Category Archives: Inspiration

Saving Santa Claus

Santa’s coming to town for Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Parade. From the parade he’ll go into the store  for Black Friday and be there for the rest of the days till Christmas.

But Santa Claus is more than a salesman, isn’t he? He’s a saint– Saint Nicholas. He reminds us Christmas is for giving rather than getting. His story of quiet giving mirrors God’s love shown in Jesus Christ.

Telling his story is one of the ways we can save Santa Claus from being captured by Macys and Walmart and all the rest. First, take a look at our version for little children. Then, you might want to go on to our  modest contribution for bigger children– like us:

Mother Cabrini

Mulberry Street, New York City, ca.1900

From 1880 to 1920 more than 4 million Italian immigrants came to the United States, mostly from rural southern Italy. Many were poor peasants escaping the chaotic political situation and widespread poverty of a recently united Italian peninsula.

Almost all the new immigrants came through Ellis Island; many settled in the crowded tenements of the New York region, where men found work in the subways, canals and buildings of the growing city. The women often worked in the sweatshops that multiplied in New York at the time. Almost half of the 146 workers killed as fire consumed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911, were Italian women.

Over time, the immigrants moved elsewhere and became prominent in  American society, but at first large numbers suffered from the over-crowding, harsh conditions, discrimination and cultural shock they met in cities like New York. Many returned to Italy with stories of the contradictions and injustices lurking in “the American dream.”

Mother Maria Francesca Cabrini

Mother Maria Francesca Cabrini (1850-19170), founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, an order of women missionaries , came to America in 1889 at the urging of Pope Leo XIII to serve the underserved poor. Her work is succinctly described on the website of the Cabrini Mission Foundation.

“She proceeded to found schools, orphanages, hospitals and social services institutions to serve the needs of immigrants in the United States and other parts of the world. Despite poor health and frailty, Mother Cabrini crossed the ocean 25 times during 29 years of missionary work, and with her sisters founded 67 institutions in nine countries on three continents – one for each year of her life.

Mother Cabrini was a collaborator from the start of her missionary activity. She was a woman of her time, yet beyond her time. Her message – “all things are possible with God” – is as alive today as it was 110 years ago. Mother Cabrini lived and worked among the people, poor and rich alike, using whatever means were provided to support her works. She was a progressive, strategic visionary, willing to take risks, adaptable to change, and responsive to every opportunity that arose to help others. In recognition of her extraordinary service to immigrants, Mother Cabrini was canonized in 1946 as the “first American saint,” and was officially declared the Universal Patroness of Immigrants by the Vatican in 1950.”

Be good to have leaders like her today in the church, as well as in society, wouldn’t it? “… a progressive, strategic visionary, willing to take risks, adaptable to change, and responsive to every opportunity that arose to help others.”

Her feastday is November 13th. “Mother Cabrini, pray for us.”

All Souls Day: November 2

All Saints Day and All Souls Day belong together. On the Feast of All Saints we thank God for calling all to holiness as his children. All of us are called to be numbered among the saints of God.

On All Souls Day we remember that we are all weak and sinful and depend on the mercy of God.  We can lose hope in our call, and so on All Souls Day we ask God’s mercy for ourselves and those who have gone before us in death.

Listen to our prayer at Mass:

“Remember, also, our brothers and sisters, who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection, and all who have died in your mercy. Welcome them into the light of your face. And have mercy on us all, we pray, that with the Blessed Virgin Mary, with the blessed Apostles and all the saints who have pleased you throughout the ages, we may be coheirs to eternal life and may praise and glory you, through your Son, Jesus Christ.( 2nd Eucharisitic Prayer)

We pray for all who hope in Christ’s resurrection, and also for “all who have died in your mercy.” All Souls is a day we pray for all who have died.

We begin our prayer on All Souls Day with St. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians and Corinthians, affirming God’s promise of eternal life to all humanity:

“Just as Jesus died and has risen again, so through Jesus God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep and as in Adam all die so also in Christ all will be brought to life.”

At the Communion of the Mass, we hear the words of Jesus:

“I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord. Whoever believes in me even though he die will live and anyone who believes in me will never die.”

Yet death saddens us; it can weaken our faith. Praying for the dead strengthens our faith and benefits those who have gone before us. In our opening prayer we ask for stronger faith.

Listen kindly to our prayers, O Lord,
and, as our faith in your Son
raised from the dead is deepened,
so may our hope of resurrection for your departed servants
also find new strength.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

“It’s a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the living and the dead.” Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.

