26 August 2022

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections

The Montessori method has become synonymous with excellence in early childhood education. Even secular institutions have implemented the pedagogy of the Italian paediatrician Maria Montessori (August 31, 1870 – May 6, 1952), who understood that children have an innate drive to learn and develop their interests and talents.

Her methods emphasise internal discipline and self-directed learning, with the teacher simply facilitating the child’s discovery of the world. She said: “The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’”

Natural Strengths
In the Church, we have the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, built by Dr Sofia Cavalletti and Professor Gianna Gobbi on Montessori’s original principles. Montessori recognised that human beings have certain “sensitive periods” when we are best able to learn and retain certain kinds of knowledge or life skills, such as language, mathematics, music, fine and gross motor skills, observation through the five senses, organisation, and social etiquette. The ages of 3 to 6 mark the natural period for a child’s openness to religious faith.

Instead of looking at childhood as merely a developmental stage on the way to adulthood, as the caterpillar is one stage in the growth of a butterfly, Good Shepherd catechists see the child as a being who deserves to be appreciated and understood as a child – just as Catholics have a devotion to the Child Jesus, relating to the Second Person of the Trinity as a human child in particular, not only a wise teacher, a suffering man or an awe-inspiring Divine Judge.

Montessori wrote: “To understand the child as a creative power, to realise that he is psychologically different from us, to perceive that his need is different from ours is a step forward for all human aspirations…” As such, the teacher prepares an age-appropriate educational environment where the child can exercise his natural curiosity and absorb knowledge through all five senses.

Vision of Tomorrow
At the same time, Montessori saw the future potential of each child: “Clearly, we have a social duty towards this future man, this man who exists as a silhouette around the child, a duty towards this man of tomorrow. Perhaps a great future leader or a great genius is with us and his power will come from the power of the child he is today. This is the vision which we must have.”

As William Wordsworth wrote in his 1802 poem The Rainbow: “The Child is father of the Man,” that is, each child naturally generates a future adult who will be forever shaped by his childhood. Thus, we invest in the education of our young, knowing that this will affect their future ability to fend for themselves and to contribute positively to the community around them.

Montessori noted: “The children of today will make all the discoveries of tomorrow. All the discoveries of mankind will be known to them and they will improve what has been done and make fresh discoveries. They must make all the improvements in houses, cities, communication, methods of production, etc. that are to be made. The future generation must not only know how to do what we can teach them, they must be able to go a step further.”

Although our education system does not generally have the luxury of a Montessori classroom, where children are free to explore various subjects and learning activities according to their passions and individual pace, parents and teachers can still take Montessori’s observations to heart, assisting their children or students in naturally revealing their full potential, as well as forming them in virtue and independence.

 

“Lord, I’m not praying for miracles and visions,
I’m only asking for strength for my days.
Teach me the art of small steps.

Make me clever and resourceful,
so that I can find important discoveries
and experiences among the diversity of days.”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

14 July 2022

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

St Kateri Tekakwitha is the first Native American saint. Following a petition by 906 Native Americans and two certified miracles, she was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980 and canonised by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.

Early Loss
Born the daughter of the Mohawk chief Kenneronkwa and Algonquin Christian lady Kahenta in 1656, she lost her parents and baby brother to smallpox when she was only four years old. The disease scarred her face for life and partially blinded her.

She was adopted by her uncle, who was a chief of the Turtle Clan. As Mohawks, they were members of the Iroquois Confederacy, known as the Six Nations. After the epidemic, they established a fresh settlement in New York, called Caughnawaga: “place of the rapids”. The girl was named Tekakwitha, meaning “she who bumps into things”.

Mortal Danger
French colonists – allied with the Huron, who were enemies of the Iroquois – attacked the Mohawks, attempting to capture territory to expand their fur trade. They burned three villages, destroying their crops. Aged ten, Tekakwitha escaped into the wintry forest with her relatives.

Defeated by the French, the Mohawks were forced into a peace treaty. One of the conditions was that Jesuit missionaries could enter their villages. The Jesuits studied native languages and customs so that they could explain the faith to the Mohawks in terms they could understand.

The eleven-year-old Tekakwitha met three Jesuit missionaries, who introduced her to the faith. Her uncle disapproved, as one of his daughters had become Catholic and left the village to join a Catholic mission near Montreal, called Kahnawake, a variant of Caughnawaga.

Acts of Mercy
During the summer of 1669, the Mohawks managed to repel a sudden dawn invasion by several hundred Mohican warriors. Thirteen-year-old Tekakwitha joined other girls assisting Fr Jean Pierron in tending to the wounded, burying the dead, and bringing refreshments to their defence force.

The Mohawks tortured captive Mohicans before executing them. Fr Pierron begged them to stop the torture but was ignored. He imparted the faith to the Mohicans and baptised them before they died. Tekakwitha observed his example of mercy.

Familial Expectations
When she came of age at thirteen years old, Tekakwitha’s aunts expected her to marry, as was the custom. However, Tekakwitha had no desire for an earthly marriage, and resisted their matchmaking efforts for four years. Her aunts punished her with heavy workloads and much scolding, but she quietly persisted in her own way until they left her alone.

In the spring of 1674, the Jesuit priest Fr Jacques de Lamberville came to their village. Tekakwitha had injured her foot and was not with the other women harvesting corn. She expressed her deep desire to become a Christian, and Fr de Lamberville began to catechise her.

