Interview on Franciscan Spirituality & Lenten Devotions

Radio-MariaHere is a recent interview that I did for Radio Maria, discussing Franciscan spirituality and Lenten devotions. My interview comes after Professor Jem Sullivan, who has done tremendous work on Christian art and aesthetics. Please check out her book The Beauty of Faith: Using Christian Art to Spread Good News and her online course on sacred art.

Teaching Franciscan Spirituality in New York this Summer

Br. Daniel Maria KlimekFriends, I received the privilege of being asked to teach a course this summer at the School of Franciscan Studies at St. Bonaventure University in New York. St. Bonaventure houses the Franciscan Institute, one of the most prominent institutes for Franciscan scholarship in the world, and it is a great honor for any scholar of Franciscanism to be asked to teach there.

If you are in the New York area, or would be interested in taking a course this summer, here is a list of the 2017 summer courses offered, including the one I will be teaching, “Foundations of Franciscan Spirituality.” Please pass on the word to anyone who would be interested!

Peace & many blessings,

Br. Daniel Maria, T.O.R.

Champions of the Rosary: A Powerful Read on a Spiritual Weapon

Earlier this year as I was returning to the friary from my summer assignment I found a championsoftherosarypackage in my mailbox from Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC. It was a signed copy of his new book, Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon. In a couple of days I would be taking a silent retreat at a Trappist monastery and was in need of some spiritual reading, so the unexpected book could not have come at a better time.

To be honest, so many books have been written about the rosary, that when I first saw this one – although grateful for the gift – I was not expecting to encounter anything special. Was I ever wrong!

Fr. Don Calloway’s book on the rosary is probably the best book written on the topic since St. Louis de Montfort’s classic The Secrets of the Rosary, and – I say this without hesitation – surpasses even de Montfort’s work. It will quickly take its place – a special place – as the greatest book written on the rosary to date. Fr. Calloway should be proud of this achievement.

When one reads his book it becomes evident that a labor of love went into it, finding a beautiful balance between a fascinating and thorough history of the rosary and being a work that captures the spiritual dynamism of this devotion with the saints, mystics, and martyrs who, throughout Church history, have been its greatest advocates.

rosaryThe subtitle of the book – “The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon” – points to a profound reality, one that perhaps too often in our cultural thinking (which falls into secular norms of understanding) we tend to neglect – the reality that life is a battle between two kingdoms: between the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of hell, between God and the devil, between light and darkness. And, what is most urgent not to neglect, is the reality that we are all born into this war and thus called to be soldiers on the battlefield.

Fr. Calloway understands well – as many saints and holy men and women throughout history have known – that in the rosary we have been given a powerful spiritual weapon, a sword in the battle against evil. “The first key is to understand the rosary as a spiritual sword made by God, the Divine Craftsman. This key unlocks the mystery of what the rosary is, why it has so much power, and why the devil constantly seeks to destroy it.”

The first half of the book is probably the most thorough history of the rosary ever written in the English language, including a history of popes, miracles, military battles, Marian confraternities, and various developments in Church history that has led to the promotion (and, at times, suppression) of the most popular devotion in Catholicism. It is so well-researched, and yet beautifully written, that Fr. Calloway admits it took him years to work on.

The second half of Fr. Calloway’s book pertains to 26 holy men and women – saints, blesseds, popes, Servants of God – who had an incredible Marian devotion and were great advocates of the rosary. This section constitutes the spiritual dynamite of the book, giving the stories and Marian spirituality of men and women whose holiness and devotion is contagious. Reading about these souls we are strengthened, edified, and encouraged by their radical witness to become holier, to pick up the rosary each day, and go deeper into prayer and intimacy with Jesus and Mary.

We see a nice combination of very well-known names like Maximilian Kolbe, Padre Pio Josemaria Escriva, John Paul II, Fatima visionary Lucia dos Santos, and lesser-known (but equally important) names like Blessed Bartolo Longo and Servant of God Dolindo Ruotolo.

