20 February 2020

St. Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor

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 2020

"You are the Christ."

Jesus went on with his disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that I am?" And they told him, "John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others one of the prophets." And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ." And he charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men."

-St. Mark 8:27-33

Caesarea Philippi was outside of Galilee and it had a long pagan history. In ancient times it had been a great center for the worship of Baal and also it was said to be the birthplace of the Greek god Pan, the god of nature. From a cave in the hillside there is a stream gushing out which was considered to be the source of the River Jordan, and further up on that same hillside there was a gleaming temple of white marble which had been built in honor of Caesar, the Roman Emperor, who was regarded as a god.

It was there, in that center of pagan worship, that Peter was inspired to recognize Jesus as the Christ. This place which had echoed with reverence toward pagan gods, and memories of Baal, with the huge marble temple to Caesar – like a backdrop of all religions and history – it was there that St. Peter made his great confession. It comes in the very middle of St. Mark’s gospel, and it serves as the climax of the whole Gospel.

And then Jesus decided to put His disciples to the test. He asked them what men were saying about Him, and He heard from them the popular rumours and reports. But then He put the question which meant so much. “Who do you say that I am?” And suddenly Peter realized what he had always known deep down in his heart. This was the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of God.

And then we see Jesus do and say what He has done before. No sooner had Peter declared this, than Jesus told His disciples that they must tell no one. Why? Because, first and foremost, Jesus had to teach Peter and the others what Messiahship really meant – not the common, mistaken Jewish notion of Messiahship which looked for an earthly military leader, but the truth about the Messiah, as it was demonstrated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When Jesus connected Messiahship with suffering and death, He was making statements that were, to the disciples, both incredible and incomprehensible. All their lives they had thought of the Messiah in terms of conquest and nationalistic victory, but now they were being presented with an idea which was utterly revolutionary. That’s why Peter protested so strongly. To him, the whole thing seemed impossible.

But why did Jesus rebuke Peter so sternly? Because Peter was putting into words the very temptations which Satan had put to Jesus in the desert. The turning of stones into bread, the claim of an earthly kingship – all that was offered by Satan to Jesus in the wilderness, if only Jesus would kneel down and do homage to Satan. And what made this even worse was that Peter was one who was loved by Jesus – it was Peter’s loving voice that was saying all of this – and this is why Jesus answered so sternly.

18 February 2020

Sight to the blind...

And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man, and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the village; and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands upon him, he asked him, "Do you see anything?" And he looked up and said, "I see men; but they look like trees, walking." Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and saw everything clearly. And he sent him away to his home, saying, "Do not even enter the village."

- St. Mark 8:22-26

Blindness, in the time of Jesus, and at that time in history especially, was not uncommon. In many cases it probably was caused by a combination of genetics, the glaring sunlight, and a general lack of hygiene. This particular incident is told only in St. Mark’s Gospel, and there are some very interesting things contained in this event.

As is frequently seen in the interaction that our Lord has with people in need is the great consideration shown by Him to the individual. Jesus took him out of the crowd and out of the village, so that they could be alone. Why? Remember that this man apparently had been born blind, and if he had been suddenly given back his sight in the midst of a large crowd of people, there would have come into his eyes suddenly hundreds of people and things, dazzling colors, sights he never could have imagined, and he would have been completely bewildered. Jesus knew it would be far better if he could be taken to a place where this would be less dramatic or traumatic.

And as was His usual practice, Jesus used methods that the individual could understand. Those in the ancient world believed in the healing power of spittle, and this belief isn’t so strange, when we think about it. Isn’t our first instinct, when we have a cut or burnt finger, to put it into our mouths? I can well remember from my childhood on the farm, when an animal was cut or scraped, the best medicine often seemed to be to let the animal lick its wounds, which tended to speed the healing. This would have been common knowledge, and so Jesus used a method of curing him which he could understand. He didn’t begin with words or methods which were foreign to ordinary people, and this is part of the greatness of Christ: His greatness can be comprehended by the simplest of minds.

There’s one thing in this miracle that is unique among all of Christ’s miracles, and that is that it’s the only one which can be said to have happened gradually. Usually, Christ’s miracles happened suddenly and completely. In this miracle the blind man’s sight came back in stages – perhaps in consideration of the man himself, to spare him the shock – but also for a symbolic reason, too. No one sees the totality of God’s truth all at once. Certainly, a conversion to God can be sudden, but the apprehension of God’s truth is always gradual, and rarely can we know or see all of God’s truth without effort and time and progression.

17 February 2020

It's really just one President's Day

This editorial from the New Hampshire Union Leader seems most appropriate for today:

Washington's Birthday Editorial: Celebrating America's father

TODAY is generally known as Presidents Day, but its official name is George Washington's Birthday. And for good reason.

