25 May 2016
St. Bede is one of the five major figures depicted on the large triptych which is over the High Altar at Our Lady of the Atonement Church. The following is taken from the fuller description of the triptych, which can be found in its entirety at this link.
SAINT BEDE THE VENERABLE (673-735)
Although very little is known about Saint Bede, we do know that he was a monk of the monastery of Sts. Peter and Paul at Wearmouth and Jarrow, where at the age of seven he had been given into the care of the abbot. His monastic life was uneventful, and we can sum it up in his own words: “I have spent the whole of my life devoting all my pains to the study of the Scriptures, and, amid the observance of monastic discipline and the daily task of singing in the church, it has ever been my delight to learn or teach or write.”
It was as a teacher and writer that Bede was supreme. He wrote both theological and secular works, prose and poetry. He was interested in science and the natural order. His historical writings are perhaps the best remembered. His chief work was The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, one of the most important historical writings of the early Middle Ages. It is the sole source for much information about the early Saxon history.
Saint Bede died at his work. On the Tuesday before Ascension Day he summoned the priests of the monastery, made them little gifts of paper and incense, and begged their prayers. At intervals during the next forty-eight hours, propped up in bed, he dictated to the last sentence an English rendering of the Gospel of Saint John upon which he was engaged at the onset of his illness. Finally, asking to be laid on the floor he sang the anthem “O King of Glory” from the Office of Ascension Day and died with the doxology, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,” on his lips.
Bede is the only Englishman who was named by Dante in the Paradiso. Saint Boniface, when he learned of Bede’s death, said “The light, lit by the Holy Spirit for the good of the whole Church, has been extinguished.” In the reredos Saint Bede appears in his simple monastic garb. He was dedicated to the monastic office and to the life of prayer, thus his red prayer beads are shown in the folds of his habit. He carries the crosier, though he was never a bishop, to recall the bishop’s role of teacher and scholar, characteristics of Bede. He also carries an opened copy of his Ecclesiastical History, and the picture on the frontispiece is of the original small church of Our Lady of the Atonement, before its expansion. Next to him is the extinguished candle, recalling Saint Boniface’s words. At the top of the candlestick is the inscription of the doxology Bede was praying at the moment of death.
“Remember,” writes Cardinal Gasquet, “what the work was upon which Saint Bede was engaged upon his deathbed – a translation of the gospels into English …” But of this work “to break the word to the poor and unlearned” nothing is now extant.
24 May 2016
Bede is one of the few saints honored as such even during his lifetime. His writings were filled with such faith and learning that even while he was still alive, a Church council ordered them to be read publicly in the churches.
Bede was born near St. Peter and St. Paul monastery at Jarrow, England, and at an early age he was entrusted to the care of the abbot of the monastery. It was happy combination of Bede’s genius and the instruction he received from scholarly, saintly monks which produced a saint and an extraordinary scholar, perhaps the most outstanding one of his day. He became very learned in all the sciences of his times: natural philosophy, the philosophical principles of Aristotle, astronomy, arithmetic, grammar, ecclesiastical history, the lives of the saints and, especially, Holy Scripture. He was the first one to date historical events using the designation “A.D.” – Anno Domini. He was ordained as a deacon at the age of nineteen, and then as a priest at the age of thirty. From the time of his ordination to the priesthood until his death, he spent all his time writing, teaching and living the prayerful life of a Benedictine monk. Besides the many books that he copied, he composed 45 of his own, including 30 commentaries on books of the Bible.
His advice and spiritual guidance was sought out by kings and important leaders, including the Pope himself. Bede managed to remain in his own monastery till his death. Only once did he leave for a few months in order to teach in the school of the archbishop of York. Bede died in 735 praying his favorite prayer: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end. Amen.”
O God, who hast caused thy Church to shine with the learning of blessed Bede thy Confessor and Doctor: mercifully grant that we thy servants may ever be enlightened by his wisdom, and holpen for his merits’ sake; 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.
22 May 2016
Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity: we beseech thee; that this holy faith may evermore be our defence against all adversities; who livest and reignest, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
The great Doctor of the Church St. Augustine of Hippo spent over 30 years working on his treatise De Trinitate [about the Holy Trinity], endeavouring to conceive an intelligible explanation for the mystery of the Trinity.
