July 23rd, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Cardinal Schonborn: Church doing best to strengthen families of all types

By Sarah Mac Donald of Catholic News Service

LIMERICK, Ireland (CNS) — The Catholic Church is doing whatever it can to strengthen the family, including families often considered nontraditional, said Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, the theologian who reviewed Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family.

“Favoring the family does not mean disfavoring other forms of life — even those living in a same-sex partnership need their families,” the cardinal said during a visit to Ireland, which next year hosts the World Meeting of Families.

The family is “the survival network of the future” and “will remain forever the basis of every society,” Cardinal Schonborn told journalists July 13 ahead of addressing a conference, “Let’s Talk Family: Let’s Be Family.”

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The cardinal told the conference at Mary Immaculate College that people should not be discouraged about the future of the family, despite the many social and economic threats and policies that disregard it.

“Today, everybody can get married,” he said, but acknowledged “so many choose not to get married.” He suggested that the number of so-called irregular situations has increased enormously because the “framework of society has changed so much.”

“But let us not forget that marriage, as we have it today, is a privilege that was fairly rare in previous centuries, (when at most) a third of the population were able to get married.”

He said his great-grandmother, a wealthy widow who lived in what today is the Czech Republic but then was part of the Austrian empire, had six servants who remained unmarried because of laws against marriage for people of their status. “Marriage was a privilege,” he said.

The cardinal, a former student of retired Pope Benedict XVI, also noted that his German professor’s grandmother was the “illegitimate daughter of a maiden, who was not permitted to marry.”

He said if he had to sum it up for Twitter, he would say, “‘Amoris Laetitia’ tells you marriage and family are possible today.” “Amoris Laetitia” is Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation after two synods of bishops on the family.

Asked about the reception of “Amoris Laetitia” within the church and the “dubia” — a series of questions raised by four cardinals to clear up confusion — Cardinal Schonborn said the “process of reception is a long process” and needs negotiation and discussion.

But he also criticized the cardinals over the manner in which they raised their concerns. “That cardinals, who should be the closest collaborators of the pope, try to force him and put pressure on him to give a public response to their publicized letter is absolutely inconvenient behavior,” he said.

He told journalists, “I fear those who have rapid, clear answers in politics and economy and also in religion. Rigorists and laxists have clear and rapid answers, but they fail to look at life. The rigorist avoids the effort of discernment, of looking closely at reality. The laxist lets everything possible go, and there is no discernment. They are the same but opposite.”

“St. Gregory the Great said the art of the pastoral accompaniment is the art of discernment. It is an art and it needs training,” he added.

During the conference, Cardinal Schonborn, whose own parents divorced, described Chapter 8 of “Amoris Laetitia” as the section that has been “most hotly debated.”

“Most often the topic is reduced to one question — ‘May they (remarried divorcees who did not receive an annulment) receive Communion? Yes or no!’ Pope Francis has said, ‘This is a trap!’ By narrowing this to one question the main purpose of ‘Amoris Laetitia’ is forgotten: Look closely and discern,” the cardinal said.

Commending the importance of pastoral discernment, the cardinal said that, in view of the immense variety of situations that can arise for couples encountering difficulties, “It is understandable that neither the synod nor this exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases.”

July 16th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Convocation delegates urged to take Gospel to struggling people everywhere

By Dennis Sadowski | Catholic News Service

ORLANDO, Fla. (CNS) — Being Christian is more than accepting Jesus as savior, but requires the faithful to go to the peripheries of society where people are struggling materially and spiritually, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles told the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America.”

“Jesus calls us to follow him. That is an action, a decision that implies a way of life,” Archbishop Gomez said during a plenary session July 3, the third day of the convocation.

He said Pope Francis has focused the mission of the church on going to people on the sidelines of society, he said, calling it a responsibility not just for bishops, clergy and church professionals, but for the entire church.

The pope, the archbishop explained, sees the peripheries as both a physical place and existential. They are places that reflect a society that has determined that some people can be pushed aside or discarded.

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“They are places on a map, places where people live. The peripheries are parts of our cities and the rural areas that we never visit. The other side of the tracks. They are where the poor live. They are the prisons and the tent cities in our public spaces. The peripheries are the bitter fruits of neglect, exploitation and injustice. They are all the places our society is ashamed of and would rather forget about,” he said.

“But for Pope Francis, the peripheries are more than a physical location or a social category. They are places where poverty is not only material but also spiritual,” he said.

The archbishop called such locations places where people “are wounded and feel their life has no meaning and makes no difference,” trapping themselves in sin, addiction, slavery and self-deception.

“The pope is saying these peripheries are growing in the modern world and these peripheries are new mission territory,” he explained.

Archbishop Gomez, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, admitted some of these places are “where the church does not like to go, where we do not like to go.” Yet, he reminded the 3,500 delegates, Jesus is at the margins, and that as people of faith, they are invited to go where Jesus exists.

“The church has always been present in the peripheries, through our schools, our parishes and our ministries. Sometimes we are the only ones serving these communities. But we can do better, we are called to do more. That is our challenge,” Archbishop Gomez said.

He also blamed “elites” for undertaking an “aggressive ‘de-Christianization’ of our society” to cause people to “‘un-remember’ our Christian roots and deconstruct everything that was built on these roots.”

“With the loss of God, we are witnessing the loss of the human person,” he said.

Archbishop Gomez pointed to American society as a prime example of where the need to minister on the margins is vital, especially because families are breaking down and communities are experiencing instability.

“This is one of the lessons from the last election, wasn’t it? America is pulling apart. We are a people divided along lines of money and race, education and family backgrounds. People are afraid of the future. They feel powerless and excluded,” he told the convocation.

The archbishop urged that such concerns be addressed by the church and the faithful, through being a presence to those in need to help bridge the widening gaps between people.

The answer to such concerns rests with imitating Jesus and meeting people at the “places of pain and injustice, to the places where people forgotten and along.”

“Siempre adelante,” he said in Spanish. “Always forward.”

Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, in an address opening the plenary session, suggested to the delegates that if they “go deep enough into the peripheries, we will see the boundaries between us disappear.”

He said Pope Francis and his predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II, have urged action for society’s forgotten communities. He suggested marginalized people can be as close as the person next door.

Pope Francis asks the church to reach out “in joy in a permanent state of mission,” Anderson said. “This great task is for each of us.”

A panel discussion during the same session addressed several examples of the church working in the peripheries of the world including ministry with African-American Catholics; the work of Catholic Relief Services in more than 160 countries; care for immigrants along the border in the Rio Grande Valley in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas; ministry to people with same-sex attraction; and the use of social media as a tool to reach youth and young adults.

July 9th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Why Is the Sacred Heart Burning?

By Stephen Beale

Images of the Sacred Heart meticulously recount key details of the crucifixion. The wounded heart itself, the crown of thorns, and the cross itself all appear. Some depictions even include the lance that pierced the side of Christ penetrating His heart.

But there’s one detail that seems out of place. There was no fire at the crucifixion, yet the Sacred Heart is often shown with flames. Why?

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A burnt offering. Recall that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was mean to recapitulate and supersede all the sacrifices of the Old Testament. What was a common feature of these sacrifices? Fire. Think of the fire that devoured the sacrifices offered by Elijah and the fire that Abraham would have set had an angel not intervened (see 1 Kings 18 and Genesis 22). In ancient Israel, a burnt offering was the supreme form of sacrifice, it symbolized a total commitment to God—particularly the death of the victim animal and the all-consuming nature of the fire. (Key sources here, here, and here.) The burning Sacred Heart reminds us that this sacrifice too was incorporated into Christ’s supreme offering of Himself on the cross.