Without George Washington, there might never have been a United States of America. Washington shaped his world more profoundly than any other man of his time. Not bad for a hot-tempered adventurer with little formal schooling.

Washington was 6-foot-3 and so strong a cousin said he could throw a stone clear across the Rappahannock River (not a coin across the Potomac, as legend later had it). He was a professional surveyor by age 17. By age 21, he was a major in the Virginia militia, trusted enough that the governor sent him to order the French out of the Ohio River Valley.

On his second trip to assert England's claim on the territory, he accidentally started the French and Indian War. Really. He wrote a friend after the skirmish that ended in his surrender, "I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me, there is something charming in the sound."

In a later battle, Washington, though only a volunteer aide, took command as Gen. Braddock's army was being routed, and rode before the men in a courageous attempt to rally them. He had two horses shot out from under him and four bullets shot through his coat. He liked it so much, it became a trademark behavior. During the Revolutionary War, when most commanders watched the battle from safely behind their forces, Washington routinely rode the line, shouting orders, encouraging his men, and defying death and the enemy.

Washington's personal bravery was matched by his creativity as a commander. Unable to beat the British head-on, he outfoxed them. Had any other general been in charge of the Continental Army, it almost surely would have failed. Washington figured out how to beat the British by fighting a new style of war.

Having won that war, Washington in 1783 ceremoniously resigned his command. He could have taken over the country, something many expected him to do. Instead, he baffled the princes of Europe by relinquishing his power and returning to his farm.

Four years later, he was called from retirement to preside over the Constitutional Convention, where he helped shape the Constitution. His efforts to encourage ratification were probably the difference in some states, especially Virginia, which ratified the Constitution by a single vote.

Again, Washington retired. But not for long. Without campaigning for the job, he was elected President by a unanimous vote of the Electoral College.

As President, Washington again baffled his detractors by refusing to assert authoritarian control. His administration was marked with great successes and some blunders. But he achieved his wish of making the presidency a short-term office held in trust on behalf of the people.

"His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motive of interest or consanguinity, friendship, or hatred, being able to bias his decision," Thomas Jefferson wrote.

That is the standard Washington set. It has not always been followed, of course. But Americans to this day strive to put someone in office who can live up to Washington's ideals.

To call today Presidents Day is to do an injustice to our greatest President and the man without whom we would not have a republic of our own. Yes, we have had some great Presidents since, but none as great as George Washington.

16 February 2020

Looking for signs...

The Pharisees came and began to argue with Jesus, seeking from him a sign from heaven, to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, "Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation." And he left them, and getting into the boat again he departed to the other side.

– St. Mark 8:11-13

People tend to expect God to reveal Himself in the abnormal, anticipating that the actions of God should be extraordinary. It was no different during the time of the earthly ministry of Jesus. It was believed then that when the Messiah came, startling things would happen. In fact, one of the things that the many false messiahs invariably promised was that if people would follow them, they would do amazing things.

In this gospel passage we see the Pharisees demanding just such an abnormal sign – something from heaven which would “prove” that Jesus was the Messiah. They wanted to see some shattering event blazing across the sky, defying nature and giving astonishment to people.

Jesus knew their demand wasn’t due to a real desire to see the hand of God. In fact, they were blind to what was already happening. The whole world was full of signs. God had already made Himself known through His creation. God doesn’t need to “break into creation” to make Himself known because there is already enough evidence for anyone who has eyes to see.

The sign of the truly religious individual is that he finds God in all sorts of circumstances – not just in the astounding or inexplicable. So Jesus asks in exasperation: “Why does this generation seek a sign?” And then He states just as abruptly, “Truly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation…”

Seven Founders of the Servite Order

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 Lord Jesus Christ, who for the remembrance of the sorrows of thy most holy Mother didst by the seven blessed Fathers enrich thy Church with a new household of her servants: mercifully grant that we may in such wise be joined to them in their sorrowing; that we may be made worthy to be partakers of their gladness; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

13 February 2020


At that time: Jesus returned from the region of Tyre, and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand upon him. And taking him aside from the multitude privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And he charged them to tell no one; but the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."

- St. Mark 7:31-37

After Jesus spent time in the Gentile country of Tyre and Sidon where he dealt with the Syro-Phoenecian woman who was pleading for the needs of her little daughter, He left that area and returned to the area around the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis. This is a word which means “Ten Cities” and describes a group of cities which were a mixture of Greek and Roman cultures (so still Gentile) but still very much in the midst of the Jewish people, and there was some crossing back and forth in their cultures. Ministering in this area was one of the ways our Lord emphasized that He had come “for all mankind” – not just for one people, not just for one culture, but to bring the Gospel and the Kingdom of God to everyone. This time away from Galilee was about eight months altogether – an extended period of time away from the Pharisees and those who were always attacking Jesus, and so giving Him time to be with His apostles and to teach them without interruption.

