Monthly Archives: December 2020

Celebrate the Christmas Season in a “Life-giving Manner”

Let’s not forget we are living through a pandemic– Covid 19 is affecting the whole world, Bishop Sithembele Anton Sipuka of Mthatha and President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference reminds us in an article from today’s Vatican News. 

“God is our life, God is our fulfilment, in Christ God comes to give us life and life to the full. Yet as we look forward to Christmas of 2020 we are not that hopeful because the coronavirus dragon is waiting to make use of our Christmas celebration to swallow-up that joy.

Covid-19 has wreaked havoc in the whole world leaving a trail of pain and suffering, completely disrupting our way of life, bringing about isolation and loneliness, making the situation of the poor and the destitute worse, and prematurely ending hundreds of thousands of lives. As it has made our lives miserable in the last nine months, it is waiting to make our joyful feast of Christmas an occasion of sorrow.

This coronavirus is symbolised by Herod who tried to change the joyful mood of the birth of Christ, expressed in the song of Angels and shepherds, by seeking to kill the child Jesus. Similarly, the coronavirus is bent on making this season of joy a sorrowful season by destroying lives and making it hard for people to earn a living.

Yet, as the God of life did not allow Herod to destroy Jesus, He will not allow covid-19 to snatch away our joy of Christmas. As he directed the wise men to elude Herod in his plan of killing Jesus, and in a dream instructed Joseph and Mary to escape to Egypt to save the child Jesus, God is guiding us and making provision for us to celebrate this Christmas in a life-giving manner.”

Retreat with St. Paul of the Cross- Day 39, December 31,1720

     On New Year’s Eve Paul Daneo wrote: “ Feast of St. Sylvester. I was dry and distracted, but with interior peace. I was molested by the thoughts referred to above. At holy Communion I was at peace, yes, but almost without feeling and unmoved in affection. Towards evening I was particularly recollected.”          

Berta’s entry: Dear Jesus, in thinking about Paul Daneo facing his future I am aware of my limitations in my relationship with You. For the last 39 days I have met with You in this diary (my prayer diary) through the influence of Paolo Daneo’s words. My entries revolved around him and my reactions to his words. Tomorrow this 40-day retreat with Paolo will be over and I will continue my relationship with you, my God.      I am not saying that I haven’t gotten closer to fortifying our relationship, my Jesus. What I am realizing is that there won’t be an intermediary between us. It will be You, Your Word, Your Holy Spirit, and me looking to reach the Father in a more intense way. I am looking forward to that again. Something I had lost before our retreat. Thank You for Orlando, Lord, he was the inspiration for this retreat. I know You used him to get me back on track to You! My way to You is more wide open. Please guide me to the right path! I love You, my Triune God! I can’t live without You!

     Orlando’s entry: Paolo is so near the end of his retreat! Only one day left. His worries about the future continue but his “interior peace” in God never leaves him. A new year is almost upon him, a new, unknown life with so many challenges. But God lives within him as a guiding, solid force.      For Berta and I the end of our retreat is almost here; so is the end of 2020, in so many ways a dreadful year. Our time together, as wife and husband, partners in Christ, followers of St. Paul of the Cross, has been truly essential to our peace of mind during these isolating, trying days in the history of our country and the world. A dear friend asked me recently, “So what did you get out of this retreat?” Our weeks of fasting, prayer, isolation at home, spiritual reading, meditation, writing, faith sharing, and prayer….. brought Berta and I closer than we ever thought we could be, and yet they made our respect for each other’s space, our personal relationships more important and fine. We have developed a habit of praying together (especially with the  Advent candles), reading Scripture, sharing what God tells us. We want to continue this practice for the rest of our lives. Our solitary prayer with God is more important than ever, even with its “roller-coaster” struggles at times. It gives us a hunger, a need to serve Him by serving others in love and sacrifice. Lord, guide us in finding ways to help the crucified of today!

Retreat with St. Paul of the Cross- Day 38, December 30,1720

     Paul Daneo writes: “I was at first recollected, and then at holy Communion particularly recollected and also moved to tears. Afterwards for the rest of the day I was plagued with distractions especially by thoughts of things in the future. The enemy represented to me that great tribulations would befall me especially with regard to my family. I was also very downcast. “

     Berta’s entry: Paolo now is worried about the future. What happens now with his mission? Will the Rule be approved? Will he be able to attract other men to join him? What about his family and the fact that he is the oldest male child in his family?  Doubt and fear always show their ugly heads at the end of something and the beginning of something else. What we forget is that we have You, my God, cheering us on, especially when it’s Your will that we are embarking on. All I ask You, my Jesus, is to guide me in my next step to You like You did Paolo. I am not afraid because You are with me. Help me to persevere and not lose sight of You ever again!

