflections on the truths of the Apostles’ Creed from the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI)

At the heart of the prayer of blessing [in Eph. 1:3ff), the apostle illustrates the way in which the Father’s plan of salvation is brought about in Christ, in His beloved Son. He writes: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph 1:7).

The sacrifice of the cross of Christ is the one and unrepeatable event in which the Father showed His love for us in a luminous way, not only in words but in practice. God is so real and His love is so real that He enters in tho history, He becomes a Man to feel what it is, how it is to live in this created world’ and He accepts the path of suffering of the Passion and even suffers death. God’s love is so real that He participates not only in our being but also in our suffering and our dying.

crucifix.0The sacrifice of the Cross ensures that we become “God’s property,” because the blood of Christ has redeemed us from sin, cleanses us from evil, removes us from the slavery of sin and death. St. Paul invites us to consider the depths of God’s love that transforms history, that transformed his very life from being a persecutor of Christians to being an unflagging apostle of the Gospel. Here once again the reassuring words of the Letter to the Romans resound:

“If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also give us all things with Him?… For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of god in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:31-32, 38-39).

We must integrate this certainty – God is for us, and no creature can separate us from Him because His love is stronger – in our being, in our awareness as Christians.

General Audience, June 20, 2012

Source:Pope Benedict XVI, compiled by Thigpen, P. (2013) The Faith: Reflections on the truths of the  Apostles’ Creed from the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI. Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor


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Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus

220px-Claude_Mellan_-_Face_of_Christ_-_WGA14764When Pope Pius XII granted that the Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus be observed on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, he fulfilled the desire of Our Lord that His sorrowful Holy Face be contemplated in reparation for our sins. The history and tradition of venerating His Holy Face began on the day of His crucifixion and continues through the centuries with the help of holy men and women chosen by  Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother to propagate this devotion.

Over at Catholic Insight, I have written an article on this important devotion. I invite you to read it here.


Painting: Veronica’s Veil by Claude Mellan (c. 1649)






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A dignified life; a dignified death

Posted at Catholic Insight

flowers-marguerites-withered-2009-824x550I lost someone very special recently, someone who demonstrated for me what a dignified death looks like. In the eyes of the world, he had been dealt a lousy hand, sentenced to life in a wheelchair as his immune system ate away at the protective sheath that covered his nerves. But even as the disease continued to ravage his too young body, he let loose with his dry sense of humour, in turn causing those around him to roll their eyes in feigned exasperation or laugh a deep belly aching laugh. He flirted good-naturedly  with the visiting nurse (me) and the other caregivers who often subjected him to procedures and care that most men would find embarrassing. His caregivers were some of his favourite people and in allowing us to care for him, he confirmed that loving one’s neighbour brings out the best in the humanity of the giver as well as the recipient.

He knew the type of death that was in store for him because he had watched  a sibling succumb to the same cruel disease. He understood his fate yet I never heard him say he wanted to end his life. He accepted death because dying a natural death, no matter what the circumstance,  is part of living.

When the end came, I was shocked. I knew it was coming but his dignified, positive outlook made me think that death would not arrive for a long, long time. I expected that he would keep telling the same corny jokes, carry on with his harmless flirting, and inspire me to give him the very best nursing care during our regular visits. But his death finally came just as I knew deep down that it would.

He was buried out of a Catholic church; in the end, the lapsed Catholic coming home to the place he never should have left. I think in his heart he didn’t entirely abandon the Faith. I live with the hope that in the care and compassion he received, he experienced God’s mercy and realized his dignity as a beloved son of the Father. For isn’t it true that when we allow others to care for us, it is really God’s healing and compassion we receive?

He always made a point of thanking me for the care I gave him but I never thought to thank him. Until now.