When Jesus did arrive back in the region of Galilee, He came into the district of the Decapolis, and it was there that a man was brought to Him who was deaf and who had an impediment in his speech – obviously, two things that went together, since so often deafness results in difficult speech, because the deaf person cannot hear himself. We see in this miracle an example of the very beautiful and personal way in which Jesus treated people.

He took the man aside from the crowd, all by himself. This was an act of great kindness and consideration. Deafness can be difficult and sometimes embarrassing, when a person is being spoken to, and yet cannot understand.  So we see Jesus having a regard for what was a difficult situation for this man. And then the gospel describes how our Lord brought about the cure. It’s as though what Jesus did in performing the cure included a kind of “acting it out” so that the man could understand. He put his hands in the man’s ears, showing that He was going to heal his deafness. He touched his tongue, showing that He was going to deal with the speech impediment, too. Jesus then looked up to heaven to show that it was from God that the healing was coming. After all that, Jesus then spoke the word, and the man was healed.

One of the things that is evident in this is the great dignity which our Lord showed to this individual. The man had a special need and a special problem, and it was with tenderness and consideration that Jesus dealt with him, always in a way that considered the man’s feelings and also in a way that he could understand.  That’s the way Jesus deals with each one of us. He knows us personally, and looks after our needs personally.

When the miracle was completed, the people said, “He has done all things well…”  That reminds us of God’s statement when He had completed creation – “he saw that all things were good.” When Jesus came, bringing healing and salvation, in a sense He was engaged in the work of creation all over again. In the beginning everything had been good; however, man’s sin had spoiled it. Jesus brings back God's beauty to the world which sin had made ugly.  Now all things are being restored in Christ.

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 2020

Food enough for all

At that time: Jesus arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house, and would not have any one know it; yet he could not be hid. But immediately a woman, whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, "Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." But she answered him, "Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." And he said to her, "For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter." And she went home, and found the child lying in bed, and the demon gone.

– St. Mark 7:24-30

In the gospel passages appointed to be read these days, we’re seeing our Lord exercising His ministry in Gentile territory. Tyre and Sidon were cities of Phoenicia. Although these cities were part of Syria, they were all independent, and they were all rivals. They had their own kings and their own gods. The gospel passage just before this one showed Jesus doing away with the distinction between clean and unclean foods. Now, we see Him doing away with the difference between clean and unclean people. Just as the Jew would never soil his lips with forbidden foods, so he would never soil his life by contact with the unclean Gentile. But here we see Jesus indicating that the Gentiles are not unclean, but that they, too, have their place within God’s kingdom.

Jesus came north to this region probably for a temporary escape from the attacks He was experiencing. The scribes and Pharisees had branded Him as a sinner because of His seeming disregard for their rules and regulations. Herod regarded Him as a threat. The people of Nazareth treated Him with disdain. So we begin to see the movement of the Gospel from the Jews to the Gentiles.

The gospel tells us of a Gentile woman coming to Jesus and asking Him for help for her daughter. His answer was that it wasn’t right to take the children’s bread and give it to dogs. At first hearing, this seems rather harsh. In that society at that time the dog wasn’t the lovable companion we think of today; rather, it was a symbol of dishonor. To the Greek, the word “dog” referred to a shameless woman. In fact, the Jews often used the word “dog” as a term of contempt for Gentiles. Now, since this word was obviously an insult, how do we explain Jesus’ use of it here? First of all, He didn’t use the usual word for the dogs of the street; rather, He used a term which denoted the pet dogs of a household. Also, His tone of voice made all the difference. We know how a word can be used in one way as an insult, or with a different tone can be almost affectionate in its use. We can imagine our Lord’s tone taking some of the harshness out of the word.

In any event, Jesus didn’t shut the door on the woman. First, He said, the children must be fed; but only first. We can infer from His words that there was food left for the household pets. True, Israel had the first offer of the gospel, but only the first. There were others still to come.

The woman no doubt had a sense of humour, and she saw that Jesus was speaking with a smile. She said, “I know the children are fed first, but might I not get the scraps which the children throw away?” Here was a woman with a faith that wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. This woman, with a daughter tragically ill, still had enough light in her heart to reply with a smile. Her faith was tested, her faith was real, and her prayer was answered. We can see in this woman a symbol for the Gentile world which eventually would receive the Bread of heaven which many of the Jews rejected.

11 February 2020

Out of the heart...

