Sunday, February 21, 2010


Meditating on the Holy Gospel for this First Sunday of Lent I was struck as never before how through the various temptations satan tried with which to seduce Jesus, the temptations appear related to a concession of power, that is satan’s over God’s.

Which power, which will, is the choice Jesus is faced with: satan’s, which is limited by what God permits, or God’s which is the infinite power of love?

I also see something deeper: an invitation to suicide and, for many who chose suicide, for them perhaps unspoken, here clearly worded in the hiss of satan, the ultimate tempting of the all-merciful God.

Jesus, had He stepped off the precipice not only in defiance of the law of gravity but ultimately in defiance of the Will of His Father, the suicide would have been a killing, were that possible, of their unique relationship which exists as Love.

Remember the “MASH” TV series and the theme song?

I bet most people have never looked at exactly what those lyrics say.

The lead line in the chorus is: “That suicide is painless.”

That is a great lie, and distortions of truth, outright lies, are the persistent pitfalls for souls, the great snare of satan, known in modern parlance as: relativism.

Fundamentally, in each of the temptations, satan was proposing a variation on that lie theme to Jesus, prefaced with the snare of ‘if only’.

Most priests I know, both those rightly accused of any crime/sin/lie which discovered means prison or dismissal from the priestly state, as well as those falsely accused and in most cases also dismissed or at least exiled from an active and visible priestly life, isolated from their bishop-father, priest-brothers, have talked openly with me about suicide.

None who have spoken with me have taken their own lives, though many priests throughout the current crisis have and undoubtedly many more will.

In my years working in Child Welfare as an investigator the youngest person I knew to have taken their own life was a five year old boy.

Interviews with the older children revealed he believed if he was not around his parents would not divorce, the family would remain intact.

Most of us know either within our own families, circle of friends, parish, places of work, someone who has taken their own life.

We know suicide is NOT painless; rather it opens a floodgate of pain which ripples forward sometimes for generations.

Times of high stress or demands or raising the personal expectation bar, or the bar of our expectations of God too high, can overwhelm, because sooner or later we will be confronted with our limitations and experience the harsh reality that we are not all—powerful!

I was in a restaurant the other day with family and at a table on the other side a child was in full rebellion mode at a very high pitch, while the three little ones at our table were, in the proverbial expression: “good as gold.”

I turned to the young mother and said: “It must be a relief when someone else’s child is carrying on like that!”

She simply smiled. A smile I might add of both relief and compassion for the other family.

Powerlessness sometimes appears before us in the person of a three year old in full tantrum mode in a place where they well understand our being embarrassed figures more into the situation than focusing on whatever is disturbing the child, on the child themselves, and we tend to move into ‘control’ mode rather than seeking to understand cause and effect.

Power versus compassion; me versus other kicks in whenever we feel powerless, threatened, embarrassed, or simply overwhelmed – as Jesus must often have felt, and yet time and again, even on the Cross Jesus puts other first with compassion and understanding, love and truth: “Forgive them Father for they don’t know what they are doing!”

Suicide can be triggered by someone making it always all about them – primacy of “I” - to such an extent others become more and more neglected, frustrated, hurt and so forth.

When this happens and the person increasingly isolated is elderly the impact is particularly devastating, for like small children the elderly, the infirm, the lonely are among the most vulnerable.

When this happens – the primacy of “I” - within a marriage the act of suicide is commonly called divorce, but it is ultimately the choice to take the life of the marriage.

Prime too among Lenten dangers is the narrow ‘sacrifice/giving something up for Lent’ mindset, risking here too making it the primacy of “I”, which can lead to such a turning inward towards ourselves we completely forget the prime purpose of Lent is a return to looking into the Face of Jesus, a return to Jesus.

Now some who figure that out still miss the point and increase participation in Holy Mass either on a daily basis or at least every Sunday and/or increase other pious practices.

Laudable and blessed as those are, it is still too much about the ‘I’ and not really a return to Jesus.

Yes Jesus IS to be found and encountered in prayer, the sacraments, especially Holy Mass and Holy Communion, Confession – but He is expecting our return to Him in other places where He waits for us.

It is very easy to find Him through a few simple, and answered honestly, questions which are akin to directions on a map:

1] For whom am I of primary importance in their lives and how long has it been since I have made their need more important than mine?

There, within them, Jesus awaits our return.

2] What particular need has my parish or family for married people, expressed as being important? [Think about it, it will be obvious] then ask: Why am I so resistant to give of my time? {Mostly we can come up with logical reasons why we simply do not have the time, indeed to make the effort may be as painful as picking up the Cross.}

There, within that need, Jesus awaits our return.

3] Which race, religion, person, group, indeed in the present climate in the Church we need all to also ask which bishop, priest – in a word whom do I, if unable to admit I hate them, at least admit they are the one[s] who causes my blood to boil?

This is perhaps the greatest Lenten danger of all: remaining steadfast in a refusal to love and forgive – yet – no matter the sin of the other etc., etc., it is within precisely that person, that group, Jesus is waiting, expecting, yearning, for our return.

Lent is a time to turn away from what is NOT of the Gospel and to return to Gospel fidelity wherein Jesus says the “I was” words, stressing He is to be found in serving those human beings who are in any need.

Most people to arrive at the tipping point where they believe the lie that ‘suicide is painless’ feel utterly alone, unheard in their pain by any human being, even unheard by God.

What greater Lenten gift can we possibly give the lonely Jesus than to be His voice and through our presence to another speak the truth that we all have been created by Love to be loved, to love and bring His love to them?

If we return to Jesus this Lent where He is to be found, love, served, then we will avoid all Lenten dangers!