Symbol of divinity. Of course, fire is also a familiar Old Testament symbol of God. We encounter God’s fiery presence at Sinai and in the account of Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 1). This symbolism carries over into the Old Testament, where the Holy Spirit descends upon the heads of the apostles as tongues of fire. Perhaps it’s especially fitting that the Sacred Heart is burning given that from it poured water and blood, symbols of the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharistic wine, both the work of the Holy Spirit.

Symbol of the divine Incarnate. The fire burns, but the Sacred Heart is not consumed. Does this sound familiar? It recalls Moses’ first encounter with God, in a bush that burned but was not consumed. This foreshadowed the Incarnation, in which God assumed human nature, without his divinity extinguishing the humanity that had been assumed: Christ was fully man and fully God. It is fitting that at this climactic moment of the Incarnation that its deepest reality is reaffirmed in such an acute way.

Jesus’ passion for us. In the context of the gospels, the Passion refers to the suffering of Christ. But, in our society, we usually use the word passion to refer to something or someone that drives our enthusiasm, interest, desires, and commitments. Is this meaning still valid for the Sacred Heart? I think so. There is evidence in the gospels that a burning heart signified intense emotions. One clear example of this is the two disciples who encountered Christ on the road to Emmaus and afterwards remarked that their hearts had been burning. (See Luke 24; my source for this interpretation is here.) So yes, the flames on the Sacred Heart are a true reminder of God’s burning love for us.

Light of the World. Fire does two things. First, it consumes that which it burns. Second, it gives off light. This second aspect is certainly relevant to the symbolism of the Sacred Heart, given that Christ is the true light of the world. Remember that during the crucifixion, darkness descended upon the land (see Mark 15:33). In the darkest hour, the Sacred Heart burned bright with hope.

Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints.

July 2nd, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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God Bless America

Celebrating Independence Day as a Christian

July 4th is the national celebration of our Nation’s independence. As we celebrate let us remember to pray that God will strengthen and bless America and make our nation a haven of liberty and justice for all — born and unborn.

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How are we as Catholic Christians and Americans supposed to celebrate this great day? John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers of our country, wrote this about how to celebrate the fourth of July:

“It ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with parades and picnics with shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and fireworks from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”

Well, let’s see how we’re doing in celebrating the fourth of July the way one of the greatest Founders envisioned. Parades? Check. Picnic? Check. Sports? Backyard games count, right? Check. Bonfires? Check. Fireworks? Double check. Solemn Acts of Devotions to God Almighty? Um . . .I don’t know about you, but I don’t typically live up to that calling on the Fourth of July.

But, John Adams set an example for us. After everything’s said and done, we owe God more than anyone else for what occurred 241 years ago. In fact, the most famous part of the Declaration of Independence explicitly points to God as the source of our freedom:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

There are many ways to honor God on this special day. Perhaps you can read a passage from the Catholic Bible with your family to kick off the festivities, or pray a family rosary with the special intention for our political leaders and our country’s future.

Not our parents, or politicians, or government, are the source of our most important rights. Only God. As the source of our rights, He deserves the highest praise, honor, and glory on Independence Day and every day.

June 25th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Living Your Strengths

AT ST. JOHN XXIII CHURCH

by: Steve Engelman

At some time during the past seven years you may have seen and wondered about those five words near the bottom of parish name tags; noticed upcoming sessions advertised in the bulletin; or were one of the hundreds of parishioners who participated in a Living Your Strengths workshop.

Living Your Strengths, based on a book of the same title and the associated Clifton StrengthsFinder® assessment, has been a key component for enhancing parishioner engagement by raising awareness and understanding of the unique talents God bestowed upon each of us. These talents are natural ways of thinking, feeling and behaving that can be productively applied for enriching personal, communal, and spiritual lives.

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For the natural talents we are blessed with at birth to develop into true strengths, it requires awareness, understanding, education and practice to transform them from a raw condition to a more fully developed mature state.

The problem is most people do not know what their greatest talents are, or how to go about discovering them, and this untapped potential leads to a lack of engagement and spiritual fulfillment. Gallup’s research shows engagement drives a parish’s spiritual health and, contrary to popular belief, it is actually a greater sense of belonging felt by a parishioner that leads to enriched believing in the mission of Christ and the Church, not the opposite.

The model for achieving greater parishioner engagement, as defined by Gallup, is hierarchical with four stages building upon each other. Imagine a pyramid with the first level, or base, being “What do I get?” and the second level as “What do I give?”. The third and fourth levels are “Do I belong?” and “How can we grow?, respectively. At St. John XXIII, the first two levels are addressed in our Living Christ’s Covenant document originally introduced to parishioners in 2013 and renewed in February of this year. Additionally, the often displayed WORSHIP, GROW, SERVE, CONNECT, and GIVE banners are reminders of the “What do I give?” level and are intended to provide guidance to parishioners seeking to become further engaged and even more spiritual.

The level of parishioner engagement, and thus overall spiritual commitment, is measurable and can be categorized as shown below:

Engaged: These parishioners are intensely loyal with a strong psychological connection to our parish. They are more spiritually committed and more likely to extend invitations to others. They also tend to give more generously of their time, talents, and treasure.

Not Engaged: These parishioners may attend Mass regularly but are not psychologically connected and their connection is probably more social than spiritual. They donate moderately but not sacrificially and if they volunteer they only donate minimal amounts of time.

Actively Disengaged: These members usually attend Mass only once or twice a year, if at all. Some in this group may attend regularly, but if that’s the case, they are physically present but psychologically absent. Some are unhappy and may insist on sharing that unhappiness with just about anyone.

In 2011 our parish, with support from Gallup, conducted a survey to develop a baseline engagement measure and the results at that time were 32% engaged, 47% not engaged, and 21% actively disengaged. While these results were better than the average Catholic Church it was also apparent great opportunities exist.

Living your Strengths workshops address numerous elements of engagement and are designed to assist parishioners, through enhanced awareness and application of their unique talents, toward higher levels of engagement and the resulting spiritual enrichment.

You are invited to participate in the next workshop series where the ongoing journey toward greater satisfaction, throughout all aspects of your life, continues. During three interactive and enlightening sessions, you will transition from learning your unique God-given talents to truly living your strengths with greater understanding, confidence, and personal fulfillment. We will also explore the unique talents of others and the contributions each can make toward greater stewardship and discipleship.

This series of workshops is scheduled for July 11, 18, and 25 from 6pm-8pm

To register or for additional information please contact:

Jennifer Engelman in the parish office at jennifer@johnxxiii.net
or phone (239) 561-2245

June 18th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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A Father’s Day Blessing

Saint Joseph The Patron Saint of Fathers

St. Joseph, husband of Mary and earthly father of Jesus, is the model of fatherhood. His faith and obedience to God inspired his devotion for his family. As we prepare to celebrate Father’s Day on June 19, it might be helpful to study his example. In “Five Lessons from St. Joseph,” author Randy Hain points out attributes that serve as a helpful guide:

  • St. Joseph was obedient.
  • St. Joseph was selfless.
  • St. Joseph led by example.
  • St. Joseph was a worker.
  • St. Joseph was a leader.

“Let’s look to the inspiring example of St. Joseph, patron saint of fathers, workers and the Universal Church for his obedience, humility, selflessness, courage and the love he showed to Mary and Jesus. If we can emulate St. Joseph even a little each day, we will be that much closer to becoming the men you called to be.

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St. Pope John Paul II highlighted St. Joseph to explain the Catholic understanding of fatherhood in his 1989 apostolic exhortation, Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer: On the Person and Mission of St. Joseph in the Life of Christ and the Church).

“Commending ourselves, then, to the protection of (St. Joseph) to whose custody God ‘entrusted his greatest and most precious treasures. Let us at the same time learn from him how to be servants of the economy of salvation. May St. Joseph become for all of us an exceptional teacher in the service of Christ’s saving mission, a mission which is the responsibility of each and every member of the Church: husbands and wives, parents, those who live by the work of their hands or by any other kind of work, those called to the contemplative life and those called to the apostolate.”