Jesus called the people to him again, and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him." And when he had entered the house, and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, "What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man."

-St. Mark 7:14-23

When Jesus first said, "there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him," it was, from a Jewish perspective, about the most revolutionary thing He had ever said. Over and over throughout the gospels we see Jesus arguing with the Jewish legal experts about different aspects of the traditional law. But now Jesus says something which is unthinkable to the orthodox Jew by declaring that nothing that goes into a man can, in and of itself, defile him, since it’s only received into his body and then passes through him in a natural way.

No Jew ever believed that, and to this day, no orthodox Jew would ever believe that. In the Old Testament we find long lists of animals that are considered to be unclean and which may not be used as food. In fact, there were many times in the history of the Jews that people were willing to be put to death rather than to eat something which was declared to be unclean. During the time of the Maccabees, there were horrific deaths inflicted on Jews for not eating swine’s flesh. It was in the face of that historical reality that Jesus made this revolutionary statement that nothing which goes into a man can make him unclean. Jesus seemed to be sweeping aside the laws for which Jews had suffered and died.

Of course, what Jesus was teaching was that it wasn’t the thing, in and of itself, that could be clean or unclean. It is the act of obedience or disobedience which can defile. It’s much as is the situation with the matter of meat on Friday for Catholics. It’s not so much the meat that was somehow “unholy” on that particular day; rather, it’s the fact that this was the sacrifice which was required by the law of the Church, and to purposely ignore it was to commit an act of disobedience. And just as the Church still requires some sacrificial act on the normal Fridays of the year, so to ignore it is still an act of disobedience, and so can be the occasion of sin.

What Jesus was condemning was the attitude that the mere avoidance of unclean things was all that was required, rather than having an understanding that such things need to flow from our love for God, and our desire to be obedient to him.

Jesus says that what can make a man unclean is what comes from within his heart – not what goes into his mouth. And then Jesus lists a number of things which are much more serious in the total holiness of individuals than externals. A list such as the one contained in St. Mark’s gospel surely is a sobering thing, and really calls us to examine our lives, and what “comes out of our hearts.”

10 February 2020

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.

Bernadette 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.

The feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes 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 2020

Receiving and giving...

When Jesus and his disciples had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the shore. And when they got out of the boat, immediately the people recognized him, and ran about the whole neighborhood and began to bring sick people on their pallets to any place where they heard he was. And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or country, they laid the sick in the market places, and besought him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment; and as many as touched it were made well.
 -St. Mark 6:53-56

As the people saw more and more the things Jesus did – the miracles, the cures, the wise teaching – so increasingly they gathered around Him. Just before this passage from St. Mark’s gospel He had invited His apostles to withdraw with Him and rest for a while, just to have a break from the needs of the crowd.

But no sooner had Jesus landed on the other side of the sea, than once again He was surrounded by throngs of people. When we consider it from a purely human point of view, it must have been somewhat exhausting, since everyone who came, came because they wanted something from Him.

Of course, it’s understandable that people should come to Jesus to get things from Him, because there is so much that only He can give. But it can become habitual constantly to take and only rarely to give in return.

We need to take great care about that when it comes to our relationship with God. If we’re not careful, we can tend to treat God rather like a restaurant server, expecting Him to see to our needs as they arise, and in the way we want. It’s too easy for us to fall into the habit of presenting what we feel are our needs to God and then expecting God to respond accordingly.

Surely, it would give great joy to our Lord if, more often, we came to Him to offer our love, our service, our devotion – and less often simply to demand from Him.

St. Scholastica

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 of 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 favour 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.

O God, who for a testimony to the path of innocency didst cause the soul of thy holy Virgin Saint Scholastica 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 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.

08 February 2020


Septuagesima Sunday is the name for the ninth Sunday before Easter, the third before Ash Wednesday. The term is sometimes applied also to the period that begins on this day and ends on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. This period is also known as the pre-Lenten season or Shrovetide. The other two Sundays in this period of the liturgical year are called Sexagesima and Quinquagesima, the latter sometimes also called Shrove Sunday.

Septuagesima comes from the Latin word for "seventieth." Likewise, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima, and Quadragesima mean "sixtieth," "fiftieth," and "fortieth" respectively. Septuagesima Sunday is so called because it falls within seventy days but more than sixty days before Easter. The next Sunday is within sixty, Sexagesima, and the next within fifty, Quinquagesima. Falling within forty days of Easter (excluding Sundays) the next Sunday is Quadragesima, the Latin word for the season of Lent, which (not counting Sundays) is forty days long. Because every Sunday recalls the resurrection of Christ, they are considered "little Easters" and not treated as days of penance.