Blessed Isidore de Loor

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Since their founding in the mid 1800s, the Passionists have given the church a variety of saints and blessed. St. Paul of the Cross, a preacher and mystic, St. Vincent Strambi, a holy bishop during the Napoleanic Wars, Blessed Dominic Barberi, a fervent missionary to England, St. Gabriel Possenti a young Italian saint who died in his early 20s, Blessed Eugene Bossilkov, a martyr bishop under the Communists in Bulgaria in the 1950s.

October 6th we honor Blessed Isidore de Loor 1881-1916, from the Flemish part of Belgium, who entered the Passionists as a lay brother at 26.

The opening prayer for a feast usually indicates why a saint or blessed is honored.

Lord God,
in Blessed Isidore’s spirit of humility and work
you have given us a life hidden in the shadow of the Cross.
Grant that our daily work be a praise to you
and a loving service to our brothers and sisters.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Isidore was a humble, hard worker. He spent the first 26 years of his life working the family farm in Vrasene, Belgium, with his parents, brother and sister. Farming was tough at the time, demanding long hours and offering little to show for it. The agricultural sector in Belgium was near collapse. Yet, Isidore praised God and served his brothers and sisters through hard continuing work.

Prayer was the hidden power motivating his life. Isidore taught catechism in his parish; prayed at local shrines and made the Stations of the Cross daily. He wanted to enter religious life, but delayed till his brother Franz was free from a call-up for military service and could keep up the family farm.

Entering the Passionists as a brother, he took on whatever responsibilities they gave him to do. At first, they told him to be the community cook. “Before I dug the earth, planted seed and harvested crops, now I cut vegetables, put them in pots on the stove and cook them till they’re ready,” he told his family. Whatever his work, he saw it as God’s will and a way to serve.

In 1911, cancer developed in Isidore’s eye and it had to be removed. He was not cancer free, the doctors said, cancer eventually would take his life. God’s will be done, he said.

As his strength declined, he became porter at the monastery door. World War 1 was beginning and German troops invaded Belgium. The frightened people who came to the monastery found support in the quiet faith of “Good Brother Isidore”.

In late summer 1916 Isidore’s health worsened. He died of cancer October 6, 1916, as German troops occupied the area and some were billeted in the monastery itself. He was buried quietly; his family and religious community were not allowed to attend. Yet, he would not be forgotten.

When the war ended, people came to the “Good Brother’s” grave. Cures from cancer and other illnesses occurred. They recognized a holy man who worked and prayed each day and served his brothers and sisters. A friend of God.

Feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux

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The proper prayers of the Mass for the feast of a saint often tell us about the saint and point graces in them to seek from them. The prayers for the Feast of St. Therese do just that:

“The Lord led her and taught her

and kept her as the apple of his eye.

Like an eagle spreading its wings

he took her up and bore her on his shoulders.

The Lord alone was her guide.” (Entrance antiphon)

Therese saw herself as loved by God, she was the apple of God’s eye. Jesus alone was her guide. No matter how close she was to her family or her religious community, Jesus was her teacher and guide. In her autobiography she speaks of herself as a little bird hardly able to fly, but she has the desires, the heart of an eagle, and she prays that God give her wings. God gave her what she sought. “Like an eagle spreading its wings, he took her up and bore her on his shoulders.”

In the Collect, the opening prayer of the Mass for her feast, we ask God to “lead us to follow trustingly in the little way of Saint Therese, because God invites those who are humble, little ones, into his kingdom:

“O God, who open your Kingdom

to those who are humble and to little ones,

lead us to follow trustingly in the little way of Saint Thérèse,

so that through her intercession

we may see your eternal glory revealed.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.”

In the prayer over the offerings we say:

“As we proclaim your wonders in Saint Thérèse, O Lord,

we humbly implore your majesty,

that, as her merits were pleasing to you,

so, too, our dutiful service may find favor in your sight.

Through Christ our Lord.”

Therese insisted as she began writing her autobiography that her life, not her accomplishments,  proclaimed the wonders of God. As we bring ourselves to God in the bread and the wine, we proclaim God’s goodness to us in Jesus Christ. We give thanks to the Lord, our God.

After communion we remember what Jesus taught, so that he accomplish his teaching in us:

“Thus says the Lord:

Unless you turn and become like children,

you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

In the prayer after Communion we pray:

“May the Sacrament we have received, O Lord,

kindle in us the force of that love

with which Saint Thérèse dedicated herself to you

and longed to obtain your mercy for all.”

We know how much this saint loved God. She also reached out in love to the whole world as God’s merciful love does. We ask the Lord to “kindle in us the force of that love”, to love him and love others with his merciful love.

A biography of St. Therese here.

