29 December 2012

Martyrdom: Eyewitness account


The murderers of St. Thomas Becket entered Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170.  They called out for the archbishop, and finding him, they came at him with their swords.  When one of the swords was brandished at the head of Thomas, a young cleric named Edward Grim reached out to protect the archbishop.  As the sword came down, Edward's arm was severed.  He survived, however, and left this account of that terrible day.
After the monks took [Thomas] through the doors of the church, the four aforementioned knights followed behind with a rapid pace. A certain subdeacon, Hugh the Evil-clerk, named for his wicked offense and armed with their malice, went with them - showing no reverence for either God or the saints because by following them he condoned their deed. When the holy archbishop entered the cathedral the monks who were glorifying God abandoned vespers - which they had begun to celebrate for God - and ran to their father whom they had heard was dead but they saw alive and unharmed. They hastened to close the doors of the church in order to bar the enemies from slaughtering the bishop, but the wondrous athlete turned toward them and ordered that the doors be opened. "It is not proper," he said, "that a house of prayer, a church of Christ, be made a fortress since although it is not shut up, it serves as a fortification for his people; we will triumph over the enemy through suffering rather than by fighting - and we come to suffer, not to resist." Without delay the sacrilegious men entered the house of peace and reconciliation with swords drawn; indeed the sight alone as well as the rattle of arms inflicted not a small amount of horror on those who watched. And those knights who approached the confused and disordered people who had been observing vespers but, by now, had run toward the lethal spectacle exclaimed in a rage: "Where is Thomas Becket, traitor of the king and kingdom?" No one responded and instantly they cried out more loudly, "Where is the archbishop?" Unshaken he replied to this voice as it is written, "The righteous will be like a bold lion and free from fear," he descended from the steps to which he had been taken by the monks who were fearful of the knights and said in an adequately audible voice, "Here I am, not a traitor of the king but a priest; why do you seek me?" And [Thomas], who had previously told them that he had no fear of them added, "Here I am ready to suffer in the name of He who redeemed me with His blood; God forbid that I should flee on account of your swords or that I should depart from righteousness." With these words - at the foot of a pillar - he turned to the right. On one side was the altar of the blessed mother of God, on the other the altar of the holy confessor Benedict - through whose example and prayers he had been crucified to the world and his lusts; he endured whatever the murderers did to him with such constancy of the soul that he seemed as if he were not of flesh. The murderers pursued him and asked, "Absolve and restore to communion those you have excommunicated and return to office those who have been suspended." To these words [Thomas] replied, "No penance has been made, so I will not absolve them." "Then you," they said, "will now die and will suffer what you have earned." "And I," he said, "am prepared to die for my Lord, so that in my blood the church will attain liberty and peace; but in the name of Almighty God I forbid that you hurt my men, either cleric or layman, in any way." The glorious martyr acted conscientiously with foresight for his men and prudently on his own behalf, so that no one near him would be hurt as he hastened toward Christ. It was fitting that the soldier of the Lord and the martyr of the Savior adhered to His words when he was sought by the impious, "If it is me you seek, let them leave."

With rapid motion they laid sacrilegious hands on him, handling and dragging him roughly outside of the walls of the church so that there they would slay him or carry him from there as a prisoner, as they later confessed. But when it was not possible to easily move him from the column, he bravely pushed one [of the knights] who was pursuing and drawing near to him; he called him a panderer saying, "Don't touch me, Rainaldus, you who owes me faith and obedience, you who foolishly follow your accomplices." On account of the rebuff the knight was suddenly set on fire with a terrible rage and, wielding a sword against the sacred crown said, "I don't owe faith or obedience to you that is in opposition to the fealty I owe my lord king." The invincible martyr - seeing that the hour which would bring the end to his miserable mortal life was at hand and already promised by God to be the next to receive the crown of immortality - with his neck bent as if he were in prayer and with his joined hands elevated above - commended himself and the cause of the Church to God, St. Mary, and the blessed martyr St. Denis.

He had barely finished speaking when the impious knight, fearing that [Thomas] would be saved by the people and escape alive, suddenly set upon him and, shaving off the summit of his crown which the sacred chrism consecrated to God, he wounded the sacrificial lamb of God in the head; the lower arm of the writer was cut by the same blow. Indeed [the writer] stood firmly with the holy archbishop, holding him in his arms - while all the clerics and monks fled - until the one he had raised in opposition to the blow was severed. Behold the simplicity of the dove, behold the wisdom of the serpent in this martyr who presented his body to the killers so that he might keep his head, in other words his soul and the church, safe; nor would he devise a trick or a snare against the slayers of the flesh so that he might preserve himself because it was better that he be free from this nature! O worthy shepherd who so boldly set himself against the attacks of wolves so that the sheep might not be torn to pieces! and because he abandoned the world, the world - wanting to overpower him - unknowingly elevated him. Then, with another blow received on the head, he remained firm. But with the third the stricken martyr bent his knees and elbows, offering himself as a living sacrifice, saying in a low voice, "For the name of Jesus and the protection of the church I am ready to embrace death." But the third knight inflicted a grave wound on the fallen one; with this blow he shattered the sword on the stone and his crown, which was large, separated from his head so that the blood turned white from the brain yet no less did the brain turn red from the blood; it purpled the appearance of the church with the colors of the lily and the rose, the colors of the Virgin and Mother and the life and death of the confessor and martyr. The fourth knight drove away those who were gathering so that the others could finish the murder more freely and boldly. The fifth - not a knight but a cleric who entered with the knights - so that a fifth blow might not be spared him who had imitated Christ in other things, placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr and (it is horrible to say) scattered the brains with the blood across the floor, exclaiming to the rest, "We can leave this place, knights, he will not get up again."

But during all these incredible things the martyr displayed the virtue of perseverance. Neither his hand nor clothes indicated that he had opposed a murderer - as is often the case in human weakness; nor when stricken did he utter a word, nor did he let out a cry or a sigh, or a sign signaling any kind of pain; instead he held still the head that he had bent toward the unsheathed swords. As his body - which had been mingled with blood and brain - laid on the ground as if in prayer, he placed his soul in Abraham's bosom. Having risen above himself, without doubt, out of love for the Creator and wholly striving for celestial sweetness, he easily received whatever pain, whatever malice, the bloody murderer was able to inflict. And how intrepidly - how devotedly and courageously - he offered himself for the murder when it was made clear that for his salvation and faith this martyr should fight for the protection of others so that the affairs of the church might be managed according to its paternal traditions and decrees.
Below: the site of the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket.