The 17-day period beginning on Septuagesima Sunday is intended to be observed as a preparation for the season of Lent, which is itself a period of spiritual preparation for Easter. The “Alleluia” ceases to be said during the liturgy, and the Gloria in excelsis is not used. Likewise, violet vestments are worn, except on feasts, from Septuagesima Sunday until Holy Thursday.

07 February 2020

St. Josephine Bakhita

On February 8, the Church commemorates the life of St. Josephine Bakhita, a Canossian Sister who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Sudan.

Josephine Bakhita was born in 1869, in a small village in the Darfur region of Sudan. She was kidnapped while working in the fields with her family and subsequently sold into slavery. Her captors asked for her name but she was too terrified to remember so they named her “Bakhita,” which means “fortunate” in Arabic.

Retrospectively, Bakhita was very fortunate, but the first years of her life do not necessarily attest to it. She was tortured by her various owners who branded her, beat and cut her. In her biography she notes one particularly terrifying moment when one of her masters cut her 114 times and poured salt in her wounds to ensure that the scars remained. “I felt I was going to die any moment, especially when they rubbed me in with the salt,” Bakhita wrote.

She bore her suffering valiantly though she did not know Christ or the redemptive nature of suffering. She also had a certain awe for the world and its creator. “Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself: 'Who could be the Master of these beautiful things?' And I felt a great desire to see Him, to know Him and to pay Him homage.”

After being sold a total of five times, Bakhita was purchased by Callisto Legnani, the Italian consul in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. Two years later, he took Bakhita to Italy to work as a nanny for his colleague, Augusto Michieli. He, in turn, sent Bakhita to accompany his daughter to a school in Venice run by the Canossian Sisters.

Bakhita felt called to learn more about the Church, and was baptized with the name “Josephine Margaret.” In the meantime, Michieli wanted to take Josephine and his daughter back to Sudan, but Josephine refused to return.

The disagreement escalated and was taken to the Italian courts where it was ruled that Josephine could stay in Italy because she was a free woman. Slavery was not recognized in Italy and it had also been illegal in Sudan since before Josephine had been born.

Josephine remained in Italy and decided to enter Canossians in 1893. She made her profession in 1896 and was sent to Northern Italy, where she dedicated her life to assisting her community and teaching others to love God.

She was known for her smile, gentleness and holiness. She even went on record saying, “If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and Religious today.”

St. Josephine was beatified in 1992 and canonized shortly after on October 2000 by Pope John Paul II. She is the first person to be canonized from Sudan and is the patron saint of the country.

O God, who didst lead Saint Josephine Bakhita from abject slavery to the dignity of being thy daughter and a bride of Christ: grant, we pray; that by her example we may show constant love for the Lord Jesus crucified, remaining steadfast in charity and prompt to show compassion; 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. 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.

O God, 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.

06 February 2020

Thoughts on Being Salt and Light

At that time: Jesus said to his disciples, "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.  You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.  Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

-St. Matthew 5:13-16

A pilgrimage to the Holy Land is always filled with great moments and experiences. One of the highlights is visiting and praying at the place which has come to be known as the Mount of the Beatitudes. Other than the present-day church with its surrounding buildings, it looks today much as it did when a crowd had surged around our Lord, eager to hear what He had to say. The reasons for them being there were probably as varied as the people themselves. But there they were, ready to listen, and Jesus was ready to speak. He made His way to the top of that hill. His disciples gathered around Him.  The people sat down, and He began.

He started with the Beatitudes – a series of statements, each of which began with the words, “Blessed are…” Each sentence was a kind of gateway which opened up the way into the Kingdom of God. And as He spoke those statements of blessedness, the people’s vision was directed to their eternal destiny, which is life with God.

But He went on from there, because His message wasn’t simply to prepare for the future reward of heaven – no, He went on, showing that those who were willing to follow the path He outlined in the Beatitudes would be keenly aware of the importance of the “here and now” as part of the preparation for heaven.

“You are the salt of the earth…” He said. “You are the light of the world…” He told them. And these weren’t just poetic phrases He was using. They were filled with meaning for those who were hearing them that day by the Sea of Galilee.

Salt was highly valued in the time of Christ. In that time, salt was indispensable for the preservation of food. In fact, it was so valuable that part of the Roman soldier’s payment was in salt, and our word “salary” comes from the same word. So in saying to the disciples and others gathered around Him that they were the “salt of the earth,” He was reminding them of their immense value in the sight of God, and of their importance in the building up of the Kingdom of God. They shouldn’t worry if their numbers were small – after all, a pinch of salt is effective in a way that’s completely out of proportion to its amount.