Thank you for understanding that death with dignity doesn’t come from sleep-inducing, breath-retarding, heart-stopping drugs taken at a time and place chosen by you. Thank you for life lived well to the very end. For not wanting to give up. For meeting each day’s challenges head on. For not running away from certain death. For accepting compassion, care, love, friendship. For giving hope that a life of suffering is a life of love. For keeping your dignity to the very end. For showing, by your actions, that you still believed in a merciful God. For proving to us that a dignified death gives hope to those around you, shines with compassion, and is courageous to the very end.

Photo source: Creative Commons Zero license

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The battle for Ontario doctors’ freedom of conscience rights

stethoscopeOn February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the ban on euthanasia and physician assisted suicide in Canada is unconstitutional. This ruling paves the way for the legalization of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide throughout the entire country.

At the same time in Ontario, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) has put forth a change in policy proposal that will take away the freedom of conscience rights of Ontario’s physicians and surgeons. The CPSO is inviting public discussion before determining its final ruling.

The nightmare of legal euthanasia/physician assisted suicide combined with no conscience protection for doctors is too frightening to think about. The most vulnerable in Canadian society will have no protection.

The Catholic Doctors’ Guild asked Catholic Insight to write an online article informing and asking individuals to register their support for the freedom of conscience rights of doctors. The article is on my blog at Catholic Insight.

If you live in Ontario please read the article (here)  and object to the proposed policy change. Send it to everyone you know who lives in Ontario and ask them to do the same.

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Septuagesima Sundays and the preparation for Lent

Posted at Catholic Insight

Katalanischer_Meister_001Before 1969, Septuagesima Sunday was observed in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. According to, the three Sundays that comprise Septuagesima Sunday are named for their distance to Easter and are as follows:

  1. Septuagesima Sunday which lends its name to the entire short season is approximately seventy days before Easter. Seventy days represents the seventy years that the Jewish people of the ancient kingdom of Judah were held captive in Babylon.
  2. Sexagesima, or the second Sunday of Septuagesima, comes about sixty days before Easter.
  3. The third Sunday, Quinquagesima, is approximately fifty days before Easter.

In the year 2015, the first Sunday of Septuagesima was on February 1. Sexagesima falls on Sunday February 8, and the third Sunday, Quinquagesima, is on February 15.

Since 1969, the Sundays of Septuagesima have been omitted from the Roman Rite although they are still observed in the Traditional Latin Mass. In the Extraordinary Form Mass, neither the Alleluia nor the Gloria are sung as a reminder of the somberness of this season; they will return at the Easter Vigil. The priests wear purple vestments because of the importance of penance during Septuagesima Sundays.

The three Sundays of Septuagesima are an opportunity for sobriety, not in the sense that we abstain from alcohol (although you can choose to do that) but in the sense that we become more serious about the way in which we approach Lent. Long faces are not welcome because Jesus instructed us not to look dismal like the hypocrites when they fast (cf. Matthew 6:16). Although at this time we become more aware of a heightening sense of penance and somberness, we can be joyful and confident that our preparation for Lenten prayer, penance, and sacrifice will be pleasing to the Lord if we observe them with a sincere heart. The Sundays of Septuagesima also help us to grow in temperance,  the virtue that controls our passions and desires for gluttony, lust, and anger.

While it is no longer obligatory to observe the three Sundays in the Roman Rite, I was excited to rediscover this time of  pre-Lenten preparation because I am a person who is often unprepared and surprised by the beginning of Lent. How many times has Ash Wednesday arrived and I have felt completely unready? How many times have I not decided what food I will give up, in what ways I will share my material wealth and talents, and have I even considered how I will deepen my prayer life in order to benefit the most from the Lenten season?

If we are serious about observing a good Lent, the season of Septuagesima Sunday is invaluable. We have time to really think about our preparation. Two years ago, I decided to give up my beloved dark chocolate habit for Lent. While I somehow managed to keep my promise, my family suffered as a result of my near-fanatical determination. For the sake of peace in my family, I can’t do that again. Septuagesima Sunday is helping me to be more thoughtful this year as Lent approaches. This  year, before Lent begins,  I will be sure to  check in with my spiritual director to ensure that my observance is realistic, humble, and will not be a hardship for the people I love the most. For those who don’t have a spiritual director, a trusted priest or a regular confessor is a good guide.

