24 February 2017

Our Lady, Mother of the Atonement

Our Lady of the Atonement, cradling her Crucified Son.
Statue located in the Parish Church of
Our Lady of the Atonement, San Antonio, Texas

Saturdays throughout the year are especially dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and unless the liturgical calendar directs otherwise, traditionally we celebrate a Votive Mass of Our Lady. For us in this parish, we most love her title of Our Lady of the Atonement. Since the time our Lord Jesus walked this earth as the God-Man, there have been, over the centuries, numerous titles which have arisen to give honor to his most holy Mother. From the early centuries of the Church, she was known as Theotokos, or God-bearer, and as time passed, the Blessed Virgin Mary was honored with many other titles. Some of these titles are more widely known than others, but all convey a distinct attribute of Mary as a person who has found favor with God. Some titles describe her state of life, such as Our Lady of Grace. Others denote a location where she may have spoken spiritually to an individual, such as Our Lady of Walsingham. In some of her titles, she is associated with the redeeming work of her Son, and there are many such examples of this. But perhaps no other title in the world better describes the fullness of Mary's relationship with her Son as does the title of Our Lady of the Atonement.

The title embraces two mysteries of our faith: first, the atonement -- the wonderful at-one-ment which was achieved by our Lord Jesus Christ as He shed His Most Precious Blood upon the Cross at Calvary, through which came the reconciliation of man with God, and of man with man, making us "at one" in His Sacred Heart; and second, the role which Our Lady has in the atonement wrought by God -- her coöperation with the Divine Will at the annunciation, and her participation in her Son's sufferings and death as she stood at the foot of the Cross. These words which Simeon spoke to her came to pass: "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." The crowning act of Redeeming Love -- the Atonement upon the Cross of Jesus Christ -- is for all of us the means whereby mankind finds salvation. Here Jesus gave us the greatest gift: His precious life. Here he gave us His Blessed Mother. Here Mary stood, and here we stand next to her, at the foot of the Cross. We are children of The Atonement and the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother, is Our Lady who bears witness to Christ's Atonement.

22 February 2017

St. Polycarp of Smyrna


Imagine being able to sit at the feet of the apostles and hear stories of life with Jesus from their own lips. That was what Polycarp was able to do as a disciple of Saint John the Evangelist. But being part of the second generation of Church leaders had challenges that the first generation had not known. With the apostles gone, heresies sprang up pretending to be true teaching, persecution was strong, and controversies arose.

Polycarp, as a holy man and bishop of Smyrna, found there was only one answer -- to be true to the life of Jesus and to imitate that life. As Jesus often responded strongly to the Pharisees, so Polycarp, when confronted by a heretic who demanded respect by saying, "Recognize us, Polycarp," was told by Polycarp, "I recognize you, yes, I recognize the son of Satan."

Polycarp faced persecution the way Christ did. He didn’t seek out martyrdom as some did, but he avoided it until it was God's will. One day, during a bloody martyrdom when Christians were attacked by wild animals in the arena, the crowd became so mad that they demanded more blood by crying, "Down with the atheists; let Polycarp be found." (They considered Christians "atheists" because they didn't believe in their pantheon of gods).

Polycarp was calm but others persuaded him to leave the city and hide at a nearby farm. He spent his time in prayer for people he knew and for the Church. During his prayer he saw a vision of his pillow turned to fire and announced to his friends that the dream meant he would be burned alive.

As the search closed in, he moved to another farm, but he was discovered. He had a little warning since he was upstairs in the house but he decided to stay, saying, "God's will be done."

Then he went downstairs, talked to his captors and fed them a meal. All he asked of them was that they give him an hour to pray. He spent two hours praying for everyone he had every known and for the Church, "remembering all who had at any time come his way -- small folk and great folk, distinguished and undistinguished, and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world." Many of his captors started to wonder why they were arresting this holy, eighty-six-year-old bishop.

But that didn't stop them from taking him into the arena. As he entered the arena, the crowd roared, rather like the animals they cheered. Those around Polycarp heard a voice from heaven above the crowd, "Be brave, Polycarp, and act like a man."

The proconsul begged the old bishop to give in because of his age. "Say 'Away with the atheists'" the proconsul urged. Polycarp calmly turned to face the crowd, looked straight at them, and said, "Away with the atheists." The proconsul continued to plead with him. When he asked Polycarp to swear by Caesar to save himself, Polycarp answered, "If you imagine that I will swear by Caesar, you do not know who I am. Let me tell you plainly, I am a Christian." Finally, when all else failed the proconsul reminded Polycarp that he would be thrown to the wild animals unless he changed his mind. Polycarp answered, "Change of mind from better to worse is not a change allowed to us."

Because of Polycarp's lack of fear, the proconsul told him he would be burned alive, but Polycarp knew that a fire which burned only for an hour was far preferable to the flames of eternal fire.

When he was tied up to be burned, Polycarp prayed. The fire was lit and then the eyewitnesses who reported said they saw a miracle. The fire burst up in an arch around Polycarp, the flames surrounding him like sails, and instead of being burned he seemed to glow like bread baking, or gold being melted in a furnace. When the captors saw he wasn't being burned, they stabbed him. The blood that flowed put the fire out.

The proconsul wouldn't let the Christians have the body because he was afraid they would worship Polycarp. The witnesses reported this with scorn for the lack of understanding of Christian faith: "They did not know that we can never abandon the innocent Christ who suffered on behalf of sinners for the salvation of those in this world." After the body was burned, they took away the bones in order to celebrate the memory of his martyrdom and prepare others for persecution. The date was about February 23, 156.

Fulfil, O Lord, the petitions of thy servants who on this day devoutly reverence the passion of blessed Polycarp thy Martyr and Bishop: and accept us, together with him, as a whole burnt offering dedicated unto thee; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

21 February 2017

The Chair of St. Peter


Enshrined in the beautiful Bernini reliquary in St. Peter’s Basilica is a chair which was known in the sixth century, parts of which date to the earliest years of the Christian faith. This is the famous Chair of St. Peter, of which the feast is celebrated each year on February 22nd, and which is the title of the Ordinariate for the United States and Canada.

Why would the entire Catholic world celebrate a feast in honor of a chair? Surely it must be for a better reason than that an apostle sat on it. As interesting as that is, the reason is much greater than that alone. This Chair is the concrete symbol to us of the authority and primacy of St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, the one to whom our Lord entrusted the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, and who was called the Rock on which Christ would build His Church.

The fragments of the Chair (cathedra) of St. Peter are venerated because it was from that very place that the first Pope, the Vicar of Christ, imparted the truth which had been entrusted to him by our Lord Himself, and which has been passed on in its entirety throughout the centuries, and which will continue until Christ returns in glory. The Chair of St. Peter is a reminder to us that we are not members of some man-made religion, but that we are part of the one true Church, founded by Christ upon the Rock which endures.

“…On [Peter] He builds the Church, and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigned a like power to all the Apostles, yet he founded a single Chair, and He established by His own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was; but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one Chair. So too, all are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the Apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?"

