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The Hope of the Narrow Way

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Fr. Richard Vigoa, the pastor of St. Augustine Church in Coral Gables, Florida, shared the following homily with his parish in 2019 on the second Sunday of Lent. Fr. Vigoa is enrolled in the Licentiate of Sacred Theology (STL) Program at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. 

By Fr. Richard Vigoa

From the writings of a well-known Saint:

“. . . I saw two roads. One was broad, covered with sand and flowers, full of joy, music and all sorts of pleasures. People walked along it, dancing and enjoying themselves. They reached the end without realizing it. And at the end of the road there was a horrible precipice; that is, the abyss of hell. The souls fell blindly into it. As they walked, so they fell.  And their number was so great that it was impossible to count them. And I saw the other road, or rather, a path, for it was narrow and strewn with thorns and rocks; and the people who walked along it had tears in their eyes, and all kinds of suffering befell them. Some fell down upon the rocks, but stood up immediately and went on. At the end of this path there was a magnificent garden filled with all sorts of happiness and all these souls entered there.  At the very first instant they forgot all their sufferings” (Diary 153).

These words are taken from the diary of St. Faustina, a Polish nun and a great mystic of the last century, who recorded her numerous encounters with the Lord, the Blessed Mother, and the angelic host in her diary. The account here, and on other occasions, of her description of Hell is chilling—it’s a wonder why we don’t pay more attention to it.

That vision describes well the wide road, filled with delights, that leads to Hell—the path of those who act as if God does not matter and are immersed in worldly pleasures.

I’m struck by the way she describes the condemned souls’ fall at the end: They fell blindly; they didn’t realize it was coming; perhaps they thought they had all the time in the world to dance along that road, but the abyss swallowed them suddenly and without warning. What a reminder, especially important during Lent, to stay off that road—that if we find ourselves on that road through mortal sin that we should get off immediately, and back on the other road.

As we heard, St. Faustina describes that other road as well, describing it as more of a path. In contrast to the wide and happy road, this path was rocky and strewn with thorns. The people upon it were crying because it was difficult, and they suffered much. She’s describing, of course, those who are faithful, who have to suffer for a time because of their faith and in order to remain faithful. What strikes me about this path is how sometimes people fell down, overcome by the difficulties, but they got right back up again.

But what really strikes me, just like the other road, is the end of the path. Whereas the other road dropped off into the abyss of Hell, this path ends in a beautiful garden, the heavenly kingdom, filled with all sorts of happiness. The instant that the blessed souls crossed into this garden, they immediately forgot all the suffering they endured to get there.

This is a fitting vision, given to us by St. Faustina, to consider on this second Sunday of Lent, when the Church always gives us the account of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The Apostles Peter, James, and John were given an extraordinary glimpse of the glory of the Lord. It is a glory, St. Paul reminds us today, that the faithful will share with the Lord, who will, “change our lowly bodies to conform with his glorified body.”

The Church teaches us that Jesus allowed the disciples a glimpse of the glory of the Lord, and the glory that awaits them, in order to give them hope in the time ahead.  As we well know, the disciples were to face many trying times in the years that followed, both while Jesus was among them, and after the Ascension when they brought the Good News into the world.

The path they were on was like the one in St. Faustina’s vision—difficult and painful—but in the end they would reach the Kingdom of Heaven.  They most certainly kept that memory of the transfigured Lord in their minds when the threats, the persecutions, the rejections, and their own martyrdom drew near.

The Transfiguration gives us the same hope. In this country, we do not face the same level of hardships—the threats, persecutions and rejections that the Disciples did, but we do face them. To be a modern-day disciple is difficult at times. There is much that we must accept, and much that we must reject in order to be faithful disciples.

Very often, we are like those on St. Faustina’s rocky and thorny path—in fact that is exactly what that vision showed . . . the hardships of the faithful.  It’s hard to be faithful, especially when we see all those around us on the other path, who suffer nothing. But we know where that path leads them.