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St. Josemaria Escriva

The work is so well-researched that often we discover new facts about known lives. For example, there is a section dedicated to St. Josemaria Escriva (1902-1975), the founder of Opus Dei, and his dynamic Marian spirituality. I did not know that, as a child, St. Josemaria was on the verge of death but experienced a miraculous healing saving his life. Fr. Calloway explains:

“At the age of two, St. Josemaria suffered from an unknown illness (most likely epilepsy) and was expected to die. His devout mother took him to the Marian shrine of Torreciudad in Aragon, Spain, and earnestly prayed for him before a statue of Our Lady of the Angels that dates from the 11th century. Miraculously, he recovered. His mother attributed his healing to Our Lady. This event helped to form in him a strong, life-long Marian devotion.” St. Josemaria would encourage members of Opus Dei to make frequent Marian pilgrimages

The less-known names are also spiritual giants to discover. In this sense, the Servant of God Dolindo Ruotolo (1882-1970), someone who Fr. Calloway remarks as being “born in Naples and is almost unknown outside of Italy,” has been a real discovery for me.

“A devout priest and an avid scholar, Dolindo has been called the ‘Scribe of the Holy Spirit.’ He penned a 33-volume commentary on Holy Scripture, as well as many other theological works. He wanted people to read good books on theology and devotion, and so he founded the Apostolato Stampa press in order to publish orthodox theological works. He was an extraordinary musician, a Third Order Franciscan, and slept less than three hours a night due to his intense prayer life.”

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Servant of God Dolindo Ruotolo, priest, scholar, mystic

This was a 20th century priest. When pilgrims traveled to San Giovanni Rotondo to visit Padre Pio, he pointed to Fr. Dolindo, asking why were people visiting him (Padre Pio) when there is a saint in Naples. Fr. Dolindo, with a deeply contemplative prayer life, “regretted that Modernis had reduced the prominence of the rosary in the lives of many Catholics, and emphatically preached that the rosary was not a tedious prayer of repetition, but a method for contemplating the saving mysteries of the life of Christ.”

Fr. Calloway further explains: “Dolindo lived through World War I and World War II. He saw the rosary as a weapon in the spiritual life, referring to the rosary as a sword and a machine gun in our spiritual arsenal. In his homilies, he often informed his listeners that every Hail Mary was a shot fired at Satan and the forces of darkness.”

In Fr. Dolindo’s own words: “The rosary is a powerful prayer against Satan and against the assaults of evil. Our Church brought, and continues to bring, great triumphs because of this prayer. The decades of the rosary, from this point of view, are like the belt of a machine gun: every bead is a shot, every affection of the soul is an explosion of faith that frightens off Satan, and Mary once more crushes his head.”

In such spiritual gems, we see a much deeper understanding behind the reality of the rosary as a central weapon of combat for spiritual warfare.

Fr. Calloway’s book accomplishes a tremendous task, one that is threefold. It is probably the most thorough history of the rosary ever written. It captures the spiritual dynamism of Marian devotion and spirituality, especially conveyed through the lives of the men and women who reached heights of holiness through their Marian spirituality. And it also provides beautiful artwork about the Madonna and the rosary—many depictions of St. Dominic receiving the rosary, and of other saints with the Virgin. These artworks span from classics by baroque artists like Caravaggio to contemporary art commissioned by Fr. Calloway for the theme of the book, capturing a Madonna that is a mighty Queen with the rosary in one hand and a sword binding the devil in the other, surrounded by her army of saints.

The Bible begins with the Book of Genesis, where it is explained that the Woman would stump on the head of the serpent, and finishes with the Book of Revelation, where the Woman with a crown of twelve stars with her child would do battle against the dragon and his angels. Meaning, throughout salvation history, from the beginning to the end, Our Lady’s has been given a pivotal role—even being prefigured—in destroying the works of the devil, leading souls to a deeper intimacy with her divine son Jesus: being chosen by God for a singularly unique mission in salvation history. It is the Queen of Heaven who is leading the armies of light against the kingdom of darkness.