Salt is inconspicuous. In many ways, it’s ordinary. It’s intended to be mixed with common things – and that’s the way it’s supposed to be for the followers of Christ. Their witness is supposed to be a day-by-day thing. The living of the Christian life means mixing in with the things of this world, giving everything a new flavour and a new meaning.

And as Christians are called to be salt, there’s a warning that goes along with it: “…if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.” In other words, Christ was saying that if we squander the gifts and the grace He gives us, then we’re of little use to Him. No – we’re supposed to be a preservative of all that’s good in the world, bringing out the best in others. The graces and blessings given to us by God aren’t meant for us alone; they’re to be salt to the world – a seasoning which, when it’s spread among others, preserves in them what God intends for them to be.

“You are the salt of the earth.” That little statement should make each one of us ask, “How do I, as a follower of Christ, affect others? Do I help them love God by showing them God’s love? Do I assist them in growing closer to Christ by speaking and living Christ’s truth in my own life?”

And we’re to be not only “salt,” but also “light.” In many ways, God’s truth had been obscured in Christ’s time, not only by the darkness of pagan cults, but by turning religion into something that was just an external form, much as what’s happened in our own day. But Jesus had come to shed light so that man might see God. He’s telling us that we’re supposed to shine, too. But it’s not our own value or worth that we’re suppose to make shine – no, we’re to shine by obeying the light that we’ve received from God. He says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Here’s a reminder to us: one of the ways others will come to know God will be because of what they see in us. We can’t make somebody else know God, but we can help others come to know God by our own witness. All we need to do is to be faithful to Christ. It’s the Lord who has made us salt and light, and all we need to do is to be faithful to the responsibilities Christ has given us – faithful in our everyday lives – to be faithful husbands and wives, faithful mothers and fathers, faithful friends and co-workers – doing our best, helped by the grace of God, so that others can see and be moved, not by our imperfect goodness, but by God’s perfect goodness as it’s reflected in our own lives.

Consider this. When you turn on a light in a roomful of beautiful things, it isn’t the light bulb we admire, is it? Rather, we appreciate the things of beauty which have been illuminated. That’s how it’s supposed to be with us. If we’re the “light of the world,” we’re not here to call attention to ourselves; rather, we’re supposed to illuminate God and His goodness. And as a light, we’re supposed to shine light on the evil which has invaded God’s world, so that the light will drive it away.

Christ tells us that we’re the salt of the earth and the light of the world. And we are, if we live in Him and for Him. We’re to be salt, so that Christ can be savoured by those who are starving for Him. And we’re to be light, so that Christ can be seen by those whose sight has been obscured by the darkness that surrounds them.

And if we take that responsibility seriously – to be salt and light – we’ll be a blessing, and we will be blessed, just as Christ said we would be, when He taught from that hilltop by the Sea of Galilee.

05 February 2020

St. Paul Miki and 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.

04 February 2020

St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr

St. Agatha was born in Sicily, and is one of the many brave and faithful martyrs of the 3rd century. Her family was a wealthy and important one. Agatha was raised as a Christian, and when she was a very young girl she dedicated her life to God alone, and felt no vocation to be married. Because of her beauty and wealth, and because of the importance of her family, there were many men who sought to marry her. She resisted them all, desiring only a life of prayer and charitable service.

There was a man named Quintian, a Roman prefect, who thought his rank and power could force Agatha into a relationship with him. Knowing she was a Christian, and because this was in a time of persecution, he had her arrested and brought to trial. The judge was none other than himself. He expected Agatha to give in to him when she was faced with torture and death, but she simply rededicated herself to God.

Quintian imprisoned Agatha, locking her up with cruel and immoral women, in order to get her to change her mind. After she had suffered a month of being assaulted and humiliated she never wavered, saying that although they could physically lock her up, her real freedom came from Jesus. Quintian continued to have her tortured. He refused to allow her to have any medical care, but St. Agatha was given great comfort by God, who allowed her to have a vision of St. Peter, in which he encouraged and strengthened her.

Finally, because of the repeated torture and mutilation of her body, St. Agatha died in about the year 251, while whispering a prayer of thanks to God.

O God, who among the manifold works of thine almighty power hast bestowed even upon the gentleness of women strength to win the victory of martyrdom: grant, we beseech thee; that we, who on this day recall the heavenly birth of Saint Agatha, thy Virgin and Martyr, may so follow in her footsteps, that we may likewise attain 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.

03 February 2020

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. 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, but 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 2020

The conquering power of Christ

Jesus and his disciples came to the other side of the sea, to the country of Gerasenes. And when he had come out of the boat, there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who lived among the tombs; and no one could bind him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out, and bruising himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped him; and crying out with a loud voice, he said, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me." For he had said to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!" And Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion; for we are many." And he begged him eagerly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; and they begged him, "Send us to the swine, let us enter them." So he gave them leave. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea. The herdsmen fled, and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus, and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the man who had the legion; and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their neighborhood. And as he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. But he refused, and said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and all men marveled.