- St. Cyprian of Carthage, c.251 AD

O Almighty God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst give to thy Apostle Saint Peter many excellent gifts, and commandedst him earnestly to feed thy flock: make, we beseech thee, all Bishops and Pastors diligently to preach thy holy Word, and the people obediently to follow the same; that they may receive the crown of everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

20 February 2017

St. Peter Damian

Peter was orphaned when he was very young child, and had the misfortune of being taken in by one of his older brothers who was very cruel to him. Another brother named Damian, who was a priest, saw this unjust treatment, and so took Peter into his own house, and cared for him. Peter was so grateful to this brother’s kindness that he added his name to his own, and was forevermore known as Peter Damian. Because of the previous ill-treatment, Peter Damian was always very good to the poor.  It was quite usual for him to invite the poor to eat with him, and he would care personally for them their needs. Also, because of his brother’s generosity to him, Peter Damian was able to receive an excellent education, and eventually became a university professor in Ravenna.

From early in his life Peter Damian was very strict with himself. He wore a hair shirt under his clothes, he fasted, and he spent many hours in prayer. Soon he decided to leave his teaching and give himself completely to prayer with the Benedictines. Peter Damian was so eager to pray, and he slept so little, that it began to take a toll on his health, and the other monks warned him to use some prudence in taking care of himself.

When his abbot died, Peter Damian was chosen to take his place, and subsequently founded five more monasteries. He encouraged his brothers in a life of prayer and solitude and wanted nothing more for himself. The Holy See periodically called on him, however, to be a mediator in various disputes that might arise, or if some cleric or government official had a disagreement with Rome.

Eventually Pope Stephen IX made Peter the cardinal-bishop of Ostia. He worked hard to bring about much-needed reform, by encouraging his priests to lead chaste and holy lives, and to maintain scheduled prayer and proper religious observance. He sought to restore discipline among religious and priests, warning them against excessive travel and too comfortable living. He concerned himself with what might seem to be small details – for instance, he once wrote to a bishop to point out that his clergy were sitting down for the psalms in the Divine Office – but he knew that care in small things would lead to carefulness in more important things.

He was eventually allowed to retire as cardinal-bishop of Ostia, and he was happy to become once again a simple monk, but he was still called to serve as a papal mediator from time to time. It was when returning from such an assignment in Ravenna that he was developed a fever. With the monks gathered around him saying the Divine Office, he died on February 22, 1072. In 1828 he was declared a Doctor of the Church.

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that we may so follow the teaching and example of thy blessed Confessor and Bishop, St. Peter Damian; that learning of him to despise all things earthly, we may attain in the end to everlasting felicity; Through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

19 February 2017

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass


"He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” (St. John 6:54-55)

I grew up “hearing” those words, but I didn’t “know” those words.  Raised in a Methodist family, we had “Communion Sunday” six times a year, and our understanding was that it was a “memorial,” a “remembering” of the Last Supper.  Why it was important to eat a cube of white bread and sip some Welch’s grape juice from a very small shot-glass escaped me at the time, but I wondered about it.  I had heard what Catholics believed about their Mass, and I knew it was nothing like what we had as protestants. In fact, I found it a bit scandalous when I gave it any real thought, and I was happy just to feel sorry for those “poor Catholics” with what I thought was their superstition, and as I went through my teenage years and approached adulthood I was more and more confirmed in what I thought was the “superior” protestant understanding of what we called “The Lord’s Supper.”

So certain was I of the rightness of my position that I decided to prove it in what I thought would be a more scholarly way when I was in the second year of my undergraduate studies.  We were allowed to choose an “independent study” in theology, under the direction of a professor, which would be counted as a four-credit course, on any approved topic.  This was my opportunity, I thought.  I decided do my independent study on “The Understanding of the Eucharist in the Early Church.”  (I had no idea at the time, but this study would lead me to become an Anglo-Catholic, which eventually would lead me into the Catholic Church.)

Certain that my protestant understanding of things would be vindicated, I began.  I looked in the scriptures and began to assemble my references.  A little discomfort began to set in when I read in St. John’s gospel about our Lord speaking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood.  But not to worry, I thought.  I was certain there must be a simple explanation, until I realized that when Jesus first spoke those words in the synagogue at Capernaum, most people were scandalized. It seemed like nonsense to them, this “eating flesh and drinking blood.” The Jews were offended. People left him and wouldn't follow him anymore. They thought he was crazy or a blasphemer. And even worse, Christ let them leave.  He didn’t call them back and say, “Wait a minute.  Don’t take me literally.  I didn’t really mean it.”  Apparently he did mean it, and he let them go.  Even the disciples were deeply disturbed by Jesus' words, so much so that he asked them, “Are you going to leave me too?”  They stayed, because, as St. Peter said, “Who else has the words of life?” But they were thinking to themselves, “What could their Teacher possibly mean?”  They were puzzled, and remained puzzled, until that fateful night, the night of the Passover, the night in which Jesus was to be betrayed by one of his own, and would be given over to be tortured and killed.

An upper room had been prepared. The unleavened bread was baked. The Passover Lamb had been sacrificed and roasted. Jesus was at the head of the table with his Twelve, his Israel, his family. He took the large piece of unleavened flat bread that signaled the opening of the Passover meal. He gave thanks to his Father for the gifts. He broke it and gave the pieces to his disciples. Up until this point, theirs had been a Passover like any another Passover, recalling God's grace to Israel when he had brought them out of slavery in Egypt into freedom, through the blood of the lamb smeared on their doorposts.

Then Jesus spoke, and what he said at that moment had never before been said at a Passover meal. "Take, eat. This is my body, which is given for you." And again, after the supper, Jesus took a chalice of wine called the thanksgiving or blessing cup, gave thanks and then said something that had never before been said at a Passover meal, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood." Jesus was treating the Passover as though it was his own, because it was. Jesus is the Lord, and this is the Lord’s Passover.

With these words, Jesus transformed the Passover meal forever, and as I came to realize this, my understanding began to grow.  As I read the early Church Fathers, I came to realize that under the outward form of the bread, Christ gives his body as food – the very body he received from his mother Mary; the body that was conceived in her through the Word spoken by the angel in the power of the Holy Spirit; the body that was wrapped in swaddling-clothes and laid in a manger; the body that was whipped and beaten, spit at and slapped; the body that was nailed to the cross, laid in the tomb, and raised from the dead on the third day. St Paul asked the question: “Is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” And of course, it is! Christ’s words declare it to be so, and his words are true. Jesus gives his body to us, as though it were bread to eat; but this which is in his hand, and in the disciples’ mouths, is truly and completely his body.

And in the cup, he gives his blood. This is the blood of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. The medieval artists who depicted a chalice at the foot of the cross and a stream of blood pouring into it from the wounded side of Jesus understood the force of Christ’s words. The blood that was shed on Calvary's cross is our drink.  Once again, St. Paul asked the question: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?” Of course it is! Jesus' words declare it to be so, and his words are true. Jesus gives his blood to us as though it was wine to drink. This which is in the Lord's chalice, and in the disciples' mouths, is truly and completely his blood.  Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. He was offered up on the Cross for our sins, and in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, this offering is perpetually brought before the throne of Almighty God – and it is that which demands our understanding of Christ as our Eternal High Priest, who offers up himself as the Sacrifice.

Consider the eternal character of Christ’s priesthood.  It’s easy enough, of course, to see how he was exercising this office of priesthood when he laid down his life on the cross.   He was the Victim, “led as a lamb to the slaughter.”  But he wasn’t an unwilling or reluctant victim.  He didn’t die by constraint, as one who was compelled to yield up his life.  But he is not only the Victim.  At the same time he is the priest who offers up the sacrifice.  It was he who did this, and not another.  What could be more plain than his own words, when he said, “I lay down my life for the sheep… No man takes it from me, but I lay it down myself.”  In this way, he gave himself as a ransom for many.

