Beginning in 2014, the Monthly Letter to All Penitents will be printed in the Confraternity of Penitents Newsletter. Hence, archives of this Monthly Letter will be in the archived newsletters.
January 2013: Keep Praying for the Prodigal
At a Gospel Business Persons Fellowship meeting, a lady gave this testimony which is well worth repeating. She emphasized that we must always pray for the prodigal.
Throughout her own life-time Christian walk, she always prayed that her atheist brother would one day find the Lord. She said that she really loved him, yet he was very critical of any praise music she played and would be openly rude about her walk with God. It seemed a life time battle.
One day when he was taken into the hospital and she visited, he told her he wanted nothing to do with prayer, or Jesus, or anything else related to her first love, God. But when he lapsed into a coma, she said to the nurse I am going to pray over him, for him, and ask the Lord to be merciful to him. When she prayed, the nurse stood quietly at one side, and at the end of the prayer, with tears in her eyes, the nurse said, "If I am ever in a similar state to your brother, I only hope somebody will pray over me as you have just prayed over him." It had been a very moving experience, and he also came out of his coma. When the doctor later released him from hospital, he added that he would have to go into care. The sister then said that he must come and live with her and her husband.
When he moved in, he was still cantankerous about any music she would play and was very outspoken against all Jesus things. Not long afterwards, his health deteriorated and he became more or less bed-bound. One day as the sister sat silently praying for him, the sick brother murmured, ''I now believe.” So she asked what did he believe. He murmured, '' Oh, I now believe''. When she pressed him harder to explain, he said, “It is that man walking towards me.” She asked for further details and he explained, "He is such a fine man, so beautiful and beckoning to me, Oh, I now believe. He is so happy for me and opening his arms to welcome me." So the sister asked, who did he think the person was, and the brother replied, "It is Jesus, my Lord and Saviour." He added "Oh, I DO believe". With radiance written all over his face, the brother passed away, whispering, "Oh, I believe."
Keep praying for the Prodigal. It is never too late.
--David Curry, CFP Affiliate
February 2013: Obedience to the Holy Spirit
As we grow closer to the Lord, we may sometimes feel insistent, inner promptings that ask us to do something good. These differ from our former, inner compulsion to sin because they do not prompt us to do what is evil but rather to do what is good. Until we come to fully understand the Will of God, we may object to these nudges with excuses and questions. "What good will that do? I don't know those people that well. I might be embarrassed. I don't have time to do that now." And so on. But the Holy Spirit can be persistent and, if we feel those inner promptings to do good, and they persist, we should trust that God is asking us to act for reasons that He alone knows. Here is a true story shared by CFP Affiliate David Curry that illustrates the importance of being obedient to the promptings of God and not looking for immediate results. The immediate result will be your own deeper conversion due to your obedience to the Lord's Will. Any further results are in God's realm.
David shares this tale. "Not long after a very deep conversion experience, a man called Allen, who later discovered that he had a remarkable healing ministry, was spoken to by Jesus. He was asked to write to friends he hadn't spoken to for years and to tell them of his re-birth in the Lord Jesus Christ. He wrote the letter about his conversion without knowing any particular reason, especially as he hadn't been in touch with them for a long time. The day his letter arrived at the home of Brenda and Eddie was a day when Brenda had reached the end of her tether over many, many issues. She had planned to commit suicide that day, as well as smother her little daughter, because she wouldn't be cared for. Having read Allen's letter, Brenda phoned him and he prayed with her. These prayers brought her hope and peace. Forty years later, Brenda would accompany Allen to a prayer meeting where she shared this testimony. Brenda became a Christian. She attended church and began to read the Bible and to pray. Unfortunately, her husband Eddie refused to have anything to do with Jesus, and the change in Brenda caused him to leave the house. Eventually the couple divorced. Years went by, and Brenda and Eddie lost touch and went their own ways. THIRTY SIX years later, Brenda heard a knock at her door late one evening. When she opened the front door, there stood Eddie. He was frail and emaciated, a mere shadow of the man he had been. He said that he had driven all the way from the east coast of England to the north west, near Manchester, and wanted to see Brenda because he was riddled with cancer and was not going to live much longer. After a brief talk, she phoned Allen and told him that Eddie was going to die soon. Allen asked to speak to Eddie, and he asked him if he had ever given his life to the Lord. When Eddie replied, "No", Allen asked him if now would be a good time, and the answer was "Yes". Allen lead him in prayer, and Eddie became a Christian and gratefully accepted the Lord Jesus as his Savior. This was at 10.30 p.m.. By morning, Eddie was dead. But he had died a Christian. When God says, "Write a letter", only He knows when the full answer will arrive. This one arrived thirty six years later."
Is God nudging you to do something? What are your objections? Are they valid enough to disobey the promptings of the Holy Spirit? Since God alone knows why He is asking of you a certain response, might it not be wise to follow His lead, no matter how valid your objections seem to be? Don't look for immediate results. Simply "Do whatever He tells you," as the Blessed Mother told the waiters at Cana. They had no idea that the water with which they filled the water jars would become fine wine. The Blessed Mother didn't know either. However, she did know that, when her Son, Who was God made man, told you to do something, He had a reason for it so it was wise to obey. May God give you the courage to do what He is asking of you today.
Let us pray for one another and for all doing penance worldwide.