The three Septuagesima Sundays are a gift of which we ought to take advantage.  Lent comes quickly after the Christmas season; the Sundays of Septuagesima give us the time we need to prepare.

During this season of Septuagesima, ponder on these words of Pope Benedict XIV who wrote the following in an encyclical dated May 30, 1741:

 “The observance of Lent is the very badge of the Christian warfare. By it we prove ourselves not to be enemies of the Cross of Christ. By it we avert the scourges of divine justice. By it we gain strength against the princes of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help. Should mankind grow remiss in their observance of Lent, it would be a detriment to God’s glory, a disgrace to the Catholic religion, and a danger to Christian souls. Neither can it be doubted that such negligence would become the source of misery to the world, of public calamity, and of private woe.”

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Candlemas: The Encounter between Chaos and Light

candlemas02(from Seek That Which Is Above by Pope Benedict XVI)

In everyday modern life we are hardly aware that on February 2nd we celebrate an ancient feast, common to the Church of both East and West, one which used to have a great significance in the rural calendar: Candlemas. Tributaries from many historical sources have flowed together into this feast, with the result that it sparkles with many colors. Its immediate reference is to the event when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after his birth to perform the prescribed sacrifice of purification.

the presentationThe liturgy focuses mainly on one detail of Luke’s portrayal: the meeting between the Child Jesus and the aged Simeon. Thus in the Greek-speaking world the feast was called Hypapanti (the encounter). In this juxtaposition of the Child and the old man, the Church sees the encounter between the passing heathen world and the new beginning in Christ, between the fading age of the Old Covenant and the new era of the Church of all nations.

What this expresses is more than the eternal recurrence of death and becoming; it is more than the consoling thought that the passing of one generation is always succeeded by a new one with new ideas and hopes. If that were all, this Child would not represent a hope for Simeon but only for himself. But it is more: it is hope for everyone, because it is a hope transcending death.

This brings us to a second aspect of this day, which the liturgy illuminates. It takes up the words of Simeon when he calls this Child “a light to enlighten the Gentiles.” Accordingly this day was made into a feast of candles. The warm candlelight is meant to be a tangible reminder of that greater light that, for and beyond all time, radiates from the figure of Jesus. In Rome this candlelit procession supplanted a rowdy, dissolute carnival, the so-called Amburbale, which had survived from paganism right into Christian times. The pagan procession had magical features: it was supposed to effect the purification of the city and the repelling of evil powers. To remind people of this, the Christian procession was originally celebrated in black vestments and then in purple – until the Council’s liturgical reform. Thus the element of encounter, again, was evident in this procession: the pagan world’s cry for purification, liberation, deliverance from dark powers, meets the ‘light to enlighten the Gentiles”, the mild and humble light of Jesus Christ. The failing (and yet still active) aeon of a foul, chaotic, enslaved and enslaving world encounters the purifying power of the Christian message.

It reminds me of something the playwright Eugene Ionesco wrote. As the inventor of the Theatre of the Absurd, he articulated the cry of an absurd world and was increasingly aware that it was a cry for God. “History”, he said recently, “is a process of corruption, it is chaotic, unless it is oriented to the supernatural.” The candle-lit procession in black garments, the symbolic encounter between chaos and light that it represents, should remind us of this truth and give us courage to see the supernatural, not as a waste of time, distracting us from the business of ameliorating the world, but as the only way in which meaning can be brought to bear on the chaotic side of life.

Ratzinger, J. (1986). Seek That Which Is Above. San Francisco: Ignatius Press


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Persevering through the “dark night of the soul”

Posted at Catholic Insight

dark night of the soulI know someone who is going through a spiritually dark time. When I think of this person, the word that comes to mind is “trial.” It seems to me that God is trying this person through a series of events that give rise to many questions and doubts. What impresses me is the person’s response. Amidst the questions about God’s silence in times of suffering and confusion, a profession of faith and abandonment to God’s Will always follows. To my mind, this person is experiencing what St. John of the Cross called the “dark night of the soul.”

