Why Saint Ambrose’s Sweet Life Can Combat the Saltiness of the World


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on December 7, 2020.


Living in the 4th century A.D., St. Ambrose was bishop of Milan during a tumultuous era of Church history. His road to ordination was an interesting journey. The sudden death of the current bishop of Milan in 374 A.D. left the bishop’s seat open amid the climate of the Arian heresy. Ambrose, an unbaptized believe in Christ and charismatic figure, appealed to all sides of the Arian debate.

Saint Ambrose of Milan

Baptized as a Christian in his mid-thirties, Ambrose soon after received the Sacrament of Holy Orders and shepherded the peoples of Milan of the reminder of his life. Today I wish to highlight 3 reasons why I believe St. Ambrose is still relevant to Christians in the 21st century.

You catch more flies with Honey than you do with vinegar”

There exists a legend within the hagiography of Ambrose which tells of a bizarre encounter with bees. As an infant, it is purported that several bees hovered over the head of the saint as an infant. The bees left Ambrose unharmed with honey atop his head. His parents interpreted this an a divine sign and foretelling of his ability to eloquently speak and unite differing factions. For this reason, Ambrose became known as the patron saint of beekeepers and bees.

According to Mike Aquilina in The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers, “He was unanimously elected bishop, winning the votes of both Arians and the Catholics…an intellectual, he could move the movers and shakers of Latin culture. It was he who finally persuaded the stubborn Augustine to proceed to Baptism [I will expand in this later on!] “ (p. 166). Sweetness and kindness of speech is equally important to proclaiming truth. Ambrose found a balance between charity and truth. As result he was an effective teacher and administrator of the Catholic Church.

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Model of the Episcopate

Along with Ambrose’s ability to teach truth in a charitable manner, he remained steadfast as a guardian of the teaching of the Catholic Church—one of the most important functions of a bishop! Because of his sweetness of speech, Ambrose built up enough rapport with the secular leaders of his time that when the time came to stand his ground his words packed clout.

Ambrose graciously, but sternly, declined Emperor Valentinian’s invitation to a Church Council that bishop believed the secular leader had no authority convening. The sainted bishop stated,

And how, O Emperor, are we to settle a matter on which you have already declared your judgment, and have even promulgated laws, so that it is not open to anyone to judge otherwise?…if anything has to be discussed I have learned to discuss it in Church, as those before he did. If a conference is to be held concerning the faith, there ought to be a gathering of bishops, as was done under Constantine, the prince of august memory, who did not promulgate any laws beforehand, but left the decision to the bishops…

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Master of the Master

According to R. Thornton in St. Ambrose: His Life, Times, and Teaching, St. Ambrose had a significant impact on arguably the most influential theologian in the history of the Catholic Church—St. Augustine of Hippo.

In fact, Augustine talks of Ambrose’s influence in Confessions Book VI Chapters 1-8. “The bishop of Milan was at least the guide of the guide of the theology of the West,” stated Thornton (St. Ambrose: His Life, Times, and Teaching p. 125). To put it in modern lingo, St. Ambrose was the Qui-Gon Jinn to Augustine’s Obi-Wan Kenobi!!

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In the age of social media, our world needs holy men and women to demonstrate truth in a charitable way. Proclaiming truth without kindness will never convert unbelievers’ hearts. St. Ambrose is a reminder and role model for our society that charitable dialogue is possible.

For me personally, I need daily reminders to wed truth with charity. Remembering St. Ambrose’s life provides me with a guide on how to interact peacefully in a secular world. The sainted bishop’s ability to network with a myriad of people is another example of how he is still applicable to our society of marketing, social media, and age of internet. The next time I notice an buzzing bee on a summer’s day I will be reminded of the sweetness of truth exemplified by Ambrose!

Honey Bee

Related Links

Prayer of St. Ambrose

Saint Ambrose— Catholic

St. Ambrose’s impact on St. Augustine: Excerpts from The Confessions

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3 Reasons Why Critically Reading John 6 Will Convert Protestants

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 27, 2019.


From a young age, I always saw the world through a scientific lens. I needed to understand how the world works. When I attended college, that way of thinking applied to research papers and ensuring I had logical and concise arguments to articulate my interpretation of a particular historical event.

