31 December 2017

Mary, Mother of God


O God, who by the fruitful virginity of Blessed Mary, hast bestowed upon mankind the reward of eternal salvation: grant, we beseech thee, that we may know the help of her intercession, through whom we have been accounted worthy to receive the Author of our life, 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.

Sunday, December 31st
Vigil Mass at 6:00 p.m.


Monday, January 1st
Masses at 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.

30 December 2017

The Holy Family


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

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

18 December 2017

Lullaby for the Infant Jesus


Away in a manger, no crib for his bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

Dear Mary, his Mother, sang sweet lullabies,
as Jesus, awaking, gazed into her eyes.
The most holy Virgin, with loving caress
embraced the world’s Saviour with Love’s tenderness.

Good Joseph stood guarding the Mother and Child,
his soul filled with awe and his heart undefiled.
The birth of young Jesus made angels to sing,
but Joseph in silence kept watch o’er his King.

What once was a stable may our hearts become;
may God’s holy fam’ly in us find a home.
With Mary and Joseph and angels above
we worship the Infant, the gift of God’s Love.

Text: V.1, Traditional,
vv. 2-4, Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1995
Music; CRADLE SONG, William James Kirkpatrick, 1838-1921)

17 December 2017

Gaudete.


Gaudete.  Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice: let your moderation be known unto all men: the Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing: but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. Ps. Lord, thou art become gracious unto thy land: thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob.  Gloria Patri.

O Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee: grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight; who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

13 December 2017

St. John of the Cross


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

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

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

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

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

O God, who didst inspire thy holy Confessor Saint John with an ardent love of self-denial and of the Cross: grant that by constantly following his example, we may attain to everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

09 December 2017

Judgement


During Advent our thoughts should include the coming judgement of our Lord Jesus Christ. As we profess in the Creed, "...and He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead..."

First, some facts. God’s judgement is really two-fold. There is the Particular Judgement, and there is the General Judgement. Particular Judgement is that judgement which takes place immediately upon the death of an individual.  When we die, we are no longer the “pilgrims” that we are in this life – we will no longer be able to sin, nor will we be able to repent from sin. If there is the rare individual who dies in a state of perfect grace, with no further need of purification, and with no temporal punishment due to them because of their previous sins, that person will directly enter heaven with the other saints. Those who die in the state of grace, but who still need some purification before the final destination of heaven will enter purgatory, where they will be cleansed and made ready for heaven, aided by the prayers and sacrifices of the faithful. And finally, those who die in the state of mortal and unrepented sin – those who have purposely offended God and don’t care that they have – will, at the Particular Judgement, enter into their unending punishment in hell. This is, of course, a much simplified explanation of Particular Judgement.

But in addition to the Particular Judgement upon each and every soul, which will take place individually at our death, there also will be the General Judgement – that judgement which we profess in the Creed, when we proclaim that “He shall come again in glory, to judge both the quick and the dead...” This is the Final Judgement of God upon all mankind. It is not simply the summation of all of the particular judgements which have taken place, but it involves the consummation of all things in Christ, when God’s kingdom will be complete. At that time, there will be no further question in anyone’s mind or heart as to the power of God, or as to the Kingship of Christ, or as to the truth of the Catholic Faith. All things will be put in subjection to Christ, and it will be the age of “the new heaven and the new earth.” Of course, we should understand that these two judgements are not as separate as they sound, because in this, God acts outside of time.  In fact, they are really the one judgement by God, bringing all lives and all things to a final end.

Having outlined those basic facts, what does it really mean to us? Actually, a great deal. God’s judgement necessarily involves God’s system of justice, so we must have some understanding of divine justice as we face the reality of divine judgement. Perhaps we can better understand it if we look for a moment at the system of justice which we have in the United States.

When American justice works as it is supposed to (which, of course, is not always the case) it is based upon the supposition that if a person is found to have done something wrong, then he has to pay a price for that action. In other words, if a man is caught robbing your house, then you should be able to expect him to spend some time in prison. It’s not enough for him simply to go into the courtroom and say, “I’m sorry, your Honor,” and then expect it all to go away. The question that gets asked is, “How to you plead: guilty or not guilty,” and if he is found to be guilty, then a punishment will be exacted. That is our system of justice, and it is what we expect to happen in our courts of law.

