Our Contemporary Cross: A Reflection on 1Cor 1:18-25 [NAB]

On Friday, March 2nd, after the Stations of the Cross, Fr. Matthew H. Phelan, O. de M. gave a stirring reflection on the meaning of the cross to our contemporary culture:

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,

Those who reject the cross are really rejecting Christ. Unfortunately, there are many who call themselves Xian that say of Catholics: “Why do you put Christ on the cross. He was raised from the dead.” Perhaps to those Christians who lived in the Roman Empire, the image of a cross was enough of a reminder. Crucifixion as torture and execution was present reality to them. To us it is a religious symbol, so we need to be reminded what the cross signifies: torture, ugliness, and death. Many want to clean up the Christian message and make it look nice and easy. Jesus did the work. We are off the hook. We have it made. All is warm and fuzzy! This, of course, is an attitude for disaster. There is no resurrection for us without the cross. Not all who say Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven. We have to do the will of the Father—not our own will.

…but to us who are being saved [the cross] is the power of God.

To take up our cross means to embrace a life of self-sacrifice—daily. It means dying to self and putting on Christ. The cross is ugly. This self-emptying with Christ will get ugly. It is never easy, but God will give us the strength we need.

For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside.”

There is nothing new under the sun. The evil one is intelligent and persistent but not very creative. It’s the same thing over and over again. This is why those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. Evil is cyclical, because people do not pay attention. The pride of the tempter rears its head in every age. Socrates held that “wisest was he who knew nothing.” In other words, those declare themselves wise will perish. Those puffed with intellectual pride will be humbled. It is the truth that Mary proclaims in her Magnificat, he has scattered the proud in their conceit, he cast down the mighty from their thrones. This is why Mary is the seat of Wisdom. Through her humility, she bears the very source of true Wisdom.

Where is the wise one?

The spirit of the anti-Christ thinks itself too wise to need God, or his body the Church. The so-called intellectuals tell us the Church is an irrelevant relic of the past. We are too sophisticated to need her. Well, we will find more true wisdom from the soldier in the foxhole than from the self-proclaimed intellectual. Those who point out the arrogance are labeled as out of touch and too extreme to matter.

Where is the scribe?

Apparently, in our country the scribes are in the seats of government, looking for ways to write policies, edicts, and laws that stomp on religious freedom. They declare that one person’s so-called man-made rights trample the God-given rights of another. My right to comfort trumps your right to life—put it in writing. My right to not feel bad about myself trumps your right to practice your religion in the public square—write it down. My right to believe in relativism is more important that your right to believe in objective truth—remove any reference to universals.

Where is the debater of this age?

Apparently the debates of this age are brought before Congress to tell us that not only do we have a right to choose sin—which no one denied—but, others should pay to enable my sin! We should be able to chose sin, and have someone else pay for the consequences. Of course, where will this stop? The clever debaters—and, frankly, even the least talented debaters—will be able to ride this tyrannical slippery slope to chaos!

Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish?

Yes, He has. We don’t know if we should laugh or cry because the foolish are too foolish to even recognize it. As it says in the Book of Proverbs, As dogs return to their vomit, so fools repeat their folly. We all struggle with this, but as Catholics, hopefully we humbly place ourselves before God’s mercy. Better to say what a fool I was than what a fool I am.

For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom,

If we were to come to know God through our own effort, we would soon declare ourselves God. Hence, we must be humbled. We only know God through the action of His Grace.

it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith.

It is through emptying ourselves—as did Christ—that we are filled with Grace. Our faith is a paradox—an apparent contradiction, but not actually so. Our faith is filled with paradox—with statements, propositions, and situations that seems to be absurd or contradictory, but in fact they are true:

· Three Persons, One God.

· One Divine Person, two Natures, human and Divine.

· The Body and Blood of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine.

· A virgin Mother.

· We die to self in order to live.

This all seems in the eyes of the world to be foolishness—but these are salvific truths!