28 December 2012

Built to honour a martyr...

I love this church. It's Sarum St. Thomas, and was built in 1220 by the builders of Salisbury Cathedral, so they'd have a place to worship while working on the cathedral. That always struck me as a beautiful thing, to know that these stonemasons and laborers and craftsmen were men of faith. And it's interesting to remember that St. Thomas Becket had been martyred only fifty years before, so when this church was dedicated to him, he was rather a "new" saint.

The Church of St. Thomas is actually prettier from the outside than this picture shows. This is a side view, and doesn't show the façade or the full tower. The present building is actually an extensive expansion and renovation of the original, and is built in the Perpendicular style, which was the very latest architectural fashion in the 1300's, allowing for huge expanses of glass windows. Although I used to go here often to pray, my strongest memory is both fond and terrifying. This was the place where I first officiated at Evensong as a young theological student. Those of us at the Theological College used to have to go out to preach or officiate at Morning or Evening Prayer, all as part of our practical training. Several of the churches around Salisbury had to endure this, and when my turn came it was Sarum St. Thomas that drew the short straw.

One of the finest examples of a medieval Doom painting is located over the arch of the sanctuary. It had been whitewashed over for the duration of several generations, but was finally uncovered and restored. Christ the Judge is the central figure, with lots of figures of the saved and of the damned. One of the more amusing aspects of this is that the painting apparently was given by a wealthy merchant. There are plenty of bishops amongst the damned, but there's not a single merchant headed to hell!



Holy Innocents


This fascinating (even though somewhat eccentric) painting is by William Holman Hunt, who began this work in the 1870's while visiting the Holy Land. It was completed in 1883-4. Depicting the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt, it shows the Holy Innocents accompanying them in spirit, joining what looks like a procession to Egypt at the very moments of their deaths. Hunt placed what he called "airy globes" at the feet of the children, representing "the streams of eternal life."

27 December 2012

The Cuzco tradition of art...

Throughout the parish buildings we have several different images of the Madonna and Child from the Cuzco tradition of religious art (Escuela Cuzqueña). This style originated in Peru the 16th century, having been brought by artists from Spain, and subsequently spread to other places throughout the Andes. Known for its lavish use of colour and gold leaf, there is a purposeful lack of perspective (giving the images a "flat" look), and the background usually incorporates local flora and fauna. The painting shown here hangs in the Academy lobby.

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist


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.

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, near the altar.

26 December 2012

Visit to the Christmas Crib


In the Name + of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

OUR FATHER.    HAIL, MARY.    GLORY BE.

V. The Word was made Flesh. R. And dwelt among us.

O Divine Redeemer Jesus Christ, kneeling before thy crib, I believe that thou art the God of infinite majesty, even though I see thee here as a helpless babe. Humbly I adore and thank thee for having so humbled thyself for my salvation as to will to be born in a stable. I thank thee for all thou didst wish to suffer for me in Bethlehem, for thy poverty and humility, for thy nakedness, tears, cold and sufferings.

Would that I could show thee that tenderness which thy Virgin Mother had toward thee, and love thee as she loved thee. Would that I could praise thee with the joy of the angels; that I could kneel before thee with the faith of Saint Joseph; the simplicity of the shepherds. Uniting myself with these first worshippers at the crib, I offer thee the homage of my heart, and I beg that thou wouldest be born spiritually in my soul. Give me, I pray thee, the virtues of thy blessed Nativity.

Fill me with that spirit of renuniciation, of poverty, of humility, which prompted thee to assume the weakness of our nature, and to be born amid destitution and suffering. Grant that from this day forward I may in all things seek thy greater glory, and may enjoy that peace promised to men of good will.

Sweet Babe of Bethlehem, I praise thee, I bless thee, I thank thee. I love thee with all my heart. I desire to worship thee, and to be like thee in all thy holy and blessed ways.

O Holy Mary, as I here adore thy Divine Son, pray for all little children, that they may be protected from all harm and danger, and that they may grow in grace and in favour with God and man.

We pray thee, O Father, that the holy joy of Christmas may fill our minds with thoughts of peace, and our hearts with a sense of thy great love: hasten the time when war being done away, we may love as brethren, and bring in the reign of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In the Name + of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The Final Word


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.

It was during a parish pilgrimage to Greece and Turkey some years ago that 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.

Just as the Incarnate Word was born in a cave, so it was there, in another cave on Patmos, 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.

Pray for our Deacons


On this Feast of St. Stephen,
pray for our Deacons,
Michael D'Agostino and James Orr.

ALMIGHTY God, who by thy Divine Providence hast appointed divers Orders of Ministers in thy Church, and didst inspire thine Apostles to choose into the Order of Deacons the first Martyr Saint Stephen, with others; Mercifully behold thy servants; replenish them so with the truth of thy Doctrine, and adorn them with innocency of life, that, both by word and good example, they may faithfully serve thee, to the glory of thy name, and the edification of thy Church; through the merits of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and for ever. Amen.

25 December 2012

Solemn Proclamation of Christmas


The twenty-fifth day of December.

In the year five-thousand one-hundred and ninety-nine from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;
In the year two-thousand nine-hundred and fifty-seven from the flood;
In the year two-thousand and fifty-one from the birth of Abraham;
In the year one-thousand five-hundred and ten from the going forth of the people of Israel out of Egypt under Moses;
In the year one-thousand and thirty-two from the anointing of David as king;
In the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel;
In the one-hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
In the year seven-hundred and fifty-two from the foundation of the city of Rome;
In the forty-second year of the reign of the Emperor Octavian Augustus;
In the sixth age of the world, while the whole earth was at peace —
JESUS CHRIST,
Eternal God and the Son of the eternal Father, willing to consecrate the world by His gracious coming, having been conceived of the Holy Ghost, and the nine months of His conception being now accomplished, was born in Bethlehem of Judah of the Virgin Mary, made man.

The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the flesh.

24 December 2012

The quiet hero...

St. Joseph, the most important man in the lives of our Lord and our Lady.

A contemporary account of Greccio


This is the contemporary account of that Christmas Eve in 1223, written by St. Thomas of Celano, who was a follower of St. Francis:

Francis’ highest intention, his chief desire, his uppermost purpose was to observe the holy Gospel in all things and through all things and, with perfect vigilance, with all zeal, with all the longing of his mind and all the fervor of his heart, "to follow the teaching and the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ." He would recall Christ’s word through persistent meditation and bring to mind his deeds through the most penetrating consideration. The humility of the incarnation and the charity of the passion occupied his memory particularly, to the extent that he wanted to think of hardly anything else.