Augustine was walking by the seashore one day contemplating and trying to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity when he saw a small boy running back and forth from the water to a spot on the seashore. The boy was using a sea shell to carry the water from the ocean and place it into a small hole in the sand.
The Bishop of Hippo approached him and asked, “My boy, what are doing?”
“I am trying to bring all the sea into this hole,” the boy replied with a sweet smile.
“But that is impossible, my dear child, the hole cannot contain all that water” said Augustine.
The boy paused in his work, stood up, looked into the eyes of the Saint, and replied, “It is no more impossible than what you are trying to do – comprehend the immensity of the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your small intelligence.”
The Saint was absorbed by such a keen response from that child, and turned his eyes from him for a short while. When he glanced down to ask him something else, the boy had vanished.
Some say that it was an Angel sent by God to teach Augustine a lesson on pride in learning. Others affirm it was the Christ Child Himself who appeared to the Saint to remind him of the limits of human understanding before the great mysteries of our Faith.
14 May 2016
Even after thirty-three years as a Catholic, I still think of the Feast of St. Matthias as falling on February 24th, but upon reflection, I think the change in date was a good thing. Unless Ash Wednesday came especially late, St. Matthias' Day often fell within the Lenten season, but having it on May 14th means it’s closer to the time of the ascension – and historically it was soon after that event that the “casting of lots” took place. So I’ve adjusted myself to the kalendar.
St. Matthias had been a follower of Jesus and was probably one of the seventy-two disciples. After our Lord’s ascension into heaven, the nascent Church was gathered in prayer and St. Peter said that it was right to choose an apostle to replace Judas. He said it should be someone who had been with Jesus from the time of His baptism in the Jordan until the ascension. Two names were proposed: one was Matthias, and the other was Joseph, called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus). Both of them were good men, but since the Church needed only one, they prayed and asked God to reveal the right choice. This is where the “casting of lots” came in. Sometimes people have the mistaken notion that this was akin to gambling, or some kind of game of chance, and there are those who think perhaps it wasn’t the most appropriate means of determining God’s Will in the matter.
Actually, casting lots was a fairly common way of making a decision. When we look back through Scripture, we come across it pretty often. It was the method used to choose the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:8); it was used to determine the priests’ duties in the temple (I Chronicles 24:5); during the terrible storm at sea, poor Jonah was determined to be the guilty one by the casting of lots (Jonah 1:7). For us, it has the unsavoury connection with the crucifixion, since it was by casting lots that the soldiers divided our Lord’s clothing (St. Matthew 27:35). In the case of choosing a replacement for Judas, it was settled in this way because of the very fact that both candidates were equally good. Casting lots was done in different ways, but a common way of doing it was to put the necessary number of polished stones of different colour in a container, and to shake it until one stone fell out, determining the choice. Whatever we might think of the method, it certainly worked. St. Matthias proved to be such a good apostle that after spreading the Gospel in Cappadocia (modern-day Turkey), Egypt and Ethiopia, he was so successful he ended up being martyred for his efforts.
There are plenty of things we can get out of the account of the choosing of Matthias, but I like the thought that the dignity of apostleship seemed to hang by the thread of chance – and yet it wasn’t really chance, was it? God had His plan all worked out, and Peter (along with the others) knew that. They could have pushed their own human will and agenda into the situation: (“Hey, that Joseph Barsabbas is a really nice guy. Let’s choose him!”). In fact, the very fact that Christ’s original choice for that particular seat in the College of Apostles didn’t work out – at least by human standards – shows that God is very much in control of every detail. I mean, would we have planned things that way? The betrayal by Judas which led to the sacrifice which has atoned for man’s sin wouldn’t have been at the top of my list for a good plan. Finding an apostolic replacement by shaking some stones in a container isn’t something I would have thought of.
It seems like we’re rarely prepared for the twists and turns which define God’s plan, and yet that’s the way He works. Why are we surprised when things don’t follow the meticulous plan we’ve worked out in our own minds? After all, even our Lord Jesus Christ Himself prayed in Gethsemane, “Nevertheless, not My Will, but Thine be done.” And isn’t it our universal experience that, in the end, God’s plan is always best? Quite so.
O Almighty God, who into the place of the traitor Judas didst choose thy faithful servant Matthias to be of the number of the twelve Apostles: grant that thy Church, being alway preserved from false Apostles, may be ordered and guided by faithful and true pastors; 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.
