Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life With St. John Paul II

Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life With St. John Paul II and Centesimus annus
George Weigel's book, Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life With St. John Paul II and St. John Paul II's encyclical, Centesimus annus released in 1991, on the hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum

As a blogger I do a lot of reading in order to be better informed and remain current on a variety of topics that I blog about. At times I put all that aside and take on some pleasure reading. Today's post is about such a reading, Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life with St. John Paul II; a book written by George Weigel, a Catholic theologian, leading American public intellectual, and Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, who I had the pleasure of meeting in October 2016, at the Catholic Civil Rights League's Annual General Meeting in Toronto.

Weigel's latest book completes the triptych on the life of St. John Paul II, that began with his two previous volumes, Witness to Hope and The End and the Beginning.

The impetus for writing this "third panel" on the portrait of St. John Paul II's life stemmed from Weigel's discovery that during the promotion of The End and the Beginning (published in 2010) readers and audiences wanted to know more about St. John Paul II's life: stories that would, as Weigel put it, "...[M]ake him present again by rekindling memories or illuminating previously unknown aspects of his rich personality." (3)

Responding to that yearning to know St. John Paul II in a more personal way—which did not fit into the genre of serious biography—Weigel set out to "widen the anecdotal lens" and wrote the third volume of this seminal work that truly is a treasure trove of anecdotal information on the life of both men.

Weigel presented that anecdotal information within a timeline of his life: that began with Lent 1960; fast-forwarded to his university education; throughout his professional life; St. John Paul II's death and funeral; continued to the writing and promotion of The End and the Beginning; and concluded with a final reflection.

In 1982, having arrived at the Marian shrine of Fatima, on a pilgrimage of thanksgiving for surviving the assassination attempt made on his life a year before at St. Peter's Square, St. John Paul II stated, "In the designs of Providence, there are no mere coincidences." (5) That statement summed up St. John Paul II's view of God's ways with the world and with history. (5) 

Reflecting upon his own experience learning about St. John Paul II, Weigel understood that much of what happened over the course of his life was not just happenstance or coincidence, but part of God's providential plan for his life: preparation for becoming St. John Paul II's biographer. Weigel referred to that preparation as "bricks" that formed the "foundation" for his study of St. John Paul II. 

The first part of Weigel's reflection took him back to his childhood, detailed in the chapter, Lent in the Third Grade, where he uses the analogy of a seed planted in him that eventually flowered into a passion for Polish history and literature, and a determination to tell the story of St. John Paul II, who at that time was the forty-year-old auxiliary bishop of Kraków.

That seed during Lent 1960, was the prayer assignment given at the Cathedral School in downtown Baltimore, for each grade to pray for the conversion of a communist leader during the entire time of Lent. Grade three's assigned figure was Poland's Władysław Gomułka—the de facto leader of post-war Poland until 1948, and later between 1956-1970—who was a supporter for the persecution of the Catholic Church and intellectuals, and who together with his associates mistakenly considered Karol Józef Wojtyła to be an intellectual they could manipulate.

The first brick laid in the foundation of Weigel's life was between 1969-1973, during his seminary studies in philosophy at St. Mary's Seminary College in Baltimore. Although he did not pursue a vocation to the priesthood, the time at St. Mary's proved to be essential for Weigel's biographical studies in order to get inside the mind of "Karol Wojtyła the philosopher," who St. John Paul II himself stated, "...[C]ould only be understood from the inside." (93)

The foundation grew during his graduate studies at the University of Toronto, between 1973-1975, and continued into the early part of his career between 1975-1984; a time that Weigel referred to himself as an "apprentice wordsmith."

The "apprenticeship" included two years (1975-1977) as a junior faculty member of St. Thomas Seminary School of Theology in Kemore, Washington; and as Weigel noted, it was a crucial turning point in his life when he learned the invaluable lesson, "...[Y]ou really don't know what you think about something until you try to teach it, persuade others of it, or engage others in it." (17)

The apprenticeship moved from teaching at St. Thomas into the world of think tanks: the World Without War Council (WWWC) in Seattle. It was also a time in which Weigel was afforded the opportunity to further develop his writing skills and he wrote articles about several topics including religion and St. John Paul II.

Weigel's debut as a "public intellectual/theologian/columnist" had several effects. One of which was the exploration of St. John Paul II's grand strategy for the victory of freedom in Central and Eastern Europe, "...[T]he robust defense of human rights, anchored in religious freedom, as a nonviolent weapon that communism could not match." (23)

Think tanks did not offer Weigel the same financial security as teaching, but it did provide him with something even more valuable: freedom. It was with that freedom that Weigel was able to take on his first assignment in 1979: to write about St. John Paul II's first papal pilgrimage to the United States in October of that same year.

Weigel elaborated on that assignment in the chapter, Front Row Seat, where he wrote how the "nascent desire" to know St. John Paul II better was born from the few seconds when St. John Paul II passed by him, only a foot or two away, inside the United Nations General Assembly building, where the Pope delivered what Weigel described as a "stunning speech." That encounter would eventually lead Weigel into relationships and adventures he never thought possible as a "...[N]ewbie columnist on the fringes of the papal media tsunami in October 1979." (27)

On what was an "unforgettable morning," Weigel walked to the home of then Pastor Richard Neuhaus seeking his insight on the speech. It was the first conversation Weigel had about the proper interpretation of a St. John Paul II text, "...[T]he keys, he [Neuhaus] insisted, were the Pope's locating human rights at the center of any humane world politics, religious freedom at the center of human rights, and a biblically informed notion of human dignity as the foundation of the whole edifice." (25)

It was only a couple of months later in March of that same year that Weigel "unpacked" the key themes of Christian personalism in St. John Paul II's first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis.

