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On the Calendar: St. Mary Magdalene

This year, the feast of my Confirmation saint, St. Mary Magdalene, falls on a Sunday. While the Sunday Mass takes precedence over her feast, I thought I’d share this beautiful prayer I stumbled upon recently. 

Gabriel Wüger, Stabat Mater, 1868

Gabriel Wüger, Stabat Mater, 1868

Prayer to St. Mary Magdalen

by St. Anselm of Canterbury

St. Mary Magdalene, you came with springing tears to the spring of mercy, Christ; from Him your burning thirst was abundantly refreshed; through Him your sins were forgiven; by Him your bitter sorrow was consoled.

My dearest lady, well you know by your own life how a sinful soul can be reconciled with its Creator, what counsel a soul in misery needs, what medicine will restore the sick to health. It is enough for us to understand, dear friend of God, to whom were many sins forgiven because she loved much.

Most blessed lady, I who am the most evil and sinful of men do not recall your sins as a reproach, but call upon the boundless Mercy by which they were blotted out. This is my reassurance, so that I do not despair; this is my longing, so that I shall not perish.

I say this of myself, miserably cast down into the depths of vice, bowed down with the weight of crimes, thrust down by my own hand into a dark prison of sins, wrapped ’round with the shadows of darkness.

Therefore, since you are now with the chosen because you are beloved, and are beloved because you are chosen of God, I, in my misery, pray to you, in bliss; in my darkness, I ask for light; in my sins, redemption; impure, I ask for purity.

Recall in loving kindness what you used to be, how much you needed mercy, and seek for me that same forgiving love that you received when you were wanting it. Ask urgently that I may have the love that pierces the heart, tears that are humble, desire for the homeland of heaven, impatience with this earthly exile, searing repentance, and a dread of torments in eternity. Turn to my good that ready access that you once had and still have to the spring of mercy.

Draw me to him where I may wash away my sins; bring me to him who can slake my thirst; pour over me those waters that will make my dry places fresh. You will not find it hard to gain all you desire from so loving and so kind a Lord, who is alive and reigns and is your friend.

For who can tell, beloved and blest of God, with what kind familiarity and familiar kindness He Himself replied on your behalf to the calumnies of those who were against you? How He defended you, when the proud Pharisee was indignant; how He excused you, when your sister complained; how highly He praised your deed, when Judas begrudged it.

And, more than all this, what can I say, how can I find words to tell, about the burning love with which you sought Him, weeping at the sepulchre, and wept for Him in your seeking?

How He came, who can say how or with what kindness, to comfort you, and made you burn with love still more; how He hid from you when you wanted to see Him, and showed Himself when you did not think to see Him; how He was there all the time you sought Him, and how He sought you when, seeking Him, you wept.

But You, most holy Lord, why do You ask her why she weeps? Surely You can see; her heart, the dear life of her soul, is cruelly slain.

O love to be wondered at; O evil to be shuddered at; You hung on the wood, pierced by iron nails, stretched out like a thief for the mockery of wicked men; and yet, “Woman,” You say, “why are you weeping?” She had not been able to prevent them from killing You, but at least she longed to keep Your body for a while with ointments lest it decay.

No longer able to speak with You living, at least she could mourn for You dead. So, near to death and hating her own life, she repeats in broken tones the words of life which she had heard from the living. And now, besides all this, even the body which she was glad, in a way, to have kept, she believes to have gone.

And can You ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

Had she not reason to weep? For she had seen with her own eyes – if she could bear to look – what cruel men cruelly did to You; and now all that was left of You from their hands she thinks she has lost. All hope of you has fled, for now she has not even Your lifeless body to remind her of You.

And someone asks, “Who are you looking for? Why are you weeping?”

You, her sole joy, should be the last thus to increase her sorrow. But You know it all well, and thus You wish it to be, for only in such broken words and sighs can she convey a cause of grief as great as hers. The love You have inspired You do not ignore.

And indeed You know her well, the Gardener, who planted her soul in His garden. What You plant, I think You also water.

Do You water, I wonder, or do You test her?

In fact, You are both watering and putting to the test.

But now, good Lord, gentle Master, look upon Your faithful servant and disciple, so lately redeemed by Your blood, and see how she burns with anxiety, desiring You, searching all round, questioning, and what she longs for is nowhere found.