12 May 2016
The earthly life of the Blessed Virgin Mary marks one of the great pivotal points of history, because of the task given to her by God. And yet, this earth-shattering event took place in a surprisingly quiet way, as St. Luke tells us:
“The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God...”
And so to this, Mary said “yes,” and in her “yes” to God is a treasury of truth. Just as God heard Mary’s “yes” and so the Son was conceived in her womb, so the Church has listened to Mary’s “yes”, and it has communicated the great truths about Mary in a voice loud and clear – truths which we accept, and around which we form our devotion – because these truths about Mary speak impressively about her divine Son.
First, the Church teaches us that Mary was immaculately conceived. At the instant of Mary’s conception in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, she was, by the special grace of God, protected from the stain of original sin. This was done because of the great destiny which was hers – that of being the Mother of God. It was her flesh which would give flesh to Jesus; it was her body which would be His tabernacle for nine months; therefore, it would be beyond possibility that the Mother of God should bear the sin of Adam, since God can endure no sin. This was taught implicitly and explicitly from the earliest days of the Church, and was confirmed and solemnly proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854, when he stated infallibly, “The most holy Virgin Mary was, in the first moment of her conception, by a unique gift of grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ the Redeemer of mankind, preserved free from all stain of original sin.”
Second, the Church teaches us that Mary was impeccable. In other words, she was never stained with any personal sin, and she was free from every moral imperfection. Certainly, she lived a human life. She had to labor, and was subject to pain and tiredness; but she, like her son Jesus Christ, had nothing in her which led her to act against the perfect moral law of God. This formal teaching of the Church is deduced from the words of the archangel Gabriel, when he addressed her as being “full of grace,” since moral guilt could not be reconciled with being filled completely with God’s grace. Once again, this teaching is defined because of Mary’s relationship with her Son, and not through simple merit of her own. She did not sin, and she could not sin, because of a special grace and privilege given to her by God, because He had chosen her to bear the Incarnate Word.
Third, the Church teaches us that Mary was perpetually a virgin. Three states of virginity are professed in this teaching: Mary conceived her Son without a human Father; she gave birth to Jesus without violating her virginity; and she remained a virgin after our Lord was born, for the rest of her life. The virginal conception is contained in all of the ancient creeds: “Jesus Christ… who was conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary...” The biblical basis of this, of course, is the prophecy of Isaiah (“A virgin shall conceive and bear a son...’), and it is confirmed by St. Matthew’s Gospel, which quotes this directly from the prophecy of Isaiah. All of the early Church Fathers confirm this teaching. The virginal birth was not questioned until a monk named Jovinian, teaching in the 4th century, said that “a virgin conceived, but a virgin did not bring forth,” and he was condemned by a synod of the Church meeting at Milan in the year 390, which was presided over by St. Ambrose. This was confirmed by the fifth general council of the Church, which was held at Constantinople in the year 553, where Mary was confirmed as being “perpetually virgin.” Certainly, the ancient theologians did not go into the physical details, but they speak in modest analogies, such as the “emergence of Christ from the sealed tomb,” his “going through closed doors,” the “penetration of light through glass,” the “going out of human thought from the mind.” The Church also teaches us of the perpetual virginity of Mary, that she remained a virgin after Christ was born. Her marriage to Joseph was a spiritual one, which was not consummated physically, and so she bore no other children. From the fourth century on, such formulas as that of St. Augustine became common: “A virgin conceived, a virgin gave birth, and a virgin remained.”
All of these truths about Mary have to do not only with her, but they are intimately related to Our Lord Jesus Christ. All of them are true, because of the one great truth of history: that Almighty God took human flesh upon Himself, and was born of this special woman, a virgin, chosen by God Himself, a Virgin prepared for this task through her immaculate conception, a virgin preserved for this task through her impeccability, a virgin honored for this task through her perpetual virginity, as a constant witness to the fact that it was her pure flesh which was given to the Incarnate Word. These truths are not simply esoteric theological statements. They are truths which impact history. They are truths which prepared for that ultimate moment of history when God entered personally into time and space.