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Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC

Fr. Calloway explains: “I have written Champions of the Rosary to recap and pick up where St. Louis de Montfort left off. Three centuries have gone by since St. Louis de Montfort penned his monumental work, and many things have taken place. Many miracles, victories, conversions, developments, discoveries, and champions of the rosary need to be added to the story of the sword for the people of our times. Trust me: I know firsthand how the rosary can help a soul convert.”

Fr. Calloway, being someone who was saved from a life of sin and ruin as an adolescent—including addiction, crime, and promiscuity—through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, knows very well what it means to be saved from the grip of the enemy by the spiritual sword of the rosary. He has written a book in return that is a gift to the Church, speaking to a multifaceted and rich history of miracles, conversions, military victories, Marian apparitions, and holy lives who owe so much to the Virgin Mary’s intercession. The greatest compliment that a book by a Christian author can receive is that it’s a work that will lead readers to experience God and lead to lives of deeper devotion and conversion. Fr. Calloway’s book, an anointed work, possesses this rare capacity: it is a book informed not only by knowledge but also by the life of prayer.

The Face of Mercy

I highly recommend this new film, The Face of Mercy, which I recently saw at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC. It is easily the best documentary I have seen on the Divine Mercy message and image, one of Catholicism’s most popular devotions based on the visionary experiences of Jesus to the Polish mystic and saint Sr. Faustina Kowalska during the 1930s in Krakow.

The film includes appearances from a number of prominent Catholics, including Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Fr. Donald Calloway, Fr. Michael Gaitley, Scott Hahn, George Weigel, John Allen Jr., and the Rwanda genocide survivor and author Immaculee Ilibagiza, among others, with narration by Jim Caviezel.

Please check out the film’s official Web site for more information. Here is also a link to the DVD. Again, I strongly recommend this moving and edifying film on one of the most important spiritualities of our time.

City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to Kraków

As World Youth Day 2016 approaches in Krakow, Poland, I would like to recommend City of Saintsa couple of works that really capture the beauty and rich Catholic heritage of the medieval Polish city, where I lived for a couple of years as a child. First, a great book has been written called City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow by George Weigel, Carrie Gress, and Stephen Weigel. The book provides not only a rich history of the Catholic heritage of Krakow, and its influence on Saint John Paul II, but also provides vivid photographs of sacred sites from the city, providing a beautiful pictorial tour.

I also wanted to recommend this Youtube video series by Sister Gaudia Skass, who is a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Krakow, the same community that the Polish mystic and saint Faustina Kowalska, who received visions of Jesus in the 1930’s, belonged to. Here is a link to the American province of the community, in case anyone may be discerning a vocation to religious life – please check out the sisters! Below is the series of eleven short videos of Sister Gaudia sharing some of the sacred heritage of the Divine Mercy Center in Krakow, a landmark of Polish Catholicism:

The Silence of the Birds: the Powerful Experiences of an Atheist Doctor and Notre Dame’s Basketball Team in Medjugorje

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MedjugorjeApparition Hill

One of the most fascinating phenomena that people have experienced in Medjugorje is the silence of the birds, an occurrence that has been reported as transpiring at times when the visionaries have their apparitions. This occurrence has been reported by people as diverse as members of Notre Dame’s basketball team, including players who were not Catholic, and an atheist Italian neurophysiologist who scientifically examined the apparitions of the visionaries.

Dr. Marco Margnelli was an ardent atheist who used to travel to various locations trying to disprove claims of mystical phenomena—he traveled, for example, to San Giovanni Rotondo in 1987, trying to disprove the stigmata of Padre Pio. He came to Medjugorje in 1988, hoping to prove the experiences of the visionaries to be false, he admitted.