What he did on the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ near the little town called Greccio in the third year before his glorious death should especially be noted and recalled with reverent memory. In that place there was a certain man by the name of John, of good reputation and an even better life, whom blessed Francis loved with a special love, for in the place where he lived he held a noble and honorable position in as much as he had trampled upon the nobility of his birth and pursued nobility of soul.

Blessed Francis sent for this man, as he often did, about fifteen days before the birth of the Lord, and he said to him: "If you want us to celebrate the present fast of our Lord at Greccio, go with haste and diligently prepare what I tell you. For I wish to do something that will recall to memory the little Child who was born in Bethlehem and set before our bodily eyes in some way the inconveniences of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he lay upon the hay where he had been placed.” When the good and faithful man heard these things, he ran with haste and prepared in that place all the things the saint had told him.

But the day of joy drew near, the time of great rejoicing came. The brothers were called from their various places. Men and women of that neighborhood prepared with glad hearts, according to their means, candles and torches to light up that night that has lighted up all the days and years with its gleaming star. At length the saint of God came, and finding all things prepared, he saw it and was glad. the manger was prepared, the hay had been brought, the ox and ass were led in. There simplicity was honored, poverty was exalted, humility was commended, and Greccio was made, as it were, a new Bethlehem. The night was lighted up like the day, and it delighted men and beasts. The people came and were filled with new joy over the new mystery. The woods rang with the voices of the crowd and the rocks made answer to their jubilation. The brothers sang, paying their debt of praise to the Lord, and the whole night resounded with their rejoicing. The saint of God stood before the manger, uttering sighs, overcome with love, and filled with a wonderful happiness. The solemnities of the Mass were celebrated over the manger and the priest experienced a new consolation.

The saint of God was clothed with the vestments of the deacon, for he was a deacon, and he sang the holy Gospel in a sonorous voice. And his voice was a strong voice, a sweet voice, a clear voice, a sonorous voice, inviting all to the highest rewards. Then he preached to the people standing about, and he spoke charming words concerning the nativity of the poor king and the little town of Bethlehem. Frequently too, when he wished to call Christ Jesus, he would call him simply the Child of Bethlehem, aglow with overflowing love for him; and speaking the word Bethlehem, his voice was more like the bleating of a sheep. His mouth was filled more with sweet affection than with words. Besides, when he spoke the name Child of Bethlehem or Jesus, his tongue licked his lips, as it were, relishing and savoring with pleased palate the sweetness of the word. The gifts of the Almighty were multiplied there, and a wonderful vision was seen by a certain virtuous man. For he saw a little child lying in the manger lifeless, and he saw the holy man of God go up to it and rouse the child as from a deep sleep. This vision was not unfitting, for the Child Jesus had been forgotten in the hearts of many; but, by the working of his grace, he was brought to life again through his servant St. Francis and stamped upon their fervent memory. At length the solemn night celebration was brought to a close, and each one returned to his home with holy joy.

The hay that had been placed in the manger was kept, so that the Lord might save the beasts of burden and other animals through it as he multiplied his holy mercy. And in truth it so happened that many animals throughout the surrounding region that had various illnesses were freed from their illnesses after eating of this hay. Indeed, even women laboring for a long time in a difficult birth, were delivered safely when some of this hay was placed upon them; and a large number of persons of both sexes of that place, suffering from various illnesses, obtained the health they sought. later, the place on which the manger had stood was made sacred by a temple of the Lord, and an altar was built in honour of the most blessed father Francis over the manger and a church was built, so that where once the animals had eaten the hay, there in the future men would eat unto health of soul and body the flesh of the Lamb without blemish and without spot, our Lord Jesus Christ, who in highest and ineffable love gave himself to us, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, God, eternally glorious, forever and ever. Amen. Alleluia, Alleluia.

23 December 2012

Where the heart is...

Advent IV

We beseech thee, Almighty God, to purify our consciences by thy daily visitation, that when thy Son our Lord cometh he may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

21 December 2012

Young Men's Schola

A few of The Atonement Academy Upper School students, chanting "O Sapientia" and the Magnificat, in the Chapel of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Our Lady of the Atonement Church, San Antonio, Texas.

Schedule for Christmas


CHRISTMAS EVE

Sung Mass at 5:00 p.m.

Presentation of Christmas Music at 11:00 p.m.

Solemn Proclamation of Christmas and
Procession to the Creche, followed by
Solemn High Mass at 11:30 p.m.


CHRISTMAS DAY

Low Mass at 8:00 a.m.
Sung Mass at 10:00 a.m.

15 December 2012

Peace which passes understanding...


One of the things distinguishing mankind from the rest of creation is his desire to understand things beyond himself. Perhaps it is because he is created in God’s image, who is the Lord of all knowledge and wisdom.

We do know a great deal about the world around us, and we are able to grasp the transcendent truths which should guide our lives. We can see the smallest part of creation through a microscope, and we can view the farthest horizons through a telescope. We can capture and categorize immense amounts of knowledge -- but there is one thing that eludes any scientific or philosophical system: namely, finding that peace which comes from God. And when dark things happen, which threaten to remove all sense of peace, remember the foundation on which we rest: our Lord Jesus Christ and His love.

St. Paul wrote to the Philippians that “the peace of God, which passes all understanding” is the thing which will keep our hearts and minds in Christ. It’s humbling, that the only thing which really matters is the one thing that we will never completely understand.

14 December 2012

"He shall come again..."


As Christmas draws closer, with all of its preparation, it’s important for us to remind ourselves of the nature of the liturgical season of Advent.  These weeks are not simply a “countdown” to December 25th; rather, they have a character and message of their own.  Our main focus should be on the Second Coming of Christ, when He will return to be our Judge.  This means that we should be concentrating on the reform of our own lives, seeking ways to better reflect the Gospel demands.  Because of the serious and somewhat somber nature of the season, we do not make our church look festive; rather, our surroundings should assist us in our Advent examination.  During these next few weeks, if you see other churches already decorated for Christmas, realize that they are "out of step" with the mind of the Church.  Don’t be concerned that our church shows no evidence of the coming Solemnity – it’s not supposed to -- but when Christmas does come, it will be worth the wait!

Merciful God, who sent thy messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

11 December 2012

Fr. Longenecker's "The Vicar"

If you are looking for a delightful story, as English as a cuppa and a digestive biscuit, look no further than Fr. Dwight Longenecker's wonderful "The Vicar of Great Snoring (The Adventures of Humphrey Blytherington)."