It was at that time that Caesar Augustus, the master of the world, determined to issue an order for a census of the world which was ruled by Rome. To every outpost – to every corner – the order went out: every Roman subject must be enrolled in his own city. How far it was from the mind of Caesar Augustus, that his imperial order was a part of God’s great plan that the Saviour of the world should be born of the chosen Virgin Mary in a little-known place called Bethlehem. An order of Caesar Augustus – perhaps thought of by him only incidentally, and then ordered casually – meant that countless lives were interrupted as people gathered the necessary supplies for their various journeys.
And so it was that Joseph and Mary, this couple visited by angels and touched by God, were traveling in eternity at the order of an earthly ruler. And because of that, how things were to change! In a dirty stable, Pure Love was born. The “Living Bread come down from heaven” was laid where animals had eaten. The ancestors of Joseph and Mary, the Jews, had worshipped the golden calf, and now the ox and the ass were bowing down before their God.
As Mary fulfilled the plan of God, by conceiving and giving birth to the Christ, his passion began: He was born in a borrowed stable; He was buried in a borrowed tomb. The swaddling clothes which Mary wrapped around him when he was born looked forward to the grave-clothes which she would help to wrap around His lifeless body some thirty-three years later. The wooden manger in which His mother had laid him foreshadowed the wooden Cross from which she would receive His body into her arms.
And so in Christ, heaven came to earth, and it came through the Blessed Virgin Mother. God’s glory was announced to shepherds and to kings. And they came, as men and women have been coming ever since, to worship the Word Made Flesh. The Blessed Virgin, holding the Child Jesus, becomes truly our Mother and our example, as God calls each one of us to hold out Christ to the world – to hold Him out in our actions and in our words – so that all may come to worship Him, the Incarnate God.
11 May 2016
Nereus and Achilleus were Roman soldiers in the household of Flavia Domitilla. They were instructed and baptized by St. Peter. These two soldiers admired Domitilla, and began to tell her about the Christian faith. They helped her to understand her own human dignity, and she decided that she really wanted to give herself to Christ completely, and that she wouldn’t marry. Aurelianus reported all three to the Roman authorities as being Christians. They were beheaded, martyred out of hatred for the Christian faith.
Domitilla owned some property outside the city of Rome, and she had given this land to the Christians as a cemetery, and to this day it is the site of one of the major catacombs. Nereus, Achilleus, and Domitilla were buried there.
Grant, O Lord, that this holy festival of thy blessed Martyrs, Nereus and Achilleus, may ever assist us in thy service: and that we may thereby be rendered worthy to walk after thy commandments; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
07 May 2016
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that like as we do believe thy Only Begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
A hymn of glory let us sing;
New songs throughout the world shall ring:
Christ, by a road before untrod,
Ascendeth to the throne of God.
The holy apostolic band
Upon the Mount of Olives stand;
And with His followers they see,
Jesus’ resplendent majesty.
To whom the angels, drawing nigh:
“Why stand and gaze upon the sky?”
“This is the Savior,” thus they say,
“This is His noble triumph day.”
“Again shall ye behold Him so
As ye today have seen Him go,
In glorious pomp ascending high,
Up to the portals of the sky.”
The Venerable Bede (673-735);
Trans. by Benjamin Webb, 1854
Trans. by Benjamin Webb, 1854
04 May 2016
This year the Novena begins on Friday, May 6th.
Come, O Holy Ghost, the Lord and Lifegiver; take up thy dwelling within our souls, and make of them thy sacred home. Make us live by grace as adopted children of God. Pervade all the energies of our souls, and create in us fountains of living water, springing up unto eternal life.
Come, O Spirit of Wisdom, and reveal to our souls the mysteries of heavenly things, their exceeding greatness, and power, and beauty. Teach us to love them above and beyond all the passing joys and satisfactions of earth. Show us the way by which we may be able to attain to them, and possess them, and hold them hereafter, our own forever.
Come, O Spirit of Understanding, and enlighten our minds, that we may know and believe all the mysteries of salvation, and may merit at last to see the eternal light in thy light; and in the light of glory to have the clear vision of thee and the Father and the Son.
Come, O Spirit of Counsel, help and guide us in all our ways, that we may always do thy holy will. Incline our hearts to that which is good, turn them away from all that is evil, and direct us by the path of thy commandments to the goal of eternal life.
Come, O Spirit of Fortitude, and give courage to our souls. Make our hearts strong in all trials and in all distress, pouring forth abundantly into them the gifts of strength, that we may be able to resist the attacks of the devil.