Fr de Lamberville observed that Tekakwitha was a mild-mannered young lady who strove to lead a virtuous life despite the difficulties and opposition she encountered among her community. After several months of instruction, he deemed that she was ready to enter the Catholic Church.

On Easter Sunday 1676, Tekakwitha received the sacrament of Baptism, taking St Catherine of Siena as her patroness. Her relatives were sorely disappointed with her choice and began to shun her. Some Mohawks falsely accused her of sorcery, and she could no longer rely on her uncle’s protection. Six months after being baptised, Kateri journeyed to the Jesuit mission of Kahnawake, where other native converts had settled.

New Friends
Kateri made her new home in the same longhouse as her older adoptive sister, who was married. Her mother’s close friend Anastasia Tegonhatsiongo was the clan matron and took Kateri under her wing. The Mohawk ladies at Kahnawake taught Kateri the customs of Catholicism; the French missionaries were busy with other duties. The missionary Fr Pierre Cholenec wrote: “All the Iroquois who come here and then become Christians owe their conversion mainly to the zeal of their relatives.”

Another new friend for Kateri was Marie-Thérèse Tegaianguenta. They prayed together, and longed to form a religious order for native women, but the Jesuits discerned that they were yet too “young in faith” to found a sustainable group.

Kateri often fasted and performed various penances, praying diligently for the conversion of her relatives back in Caughnawaga. Anastasia encouraged her in this practice, but Kateri was so zealous that her poor health worsened. Fr Claude Chauchetière intervened, explaining that penance is meant to be done in moderation.

In 1680 during Holy Week, the 24-year-old Kateri became very ill. On Holy Wednesday around 3 p.m. – the Hour of Mercy – she died in the arms of Marie-Thérèse after receiving the last rites from Fr Cholenec. Her last words were: “Jesus, Mary, I love you.”

The villagers reported that upon her death, Kateri’s scarred face became smooth and radiant. In the weeks afterward, Anastasia, Marie-Thérèse and Fr Chauchetière saw visions of her. She told Marie-Thérèse: “I’ve come to say good-bye; I’m on my way to heaven.”

Within four years, people began to come to the chapel near Kateri’s grave on pilgrimage, seeking her intercession. The miracle which led to her canonisation was the 2006 healing of a young Native American boy from a flesh-eating bacterium.

Life Lessons
From Kateri’s example, we can learn to be firmly devoted to God, even when the people around us think we are being silly. She is the patron saint of people ridiculed for their piety, along with those who are orphans and exiles.

Despite her youth and early trauma, Kateri found faith, hope and joy in our Father in Heaven, Who provided her with the friends and mentors she needed to continue on her path of virtue. Let us also seek out communities where we can be supported in our faith and morals, particularly in the face of modern temptations and ideologies. Also, like Kateri, let us pray for our loved ones to encounter Christ and be conformed to Him.

22 June 2022

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

We recently celebrated Father’s Day. Fathers are vital to their children’s wellbeing and success in life. Research has shown that those whose fathers spent more quality time with them as children usually end up with higher IQs and better jobs in life.

Conversely, those who grow up without involved fathers have a lower chance of going to university or obtaining gainful employment, and often end up in prison. A father’s love and presence in his children’s lives builds a firm foundation for them to develop a secure identity and sense of purpose.

An Upright Man
On 22 June each year, we commemorate the execution of a just man: St Thomas More. A brilliant lawyer and honourable judge who had graduated from Oxford, More was appointed Lord Chancellor of England, second in political importance only to the king. He was a close friend of King Henry VIII.

Thomas More’s son-in-law and biographer William Roper recalled how the Lord Chancellor prioritised his family above his service to the king: “Because he was of a pleasant disposition, it often pleased the King and the Queen… at the time of their supper… to call for him to be merry with them.

“They delighted so much in his talk that he could not once in a month get leave to go home to his wife and children (whose company he most desired). When he was absent from the court for only two days, he was sent for again.

“Much disliking this restraint upon his liberty, More began to dissemble his nature somewhat. Little by little he changed from his usual mirth that he was not so frequently sent for.” A clever, diplomatic ruse which allowed him to fulfil his role as a husband and father, without offending the king outright.

More attained his high-ranking position because of his honesty and efficiency. After serving as a member of Parliament from 1504, in 1510 he became an undersheriff of the City of London. Unlike many other public servants, More refused bribes and became well-known for his integrity. Thus, King Henry VIII took note of his virtue and invited him to become his privy councillor in 1518. In 1523, More was elected the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Emphasis on Education
The second of six children to the lawyer and judge Sir John More and his wife Agnes, Thomas considered abandoning his legal career to join the Carthusian monks. However, he discerned that his vocation lay elsewhere, and married Jane Colt the year after his election to Parliament.

Thomas had three daughters and a son with Jane, who passed away in 1511. He swiftly married his good friend Alice Middleton so that his small children would have a mother to look after them, and received Alice’s daughter from her first marriage as his own child. On top of this, he was the foster father of two young girls, Anne Cresacre and Margaret Giggs. Margaret was later the only member of his family to witness his execution.

Sir Thomas More gave his daughters the same quality education as his son, an unconventional choice for a parent of his time. He also tutored his first wife, Jane, in music and literature, to improve upon the education she had received at home. More’s decision to educate his daughters inspired other noble families to do the same.