The Vicar has been an on-going character who appears from time to time on Father's blog, "Standing on my Head," and he's so endearing -- so befuddled -- that he really deserves to be fleshed out. This little story begins to do just that. In fact, it wouldn't be a bad idea to go to the blog and read some of the adventures of the Vicar.

Fr. Longenecker is a convert clergyman from Anglicanism, a Catholic priest, and a brilliant writer. I heartily recommend this, his latest offering. I know you'll enjoy it!  You can order it from Amazon.com at this link.

09 December 2012

Don't miss this!


Immaculate Conception Sermon


It was Archbishop Fulton Sheen who famously said, “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church…” He was referring, of course, not simply to the institution, but more to what the Catholic Church teaches.

In my work with converts to the Faith, there are usually certain predictable teachings that are like “red flags” to those who are inquiring about Catholic teaching. Along with issues such as Papal Infallibility, one of the biggest “red flags” tends to be the very dogma we’re celebrating today: the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Let’s look first at what this doctrine is not. It does not refer to the conception of Christ in the womb of Mary, nor does it mean that Mary was somehow miraculously conceived. Mary was conceived in the normal way as the natural fruit of the marriage of Ss. Joachim and Anne, but at the moment of her conception she was preserved from original sin and its stain.

As we know, the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, became their bitter legacy to us. Original sin deprives us of sanctifying grace, and the stain of original sin corrupts our human nature. But by God’s grace, given at the moment of Mary’s conception, she was preserved from these defects, and so from the first instant of her existence Mary had the fullness of sanctifying grace, and was unburdened by the corrupt nature caused by original sin. In this way, Mary becomes a “second Eve,” conceived in the same state of original purity as God intended for mankind.

Why would God do this? We state the reason every time we say the Creed. When we profess that Jesus Christ “was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,” we’re proclaiming that God took human flesh upon Himself. And from whom did He take that flesh? From Mary. So the question must be asked: would God – who can have no part in sin – take upon Himself that which was fallen, stained and corrupt? The answer is obvious: of course He wouldn't. So, as we can see already, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception has as much to do with our Lord Jesus Christ and His Incarnation, as it does with the Blessed Virgin Mary. In fact, as we explore the various Marian dogmas, we see this consistently. What God does in and through Mary finds its ultimate purpose in Jesus Christ.

We can find a strong implicit reference to the Immaculate Conception in St. Luke 1:28. In the original Greek text, when the archangel Gabriel is addressing the young Virgin Mary, the word used is translated to say that she is “full of grace.” In some translations of scripture, Gabriel’s words are translated as “highly favored one,” but that translation doesn’t capture the best and fullest meaning. The original Greek clearly indicates that Mary was filled with grace in the past, and the effect of it continues into the present. Understanding that, it’s apparent that the grace received by Mary didn’t come about through Gabriel’s visit; rather, she was always filled with grace.

Here’s another point used by those who doubt the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception: They ask, “What about the words Mary spoke in her Magnificat, when she says, “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”? If she wasn’t a sinner, why would she need a Savior?” Remember, Mary was a human being, a descendant of Adam and Eve. When she was conceived, she was certainly subject to the contracting of original sin, like all of us. But she was preserved from it – and how so? By grace. Mary was redeemed by the grace of Christ, but in a special way; that is, by anticipation. There’s a helpful analogy which has been used by the Church to illustrate this very fact: a man falls into a deep pit, and somebody reaches down and pulls him out. It would be true to say that the man was “saved” from the pit. A woman is walking by that same pit, and she’s about to fall in, but at that very moment someone reaches out and pulls her back from the edge. She also has been “saved” from the pit. And in fact, she didn’t even get dirty like the poor man did, who actually fell in. God, who is outside of time, applied Christ’s saving grace to Mary before she was stained by original sin, rather like the woman in the story who didn’t get dirty because she was prevented from falling into the pit. So yes, Mary had a Savior, and He is none other than Christ, her Son and her Lord.

Then we’ve got Romans 3:23, where St. Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Did St. Paul mean this statement to be understood in an all-inclusive, no-one-excluded way? Well, let’s consider. First of all, we certainly have to exclude Jesus Himself. Even though He was fully man, we know He didn’t sin. And what about a new-born baby? If sin is the deliberate disobedience to God’s law, could we say that a little baby has committed sin? I don’t think so. Although St. Paul was certainly stating the truth about mankind, his purpose in writing this section of Romans wasn’t to discuss the possibility of exceptions; rather he was constructing an important argument about law and grace, justification and redemption. If anybody wants to apply Romans 3:23 to Mary, then they’d have to apply it to babies and young children, too.

Sometimes people object to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception using this argument: “if we’re saying Mary was without sin, then we’re making her equal to God, because only God is without sin.” But we need to remember that in the beginning, Adam and Eve were created without sin, but they weren’t equal to God. The angels were created without sin, and in fact, from Scripture we know that only some of the angels sinned – Lucifer and his friends – but that means a lot of angels never sinned. And they certainly are not equal to God.

Tragically, after the fall of our first parents, sin became commonplace and even expected. In fact, think about how often someone will say, after doing something wrong, “Well, I’m only human,” as though sin is perfectly natural, and somehow even defines humanity. Actually, sin is unnatural. We weren’t created to sin; we were created to know God, and to love Him, and to spend eternity with Him in heaven. In Mary, because of the Immaculate Conception, we see a human being as God intends all of us to be. What was maimed by the first Adam and Eve, is restored by the Second Adam and the Second Eve.

So then, what about the Immaculate Conception? It is logical. It is scriptural. And it is definitely an essential ingredient in God’s loving act of redemption.

08 December 2012

Advent II

Merciful God, who didst send thy messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Immaculate Conception


I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; yea, my soul shall be joyful in my God: for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation: He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.
O God, who in the foreknowledge of thy Son’s most precious death didst consecrate for him a dwelling-place by the spotless Conception of the Blessed Virgin: mercifully grant that she, who was preserved from all defilement, may evermore pray for us until we attain unto thee in purity of heart; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who livest and reignest with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

03 December 2012

St. Francis Xavier


This account of St. Francis Xavier is excerpted from A Saint A Day by Berchmans Bittle, O.F.M.Cap.

St. Francis Xavier, one of the Church's most illustrious missionaries, came from a noble Basque family in Spain. He studied at the University of Paris, where he taught philosophy after obtaining his degree of master of arts. Here he met Ignatius of Loyola and was enrolled as one of the first seven Jesuits. They decided to go to the Holy Land, but the war between the Turks and Venice prevented this, so for a time Francis labored at Padua, Bologna, and Rome.