Madeline Pecora Nugent
March 2013: Let This Cup Pass Away from Me
James and John’s mother asked Jesus if her two sons could sit, one on His right and one on His left, when He came into His Kingdom. He asked if they could drink from the cup from which He would drink and they eagerly replied, “Yes.” They were thinking, of course, of sharing a meal with the Lord at His banquet when He would be crowned an earthly king of an earthly kingdom. But Jesus had another cup in mind, the cup of His suffering. He told the brothers that they would, indeed, drink from the cup from which He would drink but that the seats on either side of Him were given already to others. Pious Franciscan tradition states that one of those seats was for St. Francis, who was most like Christ in his life, and the other for the Blessed Mother. But that goes beyond the discussion here.
In the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Father, if it be Your Will, remove this cup from me.” Three times he prayed this, ending with, “But not My Will but Thine be done.” How do we know that He prayed this? Because He was overheard. Who could have heard Him? Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him and went off by Himself to pray, the Gospels say. So one or all of them must have heard this.
Mathew, Mark, and Luke all record the Agony in the Garden with Jesus praying and asking that the cup be removed from Him. John does not record this at all but merely has Jesus going to the Garden and the arrest being made. Is it possible that John was asleep during the prayer? So who heard the prayer about the cup being removed from Jesus?
Scholars believe that Mark was a disciple of Peter and that he wrote the stories which Peter shared. Mark’s Gospel is the only one which tells the story of James and John asking to sit on Jesus’ right and left in His Kingdom. Could this be because Peter was greatly incensed about their request and would have always remembered that they had asked? If he were upset, he would have remembered Jesus’ reply also and His remark about drinking from the cup that Jesus drank from. Peter, if he had overheard Jesus praying about the removal of the cup in Gethsemane, would have connected that word “cup” to what Jesus referred to only a week earlier before His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Could Jesus have used the word “cup” in the Garden so that Peter would hear and reflect on the previous cup promised to James and John? If so, Jesus was gently telling Peter not to be envious of the cup which the brothers would drink from. It would be the cup of suffering, not of glory.
John is the only Gospel writer who mentions that Peter, after the Resurrection, asked Christ, “What about this man?” meaning John. Jesus had just finished implying that Peter would die for Christ. Jesus said to Peter, “If I wish him (John) to remain until I come, what is that to you?”
The dynamics of these interactions are interesting. Could there have been rivalry between Peter and John? Did they wonder who was most loved by the Lord? Who would have the highest authority from Him? It is interesting that Matthew mentions Jesus giving the keys of the Kingdom to Peter—neither Mark, who was writing for Peter, nor John mentions this. Was it too great a responsibility for Peter to reflect on and too great a privilege for John to comfortably accept?
All of these are questions, but Scripture raises them. If there were rivalry between Peter and John, we can take comfort in knowing that Jesus loved them both and tried to teach each one, imperfect though he was, what real love was all about. By the time Peter wrote his two letters, he had learned to suffer, to submit, to seek humility. Read them and you will see. When John, in his old age, wrote his three letters, he had learned that love is the highest virtue and that we need to cultivate goodness and littleness by realizing that we are not high officials in an earthly kingdom but rather little children of the Father.
Each Easter season we are reminded that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. Those sins include, among many others, envy, power grabs, and wanting to know the business of others. One of the most wonderful attributes of God is His persistent love of us, His staying with us even when we fall so far short of the ideal. He sees in us our potential and puts up with our pitiful inability to reach it. If Jesus came today in the flesh, how would we be portrayed in the Gospel? How would we rather be known? The gap between what is and what we would like would be a fruitful topic of meditation during the remainder of Lent. May the Holy Spirit, acting on us with our cooperation, bring us closer to the image of who we should be by the time Easter comes.
With my prayers and asking yours,
Madeline Pecora Nugent
April 2013: We Held Him in No Esteem
There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him. He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem. (Isaiah 53: 2-3)
The prophet Isaiah applies these verses to the suffering servant, and the Church applies them to Jesus. When we consider the life of Christ at this Easter season, we are struck by the fact that such a good man could be so brutally killed, and that he could be so misunderstood by the people of his time. Yet God continually shows us that we must look beyond appearances to see the heart, and that our soul must take precedence over what our minds may perceive.
In the past month, a frightening prayer request came to our prayer list. A pregnant mother who had not wanted her child had consented to an adoption plan. The adoptive family had named the child Brigid and were looking forward to her birth. However, when the birth mother had a court rule against her having custody of his son she did want to parent, she determined that no one was going to parent her daughter. We were asked to pray that this mother which she was threatening to have. In spite of our prayers, she aborted Brigid.
In the birthmother's opinion, Brigid was held in no esteem. We see in this scenario the love of the adoptive parents who saw only the good in Brigid and the closemindedness of the birth mother who saw only a mechanism for lashing back at a society that did not give her what she wanted.
In this Easter season, we remember that Jesus died for us well we are still sinners, and that includes this mother. Before we are too quick to judge, we should examine our lives and see where we have acted in spite and have hurt someone else or ourselves or even God. Jesus came to forgive our sins, too, even the ones we don't always recognize or that we want to hide even from ourselves. Lord, we rejoice in your resurrection and are grateful beyond words for our salvation which we did not deserve but which you affected. We dedicate this prayer not only to Brigid but also to ourselves and to all those whom we have rejected. Lord, may the mercy you have shown descend on us.
Baby Brigid had two moms.
The one she lived in didn't want her.
The other one did.
Mom Number Two
And her husband
Prepared a room
for Baby Brigid.
They awaited her birth with love.
Mom number one had a son.
The courts refused to give her custody
of the son she wanted.
"If I can't have my son,
no one can have
Baby Brigid was twenty one weeks
in the womb.
Not even the adoption agency
that was working with Mom Number One
could change her mind.
She aborted Baby Brigid
the day before this poem
Brigid alone will rest in peace.
