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.

20 January 2017

Pray for the President


O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to thy merciful care, that, being guided by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace. Grant to the President of the United States, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Ss. Fabian and Sebastian, Martyrs


January 20th is the commemoration of two great 3rd century martyrs – one a pope, and one a soldier.

St. Fabian was simple farmer but was an extraordinary person, who took his Catholic faith very seriously. One day he came into the city of Rome from the countryside, but this wasn’t just any day – it happened to be the day when a new pope was being chosen. Who knows? Perhaps Fabian had come to Rome that day out of curiosity, to see who the next pope would be, or perhaps it was some other business that brought him there. But he was there on that particular day. Those who had gathered to elect the next pope prayed for a sign. They probably had no idea that God would give them such a clear sign, because at that very moment a dove flew towards Fabian and settled on his head. They took this as a sign that Fabian had been chosen by God. Although he was not even ordained at the time, he was immediately acclaimed by the whole city of Rome. He was ordained and installed as pope. Fabian’s fourteen year reign as pope was fairly peaceful, but the end came with a new persecution by the Emperor Decius. Fabian was one of the first to be martyred, in the year 250, during that persecution.

St. Fabian is commemorated on the same day as is St. Sebastian, although their lives had very different circumstances. St. Sebastian was born in Gaul, and he came from a rich Roman family, who sent him to Milan for his education. He became an officer in the Imperial Roman army and captain of the guard, and was known for his goodness and bravery. He was a favorite of Emperor Diocletian. It was during the persecution by Diocletian that Sebastian visited Christians in prison, bringing them supplies and comfort. He even healed the wife of one of the soldiers by making the sign of the cross over her. Seeing his witness, many soldiers and even a Roman governor became Christians.

Diocletian ordered Sebastian to give up his Christian faith but he refused. It was then that Sebastian was tied to a tree and archers shot arrows into his body and left him for dead. When a devout Christian woman came to bury him, she was amazed to find him still alive. She took him to her home and nursed his wounds. When Sebastian was well enough, the woman pleaded with him to escape the dangers of Rome. But Sebastian was a brave soldier. He would not run away. He returned to preach to Diocletian and urged him to stop torturing the Christians.

The emperor was shocked to see Sebastian alive. He refused to listen to what Sebastian had to say, and ordered that Sebastian be immediately clubbed and beaten to death. He died in 288.

St. Fabian’s remains are in the Basilica of St. Sebastian, and these two, whose lives were so different, were linked together by their common faith, and are two of our great martyrs.

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that we, on this day devoutly observing the feast of thy holy Martyrs Saints Fabian and Sebastian, may thereby increase in godliness to the attainment of everlasting salvation; 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.

17 January 2017

Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity


From January 18 through January 25, Christians throughout the world will be keeping the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The official material composed for it each year is fine, but I’ve always found it to be pretty non-specific, as far as what we’re actually supposed to pray for – other than nice feelings and politeness – whereas the original prayers and intentions for the Octave of Prayer zero in much more on the fact that unity according to the mind of Christ is a specific kind of unity.

The Octave was first conceived by Father Paul of Graymoor on 30 November 1907, before his entrance into the Catholic Church. The initial success in 1908 was so encouraging that he decided to promote it annually, and he regarded the Octave as one of the special means which brought his Society of the Atonement into the Church on 30 October 1909. It was given papal blessing by Pope St. Pius X on 27 December 1909, just two months after the Society of the Atonement had entered the Catholic Church. Other popes have given it their blessings over the years, including Pope John XXIII (who urged its observance more widely throughout the world) and Pope Paul VI (who had promoted it in his archdiocese when he was the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan). Father Paul considered the Octave as the greatest project which came from Graymoor, and even though it was overshadowed by the less-specific "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity" during his own lifetime, he rejoiced that those separated from the Catholic Church felt called to observe the January period as a time of prayer for unity. Even though their concept of unity differs from that of the Catholic Church, it is significant that so many pray for that unity which God desires for His people.

The Octave, as originally conceived by Father Paul, reflects the unchanging truth that there can be no real unity apart from union upon that Rock, established by Christ Himself, which is Peter and his successors. For that reason, St. Peter is considered the special Patron of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity.

THE OCTAVE PRAYERS

ANTIPHON: That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, in me and I in Thee; that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me.

V. I say unto thee, thou art Peter;

R. And upon this rock I will build my Church.

[Here is brought to mind the intention for the day's prayer.]

January 18: For the return of the "other sheep" to the One Fold of our Lord Jesus Christ.

January 19: For the return of the Eastern Orthodox Christians to communion with the Apostolic See.

January 20: For the return of the Anglicans to the authority of the Vicar of Christ.

January 21: For the return of all Protestants throughout the world to the unity of the Catholic Church.

January 22: That Christians in America (or, in my own country) may be one, in union with the Chair of Saint Peter.

January 23: That lapsed Catholics will return to the Sacraments of the Church.

January 24: That the Jewish people will be converted to the Catholic Faith.

January 25: That missionary zeal will conquer the world for Christ.

Let us pray. O Lord Jesus Christ, who saidst to thine Apostles, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: regard not our sins, but the faith of thy Church; and grant to her peace and unity according to thy will; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

16 January 2017

St. Anthony of Egypt


Before the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in 312 AD, back in the days when Christianity was still a persecuted religion, the act of becoming a Christian meant that a person turned his back on security, prestige, popularity, and success as far as the world was concerned. After the Emperor Constantine had changed Christianity from being a persecuted religion into one that was acceptable to society, and it became fairly easy to be a Christian, many who were serious about their faith felt that they needed to make a bigger sacrifice. As a result, some of them wanted to show their Christian commitment by leaving society and going out into the desert to become hermits, where they could devote themselves to a life of solitude, fasting, and prayer. Although this had begun to happen even before Christianity became legal, after Constantine this “going out into the desert” was seen more and more. One of the earliest examples is St Anthony of Egypt, who is considered to be the founder of Christian monasticism.

