Blessings Returned

Friday, August 29, 2014

Never before in English — From St. Francis de Sales

From St. Francis de Sales

Never Before
Published in English!

This short, practical guide will develop
in you the soul-nourishing habits that lead to sanctity.

As he did for saints and sinners in his own time, St. Francis de Sales will stiffen your resolve and help you gain small victories over unruly passions, and restore in you a trusting confidence in Jesus Christ.

Soon you'll find yourself delivered from the chains of self-love as your soul opens to divine goodness and your heart is shaped into a fitting place for Christ to dwell and reign eternally.

If you find it difficult to live amid the clamor of the world with your eyes fixed on Christ alone, let St. Francis de Sales teach you how to live as a true rose among thorns as you learn . . .
  • What to do when you stop finding consolation during prayer
  • How to place yourself in the presence of God
  • How busy people should pray
  • Do you fear vice more than you love virtue?  A guide to discernment
  • How to be patient with your family
  • The dangers of too many devotions
  • How to know when your feelings are from God or the devil
  • What to do about repeated spiritual dryness
  • The three things you must do to be at peace
  • How to avoid thoughts that give us anxious and restless minds
Absorb the wisdom in these holy pages, and you'll soon make true progress on your spiritual journey and navigate with confidence the treacherous waters of our secular world.

Roses Among Thorns
by St. Francis de Sales

128 pages — List price: $11.95

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From the young St. Francis de Sales's heroic efforts to bring Calvinists back to the Faith comes this succinct, eloquent defense of the age-old practice of making the Sign of the Cross, which sixteenth-century Calvinists denounced as a Popish invention and many Protestants scorn even today.

Embodying the zeal of youth and the wisdom of age, this gentle jewel of Catholic apologetics traces the origins of the Sign of the Cross back to the Fathers of the Church, to the Apostles before them, and finally to our Lord Himself.

Along with St. Francis's other lucid explanations of our Catholic Faith and his undaunted love even for those who hated him, this modest book helped restore to their native Catholic faith tens of thousands of heretics who not long before were intent on killing him.
As they did for the Calvinists in St. Francis’s day, so in our day these pages will bring you a better understanding and a renewed love for the Sign of the Cross, that brief and lively exterior prayer by which, from time immemorial, God has been invoked by serious Christians before all of their endeavors.
Among the other things you’ll learn here:
  • Why now is always the right time to make the Sign of the Cross
  • Why God chooses to attach power to the Sign of the Cross
  • Why it is made on the forehead
  • How to convince skeptics to value and pray with it
  • Two uses of the Sign of the Cross: do you know both of them?
  • How the Sign of the Cross is the antidote to the Mark of the Devil
  • Errors in the claims of those who oppose this practice
  • The theological significance of the motions, vertical and horizontal
  • Two reasons it has particular power against the Enemy
  • Why you should make the Sign of the Cross publicly and often
Outside the Creed itself, there are few topics to which the Fathers testify as universally and unanimously as the pious practice of making, frequently and well, the Sign of the Cross. With the help of these holy pages, the saints’ love for it will enkindle yours. Soon you’ll be saying with St. Jerome, “With every work, with all of my comings and goings, may my hand make the Sign of the Cross!”
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Thursday, August 28, 2014

What Does Sanctity Smell Like?