Now let’s look at Divine Justice. One of its tenets is that it is Christ who will be our Judge. On that Last Day, when the secrets in the hearts of all men shall be disclosed, it will be Jesus who will mete out Divine Justice. And because of that, it will not be the justice of our human law-court that will be given out. If God were to administer justice in the same way that we expect our human law-courts to administer justice, then our chances of escaping eternal punishment on the Day of Judgement would be slim-to-none. We have all grievously sinned; every one of us has come short of the glory of God. Each and every one of us will stand guilty before the Divine Judge. That is why, thanks be to God, it is a different kind of court-room where Christ is the judge. Certainly, in that court-room we will all stand guilty – and in fact, we will all deserve the death penalty. But in the Divine court-room, when the judge passes the death-sentence, He then gets up from behind the bench to stand next to the guilty party, and He takes the death sentence upon Himself. Why? Because in God’s court-room, He doesn’t ask us to plead “guilty or not guilty” – rather, we are asked to plead “sorry or not sorry.” If we have lived lives which plead “sorry” – lives which have had real repentance and which have been healed and fed with His sacraments – then Christ shoulders the sentence Himself. Here’s the beauty of it all, when it comes to Divine Judgement. Christ is not only our Judge, but He is our Redeemer, too. This is God’s justice: He demands righteousness, and then He proceeds to provide us with the means to become righteous. He demands perfection, and then He provides the means whereby we may be made perfect.

Whatever else is true about God’s judgements, one thing is certain: on Judgement Day, there will not be any surprises. It will be obvious to everyone that God’s judgement is completely fair. In fact, we will receive precisely what we ask for. The record of our relationship with God will lay before us in complete truth and openness, and the facts will speak for themselves. If we have been faithful to God, if we have shown sorrow for our sins and have sought His absolution, if we have been generous to those in need, following the path of the Lord which began at our baptism, then God our Judge will say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant...” But if we have been purposely unfaithful to God, untrue to our baptismal promises, stingy toward those in need, prejudiced and cruel to others who are also children of God, if we have been too proud to confess our sins and too lazy to do penance, if we have thrown away our birthright by clinging too closely to the things of this world, then God our Judge will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire...”

It is not some fickle or uncertain justice which God will give out on Judgement Day. In a very real sense, we will actually bring judgement upon ourselves – or, at least, our actions and our attitudes will. The righteousness and the mercy of God will prevail on the Day of Judgement. The righteousness of God demands perfection – and the mercy of God means that we will have been given the means of righteousness through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the Cross. And it is through the Cross that we receive the forgiveness which brings us to the joy of life in eternal communion with Almighty God.

08 December 2017

St. Juan Diego


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 walked many miles 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.

O God, who by means of Saint Juan Diego didst show the love of the most holy Virgin Mary for thy people: grant, through his intercession; that, by following the counsels our Mother gave at Guadalupe, we may be ever constant in fulfilling thy will; 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 December 2017

Mary: The Treasury of Truth


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.

28 November 2017

The Holy Water Font


Just inside the main doors of the church in the narthex is a simple marble holy water font. On a typical day during the year, hundreds of the faithful dip their fingers into its water to make the sign of the cross upon themselves, both as a blessing and as a reminder of their own baptism. This means that over the course of an average week, water from this font has been taken thousands of times, and yet few know the rich history of where it had been and how it came to be in our church.

It was in the year 1895 that a young woman, Lurana Mary White, began a correspondence with an Episcopal cleric, Lewis Wattson (later known as Fr. Paul of Graymoor), because of their mutual interest in the life and spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi. Both of them were Episcopalians at the time, although both were searching for the fullness of the Catholic faith. They felt a call to the religious life, and had the sense that God was calling them to found a Franciscan community within Anglicanism.

Through various circumstances, Lurana White (with a few companions) was able to pioneer this effort, with Fr. Paul joining her soon after. An unused chapel called St. John’s-in-the-Wilderness in Graymoor, New York, was put at her disposal, along with a building in some disrepair, called Dimond House, which was about half a mile from the chapel. Now known as Sister Lurana Mary, she arrived there on a bitterly cold day in December, 1898, and so began the foundation of the Society of the Atonement.

In Lent of 1899 funds were raised to begin building a convent near St. John’s-in-the-Wilderness. Combined with donations from others, Sister Lurana (now known as Mother Lurana) gave the totality of her own personal funds for the purpose of building and furnishing the convent, along with its chapel, known as the Oratory of Our Lady of the Angels. One of the items chosen and purchased by Mother Lurana was a simple marble holy water font.