     Orlando’s entry: After 38 days our retreat is almost over! What now? Paul is besieged by such thoughts. How will he be able to convince the Church to accept his dreamed-of Congregation ? How will his family do without him? I find myself worrying about my future too: What will happen to my prayer life? What can I do for You, God? How will we face the many dangers that await us in 2021?      Looking through my old diary, a small card fell into my hands. A fellow Cursillo retreatant had handed it to me years ago and I had never really read it. Today it drove me to tears as the Spirit looked deep into my soul:     “Oh, Lord, make me aware of the sacrament [Your Loving Gift!] of the present moment. Keep me from worrying about the past or fearing the future. Just for today, help me to be sane, go slow, be silent, seek You in gratitude and stillness. Give me the serenity that comes from simplicity and acceptance. Give me a deep gentleness with myself and others. Keep me in gratitude for the revelations of each moment. Bestow upon me the great gift of detachment….. Help me to have a genuine cheerfulness, and if bad times come, help me to balance them with humor and understanding. Teach me when to let go and turn over the situation to You in true poverty of spirit. When people ask my forgiveness, help me to give it to them from my heart. Defend my mind from self-inflicted negative thinking. Teach me not to manipulate myself or others. I place my life in Your keeping. May Your Will be done in me today. Amen.!  

His Kindness Has Appeared

These are days to reflect on the mystery of the Incarnation. A decisive revelation of God, the Letter to the Hebrews says:

“At various times in the past and in various different ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our own time, the last days, he has spoken to us through his Son, the Son that he has appointed to inherit everything and through whom he made everything there is.(Hebrews 1, 1-2)”

What does Jesus Christ reveal about God? He is the Word of God who reveals God to us, St. Bernard says, and in him “the kindness and love of God has been revealed and  we receive abundant consolation in this pilgrimage, this exile, this distress.”

Before he appeared as human, God’s kindness lay concealed, Bernard says. “Of course it was already in existence, because the mercy of the Lord is from eternity, but how could we know it was so great? It was promised but not yet experienced: hence many did not believe in it. At various times and in various different ways, God spoke through the prophets, saying I know the plans I have in mind for you: plans for peace, not disaster…”

“What greater proof could he have given of his mercy than by taking upon himself what needed mercy most? Where is there such perfect loving-kindness as in the fact that for our sake the Word of God became perishable like the grass? Lord, what is man, that you make much of him or pay him any heed?”

“See how much God cares for us. See what God thinks of us, what he feels about us. Don’t look at your own sufferings; look at God’s sufferings. Learn from what he was made for you, how much he makes of you; let his kindness be seen in his humanity.”

“ The lesser he has made himself in his humanity, the greater has he shown himself in kindness. The more he humbles himself on my account, the more powerfully he engages my love. The kindness and humanity of God our Saviour appeared says St Paul. The humanity of God shows the greatness of his kindness, and he who added humanity to the name of God gave great proof of this kindness.”

Retreat with St. Paul of the Cross- Day 37, December 29,1720

     Paul Daneo writes: “ In prayer by night I was at peace and also a little distracted. I had special recollection in offering His most holy Life, death and Passion, and also in my petitions, especially for heretics. I had a particular impulse to pray for the conversion of England, especially because I want the standard of the holy Faith to be erected so that there will be an increase of devotion and reverence, of homage and love, with frequent acts of adoration for the Blessed Sacrament, the ineffable mystery of God’s most holy Love, and so that His holy Name may be glorified in a very special way. The desire to die as a martyr, especially for the Blessed Sacrament, in some place where people do not believe, does not leave me.      “ At holy Communion I was almost without feeling and then distractions came on as well. Later in the evening I was recollected and felt moved to make reparation for irreverences , especially in the Church, feeling inspired to remedy these by admonitions as indeed by God’s grace I have been in the habit of doing. I felt inspired to say: ‘Ah, my dear Jesus, would that we could flee instantly from this church and that angels would carry away the Blessed Sacrament to a place where it would not be thus profaned by irreverences and grave misdeeds!’ I ask Him to give me the grace to shed tears of blood— something I greatly desire.”

     Berta’s entry: Dear Lord Jesus, please forgive them for they do not know what they do! This is what I pray for unbelievers. Then I continue by asking for Your grace, Lord Jesus, to heal their unbelief by helping them to see and hear. Thank You, my God, for Your patience and understanding, because as You know, I was one of those unbelievers!