On her missio today.

St. Thérèse and the Poison of Unbelief

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We celebrate the feast of St. Thérèse, a Doctor of the Church, October 1. Saints are antidotes to the poisons of their times, G.K. Chesterton once wrote. They reveal what’s wrong in their world and counteract its poison by their own lives. Mother Theresa, for example, saw a world poisoned by its neglect of the poor.  She not only pointed out the evil but did something to remedy it.

What poison does St. Thérèse reveal? She lived in late 19th century France, when the poison of unbelief, which first infected French intellectuals like Voltaire, had spread to the country’s ordinary people. Many rejected faith in God and traditional religion. In their place they put their trust in reason and their own lights. As the psalmist said of his day, “There is no thought of God in them.”

Raised in a family of firm faith and traditional beliefs, Thérèse’s childhood was nourished by a sheltered life. Her faith grew in the Carmel of Lisieux, which she entered at 14. There she lived a life of prayer, with people of faith inspired by the spiritual wisdom of the Carmelite tradition. Yet limitations of sickness and unrealized dreams challenged her.

In her last days, she was plunged into a darkness that brought her an experience of  the poison of unbelief. God permitted her to be “invaded by the thickest darkness,” she said, and “the thought of heaven, up to then so sweet to me, was no longer anything but a cause of struggle and torment.”

In her experience she saw herself as a voice for those who do not believe.

“Your child, however, O Lord, has understood Your divine light, and she begs pardon for her brothers. She is resigned to eat the bread of sorrow as long as You desire it; she does not wish to rise up from this table filled with bitterness at which poor sinners are eating until the day set by You.

Can she not say in her name and in the name of her brothers, “Have pity on us, O Lord, for we are poor sinners!” Oh! Lord, send us away justified. May all those who were not enlightened by the bright flame of faith one day see it shine. O Jesus!

if it is needful that the table soiled by them be purified by a soul who loves You, then I desire to eat this bread of trial at this table until it pleases You to bring me into Your bright Kingdom. The only grace I ask of You is that I never offend You!” (Manuscript C, chapter 10)

Sharing the darkness that comes with unbelief, Thérèse  prayed in their name, “’Have pity on us, O Lord, for we are poor sinners!’ Oh! Lord, send us away justified. May all those who were not enlightened by the bright flame of faith one day see it shine. O Jesus!”  Her “struggle and torment” linked her to unbelievers “ not enlightened by the bright flame of faith.”

Mother Theresa seems to have had a similar experience of that darkness. Do other believers today share, in different degrees and different ways, that experience of darkness, that “dark night”, so that “those not enlightened by the bright light of faith may one day see it shine?” It seems so.

Here’s a description of how Thérèse  saw herself:

Since my longing for martyrdom was powerful and unsettling, I turned to the epistles of St Paul in the hope of finally finding an answer. By chance the 12th and 13th chapters of the 1st epistle to the Corinthians caught my attention, and in the first section I read that not everyone can be an apostle, prophet or teacher, that the Church is composed of a variety of members, and that the eye cannot be the hand. Even with such an answer revealed before me, I was not satisfied and did not find peace.

  I persevered in the reading and did not let my mind wander until I found this encouraging theme: Set your desires on the greater gifts. And I will show you the way which surpasses all others. For the Apostle insists that the greater gifts are nothing at all without love and that this same love is surely the best path leading directly to God. At length I had found peace of mind.

  When I had looked upon the mystical body of the Church, I recognised myself in none of the members which St Paul described, and what is more, I desired to distinguish myself more favourably within the whole body. Love appeared to me to be the hinge for my vocation. Indeed I knew that the Church had a body composed of various members, but in this body the necessary and more noble member was not lacking; I knew that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love. I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more. I saw and realised that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place. In one word, that love is everlasting.

  Then, nearly ecstatic with the supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed: O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love. Certainly I have found my place in the Church, and you gave me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction.

Our Lady of Sorrows: September 15

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The Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows is celebrated the day after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14). It’s also eight days after Mary’s birth (September 7). So this feast, we should remember, recalls Mary’s sorrows, her lifelong sorrows. 

When Jesus was born, the old man Simeon  told Mary a sword would pierce her heart. Today’s readings and prayers recall her final experience of that sword, when she stood beneath the Cross of her Son. But Mary experienced sorrow all her life. She is Our Lady of Sorrows. An earlier feast, the Seven Sorrows of Mary, made her lifelong sorrows more explicit.   

