Disclaimer

NOTICE: I am a practicing Catholic, active and in good-standing with my local parish, who professes faith and loyalty to the Church and our Holy Father. This "little work" is purely a personal expression of that faith and loyalty, and not an officially recognized ministry in the Diocese of Honolulu. ~ Peter


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Holy Relic Visitation: Our Lady of Fatima Prayer Group, 2/28/2015


This month's meeting of Our Lady of Fatima Prayer Group was truly a night especially dedicated to Christian Fellowship.  I invited a non-Catholic Christian friend of mine to come and pray with our group, and she actually showed up with another friend! ... and guess what?  We all had an awesome night of prayer, faith-sharing, and wholesome fun!

My friend has been trying to deepen her faith experience with the Lord and I shared with her about our Rosary Group.  I invited her to the Gruber/Lee residence this evening with the reassurance that she wouldn't be pressured in any way to convert to Catholicism, although I did encourage her to keep an open mind and an open heart so as to allow the Holy Spirit to touch her in the manner that He wished to do so.

Green and golden escarchas (left and right photos) - signs of Our Lady and the
Holy Spirit's spiritual presence - appeared during this evening's meeting.

So as our prayer schedule began, I sensed our guests' initial feelings of uncertainty... but by the end of our meeting about an hour and thirty minutes later, our new prayer-partners were completely at ease... and conversation and laughter flowed freely. There was even a surprising manifestation of escarchas - shimmering green and golden flakes - on the table while we were in friendly conversation over dinner!  The Holy Spirit had made His presence known in a powerful, tangible way, as if to say, "Peace... Joy... Love... and Unity.  This is how it should be with all the children of God..."

In this modern world where people are killing each other over religious ideologies; preferring to focus on certain aspects of our respective faiths that divide us... it was refreshing to sit in harmony with our non-Catholic brethren and be focused on things that we have in common - primarily, our faith and love in our Savior, Jesus Christ!

Some of our prayer participants enjoying the potluck spread, which included Roasted Chicken,
Roast Pork, Gau Gee, Pancit Noodles, Creole-Style Chicken Curry.

Other highlights of this month's prayer meeting included our potluck of international cuisine - American, Filipino, and Chinese dishes - and our Saint of the Month, Bl. Madre Carmen of the Child Jesus (d. 1899), who founded the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Hearts in Antequera, Spain.  Prior to becoming a founder, this holy widow patiently endured an abusive marriage for over twenty years(!) before her husband took seriously ill, experienced a change of heart, and asked for her forgiveness.  Of course, Bl. Carmen willingly did so, which was the key lesson we got from her story - the grace of Forgiveness.  It was an appropriate reflection for Lent.

So I drove home tonight, spiritually content and loaded with abundant blessings... and I know my friend (and her friend) did, too, because they told us all how awesome they felt.  Jesus, and definitely Mother Mary, too, planted something special in their hearts.  Hopefully, we'll see them again at a future meeting.  Thanks be to God.

Faces of Holiness: Forensic Reconstructions of Two Saints and a Blessed

Ever since a forensic team unveiled a portrait of St. Anthony of Padua, last year, that was forensically reconstructed using scanned images of his skull (see it here)... I've been fascinated with the idea of researching other holy personages whose remains may have been subjected to the same scientific study.  More often than not, when we see devotional images of our Saints, their respective artists tend to "doll them up" way too much; perfect, youthful features with rosy cheeks and pink lips, which I think are highly unrealistic and almost strips the Saint or Blessed of the human aspects of their lives and normal physical characteristics such as wrinkles, blemishes, or other unique facial features (e.g. a crooked nose).  Plus I think it's interesting, and somewhat amusing, to see what their actual faces looked like in comparison to popular depictions in print or statuary.

But to be fair, when dealing with Saints/Blesseds, especially those who lived before photography was invented, I understand that the artist probably did his/her best to interpret the holy person's appearance in the light of faith and traditional iconography... and perhaps even emphasized the "spiritual beauty" of the Saint in the absence of concrete physical references.

So going back to my research... I actually found three other examples of holy persons whose probable facial features have been reconstructed by scientific experts using their actual skulls as models.  One is a male Saint who was the inspiration for the popular legend of our beloved "Santa Claus"... and the others were obscure female mystics from Italy and Germany.  Now without any further ado, I present the following:

+ St. Nicholas of Myra/Bari (d. 343)

This Saint was born of a Greek family, but lived in Myra (now in present day Turkey) where he ministered to the Faithful.  Through the influence of an uncle, who was a Bishop, St. Nicholas became a priest and was himself consecrated a Bishop around the year 317.  During his lifetime, he was renowned for his exemplary charity towards the poor and was reported to have worked astounding miracles, including raising several dead people to life through his fervent prayer.