We walk by faith, not sight, but that doesn’t mean we stop using our senses.
In the Eucharist, we taste and see that God is good. We hear the word of God in prayer and at the liturgy. We are even touched by God through the sacraments (see Lumen Fidei).
This goes for all of our senses, even the sense of smell. In fact, there perhaps may be no better example of how our sensory life can be completely entwined with the spiritual life than then sense of smell. To even suggest this today may seem odd, if not downright off-color or inappropriate. But it wasn’t so in early Church, as this homily from St. John Chrysostom on the parable of Lazarus and the rich man well illustrates:
Thou art a spiritual soldier; but such a soldier does not sleep on an ivory bed, but on the ground; he does not use scented unguents, for this is the habit of sensual and dissolute men—of those who live on the stage, or in indolence; and it is not the odour of ointment that thou shouldst have, but that of virtue. The soul is none the more pure when the body is thus scented. Yea, this fragrance of the body and of the dress may even be a sign of inward corruption and uncleanness. For when Satan makes his approaches to corrupt the soul and fill it with all indolence, then also by means of ointments he impresses upon the body the stains which mark its inner defilement.
Chrysostom is making an argument on a moral, practical level and also on a spiritual one. His comment reflects the ancient Church’s strong association of cosmetics with immorality. The sentiment is well captured by Tertullian, in criticizing Roman decadence in his Apology:
I see, too, that neither is a single theatre enough, nor are theatres unsheltered: no doubt it was that immodest pleasure might not be torpid in the wintertime, the Lacedaemonians invented their woollen cloaks for the plays. I see now no difference between the dress of matrons and prostitutes.
For Chrysostom, the sweetness of virtue was preferable to that of the perfumes. On the practical side, his advice amounts to a kind of an abstinence from the olfactory pleasures—a kind of mortification of the body. Put bluntly, Christians who followed his advice would not smell as good as their pagan peers. This may not have been a big deal for them, but for some monks, the smell associated with their extreme asceticism became both a potential public nuisance and also had significant spiritual ramifications, as Brown University scholar Susan Ashbrook Harvey reveals in her book Scenting Salvation: Ancient Christianity and the Olfactory Imagination (University of California Press, 2006).
Harvey recounts the story of one Syriac monk, Simeon the Stylite, so named because he spent the last 37 years of his life atop a pillar or stylite. Before his pillar-dwelling days, Simeon was a member of a monastic community. As a novice, he bound a rope around his waist so tightly that it caused bleeding. Simeon left the rope in place for a year, eventually causing his flesh to rot. The stench was so severe that he was eventually expelled from the community, according to accounts cited by Harvey.
When he moved to the pillar, the severe, foul-smelling asceticism continued. One ancient hagiography describes in detail what happened when he suffered an infection in his foot:
And when he received power over him on one of those days as he stood praying, a severe disease smote him in his left foot. While he was wishing for the evening to come, it was filled with ulcers; and when the next, day dawned, it burst and emitted foul odor and was alive with maggots. Matter and a disgusting smell came from the loot, and maggots fell out of it upon the ground. So powerful and bad was the stench that not even half way up the ladder could one ascend except with distress. Some of his disciples who forced themselves to go up to him could not ascend until after they had put on their noses incense and fragrant ointment. He suffered this way nine months until nothing was left of him except the breath only.
Then something wonderful happened. One king came to visit, in a story recounted by Harvey. Standing below the rotting saint he saw a worm fall from one of his gangrenous wounds. The king picked it up. When he opened his hand, it had turned into a pearl.
Harvey sees the worm-pearl incident as a metaphor for what was happening to the saint’s body, including how it smelled. When Simeon at last had passed one of his followers climbed up the pillar to retrieve the body. But instead of the stench, he is greeted by a fragrant aroma that intensifies as the funeral is held. And here is the theological significance to all this, as explained by Harvey:
The saint’s body in its foul-smelling corruptibility signifies the fallen human condition. Simeon’s labors are the willing endurance of humanity’s utter sickness, and through his labors redemption will be achieved. Just as the worm transmute[d] to the priceless pearl, so, too [did] Simeon’s stench ultimately transform into the astonishing fragrance of divine incorruptibility (Scenting Salvation, 191; one feels the need to add that this redemption would have been through grace, not human labors apart from grace).
In Catholic tradition, this is known as the “odor of sanctity” that has sometimes been detected around the bodies of saints. The only two saints that are known to have had visible stigmata—Francis of Assisi and Padre Pio—both reportedly gave off a sweet smell from their wounds. When St. Polycarp was burned to death, his scorched body smelled of frankincense. And St. Teresa of Avila’s grave smelled like perfume for nine months after her death.
If it sounds like we have strayed far into the most peripheral and trivial matters, it’s worth noting that the odor of sanctity has a biblical foundation. In 2 Corinthians 2:15, St. Paul writes, “For we are the good odour of Christ unto God, in them that are saved, and in them that perish.” Likewise he writes in Philippians 4:18 that he has received “an odour of sweetness, an acceptable sacrifice” from them. This is all part of the imitation of Christ, as St. Paul explains in Ephesians 5:2, “And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness.”
There is a larger point here. The story of Simeon illustrates how we are saved. We are not saved from our bodies; rather, the whole man, body and soul, is saved. Put another way: we are not saved from bad smells; rather, the sense of smell is saved, as Harvey suggests. The stench of decay—both an actual consequence and also a metaphor for the fallen state of our nature—is converted to the sweetness of incorruptibility in Christ.

