As we saw in previous Weekly Notes, the title “St. Mary of the Angels” goes back to Mary’s Assumption and to the empty tomb of the Virgin Mary. Angels were waiting at Mary’s tomb to take her body to heaven, where she was received by her Son and reunited with her soul. The Hermits of Josaphat remained to safeguard the tomb. In 364 some of these Hermits came to Rome with relicts from Mary’s tomb and presented them to Pope Liberius, who built a little church for them in Assisi and called the church St. Mary of the Angels. Because the little church was on a little plot of land, it was popularly called the Porziuncola—little plot.
In the year 1045—200 years before St. Francis—there is a record that the villagers heard angels singing in and around the little church, renewing its association with the angels. This seems to mirror what happened at Mary’s tomb about a thousand years earlier.
In 1216, Pope Honorius established August 2 as the day for the Porziuncola Indulgence, when people could receive full pardon for their sins. This was reinforced by Our Lady in several apparitions and miraculous statues.
For example, on August 2 in 1635 in Cartago, Costa Rica, a poor woman went out in the morning to gather firewood when she found a small, black stone statue of the Virgin Mary on a boulder next to a stream. She took the statue home and placed it in a box. She went out again at noon and she found the identical statue on the boulder again. Awestruck, she took the statue and rushed home. The box where she had put the statue was now empty. So, she placed the statue in the box again and locked it. When she returned to gather more wood, she again found the statue on the same boulder. Taking it home again she found her box still locked but with no statue inside. So she brought the statue to her parish priest and told him the story.
Incredulous, the priest locked the statue up in the rectory, telling the woman that he would look into the matter later when he had more time. Relieved, the woman resumed her task of gathering wood and found the statue again on the boulder. This time the woman left the statue at the boulder. She told neighbors as she went to find the priest. The small crowd followed the woman to the boulder. The priest took the statue and all processed back to the parish church where the priest locked up the statue in the tabernacle. But, as you can guess, the statue found its way back to the boulder. The people then built a little chapel there where Our Lady could stay! She is now recognized by Costa Ricans as their national patron: La Negrita—La Virgen de los Angeles.
In 1660—again on August 2nd—people around Lurs, France, saw and heard a choir of angels announcing the presence of Notre Dame of the Angels, as she appeared on a site where they built a little church. Miraculous cures took place then and still take place in the little church built on the site. It is located along one of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago del Compostela.
Franciscans would spread devotion to St. Mary of the Angels wherever they went, as they did when they went to California to evangelize the native Americans there. One of their missions, established by St. Junipero Serra, was named Nuestra Senora de los Angeles, which is now the city of Los Angeles.
So, Our Blessed Mother wants to be honored as St. Mary of the Angels, especially on her feast day, August 2. We plan to do precisely that, with our parish celebration.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Jesus began his enlightening Sermon of the Mount with: “Blessed [or Happy] the person who…” This great Sermon, and all his teachings, is really about being happy. It is particularly attractive because this is something we all seek… we all want to be happy.
So if Christian morality and holiness is about being happy and we all seek that, then why do so few people embrace Christian morality—even among Christians? Why do so few seek holiness?
One reason—perhaps the predominant reason—is that people confuse happiness with pleasure. We say to ourselves, if I have just one more cookie… one more drink… a true romantic or sexual experience… or I really let this person a full piece of my mind (or my fist)… then the pleasure and satisfaction that it will give me will make me happy. But pleasure never does. It may give us a temporary “high,” but not permanent happiness.
A few years ago a priest shared his experience. He had done a lot of work with young addicts, and would go around to Catholic and public schools to dissuade young people from drugs. On one occasion when visiting a school this priest had just given a talk to the 7th and 8th graders and was waiting to speak to the younger grades. The principal gave him an office to work while he waited. At one point the priest got a little antsy and approached the principal: “I would like to do a little experiment with the first-graders, to see if they can tell the difference between pleasure and happiness.” The principal replied, “But they are just first-graders… they are not old enough to know that.” The visiting priest replied, “That’s why I want to do this experiment, to see if it is really true or not.” So the principal took the visiting priest to the first-grade classroom.
The first-grade teacher had a similar objection but let the priest hold forth. The priest ask the children to get out a blank piece of paper and NOT write their names on it—this was novel as they we taught that you always write you name on your paper…
Next, he asked the children to write down three things they got from their parents recently. After they finished that, he asked the children to write down the letter “P” next to the word if it gave them pleasure or the letter “H” if it made them happy. Next he asked the children to an “N” next to the word if it was something they needed and a “W” if it was something they wanted. Finally he collected the papers and thanked the children and the teacher.
The principal and the priest went back to the office to review what the children had written. Some of the things the children had received from their parents were objects: “jewelry,” a “Play-Station game,” a certain toy or doll… They all had “P” for giving them pleasure, and “W” for being something they wanted. The principal and priest noted other things on the papers too: I got a “hug” or “kiss” or “smile”… with an “H” to say it made them happy, and an “N” for being something they needed. One child even wrote: I got a “spanking” with an “N” next to it, saying “I needed that!”
So, first-graders really can tell the difference between happiness and pleasure, between needs and wants. It is us adults (and adolescents) who so often confuse the difference. And is this not why so many find it difficult to live Christian morality—it gets in the way of our pursuit of pleasure. Yet our Lord tells us that Christian morality is about what will make us truly happy, both in this life and the happiness that awaits us in heaven. Ultimate happiness will come with our love and union with God… which is what we Need.