The significance of St. Joseph’s presence in Jesus’ life reminds us how important fathers are in our lives. The following offers a variety of resources to help you celebrate the fathers in your life on Father’s Day.

Shop AMAZONSMILE and SUPPORT

St. John XXIII Catholic Church

What is AmazonSmile?
AmazonSmile is a simple and automatic way for you to support St. John XXIII every time you shop, at no cost to you. When you shop at smile.amazon.com, you’ll find the exact same low prices, vast selection and convenient shopping experience as Amazon.com, with the added bonus that Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to your favorite charitable organization. This includes Prime benefits if you are a Prime member. You can choose from nearly one million organizations to support.

How do I shop at AmazonSmile?
To shop at AmazonSmile simply go to smile.amazon.com from the web browser on your computer or mobile device. You may also want to add a bookmark to smile.amazon.com to make it even easier to return and start your shopping at AmazonSmile.

Which products on AmazonSmile are eligible for charitable donations?
Tens of millions of products on AmazonSmile are eligible for donations. You will see eligible products marked “Eligible for AmazonSmile donation” on their product detail pages. Recurring Subscribe-and-Save purchases and subscription renewals are not currently eligible.

Can I use my existing Amazon.com account on AmazonSmile?
Yes, you use the same account on Amazon.com and AmazonSmile. Your shopping cart, Wish List, wedding or baby registry, and other account settings are also the same. Your login information will be the same as your Amazon.com account

How do I select St. John XXIII Catholic Church as my charitable organization to support when shopping on AmazonSmile?
On your first visit to AmazonSmile (smile.amazon.com), you will need to search for and select St. John XXIII to receive donations from eligible purchases before you begin shopping. Our parish will be listed as Saint John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers, FL. Please be sure that the parish, along with city & state are correct, as there are many listings. We will remember your selection, and then every eligible purchase you make at smile.amazon.com will result in a donation.

How much of my purchase does Amazon donate?
The AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price from your eligible AmazonSmile purchases. The purchase price is the amount paid for the item minus any rebates and excluding shipping & handling, gift-wrapping fees, taxes, or service charges. From time to time, we may offer special, limited time promotions that increase the donation amount on one or more products or services or provide for additional donations to charitable organizations. Special terms and restrictions may apply. Please see the relevant promotion for complete details.

Can I receive a tax deduction for amounts donated from my purchases on AmazonSmile?
Donations are made by the AmazonSmile Foundation and are not tax deductible by you.

Contact Jennifer Baumgardner for more information at: jennb@johnxxiii.net

June 11th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Our Parish Library

LORI IZRAL SERVING ST. JOHN XXIII CHURCH

Did You Know? Lori Izral has spent most of her adult life in service of the Church. As a teacher since 1957, she taught at Catholic elementary, high school, college and university levels.

In addition, she served in various positions in the Communications field with Jesuits in Communication/North America, UNDA-USA (the official Catholic organization for broadcasters) and the American Catholic Bishops’ Communications Commission.

Lori carried her service to other organizations in administrative roles, such as The Chicago Association for Retarded Citizens (Vice-President), The National Telemedia Council (President) and The North American Broadcast Section of the World Association for Christian Communication (President).

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Sixteen years ago, after retiring from Loyola University as Professor Emerita, she and her husband John moved from LaGrange, IL, to Fort Myers, FL. They have been members of St. John XXIII since its inception at Noonan Academy. Lori serves as lector, Eucharistic Minister and Homebound Minister.

In November, 2009, she found an ad in the Church bulletin: “Wanted – a Literature Minister.” This minister would “oversee a small collection of books and have a willingness to manage new donations.” Lori met with Damian Hanley, Communications Director for our Parish at the time, and told him “I could do this.” He said “Go for it!” So, she did!

Whether a professor, communicator or librarian, Lori believes that her service in the Church is truly one of her greatest blessings.

History of Our Parish Library

Our Parish Library was established in 2010 for the following reasons:

  • To expand our growing knowledge of our faith
  • To instruct us in spiritual development
  • To inspire us in the practice of our moral choices
  • To entertain with faith and Christian values in mind
  • To enable all ministries to consolidate resources and share them with the parish community

The Library began with 15 books donated by the priests and staff of the parish. Today we have processed more than 2,000 books. These books came to us from our generous priests and parishioners, the Friends of the Lakes Public Library, the St. John XXIII Thrift Store, the St. Cecilia Parish Library and the Legends Golfand Country Club Library. We continually welcome contributions to expand our library holdings. This year we hope to be processing CDs and DVDs to our collections.

Processing books includes the following: cleaning and repairing books (where needed), stamping, categorizing, making labels for pockets and cards, making labels for the spines of the books and listings in our inventory (author, title, publisher, year of publication and call letters). The books are sorted into 34 categories, such as, reference, biography, art, history, family issues, spirituality, death and dying, fiction, ecclesiology, prayer and meditation, senior issues, liturgy, health and healing…just to name a few.

Space limitations and lack of funding curtail our physical abilities to house these treasures. To that issue we have been using two carts in the narthex to circulate our books. The carts have 12 shelves holding a few hundred books in several categories. The rest of our books are held in the meeting room of the administration building. About 15 newly processed books are rotated into the carts each week.

Books may be signed out from either place for as long as needed. The larger collection is available for research, supplemental reading, and circulation. Access to the room is limited because of meetings, conferences and religious lessons. However, should you wish to use the library, just call the office at (239) 561-2245 to ask if the room is free or to make an appointment.

Some ways you can help us:

  • Please continue to use our library
  • Be sure to sign out the books: date, name and phone number
  • Handle the books gently: no markings, dog-eared pages or marginal notes
  • Return books to the designated shelf of the carts

Generosity and Gratitude are two sides of the same coin that builds our parish community. Blessings to you for your generosity in helping our ministry. Thank you, Lori, for your time, talent and treasure to St. John XXIII!

June 4th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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What is Pentecost Sunday?

It is the great feast that marks the birth of the Christian Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost means “fiftieth day” and is celebrated 50 days after Easter. Red is the liturgical color for this day and it is encouraged that the faithful wear red to Church that day. Red is symbolic of the love of the Holy Spirit and recalls the tongues of fire in which the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles that first Pentecost. The color red also reminds us of the blood of the martyrs. These are the believers of every generation who by the power of the Holy Spirit hold firm to the true faith even at the cost of their lives.

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Pentecost Sunday is a commemoration and celebration of the receiving of the Holy Spirit by the early church. John the Baptist prophesied of the first Pentecost when Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11). Jesus confirmed this prophecy with the promise of the Holy Spirit to the disciples in John 14:26. He showed Himself to these men after His death on the cross and His resurrection, giving convincing proofs that He was alive.
Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit, from whom they would receive power to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:3-8).

After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the men returned to Jerusalem and joined together in prayer in an upper room. On the Day of Pentecost, just as promised, the sound of a violent wind filled the house and tongues of fire came to rest on each of them and all were filled with the Holy Spirit. They were given the power of communication, which Peter used to begin the ministry for which Jesus had prepared him. After the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples did not stay in the room basking in God’s glory but burst out to tell the world. This was the beginning of the church as we know it.

Today, in many Christian churches, Pentecost Sunday is celebrated to recognize the gift of the Holy Spirit, realizing that God’s very life, breath and energy live in believers. During this service, John 20:19-23 may be the core of the message about our risen Savior supernaturally appearing to the fear-laden disciples. Their fear gave way to joy when the Lord showed them His hands and side. He assured them peace and repeated the command given in Matthew 28:19-20, saying, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Then He breathed on them, and they received the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-23).