But we need to understand also that Christ’s priesthood is eternal – his life was laid down, but his priesthood is not.  Certainly, his sacrifice was completed; scripture teaches us that he made that sacrifice “once for all,” and we believe it to have been “a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.”  So then, what need is there for Christ still to exercise the office of priest?  Why shouldn’t he have resigned that function when the sacrifice was finished?

We get a hint of the answer in the epistle to the Hebrews, which says, “When Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”  That passage, along with other references in the Epistle to the Hebrews, alludes to the ceremonies of the great Jewish day of Atonement.  In the ritual of that one day, the whole sacrificial system of the Jews culminated, and was gathered up into one point.  On that day alone in the year, the high priest entered into the Holy of Holies in the temple at Jerusalem.  But before he dared to venture into the immediate presence of the Most High God, the sacrifices first had be offered outside in the court.  There, at the altar of burnt-offering, the high priest was to slay the animals for the sin-offering; then passing through the veil, he was to bring the blood into the most holy place, that there, in the midst of a cloud of incense which he offered before the Lord, he would sprinkle the blood upon the mercy seat of God, and so “make atonement” for all the people of Israel.  It’s in connection with all of that that we read in Hebrews of Christ having “entered once for all into the Holy place…”

In the Jewish system of sacrifice, when the victim was slain, from one point of view, the sacrifice was complete.  In the sacrifice, the blood was shed which could alone make atonement for sin.  But from another point of view, there was still something lacking; namely, the presentation of the blood to God.  In more familiar terms, it’s rather like getting a gift for someone.  When it has been purchased and wrapped, one can say that you have a gift for so-and-so.  But there is more to it than simply that.  The gift must be “presented” to the one for whom it is intended, in order for it truly to be a gift.

This relates to Christ’s eternal High Priesthood.  The sacrifice was offered once for all on Calvary.  When the blood was shed, without which there could be no remission of sins, there still had to be the presentation before the Father in heaven – a presentation which must be made by the great High Priest who offered the sacrifice.  And this is what Christ does perpetually in heaven.  This is what he does each time the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered.  Remember, Christ is the celebrant of every Mass, and it is his all-sufficient sacrifice which he offers to the Father every time we offer what he has commanded. There he is, still continuing his work as the High Priest, exhibiting his sacred wounds, presenting before the Father the merits of his perfect sacrifice.                                                                                                                     
How much I was missing, but came to know in this larger, fuller and richer Catholic teaching.  In the Mass it is Christ who is our Mediator and High Priest, still pleading for us, and lifting up his holy hands before the Father on behalf of us all.  It is no dead Christ whom we adore.  It isn’t some distant figure from the past whom we revere.  No, our participation in the Mass is our appeal to a present, continuous, and abiding work.  We are claiming to be heard through the intercession of a still-active Mediator; and we are united with him in his continuous work of pleading the Sacrifice which, although a finished event, nevertheless is living in its operation and application – and it is for this we give continual thanks to Almighty God in the Holy Eucharist, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

18 February 2017

Sexagesima


O LORD GOD, who seest that we put not our trust in any thing that we do: mercifully grant that by thy power, we may be defended against all adversity; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

It is for the cause of unity...


"When all things were in quiet silence and night was in the midst of her swift course, thine Almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne..." and that Word took flesh untainted by sin from the Virgin chosen from the beginning of time. It was done for the healing of that tragic rift between God and Man.

God created all things to be in perfect unity. He made the universe as a reflection of His own divine order. He created Man in His own image, to be in perfect communion with Him. But through the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, disorder entered into the world, and perfect communion was broken. Ever since that time there has been a tendency in the natural order of things for there to be disintegration, the breakdown of things, a crumbling. Sadly, what should be unnatural has become normal in the world around us, and within us, and even within the Church.

Christ founded the Church to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic – and so it is. But our sin has caused division, and that is a clear contradiction to the Divine Will of our Lord. While there may be an invisible spiritual communion deeper than we know, especially through the bonds of baptism, nonetheless there is to be a visible communion also, because that is the Will of Christ, and the constant invitation from God is that we work and pray to build up both the spiritual and visible unity of Christ’s Body.

It is this purpose – the building up of unity – which is outlined at the very beginning of Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum coetibus.  But even from the first days of its implementation this stated purpose has often been glossed over in the search for the particulars of the Personal Ordinariates.   So much time and energy has been spent on questions of who can belong, of the details of the liturgy, of who can be ordained - indeed, any number of other things – that the more important purpose of building up the unity of the Church sometimes is pushed to a lower place.

In fact, the very reason for the great generosity of the Church in giving us Anglicanorum coetibus is to help bring about the fulfillment of Christ’s prayer “that they all may be one.” It is not accidental that the first three paragraphs of the Apostolic Constitution speak of the Church as “a people gathered into the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” and that the Church was instituted by Christ as “a sacrament…of communion with God and of unity among all people,” and that this Church is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. Then, recognizing that there are “many elements of sanctification and of truth [which] are found outside her visible confines,” Pope Benedict says that these “are forces impelling towards Catholic unity.”

What had been broken, the Church is inviting us to repair. The communion which has been impaired, we are being asked to restore. The fellowship which has been strained, we are being asked to strengthen.  This is a foundational purpose of the parishes and communities of the Ordinariates, using the tools of our heritage, our liturgy, our spirituality – indeed, our whole ethos – and already we can count in the thousands those who have been restored to the unity of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church through the ministry of the Pastoral Provision, and now the Ordinariates.

This is what is spoken to us through the Virgin Mary’s title of Our Lady of the Atonement: that we are to be “at one” with God and with one another.  The Blessed Mother shows us the way as she unites her human will with the Divine Will of the Triune God.  It would gladden her heart for her children to be one again. She, who stood beside the Cross and saw her Son in agony, would be comforted by us taking away this pain of separation. There are few things that touch a mother’s heart more than to see her whole family together at one table. This is why the Church has given us the Apostolic Constitution: so that we can put division behind us and join together with one voice and one heart in “that most holy cause, the preaching of the Gospel” to the whole world.


“Lord Jesus, make us one, as you and the Father are one.” Amen.

16 February 2017

Seven Servite Founders


The following is excerpted from The Church's Year of Grace, by Pius Parsch.
These seven men were the founders of the Servite Order, a community instituted for the special purpose of cultivating the spirit of penance and contemplating the passion of Christ and Mary's Seven Sorrows. Due to the spirit of humility cherished by the members of the Order, their accomplishments are not too widely known. But in the field of home missions great things are to their credit, and certainly they have benefited millions by arousing devotion to the Mother of Sorrows.

The Breviary tells us that in the midst of the party strife during the thirteenth century, God called seven men from the nobility of Florence. In the year 1233 they met and prayed together most fervently. The Blessed Mother appeared to each of them individually and urged them to begin a more perfect life. Disregarding birth and wealth, in sackcloth under shabby and well-worn clothing they withdrew to a small building in the country. It was September 8, selected so that they might begin to live a more holy life on the very day when the Mother of God began to live her holy life.