St Anthony of Egypt was the son of Christian parents, and from them he inherited a large estate. On his way to church one day, he found himself thinking about the words of Jesus, where He said, "Sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and come follow me." When he got to church, he heard the preacher speaking on those very words. He took this as a message from God for him, so having provided for the care of his sister, he gave his land to the tenants who lived on it, and gave his other wealth to the poor, and became a hermit, living alone for twenty years, praying and reading, and doing manual labor. As more Christians sought out that solitary life, they tended to gravitate towards the place where St Anthony was, so in the year 305, he decided to give up his solitude, and he became the head of a group of monks, living in a cluster of huts or cells, devoting themselves to communal singing and worship, to prayer and study and manual labor under Anthony's direction. They weren’t there simply to renounce the world, but they wanted to develop their lives of prayer for others, and they worked with their hands to earn money so they could give it to the poor, and they gave spiritual guidance to those who sought them out.

In 321, Christians in Alexandria were beginning to experience persecution again, this time by the Emperor Maximinus – even though the Christian faith had been made legal by Constantine – and Anthony visited Alexandria to encourage those who were facing the possibility of martyrdom. He visited again in 335, when Arianism had become strong in the city, and he converted many by his preaching and testimony, and by prayer and the working of miracles. What we know of Anthony’s life we learn from the writings of St Athanasius, one of the followers of St Anthony. It was Athanasius who said about Anthony: "No one ever met him grieving, without failing to go away rejoicing."

Anthony died after a long, prayerful life in 356. He was 105.

Most gracious God, who didst call thy servant Anthony to sell all that he had and to serve thee in the solitude of the desert: grant that we, through his intercession and following his example, may learn to deny ourselves and to love thee before all things; 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.

14 January 2017

We're growing...


To accommodate the growth of our parish - both church and school - our new expansion is nearing the completion of the first phase of the project.  Pictured here is what will be the main entrance to the building.

Thanks be to God, we will have more room for our growing student body, and expanded facilities which can serve the various apostolates of the parish.

12 January 2017

St. Hilary, Bishop and Doctor


In the early days and years of the Church, it was constantly persecuted by outside forces – sometimes by groups of Jews, frequently by the civil government – and that persecution continued until the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in the year 312. But scarcely had the days of bloody persecution ended, when there arose up within the Church a most dangerous enemy of another sort, Arianism. The heresy of Arianism denied the divinity of Christ; it was, in fact, hardly more than a form of paganism masquerading as the Christian Gospel. The smoldering strife soon flared into a mighty conflict endangering the whole Church; and its spread was all the more rapid and powerful because emperors, who called themselves Christian, proved its best supporters. Once again countless martyrs sealed in blood their belief in Christ's divinity; and orthodox bishops who voiced opposition were forced into exile amid extreme privations.

Among the foremost defenders of the true faith stood Hilary. He belonged to a distinguished family and had received an excellent education. Though a married man, he was made bishop of Poitiers by reason of his exemplary life. It was not long before his valiant defense of the faith precipitated his exile to Phrygia. Here he composed his great work on the Blessed Trinity (in twelve books). It is a vigorous defense of the faith, which, he said, "triumphs when attacked." Finally, after four years he was permitted to return to his native land. He continued his efforts, and through prudence and mildness succeeded in ridding Gaul of Arianism. Because of his edifying and illustrious writings on behalf of the true religion, the Church honors him as one of her doctors.

He wrote to his fellow bishops, “Be ready for martyrdom! Satan himself is clothed as an angel of light.” A favorite motto of St. Hilary was, "Servants of the truth ought to speak the truth."

Almighty, everlasting God, whose servant Hilary steadfastly confessed thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to be very God and very Man: grant that we may hold to this faith, and evermore magnify his holy Name; 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.

St. Benedict Biscop (c. 628 – 690)

I love telling the stories of the saints. Having Mass every day as we do at the school, it means our children get to know authentic heroes, men and women who show selflessness and genuine godliness in their lives. They are ordinary people made extraordinary by God’s grace. And as we meet them each year, it begins to dawn on many of the students, “if they could do it, maybe I can too.”

Today we commemorate St. Benedict Biscop. He’s not the best known saint, by any means. He didn’t suffer for his faith. He lived fairly comfortably when compared to his contemporaries. But he had a sense of destiny, not just for himself, but for his people. He was (as hagiographers are so fond of saying) “of noble birth,” whatever that means. I suppose it means he didn’t grow up in a hovel, and his parents must have had more than a couple of coins to rub together. He served his king and he was rewarded with his own land grant. The typical “local lad makes good” story.

It could have stopped there. A young man, a property owner, a good Catholic boy, who might have settled down and married the maiden next door, have a passel of children, pass into old age and a quiet death, unknown except to those closest to him. And that would have been fine, if God hadn’t had other plans for him.

Benedict Biscop wanted to travel. He wanted to go to Rome. There was a deep desire within him to make his own kind of ad limina. Saints had lived there, and they had died there, and he wanted to see it, experience it, soak it in for himself. He wanted to pray at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul. He wanted to take in the beauty of it all. And he did, not only once, but several times. In fact, much of his life was spent traveling back and forth to Rome, and what he saw there he wanted to carry back to his own people. And that he did too. Art, liturgy, theology, music, everything he experienced in that great city of faith was something he knew would benefit his people in cold, far-away Northumbria.

Here’s part of the spiritual genius of St. Benedict Biscop. Great music, great art, great architecture isn’t just for the great centers of civilization. God intends it for us all. He has created us with a hunger for such things. The good abbot built the first stone structure his people had ever seen. He brought the finest continental glaziers to wild Northumbria to give his monastery unheard-of glass windows. He filled the place with paintings which served as poor men’s books. He established the expectation of learning amongst his monks, astonishing even them with what they could accomplish. His work reached even a young boy named Bede who came and never left.

When it comes to fitting out God’s house, and the worship offered within it, it takes godly imagination, obedience to Catholic tradition, a readiness to reach higher than one thought possible, a desire to do all things well for God. It was done by Benedict Biscop then, and we can do it now.

O God, by whose gift the blessed Abbot Benedict left all things that he might be made perfect: grant unto all those who have entered upon the path of evangelical perfection; that they may neither look back nor linger in the way; but hastening to thee without stumbling, may lay hold on life eternal; 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 January 2017

Baptism of the Word Made Flesh


The sinless Son of God, who has no need to be baptized, submits to a sinner’s baptism. The Light of God, in whom is no darkness at all, goes into the depths of the River Jordan, buried before His death. The pure Word of God, who came to proclaim the truth, stands mute before the Voice which prepared His way. A divine whisper proclaims the Beloved as the Father’s own. Fluttering wings form a nimbus. And with the Baptism of our Lord all water becomes holy. The water created by God at the beginning; the water through which the ark safely traveled; the water through which the Israelites marched dry-shod -- all is made holy. The water which flowed over the Word Made Flesh has gone on to mingle with all the water of the whole earth, and by that water we are made clean.