The celebration of Pentecost Sunday reminds us of the reality that we all have the unifying Spirit that was poured out upon the first-century church in Acts 2:1-4. It is a reminder that we are co-heirs with Christ, to suffer with Him that we may also be glorified with Him; that the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7); that we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13); and that the Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead lives inside believers (Romans 8:9-11). This gift of the Holy Spirit that was promised and given to all believers on the first Pentecost is promised for you and your children and for all who are far off whom the Lord our God will call (Acts 2:39).

May 28th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Ideological fanatics divide the Christian community, pope says

By Junno Arocho Esteves Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Christians who turn doctrine into ideology commit a grave mistake that upsets souls and divides the church, Pope Francis said.

From the beginning, there have been people in the church who preach “without any mandate” and become “fanatics of things that aren’t clear,” the pope said May 19 in his homily during Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae.

“This is the problem: When the doctrine of the church, the one from the Gospel, the one inspired by the Holy Spirit — because Jesus said, ‘He will teach you and remind you of what I have taught!’ — when that doctrine becomes ideology. And this is the greatest mistake of these people,” he said.

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The pope reflected on the day’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (15:22-31), in which, after much debate, the apostles and presbyters send representatives to allay the concerns of the gentile converts after they were ordered by overzealous believers to follow Jewish practices if they wished to be saved.

However, the apostles ruled that “it is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond” abstaining from meat sacrificed to idols and from strangled animals, blood and unlawful marriages.

The initial debate about how to deal with the gentiles, the pope said, was between “the group of the apostles who wanted to discuss the problem and the others who go and create problems.”

“They divide, they divide the church, they say that what the apostles preach is not what Jesus said, that it isn’t the truth,” he explained.

Those who sow discord and “divide the Christian community,” the pope said, do so because their “hearts are closed to the work of the Holy Spirit.”

These individuals, he added, “weren’t believers, they were ideologues.”

Pope Francis said the exhortation sent to the gentiles by Peter and the other apostles encourages all Christians to be unafraid before “the opinions of the ideologues of doctrine.”

“The church has its own magisterium, the magisterium of the pope (and) the bishops,” and it must follow along the path “that comes from Jesus’ preaching and the teaching and assistance of the Holy Spirit,” the pope said.

Doctrine, he said, unites the Christian community because it is “always open, always free” while “ideology divides.”

May 21st, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Bishops among first signatories to pledge to end death penalty

By Mark Pattison | Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Bishops attending a meeting were among the first to sign the National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty at the U.S. bishops’ headquarters building May 9.

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Each person taking the pledge promises to educate, advocate and pray for an end to capital punishment.

“All Christians and people of goodwill are thus called today to fight not only for the abolition of the death penalty, whether legal or illegal, and in all its forms, but also in order to improve prison conditions, with respect for the human dignity of the people deprived of their freedom,” Pope Francis has said. This quotation kicks off the pledge.

The pledge drive is organized by the Catholic Mobilizing Network.

“The death penalty represents a failure of our society to fulfill the demands of human dignity, as evidenced by the 159 people and counting who have been exonerated due to their innocence since 1973,” the organization says on the pledge sheet following space for someone’s signature.

Quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the network added, “The death penalty is not needed to maintain public safety, punishment must ‘correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and (be) more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.’”

After capital punishment was halted nationwide briefly in the 1970s, more than 1,400 people have been executed since it resumed 40 years ago, according to the Catholic Mobilizing Network. “The prolonged nature of the death penalty process can perpetuate the trauma for victims’ families and prevents the opportunity for healing and reconciliation called for in the message of Jesus Christ.”

The idea for the pledge campaign took root in January, said Catholic Mobilizing Network executive director Karen Clifton in an interview with Catholic News Service. It is supported in part by a $50,000 grant from the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Communication Campaign.

Clifton said Arkansas’ bid to execute eight death-row prisoners in a 10-day span in April — four were ultimately put to death — “exacerbated the situation and showed it as a very live example of who we are executing and the reasons why the system is so broken,” she said.

Penalties for crime are “supposed to be retributive, but also restorative. The death penalty is definitely not restorative,” Clifton said. Those on death row are not the worst of the worst, they’re the least — the marginalized, the poor, those with improper (legal) counsel,” she added.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said he and his fellow bishops have voiced their views strongly with Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, where capital punishment is legal and where prisoners have been executed.

Bishop Dewane, in recalling Pope John Paul II’s successful personal appeal to the governor of Missouri to spare a death-row inmate’s life during the pope’s visit to St. Louis in 1999, said the episode offers hope. “It’s a great example,” he added. “You never know how your words will be taken, or accepted.”

Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, who was one of a number of bishops who signed the pledge following a daylong meeting May 9 at the U.S. bishops’ headquarters building in Washington, said the church’s ministry to prisoners is another source of hope. “It’s the ministry of companionship that’s so important,” he noted.

Bishop Soto said the ministry of accompaniment is also necessary to the victims of crime. He recalled an instance when a priest of his diocese, who was expected to attend a meeting of priests, had to bow out “because he had to bury someone who had been killed by violence in his neighborhood. … We are not recognizing that the futility of the death penalty system.”

Capuchin Father John Pavlik, president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, told CNS that networking is a key tool in the toolbox in spreading information opposing the death penalty. CMSM, he said, has a person on staff to monitor issues surrounding justice and peace, and has consistently communicated capital punishment information to CMSM members.

Father Pavlik said he takes inspiration from an Ohio woman whose child was murdered decades ago. The killer was arrested, tried and convicted on a charge of capital murder, “and she has spent the last 25 years advocating against the execution of this man.” The priest also voiced his distaste at the “disregard for life” shown in Arkansas, which he said had tried to execute eight death-row prisoners in such a short time because “the drug (used in the fatal injection) was going to expire.”

May 14th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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It’s official: Pope Francis to canonize Fatima visionaries during May visit

By Elise Harris

Vatican City, Apr 20, 2017 / 03:06 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During his trip to Portugal for the centenary of the Fatima Marian apparitions next month, Pope Francis will canonize visionaries Francisco and Jacinta Marto, making them the youngest non-martyrs to ever be declared saints.

The children will be canonized during Pope Francis’ May 13 Mass in Fatima. The decision for the date was made during a April 20 consistory of cardinals, which also voted on the dates of four other canonizations, in addition to that of Francisco and Jacinta, that will take place this year.

Some martyrs who will soon be saints are diocesan priests Andrea de Soveral and Ambrogio Francesco Ferro, and layman Matteo Moreira, killed in hatred of the faith in Brazil in 1645; and three teenagers – Cristóbal, Antonio, and Juan – killed in hatred of the faith in Mexico in 1529, who will be canonized October 15.

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Bl. Angelo da Acri, a Capuchin priest who died in October 1739, and Faustino Míguez, a Piarist priest who founded the Calasanziano Institute of the Daughters of the Divine Shepherd, will also be canonized October 15.

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, the Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, is the man who was largely responsible for advancing the visionaries’ cause, paving the way for them to become the first canonized children who were not martyred.

Previously, the Portuguese cardinal told CNA, children were not beatified, due to the belief “that children didn’t yet have the ability to practice Christian heroic virtue like adults.”

But that all changed when the cause for Francisco and Jacinta Marto arrived on his desk.

Francisco, 11, and Jacinta, 10, became the youngest non-martyr children in the history of the Church to be beatified when on May 13, 2000, the 83rd anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady at Fatima, Pope John Paul II proclaimed them “Blessed,” officially showing that young children can become Saints.

The brother and sister, who tended to their family’s sheep with their cousin Lucia Santo in the fields of Fatima, Portugal, witnessed the apparitions of Mary now commonly known as Our Lady of Fatima.

