By: Rick Hernandez
Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. "The Lord is my strength and my song." "In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (CCC 1808).
The virtue of fortitude works hand-in-hand with the virtue of perseverance. Father Eymard tells us that to live a virtuous life, we must strive towards the virtues without fear, and that we must persevere in this struggle. When I think about perseverance, the first word that pops into my head is “abide”. The definition for “abide” is “to remain”. To remain, but remain where?
"Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me" (John 15:4).
Jesus is asking us to remain in Him and that means to persist in Him. Christ’s love is our anchor, it is what helps us to persist. Just as His Cross was rooted in His love, so are we to be rooted. This is what the virtue of fortitude is. “Fortitude is love bearing all things readily for the sake of the beloved" (St. Augustine). We are called to patiently bear, to abide, to remain, to persist. “Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; … encourage through all patience and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2).
Now, life is always asking us, to move, to change, to act. It is good to change. We must evolve into the best version of ourselves and that means that that we must work towards that better state, but how do we do that? How do we evolve, yet remain? We can do that by working to align ourselves with the virtues. Out in the world we are to live in His love, share from His hope and grow from His faith. Yes, we grow and we change but through fortitude and perseverance, we remain in our given state as beloved children of God.
On September 5th, we celebrate the feast day of Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa was deeply rooted in Jesus’ Cross, the place where Jesus abides. That was the place where her heart lived, yet she went out into the world, where she could meet Jesus’ heart in the lives of all the poor and the needy. It was difficult work there in the streets of Calcutta. Among the sick and the dying Mother Teresa grew in the virtues, grew closer to the perfection that we are called to pursue. With her guidance and example, she helped countless others to grow in virtue, helped them to care for one another. Through a virtuous life of love, hope, faith, humility and selflessness she persevered; there she was courageous. There she taught us, through her humble life, how to abide in Jesus’s love… Can we persevere like that? Where do we abide?
Let us pray: “O eternal God, grant me the virtue of perseverance; without it, no one can please You nor be acceptable to You. This virtue brings to the soul an abundance of charity and the fruit of every effort. Oh! how happy I should be, Lord, if You would give me this virtue, because even here on earth it will make me enjoy a pledge of eternal life. But Your light reveals to me that I cannot attain it unless I suffer much, because this life cannot be lived without suffering. He who would escape suffering would deprive himself of holy perseverance” (St. Catherine of Siena). Amen.
By: Rick Hernandez
Walking towards my bedroom there is, by the door, a small statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I often touch this statue as I walk by, a subtle attempt on my part to firm up in my heart the connection of my daily life to His. It is a means of acknowledging His role in my life and that we are in this, together.
Why is it that “connection” is so often associated with the heart? When we feel compassion, we say that the situation “tugs at our heart”, asking for our attention. When we feel excitement at meeting someone, we say that our “heart flutters”, asking us to be present. When we accompany someone suffering, our “heart aches”, asking us to be aware of and share in their pain. When we encourage someone, we ask them to “take heart”. Whose heart? Ours. So much connection to the heart…
Ever since ancient times, the heart has been the means for connection to others. But connecting to others is not always easy, and in fact, it is often difficult and even scary. Modern society is trying hard to separate us from our communal good and send us towards the individualism and selfishness that severs real connection. Why is it that now that we are more connected than ever through technology, we are lonelier than ever? Why are we, as a society, more selfish? There is no real connection, not without heart, not without presence, not without compassion, not without courage.
Compassion is an old word, derived from the Latin “com pati”, meaning “to suffer with”. Connection is implied here, our hearts united. Another word for compassion is mercy; the Latin word for mercy is misericordia, which comes from “miseri cordi”, meaning “heart in misery”… the heart again! We are meant to unite our heart to others, to achieve connection. But to do this can be scary. To fight against that fear we need courage, fortitude. Courage is also an old word, derived from the Latin “cor age”, meaning “to bring forth your heart”… it’s all about the heart. So, the question then is: How do we transform our hearts, so that we can be present, courageous, compassionate and merciful? “COR UNUM ET ANIMA UNA”, which translates into English as “one heart, one mind”, to beat as one heart. But whose heart? The Sacred Heart of Jesus.