Between 1984-1985, Weigel spent a year "in the castle"; a reference to his time at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (WWICS) in Washington, which at that time was located in the old Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall. During that year, Weigel experienced: true academic community; a fellowship that reverenced the truth; and was befriended by five men whom he credits as having "decisively" shaped his future thinking and work.

Following his sabbatical at the WWICS, Weigel spent the next four years (1985-1989) launching and leading the World Without War Council's sister organization, the James Madison Foundation, which involved him in enterprises that would shape his work on St. John Paul II. (33)

A photo of George Weigel, Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington
George Weigel. Photo: Ethics and
Public Policy Center/George Weigel
In 1989, Weigel became the second president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC); a position he held for seven years. The EPPC had as Weigel put it, "...[A] well-deserved reputation for serious public policy research that fit well within the neoconservative consensus." (38) He went on to further describe it as a place where colleagues shared his conviction that St. John Paul II was "...[T]he religious figure of consequence on the world stage." (38)

It was during this time that Weigel took one step closer to becoming St. John Paul II's biographer: writing about the pope's encyclical, Centesimus Annus. The experience taught him something very important about the pope: that St. John Paul II had "...[B]rilliantly scouted the terrain on which the battle for the twenty-first century would be fought in the West—a man I thought I would like to know better." (42).

Weigel had been writing about St. John Paul II steadily since 1979, and by 1991, he had become one of pope's "principal interpreters" in North America, which St. John Paul II, through his personal intelligence network, was well aware.

Being one of the pope's principal interpreters did not make Weigel's "stock" rise among those who considered Karol Wojtyła a "Conservative Pole with a premodern mind." Weigel had a different view of St. John Paul II, "...[I] had come to the settled view that he [St. John Paul II] was a thoroughly modern intellectual with a very different read on modernity—one that deserved serious attention. That judgement was amply confirmed when Centesimus Annus was published at the beginning of May 1991." (41) Weigel dedicated two full pages to this encyclical that included his description of St. John Paul II's brilliance:
...John Paul crafted an encyclical that brilliantly described the threefold free and virtuous society of the future as one composed of a democratic political community, a free economy, and a vibrant public moral culture. And, he insisted, the culture was the key to all the rest, because it took a certain kind of people, culturally tutored in certain virtues, to make the machinery of free politics and free markets work so that the result is genuine human flourishing. Truth, he argued, and especially the truth about the human person, had everything to do with living freedom well and building prosperous economies. And the central truth that the free societies of the future had to own was the truth about the human person, which we can know by both revelation and reason. (41)
In the chapter, Rookie Vaticanista, Weigel details how over the course of eight days in Rome in 1991, he met with several figures in the Roman Curia and Rome-based journalists. From those conversations, Weigel referred to one in particularly as especially important in shaping his perceptions of St. John Paul II's role in the fall of communism: the conversation with then-archbishop Jan Schotte; a man who, "...[I]ntuitively grasped John Paul II's culture-driven approach to historical change, in which the truth, spoken clearly and winsomely enough, has the power to forge cultural tools of resistance to oppression." (52)

Schotte revealed that the first thing St. John Paul II did upon assuming the office of the papacy was to ask for the archives on the Ostpolitik—the well-intentioned failed Eastern policy of Pope Paul VI that sought to appease communist countries with the hope that the Catholic Church would not be subjected to persecution. That review helped convince St. John Paul II to follow his instincts of being, "...[M]ore forthright and 'undiplomatic' in his defense of religious freedom and his unmistakable challenge to communism from the very beginning of his papacy." (52)

The conversation with Joaquín Navarro-Valls, the Vatican spokesman from 1984 to 2006—a Spanish layman and medical doctor who had practiced psychiatry before entering into the world of journalism—helped to further distinguish St. John Paul II's approach to communism from Pope Paul VI's, specifically with respect to the different readings of the Yalta accords. Navarro-Valls emphasized that Pope Paul VI saw the accords (which divided Europe at the end of WWII) as a political fact, whereas St. John Paul II completely rejected Yalta and all that it represented on, "...[E]thical, historical, and cultural grounds—which was why his [St. John Paul II] method turned out to be 'much more subversive' in undermining the Yalta system than an overtly political approach would have been." (54)

St. John Paul II on stage to celebrate Mass for Pentecost, Poland 1979
St. John Paul ll's 1979 Vigil Mass for Pentecost at Victory Square, Warsaw, Poland. Photo: YouTube/WYD2016 Blog 2 - A Pilgrim's Guide to Warsaw

Seeking to deepen his understanding of how St. John Paul II "triggered a revolution of conscience" in Poland, Weigel made his first trip to pope's homeland in 1991. During those twelve days he travelled to Warsaw, Kraków, Gdańsk, and Tarnów, where he inquired about the origins of the Revolution of 1989. Whether it was a government official, journalist, priest, house wife, academic or anyone else, they all responded with the same answer: St. John Paul II's epic June 1979 pilgrimage to Poland, the "Nine Days that changed the history of the twentieth century." (57)

From the many people Weigel met with I found his conversation with Polish priest, Father Kazimierz Jancarz particularly interesting, not only from what he shared, but due to the fact that his parish, the Church of St. Maximilian Kolbe, was in the Mistrzejowice nieghbourhood of Nowa Huta, where the battle to build a church was hardest fought in previous decades against the communists, who planned Nowa Huta to be a town without a Church and without God.

