O God, for whose Church the glorious Bishop Thomas Becket fell by the swords of wicked men: grant, we beseech thee; that all who call upon him for succour may be profited by the obtaining of all that they desire; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
28 December 2015
St. Thomas Becket (of Canterbury) has a special place in the devotional life of our parish. Not only does his image (in the form of a lovely old English statue) keep watch at the tabernacle, but his relics are contained under the stone in our high altar.
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.
26 December 2015
Although St. John's Day is replaced this year with the Feast of the Holy Family, our path usually has us travelling from the Feast of young St. Stephen to the Feast of the aged St. John. And what a journey St. John 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 a 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. It was there 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 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, recorded 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.
Grant, O Lord, that in all our sufferings here upon earth for the testimony of thy truth, we may stedfastly look up to heaven, and by faith behold the glory that shall be revealed; and, being filled with the Holy Ghost, may learn to love and bless our persecutors by the example of thy first Martyr Saint Stephen, who prayed for his murderers to thee, O blessed Jesus, who standest at the right hand of God to succour all those who suffer for thee, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.
25 December 2015
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.
24 December 2015
Lest the fact of the Incarnation and the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ become something saccharine, relegated to cards expressing the greetings of the season with stars and angels hovering over nothing, our Holy Mother the Church marks each day of of the year, including Christmastide, with the offering of the Mass, making the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ a present reality. The Child was born for that purpose. The wood of the cradle makes way for the wood of the cross. The infant in the arms of Mary is the Saviour reposed in her arms. The beginning of the Passion of our Lord was at the moment of His conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. Shepherds came to adore the Lamb of God, and the Magi brought gifts in preparation for the death and resurrection of the King of the universe. Here is mysterium tremendum: salvation is born in the stable, salvation is born on the cross, salvation is born on our altars.
O precious Lord, once born for us
in stable small and poor;
be born again within our hearts,
and there let us adore.
As once our Savior thou didst come,
both Man and God divine,
so now thou givest Flesh and Blood
'neath forms of Bread and Wine.
Sweet Fruit of Virgin Mary's womb,
once hid from earthly sight,
may we thy children fruitful be,
and show the world thy Light.
Now stay with us, Lord Jesus Christ,
in solemn Mystery,
that when our work on earth be done
thy glory we may see.
Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips
Music: St. Botolph, by Gordon Slater
22 December 2015
It is particularly at the Masses of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ that I have the greatest understanding of the bond between the priest and the Blessed Mother. As she wrapped the Holy Infant in swaddling clothes and laid Him in the manger, I have an overwhelming sense of doing the same in a mystical way, as our Lord is made present on the altar.
Please pray for all priests, especially during this Christmastide, and commend them to the keeping of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
O Almighty and Eternal God, look upon the Face of Thy Christ, and for love of Him Who is the eternal High-priest, have pity on Thy priests. Remember, O most compassionate God, that they are but weak and frail human beings. Stir up in them the grace of their vocation which is in them by the imposition of the Bishop's hands. Keep them close to Thee, lest the enemy prevail against them, so that they may never do anything in the slightest degree unworthy of their sublime vocation.
O Jesus, I pray Thee for Thy faithful and fervent priests; for Thy unfaithful and tepid priests; for Thy priests laboring at home or abroad in distant mission fields; for Thy tempted priests; for Thy lonely and desolate priests; for Thy young priests; for Thy aged priests; for Thy sick priests; for Thy dying priests; for the souls of Thy priests in Purgatory.
But above all I commend to Thee the priests dearest to me: the priest who baptized me; the priests at whose Masses I assisted and who gave me Thy Body and Blood in Holy Communion; the priests who taught and instructed or helped me and encouraged me; all the priests to whom I am indebted in any other way. O Jesus, keep them all close to Thy heart, and bless them abundantly in time and in eternity. Amen.
Mary, Queen of the clergy, pray for us; obtain for us many and holy priests. Amen.
21 December 2015
20 December 2015
Why did the Vatican choose St. Peter Canisius for this dangerous and important job? He had worked hard as a priest – and his work included not only founding educational institutions, but he was a very faithful pastor of souls. A terrible plague swept across Europe, and St. Peter Canisius, with no thought for his own safety, went among the sick and the dying, ministering to them and bringing them comfort – whether they were Catholic or not, they received encouragement and comfort from him. People never forgot his bravery and his kindness. He saw people who were ignorant of the Faith, and he knew that they were easily swayed by convincing speakers who were leading them into error, so he compiled a simple but effective catechism, and countless thousands of people were taught the truth and so were able to leave error behind. Because of the success and the need, Peter quickly produced two more versions: a Shorter Catechism for young students which concentrated on helping them choose good over evil by concentrating on a different virtue each day of the week; and a Shortest Catechism for young children which included prayers for morning and evening, for mealtimes, and for other times of the day, to get them used to praying.