Let’s do two things, and Lent is the perfect time to make these pledges: First, let’s commit ourselves to the difficult path that leads to Heaven. Let’s have faith enough to remember what comes at the end, that all our hardships will be forgotten the instance we enter into the Kingdom. St. Paul reminds us: “eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has ready for those who love him.” So let’s commit to the path that leads to eternal life. If we fall, like those in the vision, let’s get back up again immediately and not leave the path even for a moment.

In committing to that path, it means we reject the wide road with its delights. We can’t be on both. And if we’re on the other road, we never know when that abyss will open and swallow us.

Second, let’s support each other on that path. To be a Christian is to be part of a community. We help each other on the path, we call people who have strayed back to the path, and we remind each other what awaits us if we stay faithful. We’re in this together as the People of God.

In his mercy, Jesus allowed the Apostles to see a glimpse of his divine glory as the Son of God, and he allowed St. Faustina to see a similar vision. As we struggle on earth to remain faithful—to keep off the road that leads to the abyss and on the path that leads to eternal life, we are strengthened, and we receive great hope by the thought of the eternal joy that awaits the faithful.

Embracing the Three Disciplines of Lent

This post originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ February 2018 newsletter.

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Dear Faithful Friends,

Can you believe it?

Lent is here!

I must admit, for most of my life I’ve had mixed feelings about Lent—understanding it was “good for me,” but not really looking forward to the self-denial. This Lent is a little different, because the Lord has been helping me with self-denial.

It started a few years ago when I realized I wasn’t really responding to all of Mary’s requests at Medjugorje. We aren’t required to adhere to private revelation, but in this case, they really are only the requests of the Gospel and Church Tradition. I was good on prayer, the Eucharist, and daily Bible reading, and reasonable on Confession, but fasting was hard. I’m not a good “faster,” but several years ago, I realized there was no reason for me not to fast—apart from the weakness of my flesh—no medical reasons, health concerns, etc. So I started trying to fast two days a week. For me, fasting on bread and water was too distracting—I was eating way too much bread! And thinking of it too much! So, except for a morning cup of coffee, I only consumed water, from after dinner one day until dinner the next day. There have been some weeks in which I’ve only been able to fast one day a week because of travel circumstances, etc., but most weeks I have been able to fast two days a week. My spiritual director at the seminary, who is an expert on the early Church, told me that all the early Christians fasted two days a week, somewhat similarly to what I do. So what may seem special to us today was actually fairly standard for those in the early Church.

Another factor motivating me to take up fasting again—I had attempted it with varying degrees of success in the past—was my sense that some people I was praying for needed more than my prayer; they needed fasting as well. As Jesus said in Mark 9:29, some things that have a bad grip on people are only released by prayer and fasting. I must say, while I had been praying for some people for years, I saw very visible results after adding fasting to my prayers for them. I don’t know exactly what it is, maybe the Lord wants to see that we have “some skin in the game,” or are willing to pay a little price—virtually nothing compared to the price He was willing to pay—to join our fasting and self-denial to His for the salvation of souls. When I’m fasting, there seems to be a little more depth to my crying out to God for others. Consider giving this a try this Lent!

I know people with medical conditions or other needs may not be able to fast from food and drink, but everybody has something they can renounce to add some intensity to their prayer, whether it be entertainment, desert, some non-essential comfort, etc.

I must also say that my resolve to continue this pattern has been greatly strengthened by my recent “encounter” with the depth of the message of Our Lady of Fatima and the profound response of the three children. (See the November 2017 newsletter for more on this.) And I am not skipping the daily rosary as I once did; if I do miss a day, I make it up the next day by saying two. I want to do my part in responding to Mary’s call to pray the rosary daily for peace for the world, the conversion of sinners, and reparation for sin and offenses against the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The three traditional disciplines of Lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. I try to increase my prayer as much as I can during Lent by adding extra prayer times or visits to the Blessed Sacrament. We talk about prayer a lot at Renewal Ministries, and I know my book The Fulfillment of All Desire: A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints has helped many thousands to deepen their prayer life, as have many of Sr. Ann’s books and CDs.

Recently, though, I gained an insight into almsgiving that has been pretty inspiring. It began with encountering one of the Mass readings that mentions almsgiving.