What were Mary’s lifelong sorrows? She was a human being and a believer. She experienced what all human beings experience- we’re contingent beings. An infant cries as it enters this world. “Our life is over like a sigh. Our span is seventy years, or eighty for those who are strong. And most of these are emptiness and pain.” (Psalm 90) You hear that complaint often in the psalms. It’s a human complaint.

Faith doesn’t inoculate us against sorrow. We don’t see clearly the promises of God. Mary, like every believer, experienced the sorrow that comes from not knowing. Her life, like ours, was not immune to sorrow.

The sword of sorrow struck Mary most deeply at the death of her Son. Mark’s gospel describes some onlookers at Jesus’ crucifixion: There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome.” They were looking on from a distance, not emotionally distanced. They were deeply engaged in the sorrow before them.  (Mark 15, 40-41) 

John’s gospel brings some of the women closer.  Mary, the Mother of Jesus stands at the cross itself. “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”

Mary stands by the Cross of Jesus, close by, not at a distance. She’s not absorbed in her own suffering, not afraid to see. Her standing by the Cross is significant. She enters the mystery of her Son’s suffering through compassion. 

She stood by him. Compassion doesn’t experience another’s suffering exactly, and it may not lead to taking another’s suffering away. Compassion enters suffering to break the isolation suffering causes. It helps someone bear their burden.  The sword, the spear, the sorrow, pierces both hearts, in different ways.

Our prayer for today’s feast says that when her Son “was lifted high on the Cross” his mother stood by and shared his suffering. “Grant that your Church, participating with the Virgin Mary in the Passion of Christ, may merit a share in his Resurrection.

Where is the Passion of Lord? It’s in the human lives of each one of us. It’s in the poor. It’s in the earth we’re destroying. Sometimes we can do something to relieve that suffering. Like Mary, we’re always called to stand close by as she did, and see. 

For a commentary on John’s Gospel see here.

For a study on Mary on Calvary see here.

For readings for the feast and the Stabat Mater see here.

The Triumph of the Cross: September 14

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Pilgims enteing the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

This ancient ecumenical feast,  celebrated by Christian churches throughout the world, commemorates the dedication of a great church in Jerusalem at the place where Jesus died and rose again. Called the Anastasis ( Resurrection) or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, it was built by the Emperor Constantine and was dedicated on September 13, 325 AD, It’s one of Christianity’s holiest places.

Liturgies celebrated in this church, especially its Holy Week liturgy, influenced churches throughout the world. Devotional practices like the Stations of the Cross grew up around this church. Christian pilgrims brought relics and memories from here to every part of the world. Christian mystics were drawn to this church and this feast.

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Tomb of Jesus

Calvary

Calvary

Pilgrims still visit the church and the tomb of Jesus, recently renovated , after sixteen centuries of wars, earthquakes, fires and natural disasters. They venerate the rock of Calvary where Jesus died on a cross. The building today is smaller and shabbier than the resplendent church Constantine built, because the original structure was largely destroyed in the 1009 by the mad Moslem caliph al-Hakim. Half of the church was hastily rebuilt by the Crusaders; the present building still bears the scars of time.

Scars of a divided Christendom can also be seen here. Various Christian groups, representing churches of the east and the west, claim age-old rights and warily guard their separate responsibilities. One understands here why Jesus prayed that ” All may be one.”

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Egyptian Coptic Christians

Seventeenth century Enlightenment scholars  expressed doubts about the authenticity of Jesus’ tomb and the place where he died, Calvary. Is this really it? Alternative spots were proposed, but scientific opinion today favors this site as the place where Jesus suffered, died and was buried.

For more on its history, see here.

And a video here.

Readings for the Triumph of the Cross

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“Do not forget the works of the Lord!” (Psalm 78, Responsorial Psalm) We remember his great works here. How can we forget them.

Bartholomew, the Apostle

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Cana today

August 24th is the feast of the apostle Bartholomew, also identified as Nathaniel,  from Cana in Galilee, only a few miles from Nazareth.  Like Nazareth, Cana attracted little interest in Jesus’ time, yet it played  a major role in Jesus’ early life and  mission.

In John’s gospel,  Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding in Cana, his first “sign” that God’s kingdom would come. (Jn 2, 1-12) The family faced a wedding nightmare: the wine was running out and embarrassment was sure to come.

Catholic Church, Cana

Catholic Church, Cana

Was the family related to Jesus? Or Bartholomew?  At least they were close. Why else would Jesus, his mother and his disciples be at the celebration?cana carol rothstein 7

The miracle was special,. More than saving a family from embarrassment, it’s a sign in John’s gospel of God’s great love for ordinary people in ordinary towns everywhere. God delights in them, says the Prophet Isaiah, whose words often accompany the Cana miracle,  Cana signifies poor Israel, whom God loves with all the ardor of a “young man marrying a virgin,” God’s love, bountiful, restoring, overflowing with delight, goes out to this poor place, as well as poor places everywhere.