Almighty and everlasting God, who by the Baptism of thy well-beloved Son Jesus Christ in the river Jordan didst sanctify water to the mystical washing away of sin; Mercifully look upon us, who have been cleansed of sin and sanctified with the Holy Ghost, that we may be kept safe in the ark of Christ’s Church; and grant that we, being steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in charity, may so pass the waves of this troublesome world, that finally we may come to the land of everlasting life, there to dwell with thee for ever and ever, world without end. Amen.

07 January 2017

This week's parish email...


Dear Friends,

This past Friday, January 6th, would have been the celebration of the Solemnity of the Epiphany.  However, the bishops in this country have transferred the celebration of Epiphany to Sunday.  As we enter Epiphanytide we should remember that the Epiphany involves more than the visit from the Wise Men. 

Epiphany means “manifestation,” and the Church has always linked three events as part of the “manifestation,” the “showing forth” of the Divine Incarnate Word:

- the visit of the Magi;
- the Baptism of Our Lord;
- Christ's first miracle at the wedding in Cana.

Together these are the Epiphany: the manifestation of the God-Man to the world.

Ultimately, of course, we ourselves are supposed to be the on-going epiphany of Jesus Christ.  Our own lives – our words and our actions – should show the presence of God in the world, and the power and the mercy of the God-Man.

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Sunday Masses at Our Lady of the Atonement are at 7:30 a.m., 9:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 6:00 p.m.  Mass is offered each weekday at 7:00 a.m. and at 9:15 a.m. The Mass on Saturday morning is offered at 10:00 a.m. followed by the rosary and confessions.

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Beginning on Wednesday, January 11th, I will be teaching a course titled “An Introduction to Holy Scripture.”  This course was offered some years ago, and many found it helpful in preparing to study the various books of the Bible in a deeper way.  The course lasts for a limited number of weeks (probably three or four) which makes it easier for you to commit to the whole course.

Join us on Wednesday, January 11th, when we will meet in the St. John Paul II Library from 6:45 p.m. until 7:45 p.m.

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A new series of CATHOLIC INQUIRY CLASSES will begin on Sunday, January 15, 2017 at 10:30 a.m. in the Common Room.

Are you considering becoming a Catholic?   Are you an adult who wishes to be confirmed?  Are you returning to the practice of your faith after being away for a while?  These classes are for you! Please contact Alan Becker at 210-273-9426 or at alanmbecker@gmail.com.

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Enrollment for the new academic year at The Atonement Academy has begun for all students. Whether you are enrolling a student for the first time, or if you have returning students, go to the Academy website - http://school.atonementonline.com/ -  where you will find instructions for enrollment for the 2017/2018 academic year, or call (210) 695-2240 to arrange for a tour. There are some classes which will fill up early, so don't wait to begin the process!

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LOOKING FOR WORK?  We have two janitorial positions open at the church and school, and both would begin immediately.  If you would like to work in a friendly Catholic environment and be of help to the parish, please email sphillips@atonementonline.com for information and to arrange an interview.

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Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament takes place in the Sacred Heart Chapel from 7:30 a.m. on Friday until 7:15 a.m. on Sunday each week. This is a wonderful apostolate which takes no special preparation or talent, but only having a simple love for God and a desire to spend time with Him in the Most Holy Sacrament.  Please consider giving an hour a week in this beautiful way.  Our Lord Jesus Christ waits for us, and He is more than ready to hear your prayers, intercessions, and petitions.

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May God bless you throughout this Epiphanytide.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Christopher G. Phillips

06 January 2017

The Epiphany of Our Lord

"Star of Bethlehem" by Burne-Jones

Epiphany is about light. "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you." It is about the coming of the true Light into the darkness of this world. "Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome." "In Him was life, and that life was the light of men."

The chief image of Epiphany is the star in the East whose light guided the Magi to the Child-King enthroned on His mother's lap. The Light of God's love had come to shine on the Gentiles, too. "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined." The Gentiles worship Him with gifts fit for a king: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Magi rejoice in the light, and bow down and worship Him.

Light was the first word spoken by God into the chaotic darkness of creation. "Let there be light." And there was light. “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness."

Our lives are given to reflect the light of God's glory, and this is the noblest and most blessed purpose of all. We are, in a mystical way, to be an “epiphany” of Christ, so that every man can see His glory, and so welcome His Light into the dark world.

O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy Only Begotten Son to the Gentiles: mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may be led onward through this earthly life, until we see the vision of thy heavenly glory; 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.

Jesus Christ, our Saviour King,
unto thee thy people sing;
hear the prayers we humbly make,
hear them for thy mercy’s sake.
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
fill our souls, and make us thine.

Give us eyes that we may see;
give us hearts to worship thee;
give us ears that we may hear;
in thy love, Lord, draw us near.
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
fill our souls and make us thine.

In our darkness, shed thy light;
lift us to thy heav’nly height;
may we be thy dwelling-place,
tabernacles of thy grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
fill our souls and make us thine.

In thy Kingdom grant us rest,
in Jerusalem the blest;
with the saints our lips shall sing,
with the angels echoing:
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
thou dost reign, and we are thine!

Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips (1990)
Music: “Lucerna Laudoniae”
David Evans (1874-1948)

05 January 2017

Hymns in honour of St. Joseph

 

St. Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal in Montreal, Quebec, was founded by St. Andre Bessette, and grew out of his great devotion to the Foster-father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Here are two hymns in honour of St. Joseph:

+   +   +   +   +

Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1991
Music: "Stuttgart" adapted by C. F. Witt, 1715

1. Holy Joseph, Intercessor,
Unto thee God's children sing;
Be our Patron and Protector,
To God's throne our praises bring.

2. Faithful Spouse of faithful Virgin,
Lover of God's purity;
From thy worthy place in heaven,
Pray that we may faithful be.

3. Guardian of the Word Incarnate,
Silent guide of God's own Son;
Guard our hearts and lead us onward
To the life that Christ has won.

4. Humble man in lofty station,
God has shed His grace on thee;
Pray such grace to us be given,
That we live eternally.


+   +   +   +   +


Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1992
Music: "Bread of Heaven" by William D. Maclagan, 1875


1. Blesséd Joseph, Guardian mild,
Who didst love the Holy Child,
Show thy love to us who pray,
Shield us from all harm this day:
Foster-father of the Word,
Keep us close to Christ our Lord.