This was a time of confusion, and in their frustration, very often priests would speak harshly to people who were weak in their faith. But St. Peter Canisius was known for his gentle and strong way of speaking. He really was a conduit of God’s love, and his quiet and polite speech won many people back to the Catholic faith. Although he worked throughout Europe, much of his work was centered in Germany, and he came to be known as a “second St. Boniface,” who was considered to be the Apostle of the Germans. Even near the end of his life, he continued his work, communicating with people through letters, and always keeping them in his prayers. St. Peter Canisius died on December 21, 1597.
O God, who didst strengthen Saint Peter Canisius, thy Confessor, for the defence of the Catholic faith: mercifully grant that by his example and teaching, the erring may be made wise unto salvation, and the faithful may stand fast in the confession of truth; 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.
Raise up, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us: that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sorely hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
19 December 2015
It is a cliché, and it is true. Great things really do come in small packages. The village of Bethlehem is proof. A place of little consequence became the focus of the universe, and in its most rude and humble spot the Savior of the world drew His first breath. We should remember Bethlehem not just at Christmas-time, but every time we're feeling that our own lives aren't all that great or productive. God found room in a mean stable for His miraculous work. Give Him room in our own hearts, and we might be amazed at what He will do.
18 December 2015
- They were not homeless. Joseph and Mary each came from perfectly good homes in Nazareth, and they were no more homeless than I was during the time we lived in England, when I had to travel from my home in Bristol up to the American Embassy in London to register the births of my children when they were born. I'm quite tired of the stories that make them sound like vagrants, having to find shelter under the nearest interstate overpass. The inn was full, yes. All the inns were full. Bethlehem was packed full of people. It wasn't out of cruelty that the innkeeper offered them the stable. It was probably done as a favour to them. Inns were notoriously seedy places, and the stable was probably a whole lot cleaner and more private. Homelessness in our society is a sad and tragic thing, caused by various circumstances. But let's not use the Holy Family as a prop in the lobby for the homeless.
- They were not illegal aliens. Joseph and Mary were obeying civil authority when they went to the city of David, because Joseph was descended from King David. They weren't fleeing from an oppressive regime in Nazareth, and they weren't scrounging for work in Bethlehem so they could send some denarii back to the folks in the old country. Whatever one's opinion is about illegal immigration, Joseph and Mary don't lend themselves as examples for any argument one way or the other. The circumstances just don't fit.
- They were not living in poverty. Ok, they weren't wealthy. But they weren't eating out of garbage cans or subsisting on food stamps, either. Joseph, as a carpenter, had a perfectly respectable trade. In fact, his occupation is described as tekton, which is more like a general contractor. Mary's parents were respectable people. Tradition hints that Anne was descended from one of the high priests of the Temple, and Joachim was well-off enough to have a flock of sheep, indicating that Mary's background was not one of grinding poverty, any more than was Joseph's.
I used to read that stuff and then fire off a letter to the editor. Now I give it a place of honour at the bottom of the bird cage.
14 December 2015
09 December 2015
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful."
- St. Luke 6:32-36
PLENARY INDULGENCE FOR THE YEAR OF MERCY
(8 December 2015 – 20 November 2016)
In a letter to the Bishops of the world, Pope Francis has laid out the following conditions for obtaining the Jubilee Indulgence. The Jubilee Indulgence may be obtained by:
Those who make a pilgrimage to and pass through the Holy Door or ‘Door of Mercy’ at:
♦- St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome;
♦- Any of the other Papal Basilicas in Rome;
♦- Any Shrine or Jubilee Church in which the Door of Mercy is open; or
♦- The Holy Door in every Cathedral or church designated by the Diocesan Bishop.
The sick and the elderly who are unable to go on pilgrimage may receive the Jubilee Indulgence by “[l]iving with faith and joyful hope this moment of trial [and] receiving communion or attending Holy Mass and community prayer, even through the various means of communication.”
Those who are incarcerated, “may obtain the Indulgence in the chapels of the prisons.” The Holy Father adds: “May the gesture of directing their thought and prayer to the Father each time they cross the threshold of their cell signify for them their passage through the Holy Door, because the mercy of God is able to transform hearts, and is also able to transform bars into an experience of freedom.”