In 1540 Ignatius chose him as the first missionary to the Portuguese East Indies. Francis sailed from Lisbon armed with four papal briefs making him nuncio with full powers and recommending him to the Eastern princes. He landed at Goa in India and began a vast apostolate lasting over ten years. Here he instructed the adults, gathered the children by ringing a bell in the streets, catechized them, and also visited the hospitals and prisons. He then turned to the native Indians, teaching the simple folk by versifying Catholic doctrine and fitting the verses to popular tunes. He then went on to Cape Comorin and began the conversion of the Paravas, some days baptizing so many that at night he could not raise his arm from fatigue. Then to Travencore where he founded forty-five churches in various villages. Then to Malacca in Malaya, and for eighteen months from island to island, preaching, instructing, baptizing.

On his return to Goa he heard of the vast harvest of souls awaiting the laborers in Japan and he set out for this field with several companions, arriving at Kagoshima in 1549. He set himself to learn the language and started to preach and teach with such success that twelve years later his converts were found still retaining their first fervor. In 1551 he returned to Malacca to revisit his converts in India. Now a new goal loomed up before his eyes—pagan China, but he was not to reach it.

Arriving on the island of Sancian at the mouth of the Canton river, he became ill of a fever and would have died abandoned on the burning sands of the shore if a poor man named Alvarez had not taken him to his hut. Here he lingered for two weeks, praying between spells of delirium, and finally died, his eyes fixed with great tenderness on his crucifix. He was buried in a shallow grave and his body covered with quicklime, but when exhumed three months later it was found fresh and incorrupt. It was taken to Goa where it is still enshrined. St. Francis Xavier was proclaimed patron of foreign missions and of all missionary works by Pope St. Pius X.

Almighty God, who willest to be glorified in thy saints, and didst raise up thy servant St. Francis Xavier to be a light in the world: Shine, we pray thee, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth thy praise, who hast called us out of darkness into thy marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

30 November 2012

Spend time with Our Lord...


In the Sacred Heart Chapel
beginning at 7:30 a.m. each Friday,
continuing until 7:15 a.m. on Sunday.

27 November 2012

The Judge of the quick and the dead

We're getting close to the beginning of Advent. It's a time of preparation -- but not simply preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord. It's also a time when we contemplate such things as death, judgement, heaven and hell, and we prepare ourselves to meet Christ on the last day, when He will judge the quick and the dead. Behind our high altar, in the center panel of the triptych, is a painting of Christ the Judge, and this was a frequent theme in medieval churches.


One of the finest of these is the great Doom Painting over the chancel arch in St. Thomas, Salisbury, England. Painted in 1475, it was whitewashed at the time of the Anglican break with Rome, and then rediscovered and restored in the 19th century. This is the largest such painting in England, and is in the parish church I often visited during my time as a student in Salisbury.




Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility: that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal : Through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and for ever. Amen.

26 November 2012

The Widow's Mite

"The Widow's Mite" by James Tissot

[Jesus] looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins. And he said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had."
-St. Luke 21:1-4
We know exactly where Jesus was when he said this. In the Temple there were the various Courts – the Court of the Gentiles, the Court of the Women, the Court of the Israelites, the Court of the Priests, all gathered around the Holy of Holies. A person would go through these various Courts to get to the next one, as far as he was allowed. In this particular passage, Jesus was speaking in the Court of the Women. Men could be there, but women could go no further. Located there were thirteen collecting boxes known as the Trumpets. They were shaped like trumpets with the narrow part at the top and the wider part at the foot. Each one was assigned to offerings for a different purpose - for the wood that was used to burn the sacrifice, for the incense that was burned on the altar, for the upkeep of the golden vessels, and so on. It was near these Trumpets that Jesus was sitting.

He looked up and saw several people putting their offerings into the Trumpets, including a poor widow. All she had in the world was two “lepta.” A lepton was the smallest of all coins; the name means "the thin one." It was worth only a fraction of a penny, but Jesus said that it far out-valued all the other offerings, because it was everything she had.

He was calling attention to some important points. When it comes to a gift, there’s the spirit in which it’s given. A gift which is given unwillingly, a gift which is given with a grudge, a gift given for the sake of prestige or of self-display loses a lot of its value. The only real gift is that which is the outflow of the loving heart, something given because the giver cannot help it.

And there’s the sacrifice which the gift involves. Something which is virtually nothing to one person may be a huge amount to somebody else. That day in the Temple, the gifts of the rich, as they flung their offerings into the Trumpets, didn’t really cost them very much; but the two lepta of the widow cost her everything she had. The rich had probably calculated how much they could afford; she gave with a kind of reckless generosity which could give no more.

Giving does not begin to be real giving until it hurts. A gift shows our love only when we have had to do without something or have had to work doubly hard in order to give it. This was the point Christ was making.

24 November 2012

Christ the King


The King of the Universe, dragged before a minor earthly ruler, was asked the question, "Are you a king, then?" It was such a simple question, and yet so fertile. Just as a seed bursting with the beginning of life when it falls into good soil is able to produce a harvest beyond imagining, so Christ's answer to Pilate's question (if it had been met with some glimmer of grace, some hint of human charity) might have lifted the life of that petty potentate into the upper reaches of God's glory, when our Lord told him "My kingdom is not of this world..." But Pilate could not grasp that, and so instead has been immortalized with the phrase, "...suffered under Pontius Pilate..." which describes the death of the King he could never understand.

We, however, have been given to know that kingdom "not of this world," and so have been spared the blindness which afflicted Pilate. In the cross we see a throne; in the thorns we see a crown; in the wounded side we see a gateway to Christ's eternal kingdom.
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in thy well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Holy Martyrs of Vietnam

The Martyrs of Vietnam consist of 117 who died for the Faith. Although the martyrdoms did not take place at the same time, they were all canonized by Pope John Paul II on June 19, 1988.