2. Great Saint Joseph, Patron bold
Of the Church from days of old,
Give us courage strong and new,
To proclaim God's Gospel true:
Foster-father of the Word,
Keep us close to Christ our Lord.

3. He Whom thou didst guide in youth,
We receive in very truth;
In this Sacrament of love,
We are one with thee above:
Foster-father of the Word,
Keep us one with Christ our Lord!

St. André Bessette

Brother André, whose baptismal name was Alfred, was born into a poor working family in 1845 in Canada, and both his parents had died by the time he was twelve. He was adopted by his aunt and uncle, but when he was fourteen they had moved to California to seek their fortune in the gold rush, leaving him to fend for himself. Young Alfred was sickly, and his bad health made it difficult for him to keep a job for very long, so he wandered from farm to farm and town to town in Canada and also in the United States, picking up odd jobs as he went. Finally he came to the Holy Cross Brothers in 1870. He carried with him a note from his pastor saying, "I am sending you a saint." The Brothers found that difficult to believe. The Holy Cross Brothers were teachers and, at 25, Alfred still did not know how to read and write. Alfred had no place else to go and so was in a desperate situation, but he was also prayerful and deeply devoted to God and Saint Joseph. He may have had no place left to go, but he believed that was because this was the place where he should have been all along.

The Holy Cross Brothers took him into the novitiate but soon found out what others had learned – as hard as Alfred (now Brother André) wanted to work, he simply wasn't strong enough. They asked him to leave the order, but André, out of desperation again, appealed to a visiting bishop who promised him that André would stay and take his vows as a Religious Brother.

After his vows, Brother André was sent to Notre Dame College in Montreal (a school for boys age seven to twelve) as a porter. There his responsibilities were to answer the door, to welcome guests, find the people they were visiting, wake up those in the school, and deliver mail.

In 1904, he surprised the Archbishop of Montreal by requesting permission to build a chapel to Saint Joseph on the mountain near the college. The Archbishop refused to go into debt and would only give permission for Brother André to build what he had money for. What money did Brother André have? Only the nickels he had collected as donations for Saint Joseph from haircuts he gave the boys; nickels and dimes from a small dish he had kept in a picnic shelter on top of the mountain near a statue of St. Joseph with a sign "Donations for St. Joseph." He had collected this loose change for years but he still had only a few hundred dollars. Who would start a chapel now with so little funding?

André took his few hundred dollars and built what he could – a small wood shelter only fifteen feet by eighteen feet. He kept collecting money and went back three years later to request to do more building. The Archbishop granted him permission to keep building as long as he didn't go into debt. He started by adding a roof so that all the people who were coming to hear Mass at the shrine wouldn't have to stand out in the rain and the wind. Then came walls, heating, a paved road up the mountain, a shelter for pilgrims, and finally a place where Brother André and others could live full-time to take care of the shrine and the pilgrims who came.. Through kindness, caring, and devotion, Brother André helped many souls experience healing and renewal on the mountaintop. There were even cases of physical healing. But for everything, Brother André thanked St. Joseph.

Despite financial troubles, Brother André never lost faith or devotion. He had started to build a basilica on the mountain but the Depression had interfered. When he was ninety years old he told his co-workers to place a statue of St. Joseph in the unfinished, unroofed basilica. He was so ill he had to be carried up the mountain to see the statue in its new home. Brother André died soon after on January 6, and didn't live to see the work on the basilica completed. But he died in peace, having helped hundreds of thousands of people by strengthening their faith, and by giving honor to the foster-father of our Lord.

O Lord our God, who art friend of the lowly and who gavest to thy servant, Saint André Bessette, a great devotion to Saint Joseph and a special commitment to the poor and afflicted: help us through his intercession to follow his example of prayer and love, and so come to share with him in thy 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.

04 January 2017

St. John Neumann


This American saint was born in Bohemia, which today is within the Czech Republic, in 1811. He completed his seminary formation, and was looking forward to being ordained in 1835, when his bishop decided there would be no more ordinations. It is difficult for us to imagine now, but Bohemia had more priests than they needed. John wrote to bishops all over Europe but the story was the same everywhere: no one wanted any more priests. He was sure he was called to be a priest but all the doors to follow that vocation seemed to close in his face.

But John didn't give up. He had learned English by working in a factory with English-speaking workers, so he wrote to the bishops in America. Finally, the bishop in New York agreed to ordain him. So John left his homeland, and sailed to America, knowing he would probably never return to his home again.

In New York, Fr John Neumann was one of 36 priests for 200,000 Catholics. His parish in western New York stretched from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania. He spent most of his time traveling from village to village, climbing mountains to visit the sick, staying with different families, or in taverns and inns along the way, finding places to teach the Faith, and celebrating the Mass at kitchen tables.

Because of the work and the isolation of his parish, the young priest felt the need to be part of a community, and so he joined the Redemptorists, a congregation of priests and brothers dedicated to helping the poor and most abandoned.

Fr John Neumann was appointed bishop of Philadelphia in 1852. As bishop, he was the first to organize a diocesan Catholic school system. Sharing same vision as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. John Neumann was a founder of Catholic education in this country, and he increased the number of Catholic schools in his diocese from two to 100.

He had a great ability to learn languages, and he was able to learn Spanish, French, Italian, and Dutch, so that he could hear confessions in at least six languages. When Irish immigration started, he learned Gaelic so well that one Irish woman remarked, "Isn't it grand that we have an Irish bishop!"

He spent all his energy on being a great bishop to his people, and he lived very simply. He was only forty-eight years old when he died. He is buried in Philadelphia, in St. Peter’s Church, where pilgrims venerate his tomb and ask for his prayers.

O God, who didst call the Bishop Saint John Neumann, renowned for his charity and pastoral service, to shepherd thy people in America: grant, by his intercession; that, as we foster the Christian education of youth and are strengthened by the witness of brotherly love, we may constantly increase the family of thy Church; 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.

03 January 2017

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

Pope Paul VI, when he preached at the canonization of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, spoke these words: "She is a saint!... Rejoice for your glorious daughter." Born in 1774, just as our nation was stirring in preparation for its own birth, little would indicate that some two hundred years later this delicate infant, born in wealth and raised in the society of the established elite, would be raised to the honor of the altar by the Vicar of Christ on the site of the martyrdom of St. Peter.

"Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton is a Saint! She is the first daughter of the United States of America to be glorified with this incomparable attribute!" The Pope spoke with unexpected emotion and excitement, so remarkable was the revelation that a woman who should have remained anonymous and safe within the fold of her respectable family, had embarked upon the spiritual journey for truth which she knew could lead only to one unfashionable destination: the Catholic Church.

The Holy Father took care to remind the world that the religious sensibility, the spiritual goodness of the saint, was planted and nurtured in Anglicanism. "We willingly recognize this merit, and, knowing well how much it cost Elizabeth to pass over to the Catholic Church, we admire her courage for adhering to the religious truth and divine reality which were manifested to her therein," the Pope said.

The young widow could have remained in her Trinity Church pew, gazing out the window toward St. Peter's Church on Barclay Street. Everything and everyone around her should have caused hesitation, but her heart had gone before, because the Divine Heart was waiting for her there. As another great convert would later say, "Cor ad cor loquitur."

O God, who didst crown with the gift of true faith Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s burning zeal to find thee: grant by her intercession and example; that we may always seek thee with diligent love and find thee in daily service with sincere faith; 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.

+ + + + +

A brief biography, from various sources:

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, known as Mother Seton, is one of the great saints of our nation. Her accomplishments were amazing. Although she was a widow with five young children, she founded the first American religious community for women, the Sisters of Charity, and she opened the first American parish school and established the first American Catholic orphanage. She accomplished all this, even though she lived to be only 46 years old.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was a true daughter of the American Revolution. She was born in 1774, just two years before the Declaration of Independence. By birth and through her marriage, she was part the most prominent and wealthy families of New York. She was raised as an Episcopalian by her mother and stepmother, and through her religion, she learned the value of prayer, Scripture and a nightly examination of conscience.

Her mother died in when St. Elizabeth was not quite four years old, and her baby sister died that next year. Losing these people who were so important to her gave Elizabeth an understanding that life in this world is temporary, and she knew that it was important to accomplish as much as possible every day. She developed a sense of hope, and she made the effort to face everything with cheerfulness.

When she was 19, Elizabeth was the one of the most beautiful and wealthiest young women in all of New York. She married a handsome, successful businessman, William Seton. They had five children and were very happy. However, their fortunes changed -- his business failed, and eventually he died of tuberculosis. At the young age of 30, Elizabeth was widowed, she had no money left, and she had five small children to support.

She and her husband had traveled to Italy when he was very sick, hoping that he would get better in that warmer climate. That wasn’t to be, and as her husband was dying, Elizabeth witnessed the Catholic faith in action through family friends. Three basic points led her to become a Catholic: belief in the Real Presence, devotion to the Blessed Mother and conviction that the Catholic Church led back to the apostles and to Christ. She herself decided to enter the Catholic Church in 1805, and when she did that, most of her family and friends never spoke to her again.

In order to support her children, Elizabeth opened a school in Baltimore. From the beginning, she and her teachers followed the pattern of a religious community, and it was formally founded as the Sisters of Charity in 1809.

We have more than a thousand letters written by Mother Seton, and they reveal the development of her spiritual life from ordinary goodness to heroic sanctity. She suffered great trials of sickness, misunderstanding, the death of loved ones (her husband and two young daughters) and the heartache of a wayward son. She died January 4, 1821, and became the first American-born citizen to be beatified (1963) and then canonized (1975). She is buried in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Elizabeth Seton had no extraordinary gifts. She was not a mystic or stigmatic. She did not prophesy or speak in tongues. She had two great devotions: abandonment to the will of God and an ardent love for the Blessed Sacrament.

02 January 2017

The Most Holy Name of Jesus


One of the customs we maintain at the parish is that of bowing one's head at the name of our Lord. It's nothing exaggerated, but just a sign of respect at the sound of the Name of our salvation. There are so many acts of courtesy and respect which have been lost in our everyday living, but there are things such as this that I refuse to put aside. It may seem a little thing, but I believe it is important that we pause and acknowledge the wonder of what God in Christ has done, and is doing. The very idea that the Creator of all things has such love for us that He has put on human flesh in the womb of the chosen maiden, and has taken for Himself the particular name of Jesus, and gives Himself to us daily in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass -- that should make us want to bow our heads in wonder and praise. "For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved."

Almighty God, who by thy blessed Apostle hast taught us that there is none other name given among men whereby we must be saved, but only the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ: grant, we beseech thee; that we may ever glory in this Name, and strive to make thy salvation known unto all mankind; 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.
*  *  *  *  *

Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus

V. Lord, have mercy on us.
R. Christ, have mercy on us.
V. Lord, have mercy on us. Jesus, hear us.
R. Jesus, graciously hear us.
V. God the Father of Heaven
R. Have mercy on us.
V. God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
R. Have mercy on us.
V. God the Holy Spirit,
R. Have mercy on us.
V. Holy Trinity, one God,
R. Have mercy on us.
V. Jesus, Son of the living God, R. Have mercy on us.
Jesus, splendor of the Father, [etc.]
Jesus, brightness of eternal light.
Jesus, King of glory.
Jesus, sun of justice.
Jesus, Son of the Virgin Mary.
Jesus, most amiable.
Jesus, most admirable.
Jesus, the mighty God.
Jesus, Father of the world to come.
Jesus, angel of great counsel.
Jesus, most powerful.
Jesus, most patient.
Jesus, most obedient.
Jesus, meek and humble of heart.
Jesus, lover of chastity.
Jesus, lover of us.
Jesus, God of peace.
Jesus, author of life.
Jesus, example of virtues.
Jesus, zealous lover of souls.
Jesus, our God.
Jesus, our refuge.
Jesus, father of the poor.
Jesus, treasure of the faithful.
Jesus, good Shepherd.
Jesus, true light.
Jesus, eternal wisdom.
Jesus, infinite goodness.
Jesus, our way and our life.
Jesus, joy of Angels.
Jesus, King of the Patriarchs.
Jesus, Master of the Apostles.
Jesus, teacher of the Evangelists.
Jesus, strength of Martyrs.
Jesus, light of Confessors.
Jesus, purity of Virgins.
Jesus, crown of Saints.