Soon after, when the seven were begging alms from door to door in the streets of Florence, they suddenly heard children's voices calling to them, "Servants of holy Mary." Among these children was St. Philip Benizi, then just five months old. Hereafter they were known by this name, first heard from the lips of children. In the course of time they retired into solitude on Monte Senario and gave themselves wholly to contemplation and penance. Leo XIII canonized the Holy Founders and introduced today's feast in 1888.

O Almighty God, who hast compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good examples of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servites, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at length, through thy mercy, we may with them attain to thine eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

13 February 2017

Ss. Cyril and Methodius


Cyril and Methodius were brothers who were born in Thessalonica in the 9th century, where their father was an army officer. This was a part of Greece where many Slavic people lived – people from central and eastern Europe – and the mother of Cyril and Methodius may well have been Slavic. Both of them were highly educated, and gave themselves in service to the Church, becoming missionaries to the Slavic peoples.

The time came when the Duke of Moravia (the present-day Czech Republic) received political independence from German rule, and also received ecclesiastical autonomy, which meant having their own clergy and their own form of the liturgy. It was in these circumstances that Cyril and Methodius became missionaries, devoting themselves to spreading the Gospel and to strengthening the Church among the Slavic people.

Cyril's first work was to invent an alphabet, still used in some Eastern liturgies. The Cyrillic alphabet was formed, being based on Greek capital letters. Together the brothers translated the Gospels, the psalter, St. Paul's epistles, as well as the liturgical books, into Slavonic. They composed a Slavonic liturgy, which was very unusual at that time, since the expectation was that the liturgy would be unified with the liturgy of the Western Church, and would use Latin as its language.

Because of these liturgical differences, the use of a different alphabet, and their free use of the vernacular in preaching, it led to opposition from the German clergy. The bishop refused to consecrate Slavic bishops and priests, and Cyril was forced to appeal to Rome. On their visit to Rome, he and Methodius had the joy of seeing their new liturgy approved by Pope Adrian II. Cyril died during this visit to Rome, and is buried at San Clemente, but Methodius continued his mission work for 16 more years. There were still many in the Church who fought against what the brothers had been doing, and it seemed as though their efforts would die with them. However, the Slavic people held on to their liturgy and their language, and it continued to spread, as it has done to this day.

Almighty and everlasting God, we thank thee for thy servants Cyril and Methodius, whom thou didst call to preach the Gospel to the Slavic peoples: raise up, we pray thee, in this and every land, heralds and evangelists of thy kingdom; that thy Church may make known the unsearchable riches of Christ, and may increase with the increase of God; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

12 February 2017

Remembering our beginning...

The original outdoor Shrine to Our Lady of the Atonement

The outdoor Shrine as it is today

In the courtyard between the church and the school is an outdoor altar which marks an important place on our church grounds – the site of “the finding of the crucifix,” and also the spot where the first Mass was celebrated here on the property thirty years ago. This is the story of how it came to be where it is.

After the parish was canonically erected on 15th August 1983, I began to search for a permanent location for us to worship and to grow from our original eighteen people. We were, at that time, meeting at San Francesco di Paola Church, in downtown San Antonio. It is a lovely little place, built by Italian immigrants, but the location was ill-suited for us. Everyone had to travel quite a distance, and it was difficult to build up our parish life in a place which was fairly remote for all of us. So I began to look for some land.

It seemed to me that the future growth of San Antonio would be taking place on the northwest side of the city. Everything pointed to it, and that has indeed come to pass. The archdiocese had (several years before) purchased a small plot of land for the possibility that a territorial parish might be needed. When I inquired about locating our parish there, the answer was, “Yes, that would be fine. There’s not much happening out there anyway, and we probably won’t need it for a territorial parish.” The short-sightedness of that statement aside, it worked out well for us. To get the property, we were required to pay a rather hefty sum to the archdiocese, which eventually we did.

As soon as I saw the land, I knew this was the place. On my first visit to it, I had to crawl through the underbrush, literally on my belly, to make any kind of exploration. I had a small medal of Our Lady of the Atonement with me, and I buried it in the earth as I was making my slow progress through the woods and brush, claiming it for our Lady and her parish. Shortly after burying the medal, I came into a small clearing, allowing me to stand up. With the thick undergrowth surrounding me, I saw in the middle of the clearing a wooden cross stuck into the ground, and fastened to the rough cross was a small crucifix. How it got there, and why it was put there, I do not know; however, I took it as a sign. It confirmed to me that this was the place. This was where our Lord and His Blessed Mother wanted us to be, and this confirmation came at exactly the right time, because at the same time as I had requested the possibility of getting the land for our parish, some Dominican priests had approached the archbishop about staffing a chaplaincy for the University of Texas, which is a short distance away. Even though we had asked first, the archbishop thought perhaps a better use for the land would be to give it to the Dominicans. I told the archbishop, “You can’t! I’ve already claimed it for Our Lady of the Atonement.” He expressed his regret, but told me his mind was set. I warned him that we would begin praying very seriously about this. And so we did.

For nine evenings we gathered to pray the Novena to the Holy Ghost. By the fourth evening, the archbishop contacted me. “I don’t know what kind of prayer you’ve been saying,” he said, “but the situation with the Dominicans has fallen through. You can build there.” We finished the novena as an act of thanksgiving. We were intensely grateful to God, but not surprised at what He had done. Mind you, I have nothing against the Dominicans, but the Blessed Mother had other plans for the land.

I saved that little crucifix. We built a simple wooden shrine to Our Lady of the Atonement on the property where the crucifix had been found, and fastened it onto the peak of the shrine’s roof. In time we made plans to celebrate a Mass there, which we did on 9 July 1985, to prepare to break ground for a new church.

Today, on the spot where the first Mass was offered on the property stands the shrine, a copy of the original wooden one, but now in stone. Encased within the altar is the simple wood altar which stood there originally, now protected from the elements. And the little crucifix is there. It is mounted in the place where the tabernacle would normally be, if this were an indoor altar. So it reminds us of our beginnings, and of how God guided and protected us as new converts to the Catholic faith. There are plaques on either side of the shrine, briefly telling the story of the finding of the crucifix and the celebration of the first Mass, so our children and their children will never forget that the Lord and His Mother heard our prayers.

The first Mass offered on our property, 9 July 1985

The crucifix which was found on the parish land

10 February 2017

Our Lady of Lourdes


Four years after the promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (1854), the Blessed Virgin appeared a number of times to a very poor and holy girl named Bernadette. The actual spot was in a grotto on the bank of the Gave River near Lourdes.

The Immaculate Conception had a youthful appearance and was clothed in a pure white gown and mantle, with an azure blue girdle. A golden rose adorned each of her bare feet. On her first apparition, February 11, 1858, the Blessed Virgin told the girl to make the sign of the Cross piously and say the rosary with her. Bernadette saw her take the rosary that was hanging from her arms into her hands. This was repeated in subsequent apparitions.

With childlike simplicity Bernadette once sprinkled holy water on the vision, fearing that it was a deception of the evil spirit; but the Blessed Virgin smiled pleasantly, and her face became even more beautiful. The third time Mary appeared she invited the girl to come to the grotto daily for two weeks. Now she frequently spoke to Bernadette. On one occasion she ordered her to tell the bishop to build a church on the spot and to organize processions. Bernadette also was told to drink and wash at the spring still hidden under the sand.

Finally on the feast of the Annunciation, the beautiful Lady announced her name, "I am the Immaculate Conception."