Within this group, 96 were Vietnamese, 11 were Spaniards, and 10 were French. There were 8 bishops, 50 priests and 59 lay Catholics. Certain individual martyrs were mentioned by name in the process of canonization: Andrew Dung-Lac, a diocesan priest; Thomas Tran-Van-Thien, a seminarian; Emmanuel Le-Van-Pung, the father of a family; Jerome Hermosilla and Valentine Berrio-Ochoa, both bishops; and John Theophane Venard.
O God, by whose providence the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church: Grant that we who remember before thee St. Andrew Dung-Lac and his Companions, the Holy Martyrs of Vietnam, may, like them, be steadfast in our faith in Jesus Christ, to whom they gave obedience even unto death, and by their sacrifice brought forth a plentiful harvest; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

21 November 2012

Thanksgiving Day Prayer


Almighty and gracious Father, we give thee thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we beseech thee, faithful stewards of thy great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

20 November 2012

Presentation of Mary in the Temple


St. Joachim and St. Anne, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, had prayed for a child, and part of their prayer was the promise that they would dedicate their child to the service of God. Little did they know at that time what great service would be given by their infant daughter.

When Mary reached the age of three, her parents fulfilled their vow. Together with their family and friends, they took her to the Temple. The High Priest and other Temple priests greeted the procession, and tradition says that the child was brought before the fifteen high steps which led to the sanctuary. It is said that the child Mary made her way to the stairs and, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, ascended all fifteen steps, coming to the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest could enter. Tradition then says that the High Priest, acting outside every rule he knew, led the Holy Virgin into the Holy of Holies, astonishing everyone present in the Temple. So it was that she, whose own womb would become the Holy of Holies, came into the presence of the God Whom she would bear.

St. Joachim and St. Anne returned to their home, but the Handmaid of the Lord remained in the Temple until her espousal, where she was prepared by God and protected by angels.

O God, who on this day didst vouchsafe that blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, the dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost, should be presented in the Temple: Grant, we beseech thee; that by her intercession we may be found worthy to be presented unto thee in the temple of thy glory; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

19 November 2012

Reprint of an old piece...


I wrote this several years ago, but someone asked about it the other day, so I dug around and found it. Here it is -- it's called "God, a Book and a Boy."

I grew up on a farm in Connecticut. It wasn’t like one of those high-class places in the movies. No pristine white rail fences, just plain old barbed wire to keep the livestock off the road. The house had sections which pre-dated the American Revolution, but it couldn’t have passed as elegant. It was just comfortable, as well-used farm houses are comfortable.

We shared it with my grandparents. Families used to do that sort of thing. They lived in one part, and we had ours. Visiting them was as easy as walking through a door from our front room into their kitchen, and it was a route I knew well as a child.

In my grandparents' part of the house there was what was known as the back room, which had been a bedroom when my father was growing up. The reason for its demotion from bedroom to back room was evident: its location in the northeast corner of the house gave it little protection from howling winter winds, and since insulation was nearly unknown when the house was built, it was pretty darned cold in there. Certainly no place someone would want for a bedroom, if it could be helped.

Its changed status meant that it became a repository for everything that had no other place to be put. It became my treasure-trove. Old pictures, Nana’s unwanted knick-knacks, boxes with forgotten contents, all of it found its final resting place in there.

There were two things in the back room that I came close to coveting. One was an oval-shaped bas-relief carving of the Descent of Christ from the Cross. How such a thing found its way into the possession of a protestant family, I’ll never know. But I loved it, and when I asked my grandmother if I could have it, for some reason she told me that if I was ever ordained I could claim it. I was, and I did, and it hangs in my rectory to this day. The second thing was a book, a very particular book which had belonged to my English great-grandmother, who had been staunchly Anglican. It was a combined Book of Common Prayer (1662 edition) and the Holy Bible (King James Version), and although my family subsequently wandered off into Methodism, they had kept this book because it had been Nana’s. Its leather binding was cracked, but not badly. There was an ornate brass cross attached to its front cover. I wanted it very much, and it was given to me. So began my love affair with the formality of Anglican prayers and with the Holy Scriptures.

It seems odd that a ten year old boy would be able to find something of God within cracked leather and yellowed pages, but I did. It was as close as I had to a Real Presence, and my inability to understand all the words emphasized the Mystery I was seeking. There would seem to be little use for “A Table to Find Easter-Day; From the Present Time till the Year 2199 Inclusive,” or for “Forms of Prayer for the Anniversary of the day of the Accession of the Reigning Sovereign,” or even for “A Table of Kindred and Affinity,” although it was fascinating to learn that one’s mother's father's wife may not marry her mother's mother's husband. But for the rest of it, these were my first faltering steps towards Catholic beauty, Catholic order, Catholic truth.

The prayers did it for me. And the words of the Scriptures. I would speak them sotto voce in my room, just because the words sounded so beautiful, even to my ignorant ears. I suppose, by most external points of reference, it was an odd thing for a child to do. Certainly, I had plenty of friends, activities at school, involvement in the local church, duties at home. But my soul had a hungry corner that would not stop its demands until it was satisfied. I had never heard Augustine’s words about the restless heart, but I surely knew what he meant.

One of the wonders of the Catholic faith is that it reaches into such unexpected places and in such extraordinary ways to draw the unsuspecting to itself. Indeed, this is its catholicity. It feeds both farm boy and pope.

18 November 2012

Dedication of St. Peter & St. Paul


Almighty and eternal Father, who out of the living stones of thy chosen people hast made a temple meet for thy glory; Multiply, we beseech thee, thy blessings upon the Church, that thy faithful people may draw ever closer to the new and heavenly Jerusalem; 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 November 2012

Submission? You bet!


Each year a large number of Anglicans make the journey into the full communion of the Catholic Church through our parish. In fact, a husband and wife were received yesterday, and at this time there are several more receiving instruction.

Every once in a while I’ll hear from clergy serving in any of the several local Anglican communities. Sometimes they’re interested in becoming Catholic; more often they’re interested in debating. Obviously they don’t want to lose people from their communities, so I don’t blame them for trying to make their case. Some of them see no need to “become Catholic” because they’re quite certain they already have everything necessary for being Catholic. They would entertain the idea of “being in communion with Rome,” as long as it didn’t involve having to believe what the Roman Catholic Church teaches. In fact, many of them would hold that those Anglicans who intend to become Roman Catholics have sold their souls – to what or to whom, I’m not certain – and words like “capitulation” and “submission” are used fairly often.

I always end up agreeing with them on that point. Becoming a Catholic does require capitulation and submission – to God, that is. It was, after all, God’s idea that the Church be one. It was God’s idea that St. Peter should be the Rock on which His Church would be built. It was God who said, “This is my Body,” and “This is the chalice of my Blood.” It’s all there in the Gospel, from the mouth of the Lord Jesus Himself, so why wouldn’t we take those statements as true? In fact, it was God’s idea that the Blessed Virgin Mary should be preserved from the stain of original sin so that the flesh He took would be unblemished by sin. And since sin results in death, it’s logical that she who was conceived in the extraordinary situation of original purity should not undergo the ordinary circumstances of death. Likewise, it was God who said that those whom He had joined together, “let not man put asunder.” He also said, “Thou shalt do no murder,” and surely He intended the commandment to be applied to the innocent unborn. These things, and more, are part of the revealed Catholic faith. Who wouldn’t want to submit to such obvious truths?