The Oratory of Our Lady of the Angels has seen a number of historic events. It was there that the first Atonement Sisters made their religious profession; it was there that Fr. Paul spent the night in prayer before being clothed in his Franciscan habit, becoming the first Friar of the Atonement; it was there that the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity was prayed for the first time; it was there that the members of the Society of the Atonement were received into the Catholic Church; and it was at the Oratory altar that Fr. Paul celebrated his first Mass as a Catholic priest. Through all those events, and more, the simple marble holy water font stood at the entrance.

Sadly, when the misguided ideas of “renewal” after Vatican II swept through the various religious communities, the Society of the Atonement was not spared. Things which had been given for the glory of God were ruthlessly tossed aside, and one of the casualties was the holy water font which had stood guard for so many years inside the Oratory of Our Lady of the Angels. It was thrown outside behind the convent, where the erstwhile font became a makeshift birdbath – and there it remained until I happened to be visiting Graymoor shortly after my ordination as a Catholic priest.

One of the aged Sisters pulled me aside, and asked to talk to me. Sr. Cyril, S.A., was one of the last of “Mother Lurana’s girls” – members of the Sisters of the Atonement who had been formed as a religious by their Mother Foundress – and she told me how she was heart-broken to see “Mother’s holy water font” thrown outside in the garden. Sr. Cyril asked if I would consider giving it a home in our parish, and I told her that if her superiors approved, I would happily have it transported back to Texas. She asked; her superiors gave permission, and so I set about finding a way of getting it shipped to San Antonio. One of my father’s old friends, who happened to own a long-distance trucking company, was able to accommodate my request, and in due time the font arrived at the church.

After all the history it had seen, the holy water font was for a time put to yet another use – we had no baptismal font when we first built our church, and so Mother Lurana’s holy water font became our baptismal font for some years.  In fact the first child baptized in it was my own daughter, Lurana, named after the Mother Foundress of the Sisters of the Atonement. For several years all the children of our parish were “born again in the waters of baptism” using that simple marble holy water font, which had come so far from its original home.

It was not until the church was expanded to its present size that we were able to have a proper baptistry, and a real baptismal font, which finally allowed us to return Mother Lurana’s font to its original purpose. So it stands at the entrance of Our Lady of the Atonement Church, more than a hundred years after it was lovingly chosen by Mother Lurana to stand at the entrance of her little Oratory, now serving the same purpose of providing holy water for the Faithful who come to give worship and glory to Almighty God.

The Altar in the Oratory of Our Lady of the Angels.

25 November 2017

St. Catherine of Alexandria


The account of the life and death of St. Catherine of Alexandria was recorded by Eusebius in about the year 320, just a few years after her martyrdom. Eusebius was the Bishop of Caesarea and is known as the "father of Church history."

Catherine was born of into a noble family of Alexandria, and from childhood she had devoted herself to study. Through her reading she had learned a great deal about Christianity, and was subsequently converted after being given a vision of Our Lady and the Holy Child Jesus.

When the Emperor Maxentius began his persecution against the Church, Catherine went to him and gave him a firm rebuke for his cruelty, after which she told him about Christ and the Gospel. The emperor could not answer her arguments against his pagan gods, so he gathered together fifty philosophers to argue against her. Quite the opposite happened, and they were won over by her reasoning. When the emperor learned that they all had become Christians, he had them burned to death.

He then tried to seduce Catherine with an offer to be his consort. She refused him, so he had her beaten and imprisoned. The Emperor went off to inspect his military forces, but when he returned he discovered that his wife Faustina and one of his high officials had been visiting Catherine and had been converted, along with the soldiers of the guard. They too were put to death, and Catherine was sentenced to be killed on a spiked wheel. As soon as her body touched the instrument of torture, the wheel broke into pieces. That did not stop her martyrdom, however, because the emperor ordered that she be taken to a place of execution, where she was beheaded.

St. Catherine of Alexandria could just as well be called St. Catherine the Brilliant because of her intellect and wisdom, along with her ability to explain the Catholic faith with great conviction. As many in her day discovered, to hear her expound upon the Gospel meant almost certainly that those who listened would be converted to follow Christ.

