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Friday, October 2, 2015

Send Me Your Angels!

by Susan Fox

“See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Be attentive to him and obey him. Do not rebel against him, for he will not forgive your sin. My authority is within him. If you obey him and carry out all I tell you, I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes. My angel will go before you and bring you to the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites; and I will wipe them out.” (Exodus 23:20-23)

This is dedicated to my godsons, Ben and Chris, who were baptized on this feast of the angels, Oct. 2nd. (Susan Fox)

Carmelite Mystic and Doctor of the Church St. Teresa of Avila understood her relationship to God as Friend of the Lord.
St. Teresa of Avila by Francois Gerard.
She is Friend of the Lord. 
Therefore she struggled with numerous temptations with respect to friendship during her life.

She was plagued with caring what others thought of her; she enjoyed gossip; she was tempted by false loyalties, and entertained many frivolous friendships about which Jesus warned her sternly.

"I had a very serious fault which led me into great trouble. If I realized that a person liked me, and I liked them, I would grow so fond of them that I would think of them constantly without any intention of offending God. This was such a harmful thing, it was ruining my soul," she said in her autobiography.

Teresa was shocked when a spiritual director told her to abandon certain friendships that were not harming her soul. She feared to do so would be an act of base ingratitude. So her director told her to ask God why she should abandon these friendships while praying the hymn, "Veni Creator." She did so, and was put into ecstasy. She heard these words: "I will have you converse now, not with men, but with

Many people do not realize the value of having a close relationship with their guardian angels.  Our Guardian Angels remain constantly in prayer, seeing the Face of God. To touch their spirits with your heart brings similar peace and prayerfulness. It brings you into the Presence of God. In fact, when you are struggling with distractions in prayer, it is an excellent plan to remember your angels’ presence!

“He has given his angels charge over you to guard you in all your ways. These words should fill you with respect, inspire devotion and instill confidence; respect for the presence of angels, devotion because of their loving service, and confidence because of their protection. And so the angels are here; they are at your side, they are with you, present on your behalf.” Abbot St. Bernard of Clairvaux, (1090-1153 A.D.)

Their job is to protect you and bring you to heaven. That’s what they did for St. Teresa because after she heard God say, "I will have you converse now, not with men, but with angels," she was unable to be friends with anyone -- except those who loved God and were trying to serve Him. By ending all frivolous friendships, she said she received incredible freedom; something she was unable to achieve on her own despite severe penances that almost ruined her health.

Believe me, your guardian angels are worth their weight in gold. Whoops. Humorous spirits, they reminded me they don’t weigh anything. Well, they are more precious to you than gold, silver or any of the world’s riches. Make God your treasure. Blessed be God in his angels and his saints.

Angels have an incredible sense of humor. I was in the Post Office one day and I was looking at a giant picture of the latest U.S. stamp. It was an old painting, portraying angels as 
plump voluptuous women. As I became aware of their presence, I realized my angels were laughing their brains out. Sorry, they don’t have brains. But they thought that depiction was silly.

Today is the Feast of the Guardian Angels, Oct. 2, 2015. During the homily today, Father said he was very surprised that a friend of his actually knew the name of his guardian angel.

Anyone can know the name of his or her guardian angel. I learned this from a holy priest. He talked about the name of his guardian angel during his retreats. He called him “Alfredo.” But actually his name meant the Alpha and the Omega.

This works according to Pope St. Gregory the Great, who explained about the names of angels: These Archangels are also given special names to describe their particular virtue. For Michael means "Who is like unto God?" Gabriel means "Strength
of God," and Raphael "Medicine of God." Whenever something is to be done needing great power, Michael is sent forth so that from his action and from his name we can understand that no one can do what God can do. Hence that old enemy who through pride desired to be like God, saying, "I will scale the heavens, I will set up my throne, I will be like the Most High," is shown at the end of the world left to his own strength, and about to undergo the final punishment, as destined to fight with Michael the Archangel. Similarly, Gabriel was sent to Mary; he who is called "strength of God" came to announce Him who deigned to appear in humility to conquer the powers of the air. And Raphael is interpreted, as we said, "Medicine of God," for when he touched the eyes of Tobias to do the work of healing, he dispelled the night of his blindness.”

So my priest friend had an angel named after Our Lord, the Alpha and the Omega. From this priest, I learned that satan cannot hear your thoughts. Neither can your guardian angel. Only God can hear your thoughts.

But – if you wish -- in silent prayer you can tell God He has permission to let your guardian angel hear your thoughts. Do this quietly, not out loud. You don’t want any evil spirits to hear you talking. I had a spiritual director who was bothered so much by the evil one, she used to pray while washing dishes. He apparently wasn’t aware of her practice and so he left her alone.