“But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you” (Lk 11:41).

Jesus said this to the Pharisees. Sometimes it is translated somewhat differently, but our Renewal Ministries’ consultant, Dr. Mary Healy, a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and a colleague at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, says this about it:

“I think Jesus here is referring to literal almsgiving, not an analogy. In the context of the previous verses, the Lord seems to be saying that almsgiving has to come from a heart full of generosity and kindness (as opposed to the extortion and wickedness of the Pharisees).”

I feel that I’m getting a new insight into how these three “disciplines,” which the Church focuses on in a special way during Lent, but which are good practices as a regular part of our life, move us out of a tendency to organize our lives around comfort and convenience. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving require a regular pattern of self-denial, turning to the Lord, and trusting in Him that is really important for “keeping our edge” and remaining alert to the Lord and eager for His kingdom. These disciplines help us not settle down into a pattern of comfort and convenience that dulls our ability to hear His voice.

Anne and I are experiencing a new joy, a new eagerness, and a new freedom in almsgiving and are indeed finding “you can’t outdo God in generosity.”

So let’s continue, in the midst of the normal pain that self-denial brings, picking up our cross with joy this Lent in increased prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, so that sinners may be converted, mercy may be granted to the world, and reparation may be made for sin—both our sin and the sins of others who may not be aware of their need to do penance.

It’s good to be in this together.

Your companion on the journey,

 

Ralph

Surrendering to the Spirit

This article originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ February 2020 newsletter. Ralph Martin was introduced to  Fr. Paul Sciberras while speaking at a priests’ retreat in Malta. In this testimony, Fr. Paul, head of the Department of Sacred Scripture, Hebrew and Greek, at the University of Malta, shares how being baptized in the Holy Spirit at a Life in the Spirit Seminar brought his faith to life in a new way and transformed his understanding of the meaning of his priesthood and the Word of God.

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I have been a priest for thirty years. After my ordination, my superiors asked me to specialize in Scripture Sciences in Rome. I was formed to mentally dissect and filter every word in the Bible with the extra-fine toothcombs of biblical scientific-critical methods.

However, all of this analysing, re-analysing, and re-checking was not satisfying me. Something was missing!

Thankfully, I myself was soaked in the Spirit four years ago, through a Life in the Spirit Seminar, and now I can walk and move in the Spirit as a man and a priest. The breeze that sways the wheat field of my life is the Spirit’s breath in my heart, my actions, and indeed, my whole life.

Baptism in the Spirit is about being soaked (the basic meaning of the Greek verb from which “baptism” derives) like a sponge, not in water but in the Spirit. What comes out and overflows when one is “squeezed” is then the Spirit of holiness of the Father and of Jesus, the Son. Since the Spirit can in no way be separated from its constituents—a father cannot be a father if he doesn’t have a son, and a son is a son because he has been generated—the Spirit is the Spirit of wholeness, integrity, and holiness.

How has this affected the way I experience my faith? Bathing biblical ministry in the Spirit of the Church and for the Church has always meant the world to me. But now it comes more from the heart and makes much more sense. I feel it’s becoming more a question of wisdom and knowledge, than of information and scholarship. The Bible turns out to be always fresh, like living waters, even when I am teaching the simple basics of Hebrew and Greek!

Additionally, Bible scholarship is no longer mere academic prowess. Thanks to the soaking in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God becomes a rhema, truly a Word addressed personally to me. Whilst paying attention to the technicalities of the Hebrew and Greek languages and the historical context of the Scriptures, I now know too well that my academia is not just about producing academics, but about being a source of nourishment for thirsty and seeking believers.

Personally, I feel that the one word that says it all about Baptism in the Spirit, and indeed about the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, is surrender. Surrender! At the beginning of the Life in the Spirit Seminars, I asked myself how could anyone even surrender was possible for me! And yet so it was, as Josef Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation of Faith, defined it, “This profound contact with God, becoming a friend of God: it is letting the Other work, the Only One who can really make the world both good and happy.”