And I have to ask those who warn against capitulation and submission to these and other matters of faith…what are they offering? Some “pure” form of Anglicanism? Catholicism divorced from the Petrine office established by Christ? A pick-and-choose form of Christianity tailor-made for personal tastes? Actually, that doesn't seem to be working out so well. Pride doesn’t make for a stable foundation, and the private judgement of what’s true doesn’t make very reliable glue.

When he was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey spoke of the “provisional” nature of Anglicanism. In 1989, then-Archbishop Robert Runcie was addressing the North American Conference of Cathedral Deans when he said, “Our vocation as Anglicans is to put ourselves out of business.” Entering into full Catholic communion through the Pastoral Provision or the Ordinariate isn’t so much a matter of going out of business; rather, it’s moving the best treasures to a safe location, where the roof doesn’t leak and the walls aren’t crumbling.

16 November 2012

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

St. Elizabeth lived in the 13th century, and she was a princess, the daughter of the King of Hungary. She married the young man she had loved for as long as she could remember, Ludwig of Thuringia, and their life together was blessed with three children. St. Elizabeth took seriously her duties as wife and mother, and because of her deep love for Christ, she took seriously also her duty toward the poor. She embraced the words of our Lord, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you have done it to me.” She put herself at the service of widows and orphans, she cared for the sick and the needy. Her life was really an expression of her deep love – love for God, love for her husband and children, and love for those who had no one else to love them. Hers was a very beautiful life, and no doubt she would have liked it to go on like that forever.

But sometimes, things can change dramatically – we might not understand why, but it’s always for God’s purpose. St. Elizabeth experienced an especially painful change in her life when her husband, whom she so deeply loved, went off to the Crusades, and there he was killed. Elizabeth was devastated – and not only was she sorrowing for the death of her husband, but her husband’s family, who never approved of her charitable works, cast her and her children out of the family home, and left her with no means of support.

Here was Elizabeth, a princess and the widow of a nobleman, reduced to poverty, wandering with her children for a place to live, until a poor man whom she had helped previously was able to offer her shelter in an abandoned pig sty. Her faith sustained her – not only was she not bitter, but she put in even more effort to caring for the poor, with a renewed feeling for them, since she and her children were now counted among them. She supported herself and her children, as well as her works of charity, by spinning wool and making cloth to sell. She exhausted herself, and was only 24 years old when she died. Her feast day is November 16th.

Almighty God, by whose grace thy servant St. Elizabeth of Hungary recognized and honoured Jesus in the poor of this world: Grant that we, following her example, may with love and gladness serve those in any need or trouble, in the Name and for the sake of Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

15 November 2012

St. Margaret of Scotland


St. Margaret lived in the 11th century, and she was the great-niece of St. Edward the Confessor. She was a Saxon princess, but she was raised in Hungary in exile. Eventually, she and her parents returned to England, but she was forced flee once again after the Battle of Hastings. She went to the court of Malcolm, who was the King of Scotland.

Malcolm was an unrefined man, and Scotland was a wild place – but Margaret and Malcolm fell in love, and they were married. Margaret, in her gentle way and through her exemplary life, lived her Catholic faith in such a way that Malcolm and the people of Scotland gradually changed their ways to be more conformed to Christ’s teaching.

Margaret was a model mother and queen who brought up her eight children in an atmosphere of great devotion and she continued worked hard to improve the lives of the people of Scotland. She had a particular love for the poor, and provided for them out of her own resources, very often serving them herself.
O God, who didst call thy servant St. Margaret of Scotland to an earthly throne that she might advance thy heavenly kingdom, and didst give her zeal for thy Church and love for thy people: Mercifully grant that we who commemorate her this day may be fruitful in good works, and attain to the glorious crown of thy saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation


Over the years of his ministry, a priest hears many thousands of confessions. It is one of his great privileges, to pronounce the words of absolution which free a penitent from those chains which have bound him. There is perhaps no other time that the priest feels so deeply the sense of that fatherhood which gives him his title.

A child of God speaks the words, “Bless me, father, for I have sinned…” and in the quiet of the confessional the power of Christ is stirred for the renewal of the soul. That which was broken is healed. What was so heavy is lifted. It is its own magnum mysterium as new birth is once more imparted to the penitent. The Divine hears through the human ear. The fruits of Calvary are applied, and it is as though the waters of baptism flow once again over the sullied soul.

In the confessional we are made young again. Just as a child is brought to the font to be cleansed of the stain of original sin, so in the confessional the soul is presented to our Lord for Him to do His work of forgiveness. And when it is done, those happy words: “Go in peace, for the Lord has taken away your sins.”

The Doctrine of Papal Infallibility


Amongst the Catholic doctrines most troublesome to many Protestants (and many Orthodox, too) is that of papal infallibility. Perhaps it conjures up visions of flabella and the sedia gestatoria, or a not-so-subtle Vatican form of mind control, or even an abuse of our valued freedom of conscience.

Actually, it’s a rather straightforward sign of God’s love for His Church.

First of all, papal infallibility is not to be confused with impeccability. Most people understand this, but there are some who think Catholics are supposed to believe that the Pope cannot sin. Infallibility has nothing to do with the absence of sin. It’s a charism – a gift – which God imparts. Although it is rightly referred to as “papal infallibility," nonetheless it is something shared with the whole body of Catholic bishops. Although they do not have this charism individually, they do exercise the gift when they teach in doctrinal unity with the Successor of St. Peter. This is defined in Lumen Gentium, n. 25:
Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peter’s successor, and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith.

Despite the myths held by some, the Pope doesn’t wake up in the morning and think to himself, “I think I shall proclaim something infallibly today,” nor are Catholics inhabitants of an ecclesiastical Wonderland in which they are required to believe “six impossible things before breakfast.”

So what is papal infallibility? It is defined in the First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, Pastor Aeternus, Chapter 4, n. 9:
Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.

This was confirmed by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council in Lumen Gentium, n. 25:
And this infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded. And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals. And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment. For then the Roman Pontiff is not pronouncing judgment as a private person, but as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the charism of infallibility of the Church itself is individually present, he is expounding or defending a doctrine of Catholic faith.