Satan cannot hear your confessions, but if you tell everyone your sins – confessed or un-confessed, then he will know them. Best not to tell anyone. I accidentally found out why.

My son was seven years old and about to make his first confession. As a younger boy, he had frequently been in the confessional with me. But now he was seven, and he said, “Mom, let me go in again so I’ll be prepared to make my first confession.” And I let him.

Well, satan didn’t hear that confession either, but when we got out of the confessional, James had understood one thing I confessed, and he was really excited so he spoke only to me about it. However, satan heard us speak of my sin outside the confessional. That night I endured the most horrific temptation to commit that sin again. If he didn’t know what I said in the sanctuary of confession, I never would have been bothered with it.

So I know that angels, fallen or otherwise, cannot hear your thoughts. They cannot hear your confessions.  But tell God to give your guardian angel(s) permission to hear your thoughts, and then ask your angel for his name. Silently.

Now I have suggested this to many people, and children have inevitably found out incredible names for their angels. But I haven’t found an adult who was successful except for my husband, who accidentally blurted the name out in Greek without thinking. LOL.

So I would say you need to be very childlike in your approach in this exercise. 

Angels usually respond with images, not words to that question, “What is your name?” It actually turns into a guessing game. The priest who told me about this said, “Angels like to play little games.”  He noted that when he first asked his guardian angel his name he didn’t answer right away. So he demanded to know if he thought he was greater than God because God gave us His name!

That’s when the priest’s angel confessed his mission had to do with the Alpha and the Omega. And Father started calling him “Alfredo.” Much easier, yes?

After I heard this story, I tried this out that night. Lying in bed pretending I was trying to fall asleep, I told God He could allow my guardian angel to hear my thoughts. Then I said silently in my head, "What is your name?" It’s important now not to discard the first image that comes into your heard. I think that’s where the adults go wrong. They think, “Ahh, it couldn’t be.”

The image of a flower came into my head. I thought of a Lilac or a Lily or a rose, and none of those things fit. Then I said, "It has to do with a daisy, right?" And my angel agreed. Suddenly, I said, "Your name is David!"

Think “Jesus, Son of David. Have mercy on me a sinner.” As a matter of fact, someone later pointed out to me that the Daisy opens up during the day when the Sun (Son) comes out. And Son of David is a title for Jesus Christ, descendant of King David. David also wrestled with bears and defeated the giant Goliath.

So my guardian angel is a bear-wrestling, giant-killing, devil-defeating angel imitating Christ, Divine Son and Son of Man, descended from King David. (Your throne will stand forever.)

Now I made sure this was correct. I asked God for three signs, one every day for the next three days. The next morning one of my fellow retreatants started talking about her deceased husband David over breakfast. In shock, I said, “What did you say your husband’s name was?” She responded, “David.” The next day I was praying and I inadvertently said, "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me." It’s one of my favorite prayers.

And on the third day I sat down to read my Bible. I was in the habit of reading the Bible beginning to end, little by little. The chapter I was scheduled to read that night was the first introducing King David as a young lad. I didn’t know that in advance.

I got my three signs. I was blown away. Twenty years before, my best friend, Phoebe, and I had sat on the brick fence around the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe, New Mexico, longing for communication from our guardian angels, but all we saw were some pigeons.

Phoebe and I used to celebrate Michaelmas (St. Michaels’ Day, Sept. 29) when we were roommates at the University of Kentucky.  She’d rent out Medieval Art books about angels and prop them up around the room. We’d light candles, pray and eat Angel Food Cake. I credit her solely for my devotion to the angels. And she is a convert to Catholicism, converted by the writings of the Medieval Catholics that she studied at Harvard University.

For my Protestant friends, I want to remind you that all true devotion is Christ centered. So the only purpose of devotion to our guardian angels is to draw closer to Christ. And that is our angels' purpose -- to draw us to Christ. An angel can be a friend, helper, beloved, but your devotion does not end with the good spirit. He is to be used as a ladder to Jesus Christ. 

Now if you are able to open communication with your angel, it is not recommended you share their name. However, I have shared David’s name (as I have in the past many times) as a teaching tool, the same as Father did with Alfredo.

So I was sitting at breakfast again on a different retreat, and
Note the angel in the background
directing Isidore's plow while he
another retreatant told me her guardian angel had made her bed that morning so she wouldn’t miss Mass. I started to tell her that was impossible, but I remembered that the guardian angels of 11th century farmer St. Isidore plowed the ground for him when he was delayed from his labor by deep prayer. "Hmm," I thought at my guardian angels, “Why didn’t you make my bed?” They said it was necessary for my salvation to do it myself. They are all Glory of God and Salvation of Souls around me. Yeah, I get it. No short cuts.  

