The messiness of family life is not an obstacle, but an invitation to holiness

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Dec. 29, 2013

What a joyous time we can have during the Christmas season! The family all gathered around the table with everyone so well dressed. All the food looks sumptuous… everyone is smiling…. Okay, now it is time to get real!! In all likelihood this is not the family life that we know. Even if we worked incessantly to create this perfect Norman Rockwell Christmas, it would likely just be a façade covering over the many problems that family life brings. “Life is messy” as my mother would always say. We shouldn’t glorify the messiness or encourage it, but we do our best to deal with it.

holyfamily This is what the Holy Family did. We can be tempted to look at Jesus’ family as perfect and unattainable. However, a closer look at the Gospel reveals a very complex and muddled situation for the Son of God to be born into. There were many obstacles and challenges for Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus.

Storm of difficulties

Joseph, an ordinary man, is put at the center of a brewing storm of difficulties, trials, and down-right evil which is descending on this poor little family. It would be a mistake to minimize the troubles which the Holy Family had. Joseph’s search for a suitable birthplace for this special Child left him with no choice, but a smelly stable. The foster-father of Jesus had little time to dwell on his own failure, since he would be sent in haste from one place to another.

Shortly after the Divine Infant’s birth, the angel once again spoke to Joseph in a dream telling him to “Rise, take the child and flee to Egypt…” There in Egypt we can only image what troubles the migrant family must have experienced in a strange land. Joseph had to find some inexpensive lodging and likely do backbreaking work to support his family. Then, after a period of time the foster-father was once again summoned to immediate action: “Rise, take the child and go to Israel…”

Relying on dreams


On the road again, the less than ideal birth of Christ
On the road again, the less than idea birth of Christ

Loading up the family once again they must sneak out in the night trusting in the dreams of Joseph. While on their way, the Lord once again speaks to Joseph in a dream telling him to avoid the ruler Archelaus. This family, called blessed by the Shepherds and the Three Kings, is being tossed about from one place to another. Hardly the appropriate welcome to the birth of the King of Kings. But, God chose to come into our world of messiness and to live in a family afflicted with problems of all sorts. It all would have seemed like nonsense to those experiencing it, but God was in all of the chaos. His prophets had foretold it all. The Holy Family’s winding path leads them right to where God wants them, Nazareth.

One might ask, “Why is all this difficulty assaulting such a good family?” Well, this is the mystery of good and evil. The one who comes to concur death will certainly be opposed by the Prince of Darkness. Yet, evil has no answer to humble service. What is more humble than a simple carpenter and a young virgin walking through strange lands? Joseph and Mary do not seek to do great things. They simply do what they can trusting God’s grace and focusing on His voice.

Family reveals the Trinity


The journey is long.
The journey is long.

All families, to a lesser degree, must struggle with the reality of evil which opposes the domestic life. The family is the most ancient institution of humanity. Union of husband and wife which brings forth children reveals the mystery of the Trinity. This is a powerful sign of the Divine in our world. As Blessed John Paul II says, “As the family goes so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” Therefore, the family is the foundation of any healthy civilization. It is in the day-to-day aspects of the family that children first learn virtues or the good habits, which make them good citizens. They learn such essential virtues as “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another…” These indispensable lessons are learned not in a perfect environment, but in the messiness of family life.

Family shines like light

As we look at Jesus’ family, we must not be discouraged by our troubles. Yes, we sin and fall, but the message of the Holy Family is something we all can follow: humility. By focusing on listening to God’s voice and responding to His grace we can do much good through family life. A good Christian family has problems, but they handle it with God’s grace. Individual failings can always be forgiven. No one is excluded. Yet, we must not glorify the messiness or enable sin. It is always a fine line which must be walked, with prudence and love. Walking together as a family we can each grow in holiness, becoming a light to those around us. The family becomes a producer of good and holy people to build up society. Fit citizens for our nation and, most importantly, for Eternal Life.


Pope Francis Visits Ancient Mercedarian Shrine

Hidden on the shore of an Island west of Italy is one of the Church’s secret gems, the Shrine of Our Lady of Bonaria. This Basilica has been staffed by the Mercedarian Friars for over 675 years. This Holy Place has been visited by every Pope since Paul VI. On September 22nd, 6 months into his pontificate, Pope Francis arrived to pray to Our Lady of Bonaria. Fr Ken and Fr Tony were present and share their experience:

Dear Brothers and Friends,

Fr Tony with the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in front of the Basilica
Fr Tony with the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in front of the Basilica

Today was a most exciting day welcoming our Holy Father Pope Francis at our Lady of Bonaria shrine in Cagliari, Sardenga in which our Mercedarian Friars faithfully served for over 675 years. For us the day really began with the precious opportunity we had to bring out on our own shoulders in a short procession, the beautiful image of Our Lady of Bonaria from the Basilica to be placed near the altar where our Holy Father celebrated the Holy Eucharist with us all. What a meaningful moment it was for us to continue this wonderful witness and service to the people of Sardegna, along with this inspiring opportunity to concelebrate the Holy Eucharist with our Holy Father.