Fr. John R. Waiss
When a child gets into his teen years, he doesn’t want a list of rules. Teenagers see rules as arbitrary directives instituted by people in power in order to control our lives. If something is good or bad, moral or immoral, somehow it has to be so because of something intrinsic, beyond rules.
St. Augustine came up with an adage that has been repeated over and over again: “Love and do what you want.” In other words, if you truly love then you don’t need rules or commandments, love itself will suffice.
Think about it: does a newlywed bride need rules to do what is right? Suppose a newlywed friend asked you for advice—how far can I go with my boss before I would be unfaithful to my beloved husband? Can I let my boss take me out to lunch, would that be unfaithful? Can I let him hold my hand or give me a kiss? … If your newlywed friend were to ask you such questions, would you think she would be truly in love? Of course not! Someone truly in love doesn’t need rules to avoid infidelity because they are so focused on pleasing their beloved. They would never even come close to offending the other.
Rules and commandments exist to help us see when our love falls short. If we lust over another or lie or steal then obviously we do not love as we should, perhaps because we don’t see how our action affects our relationship of love or perhaps because our love does not reach as far as it should: from God to all his children that he love.
The Beatitudes and the Commandments
Christ gave us the Beatitudes as way to paint a picture of true love: Blessed are the poor in spirit… who put all their material goods at the service of their loving relationships; Blessed are the meek… who don’t let disappointments and personal hurts damage their loving relationships, etc.
Both the Beatitudes and the Commandments reflect right relationships with God and with others based on true love. The Commandments tell us what actions we must avoid so as to not violate our loving relationships; the Beatitudes tell us what we must do affirm our loving relationships. The Beatitudes and Commandments complement each other.
The Commandments reflect a kind of parental pedagogy toward children, teaching those children what behavior is bad for loving relationships. The Beatitudes reflect how “love and do what you want” really means, especially between spouses: an unselfish love, pure love, forgiving and understanding love… a self-sacrificing love.
Traditionally, the Commandments were divided in two, according to the two tablets of the Law. The first “tablet” held those Commandments that deal with our relationship with God while the second held the Commandments dealing with our relationship with others.
The Ten Commandments
God explicitly revealed the Ten Commandments to us through Moses (see Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:5-21). These Commandments reflect the Natural Law, and thus could be discovered by each of us on our own. But because sometimes we are slow learners—especially when it involves doing something we don’t want to do—and because it involves something so key to our ultimate happiness, God reveals them to us like a loving father teaching his child to do difficult things that will make the child happier and more successful.
The first three Commandments explain the duties of our love for God. The fourth Commandment explains how to love God through those who communicate his parental love to us. The other Commandments explain our duties of love toward God’s other children.
Learning to love is the goal of Christian morality which can be summarized in the Commandments and Beatitudes.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Good parents not only teach their children the house rules and laws, they teach them the reason behind the rules. God does the same with us.
The Natural Law is based on the great dignity of the human person, as made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). The web of relationships and interdependence into which we are born images the Blessed Trinity itself, with its eternal web of relationships: paternity, filiation, and the communion of love.
“All men are called to the same end: God himself. There is a certain resemblance between the union of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves in truth and love” (CCC 1878)
Eternal life consists in our entering that web of divine relationships through Christ who reveals them to us: “no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). God grants us freedom and the ability to know and love him and others, giving us the capacity to fulfill our dignity.
While our great dignity of imaging the Holy Trinity and entering life with God—through divine filiation, intimacy with Christ, and the new life of the Spirit dwelling in us—original and personal sin has tainted and obscured it. Sin makes it very difficult for us to discern what is good for our being and happiness, as well as what is good and just in our relationships with others. For this reason God, in his loving mercy for his children, chose to reveal the essential aspects of the Natural Law in the Ten Commandments and Beatitudes, which help us rediscover our great dignity. By his passion, death, and resurrection Christ reveals how much God loves us—how great our dignity is—offering us a life with him again through faith and love.
The first Commandments teach us that our great dignity consists in an exclusive relationship with God, which we express and maintain through our respect for his sacred name and the day of our covenant with him. The rest of the Ten Commandments protect the dignity of each person and helps each respect the dignity and rights of another from conception to natural death. The human body shares in the dignity of the human person because it is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
Our dignity includes God’s call for us to live in human society by living fraternity—we are all brothers and sisters of every human being. This is key to God’s image and likeness in us. Through our different gifts, talents, and needs God calls us to self-giving: “On coming into the world, man is not equipped with everything he needs for developing his bodily and spiritual life. He needs others” (CCC 1936). Our particular needs correspond to someone else’s gifts and talents; our particular gifts or talents correspond to another’s needs. This is part of God’s plan for us to get us out of ourselves so as to enter into a relationship with others:
“These differences belong to God’s plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular ‘talents’ share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods; they foster the mutual enrichment” (CCC 1937).
Christ reveals the fullness of man’s dignity—“Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling” (Gaudium et Spes 22). Since God has entrusted the Church with safeguarding this revelation, he makes the Church the proper interpreter of the Natural Law as revealed in the Son of Man.
Fr. John R. Waiss
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