The report of cures occurring at the grotto spread quickly and the more it spread, the greater the number of Christians who visited the hallowed place. The publicity given these miraculous events on the one hand and the seeming sincerity and innocence of the girl on the other made it necessary for the bishop of Tarbes to institute a judicial inquiry. Four years later he declared the apparitions to be supernatural and permitted the public veneration of the Immaculate Conception in the grotto. Soon a chapel was erected, and since that time countless pilgrims come every year to Lourdes to fulfill promises or to beg graces.

This is a day on which we pray especially for the sick.

O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary didst consecrate a dwelling place meet for thy Son: we humbly pray thee; that we, celebrating the apparition of the same Blessed Virgin, may obtain thy healing, both in body and soul; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

09 February 2017

St. Scholastica


(Mass at Montecassino, in the Crypt Chapel where Ss. Benedict and Scholastica are buried)

Twins often share the same interests and ideas with an equal intensity. Therefore, it is no surprise that Scholastica and her twin brother, Benedict, both established religious communities within a few miles from each other.

The twins were born in 480 of wealthy parents. Scholastica and Benedict were brought up together until he left for Rome to continue his studies.

We don’t know much about Scholastica's early life. She founded a religious community for women near Monte Cassino, five miles from where her brother was the abbot of a monastery.

The twins visited each other once a year in a farmhouse because Scholastica was not permitted inside the monastery. They spent these times discussing spiritual matters.

According to an account written by Pope St. Gregory, the brother and sister spent their last day together in prayer and conversation. Scholastica sensed her death was close at hand and she begged Benedict to stay with her until the next day.

He refused her request because he did not want to spend a night outside the monastery, thus breaking his own Rule. Scholastica asked God to let her brother remain and a severe thunderstorm broke out, preventing Benedict and his monks from returning to the abbey.

Benedict cried out, "God forgive you, Sister. What have you done?" Scholastica replied, "I asked a favor of you and you refused. I asked it of God and he granted it."

Brother and sister parted the next morning after their long discussion. Three days later, Benedict was praying in his monastery and saw the soul of his sister rising heavenward in the form of a white dove. Benedict then announced the death of his sister to the monks and later buried her in the tomb he had prepared for himself.


Setting foot on Monte Cassino today, you'd never know it was the site of a horrible bombing during World War II, with great loss of life and the destruction of the monastery. Founded by St. Benedict in 529 after moving from Subiaco, it was here that he wrote his famous Rule, which would become the model for monastic rules throughout the Church.

It's a wonderful place to visit, and when we do we always celebrate Mass in the Crypt Chapel where the saintly twins, Benedict and Scholastica, are buried.

The last time we were here we had many of the members of our Upper School Honors Choir with us. The chapel grew more and more full as visitors in the main church found their way down to the crypt where we were celebrating Mass, enchanted by the music.

O God, who for a testimony to the path of innocency didst cause the soul of blessed Scholastica, thy Virgin, to enter heaven in the appearance of a dove: grant unto us; that by her merits and intercession, we may walk in such innocency of life; that we may be worthy to attain to everlasting felicity; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

07 February 2017

St. Jerome Emiliani


St. Jerome Emiliani was born in the 15th century, and as a young man he became a soldier for the city-state of Venice. During that time he wasn’t terribly religious; in fact, he was fairly selfish, and didn’t think much about other people. He loved the life of a soldier, and was never happier than when he was heading off to do battle against someone else. One day, when he was engaged in a minor battle, Jerome was captured and chained in a dungeon. While he was in prison, Jerome had a lot of time to think. He began to think about his life, and he began to think about God, and gradually he learned how to pray. One day he managed to escape from prison. He returned to Venice to his family, and with nothing else to do, he took charge of the education of his nephews. At the same time, he began his own studies for the priesthood.

St. Jerome was eventually ordained, and settled into the life of a parish priest. But soon after his ordination, God began to call St. Jerome into a new ministry – not in a parish, but a ministry which would reach far beyond a single parish. A terrible plague was sweeping across Europe, and there was widespread famine throughout northern Italy where St. Jerome was. He began caring for the sick and feeding the hungry at his own expense. While serving the sick and the poor, he made the decision to devote himself and all his resources to assist others, particularly for the care of abandoned children. He founded three orphanages and a hospital.

In about the year 1532, Jerome and two other priests established a religious congregation dedicated to the care of orphans and the education of youth. Jerome died in 1537 from a disease he caught while tending the sick. He was eventually canonized, and was named the universal patron of orphans and abandoned children.

OGod, the Father of mercies, who didst raise up Saint Jerome Emiliani to be a defender and father of the fatherless: vouchsafe, through his merits and intercession; that we may faithfully guard thy spirit of adoption, whereby we are called and are indeed thy children; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

05 February 2017

St. Paul Miki and the Martyrs of Japan


Nagasaki, Japan, is known in history as the city on which the second atomic bomb was dropped in 1945 during the last stages of World War II, killing hundreds of thousands. But some 350 years before that, twenty-six martyrs of Japan were crucified on a hill, now known as the Holy Mountain, overlooking Nagasaki. Among them were priests, brothers and laymen, Franciscans, Jesuits and members of the Secular Franciscan Order; there were catechists, doctors, old men and innocent children—all united in a common faith and love for Jesus and his church.

When Christianity first came to Japan, it was tolerated by the shoguns – the leaders – because they thought it would open up trade with the West. However, they soon decided that the Christian faith wasn’t helpful to them, so they outlawed it, and began the systematic destruction of the faith. The martyrs we celebrate today were rounded up and tortured, trying to get them to deny their faith. Each one of them had an ear cut off, and then they were marched for a thousand miles through the winter months, in the hope that they would denounce the faith, and cause others to do the same. All that accomplished was to make their faith grow stronger. The forced march ended at Nagasaki, where the Christians were then crucified on what came to be known as the Holy Mountain.

St. Paul Miki, a Jesuit and a native of Japan, has become the best known among the martyrs of Japan. While hanging upon a cross Paul Miki preached to the people gathered for the execution. He forgave his persecutors and called people to love God and to obey Him. His final words were, "I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain."

When missionaries returned to Japan in the 1860s, at first they found no trace of Christianity. But after establishing themselves they found that thousands of Christians lived around Nagasaki and that even though there were no priests and no sacraments other than baptism, the people had secretly preserved the faith.

Almighty and everlasting God, who didst enkindle the flame of thy love in the hearts of St. Paul Miki and the Martyrs of Japan: Grant to us, thy humble servants, a like faith and power of love, that we who rejoice in their triumph may profit by their example; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Atonement Academy

03 February 2017

St. Gilbert of Sempringham


Born in about the year 1083 in Sempringham, England, into a wealthy family, St. Gilbert’s father was a Norman knight who had decided that his son would follow a different path, and so sent him to France to study and to prepare for ordination.

When St. Gilbert returned to England he was not yet ordained a priest. His father had died, and Gilbert inherited several estates, making him a wealthy man. While many might have chosen a life of ease in such circumstances, St. Gilbert chose to live a simple life, putting himself at the service of the poor by sharing with them his considerable resources. He was ordained to the priesthood, and served as the parish priest at Sempringham, where he had grown up.