--Madeline Pecora Nugent
May 2013: WHAT IS BELIEF?
In the course of Professor Joseph Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity, he explores the question: What is belief? In modern times, people have tried to present belief as a historical question. It simply is a question of the facts of history. While there is truth in this idea because Christianity is based on real and not just mythological events, that is certainly not the whole story. Later, people tried to base belief on what we can do to build a better world. This has led to what Professor Ratzinger called “political theologies” such as liberation theology. Again, this is an aspect of the Christian message, but when this becomes the whole Christian message, Christian faith becomes severely distorted. Professor Ratzinger then discusses two possibilities for human existence which are related to each other but which still need to be distinguished from each other.
The first he calls “know-make” which deals with human knowledge and what we do with that knowledge. This is related to calculation, but it means more than just working with numbers. It is a question of using what we know in order to accomplish some task but ultimately to build a better world. Even religious people seem to operate on this plane when they endeavor to build a better world and thereby serve God and help bring on the Kingdom of God. This seems to be the aim of “political theologies”.
The second possibility he calls “stand-understand”. He explains it this way: “In contrasting the two pairs of concepts stand-understand and know-make, I am alluding to a basic biblical statement about belief which is ultimately untranslatable. Luther tried to capture the profundity of this statement’s play on words when he coined the formula, ‘If you do not believe, then you do not abide.’ A more literal translation would be, ‘If you do not believe [if you do not hold firm to Yahweh], then you will have no foothold’” (Is 7:9). Professor Ratzinger then gives another translation of the text from the book of Isaiah. “The Greek translation of the Old Testament (the so-called Septuagint) transferred the above-mentioned sentence onto Greek soil not only linguistically but also conceptually by formulating it as ‘If you do not believe, then you do not understand, either.’” He then explains this further: “belief operates on a completely different plane from that of making and ‘makability’. Essentially, it is entrusting oneself to that which has not been made by oneself and never could be made and which precisely in this way supports and makes possible all our making.”
Professor Ratzinger then goes on to further clarify the two different “planes” that he speaks of: “It is perhaps permissible here to draw attention to a distinction made by Martin Heidegger, who speaks of the duality of calculating and reflective thought. Both modes of thought are legitimate and necessary, but for this very reason neither can be absorbed in the other. There must therefore be both: calculating thought, which is concerned with ‘makability”, and reflective thought, which is concerned with meaning. And one cannot deny that the Freiburg philosopher has a good deal of justification for expressing the fear that in an age in which calculating thought is celebrating the most amazing triumphs, man is nevertheless threatened, perhaps more than ever before, by thoughtless-ness, by the flight from thought. By thinking only of the practicable, of what can be made, he is in danger of forgetting to reflect on himself and on the meaning of existence. Of course, this temptation is present in every age. Thus, in the thirteenth century the great Franciscan theologian Bonaventure felt obliged to reproach his colleagues of the philosophical faculty at Paris with having learned how to measure the world but having forgotten how to measure themselves.”
He then asks “What is belief really? We can now reply like this: It is a human way of taking up a stand in the totality of reality, a way that cannot be reduced to knowledge and is incommensurable with knowledge; it is the bestowal of meaning without which the totality of man would remain homeless, on which man’s calculations and actions are based, and without which in the last resort he could not calculate and act, because he can only do this in the context of a meaning that bears him up. For in fact man does not live on the bread of practicability alone; he lives as man and, precisely in the intrinsically human part of his being, on the word, on love, on meaning. Meaning is the bread on which man, in the intrinsically human part of his being, subsists. Without the word, without meaning, without love he falls into the situation of no longer being able to live, even when earthly comfort is present in abundance. But meaning is not derived from knowledge. To try to manufacture it in this way, that is, out of the provable knowledge of what can be made, would resemble Baron Munchhausen’s absurd attempt to pull himself up out of the bog by his own hair. I believe that the absurdity of this story mirrors very accurately the basic situation of man. No one can pull himself up out of the bog of uncertainty, of not being able to live, by his own exertions; nor can we pull ourselves up, as Descartes still thought we could, by a cognito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am), by a series of intellectual deductions. Meaning, that is, the ground on which our existence as a totality can stand and live, cannot be made but only received.”
Applying this to Christian belief, Professor Ratzinger then says: “For to believe as a Christian means in fact entrusting oneself to the meaning that upholds me and the world; taking it as the firm ground on which I can stand fearlessly. Using rather more traditional language, we could say that to believe as a Christian means understanding our existence as a response to the word, the logos, that upholds and maintains all things. It means affirming that the meaning we do not make but can only receive is already granted to us, so that we have only to take it and entrust ourselves to it. Correspondingly, Christian belief is the option for the view that the receiving precedes the making-though this does not mean that making is reduced in value or proclaimed to be superfluous. It is only because we have received that we can also ‘make’. And further: Christian belief-as we have already said-means opting for the view that what cannot be seen is more real than what can be seen. It is an avowal of the primacy of the invisible as the truly real, which upholds us and hence enables us to face the visible with calm composure-knowing that we are responsible before the invisible as the true ground of all things.”
Over forty years after Professor Ratzinger wrote these words, it is very easy to see how “countercultural” Christianity is. All the issues which society faces are discussed only in terms of practicality. The question of meaning and the whole plane of reality which depends on reflective thinking seems to be absent from our society. While we must do what the will of God demands of us, ultimately only God can really bring about the changes in modern society that are needed.