   
A computer-generated reconstruction of the features of St. Nicholas of Myra (left)
in comparison with a popular representation of the Saint. 

After his death, the Saint's bone relics were transferred from its original tomb in Myra to Bari (Italy) in 1087, where they have been the object of veneration ever since... as well as the focus of an ongoing miracle.  Throughout the centuries the bones of St. Nicholas reportedly drip "manna", a clear fluid with curative properties.  The phenomenon has been repeatedly investigated by Church officials but no reasonable explanation has been found, as to its origin and mysterious appearance.

The tomb of St. Nicholas, which enshrines his sacred relics that
exude miraculous manna in the form of a clear liquid.

Today, the priests of the Basilica of St. Nicholas in Bari, where the Saint's tomb is located, annually collect the manna that accumulates around the bones of St. Nicholas, and ceremoniously mix it with holy water, which is then freely distributed to the faithful.  Cures continue to be reported through the devout use of this sacred manna.

+ St. Rose of Viterbo (d. 1251)

This particular Saint, unlike the other two featured in this posting, died very young; she was only 17-years-old.  But despite her youth, she lived a fruitful spiritual life, spent in courageous service to the Church.

   
A depiction of St. Rose of Viterbo (left), commisioned by the Poor Clares of Viterbo,
the custodians of her relics.  The image was made based on forensic studies conducted
on the incorrupt body of the youthful Saint. 

St. Rose allegedly performed her first miracle (there were many) when she was only 3-years-old by raising a dead aunt to life with her touch.  She practiced voluntary mortification even as a child, and at 10 received a vision of Our Lady, who commissioned her to preach penance to the people.  The holy teen clothed herself in the rough sackcloth habit of the Franciscans, and with a crucifix in hand, did as she was told by the Blessed Virgin.

She brought many souls to God through her preaching and sometimes even through stupendous miracles.  For example, Rose was reportedly raised in the air, along with a boulder she was standing on, during one of her preaching episodes when the crowds became too large and people could not see her.

The incorrupt body of St. Rose, as venerated in Viterbo, Italy.

After Rose died of a congenital heart defect, her body was found miraculously incorrupt and is today guarded by the Poor Clares of Viterbo, Italy. An enlightening sketch drawn using forensic studies conducted on the Saint's preserved body, showed St. Rose to have been a young woman with a long face, but with very fine features.

+ Bl. Christina Bruso of Stommeln (d. 1312)

This little-known German Mystic was a victim-soul for the conversion of sinners and experienced incredible spiritual phenomena during her lifetime.  She entered a Beguine community in Cologne at around 13-years-old to escape an arranged marriage, but was later dismissed when controversy arose over the mystical graces that began to physically manifest around her.  These external signs included prolonged ecstasies and the Stigmata, which marked Christina's hands, feet, and brow.  

   
A clay reconstruction of the features of Bl. Christina of Stommeln (left)
in comparison with a statue-representation of her in a German church. 

Christina was forced to return to Stommeln, where she was taken in by a kindly parish priest.  It was also at this time that she began experiencing a new and extremely painful trial in her life - physical assaults from demonic entities.  The pious maiden was not only beaten and wounded by invisible attackers, but she was sometimes targeted by flying objects and showered with foul-smelling matter.  The frightful episodes often extended to her family and friends, including distinguished priests when they tried to assist her... but despite of it all, Christina maintained an admirable peace and strength, offering her sufferings for the good of souls and the Church, in general.  She was consoled by ecstasies during which she was encouraged by Our Lord and other heavenly visitors (also see the life of St. Catalina Thomas).

The skull of Bl. Christina of Stommeln, which was used in the
forensic reconstruction of her facial features.  Note the discoloration around
the brow - it is said to be the effects of a mystical crown of thorns
that the Blessed wore around her head.

The diabolic phenomena ceased completely in Christina's later years and she was finally able to live a peaceful life as a consecrated laywomen.  She died at the age of 70 and her memory is still very much alive in Stommeln and Julich, where her relics are enshrined.

Upon reflecting on these faces, especially those of St. Nicholas and Bl. Christina, the thought that immediately came to mind was how oddly familiar they looked to me in comparison with their respective devotional images. Seriously, these faces could be of people I run into daily on the sidewalk, in the grocery store, in church, etc.  But it all just goes to remind us, once again, that the face of holiness comes in all shapes and sizes, and most importantly... that Saints were human beings, too.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Monthly Messages from the Queen of Peace of Medjugorje: February 2015


Our Lady, Queen of Peace,
intercede for us...

Our Lady's Monthy Message to the World on February 25th:
  "Dear children!  In this time of grace I call all of you: pray more and speak less. In prayer seek the will of God and live it according to the commandments to which God calls you.  I am with you and am praying with you.  Thank you for having responded to my call."