The great symbol in that struggle was the Ark Church in the Bienczyce neighbourhood of Nowa Huta where since 1959, St. John Paul II celebrated midnight Mass at an open, outdoor field until the Ark Church's completion and dedication on May 15, 1977.

Weigel wrote that Father Jancarz gave him a lesson in how hope, "...[W]as kept alive at the grassroots level in the 1980s, during and after martial law." (61) Elaborating on Father Jancarz's information, Weigel captured the spirit of Polish cultural resistance:
Under his leadership, the Kolbe parish in Nowa Huta became a piece of free Poland when the regime tried to stamp out Solidarity [A trade union that became legally recognized, independent, and self governing after the 1979 papal pilgrimage] and what it represented: free space for free associations of free people who could think freely about themselves and the future. An underground university was formed for the steelworkers, the professors coming from the Jagiellonian University and the Kraków Polytechnic; some four hundred workers 'graduated' after four semesters (including their 'proletarian' parish priest). 'Evenings of Polish culture'—political cabarets, theatrical performances, musical programs—replicated Karol Wojtyła's own experience in the cultural resistance during World War II: people in touch with their own culture can never be completely occupied, whether by a Nazi occupation force or by communist usurpers. (62)
When St. John Paul II had given the "green light" for Witness to Hope in December 1995, during a "dinner of consequence," Weigel decided that the best approach would be to postpone any writing for eighteen months, during which time he set out to meet with as many people as possible and read all that he could on the pope. It resulted in more than a thousand pages of interview notes and eight full-size drawers of research materials.

Much of Lessons in Hope detailed the research of those eighteen months: the many conversations and numerous interviews with members of the Roman Curia, and several other clergy at various levels of the Church hierarchy; members of religious Orders; and St. John Paul II's network of lay friends (young adults and married couples) that began forming around him in the late 40's, the group of people referred to as "Środowisko."

Those conversations provided insights into the rich interior life and personality of St. John Paul II and his papacy. Some stood out in my mind more than others.

The first of those individuals is Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (then-cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) whom Weigel describes as "unfailingly helpful" when he was preparing Witness to Hope, and to whom he dedicated an entire chapter entitled, The Indispensable Man. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI informed Weigel that St. John Paul II was a man with "an acute sense of the human dilemma in late modernity"; the problem of 'the human person,' which as he further explained was what "...[D]rove both Wojtyła's philosophical work and his pontificate." (112) 

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI shared how he had lunched regularly with St. John Paul II; working lunches that were "quasi-seminars," where St. John Paul II thought out his weekly audience addresses, hashed out major encyclicals, two responses to liberation theology, and the apostolic letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, on the Church's inability to admit women to the priesthood. (113)

A photo of St. John Paul II with then-cardinal Ratzinger at the Vatican
St. Pope John Paul II with Pope Emeritus
Benedict XVI (then-cardinal Ratzinger)
Weigel described the working relationship between St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:
They were something of an odd couple: a Pole and a German of the same World War II generation; a philosopher and a theologian; a former actor and a man one couldn't imagine on stage; a thinker-sportsman-mystic who became a compelling public personality and a learned but shy scholar who was likely happiest when reading or playing the piano by himself. Yet they worked in harness for over twenty-three years, one succeeding the other as pope. And between them, they gave the Second Vatican Council what it lacked until October 16, 1978—a coherent, comprehensive, and authoritative interpretation that pointed the Church into the third millennium of evangelical mission, which was what John XXIII had hoped for in summoning Vatican II. (111)
Another individual that stood out in my mind is Sister Emilia Ehrlich, an Ursaline nun and the Pope's English tutor and personal librarian, who Weigel met in 1997, and to whom he also dedicated an entire chapter: Tutor, Translator, Librarian, Nun. 

Sister Emilia, whose background is both Polish and American, fluent in English, and held a divinity degree from the Pontifical Faculty of Theology, insisted that Weigel not mention her in his book because she was "just a private person helping the Pope" and didn't want to be considered a "second Pascalina"—a reference to Pope Pius XII's powerful housekeeper, Mother Pascalina Lehnert, who "...[W]as ejected from the Vatican the day Pius XII died and took refuge in the convent at the North American College, bringing the late pontiff's pet parakeets with her." (123) Sister Emilia had spoken of St. John Paul II in quite a remarkable way:
As for the man who was always being orphaned, she said that 'he was a faithful friend and once you were his friend, you were always his friend.' People loved him because 'he loved people,' and kept promises, said what he thought and didn't speak until he had something serious to say: something rare among intellectuals, she shrewdly observed. She also remarked on his exceptional ability to make people in vast crowds think he was addressing them personally. (124) 
Of the many Curial figures Weigel spoke with who taught him about St. John Paul II and the challenges he faced governing the Church, I thought it noteworthy to include some of the details from Weigel's conversation with Cardinal Francis Arinze from Nigeria. 