O GOD, whose dwelling-place is in the pure of heart: grant we beseech thee; that we who venerate the memory of the martyr Catherine, thy faithful bride, may have grace to follow the example of her holiness and courage; 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 November 2017

My Thanksgiving memories...

My childhood home at the Phillips Farm in New Hartford, Connecticut.

This has become something I post each year...

For me it’s impossible to think of Thanksgiving without thinking of Grandpa and Grandma Phillips when they lived at the farm in Connecticut. Of course, childhood memories may change with the passing of years. Some of the details may get blurred. But there are so many happy memories of family gatherings, with Grandpa presiding at the head of it all and Grandma seeming to move constantly between her stove, the pantry, and her place at the table.

Could it have been normal to have had snow by Thanksgiving? When I was little it always seemed as though there was snow on the ground at that time, but maybe it’s my imagination. I do remember how warm it would seem when I went into Grandma’s kitchen, especially on Thanksgiving morning. No matter how early I went in, she would already have been working for hours on what always seemed like the biggest turkey I’d ever seen. I don’t know how she did it with that ancient wood-burning stove she had. Of course, everyone would bring more food when they came – different vegetables, various desserts – but the centerpiece was always Grandma’s turkey. And the heavenly smell which all of that made – it never seemed to be able to be duplicated at any other time of the year.

How did we all fit in their kitchen and living room? There were loads of us, but we found room. And Grandpa was always insistent that we all had to be at the same table, so the big oval kitchen table would get other tables added to it, stretching through the double door into the living room and turning the corner down to the far end. We may not have been able to see everyone at the same time, but we were all at the same table – and Grandpa loved that. I’ve tried to remember how many of us there would have been in those days – certainly more than fifty, with all the grandchildren.

Other than the big oak table, the most important piece of furniture in Grandma’s kitchen was the china cabinet. It was from there that we took out the treasures we used on Thanksgiving Day. Nana’s beautiful Bavarian china set would be used. The little green candy dishes, with gold leaf on the edges, would be filled with mints and placed at different places on the table. Of course, I’d try to figure out where I’d be sitting, so that one of those little green dishes would be near my place. And I remember my Aunt Alice’s fruit arrangements! As a little boy, I was amazed that she seemed to be able to build the fruit up so high that it looked like it was balancing in mid-air.

I can picture it all, and it seems almost like yesterday that we were all together. I can see Grandma at the stove, and I can picture her pantry with the sink at the end of it. I can hear the sound of their little dog Chippy, his nails clicking on the linoleum floor, trying to keep out of the way. I can see Grandpa in his chair, so happy that his family was all together in one place on his favourite holiday. I can see all of us cousins together – lots of little children excited and wanting to help, but really getting underfoot. And I can remember Grandma trying to come up with jobs to keep some of us busy, and she’d go through all the names until she got to the one she wanted. I used to laugh so hard – and she would, too – when she would start in with “George… Johnny… Earl… Denny… I mean, Chris, why don’t you run outside and see if you can find some pretty berries to make a centerpiece for the table, and Alice… I mean Linda, you can go and help.” And out we’d go, thinking we were on an important mission – not realizing that it was her way of clearing a couple of little ones out of the kitchen so she could have a bit more room to get things prepared. And when we’d come back with some orange berries on a branch and a couple of dried milkweed stalks, Grandma would exclaim about what a beautiful arrangement it would make!

What wonderful times those were, and I think we knew it, even then. How God blessed us as a family. Of course, there have been difficult times, and we miss those whom God had called to be with Him. But we have known God’s love through the love of our family, and we must continue to make memories so that today’s little children can recall them when they are grown with grandchildren of their own.

The family has expanded tremendously, and although miles separate us, the bonds of love keep us together. And when I pray for those of our family who have died, it reminds me that we are all still one family – whether on this earth or in God’s eternal keeping. Even though we may not be able to see everyone whom we love, God sees us all – and He keeps each and every one of us in His divine heart.

St. Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr


St. Cecilia is one of several martyrs in the early Church who were young girls, and very serious about their faith. Cecilia was of noble birth. At an early age, she dedicated her life to God with a vow that she wouldn’t marry, but would give herself completely to Christ. However, her family wanted her to marry, and she was engaged to a young nobleman named Valerian. On her wedding day, she prayed to the Lord and asked Him to help Valerian to understand that she couldn’t live with him as his wife. History records, "The day on which the wedding was to be held arrived and while musical instruments were playing she was singing in her heart to God alone saying: Make my heart and my body pure that I may not be confounded." St. Cecilia's prayers were answered, and Valerian understood the importance of her vow to God. In fact, not only did he accept it, but he and his brother Tiburtius were both converted to the Christian faith, and were baptized.