For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

The more we are broken down, the stronger we become. The more Christian blood is spilled, the more Christian life is increased. The more the world tries to sterilize or shun the Cross—the more the world tries to rid itself of suffering apart from the Gospel—the greater the horror, atrocities, and injustices will be. The more irrelevant they think that we Christians are, the greater our vitality will be. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.


Is your faith a bastion for martyrdom?

The Mercedarians gave a talk to a FOCUS group  just outside Philadelphia, PA. Answering the Church’s call for a new evangelization, FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, is a national outreach that meets college students where they are and invites them into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith.

Fr Joseph gives a talk to FOCUS missionaries

Is your faith a bastion for martyrdom? The leaders of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students faced this question during their missionary retreat in Pennsylvania. To help the FOCUS leaders commit more radically to the Lord so as to better witness to the students at universities to whom they minister, Fr. Joseph Eddy, O.de.M. provided the missionaries with inspiring talks on martyrdom, and the example of the martyrs of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy.
Martyrdom, the true and highest gift of witness to Christ and the Faith, is a grace given by God. But all the faithful are called to perfection, to the same heroic witness of charity. This entails imitating Christ so as to fulfill His Father’s will and to nourish our faith with an incessant commitment to the Gospel. This is why the FOCUS Missionaries attend Mass and make holy hours with the Eucharist several times a week, so that they can be with Christ and take Him out to the students and even the world, to “consecrate the world itself” to God (Lumen Gentium).
The Mercedarian Order was founded by St. Peter Nolasco through the Blessed Virgin Mary, to participate in the Lamb of God’s sacrificial, ransoming mission for the redemption of the world, specifically by freeing Christian captives in danger of losing the Faith. The Mercedarians today continue to seek the same freedom of captives in danger of giving up the one, true Faith. The friars, in professing the Fourth Vow (the Blood Vow), willingly choose, in charity, to give up their lives for the redemption of captives, should it be necessary.
But, there is another martyrdom that exists and that is practiced by the faithful of the Church. It is the white martyrdom of community life. This daily dying of those undergoing the ordinary sufferings of family and community life enables true sanctification. Then, these souls, by their witness, can encourage others who are struggling to persevere in the faith. Praying constantly for faith, living theological hope, and begging for the strengthening of captive Christians, martyrdom was a grace given to some Mercedarians for the glory of God, the ultimate witness of Christ’s love and Truth. Today, when the world attacks faith through skepticism, hedonism and all forms of self-idolatry, Jesus’ call to perfection remains. We may or may not one day be a martyr like St. Serapion and other Mercedarians. But it is certain that we must be holy, endure the white martyrdom, and follow the will of God for the sake of the conversion of the world and the salvation of the Church in trial. That total love which Christ gave us on the Cross—and the love that He asks us to give to others—is nothing but the same heroism of a martyr’s love.

A Mercedarian Postulant

Notes from the Novitiate: The Montserrat Shrine.

Fr Eugene, the Order’s novice master, speaks to us about the inspiration St Peter Nolasco found while on pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat.

Dear Mercy Family,

It was at Montserrat, in Spain, that St. Peter Nolasco gained the supernatural courage and strength that sustained him in his work for the captives.

Montserrat Shrine

We see in our Saint (St Peter Nolasco) a fundamental progression within the Marian perspective.

First: A road from Mercy to Mary. We already know that mercy or the redemption of captives was achieved without taking Jesus’ mother into account. Yet at a specific time, Peter discovered the in depth connection binding the work of mercy with Mary’s ecclesial presence. From then on the paths are joined. Mary is linked to the program of liberation. She is the model, the inspiration, and the beginning of the redemptive work. Upon reaching the end of the path, one discovers Mary as “the radical expression of mercy”; she is the depth and the inner stability of all apostolic works.

Second: From then on we understand the road leading from Mary to the Mercedarians. Uniquely, Peter Nolasco discovers that Mary is the foundation of mercy and freedom. She sustains and determines the meaning of the liberation movement, giving it a maternal and mysterious aspect, always receptive to the Heart of Jesus and of His Loving Father (Constitutions of the Order of the B.V.M. of Mercy, #7).