Those who perform the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. (“Each time that one of the faithful personally performs one or more of these actions, he or she shall surely obtain the Jubilee Indulgence. Hence the commitment to live by mercy so as to obtain the grace of complete and exhaustive forgiveness by the power of the love of the Father who excludes no one.”)
The Holy Father reminds us that we may gain the Jubilee Indulgence not only for ourselves, but for the deceased as well. He states: “...as we remember them in the Eucharistic celebration, thus we can, in the great mystery of the Communion of Saints, pray for them, that the merciful Face of the Father free them of every remnant of fault and strongly embrace them in the unending beatitude.”
Conditions for Obtaining an Indulgence
1. This is how an indulgence is defined in the Code of Canon Law (can. 992) and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 1471): "An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints".
2. In general, the gaining of indulgences requires certain prescribed conditions (below, nn. 3, 4), and the performance of certain prescribed works.
3. To gain indulgences, whether plenary or partial, it is necessary that the faithful be in the state of grace at least at the time the indulgenced work is completed. [N.B. Thus, one must be a Catholic in communion with the Pope, i.e. not excommunicated or in schism.]
4. A plenary indulgence can be gained only once a day. In order to obtain it, the faithful must, in addition to being in the state of grace:
—have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin;
—have sacramentally confessed their sins;
—receive the Holy Eucharist (it is certainly better to receive it while participating in Holy Mass, but for the indulgence only Holy Communion is required);
—pray for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff.
5. It is appropriate, but not necessary, that the sacramental Confession and especially Holy Communion and the prayer for the Pope's intentions take place on the same day that the indulgenced work is performed; but it is sufficient that these sacred rites and prayers be carried out within several days (about 20) before or after the indulgenced act. Prayer for the Pope's intentions is left to the choice of the faithful, but an "Our Father" and a "Hail Mary" are suggested. One sacramental Confession suffices for several plenary indulgences, but a separate Holy Communion and a separate prayer for the Holy Father's intentions are required for each plenary indulgence.
6. For the sake of those legitimately impeded, confessors can commute both the work prescribed and the conditions required (except, obviously, detachment from even venial sin).
7. Indulgences can always be applied either to oneself or to the souls of the deceased, but they cannot be applied to other persons living on earth.
08 December 2015
Although we don’t know very much about the life of Juan Diego before his conversion, we know that he was born in the year 1474 in part of what is today Mexico City. The Catholic faith was brought to Mexico in 1519 when Cortez landed on the coast of Mexico, and there were Catholic priests with him. Juan Diego was among the first of those the hear the Gospel, and in 1524, when he was 50 years old, Juan Diego was baptized by a Franciscan priest, Fr. Peter da Gand.
Juan Diego took his faith very seriously and attended Mass on a daily basis. He had a fifteen mile walk to Mass every morning, and on December 9, 1531, when Juan Diego was on his way to morning Mass, the Blessed Mother appeared to him on Tepeyac Hill, the outskirts of what is now Mexico City. She asked him to go to the Bishop and to request that the bishop build a shrine be built at Tepeyac, where she promised to pour out her grace upon those who asked for her prayers. The Bishop at first didn’t believe Juan Diego, and he asked for some sign to prove that the apparition was true. On December 12, Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac. The Blessed Mother told him to climb the hill and to pick the flowers that he would find in bloom. He obeyed, and even though it was winter time, he found roses blooming. He gathered the flowers and took them to Our Lady who carefully placed them in his mantle and told him to take them to the Bishop as "proof". When he opened his mantle, the flowers fell on the ground and there remained impressed, in place of the flowers, an image of the Blessed Mother, the apparition at Tepeyac.
With the Bishop's permission, Juan Diego lived the rest of his life as a hermit in a small hut near the chapel where the miraculous image was placed for veneration. Here he cared for the church and the first pilgrims who came to ask for Mary’s intercession.
Not only had Juan Diego been chosen as Our Lady's messenger, but he also received grace which helped him to have great spiritual growth, and from that moment, he began a life dedicated to prayer and the practice of virtue and boundless love of God and neighbour. He died in 1548 and was buried in the first chapel dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe.
O God, who in the blessed Virgin Mary didst consecrate a dwelling place meet for thy Son: We humbly pray that we, observing the appearing of the same blessed Virgin, may obtain thy healing both in body and soul; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.