Weigel descried Cardinal Arinze as one of his favourite interlocutors and a man of "...[I]nsight and charm and a first-generation Christian who seemed overwhelmingly grateful for the gift of faith he had been given as a boy." (133)

Cardinal Arinze knew and worked with then Cardinal Wojtyła during the synods of 1969, 1971, and 1977, and he told Wiegel that upon hearing of St. John Paul II's election as pope, he immediately informed some Irish priests in Belfast with whom he was staying, "We're going to have a bit of clarity in the Church. Now, we are going to know where we stand, clearly, without being aggressive, but clear." (133)

There is one comment in particular from Cardinal Arinze that was striking and brought back memories of St. John Paul II's life and papacy, "...[T]he John Paul II Effect was to make 'a Catholic who is a serious Catholic happy that he is living at this time in history." (133)

Weigel wrote that Cardinal Arinze understood why St. John Paul II as a vocation magnet, "How can young people join a group of permanently confused people who don't know where they're going? The Holy Father is just the opposite. People who see him know that he is happy in his vocation. His general style has encouraged vocations, because young men see that he is happy." (133)

In the chapter, Wojtyła's Poland in Depth, Weigel details his trips to Warsaw, Kraków, and Lublin in April 1997; researching St. John Paul II's pre-papal life. During that time, he met with many people, both clergy and laity, including members of the Środowisko group.

A black and white photo of Fr. Karol Wojtyła with students in 1954
Fr. Karol Wojtyła with students in 1954. Photo: First Things/The Jeweller's Shop, John Paul II, and the Joy of Holiness

Saint John Paul II had insisted earlier that same year (January 1997) that Weigel would not be able to understand him unless he understood the people of Środowisko. So Weigel set out to learn what they could teach him about Fr. Wojtyła.

In addition to most of the individuals becoming professionals in various fields (some quite distinguished) Weigel was struck by, "...[T]heir stories, while displaying the personal touches that came from intimate friendships involving unique personalities, were completely coherent in the portrait they drew of Karol Wojtyła as priest, bishop, and friend." (157)

Among the many characteristics of St. John Paul II, they mentioned: his "permanent openness"; a man who mastered the art of listening; how Fr. Wojtyła insisted on the moral responsibility of each individual; that they talked about everything, but never once did Fr. Wojtyła impose a view; and that the spiritual direction he gave to each individual included what would become his signature phrase, "You must decide." (157) Weigel described how content the people of Środowisko felt with Fr. Wojtyła: 
The result was a zone of freedom in a world of greyness and conformity. In a communist environment that remained stifling even after the worst of the Stalinist repression, they 'felt completely free with him,' as Teresa Malecka put it. 'While he was among us we felt that everything was all right.' They also emphasized that all this—hiking, kayaking, skiing with young people and young couples, parties in their homes for name days and after the baptisms of their children—was unheard of among other Polish clergy. So was Wojtyła's custom of saying Mass on their summer vacations with an overturned kayak as an impoverished altar. (158)
Father Wojtyła had asked the Środowisko group to call him "Wujek," which in Polish means "Uncle." He did so as a matter of protecting himself and the group from the ubiquitous secret police; a time when it was illegal for organized Catholic youth groups to meet with priests. Fathert Wojtyła's rise in the Church hierarchy did not end that special relationship with Środowisko, as he assured them, "Don't worry, Wujek will remain Wujek." (158) 

Much of what Weigel wrote rekindled memories of my discovery of the life and papacy of St. John Paul II through the many references to the pope's writings. Perhaps what rekindled that discovery the most was Weigel's inclusion of St. John Paul II's Love and Responsibility and Theology of the Body.

It is in the chapter, Something Useful for the Universal Church, that Weigel wrote about Love and Responsibilitythe Kraków archdiocesan institute on marriage that Bishop Wojtyła created and whose works were first published in 1960, in a book of the same title—and how it was Fr. Wojtyła's pastoral response to the question of his young student friends, "How do we prepare a good marriage?" Love and Responsibility details the answer to this question, providing the fundamental understanding of what it means to be a "person," and the challenge of human sexuality.

It was in that same chapter that Weigel also wrote about Theology of the Bodythe 129 general audience addresses the pope delivered at St. Peters Square from September 1979-1984, in which St. John Paul II provided his vision of the human person based on scriptural references; and revealed the truth about what the human body means, the call to be a gift of self, and detailed God's plan for mankind.

Weigel also included in that same chapter, two other important writings: Saint John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (on the role of the Christian family in the modern world) and Evangelium Vitae, the encyclical on the value and inviolability of human life.

Ben-Hur and the Pope is the chapter where Weigel wrote about the film documentary, Witness to Hopeand how it came into being which had a special significance for me: it was my first in-depth look into the life and papacy of St. John Paul II. It aired on my local Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) station in the fall of 2001, and it immediately instilled in me a desire to know the pope better. From that day on my discovery of St. John Paul II began (and continues to this day) that without a doubt, led to my attendance at World Youth Day 2002, in Toronto.

As to World Youth Day 2002, Weigel included some of his memorable moments in the chapter, The Long Lent. That inclusion brought back several memories, one of which Weigel shared: the clearing of the dark skies and rain that day in North York, into into a bright, sunny one upon St. John Paul II's arrival.

Reading Lessons in Hope afforded me an opportunity to better understand the life and papacy of St. John Paul II in ways that I have never read before. I also gained a greater appreciation and respect for George Weigel and his achievements.

Among the many lessons that one can learn from reading Lessons in Hope, one that has stood out in my mind is that by cooperating with the Designs of Providence—and the many graces, gifts, and blessings that accompany them—God can accomplish great things through His chosen vessels. The lives of St. John Paul II and George Weigel are ample proof of that.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The God of Healing

Michael H. Brown's book The God of Healing
Michael H. Brown's book, The God of Healing

One of the benefits of the Christmas season is an opportunity to catch up on some reading. This year I decided to read Michael H. Brown's book, The God of Healing.