--Jim Nugent (Jim is a life pledged member of the Confraternity of Penitents)
June 2013: Thinking about End Times
David Curry, one of our CFP Affiliates in the United Kingdom, wrote "On Easter Sunday, Barbara and I visited a Methodist church in Prestbury, Cheshire, called St Peter's. We were very pleased to visit such a lovely old church. I understand a church was built on that site in 1300+ and was rebuilt as the present one in about 1558. One interesting fact was to get a card which depicted the printing in one of the many stained glass windows. This is what it said:- "When as a child I laughed and wept --- Time crept. When as a youth I dreamed and talked --- Time walked. When I became a full-grown man --- Time ran. As later I older grew --- Time flew. Soon I shall find while travelling on --- Time gone. Will Christ have saved my soul by then? --Amen"
I wonder if modern stained-glass windows would ever be made containing a verse like this. In 1558, people were very aware of death and of the uncertainty of life. With the prevalence of war, the lack of sanitation, the ignorance of germs, the primitive state of medicine, the dangers inherent in childbirth, the swift lightning of plagues and the random occurrence of natural disasters which no one could foresee, people lived with the idea that they could die at any moment. The clergy reminded the people of this, just in case they might forget this idea even for a moment.
The stained-glass window theme is interesting, in that it shows us that Christ gives most of us a lifetime to convert, to give ourselves to Him, and to be saved. As we get older, time seems to go faster, and we need to slow down at least spiritually to spend time with God and see if our lives are in order for when the end comes. One of our Confraternity members has been given 6 to 12 months to live. His attitude is one of joyful expectancy, intense preparation, and profound peace, even has he completes his lessons In the Confraternity in preparation for pledging before the Lord comes to take him home. This is an attitude we all should have. A few years ago, one of our Confraternity members died very suddenly. He surely would have pledged, but he had no time to even think about doing that for death came so suddenly and so unexpectedly. Nevertheless we trust that God honors the commitment in his heart and that this man is with the Lord for he was a good man indeed, a faithful servant of Christ, and a loving father.
St. Francis took nothing in life for granted. He was always mindful of his death. He wanted to be found ready when God came, and he was always as ready as he could be at that stage of his conversion. We cannot be who we are not, but we can be fully whoever God has created us to be. Certainly He created us to be holy children of His. May we live each moment of our life as if it is our last, because it might be.
Let us pray for one another and for all doing penance worldwide, that our penance may be sincere and be complete.
In Him with my prayers and asking yours, Madeline Pecora Nugent
July 2013 :Do Everything in the Name of the Lord Jesus
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3: 17)
What does this “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” mean?
Let’s suppose that you work for XYZ Shipping Company. You are sent to a conference to represent the company. You are coming in the name of XYZ Company, and everything you do and say is going to reflect on that company.
When we act and speak in the world, we are supposed to be doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, which means that we see ourselves as His representatives. What we speak and do should reflect what He would want us to speak and do. Note that the Scripture verse says do EVERYTHING in the name of the Lord Jesus. This means even the secret things no one sees or hears or knows about except ourselves and God. We should understand that this applies in the secular world, too. Politicians who are found to have engaged in private immoral conduct, outside their professional circles and outside of “business” are, nevertheless, the occasion of scandal to themselves and to their political parties. So it is with us who follow Christ. EVERYTHING we do or say is to be in His name, as we are His representative. The familiar saying "You are the only Bible some people will ever read" is true. If we say we follow Christ, we need to realize that we represent Him. This is why, if we are not going to live good Christian lives, we should take off the crucifix we are to be wearing as penitents and stop being hypocritical. We represent Jesus. We come in HIS name, not in our own. We have given up our own desires to become totally His servant. We do and say ALL in HIS name.
Paul goes one step farther. We are to say and do while giving thanks to God the Father through Jesus. So, in secular terms, not only do we represent our company at the conference but we also give thanks to the President of the Board of Directors, by acknowledging Him and the CEO (Jesus and the Holy Spirit), whenever we act or speak. Quite a tall order, isn’t it?
Maybe a little soul-searching is in order for you as it is for me. Do I do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus? Do I do anything in the name of the Lord Jesus? Do I see myself as Christ's representative to others? If not, how do I see myself as a follower of Jesus? What mindset is God asking me to have today? What do I need to do to adopt that mindset?
May the Lord help us to realize that we belong to the company of Heaven and all that we say or do represents our "Boss" to the secular world.
With my prayers and asking yours, Madeline Pecora Nugent
August 2013: "Go Break a Leg"
Ever hear that expression? "Go break a leg." It is an idiom used in theater, said to actors and musicians before they perform. "Go break a leg" means "Good luck." The expression "Go break a leg" reflects a theatrical superstition in which wishing a person good luck is bad luck! An on line search will turn up various theories behind this expression, some of which make more sense than others.
I never thought much about the expression until I actually broke my leg on July 8. I remember the date exactly because it's our oldest son's birthday. I was cleaning the bathroom, attempting to wash above the shower enclosure, and was standing on a step stool in the tub. As I washed to the right, the step stool slid to the left and the rest is history. Thank God our youngest son (whose birthday it wasn't) was home with his girl friend who is a nurse. They took me to the emergency treatment center, after getting me down two flights of stairs and outdoors, and, lo and behold, I had broken my tibia from the ankle up the front of the leg. A break a few inches long. Prognosis: The bone is not displaced (thank You, Lord) but the boot they gave me has to be on 6 to 8 weeks with no pressure on the foot and then 2 to 4 more months with supported pressure before coming off.