More wrote many affectionate letters to his children while away on business, and eagerly awaited their replies.

Piety and Orthodoxy
Though he lived in the world and had a large circle of friends, Sir Thomas More continued his devout prayer life, wearing a hair shirt as a form of self-mortification. Furthermore, although he subscribed to the new trend of humanism, More held firm to the teachings of Holy Mother Church, and recognised the Protestant Reformation as a threat to the unity of Christendom, dividing church and state. He was a prolific writer of religious and political works, including the famous Utopia. As Lord Chancellor of England, the foremost judge of the nation, it was his job to sentence heretics to burn at the stake, but he refused to have them whipped and tortured first.

Ironically, King Henry VIII also wrote against Protestant heresies, producing the pamphlet Declaration of the Seven Sacraments Against Martin Luther. For this, Pope Leo X granted him the title of Defender of the Faith. Only a few years later, unable to produce an heir and unable to divorce and remarry, Henry VIII decided to break from the Catholic Church, setting up the Church of England with himself as the head of the new sect.

Thomas More could not in good conscience condone this schism, and refused to sign the Oath of Supremacy, which declared the king to be the supreme head of the Anglican Church. He resigned as Chancellor, and in 1533, he did not attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn as the Queen of England, though he wrote a polite letter expressing his well-wishes.

His lack of attendance was still seen as a snub, and the king had false charges brought against More of accepting bribes. Lack of evidence saw the charges dismissed, but he was later arrested on grounds of treason for failure to accept the Oath of Succession confirming Anne as queen and rejecting the Pope’s authority.

As depicted in the excellent Oscar-winning film A Man for All Seasons (1966), false testimony by the Solicitor General Richard Rich was brought against Thomas More, sealing his fate. He was imprisoned for over a year in the Tower of London, where he wrote A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation, a short story in conversational form, reflecting that all suffering can be beneficial if you respond to it with faith and trust in God. His eldest biological daughter Margaret Roper (nicknamed Meg) visited him as often as she could and smuggled his letters out under her dress.

On 6 July 1535, Thomas More was beheaded, stating that he died as “the king’s good servant, and God’s first.” He was so calm that he could joke in the face of death, telling the executioner to be careful of his beard, as it was innocent of any crime.

Legacy
More’s son-in-law Will Roper had become a Lutheran for some time. More tried reasoning with him, but perceiving that his arguments bore no fruit, decided to pray instead. Roper credits his father-in-law’s fervent prayers for his return to the faith.

St Thomas More’s adopted daughter Margaret buried his decapitated corpse; his biological daughter Meg rescued his severed head. The former Margaret risked her life to help the Carthusian Martyrs, who starved to death in prison for refusing to renounce the faith.

Do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best. – Thomas More’s last letter to Margaret (Meg)

Today, St Thomas More and his fellow martyr Bishop John Fisher (the former tutor of Henry VIII; killed on 22 June) are commemorated by the Anglican church as saints, being martyrs of conscience. The Anglican writer Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver’s Travels) wrote that Thomas More was “a person of the greatest virtue this kingdom ever produced”. The Anglican priest and poet John Donne described him as “a man of the most tender and delicate conscience that the world saw since Augustine.”

Thomas More continues to be a model of prayer, inner strength and faith for us today. He is a patron saint of adopted children, widowers, large families, civil servants, politicians and lawyers. Although he had to abide by his conscience and sacrifice his earthly fatherhood, his courageous witness to God’s truth made him a steadfast spiritual father for time immemorial.

 

A Prayer by Saint Thomas More

Grant me, O Lord, good digestion,
and also something to digest.
Grant me a healthy body,
and the necessary good humour to maintain it.
Grant me a simple soul
that knows to treasure all that is good
and that doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil,
but rather finds the means to put things back in their place.
Give me a soul that knows not
boredom, grumblings, sighs and laments,
nor excess of stress,
because of that obstructing thing called “I”.
Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humour.
Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke
to discover in life a bit of joy,
and to be able to share it with others.
Amen.

 

26 May 2022

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

The true way to advance in holy virtues is to persevere in a holy cheerfulness.
If you wish to go to extremes, let it be in sweetness, patience, humility, and charity.
~ St Philip Neri

St Philip Neri’s feast is usually celebrated on the 26th of May. A friend of St Ignatius of Loyola, and the founder of the Congregation of the Oratory, known as the Oratorians, St Philip is called the third Apostle of Rome after Sts Peter and Paul.

Born in a poor family, though related to Italian nobility, Philip was a pious young lad tutored by the Dominicans in the humanities. He often went to the Dominican chapel to pray. Receiving a vision that he was called to Rome, he left everything behind and went.

Working as a tutor while studying philosophy and theology, Philip began to settle into the Eternal City. After awhile, thinking his studies were interfering with his prayer life, he decided to sell all his books and gave the money to the poor.

 

A Fresh Start

Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if He wants anything of you, He will fit you for the work and give you strength.
~ St Philip Neri


Instead of scholarly pursuits, Philip started visiting and tending to sick and impoverished pilgrims. He gathered a group of people to engage in this charitable work, while living as a lay hermit. This became the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity.

On the eve of Pentecost in 1544, Philip was praying in the catacomb of St Sebastian when he fell into a mystical ecstasy and experienced a vision of a globe of holy fire that entered his chest; he had the sensation of God’s overwhelming love. “Enough, enough Lord, I can bear no more!” he cried. After his death, the doctor found that two of his ribs had bowed further outwards and he had a physically enlarged heart.