For those who have been following my blog, you may remember Michael H. Brown (director of the Catholic news website from my posts on his four informative talks that he gave during the Marian Day Retreat back in May of this year. Those talks not only spawned four blog posts on each respective talk and the rereading and blogging of his book, Prayer of the Warrior, but it also prompted me to acquire four other books he authored: one of which I blogged about in September, Where The Cross Stands: The Last Chance to Reclaim America; two remain on the reading and blog-draft lists; and the other is the focus of today's post.

The God of Healing, is a worthy addition to anyone's reading list that seeks to better understand an increasingly important subject matter in today's world where people are suffering from a multitude of chronic ailments, injuries, and life-threatening diseases.

Yet even in today's Information Age, many are not aware that healing is available to those who put their trust in God; who pray in a spirit of obedience, abandonment, and gratitude, as if the healing had already occurred, much in the same manner as Jesus did when raising Lazarus from the dead. (John 11:42)

Healing happens to those who not only believe that God can heal, but that He actually will heal when asked.

Part of the healing process entails our cooperation: a sincere turning to God in perfect contrition and true repentance; forgiving those who we need to forgive; letting go of hatred, resentment, and bitterness; and seeking to live a virtuous life. We should pray for these gifts and the graces to live them fully, each and every day of our lives.

We also need to spiritually cleanse our homes and lives from demonic influence. Our homes should be blessed by a priest, especially when moving into a new home. The frequent use of sacramentals (holy or exorcised water, salt, and oil) is also important in fighting the spirits of darkness (demonic) that may attempt to silently influence us.

Receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation or confession is very important to "come clean" with God. Add to this: regularly attendance at Mass (more than once a week, daily if possible); appealing to Our Lady's intercession through the recitation the Rosary (the most powerful prayer next to Mass) and the intercession of the saints; adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament; fasting (especially on bread and water) which is a powerful spiritual weapon (Mark 9:29) that expels evil and cleanses the body; meditation on the Bible, especially the scriptural passages that deal with healing (half the passages in the first eight chapters of Mark deal with healing); and calling upon our guardian angels and St. Raphael to heal, guide, and protect us.

God can heal anybody of anything! God's healing is not a matter of if, but when: when we act, God acts. The God of Healing is essentially a guide book of what we need to do to put that healing process into motion. 

We must do so with a strong and unwavering faith, drawing from the lessons of Christ to the Apostles who inquired with Jesus after he cast out a demon, why they were unable to do likewise, to which he replied, "...Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:18-20)

For those who have been injured recently, diagnosed with a condition or disease and are terribly worried or perhaps bordering on despair, Brown offers some words of encouragement: "Don't accept an evil report." (16) God is above what any diagnosis and doctor will say about your health. Do not let the Evil One or his demons discourage, dishearten, and depress you! Never despair; there is always hope with God!

In chapter three, Invisible forces, Brown illustrates why we should never accept an "evil report" by citing from the example of St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio) who in 1958, was afflicted by bronchial pneumonia. Despite the best efforts of doctors, his condition remained and as tests were conducted, Padre Pio was informed that he had cancer and only had a few months to live. Much to the shock of doctors, Padre Pio burst out laughing and informed them that they didn't know what they were talking about. 

Padre Pio refused the evil report! He refused the doctors' advice for chemotherapy. He prayed in front of a famous pilgrim statue from Fatima, and did so the entire time it remained in the monastery. Eventually the statue was taken away and Padre Pio pleaded with Our Lady, "Dear Mother, ever since you came to Italy, I have been immobilized by sickness. Now that you are leaving, aren't you going to say even a word to me?" At that moment, he felt a surge throughout his body; he leaped out of bed and shouted, "I'm healed." Two weeks later, Padre Pio resumed all his duties. (17)

We would do well to remember what Brown wrote in beginning of the first chapter, Our Creator wants us whole, "There's no doubt whatsoever that God can heal anybody of anything." He is the God of healing. (1)

Throughout the book, Brown refers to how the demonic and unclean spirits can—and many times are—the source of emotional, psychological, and physical problems, but it is in chapter seven, Spirits of Darkness, where he elaborates on this in greater detail.

In that chapter, Brown quoted Dr. Kenneth McAll's—a Christian psychiatrist who claimed to have witness dozens of spirits haunt various locations, causing accidents, disputes, and other negativity—recommendation that upon moving to a new home, "...[I]t is a good idea to have it blessed." (36)

Giotto di Bondone's fresco, The Expulsion of the Devils From Arezzo
McAll's recommendation brought to mind Giotto di Bondone's fresco, The Expulsion of the Devils From Arezzo, which serves as another reminder of how the demonic can influence the lives of those who remain vulnerable to their attacks.

Giotto's fresco depicts Br. Sylvester blessing the town of Arezzo, Italy and in the process expelling all the demons who, up until that time, were urging people on to a "mutual slaughter."