During the first apparition, which took place May 13, 1917, Our Lady asked the three children to pray the Rosary and make sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. The children did this and were known to pray often, giving their lunch to beggars and going without food themselves. They offered up their sacrifices and even refrained from drinking water on hot days.

When Francisco and Jacinta became seriously ill with the Spanish flu in October 1918, Mary appeared to them and said she would to take them to heaven soon.

Bed-ridden, Francisco requested and received his first Communion. The following day, Francisco died, April 4, 1919. Jacinta suffered a long illness and was eventually transferred to a Lisbon hospital, where she underwent an operation for an abscess in her chest. However, her health did not improve and she died Feb. 20, 1920.

Francisco and Jacinta “practiced Christian virtue in a heroic way,” Cardinal Martins said, explaining that among other things, one of the most obvious moments in which this virtue was apparent for him was when the three shepherd children were arrested and intimidated by their mayor on August 13, 1917.

Government stability in Portugal was rocky following the revolution and coup d’état that led to the overthrow of the monarchy and subsequent establishment of the First Portuguese Republic in 1910.

A new liberal constitution separating Church and state was drafted under the influence of Freemasonry, which sought to omit the faith – which for many was the backbone of Portuguese culture and society – from public life.

It was in this context that, after catching wind of the Virgin Mary’s appearance to Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia, district Mayor Artur de Oliveira Santos had the children arrested on the day Mary was to appear to them, and threatened to boil them in hot oil unless they would confess to inventing the apparitions.

At one point in the conversation at the jailhouse, Jacinta was taken out of the room, leaving Francisco and Lucia alone. The two were told that Jacinta had been burned with hot oil, and that if they didn’t lie, the same would happen to them.

However, instead of caving to the pressure, the children said: “you can do whatever you want, but we cannot tell a lie. Do whatever you want to us, burn us with oil, but we cannot tell a lie.”

“This was the virtue of these children,” Cardinal Martins said, noting that to accept death rather than tell a lie is “more heroic than many adults.”

“There’s a lot to say on the heroicness of children,” he said, adding that “because of this I brought their cause forward.”

Cardinal Martins was also the one to bring Lucia’s cause to the Vatican following her death in 2005. The visionary had spent the remainder of her life after the apparitions as a Carmelite nun.

Typically the must be a five-year waiting period after a person dies before their cause can be brought forward. However, after only three years Martins ask that the remaining two be dismissed, and his request was granted.

Although the diocesan phase of the cause has already been finished, Cardinal Martins – who knew the visionary personally – said Lucia’s process will take much longer than that of Francisco and Jacinta not only due to her long life, but also because of the vast number of letters and other material from her writings and correspondence that needs to be examined.

The cardinal, who will be present in Fatima with the Pope during his May 12-13 visit for the centenary of the apparitions, said he views the occasion as the conclusion of a process that began with him changing a norm regarding the view of children “and their heroic virtue.”

This process is important, he said, because it means there could be other children who practiced heroic virtue that can now be canonized, so “it’s certainly something important.”

“It needs to be seen that (children) are truly capable of practicing heroic virtue,” not only in Fatima, but “in the Christian life,” he said.

Although canonizations, apart from a few exceptions, are typically held in Rome, it was only recently that beatifications began to be held outside of Rome, in the local Church which promoted the new Blessed’s cause.

This change was made by Cardinal Martins in September 2005, after receiving the approval of Benedict XVI.

In the past, a beatification Mass in Rome would be presided over by the Cardinal-Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints during the morning, with the Pope coming down to the basilica to pray to the new Blessed in the afternoon. Cardinal Martins said he decided to change this because the beatification and the canonization “are two different realities.”

“While the canonizations had a more universal dimension of the Church, the beatifications have a more local dimension, where they (the Blessed) came from,” he said, noting that this is reflected even in the words spoken during the rites for each Mass.

“Because of this, I made a distinction: the beatification in their (the Blessed’s) own church, in their diocese, and the canonizations in Rome.”

The result was “a fantastic revolution,” he said, explaining that while maybe 2-3,000 people would participate in the beatification ceremonies in Rome, hundreds of thousands started to come for the local beatification Masses of new Blessed in their home dioceses.

The cardinal said that “it’s beautiful” to see people – many times including friends and family members of new Blessed – join in honoring their countryman, asking for their intercession, and seeking to follow their example.

He believes the custom will remain like this, adding that it is beautiful particularly from the standpoint of evangelization.

“The new Blessed says to their brothers, many of whom they knew, ‘I am one of you, one like you, so you must follow my path and live the Gospel in depth’,” the cardinal said, explaining that this is “a formidable act of evangelization, and with everyone happy about the new Blessed, they’ll immediately do what they say!”

Cardinal Martins said the decision was also prompted by the emphasis placed on local Churches during the Second Vatican Council.

“I thought, one of the most effective ways to highlight the importance of local Churches is to conduct in the local diocese the beatification of one of their sons,” he said.

May 7th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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World Day of Prayer for Vocations

World Day of Prayer will be observed on Sunday, May 7th, also known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Please pray that young men and women hear and respond generously to the Lord’s call to the priesthood, diaconate, religious life, societies of apostolic life or secular institutes. You can find many resources to promote a culture of vocations on the USCCB Vocations webpage: (www.usccb.org/vocations).

The purpose of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is to publically fulfill the Lord’s instruction to, “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest” (Mt 9:38; Lk 10:2). As a climax to a prayer that is continually offered throughout the Church, it affirms the primacy of faith and grace in all that concerns vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life. While appreciating all vocations, the Church concentrates its attention this day on vocations to the ordained ministries (priesthood and diaconate), to the Religious life in all its forms (male and female, contemplative and apostolic), to societies of apostolic life, to secular institutes in their diversity of services and membership, and to the missionary life, in the particular sense of mission “ad gentes”.

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2017 marks the 54th Anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

Prayers of the Faithful:
For young men and women; That God may give them the gift of understanding to discern their service in the Church, the priesthood, diaconate, or consecrated life; And for the gift of courage to follow His call. We pray to the Lord. For young people; That they may know the personal love of the Lord for them, and respond with open and generous hearts. We pray to the Lord.

April 30th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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The Gift of Life

TESTIMONY FROM A ORGAN DONOR RECIPIENT

by: Clayton Atkins

If you ever have the pleasure of meeting Brian Bourgraf in person, my bet is that you wouldn’t immediately realize that he is a walking miracle. He is a cheerful man of fifty-three, with a delightful smile that emits a warm aura. Despite this general kindness that surrounds Brian, there isn’t anything else about him that strikes me as extraordinary—he seems like a normal guy. But that’s the miracle. Brian is here. He’s living his life, like any one of us.

However, Brian is not just a normal guy. He was born with Eagle-Barrett syndrome, a rare congenital disease that affects the abdominal muscles and urinary tract. In 1963, this uncommon birth defect could have been a death sentence. For the first 4 ½ years of his life, Brian lived in the hospital, tethered to a dialysis machine. He needed an organ transplant, a procedure which was still in its infancy. At that time, the surgery that Brian needed had only been performed on baboons. Four year-old Brian needed a double kidney transplant.

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Brian is a walking piece of history. His double kidney transplant was the first successful operation of its kind. But the doctors’ ingenious solution to his rare medical problem is not the most miraculous aspect of Brian’s story. The real miracle is the gift of life. The surgeons who performed the life-saving transplant were working with tools that only God could provide. Brian is here with us today because he received two kidneys from an organ donor, an infant who was taken off life support. I cannot begin to comprehend the pain of losing a newborn child, and neither can Brian. Yet, he owes his life to this couple, who chose to donate their child’s organs. From death, came life.

We all suffer—some more than others. But our suffering is never in vain. How could we experience joy without suffering? How could we appreciate life, without death? And here we approach one of life’s essential mysteries: why do we suffer and die? Such a stark and staggering question. Fortunately, when this brutal reality of everyday life rears its ugly head, we can choose to respond positively…we suffer and die for others. This is Christ’s essential message. We must sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others. This is what saved Brian’s life. A child died; but in death, that child preserved life.