Philip longed to be of service to God and man. He thought of joining the Jesuits in their mission to India. However, he received visions telling him that his place was in Rome. Though it was the mighty centre of Christendom, it was also full of the poor, lacking education and catechesis. He was advised that he could do even more good as a priest, so he entered the seminary.

 

Ministry

Ordained to the priesthood in 1551, Fr Philip spent hours hearing confessions. Like Padre Pio, he could read souls and tell penitents what sins they needed to confess. Fr Philip also began ministering to the youth, finding safe places for them to engage in play.

Pope Gregory XIV tried to make him a cardinal, but Fr Philip declined. He established the Congregation of the Oratory in 1575, a group of priests and lay brothers dedicated to preaching and teaching. They live together in a community bound together by no formal vows, but only with the bond of charity, emulating the first disciples of Christ. Today, there are eighty-six Congregations of the Oratory across the world.

 

Saint of Joy

A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one.
~ St Philip Neri

Fr Philip became so popular that he was accused of creating his own sect. Thankfully, he was cleared of this false allegation. He was aware of how people were setting him on a pedestal, and took steps to dispel their adulation of him, doing all sorts of silly things to emphasise his humanity and make others stop venerating him as a living saint. He wanted all their attention and the glory to be directed to God alone.

Among other things, Fr Philip was found reading a joke book when dignitaries came to see him; he neatly shaved off half his beard when invited to a party for the elite, embarrassing the host, who had wanted to bask in the reflection of his fame as a holy man; and wore funny large white shoes while out and about. When a novice was far too serious, Fr Philip stood on his head, to make him laugh.

He applied these lessons to others as well. When some of his more self-important, pompous penitents made their confessions, he imposed deflating penances on them, such as walking through the streets of Rome carrying his cat.

Pope John Paul II observed, “It is the laws of the Gospel and the commandments of Christ that lead to joy and happiness: this is the truth proclaimed by St Philip Neri to the young people he met in his daily apostolate. His was a message dictated by the intimate experience he had of God especially in prayer…

He did not choose the life of solitude; but, in exercising his ministry among the common people, he also wished to be ‘salt’ for all those who met him. Like Jesus, he was equally able to enter into the human misery present in the noble palaces and in the alleys of Renaissance Rome.

May we learn from St Philip to serve and evangelise wherever God has placed us, in our local communities; and to maintain a joyful disposition as far as possible, trusting fully in God’s providence and recognising our humble status as His creatures.

St Philip Neri’s life story is beautifully depicted in the 2010 movie I Prefer Heaven – an excellent film to watch and discuss with your family or class.

 

Prayer to St Philip Neri

O holy St Philip Neri, patron saint of joy,
you who trusted Scripture’s promise
that the Lord is always at hand
and that we need not have anxiety about anything,
in your compassion heal our worries and sorrows
and lift the burdens from our hearts.
We come to you as one whose heart swells
with abundant love for God and all creation.
Hear us, we pray, especially in this need (make your request).
Keep us safe through your loving intercession,
and may the joy of the Holy Spirit which filled your heart, St Philip,
transform our lives and bring us peace. Amen.

 

1 May 2022

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

Being God, Jesus could have chosen to be raised by anyone, at any time in history – a king, a merchant, a doctor, a professor… but He chose a humble carpenter to be His foster father.

St Joseph was of royal lineage, being of the line of King David, but like humanity, fallen far from its heavenly inheritance, Joseph was a long way from being a king. He was a “nobody”, a labourer from a backwater town in the vast Roman Empire. Not a single word of his was recorded in the Bible.

Yet, as guardian of the Holy Family, the first domestic church, St Joseph is now a patron of the Universal Church; and by his quiet example, he has much to say to us today. In Matthew’s Gospel, he is described as a “just man”. Archbishop Julian Porteous explains that a just man is:

“… one who assumes his responsibilities without complaint or reticence, who is self-sacrificing and generous in his assistance to others. He is a man who is concerned for those in need.

Such a man looks beyond his own interests and is directed to the interests of others, indeed, to the wellbeing of the community and the broader society.”

 

Against Communism

The feast of St Joseph the Worker was instituted by Pope Pius XII in 1955, against the Labour Day celebration created by communists, who supplant the family with the state, seeking to control every facet of human life through the government.

Maria von Trapp, of the Trapp Family Singers fame – depicted in the classic film, The Sound of Music (1965) – wrote a poignant reflection titled “The Land Without a Sunday”, observing how in Soviet Russia,

“The people work in shifts. While one group enjoys its day off, the others continue to work in the factories or on the farms or in the stores, which are always open. As a result the overall impression throughout the country was that of incessant work, work, work.

The atmosphere was one of constant rush and drive; finally, we confessed to each other that what we were missing most was not a well-cooked meal, or a hot bath, but a quiet, peaceful Sunday with church bells ringing and people resting after prayer.”

It can be tempting to become completely absorbed in work and let it take over your life, as a kind of idol. But God commanded us to keep the Sabbath Day holy (Exodus 20:8). God rested on the seventh day of Creation (Genesis 2:3). Our work is a participation in the ongoing redemption of fallen creation, and as image-bearers of God, we are called to imitate Him. Even machines need a break from work.