Although not the focus of today's blog post, including the story of what actually happened in Arezzo, may be of interest to those who want to further grasp the reality of the demonic. Here is the account from St. Bonaventure's Major Life of St. Francis (CH VI, NO.9.), The Expulsion of The Devils From Arezzo:
On one occasion St. Francis arrived at Arezzo when the whole town was being torn with faction fights and threatened with destruction. There he was given hospitality in a village near the town and he could see the devils rejoicing over it and urging the people on to mutual slaughter. He was anxious to put the malicious powers of evil to flight and so he sent brother Sylvester, who was a man of dove-like simplicity, telling him to approach the town like a herald. "Go up to the town gate," he said, "and in the name of almighty God command the devils in virtue of obedience to go away immediately." Sylvester was a genuinely obedient man and did what he was told. There and then the town was restored to peace and the townspeople set about reforming the laws governing their mutual rights peacefully. Once the malignant and presumptuous influence of the demons which encompassed the town like a besieging army had been counteracted, it needed only the wisdom of a beggar, that is, Francis' humility, to restore peace and save the day. By the heroic practice of humble obedience Francis had gained complete authority over the rebellious spirits, so that he could crush their frantic efforts and put an end to the violence they attempted.
Further in Spirits of Darkness, Brown refers to Fr. Jose Maniyangat from Jacksonville, Florida who firmly believes that the majority of physical illnesses are rooted in evil. 

Highlighting the hidden aspect of the demonic, Brown wrote, "In the vast majority of cases, spirits aren't recognized and remain hidden (causing 'incurable,' mysterious ailments). Lack of joy and peace—a feeling of despair—is a marker. So is malaise." (38) Brown quoted Fr. Jose on the clandestine aspect of a demonic presence within a home:
It is important to remember, that if the entities manifesting are of a diabolical nature, then they must be driven out in the Name of Jesus...They will always clandestinely affect the persons in the home in a negative manner, one way or the other, whether through sicknesses like heart attacks, headaches and stomach aches, relational problems and division within the family, emotional and psychological illnesses like impatience, anger, and depression, temptations like lust, pride, and sloth with regard to one's prayer life and Christian obligations; weakening of faith in God, as well as failures in businesses and other endeavours. (38)
With respect to souls of the departed that are still earthbound, they too may negatively affect us much in the same manner as demons. Elaborating on this Brown wrote, "Again: Jesus used the term 'unclean' when casting spirits of infirmity out of people. If we'd stop and realize how many 'psychological' illnesses are caused by spiritual influence, we would clear out half of our psychiatric wards." (39)

Further highlighting the clandestine demonic root of mental problems, Brown referred to a patient of Sigmund Freud's who was of the belief that the root cause of her condition was due to an "entity" within her. Brown went on to further note that Freud's assistant agreed with the patient. 

Sadly, there are many in the professional field of psychiatry and psychology that don't understand or believe that demonic influence is the root cause of many conditions or problems. We need not look any further than to the vocabulary used by such professionals, "They call obsession 'neurosis'; oppression 'schizophrenia'; and possession a 'split' personality or 'multiple-personality disorder' (the Lord said 'legion,' Luke 8:30)." (39)

Much if not all of what is going on in our lives can be cleared through confession, repentance, expiation, and forgiveness; all of which sets us on the path to healing.

To aid in the healing process, Brown referred to a few saints that we can pray to for their intercession: St. Lucy, St. Joseph, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, and St. Andre Bessette, the miracle man from Montreal, whose devotion to St. Joseph helped many in the healing process and restoration to normal health.

Brown cited one such case of a woman who was suffering from cancer of the eye, who was told by St. Andre Bessette to, "...[T]ake some oil from the oratory [St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal] apply it to her eyes, and offer a daily prayer to Saint Joseph, using a medal of him." (40) The women complied with the instructions and even climbed the stairs to the crypt on her knees, spending the rest of the day in prayer. Within weeks the cancer disappeared and a year later, the woman's daughter wrote to St. Joseph's Oratory that her mother was in "excellent health." (40)

We can also cooperate with God's healing by remembering that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body." (1Corinthians 6:19-20)

Part of glorifying God in our bodies translates into: eating the right foods, drinking plenty of water, getting the rest we need, and regular exercise.

Brown begins to address the importance of healthy living and expelling stress in our lives in chapter eight, The Power that closes the wounds. In that chapter, he emphasizes that harmony with God and His Creation can lead not only to a healthy life, but a long one. He cited the example of Esmeralda Stavra from Symi, Greece:
I read an account of a woman named Esmeralda Stavra in Symi who was 107 when she died on the island in Greece where they are very physically active, eat the right things, take time for neighbors, get sun, and don't know stress. Her house was at the top of the village steps and even when she was a hundred years old Esmeralda went up and down three or four times a day so she could sell the feta cheese and yogurt she made. She was never ill; never went to the doctor, for so much as a checkup (her children said). She was 'harmonious.' She was in tune with nature. She was connected to God. (44)
Further in the book at chapter eleven, Lean and Clean, Brown encourages the reader to "Invoke the Holy Spirit and do, eat, and drink what He guides you to do, eat, and drink." (57)

At chapter thirteen, Those who live longest, Brown refers to the Hunzas, residents of the Himalayas (northern Pakistan) who experience such longevity that they have been studied for decades. He described their healthy diet:
They are regularly over a hundred, and some are purportedly a decade or more beyond that. Their diet consists of fresh raw carrots, sprouted legumes, cabbage, whole-grain chapattis, unpasteurized  whole milk (yes, they ingest some dairy), a little meat once a week, and lots of pure water...
In the land of the Hunzas, apricots are staples as are cherries, mulberries, and walnuts. Organic vegetables are grown in soil prepared with natural compost. Their proteins come chiefly from beans, legumes, and chickpeas. When meat is taken, it's in small doses from animals ('free-range') that graze in a natural manner. Hunzas also drink that clean glacier water and eat fermented butter and cheese in small quantities. A main drink is apricot oil...(72)
It was Hippocrates who stated, "Let food be your medicine and medicine your food." (74) 