One of my guardian angels works with weather, and recently a friend asked me to send him to make the weather beautiful in a certain week in Devon, England, for his children’s’ vacation. Well they only had one sunny day, and the rest was rain. Therefore I concluded the rain must have been necessary for the family’s salvation.

This particular angel is the one I constantly prayed to when we moved to Colorado. His name is the Greek word for spirit, Numa or Wind. His mission has to do with the Breath of the Holy Spirit. I asked him to keep the tornadoes and hail from my house because we couldn’t afford to fix it. On September 29, 2014, (the Feast of St. Michael), an “insane hail storm” hit the Denver area. I was in my bedroom, during the storm and it sounded like an army of angels were beating my house. I asked Numa, “What are you doing? You know we can’t afford to fix hail damage.”   

So this is when I learned the value of having a weather angel and homeowner’s insurance. We got a new roof, new paint and a new garage door. The deductible was $1,000, which we paid, but when the claim was completed we were reimbursed for our out-of-pocket expenses completely. We paid nothing.

That little angel just thought we needed to fix the house up so he blew in the storm. There isn’t a single house in my neighborhood that didn’t get a new roof thanks to the Michaelmas Hail Storm!

But mostly the job of guardian angels is to bring us to heaven. A lot of my angels have names related to my sanctification. So there’s one who is a specialist in self-knowledge. His image is lightening from the Throne of God, illuminating the world. It’s a great gift to know and recognize your sins so you can bring them to confession. It’s actually a punishment to be ignorant of your faults.

Another angel is the Refiner’s Fire. Like with gold, he heats me up so the impurities rise to the top leaving only the pure metal behind. I resist, of course, and try to keep the temperature low, as this is not a pleasant process. But with God’s help I will do better.

Now why do we want to know the names of our guardian angels? Just as St. Teresa discovered, it’s a means of coming into friendship with them. Being aware of their presence, and with your permission to do what’s necessary for your salvation, they can give you occasional discernment. Just this week the lightening angel showed me something I did that was not pleasing to God. I immediately made an act of contrition and prepared to confess it. God gave me the opportunity to apologize to the person I offended. That didn't happen by accident. It was a real experience arising out of a relationship with a spirit I know and love – someone God has given me for my salvation.

It’s okay to show affection for your guardian angels. Here is what Abbot St. Bernard had to say about the angels in today’s Office of Readings:

“We should then, my brothers, show our affection for the angels, for one day they will be our co-heirs just as here below they are our guardians and trustees appointed and set over us by the Father... Even though we are children and have a long, a very long and dangerous sway to go, with such protectors what have we to fear? They who keep us in all our ways cannot be overpowered or led astray, much less lead us astray. They are loyal, prudent, powerful. Why then are we afraid? We have only to follow them, stay close to them, and we shall dwell under the protection of God’s heaven."
Angel with cross
Statue at Lourdes, France

We can also send our angels out on missions. Pure spirits -- angels -- can be in multiple places at one time. So without leaving your side, your guardian angels can be sent to help whoever you are praying for. I have sent them to many people, especially children, to stay with them for the rest of their lives. 

I pray to my angels before I lector at Sunday Mass, and ask them to speak to the congregation and open their ears for the Word of God. They love that job. Every so often I’ll be reading, look up and see an expression of amazed “I heard that” on someone’s face.

I know a Catholic doctor who prays with his patients. God has given him an angel of healing. Whatever your apostolate, whatever your purpose in life, God has given you ministering spirits who are uniquely suited to assist you in your vocation.

Happy Feast of the Guardian Angels!
Mary, Queen of Angels, pray for us. 

Did you enjoy this piece? Maybe you would like to read 

LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION: Satan's strategy in the life of St. Teresa of Avila

which is about the fallen angels

Another angel poem?

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

REFLECT: What Do You Need to Cut Out of Your Life?

Sermon by Rev. John Paul Shea
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept 27, 2015
Saints Peter and Paul Parish, Tucson, AZ

In today’s Gospel (Mark 9:38-43, 47-48),we have two parts. In the first part, Our Lord reminds His disciples that a true disciple can never contradict His teachings: “There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”

In the second part, Our Lord explains that if we want to attain eternal life, than we must take His words to heart: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off. And if your eye causes you to sin,
pluck it out. For it will be better for us to enter heaven with one hand or one foot or one eye than to enter Gehenna with both eyes or with both feet or with both hands."
As we reflect on these words, some will say that Jesus is simply exaggerating. These words of our Lord sound harsh! 