"His Sacred Heart has given men everything: redemption, salvation, sanctification... Through the mystery of this wounded Heart, the restorative tide of God's merciful love continues to spread over the men and women of our time. Here alone can those who long for true and lasting happiness find its secret." (St. John Paul II)
St. Peter Julian Eymard instructs us, "Let us learn to honor the Sacred Heart in the Eucharist. Let us never separate them." The holy gift of the Eucharist can only be fully explained by His perfect love, completely present in His Sacred Heart. When we partake of our Lord’s banquet, when we are united through that most intimate moment in the consumption of the Eucharist, we are infinitely connected to Him, and through His Sacred Heart, connected to all whom He loves. At that moment, from our presence there, we can partake of His courage, of His compassion, of His mercy. May we be transformed; may our hearts be lit on fire…
The Sacred Heart is depicted on fire, signifying the transformative power of His love for us. If we make an offering of our very selves, uniting it to the offering of the Paschal Lamb, the divine fire of His Sacred Heart can both consume and transform us. We are no longer just us, but He who loves us, a perfect connection. One heart, one mind… “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). The Sacred Heart, the Holy Eucharist, and Love itself, are one and the same thing: “Cor Unum”. One Heart.
We pray to you, our ever-loving Lord, let your Sacred Heart be our treasure, for where our treasure is, there also will our hearts be. Like Mother Mary’s Immaculate Heart, one heart with Yours. Amen.
By: Rick Hernandez
Our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, one Good Friday long ago, for the expiation of our sins, for the redemption of His loved ones. I can't fathom what it would have been like to be there, at the foot of the cross, knowing that the Messiah was going through that much suffering for me. The Gospels tell us of a few people among the multitude that were present during the Crucifixion: The Virgin Mary, Mary of Magdala, and John the Evangelist. These holy persons we know very well from their roles in the life of Jesus, but there were another two men present in Golgotha that day, crucified along with Our Lord, the two thieves: Dismas and Gestas.
We do not know much about Dismas and Gestas. Some of the early Christian writings tell us that they were bandits, men that stole from the people on the road to Jerusalem. Caught by the Romans Auxiliaries, who were tasked with keeping the territory safe, the bandits were sentenced to death by crucifixion. The Gospels tell us that these men were on their own crosses at Golgotha, one to the left of Jesus, the other to His right, and kept addressing Jesus. "'Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.' Those who were crucified with him also kept abusing him" (Mark 15:32). They both doubted Jesus, but then something incredible happened, Dismas’ eyes and heart were opened, and he was able to see the Son of God.
"Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, 'Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.' The other, however, rebuked him, saying in reply, 'Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.' Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom'" (Luke 23:39-42).
Dismas, through that encounter with the heart of Jesus, became the "Penitent Thief". He experienced one moment of perfect clarity. He understood and accepted the guilt from his sin, witnessed to Christ's innocence and acknowledged Christ’s power to redeem him. “…Remember me…”. In that moment of true lucidity, Dismas was able to confess to the High Priest, our Lord of Mercy. His admission of fault, true contrition, and acceptance of responsibility allowed his crucifixion to act as his penance. Christ washed Dimas’ soul clean. “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Contrition, theologically speaking, comes directly from the virtue of Charity and it is therefore a gift conferred by God. The acceptance of the gift and its application to our lives (the internalizing of the gift) is an act of our will. That means that contrition is a cooperative act between us and God. We know He is always acting, giving, loving, waiting for us to turn back to Him. Are we consciously asking for and trusting His Mercy? How painfully unaware are we of our faults, our prejudices, our sin. We really depend on our courage. Courage allows us to look inwards with humility and sincerity to examine our conscience. After that, we trust in the sacrament of reconciliation. We trust in God’s Mercy. We can hold-on tight to our Mother Mary and pray for her help and guidance. We have another guide in St. Dismas, that we may be like him and grab onto the opportunities that are presented even at the final moment.
Let us pray, that now and at the time of our deaths, we are gifted with that moment of great clarity, that we can persevere through the temptations to give up on the hope for Heaven, and that while accompanied by Mother Mary, as promised to her consecrated children, we are able to achieve perfect contrition from all our faults and shortcomings. This so we can meekly face Our Lord, and humbly ask "Jesus, please remember me…" Amen.
By: Rick Hernandez
A few years ago, due to my work, I found myself living away from my family, in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis, during a particularly difficult Wisconsin winter. While I was there, I attended Mass at Mary Queen of Heaven Catholic Church, served by the Missionary Fathers of the Blessed Sacrament. After a few weeks of attending, that wonderful church became for me, a second home. There we had Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament every night in a small intimate space, where I would go and kneel, to tell God of my day and to try to hear his comforting words in my soul.