Nothing she sees can satisfy her, since You whom alone she would behold, she sees not.

What then? How long will my Lord leave His beloved to suffer thus? Have You put off compassion now You have put on incorruption? Did You let go of goodness when You laid hold of immortality?

Let it not be so, Lord. You will not despise us mortals now You have made Yourself immortal, for You made Yourself a mortal in order to give us immortality.

And so it is; for love’s sake He cannot bear her grief for long or go on hiding Himself. For the sweetness of love He shows Himself who would not for the bitterness of tears. The Lord calls His servant by the name she has often heard and the servant knows the voice of her own Lord.

I think, or rather I am sure, that she responded to the gentle tone with which he was accustomed to call, “Mary.” What joy filled that voice, so gentle and full of love. He could not have put it more simply and clearly:

“I know who you are and what you want; behold Me; do not weep, behold Me; I am He whom you seek.”

At once the tears are changed; I do not believe that they stopped at once, but where once they were wrung from a heart broken and self-tormenting they flow now from a heart exulting. How different is, “Master!” from “If you have taken him away, tell me.” And, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him,” has a very different sound from,

“I have seen the Lord, and He has spoken to me.”

But how should I, in misery and without love, dare to describe the love of God and the blessed friend of God? Such a flavour of goodness will make my heart sick if it has in itself nothing of that same virtue.

But in truth, You who are very Truth, You know me well and can testify that I write this for the love of Your love, my Lord, my most dear Jesus. I want Your love to burn in me as You command so that I may desire to love You alone and sacrifice to You a troubled spirit, “a broken and a contrite heart.”

Give me, O Lord, in this exile, the bread of tears and sorrow for which I hunger more than for any choice delights.

Hear me, for Your love, and for the dear merits of Your beloved Mary, and Your blessed Mother, the greater Mary.

Redeemer, my good Jesus, do not despise the prayers of one who has sinned against You, but strengthen the efforts of a weakling that loves You.

Shake my heart out of its indolence, Lord, and in the ardour of Your love bring me to the everlasting sight of Your glory where with the Father and the Holy Spirit You live and reign, God, forever. Amen.

Source: http://feastofsaints.com/anselmmarymag.htm


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On the Calendar: St. Lucy

Francesco del Cossa, Santa Lucia (detail), c. 1473-74

Francesco del Cossa, Santa Lucia (detail), c. 1473-74 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Prayer to St. Lucy of Syracuse

Saint Lucy, your beautiful name signifies light. By the light of faith which God bestowed upon you, increase and preserve this light in my soul so that I may avoid evil, be zealous in the performance of good works, and abhor nothing so much as the blindness and the darkness of evil and of sin.

By your intercession with God, obtain for me perfect vision for my bodily eyes and the grace to use them for God’s greater honor and glory and the salvation of all men.

Saint Lucy, virgin and martyr, hear my prayers and obtain my petitions. Amen.

For last year’s post on St. Lucy, click here.


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A Lesson from King David

Frederick Leighton, David, 1865

Frederick Leighton, David, 1865 (via Wikimedia Commons)

As part of my Old Testament reading for class this week, we were assigned a selection of psalms, one of which was Psalm 51, the well-known “Miserere” prayed so often in the Liturgy of the Hours: Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. In your compassion blot out my offense… I’ve prayed this psalm plenty of times before, but I had never noticed its context until now.

The Psalter calls it “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” Ah, I thought. That’s why David sounds so desperate, pleading with God to forget his sins and make him clean – he composed this psalm at a moment when his spiritual life was a shambles!

So, the other day I sat down to read Psalm 51 with this fresh insight, thinking about David and his messed-up life (and sort of considering my own messiness, too) when I got to a verse that stopped me dead in my tracks:

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

(Psalm 51:17)

All I could think was: God wants me to give Him my broken spirit? In my present state of brokenness, this sounds absurd, and yes – sort of hard to believe. My spirit is broken. Nobody, God least of all, actually wants a gift that’s already broken, right? … Right?

Wrong! The answer’s right there in the psalm. God wants me to give Him my broken spirit so that He can put a new and right spirit within me (Ps 51:10). When I give Him my broken spirit, I’m getting myself out of the way and making room for Him to enter into my prayer and do what He does best: make all things new. He cannot dispel this oppressive darkness, speak Truth to the core of my being, and teach me wisdom in my secret heart (v. 6) unless I actually let Him reach into my deepest, darkest places – all the parts of me that I would prefer to keep locked up and hidden away.