Essentially, Brian’s story is an Easter story. What did we just witness in the Easter season? Jesus died, and in death, he gave us life. This is what Brian experienced when he received two healthy kidneys in 1968. Death, pain, and suffering…we can dwell on these things and let them dominate our perspective, or, we can view them from the Christian perspective, and choose to see life in death, growth in suffering. One grief-stricken family’s choice led to a full and productive life.

When I asked Brian to explain his outlook on life, as someone who almost lost it, his meager reply was: “Something was given to me, so now I have to give back.” What better words could we live by? You shouldn’t have to undergo such a harrowing experience to reach this message. You can find it throughout the Gospels: as Catholics, we believe that we are born in God’s grace, and that we must extend that Grace to everyone we meet. Brian has dedicated his life to this principle. He spent his career in a special part of the family business, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity and trying to make an impact on other people’s lives, just like one couple did for him, when he was only four years-old.

But Brian’s story doesn’t end with the successful operation from his childhood. Eventually, the kidneys he received from his infant benefactor wore out. It’s a miracle that this didn’t happen sooner. Most kidney transplant patients can expect to live for 10–20 years.

Brian was going on 50 when, suddenly, he felt something inside of him “turn off.” His second kidney failure did not cause him any direct pain; he simply noticed that something was wrong. The diagnosis was grim. He would need another transplant immediately. By this time, Brian had built himself such a reputation of selflessness and giving, that the mayor, a judge, and many other citizens of the small town that he called home offered to donate a kidney. However, it was ultimately his older brother, Joe, who wound up on the operating table beside him.

In 2011, Brian received another kidney, which saved his life once again.

Brian’s life is truly a miracle: if that caring couple hadn’t donated their dying child’s organs, Brian would be dead. If his brother hadn’t undergone the grueling process of testing and donating his own body, Brian would not be with us. He is here today because of the selfless choices that others have made. And he is grateful for everything. I have never seen anyone who has suffered so severely, strive to give back as much as Brian has. His fundraising efforts alone could account for millions of dollars’ worth of aid, but his true testament to humanity is his dedication to service. Brian considers his life a gift, because it truly was one. But we shouldn’t need such an extreme example to guide our own actions. All of our lives are a gift from God, and the only way that we can return the favor is by selflessly helping others.

Because Brian has lived his entire life on borrowed time, he is hyper-aware of how he owes his life to others: the infant who lost his life; the parents who made a selfless decision; Brian’s own parents, El and Elaine, who spent countless hours in doctor’s offices and hospitals, agonizing over their son; Brian’s younger brother, El-B, who has supported him since they were children, his older brother, Joe, who extended Brian’s lease on life; and, especially, his wife, Cathy, who has undergone health troubles of her own. One of the positives sides to suffering is that it prepares you to face whatever challenges life can throw at you. Brian admits that without the love and support from these people and countless others, he wouldn’t be here with us today. Thankfully, he is, and through his suffering, he has emerged as a strong, resilient person who has devoted his life to serving others.

Organ donation is perhaps one of the easiest ways that we can help others. Although, of course, the tragedy of a death is difficult to overcome, we can humbly mimic Christ’s sacrifice on the cross; by offering parts of ourselves or our loved ones to others, we reenact Christ’s death and resurrection—we give life.

April is National Donate Life Month. Brian’s story should serve as a reminder that each of us, no matter how broken, are gifts from God, and we should not waste the gift of life. Currently, there are 5,300 people awaiting lifesaving organ transplants in Florida, and 118,000 people across the country. One organ and tissue donor can potentially save the lives of eight people and enhance 75 other lives. Please consider making the selfless choice of becoming an organ donor. This is a decision that should be undertaken in conversation with your loved ones. We are here now, but one day, we won’t be. However, we all have the opportunity, even in death, to extend the gift of life that we were given by God.

To learn more about organ donation, visit Organ Transplant Recipients of South West Florida’s webpage at www.organsupport.org or call (239) 247-3073

April 23rd, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Devotion of Divine Mercy

by: Mike Navarro

Divine Mercy Background in the Church

To open the millennium Pope John Paul II declared that the Second Sunday of Easter would become the Feast of Divine Mercy, and he exhorted the faithful to participate in the Devine Mercy Devotion.

On the first Feast of Divine Mercy, celebrated on April 30, 2000, he canonized St. Faustina. St. Faustina, a Sister from Poland, lived from 1905-1938 (33 years old). She entered the Apostolic Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy at the age of 20.

She mystically received over 17 extraordinary private revelations from Jesus, the Divine Mercy chaplet prayer, and the Divine Mercy Image.

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Since the year 2000, every pope (JPII, BXVI, and Francis) has celebrated the Vatican’s Devine Mercy Mass, and the Devine Mercy Service at 3:00 from the Chair of Peter.
In so doing, our Holy Fathers have put their imprimatur on this powerful devotion.

Another true sign was on April 2, 2005, after the Divine Mercy Vigil Mass celebrated in St.. Peter’s Cathedra, JPII passed away.

Last year Pope Francis culminated the Year of Mercy when he celebrated the Vatican’s Divine Mercy Service.

Divine Mercy Devotion (Pray the Chaplet, Participate in the Novena, and Attend Divine Mercy Celebration Service). Recitation of the Devine Mercy Chaplet, a five minute prayer.

The Divine Mercy Novena starts on Good Friday and ends the following Saturday. Each day the chaplet is prayed for certain souls:

  • Day 1: All sinners
  • Day 2: Priest and Religious
  • Day 3: Devout and Faithful Souls
  • Day 4: Those Who Do Not Believe in God
  • Day 5: Those Who Have Separated Themselves from the Church
  • Day 6: Meek and Humble Souls and the Souls of Little Children
  • Day 7: Souls Who Venerate and Glorify My Mercy
  • Day 8: Those Detained in Purgatory
  • Day 9: Those Who Have Become Lukewarm in Faith

Jesus’ special promise to those who complete the Divine Mercy Novena, go to confession, and receive communion on Divine Mercy Sunday: “…shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day are open all the divine floodgates through which graces flow.”

Attend the Divine Mercy Celebration Service. At the service the Image is Displayed, Blessed, and Venerated, and personal articles are also blessed.

The image has the five wounds of Jesus. Emanating from the heart of Jesus is a pale ray and a red ray. The pale ray symbolizes the water which cleanses and purifies and the red ray represents the blood which gives new life to souls.

Words inscribed on the image are “Jesus, I Trust in You.”

Jesus’ Promises to People who recite and spread the Devotion of Divine Mercy:

“Souls who spread the honor of my mercy I shield through their entire life and at the hour of death will receive great mercy.”

When you pray the chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the Just Judge, but as the Merciful Savior.”

Closing
Our Holy Fathers have told us that Divine Mercy is the greatest attribute of God, and it is especially needed in our modern, secular times.
All are invited to attend our Divine Mercy Service to receive these powerful graces and blessings of Mercy.

Easter Sunday 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Resurrection: He Is Risen, Indeed!

by Laura Bagby

Easter Sunday. To many it means the Easter bunny, a day of food and celebration. For some it is an obligatory church-attending holiday, after which life goes on as usual.

How sad that we have so quickly forgotten the true meaning of Easter. Our God reigns! Jesus Christ died, yes. But even more importantly, He rose again and is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, as we say in the Lord’s Prayer.

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Jesus Christ literally defied death. But He did more than just a Houdini move. We “ooo” and “ahhh” over the narrow escapes by magicians like David Copperfield and others, but eventually even those daredevils will face death. Their power is limited.