When I read the Gospel of John there is a logical flow to his account of the Gospel events. His entire gospel is masterfully written and laden with tons of symbolism. As a cradle Catholic, I heard John 6 [Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse] preached frequently during the Mass. It took years of analyzing this chapter and critically viewing it before I realized the genius and truth contained in Christ’s message. Inevitability my close reading of John 6 led me to this conclusion– the evangelist truly believed that Jesus was the literal bread of life that gives humanity eternal life! I give three strong pieces of evidence for this case:

Jesus as a Good Teacher

 I think most people would agree with me that Jesus’ followers considered him a good teacher. Jesus could relate to an array of people: rich, poor, fisherman, tax collectors, sinners, and strangers alike. Secondly, Jesus taught using a plethora of means including: sermons, parables, and miracles to name a few. A quality in any good teacher is consistency in content along with the ability to clarify their subject content should disputes arise. In the bread of life discourse in John 6, Jesus presented both his teaching consistently and clearly. Within a span of 24 verses [John 6:35-59] Jesus mentions point blank at least 6 times he is the bread of life. In verse 35, Jesus states, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” Verses 38, 48, 53-58 also support the Nazarene’s intrepid claim.

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It’s all Greek to Me

There are a variety of Greek words for the English verb “to eat”. Jesus says in John 6:54, “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day.” The Greek word that the Evangelist uses in this verse is trōgō. Trōgō  translates as “chew” or “gnaw”. Why would John use such a fleshy and literal word for eat in this context? This translation only makes sense if we accept that Jesus literally meant that he is the bread of life. John even goes on to use trōgō in verses 56, 57, and 58– a grand total of four times!

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Loss of Followers

The evangelist writes in John 6:66 that many people who followed Jesus from the start of his ministry left him never to return. They were scandalized by the teaching of Jesus as the bread of life. I thought long and hard on this point. Why would many of Jesus’ followers leave him if he only spoke symbolically that he was the bread of life?

Well, if Jesus truly did intend for his claim that he is the “bread of life” to be interpreted figuratively, I doubt many followers would have left him that day. I mean think about it! People tend to become disenchanted with a leader when his or her message becomes too scandalous to bear. I doubt a man speaking figuratively, and poetically, would gather such scandal. Jesus repeatedly claimed “I am the bread of life”. He never qualified that assertion to be taken figuratively. Such difficult news may have been too much for these fair weather followers to swallow.

Most Holy Eucharist

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). It is a non-negotiable belief. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Saint John knew of the importance of this sacrament and he stressed it frequently in Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse. Through my Catholic faith, I accept Jesus’ claim that he is the bread of life. I ponder this question of Jesus frequently: Will you also go away? I ultimately hope that my answer is consistent with Peter’s response, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69).

Catholic funny Eucharist meme

Related Links

7 Reasons to Go to Eucharistic Adoration

Early Church Evidence for the Eucharist

John 6- New American Bible

Are Catholics Wrong About John 6? Part I

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A Holy Kaleidoscope—The Diversity Of The Saints In Light Of Christ

Have you ever received gifts or trinkets growing up that you continue to keep for sentimental or nostalgic value? Something a family member or a friend gave you on a birthday or for a special event that remains on prominent display in your home?

Prism

I received a prism on my 8th birthday. A simple but an intriguing item. I kept it on my bookshelf for many years. Unfortunately, I lost the prism.  I still reflect (no pun intended) on the awesome light tricks: bending rays of light and creating miniature rainbows.  The splendid spectrum-forming crystal helped in forming simple and joyful memories with my siblings. Since lacking a physical prism, I still use a metaphorical prism as a perfect analogy for explaining how diversity (of light) can be reconciled into a focus of unity.

The word diversity tends to invoke sudden reactions from people. Perhaps it is due to a hostile political environment or maybe it is because various entertainment sources poke fun at striving for differences of thought (refer to The Office Season 1 Episode 3: “Diversity Day”). Even within my own workplace I hear co-workers scoff or grumble at the idea of recognizing differences in opinion, culture, thought, or belief. Oftentimes, failure to identify the good that people’s differences can bring for the greater good lead to hostile environments, bullying, fractured relationships, and promote self-centered tendencies.

Communion of saints

Rainbow of Holiness

Focusing on the ugliness of the differences in the trees leads to us missing out on the beauty of the forest when viewed all together—in unity. As a person who struggles mightily with change and a fervent desire to maintain consistency throughout the day, week, and year, I oftentimes fail to see how differences can promote unity.

Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, urges his followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). Prisms separate light into various hues. Analogously, the Holy Spirit bestows individuals various gifts (hues) of charisms. These gifts help spread the light of the Gospel. Only unified through the light of Christ may the saints provide various ways to communicate the Gospel. Saint John Paul the Great said, “Unity not only embraces diversity, but is verified in diversity.”

The Catholic Church teaches various paths to holiness exist. According to the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium,

“All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian Life and the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society” (no. 40).

God calls everyone to holiness.

Ordained Saints

Holy Orders

I will not spend too much time on saints who received the sacrament of Holy Orders as the more famous saints that come to mind were priests, deacons, or bishops. According the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

“Since the beginning, the ordained ministry has been conferred and exercised in three degrees: that of bishops, that of presbyters, and that of deacons. The ministries conferred by ordination are irreplaceable for the organic structure of the Church: without the bishop, presbyters, and deacons, one cannot speak of the Church” (1593).

Saints that immediately come to mind who received the sacrament of Holy Orders include the following (not even close to an exhaustive list):

  • Peter
  • Augustine
  • Athanasius
  • Gregory the Great
  • Stephen
  • Pope John Paul II
  • Francis of Assisi
  • Francis de Sales

Married Saints

Saints Louis and Zelie Martin

The vast majority of the Catholic faithful consists of married couples and their families. However, when I was researching for this article I could not think of any married saint immediately off the top of my head. Perhaps it is because marriage is more commonplace than Holy Order. I think the diversity between a man and woman in the Mystery of the sacrament of Matrimony has been lost in our culture.

Not everything in marriage needed to be reduced to sameness between the spouses. If that happens a little bit of the Mystery may disappear. Marriage involves learning about your spouse. Love desires sacrifice. It’s not about conformity or coercion. I can’t expect my wife to be exactly the same as me. The sacramental grace received from the Holy Spirit helps us grow in holiness.

Diversity leads to unity.

Here’s a list of some married saints:

  • Louis and Zelie Martin (more famously known as the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux)
  • Monica (mother of St. Augustine)
  • Elizabeth Ann Seton
  • Joachim and Anne (parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

Religious Saints

Saint Teresa of Avila

Individuals not called to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders or Matrimony, often go on to live out the vocation of the religious life. The Catechism states the following about this vocation,

“Religious life derives from the mystery of the Church. It is a gift she has received from her Lord, a gift she offers as a stable way of life to the faithful called by God to profess the counsels. Thus, the Church can both show forth Christ and acknowledge herself to be the Savior’s bride. Religious life in its various forms is called to signify the very charity of God in the language of our time” (926).

Saints who lived out this lifestyle provides an impetus to the Church in times of slow growth or decline. Among the saints who lived out their religious vocations include:

  • Benedict of Nursia
  • Teresa of Avila
  • Mother Teresa of Calcutta
  • Maria Faustina
  • Therese of Lisieux

Consecrated Life

Catherine of Siena

The fourth and final vocational path to holiness is the consecrated life. Such individuals do not receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders, Matrimony, nor life in a religious community. This vocation often gets misinterpreted as miscellaneous catch-all category for individuals either indecisive or uncommitted to the other ways to holiness.  But the consecrated life is a valid and essential vocation needed in the Church. The Catechism  reads highly of this vocation,

“The state of life which is constituted by the profession of the evangelical counsels, while not entering into the hierarchical structure of the Church, belongs undeniably to her life and holiness” (914).

This vocation in particular affords individuals a certain freedom, not enjoyed by the other vocational paths. People living out the chaste and consecrated life share their unique gifts with the world.

Saints who lived out this fourth path to holiness include:

  • Agatha
  • Lucy
  • Agnes
  • Catherine of Siena
  • Joan of Arc

Diversity (and Unity) of Love

Light of the world

According to Lumen Gentium,

“For just as in one body we have many members, yet all the members have not the same function, so we, the many, are one body in Christ, but severally members one of another” (32).

While the ever relatable analogy of the Body and its individual parts testify to the truth of the unity of the Catholic Church in spite of its diverse members, I find that the analogy of the light and the color-spectrum also provides an interesting view on this seeming tension between unity and diversity. Along with my gift of a prism, I enjoyed looking at kaleidoscopes. The beauty would be lost without having light to shed brilliance on the kaleidoscope. In a similar way, the uniqueness, diversity, and individual excellence of the saints would all be in vain unless viewed through the prism of Jesus Christ.