There were seven young women in the congregation who had expressed to him a desire to live in community as vowed religious. St. Gilbert took their vocation seriously, and had a house built for them near the parish church. Although their communal life was one of simplicity and austerity, the community grew in numbers. They worked on the land, providing for their own needs and for the needs of the poor. It was St. Gilbert’s hope that the Community would be able to become part of the Cistercians, or one of the other established orders, that never happened. They became known as the Gilbertines, and they remained as their own order, which continued to grow until King Henry VIII ordered the suppression of all monasteries in 1538.

The Gilbertines developed a beautiful custom in their religious houses, of having what was called “the plate of the Lord Jesus.” On this plate they would place the very best portion of their meals, which would then be shared with the poor. This custom was a direct reflection of St. Gilbert’s own love for the poor, and it continued the charity he had always shown.

Although St. Gilbert came from great wealth, and through inheritance he himself was a man of means, nonetheless he lived the simple life of a devoted parish priest. He ate very little food, and spent many nights in prayer. He lived a life of hardship and sacrifice willingly, as a sign of his love for Christ and for the poor.  He died in the year 1190 at the age of 106.

O God, by whose grace thy servant St. Gilbert of Sempringham, enkindled with the fire of thy love, became a burning and a shining light in thy Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and may ever walk before thee as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

02 February 2017

St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr

St. Blaise was a physician and Bishop of Sebaste, Armenia. He lived in a cave on Mount Argeus and was a healer of men and animals. According to legend, sick animals would come to him on their own for help, but would never disturb him at prayer.

Agricola, governor of Cappadocia, came to Sebaste to persecute Christians. His huntsmen went into the forests of Argeus to find wild animals for the arena games, and found many waiting outside Blaise's cave. Discovered in prayer, Blaise was arrested, and Agricola tried to get him to recant his faith. While in prison, Blaise ministered to and healed fellow prisoners, including saving a child who was choking on a fish bone; this led to the blessing of throats on Blaise's feast day.

Thrown into a lake to drown, Blaise stood on the surface and invited his persecutors to walk out and prove the power of their gods; they drowned. When he returned to land, he was martyred by being beaten, his flesh torn with wool combs (which led to his association with and patronage of those involved in the wool trade), and then beheading.

St. Blaise has been extremely popular for centuries in both the Eastern and Western Churches and many cures were attributed to him. In 1222 the Council of Oxford prohibited servile labour in England on his feast. He is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. He is invoked for all throat afflictions, and on his feast two candles are blessed with a prayer that God will free from all such afflictions and every ill all those who receive this blessing.

— Excerpted from The Church's Year of Grace, Pius Parsch

O God, who makest us glad with the yearly festival of blessed Blaise, thy Martyr and Bishop: mercifully grant that, as we now observe his heavenly birthday; so we may likewise rejoice in his protection; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

01 February 2017

The Presentation of Our Lord


It is a good and just king who obeys his own laws. And at the Presentation in the Temple God was doing just that. As the Incarnate Word He conformed Himself to those laws meant to honor Him. And it took place in the very Temple which was built to worship Him. Old Simeon had waited for years and he had seen countless infants brought into the Temple, but by the stirring of the Holy Spirit within him he knew this was the One. The veil was lifted from his eyes, as on a future day the Temple veil would be torn in two. The Infant in Simeon’s arms foreshows the Victim on the arms of the Cross. And the aged prophet’s words to the Virgin Mother would be fulfilled in union with her Son’s suffering.

It is a beautiful celebration, this continuing epiphany, this ongoing revelation of our Lord. It reminds us of the importance of obedience as we see Christ’s obedience. It reminds us of the importance of waiting upon God as we hear of the waiting of Simeon and Anna. And it reminds us of the importance of offering our best love to God as we witness Joseph and Mary offering back to God the Beloved Infant entrusted to them. It is a eucharistic image, this presentation, as Christ is offered to the Father.

Almighty and everliving God, we humbly beseech thy majesty: that, as thine Only Begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in substance of our flesh; so we may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts, by the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

30 January 2017

"Father and Teacher of the Young..."


St. John Bosco was born near Turin, Italy, in 1815. His father died when John was only two years old, but his mother made sure he received a good education. His early years were financially difficult but at the age of twenty he entered the major seminary, thanks to the financial help received from a benefactor. John Bosco was ordained a priest on June 5, 1846.

At this time the city of Turin was on the threshold of the industrial revolution and as a result there were many challenges and problems, especially for the young men who came there to work. Many of them had little or no education, and since they worked long hours, there were few opportunities to get an education. Gifted as he was as an educator and a leader, Don Bosco formulated a system of education based on "reason, religion and kindness." In spite of the criticism and violent attacks of the anti-clericals, he conducted workshops for the tradesmen and manual laborers, schools of arts and sciences for young workers, and schools of the liberal arts for those preparing for the priesthood. In 1868 there were 800 students involved in this educational system. To ensure the continuation of his work, Don Bosco founded the Society of St. Francis de Sales (Salesians), which was approved in 1869. Also, with the help of Sister Mary Dominic Mazzarello, he founded the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Auxiliatrix.

He also found time to write popular catechetical pamphlets, which were distributed throughout Italy, as was his Salesian Bulletin. This great apostle of youth died on January 31, 1888, and was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1934. Pope John Paul II named him "father and teacher to the young."

O God, who didst raise up Saint John Bosco thy Confessor to be a father and teacher of the young, and through him, with the aid of the Virgin Mary, didst will that new families should flourish in thy Church: grant, we beseech thee; that being kindled by the same fire of charity, we may have the strength to seek for souls, and to serve thee alone; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

29 January 2017

The Beatitudes

The Basilica on the Mount of the Beatitudes

Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven."


28 January 2017

Old things now new...


I had an old friend with me as I offered Mass this morning. Well, perhaps "friend" is too strong a word, but "companion" would fit.

I'm referring to my chalice. It had belonged originally to a Catholic priest whose name is now lost. It had found its way into an estate sale and a very close friend of mine obtained it and gave it to me. I was an Episcopal priest at the time. It was at that same time that I was considering seriously the possibility of entering the Catholic Church, and if God willed it, to become a Catholic priest under the terms of the Pastoral Provision.

The chalice itself is beautiful - gold, rather ornate, quite old, and very graceful in its design. I used it as an Episcopalian, and it came with us when we moved to Texas to begin the work of nurturing the small community while we waited to enter into full Catholic communion.

The great day came on 15 August 1983. I was ordained as a Catholic priest and the Catholic parish of Our Lady of the Atonement was brought into being. The next day I offered my first Mass as a Catholic priest using my beautiful chalice and thus restoring it to its proper place as a chalice on a Catholic altar, holding the Precious Blood of Jesus, in the hands of a Catholic priest.

It continued to be used for all our Masses in the early years of the parish. But then, as happens over time, we obtained more chalices. Two of them came back with us from two different pilgrimages to Rome. Another was a gift to the parish. Soon my trusty companion found its way behind other chalices. It was safely stored in its cloth cover, but like its place in the back of the cabinet, it drifted into the back of my mind.

But recently I remembered it. Memories flooded into my mind of all the adventures and situations that chalice had seen with me. When I took it out of its cloth bag, its beauty struck me. It needed a little cleaning, which I happily did. When I offered the Mass this morning my chalice was restored to its proper place - not stored in a bag at the back of a shelf, but at the center of the celebration of the Mass.