But Jesus Christ was greater — He defied death FOREVER. Jesus Christ lives and reigns for eternity, whether you or I believe that fact or not.

And He has reclaimed life for all those who believe in Him. This is the second miracle of Easter. Through God’s work on the cross, we have access to eternal life as well:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘ The righteous will live by faith’ (Romans 1:16-17).

If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved (Romans 10:9-10).

Whosoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven (Matt. 10:32-33).

Please consider today the wonder of God’s power and His love for you. He knows you. He knows what you have done. He knows what you are going to do. But He is waiting for your response, my friend. God doesn’t need your praise or your service to Him; He desires it. It is not what we do for God that gets us into heaven and gives us a right relationship with God. It is only by faith in Jesus Christ. Look at these Scriptures:

Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified (Galatians 2:16).

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

April 9th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Palm Sunday Story – Bible Story Summary

by Jack Zavada

SCRIPTURE REFERENCES
Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19.

PALM SUNDAY STORY – THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY SUMMARY
Jesus Christ was on his way to Jerusalem, knowing full well that this trip would end in his sacrificial death for the sin of humanity. He sent two disciples ahead to the village of Bethphage, about a mile away from the city at the foot of the Mount of Olives. He told them to look for a donkey tied by a house, with its unbroken colt next to it.

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Jesus instructed the disciples to tell the owners of the animal that “The Lord has need of it.” (Luke 19:31, ESV)

The men found the donkey, brought it and its colt to Jesus, and placed their cloaks on the colt. Jesus sat on the young donkey and slowly, humbly, made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In his path, people threw their cloaks on the ground and put palm branches on the road before him. Others waved palm branches in the air.

Large Passover crowds surrounded Jesus, shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9, ESV)

By that time the commotion was spreading through the entire city. Many of the Galilean disciples had earlier seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. Undoubtedly they were spreading the news of that astonishing miracle.

The Pharisees, who were jealous of Jesus and afraid of the Romans, said: “‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.'” (Luke 19:39-40, ESV)

POINTS OF INTEREST FROM THE PALM SUNDAY STORY
When he told the disciples to get the donkey, Jesus referred to himself as ‘The Lord,’ a definite proclamation of his divinity.

By riding into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, Jesus fulfilled an ancient prophecy in Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (ESV) This was the only instance in the four Gospel books in which Jesus rode an animal.

Throwing cloaks in the path of someone was an act of homage and submission. The people were recognizing Jesus as the promised Messiah.

The people’s cries of ‘Hosanna’ came from Psalm 118:25-26. Hosanna means “save now.” Despite what Jesus had foretold about his mission, the people were looking for a military Messiah who would overthrow the Romans and restore Israel’s independence.

QUESTION FOR REFLECTION
The crowds refused to see Jesus Christ as he truly was, placing their personal desires on him instead. Who is Jesus for you? Is he someone whom you want to satisfy your selfish wants and goals, or is he Lord and Master who gave up his life to save you from your sins?

(Sources: The New Compact Bible Dictionary, edited by T. Alton Bryant; New Bible Commentary, edited by G.J. Wenham, J.A. Motyer, D.A. Carson, and R.T. France; and the ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles.)

April 2nd, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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U.S. Catholics asked to accompany migrants, refugees seeking better life

By Julie Asher | Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. bishops in a pastoral reflection released March 22 called all Catholics to do what each of them can “to accompany migrants and refugees who seek a better life in the United States.”

Titled “Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times,” the reflection was issued “in solidarity with those who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict or fear in their native lands,” said a news release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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“To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the Resurrection,” said the reflection, which was approved by the USCCB Administrative Committee on the first day of a two-day meeting in Washington.

The 50 37-member committee is made up of the executive officers of the USCCB, elected committee chairmen and elected regional representatives. It acts on behalf of the nation’s bishops between their spring and fall general meetings.

“To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear,” it continued. “Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes.”

The bishops urged Catholics to pray for an end to the root causes of violence and other circumstances forcing families to flee their homeland to find a better life; to meet with newcomers in their parishes and “listen to their story, and share your own”; and to call, write or visit their elected representatives to ask them to fix our broken immigration system” in a way that would safeguard the country’s security and “our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration.”

The statement opened with a passage from Chapter 19 of the Book of Leviticus: “The word of God is truly alive today. When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt.”

The bishops urged Catholics to “not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life. They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future.”

“As shepherds of a pilgrim church,” they wrote, “we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: “We are with you.”

Those families could include “a family seeking security from an increased threat of extremist violence,” they said, adding that “it is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity.”

The bishops said that “intense debate is essential to healthy democracy, but the rhetoric of fear does not serve us well.”

“When we look at one another do we see with the heart of Jesus?” they asked.

Their pastoral reflection comes at a time when the Trump administration’s rhetoric and its policies on national security, refugees and immigration are in the headlines almost daily. Those policies have sparked almost nonstop protests in various parts of the country since President Donald Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration. In some cases, the anti-Trump demonstrations have turned violent.

The latest action on the refugee issue came March 16 when two federal judges blocked Trump’s new executive order banning for 90 days the entry into the U.S. of citizens from six Muslim-majority nations and suspending for 120 days the resettlement of refugees. Two federal judges, one in Hawaii and one in Maryland, blocked the order before it was too take affect March 16 at midnight.

The Department of Justice announced March 17 it will appeal the Maryland ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which is based in Richmond, Virginia.

In their reflection, the bishops said that all in this country find “common dreams for our children” in their “diverse backgrounds.”

“Hope in the next generation is how the nation will realize its founding motto, ‘out of many, one,’” they said. “In doing so, we will also realize God’s hope for all his children: that we would see each other as valued sisters and brothers regardless of race, religion or national origin.”

Christ, as the word made flesh, “strengthens us to bring our words to life,” they said and suggested three ways Catholics, “in our own small way,” can “bring our words of solidarity for migrants and refugees to life”: by praying, welcoming newcomers and writing to their elected representatives urging them to support humane immigration policies.

“Pray for an end to the root causes of violent hatred that force mothers and fathers to flee the only home they may have known in search of economic and physical security for their children,” the bishops said.

They asked Catholics to meet with newcomers in their parishes, and to “listen to their story and share your own.” The bishops noted parishes across the country have programs for immigrants and refugees “both to comfort them and to help them know their rights.”

They also urged Catholics to “to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other’s concerns the better we can serve one another. Together, we are one body in Christ.”

Finally, Catholics should call, write or visit their elected officials urging they “fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration.”

The reflection ended with a quote from Pope Francis: “To migrate is the expression of that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued. For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey toward our heavenly homeland.”

Mar. 26th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Pope: Conversion doesn’t happen through magic, but concrete actions

By Junno Arocho Esteves | Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Conversion doesn’t come from the wave of a magic wand, but from learning to do good through concrete actions every day, Pope Francis said.

While even “the saintliest person sins seven times a day,” conversion happens through humility and trying to become “better than the day before,” the pope said March 14 during the Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

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“Converting doesn’t mean going to a fairy with a magic wand,” he said. “No, it is a path, a path of turning away (from evil) and of learning.”

Reflecting on the day’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah (1:10, 16-20), the pope said, “You learn to do good through concrete things. Not with words, but with actions.”

The reading from Isaiah gives three examples: “Help the oppressed, hear the orphan’s plea and defend the widow.”

In the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew (23:1-12), the pope continued, Jesus also reproaches the scribes and Pharisees because they do not practice what they preach.

“They do not know concreteness. If there is no concreteness, there can be no conversion,” he said.

Pope Francis said Christians are called to embark on “the path of Lenten conversion,” knowing that God “is a father who speaks, he is a father who loves us.”

“He accompanies us on this path of conversion. He only asks of us to be humble,” he said. “Then our sins all will be forgiven.”