Many great saints have written about this state of emptiness, coldness, the seeming absence of God. The most famous work comes from St. John of the Cross who explained that this is a period of “purgative contemplation.” In this time of spiritual darkness, God seems no where to be found. Gone are all spiritual consolations, supernatural signs, enlightenment. Instead there is confusion, unknowing, lack of direction, and a great big dark, empty void.

This state of purgative contemplation may last for weeks, months, even years. It’s up to God to decide how much refining the soul needs. During this time, the poor soul struggles to cling to God by being faithful to prayer, good works, and Holy Mother Church. Devoid of any rewards and solace from God, eventually the person begins to love God for His own sake, not for what He can do. The person grows in humility as he understands the truth that our love for God must reflect God’s love for us. And so, while still in darkness, there is joy; and while there is a keen awareness of one’s sinfulness, the soul knows that God is merciful and loves us as only a perfect Father can. The person becomes resigned to his flawed humanity and abandons himself to Divine Providence. He unites his sufferings and longing for God to the sufferings of Jesus. But the soul is not sorrowful. In faith and with trust in Divine Providence, life is purposeful and joyful as he puts his confidence in a silent God.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta suffered a terrible darkness of the soul. For fifty years, she lived without the consolation of Jesus; but with great faith and longing for Him, she persevered in the work she knew He wanted from her. She wrote: “in my heart there is no faith – no love – no trust – there is so much pain – the pain of longing, the pain of not being wanted. I want God with all the powers of my soul – and yet there between us  – there is a terrible separation.”

The pain deepened over the years but she learned to accept it, even to the point of loving it. She recognized her nothingness before God and understood that He was using her in her poverty. She became completely empty of self; in conversation and in her letters, she directed the focus to Jesus in His work among the poor and in her community.

In a letter to Father Joseph Neuner, Mother Teresa explained that in her soul’s darkness, she was sharing in Jesus’ pain, and that she was united with Him in His suffering. In her “unbroken union” with Him, she felt His agony, His cross; and in this union, she loved Him in the people around her, recognizing Him in their suffering.

Helping others discover God’s presence in their suffering was a gift that she tirelessly gave. In a letter to a friend, she wrote:  “suffering, pain – failure – is but a kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close to Jesus on the Cross that he can kiss you. I think this is the most beautiful definition of suffering. So let us be happy when Jesus stoops down to kiss us. I hope we are close enough that He can do it.”

Mother Teresa learned to reflect God’s love through the darkness she endured and with great wisdom, she was able to guide others experiencing the same pain. “Don’t give in to your feelings,” she explained to one of her followers, “God is permitting this.”

God is permitting this, too, in the person that I know. In a mysterious, painful, but grace-filled way, God is purifying and drawing this person closer to Himself. In response, this person is steadfast in faith, praying and trusting that God in His wisdom knows what is best.

We have much to learn from known and unknown saints who persevered and continue to be unremitting in times of darkness. They are powerful examples of abandonment, humility, obedience, faith, confidence, and trust. While they feel a deep void in their souls, we see them as great lights who shine with the promise of God’s love.

Source: Kolodiejchuk, B. (Ed.). (2007). Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta”. New York. Doubleday.

Photo by Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho, Finland. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution  2.0 Generic license.






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Interview with a working mom

510NQZSigXL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Author, blogger, speaker Erin McCole Cupp has a new short work of biblical historical fiction called Working Mother. The description of the story is as follows:

With her husband disabled and out of work and her child in mortal danger,a mother must leave her family and find work so they can all survive.The husband’s name is Joseph. The child’s name is Jesus.The working mother is Mary.

Working Mother is available as a Kindle download over at Amazon. Please do pay a visit and make sure you read the many glowing reviews.