The most eye-opening thing about all of this is that I can't do a lot physically which means that others have to do it instead of me. This penance on my part of not being able to get around is really a greater penance on their part because they CAN get around. And more especially so since my husband and I will be moving the Confraternity of Penitents from Rhode Island to Indiana, hopefully by mid-September. Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne/South Bend has given the CFP rental use of Diocesan property in Fort Wayne so that the CFP headquarters can be moved there where a concentration of CFP members will be available to assist with the CFP administrative work, ministry, and on line gift shop. This move, which will be good for the future of the CFP, has the blessing of Bishop Thomas Tobin, Bishop of the Diocese of Providence RI, where the CFP began. The move will bless others as well since the property has, in addition to the main house, a guest house which, with some renovations, will be made available for private retreats to anyone wishing to use it. The property is two blocks from a church which has daily Mass. Franciscan friars, nuns, and sisters live in close proximity. It is a most blessed spot. As we prepared for this move, I had wondered why there had been no spiritual warfare regarding the move. Then came July 8. And my questioning was over.
Meanwhile, as we prepare to move the CFP, I can't negotiate stairs well at all. I can't stand to pack boxes. I can't carry boxes and load or unload them. Guess who has to do this work? Others. Penance for all of them, especially for my dear husband who has to have legs for me as well as for himself. When we get to Fort Wayne, guess who will have to unload and unpack and put away? Not me. Others.
People who have disabilities draw others into greater levels of service and charity. I had never pictured myself on the "drawing others" end of things, having been the one drawn before. Things look different from a four legged walker and a wheelchair. My brothers and sisters in Christ have been most supportive, and those in the CFP especially so. Knowing that you are a burden to others is humbling, and it is good to be humbled, especially for me.
I am totally at peace with this broken leg and with this move. We see God's Hand at work in the very gracious welcome given us by Bishop Rhoades and in the generous response of Bishop Tobin to our departure. We thank God for His many blessings and realize that the CFP does not depend on any one person who can break a leg while things still move forward by the grace of God. God can and does use us in our less than perfect condition, whatever that may be. So may His Will continue to be fulfilled.
Please pray for the CFP as it progresses into the next step of our spiritual journey. More details will be forth coming (new address, phone number) as the move takes place, God willing, of course!
God bless and love each of you in this month of our 10th anniversary of the refounding of the CFP. What a way to celebrate ten years of God's blessings! Go break a leg!
Madeline Pecora Nugent
September 2013:A Lot Can Happen in a Week
Actually, a lot can happen in a day, or even in a moment, but let's take a week for starters. On Wednesday in August, our son in law accepted a job in Virginia. He was to be at work the following Wednesday. This meant that his family had one week to move--that with four children, ages 11, 8, 5 and 11 months. Our daughter and her husband had anticipated moving for months but had no idea where to or when. So they had gone through their stored items and packed away things they wanted to keep and discarded things they didn't need. But the final move, when you pack away items you use daily, could not be done until they knew where and when. When they found out, what a flurry of activity! Thank God that the older children could spend a lot of time watching the baby as that helped the move go faster. But look at what our daughter and husband had to accomplish in a few days. They needed to find and rent a house. They needed to secure a mover who could move them in a week. They needed to plan a "Good By" Party for family and friends as they won't be returning to Rhode Island and likely won't see most of these friends again except on Skype or Facebook. Plus they had to pack.
And they did it! Our son in law left Monday to arrive in VA on Tuesday and be fresh for his job on Wednesday. Our daughter stayed behind and finished the packing, the movers came Tuesday, she left Wednesday and arrived in VA on Thursday, and the movers brought their things on Friday. What a whirlwind! And only a few minor possessions were inadvertently left behind like our grandson's Thomas the Train pillow and our granddaughters' Mad Libs book. We can mail those.
Life can change in an instant. On moment our son in law did not have a job. The next he had one that he had to be at in a week. And so we all must adjust to life's sudden changes. This was a good change, but sometimes the changes are tragic when death or accident or job loss or slander or some other evil strikes. How do we get through these life eruptions? Sheer grit and by the skin of your teeth, if you have no faith in God. But, if you do have faith, you get through them and emerge the better for it by the grace of the Lord.
Did we pray during that hectic week? You bet! Did we help each other? For sure. Did people have to change their plans? Of course. How was the attitude during this time? That depended on the person. But for those of us who could keep from grumbling and feeling imposed upon and feeling rushed, the graces of that time were evident. Our son in law had a job. The family was working together to make the move possible. By the grace of God, the family was able to secure an affordable mover and home to rent, within a day or two. And the Lord kept it from raining for the party (it would have been awfully difficult to have all those folks inside when the house was all torn up with the move).
Your life may change abruptly this month. This past month, one of our members had her plans change abruptly when she fell in the parking lot after work and shattered her elbow, also puncturing an artery in the process. She is taking this as time given her by God to slow down, reflect more, and pray better. Isn't that the attitude to have?
Another member welcomed two new grandchildren within two weeks, one of whom she had prayed intensely for as the mother almost aborted the baby but then could not emotionally go through with the abortion and left the clinic. That new mom's life has radically changed with the new little one whom she adores. How different her life would have been had she gone through with the abortion! Life changing in a day--for her and for the baby and for the whole family which now can enjoy the gift of this child. And, in the future, who knows if this child will become a parent, and those children become parents and so? All of those people would not be had the mother not walked out of the abortion clinic before getting an abortion.
Some changes we can control, and that can be good or bad. Others are totally out of our control. Our attitude to the changes will make them bearable or not. If we can look for God's Hand in what's happening and trust the He still remains in control and that He is working all out to our good, we will be able to live each moment in hope and peace. May God give us His grace to find Him and embrace His Will in every moment, no matter how life changing, of our lives.
Let us pray for one another and for all doing penance worldwide.