Our Lady's Special Message to Mirjana Dragicevic-Soldo on February 2nd:
  "Dear children!  I am here, I am among you.  I am looking at you, am smiling at you and I love you in the way that only a mother can.  Through the Holy Spirit who comes through my purity, I see your hearts and I offer them to my Son.  Already for a long time I have been asking of you to be my apostles, to pray for those who have not come to know God's love.  I am asking for prayer said out of love, prayer which carries out works and sacrifices.  Do not waste time thinking about whether you are worthy to be my apostles.  The Heavenly Father will judge everyone; and you, love Him and listen to Him.  I know that all of this confuses you, even my very stay among you, but accept it with joy and pray that you may comprehend that you are worthy to work for Heaven.  My love is upon you.  Pray that my love may win in all hearts, because that is the love which forgives, gives, and never stops.  Thank you."

Monday, February 23, 2015

Rosa Mystica Speaking Presentation: Finan Residence, 2/22/2015

Early yesterday afternoon, I conducted my fifth speaking presentation on the "Rosa Mystica (Mystical Rose)" devotion.  The talk was, again, for a Basic Christian Community (BCC) cell group; a group of about a dozen people who meet every Sunday in the Finan Residence, in the town of Hawaii Kai.

Like previous Rosa Mystica Presentations, this one was well-received.  My audience showed genuine interest and openness, in regards to what I shared about the messages Our Lady delivered, via a series of apparitions in the picturesque Italian city of Montichiari-Fontanelle (read a little about it here).

Cell group members gathered around my large Rosa Mystica
pilgrim statue in preparation for the Rosary Prayer.

After the presentation ended, a few people shared their feedback on the message and about their own personal devotion to the Blessed Virgin.  One gentleman, in particular - a Mr. Sia, who is a convert to Catholicism from Protestantism - touched me deeply with a story he shared.  He admitted that after coming into the Church, he put devotion to Mary on the "back burner" due to the strong influence of his prior beliefs... and it stayed that way for a long while until he went on a pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine of Lourdes, France.  There, while praying in adoration before our Eucharistic Lord, he had a very special experience - Jesus spoke to him audibly and said, "... your love for me is not complete if you do not love my mother."  Wow - powerful words!  It was a moment that changed the man's life forever... and I couldn't agree more with the message he received.  We all then prayed the Rosary together and spent some time in fellowship over some refreshments before I packed up and headed out.

All through the presentation, I didn't sense anything out-of-the-ordinary, as I sometimes do... but later in the evening, after I got home, I learned that something usual did happen after all; it had to do with a photo I took earlier in the day.  I snapped two photos while in the Finan home to use for this blog - the first was of my Rosa Mystica statue on display in the living room... and the second photo was of some of the BCC group members right before the Rosary Prayer started (included above). When I reviewed the photos on my camera, the second photo turned out just fine, but the first photo did not turn out as expected.  Instead of seeing my pilgrim statue, the photo showed numerous globes of white light - very large "orbs" - as one can see to the right.  I was puzzled and I still don't know what to make of it (although the balls of light do kind of remind me of glowing rosary beads).

Anyhow, despite my nagging curiosity over the mystery photo... still, it was a beautiful and productive Hawaiian day for me.  The presentation was a success and I met new friends, and for these blessings I give thanks and praises to our Lord and our dear Blessed Mother.


* * * * *  UPDATE: Testimony of 3/8/2015 * * * * *

I returned to the Finan Residence on the afternoon of March 8th to conduct one of my Saints and Holy Relics speaking presentations.  While setting up for the talk, and before everyone else arrived, me and a married couple present, were pulled aside by our host, Ines, who told us that she had something wonderful to share with us.

She took me to her living room and pointed to a low table that was in the vicinity of a large, framed print of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  On the table were small shimmering flakes scattered around a few picture frames and doilies; I recognized escarchas.  Lots of them!

My host then proceeded to tell us about how they had appeared the same night I conducted the presentation on the Rosa Mystica Devotion described above, but only later in the evening after I had already left.  I was deeply impressed and moved by this latest testimony on the spiritual power of Our Lady.

Below is a short video I filmed of the escarchas in the Finan Home.  The flakes were a mix of silver, green, and red.

video
Look for the small round sparkles on the table, which are
the escarchas that manifested in the Finan Home.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

First Saturday Parish Rosary at St. Anthony of Padua Church, 2/7/2015


New Divine Mercy statue
(click to view larger)
I did something a little different at this month's First Saturday Rosary at St. Anthony of Padua Church; I didn't bring my Rosa Mystica statue, or any other of my Marian statues. Instead, I brought a statue of our Lord - a large Divine Mercy image - which I recently acquired.  It needed to be blessed by a priest so I thought I'd use it as the devotional focal point for our prayer service since I was bringing it to the church anyway... and it actually worked-out very well. 