V. Be merciful, R. spare us, O Jesus.
V. Be merciful, R. graciously hear us, O Jesus.
V. From all evil, R. deliver us, O Jesus.
From all sin, deliver us, O Jesus.
From Your wrath, [etc.]
From the snares of the devil.
From the spirit of fornication.
From everlasting death.
From the neglect of Your inspirations.
By the mystery of Your holy Incarnation.
By Your Nativity.
By Your Infancy.
By Your most divine Life.
By Your labors.
By Your agony and passion.
By Your cross and dereliction.
By Your sufferings.
By Your death and burial.
By Your Resurrection.
By Your Ascension.
By Your institution of the most Holy Eucharist.
By Your joys.
By Your glory.

V. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
R. spare us, O Jesus.
V. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
R. graciously hear us, O Jesus.
V. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
R. have mercy on us, O Jesus.

V. Jesus, hear us.
R. Jesus, graciously hear us.

Let us pray.

O Lord Jesus Christ, You have said, "Ask and you shall receive, seek, and you shall find, knock, and it shall be opened to you." Grant, we beg of You, to us who ask it, the gift of Your most divine love, that we may ever love You with our whole heart, in word and deed, and never cease praising You. Give us, O Lord, as much a lasting fear as a lasting love of Your Holy Name, for You, who live and are King for ever and ever, never fail to govern those whom You have solidly established in Your love. R. Amen.

01 January 2017

Ss. Basil and Gregory Nazianzen


St. Basil was a brilliant student born of a Christian family in Caesarea, Cappadocia (Turkey). For some years, he followed the monastic way of life. He vigorously fought the Arian heresy. He became Bishop of Caesarea in 370. The monks of the Eastern Church today still follow the monastic rules which he set down.

St. Gregory was also from Cappadocia. A friend of Basil, he too followed the monastic way of life for some years. He was ordained priest and in 381 became Bishop of Constantinople. It was during this period when the Arian heresy was at its height. He was called "The Theologian" because of his great learning and talent for oratory.

Almighty God, whose servants Basil and Gregory proclaimed the mystery of thy Word made flesh, that thy Church might be built up in wisdom and strength: grant that we, through their prayers, and rejoicing in the Lord’s presence among us, may with them be brought to know the power of thine unending love; 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.

30 December 2016

The Holy Family


Our Lord Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, who was espoused to St. Joseph. Because Jesus was part of a family, this provides a singular blessing for each one of our families, because now we have the Holy Family as a model and an inspiration. Of course, the celebration of the Holy Family is much more than just a kind of "patronal feast" for families. It really provides a picture of the Church itself, which is the true Family founded by Christ. The Holy Catholic Church is that family in which St. Joseph is the paternal Guardian, the Blessed Virgin is the maternal Heart, and Jesus is mystically present as the Divine Son. It is the Church which is our true and abiding Family, and our own earthly families can be strengthened by imitating and being consecrated to Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

O Lord Jesus Christ, who by thy wondrous holiness didst adorn a human home, and by thy subjection to Mary and Joseph didst consecrate the order of earthly families: grant that we, being enlightened by the example of their life with thee in thy Holy Family, and assisted by their prayers, may at last be joined with them in thine eternal fellowship; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

28 December 2016

St. Thomas Becket

St. Thomas was born in London, England around the year 1117. He was the son of pius parents, and his mother converted to Christianity through the example and teachings of his father. From his early youth, Thomas was educated in religion and holiness. After his childhood, Thomas was then taught at a monastery and later at a school in London. After the death of both his parents, Thomas decided to finish his schooling by studying canon law. He was successful in his studies and was made secretary to one of the courts of London.

After working for a while at law, Thomas decided to dedicate the rest of his life to God, and began to work towards ordination. In all that he did, Thomas diligently applied himself and became well known as a holy and honest worker. His work came under the scrutiny of King Henry II and, in 1157, Thomas was asked to serve as Lord Chancellor to the king. After the bishop of Canterbury died, Henry sought to elect Thomas to the position, and in 1162 this suggestion was accepted by a synod. Thomas warned the king that it might cause friction and conflict of interests, but accepted the position.

Thomas served as bishop by seeking to help the people and develop his own holiness. He practiced many penances and was very generous to the poor with both his time and his money. As Henry's reign continued, he began more and more to exercise his hand in Church affairs. This caused many disagreements with Thomas, and after one especially trying affair, he retired for a while to France. When Thomas returned to England, he again became involved in a dispute with the king. Some of the king's knights saw this as treason, and as a result they killed Thomas in his own Church. Henry did penance at the grave of Thomas, seeking forgiveness for the actions of his knights, and the tomb soon became a place of pilgrimage for the faithful.

- Reprinted from the Catholic News Agency
_______________________

St. Thomas Becket (of Canterbury) has a special place in the devotional life of our parish.  Not only does his image (in the form of a lovely old English statue) keep watch at the tabernacle, but his relics are contained under the stone in our high altar.

O God, for whose Church the glorious Bishop Thomas Becket fell by the swords of wicked men: grant, we beseech thee; that all who call upon him for succour may be profited by the obtaining of all that they desire; 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.

Tabernacle at the High Altar, flanked by St. Stephen (l.) and St. Thomas Becket (r.)

27 December 2016

The Holy Innocents


In the midst of celebrating the incarnation of holy innocence, our joy is tempered by the remembrance of the deaths of the Holy Innocents. A wicked ruler ordering death much as he might order the destruction of an unwanted animal; terrified parents seeing their children's blood on the same streets where their families had walked for generations; brutalized children having their lives stolen scarcely after they had begun; a whole town maimed beyond recognition, all because the sin of Adam and Eve necessitated the birth of a Saviour.

We relate the slaughter of the Holy Innocents to the millions of children murdered through abortion -- and quite rightly so. But the horror of abortion is something that goes even beyond what happened on the streets of Bethlehem. The deaths of those little boys in Bethlehem afforded some safety to the Christ Child, because the sly Herod thought he had accomplished his purpose, and so the Holy Family was able to continue unmolested on its journey to the safety of Egypt. Those little boys, even in their suffering, had parents who did all they could to protect them from the violence descending upon them. Those little boys were named, and they were loved, and they were incorporated into God's family through the religious rites attended to by their mothers and fathers. The little boys of Bethlehem are remembered even today, and their deaths are able to be seen as being directly related to the mystery of the Holy Incarnation.