At this time, Christianity was still illegal in Rome. Both Valerian and his brother Tiburtius were soon discovered to be Christians, and they were martyred. Cecilia was discovered soon after, and she was condemned to death. It required two attempts, however, before the death of Cecilia was successful. She was first locked in a bath in her own home to be suffocated by the steam. When she emerged from the bath unharmed, she was then beheaded. The stroke of the axe failed to sever her head from her body, however, and she lived for three days. During this time, she saw to the disbursment of her assets to help the poor, and she donated her home to be used as a church, and there is a great church on that site to this day, which bears her name. When Cecilia finally died, she was buried in the Catacombs of Callixtus. In the 9th century Pope Paschal I had St. Cecilia's remains unearthed from the catacombs and reported that her body was incorrupt and that her hands signaled the Trinity, with one extending three fingers and the other a single finger.


O God, who makest us glad with the yearly festival of blessed Cecilia thy Virgin and Martyr: grant that we who venerate her in our service, may also follow the example of her godly life; 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.

11 November 2017

St. Martin of Tours


When he was merely a boy, Martin became a Christian catechumen against his parents' wishes, and at the age of fifteen he was forced by his father, a pagan soldier, to be enrolled in the army.

It was on a winter's day, while stationed at Amiens, that Martin met a beggar almost naked and frozen with cold. Having nothing to give him, Martin cut his cloak in two and gave poor man half.

That night in a dream Martin saw Our Lord clothed in the half cloak, and heard Him say to surrounding angels: "Martin, yet only a catechumen, has wrapped Me in this garment." He decided to be baptized, and shortly after this he left the army.

Martin succeeded in converting his mother, but he was driven from his home by the Arian heretics who were powerful in that place, and he took shelter with the bishop, St. Hilary. Near Poitiers they founded first monastery in France, and in the year 372 St. Martin was made Bishop of Tours. The people of that area, though Christian in name, were mostly still pagan in their hearts and in their daily practice. Unarmed and attended only by his monks, St. Martin destroyed the heathen temples and groves, and then completed this courageous act by preaching the Gospel. After witnessing many miracles at the hand of their bishop St. Martin, there was a complete conversion of the people. St. Martin’s last eleven years were spent in the humble work of travelling throughout Gaul, preaching and manifesting the power of God through his works and by the purity of his life.

O God, who seest that we are not able to stand in our own strength: mercifully grant that, through the prayers of blessed Martin thy Confessor and Bishop, we may be defended from all adversities; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

09 November 2017

"Zeal for thy house..."

 

The Gospel (St. John 2:13-22) appointed for the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran puts before us the commanding figure of Jesus Christ striding into the great Temple in Jerusalem. He cleanses it, making a whip of cords and driving out the sellers of animals and the money-changers, overturning their tables and telling them, “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” Christ did this, because those who were buying and selling within the temple of God were not doing it for the glory of God; they were not doing it for the worship of God or for the good of man; rather, it was for personal gain and for selfish reasons.

The Church teaches us that religion is more than just the vertical dimension of the spiritual life – it’s more that simply “God and me.” Ethics and morality must be the practical expression of a true and living faith. How we conduct ourselves in the marketplace reflects our relationship with God. Certain business practices may be legal but that doesn’t insure they are ethical. Certainly, making a profit isn’t condemned in Scripture, but accumulating great wealth by unjustly taking advantage of someone else is.

So, with the crack of a whip, Christ drove the money changers from the temple. And He did it not only because of the contempt that was being shown to the Temple – a place consecrated to God – but also because of the injustice being shown to the people who were there to worship the God in whose honor the Temple had been built. Christ was not kind and gentle that day.

When good people are faced with evil, it would seem that our Lord has given something of an example to follow. He did not limit himself to prayer or to talk; He also did something about it. “To everything there is a season,” the Scriptures tell us, and we can see that even in the life of Christ that there was a season to make a stand against evil by taking specific action.

It was necessary for Christ to drive the money-changers out of the temple because of the evil they had brought into the lives of honest people, and because of the dishonor those actions brought to the House of God. So it is necessary at times that evil must be faced squarely by taking positive action, so that the common good might be preserved. Sometimes, for the triumph of good, the whip must be cracked, and evil must be beaten back.