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Dr. Marco Margnelli, Italian neurophysiologist

Author and journalist Randall Sullivan recorded the event in his book The Miracle Detective: An Investigation of Holy Visions. Dr. Margnelli experienced various occurrences in Medjugorje which rocked his beliefs. He met a woman who was miraculously healed of leukemia. He studied the apparitions of the visionaries and came to the conclusion that they do enter into a genuine state of ecstasy, even admitting: “we were certainly in the presence of an extraordinary phenomenon.”

What moved him most powerfully, however, was the behavior of the birds. Before the apparitions of the visionaries would begin in the rectory, there were thousands of birds outside chirping and cooing, being incredibly—at times, deafeningly—loud.

Until the moment when the apparitions would begin: the second that the visionaries would drop to their knees and go into ecstasy every bird outside would go completely silent.

That absolute silence of the birds haunted him, Dr. Margnelli admitted. A few weeks after returning to Italy from Medjugorje, Dr. Margnelli became a practicing Catholic.

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Medjugorje visionaries in ecstasy during an apparition in the rectory of St. James Church

This fascinating phenomena has been witnessed by a number of pilgrims, including Notre Dame’s basketball team.

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Digger Phelps, Notre Dame coach (1971-1991)

Deacon Brian Miller explained, at the 2016 Marian Conference at the University of Notre Dame last month, that one year in the ‘80s the Notre Dame basketball team was in Yugoslavia for a summer tour playing basketball. They made a side trip to Medjugorje. They made the trip under Coach Digger Phelps, who spent 20 years as head coach (1971-1991) of Notre Dame’s men’s basketball team and then many years as an ESPN broadcaster and analyst.

David Rivers, who was the star point guard on the team, and the 25th overall pick of the 1988 NBA draft, playing professionally for the Lakers and the Clippers, shared a testimony about the Medjugorje trip at Notre Dame’s library. Rivers, it is noteworthy, was not even Catholic.

David Rivers

David Rivers

“He said it was stunning,” Deacon Miller recalled. “There were all these birds

outside [in Medjugorje, as the apparitions were to begin].” At that time, the visionaries had their apparitions in the rectory of St. James Church, and during the day the basketball team was there, there were thousands of birds outside, making noise, “and then as soon as Our Lady came, boom, it was quiet, until she left,” Deacon Miller said, recollecting Rivers’ testimony.

Here is a video of both Deacon Brian Miller and I sharing these stories at the 2016 Marian Conference at the University of Notre Dame:

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The Polish Model & the Franciscan Mystic: Encountering a Mysterious Stranger

Before her conversion to a devout Catholic faith, the Polish model Ania Golędzinowska lived a life of celebrity, substance abuse, and hostility toward the Catholic Church. One night a mysterious stranger came to admonish her. Only in Medjugorje did she recognize him as St. Padre Pio, the 20th Century Capuchin friar who bore the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, on his body.anna_goledzinowska_

Years ago Polish model Ania Golędzinowska woke up in the middle of the night in her Italian home to find a mysterious man standing by the side of her bed, shaking his head at her in disappointment. It was only years later when she moved to Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in 2011, and saw a book about Saint Padre Pio, who passed away decades ago in 1968, that Golędzinowska recognized the man’s face.

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Rare Photograph of St. Padre Pio

When she experienced the mysterious encounter, Ania was leading a far from virtuous life.Though a successful model, an actress in Italian sitcoms, and a TV presenter, she admits to struggling with substance abuse, lacking faith in God, and even developing a strong resentment toward the Catholic Church. Saint Pio, she believes, came to warn her to change her ways. The former model recalls the day when she finally identified him: “For years, I did not know who he was. Even in my book I reported this incident but did not include the man’s name,” Ania told Brother Marcin Radomski, a Capuchin Franciscan, in an interview she gave in Łomża, Poland, in 2012.

“It was only five months ago in Medjugorje that somebody gave me a book about the life of Padre Pio, and for the first time, after eight years, I could give the name of the person who eight years ago came to admonish me, to warn me that if I would continue leading my life this way then I would not go far.” Ania was very open about how far away she strayed from the Church in those years, to the point of developing a hatred for all things Catholic.