Stephen Beale


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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Think about....

If wealth is the secret to happiness, then the
rich should be dancing in the streets; but 
only poor kids do that.

If power ensures peace of mind, then officials
should walk unguarded; but those who live
simply sleep soundly.

If beauty and fame bring ideal relationships
then celebreties should have the best 
but those who are in God deeply has the 
most fulfilled relationships.

The real essence of Life is having CHRIST
in us....

Peace and Love!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why Catholics make the Sign of the Cross

Cogito - Fr. Russell A. Bantiles

Rev. Fr. Russell Bantiles

I DON’T pretend to sound very original here for there’s nothing new under the sun. But I only wish to reecho for wide diffusion the points of Bert Ghezzi in an article published a few months ago in Our Sunday Visitor (3-25-2013) (See

According to Ghezzi, there are six ways “in which making the ancient sign opens Catholics to life-transforming graces.” In his book The Sign of the Cross: Recovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer (Loyola Press, 2004), the author shares how making the sign with more faith and reverence helps him experience its great blessings. “I did not think much about it, but after a year I noticed that I seemed to be doing measurably better in my Christian life. I was praying with more passion, resisting my bad inclinations somewhat more effectively, and relating to others more kindly,” he said.

So, here are the six oftentimes overlooked reasons why we, Catholics, make the Sign of the Cross:

First, the Sign of the Cross is a profession of faith. It is an abbreviated form of the Apostle’s Creed. Have you noticed the Trinitarian structure of the Creed that we pray every Sunday and on Solemnities? To profess our faith is quite urgent today when the society seems to disregard the place of God in our lives. “When we sign ourselves, we are making ourselves aware of God’s presence and opening ourselves to His action in our lives,” Ghezzi notes.

Second, making the Sign of the Cross is a reminder and renewal of our baptism. What happened in our baptism? St. Paul says that in baptism we died sacramentally with Christ on the cross and rose with Him to a new life (Cfr. Rom 6: 3-4; Gal 2:20). When we make the sign, we ask the Lord to renew the graces we received in Baptism. We also acknowledge that through Baptism we become one with the Body of Christ, the Church; thus, we are co-redeemer with Him.

Third, the cross is a mark of discipleship. Pope Francis, in his first homily, emphasized the importance of the cross to Christ’s disciples. He said, “When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we confess a Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.” “By tracing the cross on our bodies, we are denying that we belong to ourselves and declaring that we belong to Him alone,” Ghezzi explains. As Catholics, are we going to deprive ourselves of this manifestation of our belongingness to Christ?

Fourth, if the Sign of the Cross is a mark of authentic discipleship, it is because it is a manifestation of our acceptance of suffering. Because Jesus chose to suffer for us, He is telling us that suffering—being a normal part of disciples’ life—has a new redemptive and redeeming meaning. Thus, when we mark our bodies with the sign, we embrace lovingly whatever physical, spiritual or moral pain that comes as a consequence of our faith. However, it is not embracing suffering for its own sake. Catholics are never sadists. We take joy in suffering because it purifies us and it unites us to our Lord.

Fifth, the Sign of the Cross is a move against the devil. The devil thought mistakenly that he had won a great victory when Jesus died on the cross. “Instead, the Lord surprised Him with an ignominious defeat,” Ghezzi observes. The cross, therefore, becomes a symbol of the devil’s defeat and the Christians’ victory. I remember a saying that goes, “When the devil reminds you of your past, remind him of his future.” Making the sign of the cross does not only remind us of our victory over the devil, it also reminds the devil of his ultimate defeat.