After baptism in the Spirit, I began surrendering more and more to the Spirit. Mass has become a heavenly experience. The peace! The joy! After Consecration, I now kneel in adoration: “My Lord and my God; I surrender to You, Lord Jesus!” I make mine the prayer of surrender: “I open all the secret places of my heart to You and say: ‘Come on in.’ Jesus, You are Lord of my whole life. I believe in You and receive You as my Lord and my Saviour. I hold nothing back. Holy Spirit, bring me to a deeper conversion to the person of Jesus Christ. . . . I surrender my understanding of how things ought to be, my choices and my will.” Life in the Spirit is not about doing new things but about doing the old things in a new way: the Spirit’s way.

Yet another discovery is taking place in my heart: not only how the Holy Spirit inspires and breathes his power into the Bible, but how the Bible breathes God back to us—by making it more complete and by making the Bible much more personal!

And finally—because I consider it the filter of all that I am going through—with surrender comes joy; the deep-seated joy where I feel so much at peace!

Surrendering! Yes, it’s possible! It suits me perfectly! It’s the only way!

Hungarian Conference: ‘Jesus is Life!’

By Deacon Zoli Kunszabo

Jim Murphy speaks at the Hungarian Catholic Charismatic Conference.

Arrival

We were looking forward to this weekend with Jim Murphy, then-president of International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services, my fellow country coordinator from Renewal Ministries, and a dear friend, one of the most authentic Christians I have ever known.

After I picked Jim up at the airport, we had a late lunch together in my house and then left quickly for Miskolc, almost two-hundred miles northeast, where the National Conference was beginning the next day. My wife, Panni, escorted us and helped me in everything during the coming days. When we arrived at the General Arena, we joined the local organizers for a Holy Mass and prayer of preparation. After Mass, we went around the arena singing and praising, while a priest sanctified the place with holy water. Since some areas were filled with people not affiliated with our conference, we saw a lot of surprised faces. We simply smiled at them and prayed more!

National Conference

Jim’s first talk was a kerygmatic mission speech based on his own story of conversion, with the title Jesus is Life! With his characteristic sense of humour and pathos, Jim grabbed the hearts of the audience of approximately two-thousand people. After his speech, he asked everybody to dedicate their lives to Jesus. The sixty prayer pairs found their places around the floor in a big circle to welcome the newcomers. During the forty-five minutes allotted to this ministry time, they prayed with a few hundred men and women. After this very fruitful time, Jim continued with his second speech on the vision of spiritual growth in Christian life, Remain in Me! Jim continued his personal testimony, and he spoke more about a pilgrimage he made in which he crossed the entire United States on foot while carrying a big wooden cross.

He used this experience as a symbol of the Christian life. Most days, you don’t have strong experiences with God. You are on your road with the hard cross on your back, but God blesses your faithfulness! In that way, you will be purified and transformed. You should stay close to Jesus every day with the help of five tools: prayer, the Word of God, the sacraments, community, and a lifestyle of service. After this speech on such deep and real-life topics, we had a time of Adoration and prayer ministry.

After lunch, Jim gave a third talk, titled Bearing Remaining Fruits. He explained how it usually takes a long time to bear fruit that will remain and endure. The unfaithful and the unpatient will never see such fruit. Before the real fruits come forward, a time of purification is necessary. Without that, there is no place for God to put in his own works. The time of purification is very painful. God cuts out everything from us that is against His plans. Sometimes, He cuts off good things too (things we loved and honored as God’s works) to make room for new works He wants to accomplish in us. It is essential to trust in God during this period. If we draw back our permission from Him, He will step back, but our hearts will run wild, and we will miss the fruits. By remaining faithful during the wole process, we we will be steeped in the characteristics of the Holy Spirit! And then real fruit will be born in our character!

After this powerful message, Jim invited us to ask God about the things we should offer to Him to be pruned. What are these things? Will we really give Him permisson to do anything in us? We asked for the help of the Holy Spirit, and people once again went to the prayer pairs for help.