Sunday, February 07, 2010


Twenty years ago a dear friend, herself now living as an urban poustinik in another part of the country, gave me a litany, one she then and now prays daily.

This litany, which appears ancient in origin, came without any indication of authorship, imprimatur, indeed without anything which would enable us to trace its origin.

She herself had failed to trace it and likewise, even putting in variations on title into search engines, have, try as I might, failed to find its history.

All that being said the title on the now well-worn copy I have is: “Litany to the Victory of the Blood of Jesus.”

I’ll put the full litany at the end of this piece; here I share a few reflections on phrases which I have found over the years particularly encouraging as prayer.

The first three invocations stress praise; five of adoration follow; four more of praise and the concluding five are of glorification.

Of the first group I find great comfort in: “I praise you Precious Blood of the Lamb of God who heals all the infirmities of my body; soul; spirit.”

Funny thing about infirmity and healing, we tend to presume that healing in this life primarily means a type of ‘getting rid of’ or being cured of some disease, addiction, doubt.

While certainly God in His mercy can and does grant such total healing sometimes, as St. Paul with his proverbial ‘thorn in the flesh’ and poor eyesight attests, the more profound healing is when, as Paul mentions in Galatians 4, we are healed to the point where the false, diseased, un-sanctified self is dead and in truth then it is no longer the “I” who lives but Christ within us.

Certainly I take very seriously requests from anyone who asks me to pray for a miraculous healing from cancer, for example, and rejoice when such a gift is granted.

Like most priests, like many people, I also bear witness to the miraculous transformation in people when such a physical miracle is not the one granted.

A man comes to mind who was extremely successful in his chosen profession acquiring great wealth and renown and in the days long before such individuals were no longer shunned, and before there was any real treatment, he was diagnosed with AIDS.

Eventually, given the costs of medical care, he lost his fortune, his possessions, his home, and ended up in a hostel for people with AIDS, where he did receive excellent palliative care.

I met him through another priest who asked if I would go and pray with the man for, while this man had abandoned his faith in his youth to pursue a life of money, prestige and pleasure, and while he did go through the usual stages of anger, denial, depression at the outset, he trusted my brother priest as a friend and listened, with an open heart, when urged to return to Christ through Mary.

This was the great miracle for the man not only returned to the sacraments, but from his bed in the hostel carried on in the remaining months of his life a true apostolate of the Rosary, of listening to fellow suffers.

Many either returned themselves to the sacraments or at least approached death with peace and dignity.

Which brings me to this prayer in the litany: “I adore you Blood of the Lamb in your powerful purification.”

In this Year of the Priest we continue, tragically and with great pain, to hear of cases of abuse of the innocents.

Granted the vast majority of these cases are between fifty and thirty years old but the scandal and pain, the need for authentic justice and healing, is immediate.

We can rage, become enmeshed in the feeding frenzy of media and others with agendas piggy-backed onto a real horror, or as priests we can turn to Christ and pray and suffer intently that through His Precious Blood this becomes a true purification for the priesthood in general and each priest in particular so that we emerge from this Year of the Priest more sanctified and faithful.

Again, from the litany: “I praise you Precious Blood of Jesus Christ which frees me from slavery.”

Ah, but I am not a slave, right?

Years ago when I first prayed this litany that invocation brought me to a sudden standstill and at the same time there was within me a sort of urge to flee!

Slavery is, clearly, a form of bondage and so when I replaced the word slavery and prayed “frees me from bondage” there was illumination.

I realized, for example being prone to anxiety, is a type of slavery as is my addiction to cigarettes. Thus the critical importance of this invocation became crystal clear, so I continue each time I pray it to have ‘aha!’ moments – some are insights of slavery to what might be dismissed as eccentricities, others are more serious like my absolutely having to always have certain comfort food handy!

Jesus and Mary want us to be truly free of anything and everything that binds, enslaves us that we might truly be filled with the joyous freedom of the children of God, with holiness.

In these days of the shadow of darkness of the culture of death, of global anxiety, which seems even to deeply impact true believers, over everything from terrorism to the climate and the economy, these days when catastrophes such as the earthquake in Haiti through modern media are immediate and close to our own lives, how important to pray with intimate confidence in Jesus: “Glory be to the Blood of Jesus Christ which delivers me from the powers of evil.”

Yes: “Glory be to the Blood of Jesus Christ which makes all things new. Amen.”

Litany to the Victory of the Blood of Jesus

I praise you Precious Blood of the Lamb of God who heals all the infirmities of my body.

I praise you Precious Blood of the Lamb of God who heals all the infirmities of my soul.

I praise you Precious Blood of the Lamb of God who heals all the infirmities of my spirit.

I adore you Blood of the Lamb in your powerful forgiveness.

I adore you Blood of the Lamb in your powerful healing.

I adore you Blood of the Lamb in your powerful purification.

I adore you Blood of the Lamb in your powerful renewal.

I adore you Blood of the Lamb in your powerful protection.

I praise you Precious Blood of Jesus Christ which purifies me and rids me of my sins.

I praise you Precious Blood of Jesus Christ which frees me from slavery.

I praise you Precious Blood of Jesus Christ which is stronger than my corruptible blood.

I praise you Precious Blood of Jesus Christ which transforms me to His own image.

I praise you Precious Blood of Jesus Christ was makes of me a new creature.

Glory be to the Blood of Jesus Christ which delivers me from the powers of evil.

Glory be to the Blood of Jesus Christ which triumphs over my enemies.

Glory be to the Blood of Jesus Christ which protects me from the snares of satan.

Glory be to the Blood of Jesus Christ which robes me in the white garment of the wedding of the Lamb.

Glory be to the Blood of Jesus Christ which makes all things new. Amen.