But the little victims of abortion... theirs is a holocaust that defies description. Not a single action of a single wicked ruler are their deaths; rather, their deaths are "a matter of choice" -- choices made by the very ones who should be protecting their innocent lives. These are not deaths being endured for any noble cause. These are deaths born of ignorance, of selfishness, of greed, of any number of the spoiled fruits of sin.

As we remember the deaths of the Holy Innocents, pray also for those who are being murdered in their holy innocence. And pray, too, that the twisted hearts which allow and encourage such unspeakable things might be changed.

O Almighty God, who out of the mouths of babes and nurslings hast ordained strength, and madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths: mortify and kill all vices in us; and so strengthen us by thy grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith, even unto death, we may glorify thy holy Name; 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.


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26 December 2016

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

The cave of St. John on Patmos.

Our spiritual journey continues during this Octave of Christmas, as we travel from the Feast of young St. Stephen to the Feast of the aged St. John. And what a journey he made, being taken from tending his fishing nets by the Galilean sea to a cave of exile on the island of Patmos. In both places he was called by the Lord Jesus; first, to listen to the Divine Word so he could follow, and second, to record the Divine Word so those of us who have come later can also follow.

On one of our parish pilgrimages we went to Greece and Turkey, where we visited the cave in which St. John received the apocalyptic vision. As many holy places as I have visited, rarely have I been as affected as I was while standing in that place. There it was that the Risen Lord spoke to John with a power so overwhelming that a fissure was left overhead, dividing the rock into three pieces as a reminder that the Trinity had revealed the truth on that spot. Every place one looked, there was a reminder of John: the hollow in the rock where he rested his head when he grew so tired he could no longer stand upright; the sloping shelf on which the Revelation was recorded. It was all I could do to keep my shoes on my feet, so clearly was this "holy ground." It seemed as though the breath of history was held in that place, and that the apostle would at any moment appear once again to take up his pen to continue recording the living and awe-full word of the Lord. But of course, that could not be. It was there, in that cave, that the final word was spoken. What St. John heard there was the last word of truth. There is no more to be revealed; all we can pray for now is for our increased understanding of what Christ has spoken once for all. Here are the last words the Lord spoke to the last living apostle, written down with trembling hand:
"I Jesus have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star." The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let him who hears say, "Come." And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price. I warn every one who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints. Amen.


The icon pictured here was obtained during a parish pilgrimage, which included a visit to the island of  Patmos, where St. John had been exiled and where the Revelation was given to him by the Risen Christ. This image hangs in the Chapel of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, near the altar.

Shed upon thy Church, we beseech thee, O Lord, the brightness of thy light; that we, being illumined by the teaching of thine apostle and evangelist St. John, may so walk in the light of thy truth, that we may at length attain to the fullness of life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

St. Stephen Protomartyr


It’s only the second day of the octave of celebrating the birth of Our Lord, and already we’re commemorating the first one to die for his faith in that same Lord. St. Stephen – the great deacon, the compelling preacher, the martyr whose blood was a seed of faith in St. Paul – his was a life which showed very early that the Catholic faith isn’t for cowards.

Grant, O Lord, that in all our sufferings here upon earth, for the testimony of thy truth, we may steadfastly look up to heaven, and by faith behold the glory that shall be revealed: and, being filled with the Holy Spirit, may learn to love and bless our persecutors, by the example of thy first Martyr Saint Stephen; who prayed for his murderers to thee, O blessed Jesus, who standest at the right hand of God to succour all those that suffer for thee, our Mediator and Advocate; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

21 December 2016

The Christmas Schedule


Christmas Eve

5:00 p.m.
Solemn Vigil Mass

11:00 p.m.
Choral Music

11:30 p.m.
Solemn Proclamation of Christmas
Procession to the Crib
Solemn High Mass


Christmas Day

7:30 a.m.
Low Mass

9:00 a.m.
Solemn High Mass

11:00 a.m.
Solemn High Mass

20 December 2016

What the Holy Family was not...


This is the time of year when we come across tiresome statements about the Holy Family, all in an effort to make them into some kind of political symbol, I suppose.  If I could make it clear:
  • They were not homeless.  Joseph and Mary each came from perfectly good homes in Nazareth, and they were no more homeless than I was during the time we lived in England, when I had to travel from my home in Bristol up to the American Embassy in London to register the births of my children when they were born.  I'm sick of the stories that make them sound like vagrants, having to find shelter under the nearest interstate overpass.  The inn was full, yes.  All the inns were full.  Bethlehem was packed full of people.  It wasn't out of cruelty that the innkeeper offered them the stable.  It was probably done as a favor to them.  Inns were notoriously seedy places, and the stable was probably a whole lot cleaner and more private.  Homelessness in our society is a sad and tragic thing, caused by various circumstances.  But let's not use the Holy Family as a prop in the lobby for the homeless.
  • They were not illegal aliens.  Joseph and Mary were obeying civil authority when they went to the city of David, because Joseph was descended from King David. They weren't fleeing from an oppressive regime in Nazareth, and they weren't scrounging for work in Bethlehem so they could send some denarii back to the folks in the old country. Nor was that the case when they went to Egypt.  Yes, they were fleeing from a cruel ruler, but they weren't crawling through barbed wire or hiding from border agents.  They simply crossed over into Egypt because borders were immaterial. Whatever one's opinion is about illegal immigration, Joseph and Mary don't lend themselves as examples for any argument one way or the other.  The circumstances just don't fit.
  • They were not living in poverty.  Ok, they weren't rich.  But they weren't eating out of garbage cans or subsisting on food stamps, either.  Joseph, as a carpenter, had a perfectly respectable trade, and his work would be much in demand, wherever he was.  In fact, his occupation is described as tekton, which is more like a general contractor.  Mary's parents were respectable people.  Tradition hints that Anne was descended from one of the high priests of the Temple, and Joachim was well-off enough to have a flock of sheep, indicating that Mary's background was not one of grinding poverty, any more than was Joseph's.
The Holy Family is just that: the Holy Family.  Their place in history is unique.  But every year we're treated to shallow words by politicians and media hacks who think they're expressing deep thoughts, using the Holy Family to make some point or other about social ills.  These usually are the very people who are horrified by the mention of religion at any other time of the year.  Ignore them.

17 December 2016

Late Advent


As we begin this time of Late Advent, so we begin the great “O" Antiphons, which lead up to the Vigil of the Nativity. Each antiphon highlights a title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel (O God With Us), and they are taken from the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the coming of the Messiah.