Jesus performed another miracle at Cana, John’s gospel says, another sign of the coming kingdom. Besides the miracle at the wedding, Jesus cured the dying son of a government official from Capernaum, whose ” father came to Cana because he heard that Jesus was there. (John 4.46-54) Jesus saved his son from death.

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Through the centuries Cana hasn’t prospered much. It’s not much to look at today.  In the late 19th century, a visiting English vicar described it this way:

“ (Kefr Kenna) lies on high ground, but not on a hill…A broad prickly pear led to the group of houses which perhaps represents the New Testament Cana. Loose stones were scattered around the slope. There may be, possibly, 150 inhabitants, but one cannot envy them their huts of mud and stone, with dunghills at every corner. Huge mud ovens, like great beehives, stood at the sides of some of the houses.

“ In one house a worthy Moslem was squatting on the ground with a number of children, all with slates on which verses of the Koran had been written, which they repeated together. It was the village school, perhaps like that at Nazareth eighteen hundred years ago.

“ A small Franciscan church of white stone with a nice railed wall, with a beautiful garden at the side, had over its doorway these startling words in Latin: ‘Here Jesus Christ from water made wine.’ Some large water jars are shown inside as actually those used in the miracle, but such mock relics, however believed in by simple monks, do the faith of other people more harm than good.”

Cana’s still a poor town. Like other poor places in the world it’s waiting to be raised up to share in the splendor of the heavenly Jerusalem. God loves poor places like this, the Cana miracle says. Bartholomew came from here.

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Church of St. Bartholomew, Cana

St. Teresa Benedicta and St. Maximilian Kolbe

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Teresa Benedicta

A number of martyrs are remembered in our liturgy in mid-August. August 9, we remembered Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, who died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz on today in 1942.

August 10th, we remembered Lawrence the Deacon, one of the most important martyrs of the early church.

August 14 we remember Maximillian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan priest, who also died in Auschwitz about a year before Edith Stein, August 14, 1941.

Peter Brown, an historian of early Christianity, says it wasn’t the bravery of Christian martyrs that impressed the Romans. The Romans were a macho people; war was in their blood. They prided themselves on dying bravely.

What the Romans marveled at was how Christian martyrs approached death. They saw something beyond death. They considered themselves citizens of another world, who followed Jesus Christ in how they lived. They believed in his promise of everlasting life.

Lawrence the deacon, for example, could have escaped Roman persecution, but he wouldn’t abandon the poor of Rome in his care. Jesus said take care of the poor.

Centuries later, Maximillian Kolbe was a priest who wouldn’t abandon the vocation God gave him.

Before World War II, Kolbe was active as a Franciscan priest, promoting devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. He ran a large, successful Franciscan printing enterprise in Warsaw.

In 1939, after invading Poland, the Nazi arrested him and a number of other Franciscans and imprisoned them for some months. They ransacked their printing place, probably hoping to intimidate them. Then, they left them go.

Instead of being intimidated, Kolbe began to house refugees from the Nazis, some of them Jews. That got him into trouble, so he was arrested again, on February 14th, 1941, and sent to Auschwitz to do hard labor.

Concentration camps like Auschwitz where Maximillian Kolbe and Sr.Teresa Benedicta died are the nearest thing to Calvary in modern times. More than 1500 of them were spread mostly through German occupied territories in Europe. Twenty million people died in the camps in the Second World War, 6 million were Jews. 1.3 million people went to Auschwitz; 1,1 million died there.

Five months after Kolbe entered Auschwitz, in July 1941, a prisoner from his barracks escaped. In reprisal, the Nazis took 10 men from the barracks to put them to death by starvation. One of them cried out that he had a wife and children who would never see him again. Father Kolbe stepped forward and offered to take the man’s place.

He was the last of the ten men to die of starvation and an injection of carbolic acid two weeks later, on August 14, 1941.

Many stories of Kolbe’s ministry among the prisoners in Auschwitz were told after his death when Auschwitz was liberated. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 1983, who called him “Patron Saint of Our Difficult Age.”

He was a sign of God’s love in a place where God seemed absent.

Maximillian Kolbe’s death on the vigil of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven has been seen as a further sign. God’s hand reached into the dark horror of Calvary to save his Son. God reached out to Mary to bring her, body and soul, to heaven. God reached into Auschwitz and other camps of horror to bring suffering human beings to glory and peace.