The doctrine of papal infallibility did not abruptly appear in the 19th century. It was found implicitly from the earliest days of the Church, and indeed has its foundation in Holy Scripture itself. In St. John’s Gospel (21:15-17) Christ makes it clear to St. Peter that he, Peter, is to tend the flock and feed the sheep; in St. Luke’s Gospel (22:32) our Lord tells Peter that He will pray for him, so that his faith will not fail, and for him to strengthen the other apostles; in St. Matthew’s Gospel (16:18) Christ proclaims Peter to be the Rock on which He would build His Church.

The Church, founded by our divine Saviour, was commanded by Him to teach everything that He had revealed to His apostles (St. Matthew 28:20), and He promised them that they would be guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit (St. John 16:13). As the teaching authority of the Church, along with the primacy of St. Peter and his successors, was more and more comprehended, there came a clearer understanding of the protection God provides through the gift of infallibility. From the scriptural testimony, on through such witnesses as St. Cyprian of Carthage and St. Augustine of Hippo, it is clear the Church has always understood that God reveals and safeguards His truth through this charism.

There is an erroneous idea that a formal statement of infallible truth marks the occasion when the Church only began to teach a particular doctrine – in other words, that belief in papal infallibility began in only in 1870. However, infallible pronouncements are usually made only when some doctrine has been called into question. Most doctrines have never been doubted by the large majority of Catholics, and so have never required a formal and infallible statement. We see this even with a cursory reading of the Catechism, where most of the doctrines outlined in its pages require no corresponding papal document to confirm what is simply part of the ordinary magisterium of the Church.

If we scratch the surface of most arguments against the doctrine of papal infallibility, we will often find that there is confusion between infallibility and impeccability (“look at the sinful popes in history”), along with an independent streak of protestantism (“no one is going to tell me what I have to believe”). I find it to be both amazing and amusing, that those who are most vociferous against papal infallibility present their arguments with a certitude which could only be described as infallible.

It takes no great leap of faith to accept the fact that the God who created the universe and raises the dead, would also ensure that His children are given the truth. That He protects His Vicar on earth from solemnly defining something as true, if it’s really false, not only harmonizes with Scripture, but it is reflected in the unbroken history of the Church. We should derive great comfort from the doctrine of infallibility, because it’s a beautiful act of God’s divine love.

14 November 2012

St. Albert the Great


The life of St. Albert covered almost all of the 13th century. His father was a very wealthy German nobleman, and Albert was able to receive an excellent education at the best universities of his day. He was a philosopher, a bishop, a prolific writer, and one of the most influential scientists of the Middle Ages. We all know the phrase, “a know-it-all” – but St. Albert really was, and in the best sense. He was able to compile a complete system of all the knowledge of his day. The subjects he encompassed included astronomy, mathematics, economics, logic, rhetoric, ethics, politics, metaphysics and all branches of natural science. It would take him more than 20 years to complete this phenomenal presentation.

St. Albert taught that there was no discrepancy between theology and science; rather, they were simply different aspects of a harmonious whole. Among his most important contributions to the development of scientific thought in the Middle Ages was helping the scholarly community to recognize the value of Aristotle’s philosophy, and he had as one of his chief students, St. Thomas Aquinas. It was Thomas who carried St. Albert’s teaching out to its logical conclusions.

St. Albert is the only scholar of his time to have earned the title "Great" -- a title that was applied to him even during his lifetime.
O God, who gavest grace unto blessed Albert, thy bishop and doctor, to become great because of his subjection of this world’s wisdom to a childlike faith in thee: Grant us, we beseech thee, in such wise to follow his doctrine that finally we may enjoy the fullness of thy light 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.

13 November 2012

Crusader Bulletin Online


The latest issue of the Crusader Bulletin is online, with information about the King's Fair, academics, sports, the upcoming Gala, and all sorts of other items of interest.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini was the first American citizen to be canonized. She was a naturalized citizen, having been born in Italy. Her parents were simple farmers, used to hard work and little money, but always ready to welcome another child. In fact, St. Frances was the thirteenth child, and her mother was fifty-two years old when she was born. It was a devout Catholic family in which she was raised, and at night after the day’s work was done, the children would listen to their father read them stories of the saints. Young Frances was especially fascinated by the saints who went on missions to foreign countries.

St. Frances had a great desire to help others, and after she finished school she assisted in the local parish by teaching catechism, and visiting the sick and the poor. She also taught school, and supervised the running of an orphanage, where she was assisted by a group of young women. Their work became so well-known that the bishop in a neighboring diocese heard of their work, and he asked Frances to establish a missionary institute to work in the area of education. Frances did as the bishop requested, and she called this new community the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. They opened an academy for girls, and before long the work spread with the establishment of new houses.

One day Frances was contacted by Bishop Scalabrini, an Italian bishop who had a great concern for the many immigrants who were leaving Italy for a new life in the United States. It was not easy for these immigrants, and upon their arrival in America they would endure tremendous hardships, and were not being given adequate spiritual care. As Bishop Scalabrini described the situation to Frances, she was very moved by what he said, but it did not occur to her that she might have a part in the solution. It was not until she had an audience with Pope Leo XIII about the future of her religious foundation that she changed her plans. It was her intention to receive papal permission to go to the missions of the orient, but the Holy Father had another suggestion. “Not to the East, but go to the West,” he said to her. “Go to America.”

Now known as Mother Cabrini, she had no hesitation when she heard the Pope’s words. To America she went, and she landed in New York in 1889, immediately establishing an orphanage, and then set about her life’s work – that of seeing a need, and then working for a solution. She built schools, places for child care, medical clinics, orphanages, and homes for abandoned babies. The poor had no place to go when they became seriously ill, so she built a number of hospitals for the needy. At the time of her death, there were more than five thousand children receiving care in the various institutions she built, and her religious community had grown to five hundred members in seventy houses throughout North and South America, France, Spain, and England.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini was a frail woman, of a very small stature, but she amazed others with her energy and imagination. She was constantly traveling, sailing the Atlantic twenty-five times to visit her various religious houses and institutions. It was in 1909 that she adopted the United States as her country and formally became a citizen.

As she reached the end of her life, she had given thirty-seven years to the works of charity she loved so much. In her final illness she was admitted to a hospital in Chicago, Illinois. She died while making dolls to be given to orphans at an upcoming Christmas party, her last activity a simple act of charity. Mother Cabrini was beatified in 1938, and canonized in 1946 by Pope Pius XI.

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