Well, of course, Our Lord doesn’t want us to literally cut off our limbs if they cause us to sin. Otherwise, there would be a whole lot of persons maimed. However, He is using these strong words in today’s Gospel for a reason. He is not exaggerating. No! Jesus uses these radical images to show us the seriousness of what He is saying! 

My brothers and sisters, Jesus wants to save us from mortal danger. Sin kills the soul! We must overcome the near occasion of sin. We need to cut out whatever may become an obstacle to our salvation. He wants us to be desperate to rid our lives of the things that put us into spiritual jeopardy. 

What could these things be for us today? Maybe we have to unplug the computer. Maybe we have to break off a relationship. Maybe we have to avoid a certain place. Maybe we have to cut out an addiction. Whatever may lead us into sin, we must cut off and cut it out! 

Sometimes we may hear in the news about someone who is forced to make a drastic decision in order to save their physical life. For example, I remember a few years ago hearing a story of a man who was trapped in his kayak while he was on a trip in a river. His kayak and his leg got stuck under a tree in the rushing rapids and, as desperate as he tried, he couldn’t dislodge either one of them. It quickly became apparent he had a terrible choice to make – either drown in the middle of nowhere as the water got higher and higher or escape the trap any way he could.

He faced a terrible choice. He decided to snap his own leg to allow his friends to drag him to safety.

In today’s Gospel, Our Lord is calling us to recognize the same sort of desperate need to act in our own spiritual life. We too can easily get trapped, not under the weight of water, but under the weight of sin, and we need to make a desperate life or death decision. It was not

an easy decision for that kayaker to break his own leg to save his life. So too, it is not an easy decision to break off sinful ways in order to cut  loose from whatever restrains us from true freedom in God. 

But, this is what we have to do if we want to enter heaven! For it is better to save our souls than to forsake them by choosing the wide and easy road of the world. Those who love their lives in this world will lose them! But those who lose their life now for the sake of truth and holiness will save it! 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus refers to a place called Gehenna. In Jewish Rabbinic scripture, Gehenna is the destination of the wicked. It is a fiery place where the wicked are punished after they die. Originally, Gehenna referred to a garbage dump in a deep narrow valley right outside the walls of Jerusalem where fires were kept burning to keep down the stench. According to the Hebrew Bible, pagans once sacrificed their children to the idol Moloch in the fires in Gehenna.
Child Sacrifice to the god Moloch
My brothers and sisters, in His reference to Gehenna, Our Lord is speaking of hell. There is a hell! It is a real place where the damned souls go. And, with the rapidly increasing temptations in our world, more souls are risking hell today more than ever. This is why the Blessed Mother taught the children to
pray the Fatima prayer after each decade of the Rosary, “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy.” 

We all received sanctifying grace at our Baptism, yet grave sin will separate us from God's Life. Therefore, to avoid sin, we must cut ourselves off from the near occasion of sin. We must cut out those unhealthy relationships that lead us away from salvation. We must cut out those lifestyles that contradict God’s teachings and ways. 

What is even worse, Our Lord says, is when we cause others to sin, especially children and the innocent. Jesus says,
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” 

Our Lord is saying that it is serious when we influence others into what is not of God. We see this manifested in our society today in many ways. 

How often young women in our day and age lose their virginity because of the pressure and influence of their boyfriends or others in society? 

How easy we can lead others into sin through our words and attitudes. We can be influenced by others to cheat,  steal, lie, or gossip.

My brothers and sisters, our influence on others matter! The choices we make in our lives matter! 

We live in a society that has no fear of God, no fear of eternal damnation, no fear of hell! This is why we need to make desperate decisions in order to save our souls and lead other into all truth. 

Fr John Paul Shea 
Our Lord has given us the means for overcoming sin. He has told us to pray. In fact, there are many prayers given to us through our Church to help us: The Rosary, the Saint Michael prayer, The Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Our Lord has given us the gift of the Sacrament of Confession. Use it often!

As we come to receive Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, let us remember the seriousness of  today’s Gospel. Is there something God is asking you to cut out of your life? Ask God! Now pray for the conversion of all poor souls who do not know the saving power of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Humble Yourselves! Receive the Mercy of God.