Whether it be civil leaders inflicting injustice on people; or whether it be those who steal the right to life from the unborn; or whether it be the unfaithful cleric who cheats people from knowing the fullness of the Gospel and from worshipping according to the mind of the Church; or whether it be the gossip who destroys the reputation of another – we are called to stand up for the good, and against the evil.

The Gospel tells us that after Christ had cleansed the Temple, “his disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for thy house will consume me...’” And so should zeal for the things of God consume us. Zeal is the business side of love, whether it be love of God or love of man. “Zeal,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “is the energy of love.” Zeal, as an ardent love of God, is to be shown in our lives as a desire to promote the love of God, to promote the worship of God, to promote the praise of God, to promote the glory of God. It is to be shown in our spiritual lives as we perform those Christian works of mercy and love that we have been taught by our Lord. And zeal, also, is to be shown in practical ways, as we accept our responsibility for the support and work of Christ’s Body the Church. This is one of the reasons we have places of beauty, consecrated to the glory of God – so that you and I can be inspired to be zealous for God and for the things of God; so that we can work for justice in this world; so that we can spread the truth of the Gospel by our words and our actions – and also, to give us a glimpse of the eternity of heaven.

08 November 2017

Evensong & Requiem



Evensong was prayed for the Faithful Departed, followed by Antonio Salieri's "Requiem" sung by the Honors Choir of The Atonement Academy and the Parish Choir of Our Lady of the Atonement Church. 

The requiem begins at the 23 minute mark.  If the image is not visible, go to this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzXRkY2M4pU&t=1374s


04 November 2017

St. Charles Borromeo

Charles Borromeo was born into a wealthy, very aristocratic Italian family. The family lived in a beautiful castle, and lived lavishly, with an extravagant life of entertaining a court of noblemen. Charles was very good at athletics, music, art, and he enjoyed all the fine things that went along with the life of a rich and famous family. His mother was one of the Medici family, and one of his uncles was the pope. As was usual in those days, his uncle the pope made Charles a cardinal when he was only twenty-three and gave him many honors and titles. He was appointed papal legate to Bologna, the Low Countries, the cantons of Switzerland, and to the religious orders of St. Francis, the Carmelites, the Knights of Malta, and others.

When Charles’ father died, everybody thought that Charles would give up his positions which had him working for the Church, and that he would marry some young noblewoman, and become the head of the Borromeo family. But Charles didn’t do that. Instead, he discerned a vocation to ordination, and he became a priest. Not long after, he was appointed bishop of Milan, a city that had not had a resident bishop for over eighty years.

Although he had been accustomed to a rich and extravagant life, when Charles was ordained and then became the Bishop of Milan, he spent much of his time dealing with hardship and suffering. There was a terrible famine in the year 1570 and he took on the responsibility of providing food to feed 3,000 people a day for three months. Six years later, another plague swept through the region. Bishop Borromeo organized his priests, religious, and lay volunteers to feed and care for the almost 70,000 people living in part of his diocese. He personally cared for many who were sick and dying, and he spent all his money doing it. In fact, he even ran up huge debts so that he could feed, clothe, and provide medical care, as well as build shelters for thousands of plague-stricken people.

He once ordered an atonement procession and appeared in it with a rope about his neck, with bare and bloody feet, a cross upon his shoulder, thus presenting himself as an expiatory sacrifice for his people to ward off divine punishment. He died, dressed in sackcloth and ashes, holding a picture of Jesus Crucified in his hands, in 1584 at the age of forty-six. His last words were, "See, Lord, I am coming, I am coming soon."

Keep, O Lord, thy Church by the continual protection of Saint Charles Borromeo: that as his zeal for thy flock did render him glorious; so his intercession may ever make us fervent in thy love; 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.


 [Go to this link to read my daily Facebook posts.]

27 October 2017

St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles


Both Simon and Jude were ordinary men who were chosen by Jesus Himself to teach others about God’s love and to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Their lives help us to understand that even the most ordinary people can become saints when they decide to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

Both these men were known by other names during their lives. Simon was often called “the Zealot.” He firmly believed in the importance of people following Jewish law. Once he met Jesus, his life was changed and he became convinced that the most important thing was to follow the Lord and His teachings. We believe that another reason Simon had a nickname was to keep people from confusing him with the other Apostle named Simon, the one Jesus called Peter.