-St. Mark 5:1-20

As we read in this passage from St. Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has just cast the demons out of the poor man who was the victim of demonic possession by “Legion, for we are many." This happened in the Decapolis, which literally means “The Ten Cities.” Near the Jordan, and on its east side, there were ten cities that had a rather special character. They were essentially Greek cities, because of the conquests of Alexander the Great, which firmly established Greek culture in that area. This explains how there came to be large herds of swine there – something that would not be found in Jewish areas.

The cities were beautiful. They had their Greek gods and their Greek temples and their Greek amphitheaters. The people were devoted to the Greek way of life. And this is of interest to us. Why? Because with Jesus ministering in the Decapolis, it was a hint of things to come. Although there were Jews in the area, it was fundamentally a Greek area, and this is the first time we see Jesus moving His teaching from a purely Jewish setting out to Gentile territory.

With that in mind, we can see some reason, now, for Jesus not letting the man who had been possessed stay with Him. Jesus sent him back to stay in this area as a witness to the power of the one true God. This man, delivered from demonic possession, was probably a “seed” planted, which would grow into a harvest of people who would ultimately give themselves to Christ after His resurrection. This, then, was the first contact that Christianity had with Greek civilization, and it’s a small, but dramatic picture of the future of the spread of the Church throughout the world by conquering evil and spreading the Gospel.

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, and he is invoked especially for afflictions of the throat.

— 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 2020

The Presentation of Our Lord

It is a good and just king who obeys his own laws. And at the time of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, God was doing just that. As the Incarnate Word, He conformed Himself to all those laws which were meant to honour 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 Ghost within him he knew this was the One. The veil was lifted from Simeon’s eyes, foreshadowing the future day when the Temple veil would be torn in two. The Infant in Simeon’s arms was an image of the Victim on the arms of the Cross. And the aged prophet’s words to the Virgin Mother would be fulfilled when she stood beneath the cross, entering into her Son’s suffering.

This is a continuing epiphany, an 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, giving us a foretaste of the Mass itself, in which Christ is offered to the Father.

There are three times in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ when a period of forty days figure in an important way: the feast of His Presentation in the Temple occurs forty days after His Nativity; the forty days in the wilderness, after which He was “presented” to the world and began His earthly ministry; and the forty days after His Resurrection, after which Christ was “presented” in heaven through His Ascension.

God “speaks His mysteries plain,” and His use of these periods of time tells us something of the nature of God; namely, that the Eternal Word has entered into time and space. At each “presentation” in the earthly life of Christ, it was not He alone who was presented, but He has taken our human nature through these things so that we might experience something similar.

And so we do. We have our own “presentation in the temple” in our baptism. As believing and active Catholics we have a “presentation to the world” as we seek to fulfill our vocation to work for the consecration of all creation in the name of Christ. And, God willing, we will have our “presentation in heaven” when God will say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of thy Lord.”

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.

31 January 2020

Stilling the storm

On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care if we perish?" And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?" And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?"

- St. Mark 4:35-41

In this passage from St. Mark’s Gospel we see Jesus and His disciples being caught out on the Sea of Galilee when a storm came up.  The disciples were fearful that they would drown. Although Jesus was sleeping, when they woke Him He rose up and commanded the wind and sea, and an immediate calm came.

What should we make of this scene? Did it really happen? Did the wind die down and the sea become calm simply at the word of Jesus? Yes. If we were there, that's what we would have experienced.

But there’s a further meaning in this account. When the Gospel writers speak of a boat, often they are also referring to the Church. In fact, this is one of the titles of the Church – the Barque, or Boat, of Peter - referring to the Catholic Church founded by Christ Himself.

And as the little boat referred to in the Gospel was being beaten by the storm and the waves, so the Church even today is being pounded by external forces and weakened by a few corrupt leaders. The Church, the Barque of Peter, is sailing in perilous waters. Like the disciples, there are many who are fearful. There are those who are tempted to believe that God has abandoned His people, and that because of our sins He has turned His back on us.

Yet we know that cannot be true. Though the gates of hell seem to stand against us, they cannot prevail. Our Lord promised it. Look back through the centuries at the number of times God’s promise has been fulfilled. And just as the disciples wondered, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him,” so we know exactly what sort of man our Saviour Christ is: He is God Incarnate, in complete control, and even though the storms around us seem very great, we need have no fear at all. At Christ’s Word, everything will be made calm.

30 January 2020

St. John Bosco

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 that 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.