     Orlando’s entry: On this day Paolo gives us an insight into his prayer of intercession and into the urgency of his life’s mission. It leads me to pray:     Dear Lord, in the same way that Paolo was disturbed by so much unbelief, by the fate of martyrs, I feel and pray for all those Christians throughout the world who worship You at great peril to their lives. I pray for fellow Christians who feel that the Host is just a mere symbol and are missing out on Your True Presence, Your True Kiss, in the Blessed Sacrament. I pray for our Church— Pope, Bishops, Priests, and Laity— that they all keep their eyes on YOU. Our churches are even emptier, due to the pandemic. Fellow Catholics see our Church as corrupt and perverse….. Lord, fill us with Your Spirit. Help us to renew our Church through Your power and love. 

Retreat with St. Paul of the Cross- Day 36, December 28,1720

     Paolo Daneo writes: “Feast of the Holy Innocents. In the morning I was dry and suffered from headaches. I remained thus for a while until the longed-for moment of holy Communion had come, after which I was moved by the infinite goodness to deepest recollection and to intense loving aspirations and colloquies with our beloved Spouse.      “Then I recalled the Flight into Egypt made with such lack of comfort, with much suffering, and the sorrow of Mary and Joseph, but especially of Mary. Within my poor soul there was a mingling of sorrow and love, with many tears and much sweetness.      “Of all this the soul has deep infused understanding, sometimes of all at the same time, sometimes of one mystery only. But it understands these things in a moment, without bodily forms or even imaginary ones. God infuses them into the soul by a work of His infinite mercy and love. In the very same moment in which the soul understands this in the most elevated fashion, it either rejoices or is sorrowful according to the mystery. In the majority of cases there is always a mingling of holy satisfaction.     “Later in the evening I had special sorrow for my great sins and failings, for my innumerable shortcomings, knowing myself to be an abyss of ingratitude. During the day I had also a special knowledge of myself. I know that I told my Divine Savior that I could call myself nothing other than a miracle of His infinite mercy. May HIs holy name be praised and magnified by all. Amen.”

     Berta’s entry: Dear Jesus, today in his entry Paolo wrote about the Flight into Egypt on the Feast of the Holy Innocents. This entry took me where many of Paolo’s entries have taken me lately. It took me to the plight of the poor, the victims of war, the refugees, the immigrants, the hungry, the abused. How many innocents are there in our world today? How many of these innocents have become orphans due to war and disease? Where do they go? Who is there for them? I know, my Jesus, You are there for them. And there are many loving people working to help them, but most of us continue our lives as normally as possible and only worry about our own. Oh, my Jesus, if only Your Heart could take us over for just a few days! If that could happen the world would not be in the straits it is now. Unfortunately, selfishness rules our world today. Lord, open our eyes to Heaven, where everyone is equal and loved.

     Orlando’s entry: On December 28,1720, once again the Living God in the Eucharist fills the heart of Paolo and leads him into “colloquy” with Jesus. This way of reaching out to God using words, “aspirations”, and engaging the imagination will be recommended in different ways by Paul of the Cross throughout his life, in his letters of spiritual directions and probably his sermons. He tells us to “listen” to God in prayer. Paolo sees these Divine Messages as “infused understandings”, beyond words, time, concepts, even images, causing great rejoicing and sorrow….. then leading us to self-knowledge and contrition. Thank You, Lord, for giving me such a “prayer coach” in Your holy servant St. Paul of the Cross.  

Retreat with St. Paul of the Cross- Day 35, December 27, 1720

     On this day Paul Daneo wrote: “Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. Through the infinite goodness of God I enjoyed great repose and tenderness, especially at holy Communion. Through infused understanding and the deepest consolation of the Spirit I enjoyed a certain spiritual repose, mingled with the sufferings of the Redeemer in which my soul takes its delight. There was a mingling of love and sorrow. On this point I cannot give a clearer explanation because it is impossible to explain.      “During the time I was serving Mass and while I beheld Jesus in the Blessed sacrament, I kept asking Him to send a Seraphim to pierce me through with darts of love. This comes from the loving impulses which the infinite mercy imparts to the heart. I also asked Him to allow me to quench my thirst for His love by allowing me to drink from the infinite font of His most Sacred Heart— but this last happened to me at holy Communion.”

      Berta’s entry: Dear Jesus, that’s exactly how I feel when I look upon Your Cross and see You hanging there, “a mingling of sorrow and love”– sorrow because of the horrible things done to You and love because of why You allowed it to happen. And I have to add joy to the mix. I don’t look away in horror, like many do, I look at You on that Cross all hurt and broken and I feel joy because I know how You love us. Your sacrifice shows me. Love, suffering, and joy, emanate from that scene in Calvary. Thank You, my God!