Related Links

Communion of Saints: The doctrine expressed in the Apostles’ Creed

5 Reasons Why October is the Holiest Time of the Year

The Deeper Meaning of the Communion of Saints

The Beginner’s Guide to Catholic Saints

 

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One Simple Way to Instill the Catholic Faith in Your Home (Domestic Church)

Family faith formation
Faith is fostered in the family.

Catholicism is an incarnational faith. It means we understand the body-soul relationship is supposed to be harmonious not disjointed.

One simple way this is shown on a daily basis is through holy art.

I have a Master’s degree in theology but I think some of the best witness of my faith to my kids is simply having holy art in the house and answering questions when they ask.

Below is my youngest daughter, Avila, holding a statue of Mary she took off our dresser.

Statues are signposts to the reality (saints and Jesus).

P.S. I know I have the cutest kid in the universe. 😊

P.S.S. How do you incorporate holy art into your domestic church?

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5 Reasons Why October is the Holiest Time of the Year

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“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower,” stated Albert Camus the 20th century French Novelist. Fall is my favorite time of the year. Colorful leaves carpet the lawns in my neighborhood. I enjoy seeing the visible transformation occur on trees and watching animals prepare for winter. My wife’s birthday is during October—the middle of fall. I am indebted to God for the gift of my marriage. Without my wife, my fervor for Divine Mercy and St. Maria Faustina—her confirmation saint— may not exist!

Reflecting on autumn, my wife, and the Polish saint allowed for me to have a profound revelation: the first week of October contains an all-star line-up for saint feast days!

Five of my personal favorite saints, and historical favorites among Catholics as well, have a feast day in the first part of October. On top of this amazing realization, October is also dedicated to the Holy Rosary and respect for all life. I will be dedicating other posts on these topics so I will focus on the five feast days of five stellar saintly role models:

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Guardian Angels

My children and I ask for the intercession of our guardian angels every night before bedtime. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 336, “From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession.202 ‘Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.’203 Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.” God sends his messengers from Heaven to keep us safe and remind us of His Presence.

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Therese of Lisieux

According to St. Therese, “Our Lord does not so much look at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them.” Known as the Little Flower, the saint’s words provide a fresh perspective on my daily living and struggles. As a person who focuses on problems as something to be overcome, I sometimes place an emphasis on the amount of effort I have to put forth on a task. I also struggle with desiring recognition toward my works. Instead, if I focus on love as St. Therese teaches us, my life will be more joyful!

Francis of Assisi

Francis serves as an example of holiness, but for me, it is a personal reminder for my college days. I attended Franciscan University graduate schooling. The legacy the Italian saint left on me is truly immeasurable.

His transformation from a wealthy individual to a beggar of Christ is tangible example of the Gospel lived out. Struggling with envy and greed myself, I am able to look to Francis of Assisi as a role model. Lord make me an instrument of peace like your servant Francis!

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Maria Faustina

No other 20th century saint, besides John Paul II and Maximilian, has impacted me as much as St. Maria Faustina. Known as the Apostle of Divine Mercy, the Polish nun is to the 20th century what St. Paul was to the 1st century Church—the evangelizer of truth to the Gentiles! Sister Faustina helped console my wife after her best friend from high school died by suicide.

The Polish sister led my wife to convert to the Catholic faith as well! She became instrumental in deepening my relationship with God over the past decade. St. Faustina is probably the biggest influence on viewing God first as a merciful Father as opposed to a vengeful Judge. Through St. Maria Faustina I heard God’s truth in her words, “Suffering is the greatest treasure on earth; it purifies the soul. In suffering, we learn who our true friend is.”

Teresa of Avila

The final heroic example of holiness the first week of October is St. Teresa of Avila. Her life differs from Maria and Therese as the Spanish saint lived a much longer life. Teresa also experienced more of a 180°-type of conversion.

As a young adult, Teresa enjoyed the allure of the world. It wasn’t until her entry into the convent that the Spanish nun learned the importance of meditative prayer. Teresa’s The Interior Castle is a profound spiritual work that explores the vastness of our spiritual journey. This spiritual treatise has helped aid me on my journey.