As I was preparing it with the wine and water all the memories of where it had been with me flashed through my mind. My conversion, my first Mass, ministering to the little community at the beginning of our parish - all of it, and all of the wonderful people with me at those times, came into my heart.

When the chalice was elevated, containing Christ's Precious Blood, everyone who had been with me through everything up to that moment was lifted up. And with the lifting up, so God's blessings come down.

"Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." -St. Luke 21:32

27 January 2017

St. Thomas and the Crucifix


This large oil painting of St. Thomas Aquinas before the Crucifix hangs in the nave of the Church of Our Lady of the Atonement, and it depicts the occasion on which St. Thomas perceived a change in the crucifix before which he was praying. He heard Christ's voice saying, "You have written well of Me, Thomas. What would you desire as a reward?" Tearfully, Thomas replied, "Nothing, Lord. I do it all for you."

I was very moved by the story when I had first heard it, and was delighted to find an old painting which captured that conversation between Christ and His saint. It was on one of my adventures in "junk-shopping" several years ago. My family and I were visiting relatives in Connecticut, and I decided to poke around some of the local establishments calling themselves "antique shops." 99.9% of the stuff in those places is usually pretty awful, but there's always the chance of finding a treasure which I call "junque amongst the junk." This painting was one such piece of "junque," and I couldn't resist.

Unframed, covered with dust, and held on the wall with a couple nails in the top corners, it had come from a Catholic church in the area which had been "renovating." I asked the shop owner how much he wanted for it, and we began the bargaining ballet which is required in such places. "Too much," I said. Of course, he knew his initial price was too much. "How much will you give?" he asked. The dance was on. We went back and forth. He came down a little, but I wanted him to come down a lot. I feigned indifference about it, thanked him for his time, and went on my way. The shopkeeper knew what I was up to, but it was part of the choreography, and we both knew I'd be back. The next day when I entered his shop I asked him if he'd had people lined up to buy the painting. With a big smile, he said, "No," so I gave him my final offer, which he accepted -- high enough for him to make a profit, low enough for me to consider it a bargain.

The canvas was carefully rolled for transportation back to Texas. When we got home I gently cleaned it, and took it to Hobby Lobby (they do a great job of framing, in my opinion) to choose just the right frame to complement the painting. When I picked it up it came to the church to be placed in the spot where it now hangs. I'd chosen the location carefully, so that when a preacher is in the raised wineglass pulpit the image of St. Thomas Aquinas is directly across the nave. His image is there, as a reminder that he's always ready to intercede and to inspire as the word of God is preached.

How much did I pay for the painting? It wasn't cheap, but suffice it to say that the frame cost more than the picture.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Angelic Doctor


One of the greatest Catholic teachers in the history of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas is honored with the titles Doctor of the Church and Angelic Doctor.

His parents had plans for him. In the year 1230, when he was only five years old, they took him to the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, and it was their hope that he would choose to become a Benedictine there, and eventually become abbot. In 1239 he was sent to Naples to complete his studies. It was here that he was first attracted to philosophy of Aristotle, and he saw how that philosophy could be used in the service of Catholic theology.

Thomas abandoned his family's plans for him and he joined the Dominicans, much to his mother's dismay. In fact, she ordered one of her other sons to capture Thomas away from the Dominicans, and he was kept at home for over a year. Of course, that couldn’t last forever, and once he was free, he went to Paris and then to Cologne, where he finished his studies with St. Albert the Great. He eventually became a professor at the University of Paris, and was known throughout the Church as one of the great scholars of all time.

But along with his fame as a scholar, he remained modest, a perfect model of childlike simplicity and goodness. He was known for his mildness in speaking and for his great kindness. Whatever clothing or other items he could give away, he gladly did. He kept nothing superfluous in his efforts to alleviate the needs of others.

His great Summa – which was his last and, unfortunately, uncompleted work, is a compendium of the whole of Catholic theology. He stopped work on it after celebrating Mass on December 6, 1273. When asked why he stopped writing, he replied, "I cannot go on.... All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me." He died just a few months later.

Everlasting God, who didst enrich thy Church with the learning and holiness of thy servant Saint Thomas Aquinas: grant to all who seek thee a humble mind and a pure heart; that they may know thy Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth and the life; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

26 January 2017

St. Angela Merici


St. Angela Merici was born in 1474 in Verona (in what is now Italy), and she founded the first teaching congregation of women in the Church, the community dedicated to St. Ursula, known as the Ursulines. As a young woman she became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis, and lived a very simple life – in fact, a life that was so austere, that she wanted to live like St. Francis of Assisi. She wanted to own nothing of her own, so that she wouldn’t become attached to anything. Early in her life she was very concerned about the ignorance about the Faith among poorer children, whose parents could not or would not teach them even their basic catechism. She set out to provide simple lessons for those children who needed to be formed in their understanding of God, and also of basic things like reading. St. Angela was a very attractive person – not only in the way she presented herself, but also through her very sweet personality and her ability to lead others. Soon, other young women joined her in giving regular instruction to the children in their neighborhood, and it developed into a place where girls who had no other opportunities to study could come to learn.

One day she received the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This was an amazing thing for her – she had never traveled far from home, and she was very excited as she began the great journey with a group of her friends. When they had gotten as far as the island of Crete, she was struck with blindness. Her friends wanted to return home, but she insisted on going through with the pilgrimage, and she visited the sacred shrines with as much devotion and enthusiasm as if she had her sight. On the way back, while praying before a crucifix, her sight was restored at the very same place where it had been lost.

At the age of 57, she organized a group of twelve young women to help her in catechetical work. Four years later the group had increased to twenty-eight. She formed them into the Company of St. Ursula, who was the patroness of medieval universities and venerated as a leader of women. Their purpose was to re-build family life through the solid Christian education of future wives and mothers. The importance of the education of children was beginning to be seen as more and more essential, and we see it being developed through such people as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann, who were simply carrying on the work of people like St. Angela.

O Almighty God, who hast compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of thy servant St. Angela Merici, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at length, through thy mercy, we may with her attain to thine eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

25 January 2017

Ss. Timothy and Titus, Bishops


St. Paul had many colleagues and helpers who took part in his missionary journeys, and into whose charge he often entrusted some of the young churches.

On January 26th we commemorate two such men, Timothy and Titus. We know about them because St. Paul referred to them in his writings, and he also wrote letters to them through which we begin to see how the Church developed and few during those first years.

Timothy was the son of a pagan father and a Jewish mother. He was from Lystra in the Roman province of Asia. He was probably baptized as a young boy, and when he grew up, he went with Paul and Silas on their journeys. Over the next 13 years he travelled throughout the Greek world with Paul – Corinth, Thessalonica, and even Rome – ending up in Ephesus, where he was made bishop. From what St. Paul writes to St. Timothy, he seems to have had an affectionate nature, he was frail in health, and a bit young for his important office. In fact, St. Paul wrote to him saying, “Let no one disregard you because of your youth,” and St. Paul warned him remain faithful to the gospel, because there were various Gnostic heresies infiltrating the Church at that time.

Titus was born probably in Antioch, which at that time was an extremely important city in the Roman Empire, and it was in Antioch that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. Titus was born into a pagan family, and he received baptism from the apostles. For several years he served as an interpreter and secretary to St. Paul, and he accompanied Paul to Jerusalem when the apostles met to decide on the very important question of whether the Gentile converts had to follow Jewish law or not. Later Titus was sent by Paul to the island of Crete to take charge of the church there. Titus received careful instructions on the selection of elders for the churches in that country, and was associated with the community there until his death as a very old man in the year 96.