 

The Most Important Work


C.S. Lewis observed in a letter:

“I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone-rolling gentleman). But it is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, miners, cars, government etc. exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr Johnson said, ‘To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour’.”

In Catholic social teaching, we observe the principle of subsidiarity: “nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organisation which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organisation.” The word economy comes from the Greek oikonomia, referring to the management of a household. The family is the basic unit of society; it is meant to be the main reason we work – to support the flourishing of the family.

Nowadays, sadly the family is often neglected in the pursuit of career. St Joseph models to us how to be a virtuous worker and father, putting his family first before all else, promptly obeying the word of God when told to take the pregnant Mary as his wife, to flee to Egypt, and later, to return to Israel. All this moving about with a pregnant woman and then a vulnerable baby menaced by Herod’s soldiers must have been quite stressful, but with his profound faith in God, Joseph simply and peaceably did what he was instructed to do.

 

A Blessing

Work may be experienced as a curse, an onerous task after the Fall (Genesis 3:17), but when you are doing a job you love, it can be a joy and a blessing. However you may feel about your work or studies, you can offer it all up for the glory of God and the relief of the Holy Souls in Purgatory.

St Thérèse wrote to her sister Celine:

“We must not let slip one single occasion of sacrifice. … Pick up a pin from a motive of love, and you may thereby convert a soul. Jesus alone can make our deeds of such worth, so let us love Him with every fibre of our heart.”

 

The Morning Offering

One way to dedicate your work to God is by praying the morning offering each morning when you awake:

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer You my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day
for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart,
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world,
in reparation for my sins, for the intentions of all my relatives and friends,
and for the intentions of the Holy Father.
Amen.

24 April 2022

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections

While private revelation is not binding on the faithful – we are not strictly required to believe in it, unlike public revelation through the Church’s written and oral tradition as handed down by the magisterium – God continues to speak directly to us today through heavenly apparitions to the saints. One relatively modern vision was in 1931, when Jesus appeared to St Faustina Kowalska in the form of the Divine Mercy image which we see in churches today.

 

Sacred Art

Our Lord told her: “Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: ‘Jesus, I trust in You’. I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and then throughout the world. I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish.”

As St Faustina did not know how to paint, she had to describe her vision of Jesus to art professor Eugeniusz Kazimirowski, who had to redo his work again and again until St Faustina was moderately satisfied that the painting was as close to her vision as possible – as depicted in the recent docudrama Faustina: Love and Mercy (2019).

Superimposed on the Shroud of Turin, this painting bears remarkable similarities to the image of the Risen Lord. It is a visual reminder for us to trust in Jesus at all times – which, like Peter walking on the water, we can all too easily forget to do when overwhelmed by the crashing waves of life, even though the Lord is right in front of us.


Divine Mercy, Eugeniusz Kazimirowski, Public domain / Turin Shroud, Dianelos GeorgoudisCC BY-SA

 

A New Feast

Pope John Paul II designated the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday on the Second Sunday of Easter (Quasimodo Sunday) to re-emphasise how God’s mercy saves us from our sins, as shown in the resurrection of Christ, Who overcame sin and death. The opening prayer reads:

Heavenly Father and God of Mercy,
we no longer look for Jesus among the dead,
for He is alive and has become the Lord of Life.

You can obtain a plenary indulgence on this feast – it is obtained by observing the usual dispositions that are in place for the granting of this grace through the intercession of the Catholic Church:

  • Participation in the prayers and devotions held in honour of Divine Mercy in a church or chapel while completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, or recitation of the Our Father and the Creed in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed or reserved in the tabernacle, adding the prayer “Merciful Jesus, I trust in You.
  • Sacramental Confession
  • Holy Communion
  • Prayer for the intentions of the pope

The faithful who, for a justified reason beyond their control, are unable to go to a church or chapel, may obtain an indulgence with the recitation of the Our Father and Creed before an image of Jesus, adding the prayer “Merciful Jesus, I trust in You”, with the conditions of detachment of sin, and intention to fulfil the dispositions above as soon as possible.

If even this is impossible to achieve, the indulgence can obtained by the faithful who are united with those carrying out the prescribed practice for obtaining the indulgence in the usual way, and offer to Jesus a prayer and their sufferings, again with the resolution of fulfilling the normal conditions at the earliest opportunity.

 

3 O’Clock Prayer

The Divine Mercy Chaplet is shorter than a rosary and easy to pray, but if you do not have time even for that, you can simply say this short prayer once a day to recall God’s mercy – as Jesus died at 3 p.m. on Good Friday, we remember the moment of His passing with this prayer:

You expired, O Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls
and an ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world.
O Fount of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy,
envelop the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us.
O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus
as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You.

14 April 2022

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections

As Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, usually falls within the month of April, this month is dedicated to the Most Blessed Sacrament.

The night before He died, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Holy Communion at the Last Supper. This was also when He gave us a new commandment (mandatum), hence the name Maundy Thursday for this day in Holy Week:

A new commandment I give unto you:
That you love one another, as I have loved you…
By this shall all men know that you are My disciples,
if you have love one for another.
~ John 13:34-35

 

Total Gift of Self


The Allegory of the Holy Communion by Konstantinos Kontarinis

 

I am the living bread which came down from heaven.
If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever;
and the bread that I will give, is My flesh, for the life of the world.
~ John 6:51-52

For God, the Creator of all things, anything is possible. He is the Author of reality, the One Who made the galaxies and the giraffes, the oceans and onions; and He holds everything in being. He chose to become a baby in order to save us by His eventual torture and death on the cross – He chose to open the gates of Heaven to fallen mankind by taking on the wages of sin, that is, death.