“I was far from the Church. If I would get a chance, I would shoot all priests and nuns. Whenever I saw a church, I would cross to the other side of the street. I abused drugs. I drank.” Then one night a warning came. Even her dog, Ania recalls, sensed the presence of a stranger in the room, suggesting to her that this was no hallucination.

“A certain day, a certain night I woke up because my dog was barking. And by the side

PHOTO: PIOTR GRZYBOWSKI /SE/EAST NEWS. WARSZAWA. ANNA GOLEDZINOWSKA PORWANA DO DOMU PUBLICZNEGO, POTEM ZOSTALA MODELKA I OSTATECZNIE NAWROCILA SIE NA WIARE KATOLICKA. N/Z ANIA PO NAWROCENIU. MODELKA, DOM PUBLICZNY , PORWANIE, KATOLICZKA, KOCHANKA. 10/04/2015. WIECEJ ZDJEC NA HTTP;//AGENCJA.SE.COM.PL

PHOTO: PIOTR GRZYBOWSKI /SE/EAST NEWS. WARSAW

of my bed stood this man, older, with a beard, and he was looking at me, shaking his head. I thought that it was some kind of hallucination because of the alcohol or drugs – no, this is not possible, I thought. Then I turned on the light, and this man was still standing by my bedside, shaking his head and my dog was still barking at him.”

Though Ania believes Saint Pio came to her with an important message, he did not need words to convey it. “He did not say anything, but he was looking at me as if he wanted to say: ‘Ania, what are you doing?’”

The exhumed body of St. Padre Pio

The exhumed body of St. Padre Pio

Ania Golędzinowska made much news when the Catholic Herald published a popular interview with her. The interview centered around her life-changing conversion in Medjugorje and its consequences. She made the decision to leave the life of glamour and fame in high Italian society behind for a simple, peasant life of prayer and service in Medjugorje, where she has been living since 2011 with Pure Hearts, a Marian community of priests and nuns.

For the Polish model, this required ending a prominent relationship with her boyfriend Paolo Enrico Beretta, the nephew of then-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Ania has spent much time touring Poland, as a Polish edition of her autobiography was recently released, translated by a priest.

Her book, Ocalona z Piekła: Wyznania byłej Modelki translates to Rescued from Hell: Confessions of a former Model. A section in the book describes Ania’s encounter with the visitor who appeared to her in the middle of the night years ago to give her a helpful warning. Now readers may know that Ania Golędzinowska has identified the mysterious stranger as Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, the famous stigmatic priest and mystic.

Interview with an Exorcist: Fr. Jose Antonio Fortea

Here is a series of videos with Spanish exorcist Fr. Jose Antonio Fortea, one of the most knowledgeable people in the world on the topic of exorcism, demonology, and spiritual warfare. This set of interviews inspired the book Interview with an Exorcist, which I would highly recommend: a powerful book filled with information on spiritual warfare, sin, temptation, prayer, psychology and spirituality, possession and deliverance. Also, please check out the fascinating documentary film Exorcist in the 21st Century, which follows Fr. Fortea on his ministry.

 

An Inspirational Priest (and Stigmatic), Fr. Zlatko Sudac

zlatko_sudac2Below is a video of a powerful homily and also an inspirational teaching on prayer and contemplation by Fr. Zlatko Sudac. Fr. Zlatko is a Croatian priest who is known for his stigmata, the wounds of Christ on his body, most prominently (in Fr. Zlatko’s case) on his forehead, where there is a Cross.

I’m including here also a beautiful painting of Our Lady that Fr. Zlatko, who also possesses great artistic gifts, has painted. I discovered it this past Lent and was profoundly moved by its depth.MarypaintingbyFrSudac

As these videos convey, Fr. Zlatko is a man of a deep prayer life and spirituality, an inspired preacher and teacher of the faith with a great love for the Eucharist, Our Lady, and the Church. Please have a view and share about this inspirational priest!