Hippocrates was the first to write about the benefits of garlic as a medicine for eliminating tumors. Brown noted how recent studies have shown that garlic "...[K]ills insects, parasites, bad bacteria, and fungi. It also eliminates various tumors, lowers blood sugar levels, lowers harmful fats in the blood, and prevents clogging of the arteries." (74) 

Further he remarked, "Perhaps this is why a community in southern Italy called Campodimele (halfway between Rome and Naples, and heavy on garlic) is called 'Village of Eternal Youth.' God's medicine is often found in a natural state." (75)

Citing another example Brown referred to those living in Okinawa, Japan, "There the mainstay is whole grains, leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, and smaller amounts of fish, organic soy products, and pork" (75)

Brown went on to write, "The theme is that people who live long lives are drawing minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients right from the way God fashioned them. They also get sufficient rest..." (75)

God is in total control. Does that mean that everyone who prays will automatically be healed or receive a miracle. It is a matter for God to decide. 

If we don't receive a healing, it might be as Brown suggests because we have yet to pray from the deepest recesses of our hearts. It may be a matter of redemptive suffering; that is, the purification through suffering that a soul must undergo so as to become better suited for Heaven.

Sometimes healing is immediate, but most occur over a period of time. As Brown notes, "Just as natural remedies may take a while, even a long one, to have their effect, so too do spiritual cures. Often, what is profound takes time. It is progressive. There may be unseen matters to resolve." (35)

In the last chapter, Your destiny is the best outcome," Brown states in the first sentence, "Final outcomes are in the Hands of God." (141) To reiterate from earlier in this post, we must never give up hope!

For those that may be tempted into despair, here are some encouraging words from Brown's last chapter:
You can't experience victory if you plan for defeat...Don't be the architect of your own failure. Don't draw up a 'blackprint' of your future. With Jesus and your angels (ask for extra ones) and the Blessed Mother and the Holy Spirit: all will turn out well in what ever way...Everyone goes through angst, which is a trial in life. We worry about how to pay for our health care. We have debts from a home or a car. We fall back in payments. There is tension at work...The right attitude will take you through any 'furnace,' through any oppression, to a higher place. The more things are difficult for you, the greater your chance of enhancing His glory...God puts you in situations so you come out higher (and whiter). When we persist, He takes away what has been holding us back...God puts us in situations that purge what keeps us from Him and our missions. Move forward, always forward. If you are focussed on what's behind you, you are headed backwards. Often, you have to lose something to gain something. When God takes something away, He gives more back. It is only separation from God that should concern us when the 'going gets tough'; for when the going gets tough, the tough—headed for wellness, healing through God—get on their knees. (143)
In the words of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, "Pray, hope, and don't worry."

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Pray to Our Lady of Guadalupe for the Unborn

Our Lady of Guadalupe's image on St. Juan Diego's tilma
The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe
on St. Juan Diego's tilma
Today's feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an especially important one for millions of Catholics in the Americas and around the world who pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary for the protection of human life, especially for developing human beings in the womb: the unborn children who are faced with the danger of abortion.

The pregnant aspect of Our Lady's image on Saint Juan Diego's tilma (cactus cloth) has made Our Lady of Guadalupe a symbol for the plight of the unborn. It is a constant reminder of God's mercy and Divine Intervention in the world, and Our Lady's continued work for the salvation of souls that includes exposing the deception of the Evil One and his demons.

It is for that very purpose that Our Lady has appeared in so many places throughout the centuries: to eradicate pagan worship, debauchery, New Age and occult practices, and all other types of evil, and in the process has been, and continues to be, our light to Christ, showing us the path to Jesus.

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, was revealed in 1531, when St. Juan Diego unfolded his tilma (full of flowers) in front the local bishop and as the flowers fell to the floor, the exquisitely detailed painting of Our Lady was seen by all present. 

Our Lady's image also draws our attention to its supernatural power and the fact that it caused the conversion of eight million Aztecs and other indigenous people in less than ten years, in the area that is known today as Mexico

Saint Juan Diego was himself converted to the Catholic faith some time between 1524-1525, and was baptized by a Franciscan priest, Fr. Peter da Gand, one of the first Franciscan missionaries.

Praying for conversions is an important aspect in the fight against abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, contraception, in vitro fertilization, the death penalty, and all other threats to the value and inviolability of human life. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the powerful intercessor that we have recourse to in the fight against the Culture of Death.

It is important to remember that the fight to protect the unborn is primarily a spiritual battle that must be fought with spiritual weapons, of which the Holy Mass and group recitation of the Rosary—the two most powerful forms of prayer—are essential weapons in the spiritual arsenal to fight the good fight.