It has taken me a long time to learn that I don’t need to “have it all together” when I go to pray. If that were the condition that made our prayer possible, let’s be honest: prayer would be impossible. We are urged to pray constantly (1 Thess. 5:17)  because it really is possible for us to pray in any circumstance – no matter how we feel, no matter how awful things seem, no matter how messy our lives have become.

As I continued to meditate on Psalm 51, I was reminded of a poem I wrote years ago (maybe in 2005 or 2006). I share it with you now as a second attempt to articulate what’s really been stirring in my heart these days. (For my first attempt, take a look at yesterday’s post.) I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Restore unto Me (Psalm 51)

Restore unto me, Lord, what I need.
I do not ask for the waters You calmed,
not for sweet tears of consolation,
not for the green growth You promised,
not for the fruit of my good deeds,
but for Your likeness, Your true image,
the way You chose to meet me:
violent wounds and cross and thorny crown,
entirely bruised for Your love
and unquenchable mercy.

Over my calloused heart pour Your lifeblood
and loose those streams that pulse with holy passion.
Into my stubborn hands and feet make deep those wounds
that make room for all that You would put in me.
Into Your heart’s blood and into Your hands I fall,
O Lord – burn my desires!
And restore unto me, Lord, what I need:
Your true image, crucified in me.


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On the Calendar: The Immaculate Conception

de Ribera, Immaculate Conception, 1635

de Ribera, Immaculate Conception, 1635


O Mary, conceived without sin,
pray for us who have recourse to thee!

(Miraculous Medal Prayer)


For last year’s post on the Immaculate Conception, click here.

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“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

In light of today’s Gospel (Matthew 25:1-3)…

Jan Adam Kruseman, The Wise and Foolish Virgins, 1848

Jan Adam Kruseman, The Wise and Foolish Virgins, 1848

Be wise, make ready your lamps. Behold, the Bridegroom comes; go out to meet Him!

– Antiphon for the Consecration of a Virgin Living in the World

Lord, grant that by Your Spirit we may be truly wise, and ever ready for Your coming! Mary our Mother, Virgin most prudent, pray that we would be eager for the coming of Your Son, and ready to receive Him with joy at every moment. Amen.

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World Youth Day Pilgrimage, Part Three: ROME

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Highlights of our three days in the Eternal City:

  • Admiring two famous Caravaggio paintings, The Conversion on the Way to Damascus (St. Paul) and The Cucifixion of St. Peter in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo. I was absolutely awestruck by their super-realistic, three-dimensional quality – photos simply cannot do them justice!
  • Tossing my coin into the Trevi Fountain for the second time, in hopes of returning to Rome someday. Hey, it worked the first time!
  • Visiting a gelateria (ice cream shop) that boasted over 100 flavors of gelato. Yes, please!
  • Having gelato and espresso for breakfast… twice!
  • Praying outside the Mamertine Prison, traditionally believed to be the place where Sts. Peter and Paul were imprisoned in Rome. Unfortunately it was closed, and we didn’t get to go inside.
  • Stumbling upon the tomb of St. Benedict Joseph Labre, the “Beggar Saint,” in an out-of-the-way church we just happened to stop into. I’d learned about him during my mission year with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.
  • Praying at the tomb of Bl. John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica
  • Visiting St. Paul’s Outside the Walls for the first time and praying at the tomb of St. Paul (Whoa!)
  • Singing the Salve Regina with pilgrims from all over the world as daily Mass ended in Santa Maria Maggiore
  • Climbing the Scala Sancta (the Holy Stairs) on our knees

Rome was, in a word: overwhelming.

Click here for Part One and Part Two.


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On the Calendar: St. Therese of Lisieux

Leonard Porter, St. Thérèse

Leonard Porter, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower of Jesus (detail) – leonardporter.com

Have any of you seen the movie Julie & Julia? It tells the story of a young writer named Julie who develops an odd sort of “friendship” with the famous cook Julia Child by cooking her way through Child’s iconic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Throughout the film, Julie talks incessantly about this woman whom she has never met as though she is her dearest friend. She praises Julia’s confidence and spirit, expresses gratitude for her guidance and “company” in the kitchen, and wishes she could be exactly like her.