Of course, most of the Catholic Church already shares our patrimony’s gift regarding the O Antiphons in the metrical translation of these antiphons, the universally beloved: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” That translation is, in large part, the work of the famed Anglican priest, translator and hymnographer, John Mason Neale (1818-1866), to whose scholarly and literary gifts the Anglican Church owes its recovery of the great treasury of pre-Reformation Latin hymnody.

There is, however, another antiphon which is firmly part of our patrimony.  It is our unique eighth O Antiphon, which we will hear on the morning of December 24th — a most fitting antiphon indeed to echo throughout the monasteries and churches of the land known then – and now again – as “Our Lady’s Dowry,” the antiphon O Virgo virginum:
O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud? quia nec primam similem visa es, nec habere sequentem. Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? for neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? the thing which ye behold, is a divine mystery.

15 December 2016

Little Bethlehem


This is a good time of the year to remember that great things can come in small packages, and the village of Bethlehem certainly is a case in point. A place of little consequence became the focus of the universe, and in its most rude and humble spot the Savior of the world drew His first breath. We should remember Bethlehem, not just at Christmas-time, but every time we are feeling that our own lives are not grand or influential. God found room in a mean stable for His miraculous work; let Him find room in our hearts, and just see what He will do!

14 December 2016

St. John of the Cross


St. John of the Cross was born in Spain in 1542, and he learned some important lessons from his parents -- especially the importance of sacrificial love. His father gave up tremendous wealth and social status when he fell in love and married a weaver's daughter, and was disowned by his noble family. After his father died, John’s mother kept the destitute family together as they wandered homeless in search of work. These were the examples of sacrifice that John followed as he came to know that one great love in his own life -- God.

When the family finally found work, the family still lived in poverty. When he was only fourteen, John took a job caring for people in a hospital for those with incurable diseases or who were insane. It was in the midst of this poverty and suffering that John learned to search for beauty and happiness not in the world, but in God.

St. John eventually became a priest and joined the Carmelite order. This was at the time of great Saint Teresa of Avila, and she asked him to help her in her efforts to reform the Carmelites, who had become very worldly. John supported her belief that the order should return to its life of prayer, but many Carmelites felt threatened by this reform, and some members of John's own order kidnapped him. He was locked in a cell which was only six feet by ten feet, where he was frequently beaten. There was only one tiny window high up near the ceiling. Yet in that unbearable dark, cold, and desolate cell, his love and faith continued to grow. He had nothing left but God -- and God brought John his greatest joys in that tiny cell.

After nine months, John escaped. Taking only the mystical poetry he had written in his cell, he climbed out a window using a rope made of strips of blankets. He managed to hide from his pursuers, and from then on his life was devoted to sharing and explaining his experience of God's love.

"What more do you want, o soul! And what else do you search for outside, when within yourself you possess your riches, delights, satisfaction and kingdom -- your beloved whom you desire and seek? Desire him there, adore him there. Do not go in pursuit of him outside yourself. You will only become distracted and you won't find him, or enjoy him more than by seeking him within you."
Saint John of the Cross
Priest, Mystic, Poet, Doctor of the Church

O God, who didst inspire thy holy Confessor Saint John with an ardent love of self-denial and of the Cross: grant that by constantly following his example, we may attain to 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.

13 December 2016

St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr


Lucy’s name has as its root the Latin word for light, lux. This makes her commemoration all the more meaningful during this time of Advent, as we increase each week the number of candles we light on the Advent wreath, reminding us that our lives are to be more and more illumined by the light of Christ.

We can be certain that there was a young Christian girl named Lucy who lived at the end of the 3rd century and into the beginning of the 4th century, because devotion to her is widespread from the 4th century on. Lots of the details of her life, however, come from legends and stories which were told from one generation to the next – and although the stories no doubt have some factual basis, many of the details were added over the years.

So what do we know about her? We know that Lucy’s father died when she was very young, because there is no mention of him whatsoever in the stories about her. Lucy’s mother, Eutychia, suffered from a serious sickness for many years, and she was unable to find any doctor who could help her. Young Lucy had heard of the healing power of the prayers of a young girl, St. Agatha, who had been martyred for the faith. The story is that St. Lucy convinced her mother that they should travel to the tomb of St. Agatha, so they could ask for her prayers for Lucy’s mother. They prayed all night, even falling asleep at the tomb. In her sleep, Lucy had a vision of St. Agatha, and at that moment, her mother Eutychia was cured.

Now, it happened that some time before this, Eutychia had arranged a marriage for Lucy with a young man who was a pagan, but Lucy insisted that she wouldn’t marry, and that the money which would have been used for her dowry should be spent on the poor. In fact, Lucy gave away everything she owned, including her property and her jewelry. News of this came to the attention of the young man whom she was supposed to marry, and he became very angry. He went to the local authorities to report that Lucy was a Christian – and this was a time when it was illegal to belong to the Church.

She was condemned to prison, but when the guards came to take her away, they found that it was impossible to lift her. No matter how much they tried to lift her, she seemed to become immoveable. It is said that she was killed when they plunged a dagger into her throat, and the story is that they had gouged out her eyes before her death. She is often pictured in art with two eyes on a plate, and for that reason she is the patroness of those who are blind or who have any disease of the eyes.

She is Lucy – lux – who lived and died in the light of Christ.

Almighty and everlasting God, who dost choose those whom the world deemeth powerless to put the powerful to shame: Grant us so to cherish the memory of thy youthful martyr St. Lucy, that we may share her pure and steadfast faith in thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

11 December 2016

Our Lady of Guadalupe


The miraculous image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is preserved in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, shows a woman with native features and dress. She is supported by an angel whose wings are reminiscent of one of the major gods of the traditional religion of that area. The moon is beneath her feet and her blue mantle is covered with gold stars. The black girdle about her waist signifies that she is expecting a child. Thus, the image graphically depicts the fact that Christ is to be "born again" among the peoples of the New World.

Pictured here is our parish Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which will be blessed by Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller on 14 December 2015 in the presence of the students of The Atonement Academy.

O God, who hast willed that under the special patronage of the most Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, we should receive an abundant measure of unceasing favours: grant us, thy suppliant people; that as we rejoice to honour her upon earth, so we may enjoy the vision of her in heaven; 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.

Beata Maria Virgo Guadalupensis,
Imperatrix Americarum, Praesidium Nondum Natorum.