In addition to the Mass, Rosary, and your own personal prayers, you may want to consider the following selected prayers taken from Michael Brown's Marian devotional book, Seven Days With Mary, in which he dedicates one of the seven days to Our Lady of Guadalupe:
Prayer of John Paul II
Virgin of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas, grant to our homes the grace of loving and respecting life in its beginnings, with the same love which you conceived in your womb the life of the Son of God. Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Fair Love, protect our families, so that they may always be united, and bless the upbringing of our children. We beg you grant us a great love for all the holy Sacraments, which are, as it were, the signs that your Son left us on earth. Thus, Most Holy Mother, with the peace of God in our conscience, with our hearts free from evil and hatred, we will be able to bring to all true joy and true peace, which come to us from your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen. (47)
Morning Offering
Immaculate Heart of Mary, heart of my mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe, I unite to thy purity, thy sanctity, thy zeal, and thy love, all my thoughts, words, acts, and suffering this day, that there may be nothing in me that does not become through thee a pleasure to Jesus, a gain for souls, and an act of reparation for the offenses against thy heart. (49)
Closing Prayer
Remember, O most gracious Virgin of Guadalupe, that in your apparitions on Mount Tepeyac you promised to show pity and compassion to all who, loving and trusting you, seek your help and protection.
Accordingly, listen now to our supplications and grant us consolation and relief. We are full of hope that, relying on your help, nothing can trouble or affect us. As you have remained with us through your admirable image, so now obtain for us the graces we need. Amen. (51)  
So important is Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Americas that in 1945, Pope Pius XII decreed Our Lady of Guadalupe to be “Patroness of all the Americas,” and today in Mexico, it is a Holy Day of Obligation.

In more recent times during his pastoral visit to Mexico, Saint John Paul II, in his homily at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City on Saturday, January 23, 1999, entrusted the future of the continent and the Church to the Blessed Virgin Mary, imploring the Holy Virgin of Guadalupe to, "Save the nations and peoples of this continent. Teach everyone, political leaders and citizens, to live in true freedom and to act according to the requirements of justice and respect for human rights, so that peace may thus be established once and for all. (9)

Saint John Paul II, who was well known as a staunch defender of human life, stated during that homily, “...[T]he Church must proclaim the Gospel of life and speak out with prophetic force against the culture of death.” (8)

It was in 1995, only four years prior to that homily, that St. John Paul II released his encyclical on the Gospel of Life, Evangelium Vitae; an essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the Church's teaching on the value and inviolability of human life, and the many threats to it. For those who are somewhat new to the life of St. John Paul II, here is an excerpt from Evangelium Vitae that captures the richness of this encyclical and his commitment to the protection of the unborn:
"Your eyes beheld my unformed substance" (Ps 139:16): the unspeakable crime of abortion 
Among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable. The Second Vatican Council defines abortion, together with infanticide, as an "unspeakable crime".
But today, in many people's consciences, the perception of its gravity has become progressively obscured. The acceptance of abortion in the popular mind, in behaviour and even in law itself, is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, even when the fundamental right to life is at stake. Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception. In this regard the reproach of the Prophet is extremely straightforward: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness" (Is 5:20). Especially in the case of abortion there is a widespread use of ambiguous terminology, such as "interruption of pregnancy", which tends to hide abortion's true nature and to attenuate its seriousness in public opinion. Perhaps this linguistic phenomenon is itself a symptom of an uneasiness of conscience. But no word has the power to change the reality of things: procured abortion is the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth. (58)
If we look to the human sacrifices of St. Juan Diego's time (1500s) and our modern times, we can easily draw a parallel between the demonic worship during the Aztec era with that of today's abortions: the mass murder of innocent human beings in the womb performed in hospitals, "health care centers," "women's care clinics," and so-called "family-planning facilities" such as Planned Parenthood.

The Aztecs offered human sacrifices as part of their worship to two chief Aztec gods (demons), Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipocawhich, of which the most popular was the brutal ritual performed on top of Aztec pyramids. The Our Lady of Guadalupe web site at details this:
Perhaps the most popular of the public rituals was taking the victims to the tops of the Aztec pyramids where they were laid on top of a flat stone. There, the priests cut open their chests and their hearts were ripped out. The bodies were then thrown down the steps of the pyramid.
After the bodies tumbled down the stairs, the priests removed the limbs, cooked and ate them. Specially hands and thighs were considered the best delicacies. The heads were placed in skull racks for public exhibition.
The atrocities committed in our modern times against human life, as during the Aztec era, are inspired and influenced by the demonic. Just as the Aztecs intentionally offered their human sacrifices to their gods (demons), so too are people today intentionally performing abortions as part of a blood sacrifice and offering to Satan.

Here in Canada, where abortion is available on demand, we are in great need of God's Divine Intervention and Our Lady of Guadalupe's intercession to eradicate abortion and all other threats to human life (euthanasia and assisted suicide, contraception, in vitro fertilization) from the landscape.

Sadly, Canada is a country whose political leaders have failed the nation by consistently rejecting God’s plan for humanity, and in the process ignored Canada’s Christian heritage, history, and identity. This failure dates back to Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau and the infamous 1969 Omnibus Bill that ushered in "therapeutic abortions" performed in hospitals, which eventually paved the way for Dr. Henry Morgantaler's 1988 constitutional challenge that resulted in abortion being made available on demand across the nation.

Our current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau (supposedly a Catholic like his father Pierre Elliot Trudeau) has stated on more than one occasion that anyone seeking to join the Liberal Party of Canada must support abortion. This fact alone is a telling sign of the ongoing moral crisis in Canada that seems to be increasing with each new generation.

God's Holy Law clearly states in the Fifth Commandment, "You Shall Not Kill." The Catechism of the Catholic Church elaborates on this Commandment, "Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being." (2258)

None of this has meant anything to Canada's prime ministers since Pierre Elliot Trudeau; the result of which has seen a growing moral disorder in Canada and with it the establishment of a Culture of Death.

I respectfully urge my fellow Canadians to pray to Our Lady of Guadalupe for the protection of the unborn, and for God's Divine Intervention, that the moral disorder that has taken root over the past five decades may be eradicated from the land and that Canada be restored to a Culture of Life.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!