I recently watched the film again, and this time I realized why I felt so much pity for Julie: her “friendship” with Julia Child isn’t real. No matter how much she imagines that the legendary cook is present in her life to impart wisdom and assistance, this is only true in the sense that she has imagined it to be so. That would be enough reason to pity her, but the real reason I felt so sorry for her was that it is, in fact, possible to have a close friendship with a person whom you’ve never met — someone who embodies qualities you admire, who is present to guide and assist you, who serves as an example for you to imitate — if that person happens to be a saint in heaven!

I talk a great deal about St. Thérèse of Lisieux because she really has become as dear to me as any one of my closest friends. The Mother Superior at the local Carmel once told me that she was placing my vocation in the hands of St. Thérèse, and she promised me (with a great deal of audacity, I thought) that the Little Flower would not fail to help me to find my vocation. Not surprisingly (Reverend Mother is a very holy woman, and Thérèse a very eager intercessor!) her words turned out to be prophetic.

About two years after that conversation, my godfather surprised me with a precious gift: he took me to visit the Basilica of the Little Flower in San Antonio, TX. (That day I learned that my great-grandmother was also devoted to St. Thérèse and had donated towards the construction of the Basilica!) Since we happened to be the only people there that morning, we were given a private tour and the chance to venerate a first-class relic of the Little Flower. I remember those moments vividly – I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I was meant to be in that church at that very moment because Thérèse wanted to tell me something: I had no reason to be anxious; she really was leading me to my vocation.

Only one other time in my life (after the death of Pope John Paul II) had I ever been so convinced of a saint’s intercession for me. After those moments with Thérèse, I knew that never again could I allow myself to doubt that she was with me on my journey.

What a friend I have found in the Little Flower! How eager she has been to help me by her prayers in my most desperate moments! How perfectly she has kept her promise, to “spend [her] Heaven doing good on earth!” St. Thérèse, pray for us!


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On the Calendar: St. Matthew the Apostle

The Calling of Saint Matthew Michelangelo da Caravaggio, c. 1599

Caravaggio, The Calling of St. Matthew, c. 1599

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.

(Matthew 9:9)

Caravaggio, The Calling of St. Matthew (detail)

Incredulity: "I, Lord?"

For an interesting reflection on today’s feast, check out Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s post: Wealth and Power.

(Happy Name Day to Fr. Savio and Fr. Fields! My prayers are with you both!)

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On the Calendar: The Stigmata of St. Francis

El Greco, St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata, c. 1585-1590

El Greco, St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata, c. 1585-1590

Prayer in Honor of the Sacred Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi

By Pope Leo XIII

O Lord Jesus Christ, Who when the world was growing cold, in order that the hearts of men might burn anew with the fire of Your love, did in the flesh of the most blessed Francis reproduce the stigmata of Your passion: be mindful of his merits and prayers; and in Your mercy vouchsafe to us the grace ever to carry Your cross, and to bring forth worthy fruits of penance. Amen.

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Novena for the Pope and for Priests: Day 7

The Congregation for the Clergy is encouraging Catholics to participate in prayer vigils for Pope Benedict XVI in honor of his 60th anniversary of ordination, which he celebrates today. The faithful are being asked to pray not only for the Holy Father, but for all of the clergy and the entire Church. Last Thursday, I began posting a “novena” of my favorite prayers for priests – a different prayer each day. Please join me in praying for the pope and for all priests.

This prayer was written by the late Richard James Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston.

Prayer for the Spiritual Protection and Perseverance of Priests

O Almighty and Eternal God, look upon the Face of Your Son and for love of Him, who is the Eternal  High Priest, have pity on your priests. Remember, O most compassionate God, that they are but weak and frail human beings. Stir up in them the grace of their vocation which is in them by the imposition of the bishop’s hands. Keep them close to You, lest the enemy prevail against them, so that they may never do anything in the slightest degree unworthy of their sublime vocation. Amen.

Christ the High Priest icon

Christ the Great High Priest, written for the Year of the Priest by M. Czarnecki

Lord, give us priests! Give us holy priests! Give us many holy priests!

Mary, Mother of Vocations, pray for us!

St. Joseph, Guardian of Vocations, pray for us!

All you angels and saints of God, pray for us!

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