Sermon by Rev. John Paul Shea
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept 20, 2015
Saints Peter and Paul Parish, Tucson, AZ

Today’s Gospel (Mark 9:30-37) gives us a lesson on humility, which is necessary for
Though He was God, He did not regard
equality with God something to be grasped.
But He humbled Himself taking the form
of a slave. (Philippians 2:6)
every Christian who wants to develop a right relationship with God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching His disciples that He is going to suffer. This proclamation of Our Lord about His suffering was the second He made to them about His coming passion.

You may recall in last week’s Gospel that Jesus asked his disciples
"Who do people say that I am?" Peter was the only disciple to get the answer right. He said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Then Jesus tells Peter in essence, “Yes, you got it right.” 

He then speaks of the consequences that are to take place because He is the Son of God — that He must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.

Yet, Peter did not understand. He was thinking like man, not like God. In fact, Our Lord was so distressed by Peter’s refusal to recognize the truth of His coming passion that He replied by saying,
“Get you behind me satan!” 

In today’s Gospel, the disciples again do not understand. But we get 
some insight into why. They were too filled with pride. They could not see the bigger picture because they were too filled with their own self-ambition. They argued among themselves about who was greater.

That story gives us a lesson on the importance of humility. If we truly want a relationship with God then we must strive to humble ourselves before the Lord. 

Pride is the root of all evil. Pride was the cause of the fall of mankind from God’s grace.  The devil told Eve that she could become like god if she ate of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. And she took the bait --  that is the fruit --  which has led the  whole of humanity to turn their backs on God ever since. 

Pride is the temptation to make ourselves god. Instead of allowing God to lead our lives, we decide for ourselves what is best. Like the apostles in today's Gospel, under the influence of pride, we compare ourselves with others. We want to be the greatest. 

Humility, on the other hand -- the recognition of who we truly are in relationship to God -- opens the door to deeper intimacy with God. Humility opens our minds and hearts to the truth -- the truth of our faith, the truths of
The hour had come for Him to leave the world.
He got up and began to wash his disciples' feet.
ourselves, of our lives, of our bodies, our sexuality, of marriage, of salvation. When we humble ourselves, then we see where our behavior needs to change.

In fact, more than ever we need to recognize objective truth because truth is being relativized. Our culture today is living pride on steroids! The manifestation of pride through violence, immorality, arrogance, conflicts, dissension, manipulation… is tearing the fabric of our world apart. 

In fact, as a priest, I have noticed in my recent discussions that there is a sort of edginess in the hearts of many about the times we live in today. People can literally “feel” that the troubles of our world are piling up and that these troubles will inevitably soon reach a breaking point.

Today there is unease among  Catholics about the direction our Church is heading because pride is working hard to influence our faithful away from the teachings of Christ. My brothers and sisters, we are living in critical times both in our Church and in our world.

The most important thing is to humble ourselves before God! As a country, we need to get on our knees and beg God for forgiveness. Receive God’s mercy!

Pope Francis has called for a year of mercy that begins Dec. 8. This proclamation is no accident, because in these critical times in which we live, only God’s mercy can save us. 

Baptism of Jesus: John said, "I am not worthy to untie his sandal." (John 1:27)
Yet, God’s mercy can only be given if we truly humble ourselves before Him, and seek forgiveness for our sins. 

In fact, just as the disciples did not understand Our Lord’s prediction of His passion -- that in order for Him to be raised up again He must first suffer -- many in our Church today do not understand that our Church too must first undergo its passion to be raised up in glory with Our Lord on the last day. 

Is our Church getting close to this point? We do not know. But, if we look at the state of our society today, we can see that our we are entering some difficult times.

"You see, abortion was rare when the laws governing its absolution were devised. So too were divorces and annulments rare when the Church established her tribunals. So too were rare those who divorced and re-married, or those who were openly gay, or those who were raised in same-sex relationships. All of a sudden, within a few generations, the Church finds herself at an hour when moral norms are no longer the norm; when the majority of those who call themselves Catholics in the Western world no longer go to Mass; and when the light of authentic Christian witness has been mostly dimmed as even “good Catholics” have compromised with the spirit of the world." according to Catholic blogger Mark Mallett.

We do not know the future. But we know that God is in control. He is in control of our world, the Church, our lives and society. No matter the messes we make nor the attacks against our Church, the truth of God will prevail!

Seek humility. Come to God. Admit your faults. Realize that God is all good and we are nothing without Him!

For the world and its pride will be broken, and our Church and its faithful will be purified so that it can be found without spot, stain, or wrinkle as it enters into the fullness of its glory in the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who humble themselves before the Lord so that they can be part of this eternal kingdom that is soon to come! 
Apostles John and Peter recover their humility -- rush to the tomb of
Jesus Christ, who has been reported alive.

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