When our Holy Father first arrived, he spent a significant time first in the Basilica proper with many officials of the Diocese and of the City and also with a tender care and outreach to those having physical challenges in their lives. We were inspired by his words of encouragement to the youth suffering so much from the difficulties in finding employment and hope. Then there was, of course, the most magnificent celebration of the Holy Eucharist again with a message of encouragement to struggling youth. With the natural spontaneous openness of our Holy Father, a most precious moment was seeing him gleaming with joy as a child ran to embrace him in the procession after the Holy Mass returning to the Basilica.

1236641_640723469281920_1231032897_nIn the final minutes at our shrine, there was also the opportunity soon after the Holy Mass, for our Order and leading Parishioners to spend a particular moment of prayer with our Holy Father in the Santuario next to the Basilica that is the daily shrine of devotion to our Lady of Bonaria. As he came out to honor our Lady of Bonaria with a prayer and a bouquet of flowers, we all gleamed with joy as he came down to us to greet us with his enthusiasm, waving and sharing with us all a deep sense of communion in service to our Lord.

Our Holy Father spent the rest of the day receiving many again at the Cathedral in Cagiari and later, with a joyful and spirit filled vehicle procession through the streets filled with youth, he had a dedicated celebration of outreach and encouragement asking them to see their hope is in Jesus who never deludes us and always transforms our failures into moments of growth and new life. His final word to all, acknowledging the very sad news of loss of life of Christians whose church in Pakistan was attacked by suicide bombers just a couple hours before, he called all the youth to recognize their choice between the good and violence and called them to choose the way of peace and life. We all experienced a profound sense of peace and joy in our Holy Father Pope Francis’ devotional and pastoral visit to Cagliari on the
beautiful island of Sardegna.

The Holy Father incenses the miraculous statue
The Holy Father incenses the miraculous statue

In prayerful union with Our Redeemer Jesus Christ and Our Lady of Bonaria,

Fr. Kenneth Breen, O. de M.

For more on this historic trip visit:

Blessed John Paul II Encouraged the Mercedarians in their Redemptive Charism

Wherever Modern Man Is Held Prisoner

On May 23, 1980, the Holy Father received the twenty-six members of the ordinary general chapter of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Ransom, led by the Master General, Fr. Domenico Acquaro, O. de M. and by the Procurator General, Fr Bernardo Arrieta, O. de M.

Blessed John Paul II delivered the following address.

Blessed John Paul II
Blessed John Paul II

Beloved Brothers of the Order of Our Lady of Ransom,

With deep joy I share with you these moments of intimacy, at an informal meeting which, I trust, will serve to draw even closer the ties of affectionate communion between your institute and the Pope.

I know that you are gathered in Rome for the general chapter, to which all the religious of the Order, engaged in apostolic work in nineteen countries of different continents, are looking with such hope.

I thank you for your visit, with which you desire to manifest to me your feelings of faithful adherence to the Magisterium of the Church. I wish to take the opportunity to confirm my deep esteem for you ancient and well-deserving Order, which of for over seven and a half centuries has been doing everything in its power for the most afflicted and oppressed members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

The mission that your founder, St. Peter Nolasco, entrusted to you, in the direct work of ransom and help the prisoners, and by which all his apostolic activity in parishes, hospitals for the poor, teaching and missions was imbued, is prolonged today in a charism of service to the Faith, to project a ray of hope and to offer the assistance of Christ’s charity to all of those who find themselves subjected to new forms of captivity in our society: in prisons, in suburbs of poverty and hunger, among those addicted to drugs, in areas of materialism in which the Church is persecuted or reduced to silence, etc.

It is a vast field in which your religious spirit and the total availability opened up by the generous practice of the evangelical counsels and the profession of your fourth vow has to dedicate itself unreservedly. That will be the way to be faithful to your charism today, along the lines laid down by St. Peter Nolasco and already contained in the original constitutions of 1272.

Our Lady of Mercy
Our Lady of Mercy

There is no doubt that your vocation calls you to a demanding ecclesial commitment. In order to keep this dedication alive, you must be souls of deep interior life and renew your strength in contact with the Model of all perfection: Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd and Savior. Therefore, I repeat to you: “Your houses must be above all centers of prayer, meditation and dialogue—individual and communitarian—with Him who is and must be the first and principal interlocutor in the laborious succession of the hours of every day” (Address to Religious Superiors General, November 24, 1978). In this sublime school the religious will quench his thirst for God, which must be a characteristic of his life (cf. Ps. 63:1-2), and will be filled with that great love that gives a new meaning to his own existence (cf. Redemptor Hominis, no. 10).