So why can’t He choose to be a little piece of bread to sustain us through our earthly pilgrimage to Heaven? Christ is the ultimate Passover lamb, the Lamb Whose blood saves us and our families from certain destruction, Who sustains us as we cross over from the slavery of sin to the freedom of the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

“The deliverance of the Jews from Egypt was a foreshadowing of the Christian Pasch when through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God and the application of the merits of His blood, the human race would be freed from the bondage of the devil and of sin.

Good Friday in the early Church was called the Pasch of the Crucifixion, while Easter day was styled the Pasch of the Resurrection, the Sundays from Easter to Whitsunday were always referred to as ‘after the Pasch.’ Easter is the Christian Passover.”

~ Fr John Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary

 

We believe that the Person of Jesus is present entirely, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Blessed Sacrament, in every small white communion host that we receive each Sunday (or every day, if we are able to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass daily). We take God’s word for it, that we can eat His flesh and drink His blood, and attain eternal life with Him.

 

 

Proof Positive

This wonderful Sacrament (sign) of God’s love has been confirmed down the ages by Eucharistic miracles throughout the world. When someone has doubted Jesus’ Real Presence in the bread and wine, the wheat host (victim) has turned into the living heart muscle of a man in his thirties, dripping AB+ blood, as confirmed by scientists. Of course, this does not mean that Christ in Heaven is missing a piece of His heart.

St Thomas Aquinas explained, using Aristotelian philosophical terminology, that the Blessed Sacrament has the substance of God and the accidents or appearance of bread and wine. Hence, his term “transubstantiation”, when the substance of the bread changes into the substance of Jesus when the priest speaks the words of Christ at the Last Supper: “This is My Body… This is My Blood.”

 

Quality Time with God

Just like when Jews celebrate the Passover, they are in a way present at the actual, original Passover – the salvific events are re-presented – so too at the Mass, since God is outside Time, He is able to make us present at the one holy sacrifice of Christ, the crucifixion. But we are also receiving a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb of God. Isn’t that mind-blowing? God comes in the ordinary form of a human, then in the ordinary form of bread and wine, to be with us and to save us, so that we may be with Him for eternity.

Knowing this, Catholics have the practice of Eucharistic adoration, where we spend time in quiet prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. We also have Eucharistic exposition and benediction, where the priest blesses us with the Eucharistic host in the monstrance. On Maundy Thursday, we can receive a plenary indulgence by singing the Tantum Ergo by St Thomas Aquinas, along with the usual conditions.

For those who are unable to receive the Blessed Sacrament at Mass, we can pray the prayer of Spiritual Communion:

My Jesus,
I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things,
and I desire to receive You in my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment
receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace You as if You were already there
and unite myself wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You.
Amen.

17 March 2022

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

O blessed Saint Joseph, how great was thy worth,
The one chosen shadow of God upon earth,
The father of Jesus, ah, then wilt thou be,
Sweet spouse of our Lady, a father to me?

– Fr Frederick William Faber, Dear Guardian of Mary

 

March is the Month of St Joseph, whose feast is celebrated on the 19th. As the protector of the Holy Family, he became a patron of the Universal Church, as proclaimed by Pope Pius IX on 8 December 1847. He is also a patron of the dying, as Jesus and Mary were at his deathbed, and we pray to him for a good and holy death. And of course, as the adoptive father of Jesus, St Joseph is the pre-eminent patron saint of fathers.

 

Image of God

Parents are their children’s primary educators. It is in the home, the domestic church, that we first learn how to be virtuous persons; ideally, our parents are the ones who introduce us to the knowledge and love of God, modelling how to serve Him through fitting worship, as well as charity to those around us.

Under the guardianship of St Joseph, the child Jesus “advanced in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men” (Luke 2:52). We are made in the image and likeness of God, and we tend to relate to God the Father through our experience of fathers – biological or adoptive, and spiritual. As we live in a fallen world, we may have imperfect or absent fathers. Thankfully, our spiritual family in the Church can often provide mentors and friends to make up for our biological family’s weaknesses.

 

Identity & Purpose

Traditionally, before the Industrial Revolution, the home was also the primary unit of the economy and principal place of work. Children usually learned their parents’ trade, inheriting the family business when they came of age – hence surnames such as “Smith” for blacksmiths, goldsmiths or silversmiths, “Taylor” for tailors, “Knight”, “Baker” and so on. One was identified by one’s father’s occupation.

According to tradition, St Joseph was a carpenter. There are a variety of paintings on this theme, with St Joseph teaching Jesus his craft, juxtaposed as a harbinger of Christ’s death on the wooden cross with nails in His hands. Jesus is identified by his local community as “the carpenter’s son”. (Matthew 13:55) As humans, we generally find our identity and purpose in our relationships – within our families, schools, workplaces, and ultimately, God and His Church.

St Joseph is also a patron saint of workers, with the feast of St Joseph the Worker being celebrated on 1 May. If you need help discerning your vocation or finding employment, say a prayer to St Joseph for heavenly guidance.

Last year we celebrated the Year of St Joseph: as a Lenten devotion, you can complete the Consecration to St Joseph.