At the end of that process the paths are mutually fruitful and complementary, so much so that St. Peter’s redeeming endeavor is forever called the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy. From then on St. Peter’s Friars, Sisters, and the Third Order will always consider Mary as the Mother of Freedom, the one who encourages the redemptive plan of mercy, and sustains it with her presence. Mary specifies, promotes, and gives meaning to God’s liberation among mankind. This is why we can begin from Mary as Mother of Compassion; she appears as the Mother of Captives: the Blessed Mother came to Peter Nolasco and enabled him to understand the mystery of God’s redemption made visible in people’s distress and captivity.

As our older sister, Mary is the first and most privileged disciple of the Lord. She shows us the road of faith lived in accordance with the teaching of Jesus and His redemptive work. The imitation of this type of committed discipleship brings us to discover the essential moments of service and sacrifice, from the Church to others. Mary “presides over and inspires our prayers” (Constitutions #73). She brings us the risk to live faith, challenge to trust, which is not void but rather authentic acceptance of the Divine Will.

Yes, the Marian way of our Mercedarian commitment is being in love with God, so completely, with surrender and abandonment, which is a tradition of choice by being for others in mercy to secure true liberation in Christ.

Let us always say: Yours in Christ through Mary,

Fr. Eugene Costa, O. de M., Novice Master

The Assumption of Mary

On this Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary it is good for us to take some time to meditate on her blessed vocation.

Our Lady of Mercy

Mary was called from her mother’s womb to be the Mother of God. God chose her and prepared her for such an exalted vocation by making her the Immaculate Conception. Et macula originalis non est in te. (There is no original stain in you.) Mary is such a privileged creature; chosen to be Christ’s Mother.  Mary’s whole-hearted, fiat, response to her vocation lead her to be both the mother of the Church and a symbol of that same Church.

This feast of the Assumption reveals clearly how Mary is both our Mother and our model. Mary goes to visit Elizabeth and is called “blessed among women”. Elizabeth recognizes her blessedness, because Mary is chosen to be the new “ark of the covenant”. The old ark carried the commandments of God, but the new ark contains the God-man. Jesus fulfills the Old Law. He is himself a covenant between God and man. It is impossible that this ark could contain within it any stain of sin. Mary had to be without “spot or wrinkle”, immaculate from the moment of her conception. The Immaculate Conception of Mary foreshadows what God has called all people to be, Holy.  At the end of her earthly life it was impossible that this “ark”, this  blessed body, would in any way experience decay. God took his precious ark to himself. Mary was assumed into heaven body and soul. She received a glorified body, just like her Divine Son. In this resurrected body, Mary foreshadows the fact that we are called to receive this body at Christ’s Second Coming. Yes, Jesus will come again and the dead will be raised. Everyone will receive what is due them based on how they have responded to God’s grace. Those who are counted among the elect will receive a glorified body like Mary. Where she has gone we hope to go. Mary has lead the way for her faithful Children.

The Mercedarians have a special connection to Mary whom we recognize as the foundress and inspiration of the work of redemption. Our Constitutions encourage us to imitate her purity: In order that they may better center their lives in Christ the Redeemer, they shall be oriented toward the imitation and veneration of Mary, our foundress and Mother, impressing her image as a seal upon their hearts, so that nothing may be in their mouths, minds, or conduct that does not breathe love for the Virgin Mary.  What a challenging vocation! Yet that is the call. We as Mary’s special sons are called to imitate and venerate her in our words and actions. If we do this faithfully we will become signs, like her, of the Second Coming when all things will be fulfilled in Christ. Happy Feast to all!!


The Week that would Change the World

For many of us, the 1st week of August means the “dog days of summer”. This is the time when the summer heat can be oppressive. It is in this time of year that many of us take vacations spending time at a local pool or at the shore. In Spain things are not much different. August can be painfully hot in Spain so most people head to the beaches or other spots to “beat the heat”.