Speaking to religious whose founder placed such importance on devotion to the Mother of God and ours, I cannot but exhort you to maintain and deepen this great Marian love which is a characteristic note of your Order. Take from the “Mother of mercy” and “Consolation of the afflicted” an example and inspiration at every moment. She will guide you to her Son and will teach you the value of every soul, on whom to lavish zealously the care of your ministry.

Encouraging you in your resolutions, I repeat to you my confidence; I pray for you and I impart my special blessing to each one of the members of your Order.

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!!


One man’s search for “the American Dream” led him to become a Mercedarian Friar

Br. James Chia, O. de M. came to America searching for the American Dream, but he found that he had a vocation to one of the most ancient Orders in the Church. Here is his story:

Br James will make his Solemn vows June 29th.

Praise to Jesus Christ – now & forever!  I come from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, MALAYSIA, & from a family of 17 children.  My father & mother had a total of 11 children – eight boys & three girls.  My father had 6 children – three boys & three girls from his first marriage.  Growing up as a young boy, God has been gracious to my family.  I grew up in a family that has its ups & downs – like any other family.  However, we always look out for the others – always putting others ahead of our own individual needs.  My late aunt (†1996) who was my mother’s younger sister was Sr. Mary Catherine in the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (FSIC) in Kota Kinabalu.  Another of my aunt who is my mother’s oldest sister is Sr. Mary Therese of the Child Jesus in the Discalced Carmelite Order in Kota Kinabalu.  Praised be to Jesus, this May also marks my aunt’s Diamond Jubilee as a Discalced Carmelite Nun!  Then, there is one of my older brothers who is a Brother of Mercy of Mary Help of Christians (FMMA) in Singapore.  Being the youngest is not easy since nothing you can do that the brothers & sisters do not know!  They have been there & done that, so to speak!  In addition to providing me with many holy Religious as role models, God has provided me with many holy Priests while in Kota Kinabalu especially the Mill Hill Missionaries (MHM) that left their home for an unknown place called Sabah where they heard of rumors that people in this place lived on trees & that there were headhunters everywhere!  Yet, these MHMs said “Yes Lord, send me!”  Then, there is my former Pastor, Fr. Peter Ma, at Stella Maris Parish in Kota Kinabalu who was a patient & caring Priest.  Fr. Peter Ma is now retired staying at St. Mary’s Church in New York City.  He was the former Pastor of Transfiguration Church located at Mott Street in New York Chinatown.  So, Religious & Priestly Life is not new to me when I heard God calling me to serve Him as a Religious & Priest.  St. Bernard of Clairvaux once said: “I heard God calling me & I am here to check it out!”  I continue to hear God calling me & God continues to call me.

In December 1989, I came to Philadelphia to further my study in Electrical Engineering Technology at Temple University.  My family chose Philadelphia because I have two elder sisters in Philadelphia & they did not want me to be too far from the watchful eyes.  When I finished my studies in 1994 I returned to Kota Kinabalu & worked there until 2001.  In 2000, my application for US Immigrant Visa was approved & I “immigrated” to US in 2001 in search of my American Dream!  All I wanted was to marry a beautiful girl & have many children since I come from a large family.  I stayed with my elder sister & her family in Yardley, PA, as I did while studying at Temple University.  I got involved with my “new” Parish named St. Ignatius of Antioch & was quite active.  God surrounded me with a group of good Catholic friends – men & women.  They encouraged me to look into vocation together with my Spiritual Director, Fr. Louis Kolenkiewicz.  Fr. Kolenkiewicz asked me once: “James, if God is to call you, what will you say & do?”  I replied that I would say “Yes” & check it out (i.e., make the first step forward).  I looked into the Congregation of Mission (i.e., the Vincentians) & the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy (i.e., The Mercedarians).  Some time later, I still hear God calling me & I am here to check it out!  At this point, I can truly say that I am discovering the American Dream that God has in store for me!  May the Most Holy Trinity be served with greater fidelity & be praised always in His Church!

Br. Gerard Makes Solemn Profession of Vows


Gaudete Sunday was made even more joyful as Br. Gerard Snell made his solemn profession.  In this ceremony, Br. Gerard committed himself to a life-long following of the evangelical counsels of Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience, as well as th Fourth Vow according to the Rule and Constitutions of the Order of Our Lady of Mercy.

The Mass was celebrated in Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Philadelphia, PA.  Fr. Richard Rasch, O. de M., Vicar Provincial received his vows while Fr. Eugene Costa, O. de M. gave the homily.

Br. Gerard was joined in this joyous event by his mother and stepfather, as well as other relatives, friends and confreres.  A reception followed at the Merion Tribute House, in Merion, PA.