 

Prayer to St Joseph

O St Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. Oh, St Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.

O St Joseph, I never weary of contemplating you, and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me and ask him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls – pray for me.

3 March 2022

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Tags: Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle,
than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
– Mark 10:25; Matthew 19:24

Can a millionaire become a saint? Yes. God calls everyone to be a saint – it is probably more difficult for those who are attached to earthly things like wealth and prestige, but Katharine’s rich parents taught her to find her real treasure in the kingdom of Heaven.

Train up a child in the way he should go,
And even when he is old, he will not depart from it.
– Proverbs 22:6

 

Formation in Faith & Generosity

Born in Philadelphia on 26 November 1858 to the extremely wealthy investment banker Francis Anthony Drexel and his wife Hannah, Katharine lost her mother five weeks post-birth. Her aunt and uncle, Ellen and Anthony Joseph Drexel (founder of J.P. Morgan, originally Drexel, Morgan & Co.), cared for the baby – then named Catherine Mary – and her 3-year-old sister Elizabeth for two years alongside their own children, until Francis married a lady called Emma Mary Bouvier.

Catherine and Elizabeth, along with their new sister Louise, were taught as children to share their good fortune with those in need. Emma invited the poor into their home thrice a week, distributing food, clothing, shoes, medicine and rent assistance.

The Drexels paid the rent for 150 families every year, spending $30,000 per annum on their home-based charity. Many of the clothes they gave away were purchased from impoverished women living at the nearby Convent of the Good Shepherd, so the Drexels helped both the women who sewed the clothing and the families who received it.

Knowing that some widows and single women did not want to lose face in coming to them for assistance, the Drexels discreetly sought them out. Emma explained to her daughters: “Kindness may be unkind if it leaves a sting behind.”

The girls’ father spent at least half an hour in prayer every evening, quietly impressing the importance of faith upon his daughters. Their mansion had its own family chapel, with the Blessed Sacrament.

Believing that his daughters should learn about geography from travelling, instead of just maps and textbooks, Francis took his family on regular tours of the United States and Europe. Thus, the girls grew up aware of societal conditions throughout their homeland and beyond. They were also given the best education available by private tutors.

The patient and humble endurance of the cross,
whatever nature it may be, is the highest work we have to do.
St Katharine Drexel

 

 

Noticing the Need

Catherine made her debut into high society in 1878. However, as she cared for her stepmother, who died of cancer after a three-year struggle, Catherine realised that money was no safeguard against illness, suffering and death.

After Emma’s death in 1883, the Drexels travelled to the Western states of America, where Catherine noticed the penury of the Native Americans. Having read about the injustices they had suffered, she felt dreadful for them. She became acquainted with the Chief of the Sioux, Red Cloud. A friend of the family, Fr James O’Connor, was appointed the apostolic vicar of Nebraska, and often sought donations from the Drexels for his pastoral ministry to the Native Americans.

Catherine also observed the ill-treatment of African Americans living in the Southern states, and felt that more priests were needed to care for them as well as the Native Americans. After her father died in 1885, Catherine and her sisters sailed to Europe, where they made a pilgrimage to Rome.

Catherine obtained an audience with Pope Leo XIII and implored him for missionary priests to staff the Native American missions of which she and her sisters were benefactors. The Pope replied, “Why not my child, yourself become a missionary?”

This surprise suggestion suffused Catherine with fresh purpose. Though she had received several marriage proposals, she decided to take up the Pope’s challenge, after consulting her spiritual director, Bishop O’Connor.

Catherine entered the Sisters of Mercy convent as a postulant in May 1889. This sent shockwaves through the upper crust of Philadelphia, with the local paper trumpeting the headline: “Miss Drexel Enters a Catholic Convent—Gives Up Seven Million.”

Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.
Then come, follow Me.
– Mark 10:21

 

A Life of Service

On 12 February 1891, Catherine professed her first religious vows, taking the name “Mother Katharine”. Along with thirteen other women, Mother Katharine established the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Besides the three evangelical vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, they took a fourth vow, to serve the Native Americans and African Americans.

Mother Katharine’s fellow missionary educator Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, foundress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (later the first American citizen to be canonised), advised her on how to navigate the Vatican bureaucracy to have her new order’s rule approved.

While waiting for their convent to be built, the Sisters stayed in the Drexel summer holiday home. When work began on the new motherhouse in Pennsylvania, a stick of dynamite was planted nearby, indicative of the opposition Mother Katharine would face in her mission for social justice and equality. Not everyone recognised the face of God in those who looked different to themselves.

Undeterred, Mother Katharine forged ahead, founding 145 missions in 16 different states, 50 schools for African Americans, 12 schools for Native Americans, and the first Catholic college for African Americans, Xavier University of Louisiana. Her life of active service was born of her deep devotion and contemplation of the Blessed Sacrament.

All is vanity except knowing, loving and serving God.
This alone can bring peace to my soul.
St Katharine Drexel

 

Against All Odds

As with many works of God in this fallen world, Mother Katharine’s mission faced vicious opposition. In 1922, the Ku Klux Klan sent a threatening letter, stating that they would tar and feather the priest in one of the Sisters’ schools and bomb his Texan church.

Faced with this death threat, the Sisters prayed. It is recorded: “Days later, a tornado came and destroyed the headquarters of the KKK, killing two of their members. The Sisters were never threatened again.”