Madeline Pecora Nugent
October 2013: God's Graces at Moving Time
The Confraternity of Penitents is now officially located at 1702 Lumbard Street, Fort Wayne, Indiana. It would have been easily done if we could have morphed here without having to pack or unpack, but we aren't into Star Wars technology at the present moment. So, after our daughter and husband left last month for their new location and job, my husband Jim and I prepared to leave for Fort Wayne. The movers came on the 23 and 24 of September, with some unexpected preparation by them on the 22nd, we left Rhode Island at 3:15 am on the 25th and arrived at 8 pm the same day (Jim drove the entire way) and the movers came with out things on the 26th. The purpose of this article is not to give a blow by blow of the move but to show how the Holy Spirit was at work throughout. May God be praised.
You may recall that I broke my leg on July 8. Thanks be to God, I am more mobile now than then, walking with a cane but still not able to put full support on my leg. When we started to pack, I was using a four legged walker as healing had not progressed far enough by then. The downside of all of this was that I could not lift or carry heavy boxes so Jim or someone else would have to do that for me. The broken leg has been the greatest Purgatory for him because he had to do not only his own work but mine as well. Here is where the Holy Spirit came to our rescue!
Several times friends called and offered to help pack. These offers were gratefully accepted and they were a tremendous help. Dustin, one of our life pledged members who is between jobs, offered to come for a week to help. You can't imagine all this young man did. We would not have been ready to move without his help. We put an ad on craigslist for another assistant who came two days and did fantastic work helping with the packing. When we had to load a U-Haul with the CFP Holy Angels Gift Shop items, a father and two sons, great friends of the family, agreed to be hired to do this and what a job they did. Prior to that, CFP members Sue, Anne, and Pat all came to help pack up the shop as well as Marissa who had been the shop manager. With all working together, the job got done.
Then there were friends Cherie and her husband Steve. Cherie is involved in the Charismatic renewal and came several times to help pack and clean up. On the 22nd, she was going to email us about coming over and she felt that the Holy Spirit said, "No! Call!" So she phoned which was a good thing as, with the movers there tagging boxes and furniture, I was not checking emails. Cherie and Steve arrived with cleaning supplies in hand. They returned the next day to complete the job. Without their help, the cleanup of the basement and kitchen would have been extremely difficult. Then on Tuesday night, right before we left, John and his wife Marguerite came over, more friends of ours with whom we did a Bible Study. They helped with the last minute packing we needed to do of items we would take with us in the U-Haul as the movers had taken every thing else in the moving van. Without the help of this couple, we would have been up very late and that would not have been good as we were leaving 2 am for the trip (as noted earlier, we really left at 3:15 am but we were up at 2!)
Thursday the 26th was a busy day here in Fort Wayne with the movers taking our items off the moving van and the Franciscan Brothers Minor unloading the U-Haul. We came to a location where CFP Affiliate Andy and CFP member Bob had worked hard to clean out, renovate, and paint part of a large garage to be the CFP office, library, and gift shop. The Franciscan Sisters Minor sent over donated pastries and bagels for lunch (we also ordered pizza).
This past weekend, CFP members Lucy and Patrick came from other parts of Indiana to help with the move in, and yesterday local CFP member Judy came and continued to help with the gift shop set up. CFP Inquirer Angie was going to come as well but school was delayed due to fog and she could not get here. Meanwhile CFP member Jackie drove Patrick home and also brought me support hose for my leg. Meanwhile Andy and Bob continue garage clean up. In addition, our daughter Kay-Marie, who is also a CFP Affiliate, who made the move with us, has been tidying and cleaning the house and doing the dishes. This has been a huge help, too.
So in all of this, we must thank the Holy Spirit for sending us help precisely as we needed it. We are sure that the Lord has desired the CFP in this location and that He is the relocation as smooth as possible despite the obstacle of a broken leg. We want to thank Him for His great gifts, so generously given to the sinful and undeserving. We can see how trusting Him brings peace and great rewards.
May you trust the Lord today for all your needs.
In Him with my prayers and asking yours, Madeline Pecora Nugent
November 2013 -- The Secular City
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger begins his 1967 book Introduction to Christianity with a discussion of belief in the world today. He opens Chapter 1 as follows: “Anyone who tries today to talk about the question of Christian faith in the presence of people who are not thoroughly at home with ecclesiastical language and thought (whether by vocation or by convention) soon comes to sense the alien-----and alienating-----nature of such an enterprise. He will probably soon have the feeling that his position is only too well summed up in Kierkegaard’s famous story of the clown and the burning village, an allegory taken up again recently by Harvey Cox in his book The Secular City. According to this story, a traveling circus in Denmark caught fire. The manager thereupon sent the clown, who was already dressed and made up for the performance, into the neighboring village to fetch help, especially as there was a danger that the fire would spread across the fields of dry stubble and engulf the village itself. The clown hurried into the village and requested the inhabitants to come as quickly as possible to the blazing circus and help to put the fire out. But the villagers took the clown’s shouts simply for an excellent piece of advertising, meant to attract as many people as possible to the performance; they applauded the clown and laughed till they cried. The clown felt more like weeping than laughing; he tried in vain to get the people to be serious, to make it clear to them that this was no stunt, that he was not pretending but was in bitter earnest, that there really was a fire. His supplications only increased the laughter; people thought he was playing his part splendidly-----until the fire did engulf the village; it was too late for help, and both circus and village were burned to the ground.”