Lastly, making the Sign of the Cross manifests also our victory over the flesh. The flesh is the sum of all disordered inclinations that we experience within as a result of the original sin: envy, jealousy, sensuality, anger, etc. When we sign ourselves, we express our decision to “crucify” the desires of our flesh and to live according to the Holy Spirit. Ghezzi likens it to “tossing off a dirty shirt or blouse.” “Making the sign,” he says, “indicates our stripping ourselves of our evil inclinations and clothing ourselves with the behaviors of Christ (see Col 3: 5-15).”

Knowing these reasons and keeping them in mind whenever we make the Sign of the Cross, either in opening or closing a prayer or in entering a church, is one step towards living seriously our spiritual life as Catholics. This Year of Faith could be the best time to start doing it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Church Under Attack

Five Hundred Years That Split the Church and Scattered the Flock

by Diane Moczar - published by Sophia Institute Press, 2013
A Book Review by Father John McCloskey
Blessed John Henry Newman once famously wrote, "To go deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant." Similarly, I would say that to read about the never-ending persecution of the Catholic Church over the last 500 years should convince any sincere seeker of religious truth that if Christ founded a Church, then it surely is the Catholic Church. Even today, Catholics are martyred every day because they refuse to deny their faith.
Historian Diane Moczar has come out with another interesting contribution to popular Church history: The Church Under Attack: 500 Hundred Years That Split the Church and Scattered the Flock. Her previous books on this topic includeIslam at the Gates and Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know.
Moczar's latest book first recounts that great tragedy of the 16th century, misnamed the Protestant Reformation, in which men such as the German Martin Luther, the English Henry VIII and the French John Calvin all in one way or another used the power of the state to persecute the Church and wage bloody wars, rending Christendom.
For each of the centuries discussed in the book, Moczar examines the major historical developments, including the wars, economic growth and major cultural and political events of concern to the people then living. Naturally, she also discusses the condition of the Church in each period, including the kings, explorers, adventurers and (most importantly) the male and female saints of the times and the apparitions of Our Lady.
Here is a summary of her approach in the first chapter (which is then replicated in the rest):
Catholic thought in the 16th century was dominated by the idea of reform long before Luther got going and even more as the Counter-Reformation was in full swing. Once the Counter-Reformation moved into high gear in the latter half of the century, it triggered a spectacular cultural movement in which new forms of art and music were placed at the service of the faith.
The 16th and 17th centuries ushered in new styles of painting, architecture, sculpture and music. The Baroque masterpieces are as lavish as the Calvinist churches were prim and plain. Catholic writings of the period are among the classics of Western civilization: The mystical poetry of St. John of the Cross, the works of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Thomas More's Utopia and St. Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life are among many that reflect the energy of a revitalized Church. It now seems that Shakespeare was a closet Catholic living during the Elizabethan persecution in England (in which, it seems, some of his relatives were hanged, drawn and quartered), and, certainly, Catholic themes and veiled criticisms of tyranny occur in his plays.
Studying the Catholic history of the last several centuries can enlighten and inspire us as we struggle with brave hearts through the challenges our own era of Catholic history places before us: the "culture of death" and the taking away of our religious liberties.
Whether we are entering into a new civilization of love and truth or tumbling into a dark age of persecution, only God knows.
Either way, you will be well prepared, thanks to this book.
First appeared in National Catholic Register, August 2014.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Today's Mass Readings - Sunday, August 24, 2014 with Reflection

1ST READING - Isaiah 22:15, 19-23
15 Thus says the Lord to Shebna, master of the palace: 19 “I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station. 20On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; 21 I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. 22 I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open. 23 I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot, to be a place of honor for his family.”
P S A L M - Psalm 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8
R: Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands.
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with all my heart, for you have heard the words of my mouth; in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise; I will worship at your holy temple. (R) I will give thanks to your name, because of your kindness and your truth. 3When I called, you answered me; you built up strength within me. (R) The Lord is exalted, yet the lowly he sees, and the proud he knows from afar. Your kindness, O Lord, endures forever; forsake not the work of your hands. (R)
2ND READING - Romans 11:33-36
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? 35 Or who has given him anything that he may be repaid? 36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
Matthew 16:13-20
13 Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 18 And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. 