     Orlando’s entry: During my private prayer I re-read, slowly and lovingly, Paolo’s powerful entry. I stopped to let each image carry me into the arms of God. It was wonderful; my Lord gave me a taste of how He felt about His Beloved Disciple. I tasted His infinite Goodness, His repose in my heart and mine in His, the consolation of His Holy Spirit. My guardian angels with all the angels of the people I have loved reminded me of how God has always been there. I felt His Mercy, but also His pain and sorrow on the Cross. It was too much for me. St. Paul of the Cross once wrote that “ Love is one great wound.” The Lord took me, like the little microbe that I am, into that ghastly wound at His side. Within, my Papa awaited. He held me like a baby.

Retreat with St. Paul of the Cross- Day 34, December 26,1720

    On this day Paul Daneo wrote: “ Feast of St. Stephen Martyr. I experienced a special uplifting of soul especially at holy Communion. I wanted to go to die a martyr’s death in a place where the adorable mystery of the Blessed Sacrament is denied. The infinite Goodness has given me this wish for some time past but today I had it in a special manner, for I desired the conversion of heretics, especially of England with the neighboring kingdoms and I offered a special prayer for this at holy Communion. 
    I had also special understanding of the infinite mercy, our Sovereign Good making me realize the greatness of His love in inflicting punishment in this life so as to avoid an eternity of suffering. And because His infinite Majesty knows the place which His infinite justice has prepared for the justly deserved punishment of sin, so His infinite mercy is moved by compassion to inflict loving chastisements, with which He warns His sinful creatures to amend their lives so that they may avoid eternal punishment and may give His service first place in their lives. 
All this I understand in a second with many tears mingled with the greatest degree of sweetness. “

    Berta’s entry: Dear Jesus, today in his diary, Paul talks about an epiphany he had for just a few seconds. You, my Lord, give us that gift of understanding some of the mystery that surrounds You. We must relish those seconds of enlightenment. Those seconds are how our faith and understanding grow and get us ready to face You in our final days. Thank You, my God and Redeemer. We can’t do anything without You. We are Your dependents for life.

    Orlando’s entry: Today’s entry by Paolo left me depressed and somewhat dismayed. He writes about the sufferings of life as a sort of “purgatory” here in this world, so may we may be led to contrition and conversion, that we might be worthy of Eternal Life in God. I have met and loved many people who were drawn closer to God through suffering, but I have met just as many who instead became bitter and distant from Him.      
    Fifty-five years after writing this diary, even Paul Daneo, with only months left to live, confessed to his disciple, Rosa Calabresa, that the attacks of dryness and desolation that we have read about all these days continued tormenting him for all his life, even as he also had luminous mystical experiences and accomplished great things for God. When he had that lovely vision holding the baby Jesus what did he do? Confess his unworthiness to Him in a miraculous kind of Sacrament of Reconciliation. After all these years, after converting countless people and founding a religious order, he still felt that he was not good enough! So, I look inside and wonder whether there is any hope for me. Paolo’s example comes to the rescue: persistence in faith, trust in God’s providence, trust in His love, trust in the Salvific power of His Passion, and most importantly— find His Peace in prayer as often as possible— persevere! As for all those unrepentant sinners and unbelievers? My Lord pushes me to pray for them, approach them respectfully, give them the example of Love, and share Who is the One that shines in my heart!

The Days That Follow Christmas

We follow the Feast of Christmas with the feasts of St. Stephen and St. John, two saints who point to the meaning of this mystery:

“Yesterday we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of his soldier.  Yesterday our king, clothed in his robe of flesh, left his place in the virgin’s womb and graciously visited the world. Today his soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.  

” Our king, despite his exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet he did not come empty-handed. He brought his soldiers a great gift that not only enriched them but also made them unconquerable in battle, for it was the gift of love, which was to bring men to share in his divinity. He gave of his bounty, yet without any loss to himself. In a marvellous way he changed into wealth the poverty of his faithful followers while remaining in full possession of his own inexhaustible riches.   

“And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the king, it later shone forth in his soldier. Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his name. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbour made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment. Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven.

( St. Fulgentius of Ruspe, on the Feast of St. Stephen)

We celebrate the feast of St. John, the apostle, on December 27th because he sees the Risen Christ from his birth till his death on Calvary. John writes that we might rejoice. ” We write this to you to make your joy complete – complete in that fellowship, in that love and in that unity.” John’s letters and gospel are read at Mass on the days that follow the Feast of Christmas.