This parable is meant to convey the great gap between religious persons (the clown) and secular persons. The “clown” in this story stands not only for priests and religious in their traditional garb but anyone who sees God as the Supreme Being Who stands outside of both the physical universe and time. Professor Cox advises that we all take off the “clown suit” of religious outlook at least in our public life. I had read The Secular City many years ago, but I decided to reread it again to get an understanding of the mindset of our very secular society. Professor Cox bases his thoughts about secularization on the writings and ideas of many philosophers, theologians, and other commentators. The Secular City was written in 1965 and revised in 1966 when the process of secularization was well underway. This process has advanced a great deal since then.
Professor Cox describes “secularization” in the following manner: “What is secularization? The Dutch theologian C. A. van Peursen says it is the deliverance of man ‘first from religious and then from metaphysical control over his reason and his language.’ It is the loosing of the world from religious and quasi-religious understandings of itself, the dispelling of all closed worldviews, the breaking of all supernatural myths and sacred symbols. It represents ‘defatalization of history,’ the discovery by man that he has been left with the world on his hands, that he can no longer blame fortune or the furies for what he does with it. Secularization occurs when man turns his attention away from worlds beyond and toward this world and this time.”
Professor Cox then goes on to assert that this process of secularization is the logical consequence of biblical faith. How does he do this? He does it by filtering the facts of the Bible through the lens of liberal biblical criticism and theology. This “lens” rejects supernatural occurrences and miracles as myths which modern scientific man can no longer accept. This “lens” also rejects the consideration of ontological and metaphysical questions. Ontology deals with the question of being and metaphysics deals with the ultimate nature of reality. For example, the question of whether Jesus Christ was True God and True Man as the Creeds assert, or was he only a man, is an ontological question. The question of whether the physical universe constitutes the whole of reality, or are there other aspects of reality which are independent of the physical universe such as God, angels, demons, pure spirits and so forth, is a metaphysical question. According to Professor Cox, “secular man” does not provide answers to metaphysical and ontological questions but refuses to deal with or consider these questions. Of course, the rejection of the supernatural, as well as the refusal to consider ontological and metaphysical questions, easily could be considered a “metaphysical statement” since it certainly affects how we deal with reality.
Professor Cox correctly stresses that the Genesis account asserts that God created the physical world, and this world is not divine. Using his “lens”, he believes that we should not be concerned with any reality independent of the physical universe. He considers the Hebrews’ exodus from the divinely ordained Pharaoh of Egypt as a justification for elimination of any religious or metaphysical considerations from politics. Finally, Professor Cox uses the prohibition of graven images in the Mount Sinai covenant between Israel and God as a support for the relativization of all human values since he considers moral absolutes and divine commandments to be idols. While it is easy to see why atheists and others who have no use for religion would applaud secularization, for religious people to accept secularization means the acceptance of “liberal” theological opinions.
Professor Cox then goes on to describe the “style” of the Secular City. He states that it is pragmatic and profane. ”By pragmatism we mean secular man’s concern with the question `Will it work?’ Secular man does not occupy himself much with mysteries. He is little interested in anything that seems resistant to the application of human energy and intelligence. He judges ideas, as the dictionary suggests in its definition of pragmatism, by the `results they will achieve in practice.’ The world is viewed not as a unified metaphysical system but as a series of problems and projects.” Concerning profanity he states “By profanity we refer to secular man’s wholly terrestrial horizon, the disappearance of any supramundane reality defining his life. Pro-fane means literally ‘outside the temple’ ---- thus ‘having to do with this world.’ By calling him profane, we do not suggest that secular man is sacrilegious, but that he is unreligious. He views the world not in terms of some other world but in terms of itself. He feels that any meaning he finds must be found in this world itself. Profane man is simply this-worldly.”
Professor Cox’s description of pragmatism and profanity fits even more the world of today than the world of 1965. Politicians promise to give benefits to this or that portion of the electorate and concentrate on “what works” to get themselves elected. Politics is limited to the pragmatic level. Politicians cannot or will not go to a deeper level and tell us why they accept certain newer trends such as gay marriage or abortion. Perhaps if they did this, they would not get them elected. As citizens, we can go to church and have “freedom of worship”, but we do not have freedom of religion----the right to bring our ideological, philosophical, and religious views into the public square. Religion is deemed a totally private matter. This is why the American people are getting more and more divided over the policies that we need. We can talk about what we want and what we think will work, but we cannot talk about the religious or philosophical views which are the basis of our ideas. The further that secularization proceeds, the deeper will be the divisions between people, since they can’t really discuss the real things which divide them. While secularization is put forth as increasing freedom, it actually decreases freedom.
We can easily understand why atheists and agnostics would support secularization. Professor Cox’s book explains why some religious people feel they need to support secularization. The support for secularization comes from certain liberal theological assumptions such as the rejection of the supernatural and the avoidance of metaphysical assumptions. One could say that the Secular City operates under a regime of practical atheism. It operates as if God, in the traditional Judeo-Christian sense, does not exist. This way of operation is very attractive to many people.
We need to understand that when secular people speak of God, their “God” is very different from the traditional Judeo-Christian concept. Traditionally, Scripture and tradition contain “divine revelation”. Instead, Professor Cox says “God manifests Himself to us in and through secular events.” Later he says “God does reveal His name in history, through the clash of historical forces and the faithful efforts of a people to discern His presence and respond to His call.” Elsewhere, Professor Cox states “God comes to us today in events of social change, in what theologians have often called history, what we call politics.” In this way of thinking, God is much more a partner to us than a King, or shepherd. Of course we need to understand that Professor Cox has not just given us his peculiar ideas about God but has written a popular book which presents the ideas of many of his contemporaries. In addition, these ideas have been absorbed by the popular culture and are believed at least in part by the majority of people. Anyone can easily observe the absence of God in our society. Those of us who are older can easily remember times when things were significantly different. This does not mean that everything was perfect. God certainly was more of a factor in society than is the case now. This was especially reflected in the cultural norms and even the laws which have since been repealed or struck down by the courts. We have to ask ourselves whether or not we can go along with the secularization of society. Do we accept the theological ideas which are the basis and justification of secularization? Even if we do not accept them in our minds, yet we are still under their influence because of the secular culture in which we live. If we are not continually fertilized with Christian truth which nourishes our lives of prayer, penance, and action, our lives of faith could easily weaken and even die.