28 January 2020

Soil and Seeds

Jesus taught many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to the crowds: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil; and when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty fold and sixty fold and a hundredfold." And he said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

-St. Mark 4:2-9

The time came when Jesus was no longer teaching in the synagogue, but rather out in the open by the Sea of Galilee. The basis of Christ’s method of teaching was the use of the parable. A parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” Something on earth is compared with something in heaven, so that the heavenly truth may be better grasped in light of the earthly illustration.

So we see Jesus is sitting in a boat just off the edge of the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He begins with the “here and now” and moves to the “there and then.” In other words, He started from a thing that was happening at that moment before their eyes. They could see the fields. They knew how seeds were planted, and how they would grow, depending upon the soil.

This was the very essence of our Lord’s teaching, that He started with the simplest things that even a child could understand, and led people to truths they had never realized before, showing that there is a direct relationship between earth and heaven.

It isn’t just possible - but indeed it is necessary - to see the things of God in common and ordinary things. Life is filled with things which can lead us to God, if we will only look at them with eyes of faith. The soil before their eyes became for the people a picture of their own lives as they heard it in Christ’s parable. The seed in the parable became the Word of God. And through this parable we can learn how to cultivate God’s truth, and so grow in God’s Kingdom.

27 January 2020

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.

Building God's Family

The mother of Jesus and his brethren came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brethren are outside, asking for you." And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brethren?" And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brethren! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother."  -St. Mark 3:31-35

In this brief passage from the Gospel we hear our Lord Jesus expanding the idea of kinship, of what it is to be part of a family, that it isn’t just a matter of flesh and blood. Now certainly, we should understand that Jesus wasn’t minimizing family ties. In fact, the teaching of the Church is very clear about the obligation that parents have to care for their children, and the obligation that children have to honour their parents. But here Jesus is developing and building upon this as He speaks about the larger family; namely, the family of God.

Our Lord teaches that true kinship is based upon a common obedience. He says, “...whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.” His band of disciples was a mixed group, as is the Church today, but we are bound together because we choose to obey Jesus as our master. People can truly come to love one another when they share a common love of the Lord Jesus Christ.

26 January 2020

Christ's power over evil...

The scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He is possessed by Beelzebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons." And he called them to him, and said to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may plunder his house. Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" - for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit."

- St. Mark 3:22-30

Those scribes weren’t questioning Christ’s power to exorcise demons. They fully accepted the fact that He had that power. What they got wrong was what they considered the source of that power to be. They were convinced that He had this power because He was in league with the head of all the demons, Satan himself. But they weren’t thinking logically, and Jesus had no difficulty in showing the fallacy in what they were saying.

The essence of exorcism is always that the exorcist calls upon a stronger power in order to drive out the weaker, and this is a basic premise of Catholic exorcism. So when those scribes said that Jesus was using the power of Satan to drive out demons, He makes the powerful point that if there is dissension in a kingdom, then that kingdom won’t last. If there are quarrels in a house, then that household won’t stand for long. So if Satan is making war with his own demons, then Satan would be undermining his own power.

He then goes on to emphasize His point: if you want to rob a strong man, you can’t do it until you subdue him. Once you’ve restrained him, then you can take his belongings. So it should be obvious to the scribes that Jesus certainly isn’t in league with Satan; rather, He was showing that Satan’s defenses were being destroyed. Indeed, someone stronger had arrived, and the conquest of Satan had begun in earnest. Jesus is showing us that there is a struggle between the power of evil and the power of God, and that the power of God will always win because it is definitely not a struggle between equals!

And then there are some very serious words about what has been called “the unforgivable sin.” Now to understand, it’s important to know the circumstances in which our Lord was speaking. When Jesus said, “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness…” it was when the scribes and Pharisees had claimed that the cures He had done were accomplished, not by the power of God, but by the power of the devil. They were religious leaders looking at at the incarnate love of God, and yet they were able to think that it was the power of Satan.

This, then, is the “unforgivable sin” - to call what is good, evil. To identify the source of good with the devil indicates a moral ruin which will not allow itself to be repaired. When an individual rejects the guidance of God, and loses the ability to recognize goodness when he sees it, having his moral values so reversed that to him evil is good and good is evil, he has made himself immune to being conscious of sin. In such a state, he cannot repent, and if he cannot repent then he cannot be forgiven. That is the “sin against the Holy Spirit,” and is “unforgivable,” not because God cannot forgive, but because such a person will not allow Him to forgive.

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 God, who through thy blessed Saint Angela didst cause a new household of Virgins consecrated to thy service to be established in thy Church: grant us, we pray thee, by her intercession, so to live after the manner of thy holy Angels; that, putting aside all things earthly, we may be found worthy to rejoice in 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.