While autumn is akin to a second springtime, my communion with the saints during October is like a second spiritual springtime for me. My guardian angel, Therese of Lisieux, Francis of Assisi, Maria Faustina, and Teresa of Avila reflect God’s merciful and transforming love.

Through communion with these exemplary role models I am given hope that my personal vices of greed, envy, and pride are able to be overcome! The Church teaches “We worship Christ as God’s Son; we love the martyrs as the Lord’s disciples and imitators, and rightly so because of their matchless devotion towards their king and master. May we also be their companions and fellow disciples!” (CCC 957). I pray the communion of saints will continue to guide you in your path toward holiness and ultimately lead us closer to God.

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Related Links

Spiritual Surgeons— Clean Out the Wounds of Your Soul with Teresa of Avila

3 Ways St. Maria Faustina Provided Buoyancy in the Overwhelming Ocean of Life

5 Astonishing Facts about Your Guardian Angel

St. Francis of Assisi: Lover of the Eucharist

Why I Absolutely Love Saint Therese Of Lisieux


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3 Childhood Experiences that Taught Me about Purgatory


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 5, 2017.


Over the past several years, I find myself frequently reflecting on the implications the teaching of purgatory as on my daily life. To cite the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph number 1030, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”

Wait! Hold it. Why would God need to postpone our union with Him for people who die in grace? Also, the word purgatory does not even make an appearance in the New Testament. I know that the teachings of the Catholic Church are based on both Scripture and Tradition, but how do we reconcile a major teaching with a collection of books [the Bible] that barely mentions purgatory?

Although I never really despaired about this seeming lack of evidence for purgatory, my inquisitorial nature still longed for answers in case my non-Catholic friends pushed me on this matter. Below I want to share three examples from my childhood that helped me better reconcile the apparent lack of evidence in the Bible for purgatory. I will also briefly highlight New Testament evidence I learned about that hint at and point toward the doctrine of purgatory.

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Please use soap and water

The dictionary defines purgatory as “having the quality of cleansing or purifying”. Going back to what the Catechism tells us about this teaching, we are to undergo a final cleansing or purification before we enter the joy of Heaven. Thinking about a hygiene example as a kid helped me better understand the need for purgatory.

My parents developed a good habit of having our family sit down for dinner on a daily basis. One of the conditions before I could join the table was that I needed to wash my hands.

I needed to be clean before I could participate in the joy of our family meal. In an analogous way, our heavenly Father desires His children to be completely cleansed before we participate in the joy of Heaven. I was never going to be denied eating my food as a kid if I had dirt under my fingernails. I simply needed to undergo a purification process at the bathroom sink to clean my hands. Likewise, at death people who are overall good and holy people will not be denied Heaven. Rather, they will undergo a purification process to eliminate all stain of sin.

Do you Round the Bases if a Window is Broken?

“Take me out to the ball game, Take me out with the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack, I don’t care if I never get back, Let me root, root, root for the home team, If they don’t win it’s a shame. For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out, At the old ball game.”

Summertime will forever be linked to baseball. Despite being terrible at playing the actual sport in an official setting, I loved watching, studying, and playing backyard versions of baseball. Along with my love of the analytics of the game, my younger brother played. He was a fantastic ballplayer. I will always cherish the memories we made playing a pick-up game with the neighbor kids.

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During a warm June afternoon my brother and neighbor friends played a game at a nearby elementary baseball field. Things were going great. We had a blast playing and kept our stomachs full with snacks. I do not remember who actually hit this particular home-run, but shortly after it soared over the fence a crash ensued. We paused. The window of the house next to the field broke. I do not remember the exact details of how the window was eventually fixed. What I do know is that the baseball game was interrupted until we resolved the broken window issue [i.e. telling the homeowner the news, offering to pay for the window, etc].

Celebration of the home-run hit could only happen once our crew mended things with the owner of the broken window. Similarly, our celebration in Heaven cannot fully occur until we are fully purified completely through the process of purgatory. Purgatory once again is not to be viewed as a roadblock to Heaven but rather a process to ensure our complete union with God.

Finder Keepers, Losers Weepers

In the spring of my 5th grade year, my classmates and I had a weekend long lock-in event hosted by our municipal police department to talk about the dangers of smoking and drugs. On my way to the registration booth, I noticed a twenty dollar bill. I picked it up and immediately notified the event staff that someone lost money. I am grateful that my parents raised me right to listen to my conscience as I was not tempted to obey the adage “Finders keepers, losers weepers”. Ironically, listening to my conscience paid off—literally—no one claimed the twenty dollars by the end of the weekend so the staff gave the bill to me.