With Lent coming up within a couple of weeks, the Divine Mercy Message (as revealed to St. Faustina Kowalska) was an ideal reflection in preparation for this solemn time of spiritual cleansing and atonement in the Church.  I emphasized to the parishioners present that Lent is an especially powerful time each year to reflect on the Lord's immeasurable gift of Mercy to the world; to seek His Mercy for our transgressions; and to practice Mercy towards others in our day-to-day lives.

"I have opened my Heart as a living fountain of mercy.  Let all souls draw life from it.
Let them approach this sea of mercy with great trust."

 Words of Jesus to St. Faustina Kowalska

Bl. Maria Domenica
Mantovani
Our February Saint of the Month who I introduced to the people was Bl. Maria Domenica Mantovani (d. 1934).  She was the co-founder (along with Bl. Giuseppe Nascimbeni) of the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Holy Family that ministered to the sick and the elderly, as part of its mission.  As with many other Saints and Blesseds in the Church, this holy woman's life-work was a perfect exemplification and compliment to our current theme of Mercy, despite the fact that she died before the Divine Mercy Message was popularly widespread.  A bodily relic of Bl. Maria Domenica, as well as my ministry's relic of the True Cross, were also present in the Day Chapel to encourage and inspire greater devotion.

"Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful."

~ Luke 6:36

So we prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary and it was particularly meaningful in the presence of the Divine Mercy statue and the relics on the display altar.  Again, it felt as though we were in a "bubble" for the 25 minutes, or so, that we were engaged in the Rosary; caught up in the tangible presence of "something" definitely holy and temporarily disconnected from the outside world.  When we finished, several people went up to the front of the chapel to pay their respects to the relics and to pray for their personal intentions before going to the Mass.  A combination of Faith, Hope, Consolation, and Wonder were reflected on their faces.

Parishioners gather around the statue and relics in prayer
and veneration after the completion of the Holy Rosary.

The next First Saturday Rosary for Peace at St. Anthony of Padua Church will be prayed on Saturday, March 7th, beginning at 4:25pm.  Come and be blessed - all are welcomed!

“Let souls who are striving for perfection particularly adore My mercy, because
the abundance of graces which I grant them flows from My mercy.”

~ Words of Jesus to St. Faustina Kowalska

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Saint of the Month - February 2015: St. Apollonia, Virgin & Martyr


Saint Apollonia, Virgin & Martyr
Patroness of Dentistry ~ Feast: February 9th

When it comes to picking Saints for my “Saint of the Month” posts, I try to pick certain ones whose Holy Relics are in my custody, or Saints/Blesseds who are also little-known or generally “under-appreciated”.  This particular Saint, I feel, is somewhat both… with her being the patroness of dentists and dental problems, and me being someone who had a lot of dental work done in recent years, I thought it would be personally relevant for me to do St. Apollonia honor by featuring her bio this month; by writing a post about her that people can sink their teeth into (haha!)...

According to a mix of historical facts and Sacred Tradition, St. Apollonia was a deaconess who lived in Alexandria (Egypt) during the reign of the Emperor Philip.  No concrete details are known about her early life, but an account of her passion and martyrdom was documented by St. Dionysius in the year 249, via a letter to the Bishop of Antioch... and it's enough to testify to the heroism and sanctity of this early Christian.

What we do know about this Saint is that she was denounced as a Christian during a time of intense persecution of the Faith, and brought before local authorities for interrogation and torture.  Apollonia was given two choices: she could either renounce her faith in Jesus Christ and offer sacrifice to the false gods of Rome, or submit to torture and execution.  Our Saint, of course, bravely chose the latter... and her guards then proceeded to first beat her before extracting some of her teeth with iron pincers, as an additional form of torture.  Despite her horrendous pain, Apollonia refused to submit!

When the Romans realized that they had failed miserably in breaking her spirit, a large bonfire was lit and the deaconess was threatened with a fiery death if she persisted in keeping the Faith.  Determined not to betray our Lord, and sensing that her martyrdom was inevitable, St. Apollonia valiantly threw herself into the raging flames before her executioners had the opportunity to do it themselves.  Thus, did she earn the glorious Martyr’s Crown and the amusing designation of “Patron Saint of Dentistry”.

A Reflection:
Regardless of how we leave this earth, death is but a momentary passing into Eternal Life.

A Short Prayer:
Lord, may we always be faithful to you even unto death, that we may merit the everlasting joy of seeing your Divine Countenance.  Amen.