Come, O Spirit of Knowledge, and make us to understand and despise the emptiness and nothingness of the world. Give us grace to use the world only for thy glory and the salvation of thy creatures. May we always be faithful in putting thy rewards before every earthly gift.
Come, O Spirit of Piety, possess our hearts, and incline them to a true faith in thee, to a holy love of thee, our God. Give us thy grace, that we may seek thee and find thee, our best and our truest joy.
Come, O Spirit of holy Fear, penetrate our inmost hearts, that we may set thee, our Lord and God, before our faces forever; and shun all things that can offend thee, so that we may be made worthy to appear before the pure eyes of thy divine Majesty in the heaven of heavens.
Come, O Holy Comforter, and grant us a desire for holy things. Produce in our souls the fruits of virtue, so that, being filled with all sweetness and joy in the pursuit of good, we may attain unto eternal blessedness.
The following prayer concludes the Novena each day:
O GOD, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit: grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things, and evermore to rejoice in His holy comfort; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the same Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
The English Martyrs include 284 men and women who gave their lives during the 16th and 17th centuries. They were martyred simply because they remained steadfast in their Catholic faith. What had happened?
King Henry VIII had proclaimed himself supreme head of the Church in England, claiming for himself and his successors power over his subjects not only in civil matters, but also in spiritual things. He took to himself a spiritual power that can belong only to the Pope as the Vicar of Christ and Successor of St. Peter. The Catholics at that time wanted to be loyal subjects of the Crown, but their consciences could not allow them to grant the power of spiritual supremacy. It is as though, in the United States, the president and Congress took upon themselves the power to determine what we as Catholics believe, and how we worship. We could not allow Congress to pass laws that changed the Church’s teaching about the Mass, or what we believe about God. But this was what had happened in England and Wales. This was what led many people to face death courageously rather than act against their consciences and deny their Catholic faith.
This firm attitude in defense of their freedom of conscience and of their faith in the truth of the Holy Catholic Church is identical in all these Martyrs, although they were a diverse group of people – priests, religious, laymen, housewives and mothers, some highly educated, some very simple laborers. But they all shared the same faith, and the same determination to keep that faith – and for that, they were put to death. And this persecution was not only under Henry VIII, but it continued under Elizabeth I and her successors, all the way into the Commonwealth under Cromwell.
The torments they endured were horrible. Most of them were killed in extremely violent ways – the priests, for instance, were hanged, drawn and quartered. Others were tortured for long periods of time before their deaths. But every one of them remained steadfast in their Catholic faith, and they died praying for their executioners, and even praying for the monarch who had ordered their deaths.
O Merciful God, who, when thy Church on earth was torn apart by the ravages of sin, didst raise up men and women in England who witnessed to their faith with courage and constancy: give unto thy Church that peace which is thy will, and grant that those who have been divided on earth may be reconciled in heaven and be partakers together in the vision of thy glory; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
01 May 2016
The teaching of the Church reaches back into the Old Testament, when we read in the Book of Genesis that God created man, and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend to it. From that time, God, who is the creator and ruler of the universe, has called men and women in every age to develop and use their talents for the good of others, and as a way of sharing in the creative work of God. In every kind of labor we’re to remember that we are obeying the command of God to use our talents, and to receive the fruit of our labors. Our work allows us to provide for our own needs, and for the needs of those for whom we are responsible. It also allows us to show proper charity towards those who are in need.
The Church asks us to look to St. Joseph on this day, and follow his example of work, by which he showed his love and responsibility for the Blessed Virgin Mary and for the Child Jesus. St. Joseph shows the dignity of work – and whether it is manual work, or any other kind of work, we are to do it in a spirit of cooperation with God, and as an offering to Him. Any task, well done, is an offering to God – when we work, we should see it as a work done for God, and it is part of what shows that we are created in His image. In creation itself, God worked for six days, and rested the seventh. So in our own lives, we are to keep that balance between using our energy for work, and then out of respect for our minds and bodies, give a day for our spiritual and physical renewal.
[The statue pictured is in the sacristy of Our Lady of the Atonement Church.]
O God, the Creator of all things, who hast appointed for mankind the law of labour: graciously grant that through the example and patronage of Saint Joseph we may accomplish the work that thou hast commanded, and attain unto the rewards that thou dost promise; 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.