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Mr. Jackson was lost but now he’s found!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This memory taught me that purgatory is a necessary process. If I did not listen to my conscience and simply pilfered the money that the person lost that I would need to confess the sin of stealing. Even if the individual forgave me of taking his twenty dollar bill the relationship would not be fully restored until I paid him back. Now imagine if the individual passed away before I could repay him. Here is where the doctrine of purgatory comes into play. God allows for purgation of the temporal effects of sin [i.e. not paying back someone you stole from] through purgative suffering after death.

Purgatory in the Bible?

Along with my experiences as a child, I discovered a passage from St. Paul’s epistles that hint at the doctrine of purgatory. The Apostle of the Gentile writes in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15,

According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But each one must be careful how he builds upon it, 11for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ. 12If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13the work of each will come to light, for the Day- will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire [itself] will test the quality of each one’s work 14If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. 15But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.

The Catechism actually cites this same passage in paragraph 1031 in its reference to a cleansing fire. St. Paul’s words tell us that although the purification experience is painful it is ultimately a cleansing experience and aimed at a higher aim—complete and full union with God! Having a deeper understanding on the purgatory increased my understanding the purpose of suffering and strengthened my fervor for God’s love. I am far from an expert in matters on purgatory, but I have learned a lot in the past few years. I will continue to learn and pray for knowledge on this subject from the Holy Spirit. If your window(s) get shattered by a baseball maybe your own perspective will change!

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The fires of purgatory are painful, but they’re healing (purifying) flames.

 

 

Related Links

3 Reasons Why I Thought Purgatory was Basically Overtime in a Football Game

Purgatory 101

What is Purgatory?

 

 

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How an Elementary Student Taught Me More Theology than My Master’s Program


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on March 31, 2017.


A few years ago, I started volunteering as a mentor to an elementary student at a local Catholic school. I was nervous at first because this was the first time I served as a mentor to a young student. On that first day, the school counselor thought it would be nice for the student to give me a tour of the school. On this tour, I was making small-talk and the topic eventually led to saints [Icons of saints are present at every classroom door].

I posed this simple question to the student, “Who is your favorite saint?” The reason I received from him was simple but also tightly packed with theology! The student quickly responded with a sheepish grin, “Fr. John is my favorite saint!” Though I was half-tempted to qualify his statement by saying, “Well, I meant technically a canonized saint…”  I stopped myself. Since that day I have pondered this revelatory statement at least once a week.

The more I reflected on my mentor student’s statement the more and more theology I realized was packed into it. Here are a few truths I gleaned from his statement:

Holiness can start now

Sanctity is not reserved for after our death or even later in our earthly lives. To reference my recent post on purgatory, I used to believe purgatory was a “period” similar to an extra period in a sports game. Yet, my student’s reply is simple and true, our priest is like a saint to him because he knows holiness when he sees it.

Priest, like saints, reflect God’s light

The moon, which reflects the sun’s light, is a common image the early Church Fathers used to describe Mary, who reflects the son’s light. Similarly, we are called to be that same reflection. Christ even goes further when he calls his followers in Matthew 5:14-16 to be the “light of the world”. Perhaps the best truth that came forth from my student’s statement is summed up best when placing it next to St. Athanasius’ famous quote from On the Incarnation. He says, “God became man that man might become God”. I truly believe our parish priest is on that same path.

My parish is doing something right

I should qualify this by saying our parish is doing something right by allowing God’s grace to work in the people I have encountered there. My student’s proclamation, “Fr. John is my favorite saint!” is certainly a testament to our priest’s strong faith and reverence for the sacrament of Holy Orders. But I am sure he will agree with me in saying there is another source at work besides himself. It is the work of the Trinity. Not only at work in my student’s heart, but God is working through the dedicated teachers, administrative staff, and parishioners alike.

Many people tell me I am having a positive impact on that elementary student’s life each week I meet with him over lunch. What I do know for certain is that I get more graces than I give in mentoring. This “living theology” is something I never experienced during my graduate studies.  I thank God every day for the joy He gives me each week in serving Him.

Related Links

3 Things about the Holy Trinity I Learned from Elementary Students

3 Childhood Experiences that Taught Me about Purgatory

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