Mar. 19th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Faith can’t grow without temptation, pope tells Rome priests

By Junno Arocho Esteves | Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) — Faith is a continuing path of growth and maturity that cannot progress without the presence of temptations, Pope Francis told priests of the Diocese of Rome.

How faith develops in “a man, in a priest” despite his flaws can be seen in St. Peter, the pope said March 2 as he led a meditation with diocesan and religious clergy.

“One thing is clear: Temptation is always present in the life of Simon Peter and temptation is always present in our lives. Moreover, without temptation, you cannot progress in faith. In the ‘Our Father,’ we ask for the grace to not fall but not to not be tempted,” he said.

The meeting, held at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, was delayed for roughly 45 minutes as Pope Francis heard the confessions of a dozen priests, according to the Vatican press office.

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Greeted with a warm applause by the priests, the pope said that he would not read his entire meditation and instead focus on key aspects of his talk, titled, “The progress of faith in priestly life.”

Without a continual growth in faith, the pope said, priests run the risk of remaining immature and living priestly life “halfway.”

“And we priests, if we do not have a mature faith capable of generating faith in others — that is, fatherhood — we can do harm and so much evil. But if faith grows, it does so much good,” the pope said, departing from his prepared remarks.

Faith, he continued, must be nourished by three important components: memory, rooted in the faith of the church and “the faith of our fathers”; hope, which sustains faith; and “discernment of the present moment.”

These three components, however, hinge on a “fixed point.” The pope gave the example of a basketball player who, with his foot firmly “pinned to the ground,” moves to either protect the ball, find a way to pass it or look for a path toward the basket.

“For us, that foot pinned to the ground, around which we pivot, is the cross of Christ,” the pope said. “Faith — the progress and growth of faith — is always based on the cross, on the scandal of the cross.”

Memory, he explained, feeds and nourishes faith, particularly the memory of the “covenant the Lord has made with us” through parents and grandparents.

Speaking off-the-cuff, the pope recalled a retreat when he found it difficult to be touched by the preacher’s meditation on death and the final judgment.

At that moment, he said, “I remembered a writing my grandmother had on her nightstand: ‘Be careful, God is watching you. Think that you will die and you do not know when.’ And in that moment, I could pray and go forward. It was (my) roots that opened the way. A Christian always progresses from the root. Do not forget your roots.”

Pope Francis said that faith is also strengthened through hope, which helps priests to “find new things” from their past to encounter God in those they are called to help.

“Faith is knowing how to see in the face of the poor you meet today, the same Lord who will come to judge us according to the protocol of Matthew 25, ‘Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

To understand the past and sustain hope for the future, he added, discernment in the present is important and it often involves taking a step back to see the bigger picture.

Priests, however, often have the “insidious temptation” of “sterile pessimism,” which seeks to resolve matters quickly and often gives in to the “evil spirit of defeat.”

An example of a progression in faith through memory, hope and discernment, he said, is the apostle Peter, a man who is a “paradox” in that Jesus would often extol the virtues of others while Peter was often reproached for his lack of faith.

Peter’s faith, however, is “faith that is tested,” and through that he has the mission of confirming the faith of the disciples and the church today.

At key moments in his life, the pope continued, Peter is strengthened in his faith. Jesus “prays for him so that his weakness, and even his sin, is transformed into a grace” for him and for all.

Not following the example of Peter, the pope said, “a priest or a bishop who does not feel he is a sinner, who does not confess, who is closed in himself, does not progress in faith.”

Pope Francis explained that the devil’s greatest temptation was to instill in Peter the idea that he was “not worthy to be Jesus’ friend because he betrayed him.”

Although “the weight of our sins makes us move away from the Lord,” the pope said the Lord is always faithful and “confirms us in our shepherding, in leading the flock.”

“The Lord keeps moving forward and Peter’s faith is full. And that sinner, who denied him, the Lord made him pope,” Pope Francis said. “That is the Lord’s logic.”

Mar. 12th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Fasting: Lent’s spiritual practice creates space for prayer

By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — There is no getting around fasting during Lent.

Not only is it one of the three pillars of spiritual practice along with prayer and almsgiving, but it also bookends the period of preparation for Easter.

Fasting and abstinence is required of adult Catholics, ages 18-59, at the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday and at its end on Good Friday. This means eating only one full meal and two small meals that equal one meal as well as no snacks in between meals and no meat consumption.

Creighton University’s Online Ministries program, “Praying Lent 2017,” says the purpose of fasting is to “experience the effects of not eating. It also serves to be a penance or a sacrifice for the purpose of strengthening us.”

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“When we get hungry, we have a heightened sense of awareness,” it adds, noting that the practice helps people to clarify their thoughts. “It is purifying and prepares us to pray more deeply,” the resource from Jesuit-run Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, points out.

In addition to the two days of fasting, Catholics 14 and older are obligated to abstain from eating meat during Fridays in Lent.

The Friday practice is a sacrifice meant “to help Catholics make much bigger sacrifices,” the Creighton resource says, pointing out that not eating meat doesn’t give someone permission to eat a fancy fish meal. And for vegetarians, it could mean abstaining from a favorite meal.

Fasting, which has deep roots in many religious traditions, is meant to draw participants into deeper prayer and also link them with those in need.

For Christians, the tradition has roots in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples how they should look when they are fasting — not gloomy, not neglecting their appearance and with their faces washed so they do not appear to be fasting.

“Jesus says when we fast, not if,” said Father John Riccardo, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, Michigan.

He said the key to fasting is to attach an intention to the practice “rather than seeing it as a flexing of our self-discipline muscles.” It makes the practice “not about me but someone else,” he told Catholic News Service March 1.

“Fasting is heavy artillery,” he added because the person doing it is denying themselves something and trusting that God will use it.

Although fasting is technically not eating food, giving something up can also be a form of fasting.

Msgr. Charles Murphy, author of the 2010 book: “The Spirituality of Fasting: Rediscovering a Christian Practice” said there are two forms of fasting — total and partial. A total fast is eating nothing and drinking nothing for a designated period of time where a partial fast involves giving up certain things for a specific period of time.

Partial fasting is a popular part of Lent where people choose to give up something such as soda, candy, beer, television or more increasingly, social media.

The top things people said they were going to give up this Lent, according to OpenBible.info, a Web search engine that examined Twitter posts during the week of Feb. 26, included a mix of social media and food and one wishful thinking: school. The only other top 10 mention that wasn’t a food or drink was to give up swearing.

Partial fasting, just like a full fast, shouldn’t be done to benefit the person doing it. “It’s not to make us more narcissistic, which it can do,” said Paulist Father Jack Collins, who helped Busted Halo, the Paulist website, with videos like “You don’t know Jack about Lent” a few years ago.

“We don’t fast to feel good, but to remind ourselves that half the world goes to bed hungry,” he said, adding that it’s a way of reminding us “we are our brother’s keeper.”

Paulist Father Larry Rice, director of the University Catholic Center at the University of Texas at Austin, is not keen on people looking for a loophole in their fasting practices, for example saying that Sundays don’t count and they can have whatever they gave up that day.

“I get that people want a pressure relief valve, ” he said, “but when I open my missal it says the First Sunday of Lent” meaning Sunday counts.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gives a little leeway here. In its fasting guidelines it notes that if someone is giving something up for Lent it is more effective if it is continuous — “kept on Sundays as well. That being said, such practices are not regulated by the church, but by individual conscience.”

Father Rice, who is giving up riding elevators for Lent, said the Catholic college students he works with typically give up a food or social media. “They won’t give up texting. That would be like giving up breathing,” he added.

This age group, and Catholics at large, could take a small step toward a phone fast by following the initiative of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, which urged Catholics to not use their phones on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday this year “as a way to reflect on God and the meaning of the Easter season.”

Fasting: Lent’s spiritual practice creates space for prayer