This is a classic question about faith that will say a lot about our relationship with Jesus. Anyone who desires to be a disciple of Jesus must answer this question and then make sure that his life reflects his response. There are many aspects to any relationship, and the same is true for our relationship with Jesus. Depending on the individual, the focus could be one of many things and that focus will reflect the style and character of his relationship with God.

       In the same way, our life experiences shape not only our image of God but our character as well. It is important to recognize this as it helps us develop the necessary compassion in our relationships with others. If someone grows up without a father-figure, perhaps due to death, then it will be difficult for him to understand someone who talks about the Father’s love for His children. We need to be compassionate and wise enough to recognize this kind of difficulty that we will surely meet in our ministry.

       Many of the events that influence our formative years are out of our control. They happen to us and are not caused by us in any way, shape or form. This may not sound just, but it is a fact of life. And it should enlighten us and make us aware of how our actions may unwittingly affect the lives of others. Let us be a little more discerning of the moral decisions we make. Fr. Steve Tynan, MGL
REFLECTION QUESTION: Jesus stands before us every day and asks us how we want to relate with Him. What is your answer to that question?
Holy Spirit, help me to open my heart and mind to the will of God for my life. Help me to understand how He wants to relate to me that I may make a better response to Him.

St. Bartholomew, Apostle, pray for us.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

How to keep your husband happy, your house clean, and your kids Catholic

Holly Pierlot pounded
her fist on the kitchen table
and yelled at her husband . . .

"I can't take it anymore!"

Mothering and
homeschooling had
overwhelmed her.

The house was dirty, the laundry undone.
She couldn't find time to have fun with
her children or to go out with her husband.

Holly felt frustrated,
discouraged, misunderstood, and alone.

Yes, she still loved Philip and she did love God,
but she'd come to resent Philip's freedom
and she almost never found
time for prayer.

Today, almost
everything is better.

Holly still homeschools,
but the house is cleaner, she gets
more done, and the kids are happier.

There's less stress,
less strife, and less housework.

Holly's been healed of past wounds
that troubled her soul
and her marriage.

Best of all,
she spends at least an hour
each day in prayer and
time each evening with Philip.

Holly brought about these changes
with what she calls her Mother's
Rule of Life, a pattern of living that combines
the spiritual wisdom of the monastery with the
practical wisdom of motherhood.

Holly's Rule is not just another set of schedules;
it's a way for Christian mothers to answer
God's call to holiness.

With the help of your own rule,
you can get control of your household,
grow closer to God, come to love your husband
more, and raise up good Catholic children.

In these wise, practical pages,
Holly shows you how.

Are you ready to be
a better wife and mother?

Are you hungry for more order in your life?

Do you yearn for greater union with
your family, your husband, and God?

With your own Mother's Rule of Life,
you'll transform motherhood and its burdens
into the joyful vocation it is meant to be.

Learn from Holly Pierlot how to create a Rule
that's right for you and your family. Then
use that Rule to help draw you,
your husband, and each of your
children into Heaven!

A Mother's Rule of Life:
How to Bring Order to Your Home & Peace to Your Soul

by Holly Pierlot
$18.95 - 224 pages

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This unique spiritual guide will help you grow holier and more prayerful as you perform the most menial household chores — not in spite of those chores, but in the midst of them.

Written especially for women in charge of households, Holiness for Housewives will help you better understand and respect your vocation as a homemaker — and discover in it your own God-given path to sanctity.

This handy guide will show you how to:
  • Find meaning in even the most boring work
  • Pray in the midst of a bustling household
  • Bear the stress of those long days in which the work never seems to end
  • Develop a greater awareness of God's presence — even amid the diapers and the dirty dishes
  • Learn to rely more on your will and less on your emotions, when life seems to be an endless round of drudgery
  • Handle your burdens and sorrows with prayers that are especially fashioned for homemakers
Let Holiness for Housewives show you how to find and savor the lasting pleasures that await you in your noble, God-given vocation as a wife and mother!

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