The Blessed Virgin appears to St Peter Nolasco

As August approached in the summer of 1218, Peter Nolasco, a young Spanish merchant, was enduring the summer heat in a much different way. For several years now, he had been working with friends to redeem captives who were in danger of losing their faith in Moorish Lands. Many of these Christians were in real danger of apostatizing in order to obtain their freedom and even preserve their lives. For Peter and his companions something had to be done. For several years, they dedicated themselves daily to collecting alms from the pious faithful throughout the Province of Catalonia and the kingdom of Aragon. Many were ransomed and their faith was preserved, but many more were left to suffer at the hands of their captors. It became clear to Peter that the problem of captivity was too great for such a small band. He wondered what could be done to preserve the faith so many.

In his fervent prayer, Peter sought divine inspiration to be able to continue God’s work which he had started. At that point and in these circumstances, during the night of August 1, 1218, a special intervention of Blessed Mary occurred in Peter Nolasco’s life: an amazing Marian experience which illumined his mind and stirred up his will to transform his group of lay redeemers into a Redemptive Religious Order. The experience was so profound that it touched the very fabric of Peter’s being. He now knew what must be done.

The next day, Peter Nolasco went to the royal palace to explain his project to young King James I and his advisers, the first of whom was the Bishop of Barcelona, don Berenguer de Palou. Peter’s plan, inspired by God through Mary, was to establish a well-structured and stable Redemptive Religious Order under the patronage of Blessed Mary. The King was very pleased with the project and gave his approval and support to the endeavor. He would even give his “coat of arms” to be worn as a sign of the kingdom’s support and protection.

On August 10, 1218, the new Religious Order for the Redemption of Captives was officially and solemnly constituted at the main altar erected over Saint Eulalia’s tomb in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Barcelona. Bishop Berenguer de Palou gave Peter Nolasco and his companions the white habit that they would wear as characteristic of the Order; he gave them the Rule of Saint Augustine as a norm for their life in common and he gave his authorization for the sign of his cathedral, the Holy Cross, to be on the habit of the Order. After that, Peter Nolasco and the first Mercedarians made their religious profession right there before the bishop.

That was the beginning of an Order that was destined to endure for nearly 800 years. Countless captive Christians have been aided by this Institute. Several women’s communities, lay confraternities, and other groups have been inspired by the same spirit given to Peter Nolasco on that night of August 1st. Truly that first week of August 1218 was a week that would change the history of the world and influence millions for centuries.

So as we endure the heat of early August, let us thank God for sending his mother, Our Lady of Mercy, to inspire this great work of redemption.  She is the one who first inspired it and continues to do so today.  What started in Spain has now spread to four continents. May this mission of redemption continue to grow throughout the world in order that all may be free to practice the Catholic faith.


Br David completes his Masters of Theology

Br. David M. Spencer, O. de M., earned a Master of Theology (Cum Laude) from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in May, 2011.  Br. David used the opportunity of prayerfully contemplating, researching, and writing his thesis to explore more deeply the nature of Christian Liturgy and its efficacy in the redemptive mission.

Br. David has just completed his theological training at St Charles

Utilizing a rich trove of biblical, liturgical, and historical sources, Br. David demonstrates that liturgy is a Theophanic encounter permitting the participant to share in the Trinitarian life and in the mission of redemption.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, liturgy becomes an incarnational experience by the use of material elements, human language, and formulae.  Noting that the earthly ritual is a celebration of the single mystery proclaimed in the heavenly liturgy, the meeting of God is not a mere philosophical or emotional experience, but rather a true encounter with the Messiah.

Beginning with the central question, “What is Liturgy” and then carefully building a historical foundation with a “Lectio Divina of Jewish Liturgy”, Br. David concludes with the ‘Efficacy of Christian Liturgy in the Redemptive Mission’.  He explores the significant and deep reality of the Paschal Mystery in the life of the Church’s liturgical work. It is this efficacy, which performs the ransoming mission of Christ. It is in the liturgy that the clergy and laity are inserted into the mission of redemption – whether in praying the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayers of the Sacraments, or through participating in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist – the faithful are able to mark the points from creation-redemption-captivity-freedom with Christ.