However, the Sisters still had to contend with racist government officials in Georgia, vandalism of Xavier University in New Orleans (someone smashed all the windows), destruction by arson of a school in Virginia, and segregation laws throughout the South.

Yet, they persisted cheerfully, and when Mother Katharine died at the age of 96 on 3 March 1955, having survived two World Wars and the Great Depression, there were over 500 Sisters serving throughout the USA. On 1 October 2000, she was the second American-born saint to be canonised, by Pope John Paul II. Today, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament continue their work. Sadly, Xavier University recently received a bomb threat – the Sisters’ mission is still essential.

 

A Family Affair

Mother Katharine’s beloved Uncle Tony also founded a tertiary institution, Drexel University. Her older sister Elizabeth died in childbirth along with her baby, but before her death she established St. Francis de Sales Industrial School for orphaned boys.

Their little sister Louise married the Republican congressman Edward de Veaux Morrell, and together they built St. Emma’s Agricultural and Industrial School, a boarding school for African American boys. Building on Elizabeth’s legacy, Louise also started a home, the Drexmoor, for young men who had graduated from St. Francis’ and started work in the city. She was an early supporter of the Catholic Interracial Movement.

How much good came into the world through a single family, blessed with a solid relationship with God that guided the stewardship of their material wealth for the common good, for those who needed it most. Their profound love for God and neighbour transformed the lives of generations across their nation.

If we wish to serve God and love our neighbour well,
we must manifest our joy in the service we render to Him and them.
Let us open wide our hearts. It is joy which invites us. Press forward and fear nothing.
– St Katharine Drexel

22 February 2022

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

Today’s feast celebrates the establishment of the Catholic (Universal) Church when Christ said to Simon Bar-Jonah: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

The feast of the Chair of Peter has been celebrated in Rome from the early days of Christianity on 18 January, in memory of the day St Peter first celebrated the Mass in Rome. On 22 February, we celebrate the feast of the Chair of Peter at Antioch, where he also founded an episcopal see. In Greek, chair is kathedra, which is why we have cathedrals, where our bishops sit and teach their flocks.

 

A New Family

The Chair of Peter correlates to the Chair of Moses (Matthew 23:2), the sign of teaching authority for the Jews of old. Today, we give thanks to God for the mission He entrusted to the Apostle Peter and his successors, the popes.

“Pope” comes from the word “Papa”, that is, Father – God founded a spiritual family in the Church, where we learn to live in loving community with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Holy Father is the Vicar of Christ, acting as a general for the King’s army. In the early days, to become a pope was a death sentence: the first 33 popes were martyred.

 

A New Name

Simon, son of Jonah, was given a new name by Jesus along with his mission: Peter, meaning “Rock”. Jesus is the cornerstone (Acts 4:11) and rock of our faith; He is identified with the rock which accompanied the Israelites through the desert and, when cleft by Moses, provided living water (1 Corinthians 10:4). In giving the chief of the apostles his name, that is, his identity, Jesus was giving him a share in His earthly mission of salvation, which was to continue until the end of time.

 


Saint Peter’s Basilica, the apse, showing the Cathedra of St Peter supported by four Doctors of the Church, and the Glory, designed by Bernini.

 

Authority to Teach

Just as we have accredited teachers, who are trained to teach us about languages, sciences, mathematics, the arts and humanities, as well as physical education, home economics, design and technology and other skills, we have our clergy who go through many years of training to be our pastors (shepherds) and priests (who offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for us).

As teachers guide us through textbooks and workbooks, explaining the content to us and bringing it to life, so do priests guide us through Holy Scripture, particularly during the Mass, where we have readings from the Old and New Testaments side by side, showing us the pattern of salvation history.

It is because the Church has her teaching authority from Christ that she was able to canonise the books of the Bible. In the early days, various churches had different lists of scriptural texts. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Catholic Church decided which books were inspired by God and which were not, at the Council of Rome in AD 382, under the authority of Pope Damasus I. The same canon was reaffirmed at the Council of Hippo, Africa, in AD 393 at the Council of Carthage, AD 397; also at the ecumenical councils of Florence (1442), Trent (1546), Vatican I (1870), and Vatican II (1965).

When you quote the Bible as the Word of God, you accept the authority of the Catholic Church. Furthermore, the Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton (1207-1228) painstakingly numbered all the verses of the Bible. Anytime we mention a Bible verse like “John 3:16”, we are taking advantage of his great labour of love.

 

One to One

Philip the Apostle met an Ethiopian eunuch who was reading the prophet Isaiah, who is now known to have prophesied Jesus’ suffering and death. Philip asked if he understood what he was reading, to which the eunuch responded: “How can I, unless some man show me?” So Philip sat beside him and taught him about Jesus, after which he requested baptism. (Acts 8:27-39)

Hundreds of years later, when missionaries arrived in the area where the eunuch had travelled – modern-day Sudan – they found that the locals, though lacking much knowledge of Christianity as they had no priests to preserve and transmit the faith, knew how to make the Sign of the Cross.

Today, we are blessed to have resources like The Bible in a Year podcast by Fr Mike Schmitz, or the Jeff Cavins Bible study podcast. Delve into these to unpack the riches of the Word of God!

 

Collect for the Feast of the Chair of Peter:

Oh, God, who, together with the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, didst bestow on blessed Peter Thy Apostle the pontificate of binding and loosing, grant that by the aid of his intercession we may be released from the yoke of our sins.