This brings us back to Joseph Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity. He saw in the 1960’s, around the time that Harvey Cox’s The Secular City was written, the dangers which were rapidly advancing both in society at large and in the Church. In the preface to the 1968 edition of Introduction to Christianity we read: “The question of the real content and meaning of the Christian faith is enveloped today in a greater fog of uncertainty than at almost any earlier period in history. Anyone who has watched the theological movement of the last decade, and who is not one of those thoughtless people who always uncritically accept what is new as necessarily better, might well feel reminded of the old story of `Clever Hans’. The lump of gold that was too heavy and troublesome for him he exchanged successively, so as to be more comfortable, for a horse, a cow, a pig, a goose, and a whetstone, which he finally threw into the water, still without losing much; on the contrary, what he now gained in exchange, so he thought, was the precious gift of complete freedom. How long his intoxication lasted, how somber the moment of awakening from the illusion of his supposed liberation, is left by the story, as we know, to the imagination of the reader. The worried Christian of today is often bothered by questions like these: Has our theology in the last few years not taken, in many ways, a similar path? Has it not gradually watered down the demands of faith, which had been found all too demanding, always only so little that nothing important seemed to be lost, yet always so much that it was soon possible to venture on the next step? And will poor Jack, the Christian who trustingly let himself be led from exchange to exchange, from interpretation to interpretation, not really soon hold in his hand, instead of the gold, with which he began, only a whetstone that he can safely be advised to throw away?”
Professor Ratzinger then goes on to admit that, while modern theology as a whole has not taken the “Clever Hans” path, there is widespread support for this very path. He then gives the aim of Introduction to Christianity: “its aim is to help understand faith afresh as something that makes possible true humanity in the world of today, to expound faith without changing it into the small coin of empty talk painfully laboring to hide a complete spiritual vacuum.” Unless we are happy with the way the “secular city” in which we live is shaping up, we need to fertilize our faith with reading which Joseph Ratzinger and other faithful authors can provide us.
-- Jim Nugent
December 2013: THE COMPLETION DATE IS SET:
Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6)
CFP Affiliate David Curry shares these thoughts from Joel and Victoria Osteen:- God will always finish what He started. The moment God placed a dream in your heart, the moment that promise took root, God not only started something in your life, but He also set a completion date. Scripture tells us that God is called the Author and the Finisher of our faith. God wouldn't have given you the dream; the promise wouldn't have come alive, if God didn't already have a plan to bring it to pass. It doesn't matter how long it's been or how impossible it looks. Your mind may tell you that it's too late. You've missed too many opportunities. It's never going to happen. No. God is saying, "It's not over, I have the final say. I've already set the completion date. "So, if you will stay in faith and not talk yourself out of it, it will just be a matter of time before it comes to pass.
A PRAYER FOR TODAY: Father, thank You, for completing what You've started in my life. I choose to trust You. I choose to wait on You. I put my faith in You, knowing that, through faith and patience, every promise will come to pass in Jesus name. Amen
As Christmas approaches, it is helpful to remember that Advent is intended as the time of waiting, of being patient for the arrival of Jesus. We tend to forget that the Jews waited centuries for the Messiah, and those who do not recognize Jesus as fulfilling that role are still waiting. The verse from Philippians tells us that God will complete a good work that He has begun. There are two qualifications here that we could easily miss.
Number one is that God will complete a good work that HE has begun. This means that we may have begun a work, and it could have been a good work, but it may not have been from God. And God has not promised to bring to completion everything that WE do out of our own volition. So it is important when starting any good work to pray and ascertain if the work is, indeed, from God.
The second qualification is that God will complete a good work that HE has begun in us, but He may not complete it IN us. The work will be completed, but perhaps by someone else. You will note that the verse states that God’s work is always in progress until the day of Jesus Christ, which means that it is in progress until the end of time when Jesus comes again.
When we ask God to complete a good work that He has begun in us, we need to trust in His timetable. Just as God took many centuries to give the world His Son, so He may take a long time to fulfill the goals which He has given to us. We remember Jesus coming to earth as a baby in a manger, growing and preaching, healing and encouraging, and going to his death on a cross to fulfill His mission of bringing salvation to the human race. The apostles were granted the ministry of spreading the gospel of Jesus to all the world, but they did not see the completion of that mission. We are still seeing that mission being worked out today.
As we wait for and celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us ponder in our hearts, as Mary did, what the call of God is in our lives and how and when He will work out the plans He has put into our hearts. Perhaps we can see the plans coming to fruition even now. Perhaps they seem very far off and even impossible. Let us pray and ask the Lord if the plans are from Him, and let us trust that, if they are, He will bring them to completion in us, in His own time and in His own way. This is His promise, so let us hold to it, just as the Jewish people held to the promise of the Messiah. He did, indeed, come, but not in the way the Jews expected and so, many missed Him. May God give us eyes to recognize the unfolding of His plans so that we may glorify Him in them.
Have a blessed Advent and a joyous Christmas.
Madeline Pecora Nugent