 Br. David thus summarizes the vision of St. Peter Nolasco toward the captive Christians – that God’s embrace of His people is always oriented toward the preparation of His people for the coming of His Son, as Messiah, who would redeem his people from the darkness and ransom them from captivity. The effective fruit of Christ on His Cross transcends the limits of space and time; otherwise, we, and the generations before and after are left without the benefits of His Mission.  What, then, is the connecting point between the historic Paschal Mystery and its redemptive effect and our lives today? It is the sacred liturgical action of the Church that God uses to ransom his people and the means by which redemption is extended even to our own day.

Solemnity of St Peter Nolasco

Mercedarian’s throughout the world celebrated today, May 6th, as the Solemnity of our father and founder, St. Peter Nolasco.

St Peter Nolasco having a vision of Our Lady of Mercy

St Peter is recognized as the founder of the Order on August 10, 1218. It was St Peter who was first inspired to begin collecting alms to ransom Christian captives in Muslim occupied areas of Spain. On January 17th 1235, the Holy See recognized the action of the Holy Spirit in the founding of the Order.  The charism of redemption that came through St Peter Nolasco is the specific gift of grace given to the Church. This is what the Church approved.  It is what unites the Order and brings us together with one purpose to serve the Church.

In modern times, the some communities have left the original charism or spirit of their founder. The result is that they lose their identity and purpose. To leave the founders charism is to separate the institute from what was approved by the Church. The Holy See has asked communities repeatedly to return to the spirit of their founder. They are to adapt this spirit to the present circumstances of the world. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about this issue saying that today many “communities have chosen to return to the origins and live in a way more in keeping with the spirit of the founder. In almost all recent general chapters of religious institutes the recurring theme has been precisely that of rediscovering the original charism, to then incarnate it and renew it in the present.”

It is for this reason that the Mercedarian have a very special veneration for St. Peter Nolasco.  We strive daily to imitate his redemptive love for Christians in danger of losing their faith. We have statues and images of St Peter in our chapels and throughout our friaries. We pray to him in common each day. On Saturdays, we sing an ancient hymn in St Peter’s honor; praying for his intercession and to imitate his profound love for the captives. The Order’s Constitution also asks each Mercedarian Friar to “study diligently his life and mission in the Church”.

On May the 6th, the Order celebrates solemnly the feast of our founder. Here in the United States this means that we place a special emphasis on praying the Office and celebrating Mass with great solemnity. The Office is often times chanted and the Blessed Sacrament may be exposed. Mass is offered at our parishes with the Gloria being sung and the Creed recited. The main celebrant will preach setting forth the virtues and example of our beloved founder. The celebration continues throughout the day as Mercedarian friars, sisters, and the third order get together for a meal and to socialize.

It is in this way the we keep the memory of our founder strong in our minds. We know that his is still present with all the Mercedarian Saints praying and interceding for the work of the Order. For our part, we strive to continue the charism of St Peter Nolasco on into the third millennium of Christianity.

St Peter Nolasco, pray for us that we may always be faithful to your spirit of redeeming love for Christians in danger of losing their faith!



UNITED STATES — Today the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy (or Ransom) celebrates the Solemnity of Our Lady of Mercy. The title “Mercy” for our Lady had its origin from the Order of Mercy which was so called for its ministry—the redemption of slaves. During the Middle Ages this ministry was known as the work of mercy. The Order has always attributed to Mary a special participation in its foundation. For this reason the Order has always honored her with particular devotion since its beginning and in accordance with its Founder, Saint Peter Nolasco, who in 1249, dedicated a church to her. In 1600, permission was granted to celebrate on the feast of the Nativity of Mary a special liturgy dedicated to Mary under the title of “Mercy.” In 1696, the feast was extended to the whole Church.

A happy and holy feast day to all!