The lives of these two bishops give us an important look at life in the Church in New Testament times. We see that the Gospel has been preached and accepted; small churches have been formed. We see also that there were some troubles and difficult times – there were persecutions by the government; there were those who were trying to change the gospel as it had been revealed by Christ; there were quarrels among some of the Christians themselves. The lives of Timothy and Titus remind us of how the apostles slowly laboured at building up the Church, and we see how the succession of the bishops who came after the apostles continued on through the years, down to our very day.

Heavenly Father, who didst send thine Apostle Paul to preach the Gospel, and gavest him Timothy and Titus to be his companions in the Faith: grant that, through their prayers, our fellowship in the Holy Spirit may bear witness to the Name of Jesus; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

24 January 2017

Conversion of St. Paul


St. Paul was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, and was born in Tarsus, the capitol of Cilicia. Although he was a Roman citizen, he was brought up as a strict Jew, studied to be a rabbi, and later became a violent persecutor of the Christians. While on his way to Damascus to arrest the Christians there, he was suddenly converted by a miraculous apparition of Our Lord. He became the great Apostle of the Gentiles, making three missionary journeys which brought him to the great centers of Asia Minor and southern Europe, making many converts as he travelled. He was beheaded in Rome in 66, and his relics are kept in the Basilica of St. Paul near the Ostian Way.

O God, who, through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Paul, hast caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: grant, we beseech thee; that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show forth our thankfulness unto thee for the same, by following the holy doctrine which he taught; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

23 January 2017

St. Francis de Sales, Gentleman Saint


St. Francis de Sales was known as the “gentleman saint” because of his gracious and gentle nature. In fact, it was he who said, “A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar.” But it wasn't always so with him. By his own admission, he had a very quick temper, and although it took him more than twenty years to master it, no one suspected he had such a problem because he worked so hard to suppress it. With the “let it all hang out” attitude which is so prevalent today, probably psychologists and counselors wouldn't think that was such a good idea – but by exercising self-control under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, St. Francis was able to achieve great sanctity.

O God, who for the salvation of souls didst cause thy blessed Confessor Saint Francis de Sales to become all things to all men: pour into our hearts, we pray thee, the sweetness of thy charity; that by the direction of his counsels and the succor of his merits we may attain to the joys of life everlasting; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

22 January 2017

Pray to Protect the Unborn


Day of Prayer for the Protection of the Unborn

O God our Creator, we give thanks to thee, who alone hast the power to impart the breath of life as thou dost form each of us in our mother’s womb: grant, we pray; that we, whom thou hast made stewards of creation, may remain faithful to this sacred trust and constant in safeguarding the dignity of every human life; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

St. Vincent, Deacon and Martyr


From The Church's Year of Grace, by Pius Parsch:
St. Vincent of Saragossa was one of the Church's three most illustrious deacons, the other two being Stephen and Lawrence. He is also Spain's most renowned martyr. Ordained deacon by Bishop Valerius of Saragossa, he was taken in chains to Valencia during the Diocletian persecution and put to death. From legend we have the following details of his martyrdom. After brutal scourging in the presence of many witnesses, he was stretched on the rack; but neither torture nor blandishments nor threats could undermine the strength and courage of his faith. Next, he was cast on a heated grating, lacerated with iron hooks, and seared with hot metal plates. Then he was returned to prison, where the floor was heavily strewn with pieces of broken glass. A heavenly brightness flooded the entire dungeon, filling all who saw it with greatest awe.

After this he was placed on a soft bed in the hope that lenient treatment would induce apostasy, since torture had proven ineffective. But strengthened by faith in Christ Jesus and the hope of everlasting life, Vincent maintained an invincible spirit and overcame all efforts, whether by fire, sword, rack, or torture to induce defection. He persevered to the end and gained the heavenly crown of martyrdom.

Almighty God, by whose grace and power thy holy Deacon and Martyr Vincent triumphed over suffering and despised death: grant, we beseech thee, by his intercession; that enduring hardness, and waxing valiant in fight, we may with the noble army of Martyrs receive the crown of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

21 January 2017

St. Agnes, described by St. Ambrose


St. Agnes, described by St. Ambrose as he writes "On the Dignity of Virginity":

It is the birthday of St. Agnes, let men admire, let children take courage, let the married be astounded, let the unmarried take an example. But what can I say worthy of her whose very name was not devoid of bright praise? In devotion beyond her age, in virtue above nature, she seems to me to have borne not so much a human name, as a token of martyrdom, whereby she showed what she was to be.
But I have that which may assist me. The name of virgin is a title of modesty. I will call upon the martyr, I will proclaim the virgin. That panegyric is long enough which needs no elaboration, but is within our grasp. Let then labour cease, eloquence be silent. One word is praise enough. This word old men and young and boys chant. No one is more praiseworthy than he who can be praised by all. There are as many heralds as there are men, who when they speak proclaim the martyr.
She is said to have suffered martyrdom when twelve years old. The more hateful was the cruelty, which spared not so tender an age, the greater in truth was the power of faith which found evidence even in that age. Was there room for a wound in that small body? And she who had no room for the blow of the steel had that wherewith to conquer the steel. But maidens of that age are unable to bear even the angry looks of parents, and are wont to cry at the pricks of a needle as though they were wounds. She was fearless under the cruel hands of the executioners, she was unmoved by the heavy weight of the creaking chains, offering her whole body to the sword of the raging soldier, as yet ignorant of death, but ready for it. Or if she were unwillingly hurried to the altars, she was ready to stretch forth her hands to Christ at the sacrificial fires, and at the sacrilegious altars themselves, to make the sign of the Lord the Conqueror, or again to place her neck and both her hands in the iron bands, but no band could enclose such slender limbs.
A new kind of martyrdom! Not yet of fit age for punishment but already ripe for victory, difficult to contend with but easy to be crowned, she filled the office of teaching valour while having the disadvantage of youth. She would not as a bride so hasten to the couch, as being a virgin she joyfully went to the place of punishment with hurrying step, her head not adorned with plaited hair, but with Christ. All wept, she alone was without a tear. All wondered that she was so readily prodigal of her life, which she had not yet enjoyed, and now gave up as though she had gone through it. Every one was astounded that there was now one to bear witness to the Godhead, who as yet could not, because of her age, dispose of herself. And she brought it to pass that she should be believed concerning God, whose evidence concerning man would not be accepted. For that which is beyond nature is from the Author of nature.
What threats the executioner used to make her fear him, what allurements to persuade her, how many desired that she would come to them in marriage! But she answered: It would be an injury to my spouse to look on any one as likely to please me. He who chose me first for Himself shall receive me. Why are you delaying, executioner? Let this body perish which can be loved by eyes which I would not. She stood, she prayed, she bent down her neck. You could see the executioner tremble, as though he himself had been condemned, and his right hand shake, his face grow pale, as he feared the peril of another, while the maiden feared not for her own. You have then in one victim a twofold martyrdom, of modesty and of religion. She both remained a virgin and she obtained martyrdom.


 Almighty and everlasting God, who dost choose the weak things of the world to confound those things that are strong: mercifully grant that we, who keep the festival of blessed Agnes thy Martyr, may perceive within ourselves the effect of her prayers; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.