It was difficult to be away from home, and my loneliness was difficult to overcome as winter kept most people cooped inside, where it was not freezing with below-zero temperatures. Most of my comfort came from praying with my rosary in the Adoration chapel, feeling quite content that I was finally wearing down some of the edges of my rosary beads. Then one day, while working outside, I noticed that I had lost my rosary. I was so sad and hurt over this. I felt deflated and lost. That physical rosary had become so important to me, like it was the one connection to my sanity, the one road to soothing my anxieties over my loneliness, and it was now lost... I shed many tears over this. It is not that I did not have other rosaries. I did. It is just that both habit and the context of my living situation had given much more meaning to that particular rosary. I felt that loss deeply.
I started praying about this, and when I visited Our Lord in his Adoration chapel, I brought forward my questions... “Why did it become like this? Why did that rosary become so important? I have you here right now Lord, and that is of more value than a thousand rosary beads, just material things...” But then, why did it hurt so much? Right at that moment, as I was kneeling there in that little chapel, I felt God placing his soothing hand over my shoulder. With this fatherly gesture, a great calm washed over me; I knew then that it was ok. I understood at that moment that my prayers through that particular rosary helped bring forth both His love for me and my love for Him. That rosary was a token of our relationship, of a love alive, shared freely in both directions; but a token does not define a relationship, the relationship defines the token.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
I had come to terms with my loss and I felt so grateful for the time that I spent there, and for the gift of understanding that comforted my heart. After a while, I said my goodbyes and left. Hunger reminded me that I had not eaten yet and I decided to stop and pick up something to eat in a pretty famous burger joint, not far from the church. I got out of my car and there in a snow mound I saw it, my rosary waiting for me. How did it get there? Well, that is for the angels to reveal, but I know deep in my heart, that it was another gift, just for me. Like my rosary, I was a little lost, but at that moment I knew that I had been found. What a way to be yet again claimed by the One who loves me!
I pray for all of us, that whenever we are discouraged, lost, anxious or wavering, we are again reminded by the power of His own hand, that we are LOVED, that He is with us, wherever we go. Amen.
By: Rick Hernandez
A few decades back, my parents traveled to upstate NY to lead a retreat with a group of their missionary brothers and sisters. They landed at the airport and were met by their hosts, who were also waiting for a few of the retreat participants arriving on a different flight. Weather problems were affecting the airport and a few flights were cancelled. Talking amongst themselves, they wondered whether the people in-transit were going to make it in at all. After a while, the flights did get cancelled. In a corner away from them was a young man, lying on the floor and reeking of alcohol. He had been listening intently to their conversation; he reached out his hand and with a desperate voice said: “If they cannot make it, take me instead. I will go.”
Now, let us imagine ourselves in that situation… this is a group of catholic missionaries, that now had two openings for the retreat, and a man, intoxicated, down on his luck, asking them to let him go with them. What would we have done?
Through the virtue of Prudence, the Holy Spirit begets the gift of Counsel, allowing us to judge a situation promptly and rightly. Our merciful missionaries, taking counsel from the Holy Spirit, reached out their hands and grasped the young man’s hand. They invited him to come with them. During the retreat they provided for him, listened to his story, taught him of the love of Christ, and put him in contact with a group from the local parish. That retreat changed his life. The local parish group cared for him, helped him to get back on his feet, to get back to the dignity of a well-lived life. He discovered Christ acting in his life through the actions of others.
"Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes. You are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours." - St Teresa of Avila
That young man is now a not-so-young man, a leader of his community of faith, a solid member of society, and a loving reminder of the Mercy of God. He is today the one that reaches out his hand to help others in need. “…We must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (Lk 15:32). We have recovered our brother by our willingness to allow God’s love to act through us, His Body.
When we are all together at the Eucharistic banquet, sharing of the love of our Lord with our brothers and sisters, I am reminded that there are some that are not present, and we ache for them. I think about this often. How many people went through that airport that day? How many of them spared a look towards that young man? How many exchanged a word or two with him? How many smiled? How many offered to share a part of a meal? How many listened to his story? How many spent a minute or so, thinking about a loved one because of him? How many wondered what would Jesus do? What would I have done? It only takes one merciful soul to reach out to another and acknowledge Christ in them. Would that merciful soul have been mine? What would keep me from doing so?
There are so many in need, yet the enemy is always conspiring against us, always attempting to cast us one against the other. We must not let the enemy discourage us from helping. We must hold fast to charity and nurture it in our hearts, for it is the most important of the virtues that the Holy Spirit imparts on us. Let us love one another. Let us care. Let us fight the apathy that the enemy uses. Christ has no body now on earth but ours. Can we help a soul find its way home? Can we help all our souls find their way home?
“The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand…, without cost you have received; without cost you are to give… As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you” (Mt 10:7-8,11-12). Let us both be good and do good; let us reach out our hands to the neglected ones, without being discouraged. Let us also accept the hand that is offered to us in the peace and mercy of Christ, that we may all work together towards the goal of Heaven, for it is hard to imagine Heaven without all of us there.