After the prayer time, Bishop László Varga, the honorary president of the Hungarian Catholic Charismatic Renewal, addressed a message to the whole Renewal to call for more and deeper unity. We are on the good path, but the Lord wants use to us like one non-divided body.

After a short break, the closing Holy Mass started with the main celebrant Archbishop Csaba Ternyák, the local bishop. Everybody noticed how happy he was watching the praise of the two-thousand participants. He encourgaed us to fulfill our mission calling with the help of the Holy Spirit, who is the main actor of the mission throughout the history of the Church. A very lively worship time started after the Holy Mass! We were really thankful to the Lord for this day filled with his wisdom and power!

Leadership Training Day

On the next day, we taught and ministered to 120 leaders and ministers of the Renewal with a leadership training day. We started with a Holy Mass in the chapel of the Fráter György Catholic High School, in downtown Miskolc. After that, we started our session with Jim. We asked him to answer our questions about what kind of hardships and temptations we will face while dedicating our lives to ministry. Jim gave three talks, and we had a long question-and-answer session at the end of the day. Jim shared his experiences as someone who has worked full-time for the Lord for more than forty years. He spoke about his experiences in building community, and the ways we can handle conflicts between leaders. He spoke a lot on the theme of prayer and the spiritual life of the leader. He was more than sincere and open for us—without a mask—and it touched our hearts. He shared with us that he has faced a cancer diagnosis three times in his life, and about his struggle of faith until reaching recovery. We understood that being a Charismatic leader does not free us from the hardships of life, but that with the Lord, we can overcome everything. Also, his message reminded us that God turns every bad thing to be a benefit for us. Every leader was really thankful for this day together.

Deacon Zoli Kunszabo is Renewal Ministries’ country coordinator for Hungary, Serbia, and Croatia. He is the founder-leader of the New Jerusalem Catholic Community, a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Esztergom-Budapest, and the current president of the National Service Committee for Hungary’s Catholic Charismatic Renewal. He and his wife, Panni, live in Budapest, Hungary, and have five children and two grandchildren.

A Biblical Perspective on Marriage

This article originally appeared on the Archdiocese of Detroit’s website Unleash the Gospel.

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From beginning to end, the Bible is one great love story. The very first human words in Scripture are Adam’s outburst of joy at seeing Eve, his bride, for the first time: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” (Gn 2:23). The last words quoted in Scripture express the church’s longing for the coming of Christ, her heavenly bridegroom: “The Spirit and the bride say, Come!” (Rv 22:17). In the middle of the Bible is the Song of Songs, a mystical poem about the romance between God and his people. From the Garden of Eden to the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb, the story of salvation is a story of spousal love.

It is no wonder God takes marriage very seriously. The book of Genesis reveals that God established marriage from the beginning as an essential part of his plan for human beings. On the day he created man and woman, God gave them the very first commandment: “Be fertile and multiply” (Gn 1:28); that is, come together in a physical union that reflects a personal union on every level of their being — a union so potent that it will be the way new human life is generated.

Genesis 2 teaches the same truth in a different way. God first creates the man, then remarks, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him.” This affirms what we already know instinctively: Human beings are made for relationship. We cannot flourish without love.

God then forms a woman from Adam’s rib and brings her to him like the father of the bride. When Adam sees Eve, it is a moment of self-discovery. He recognizes that she is his equal, a personlike himself, to whom he can give himself as a gift. Yet she is not a mere replica; she and he have physical differences that are evidently designed for union. Anatomically, hormonally, emotionally and psychologically, they are perfectly complementary. The woman, unlike the animals, can receive and freely reciprocate Adam’s gift of himself, and they can form a covenant of love that is faithful, fruitful and lifelong.

Their covenant of self-giving love is expressed and enacted in their sexual union, when the two become “one body” (Gn 2:24).

So why is Eve called Adam’s “helper” — because she is supposed to cook and clean for him? In fact, the Bible uses the word “helper” most often for God himself (see, for example, Psalms 54:6). The woman is the man’s helper because she helps him fulfill the deepest purpose of his life: to give himself in love. They both help each other realize that the very meaning of their existence is to be a gift.

Contiue reading here.