To mark the release of her ebook, Erin is celebrating working moms among us. Today, I am honoured to be featured in the series of interviews. I am doubly graced because my interview comes out on today’s feast of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, a fellow Canadian, and the Sister who founded the  Congregation of Notre Dame. The CND Sisters taught me in high school.

Here’s the link to my interview: Interview with working mother, Terry McDermott



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Prayer for a Friday Morning

st benedict's prayer bookO my God, I offer You all my thoughts, words, actions, and sufferings, and I beseech You to give me Your grace that I may not offend You this day, but may faithfully serve You and do Your Will in all things. Amen.


Source: Saint Benedict’s Prayer Book. (1993). Great Britain:  Ampleforth Abbey Press

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Transforming weak Catholic families

Also posted at Catholic Insight.

786px-Familio_(Schumacher,_Katholisches_Religionsbüchlein)_002When you teach two classes of First Reconciliation and First Communion candidates on most Saturday mornings, you learn a lot about other families’ prayer lives. It doesn’t take long to see who prays at home and who doesn’t. I have come to the point where I am not surprised but remain disappointed that so many of the children can’t make a proper Sign of the Cross and don’t know the words to the Our Father and Hail Mary. Little children are not to blame for their lack of knowledge in the basics of the Catholic faith; the fault likes squarely with their parents. When I point out to some of them that they need to pray at home regularly with their young children, I am often met with excuses, embarrassment, or indifference.

It would be easy to look down on Catholic parents who don’t teach their children to pray, don’t bring them to Mass, don’t teach them about our glorious Faith, and don’t follow Church teachings, but what would that gain for the universal Catholic family of faith? We are all part of this family, all parts of the Mystical Body of Christ with our unique part to play. Just as the physical body is only as strong as its weakest organ, and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so is the Mystical Body of Christ on earth only as strong as its weakest members. Among its most fragile members are Catholic families who don’t fully embrace the Faith.

As a catechist, my role is very clear: prepare the children of my parish to receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion. But we who try to daily live in Christ are all catechists and it is our brothers and sisters who are only nominally Catholic that we need to catechize first. Instead of criticizing, condemning, and abandoning these Catholic families, let’s do something different: let’s gently and charitably show them what they’re missing. By our prayers, and the life in Christ we try to live in our families, we are a beacon of light illuminating Catholic family life as good, noble, and attainable.

Even the strongest Catholic family is imperfect. Devout families may have to deal with a crisis of faith in one (or some) of their children, or in one of the parents. If we address these crises in a spirit of humility and trust, if we storm heaven with our prayers, and if we are charitable to the person undergoing the trial of faith, then this too is an example and a sign of hope and strength for other families.

Our churches ought to do more to reach out to families who are weak in the practice of the Faith. My archdiocese  (and I suspect many other dioceses) pours money into youth and young adult ministries but often the parents of our young people are not given the same encouragement, opportunities and resources to strengthen their families.  Parents need homilies that inspire and support them in their role as their children’s primary educators in the Faith, and parish programs ought to catechize parents so that they can catechize their children. Parish priests, encourage families to attend Eucharistic Adoration that is scheduled for easy access by families; instead of Youth Masses that separate children from their parents, inspire families to attend Holy Mass together. A very wise former pastor observed that the family, the Domestic Church,  is the foundation of the Church and he made it his mission to support his parish families. Even now, my family continues to benefit greatly from his legacy of strong leadership.

On the Feast of the Holy Family, Pope Francis addressed the Italian Association of Large Families. He quoted this passage from Pope Saint John-Paul II’s encyclical, Familiaris Consortio: “Families should grow in awareness of being ‘protagonists’ of what is known as ‘family politics’ and assume responsibility for transforming society; otherwise families will be the first victims of the evil that they have done no more than note with indifference.” (Familiaris Consortio, 44) A strong Catholic Church depends on faithful families. In our parishes and in society, the first people we ought to transform through our prayers, resources, and actions are Catholic families where God has largely been forgotten.

Drawing: Family During Common Prayer by Philipp Schumacher (1866-1940). In the public domain.




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