May our Good Lord bless us abundantly with Love, Mercy, Prudence and Right Judgement. Amen.
By: Rick Hernandez
We are imperfect. We err often. We make mistakes. This is absolutely an intrinsic part of the human existence, and it is a fact that our mistakes help pave the road of our experience. It is in our human imperfection, in this human limitation that we live in, that Christ calls us to greater heights. "Be perfect, just as your Heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Christ directly states what is the goal. The goal is perfection. But what does perfection mean? What is Christ really asking us to be?
We are never going to be perfect, not in the meaning of the word we use today. The original Greek word used in the Gospel of Matthew is "teleioi", which comes from the word "telos", meaning "to be complete" or "to achieve its end". We are imperfect, yet we can work towards fulfilling our purpose and achieving our end, thus reaching for that completeness that we are called to seek.
Thomas Aquinas asserts the following correspondences between the seven Capital Virtues and the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit:
How pure is the love of the Father, that allows us to make our mistakes, yet offers loving guidance towards the right way for us? The road is forward towards the way of growth, the way of experience. Experience allow us to grow in our wisdom and understanding. This understanding allows us then to work diligently towards our completion, towards fulfilling our purpose, and our purpose is to completely unite ourselves with our Lord, to be like Christ, to make it to Heaven. "I have called you by your name: you are mine" (Isaiah 43:1). He calls us, just as we are. He claims us, for He knows exactly who we are. He waits for us, for He knows both our time and our path.
The host that the priest consecrates during Mass is but a piece of bread before the Consecration takes place. It is an imperfect object, but after the Consecration, that imperfect host becomes the Body of our Lord, becomes perfect. This perfection cannot be seen with human eyes but we both know and feel its perfection, for it is Jesus Eucharistic, fulfilling His purpose, showing us the end of the work of Redemption, perfect, complete. In the humble Eucharist we receive His perfect gifts: perfect love, perfect faith, perfect hope.
We are called to achieve our end, to fulfill our purpose, and it is the virtue of Hope that allows us to continue moving forward. Imperfect, incomplete as we are, we can ask God to perfect our charity to be just like His. We can ask God to perfect our faith in Him who is faithful. We can ask God to perfect our hope, that we may draw closer to our goal. Our love convicts us. Our faith emboldens us. Our hope encourages us. Imperfectly perfect we are called to be.
This week, as we are praying the Novena of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), let's take time to meditate on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, that we may grow towards our call to "telos" (perfection), which is only attainable with God's help. We pray to the Holy Spirit to move us, that His will for us be done, that we may "be perfect, just as your Heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
By: Rick Hernandez
During my teenage years, I was blessed with living very close to a chapel, one to which I had access on a regular basis. The Chapel of Santa Ana, that small and humble building was my refuge, my safe harbor. Whenever I felt troubled, sad, lonely, or overwhelmed with life, I would try to go into the chapel. I always searched for the lighted sanctuary lamp that indicated the Real Presence of our Eucharistic Lord, there in the tabernacle. I felt great comfort, comfort from knowing that my Lord was there and watching over me. These visits with my one true friend, in that small building, were dear to me. We would have the best conversations in the silence. Most times I would offer Him a song before departing. That was our little routine.
"Society will be restored and renewed when all its members group themselves around our Emmanuel." -- Peter Julian Eymard
Here we are today, and we are mostly kept from our wonderful church buildings and chapels. Some lucky few still have access to visit Him directly but most do not. Yet, we are not kept from our conversations with Him who loves us. It is not the same as a visit, but we still can talk to Him in prayer. The same way that a phone call cannot replace a live visit, this remote prayer cannot replace our offering of presence to the Lord. Yet it can hold us over until we can, once more, be together. Soon we will be able to gather again, to be able to gift our presence to the Lord in all the altars and tabernacles of the world. Until then, let us keep up our offerings of prayer and mindful meditation. Let us love the ones near us and be mindful of both what we have to give, and what we are missing.
At the end of these visits with my Lord in His temple I would often proceed to sing this song, which always made His presence more tangible to me and truly soothed my heart. I gift you with this song's lyrics, clumsily translated from Spanish, in the hope that it may bring you some comfort in these trying times. Hold on to your faith in Him who loves us. We are almost there.
I AM... (Translated and adapted from the Spanish song "Soy")
We are Ivonne Hernandez, Rick Hernandez and Laura Worhacz, Lay Associates of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, and brothers and sisters in Christ.