Jude was also known as “Jude Thaddeus.” People used this formal title so that he was not confused with Judas, the Apostle who betrayed Jesus and handed Him over to be arrested. Jude is the patron saint of hopeless cases. People often pray to Jude when they feel that there is no one else to turn to. They ask Jude to bring their problem to Jesus. Because Jude had such great faith, we know that nothing is impossible for those who believe in the Lord.

Simon and Jude traveled together to teach others about Jesus. Because of their eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ miracles and His death and resurrection, many people became believers and were baptized. Simon and Jude died for their faith on the same day in Persia, the land we now call Iran. These two saints remind us to learn all we can about Jesus and to share it with others, as they did.

O God, we thank thee for the glorious company of the apostles, and especially on this day for Ss. Simon and Jude; and we pray that, as they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so we may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

24 October 2017

Our Lady, Queen of Palestine



Because many of us at Our Lady of the Atonement Church are members of the Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, we commemorate Our Lady, Queen of Palestine, who is the Patroness of the Order.

In 1927, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Msgr. Louis Barlassina, because of his great concern about the political situation in the region, built a monastery, church, and orphanage in the village of Deir Rafat, and dedicated them to Our Lady, Queen of Palestine. In 1933, he instituted October 25 as a feast day in her honour under that title, and it was confirmed by the Holy See. Ever since, Deir Rafat has been a place of pilgrimage for this devotion, a much-needed source of solace for the Catholics of the Holy Land.

It is understood that this name designation, namely “Queen of Palestine” has not and has never had any political connotation since the entire Holy Land, at the time, was under the British Mandate, and was known as “Palestine." The title reflects that historical reality.

Please pray for the Christians of the Holy Land.
O Mary Immaculate, gracious Queen of Heaven and Earth, we are prostrate at your feet, sure of your goodness and confident in your power.

We beg you to look kindly on the Holy Land, which, more than any other country, belongs to you since you have honored it by your birth, your virtues and your pain, and that it is here where you gave the Savior of the World.

Remember that you were made Mother and dispenser of graces. Deign to grant special protection to your earthly homeland to dispel the darkness of the error, so that the sun of eternal justice may shine on it and that the promise, fallen from the lips of your divine Son to form one flock under the guidance of one shepherd, may be fulfilled.

Obtain us to serve the Lord in righteousness and holiness, every day of our lives, so that by the merits of Jesus, with your maternal protection, we can pass from the earthly Jerusalem to the splendors of the heavenly Jerusalem.

Grant us, O merciful God, protection in our weakness: That we who celebrate the memory of the holy Mother of God, Our Lady Queen of Palestine, may, by her intercession, be delivered from our sins; 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.

23 October 2017

Scripture Study


Shown below is the link where you can find the series of scripture studies now being offered at Our Lady of the Atonement Church.  Presently we are studying the Gospel according to St. Luke.

We meet on Wednesday evenings at 6:45 p.m. in the St. John Paul II Library at The Atonement Academy.

Go to this link to access the series.

If you have any difficulty, put this address in your browser:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHh43fb1w1geR4X6LsO1qtw

22 October 2017

St. John of Capistrano


From CatholicCulture.org
St. John was born in 1386 at Capistrano in the Italian Province of the Abruzzi. His father was a German knight and died when he was still young. St. John became a lawyer and attained the position of governor of Perugia. When war broke out between Perugia and Malatesta in 1416, St. John tried to broker a peace. Unfortunately, his opponents ignored the truce and St. John became a prisoner of war. On the death of his wife he entered the order of Friars Minor, was ordained and began to lead a very penitential life.

John became a disciple of Saint Bernadine of Siena and a noted preacher while still a deacon, beginning his work in 1420. The world at the time was in need of strong men to work for salvation of souls. Thirty percent of the population was killed by the Black Plague, the Church was split in schism and there were several men claiming to be pope. As an Itinerant priest throughout Italy, Germany, Bohemia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Russia, St. John preached to tens of thousands and established communities of Franciscan renewal. He reportedly healed the sick by making the Sign of the Cross over them. He also wrote extensively, mainly against the heresies of the day.

He was successful in reconciling heretics. After the fall of Constantinople, he preached a crusade against the Muslim Turks. At age 70 he was commissioned by Pope Callistus II to lead it, and marched off at the head of 70,000 Christian soldiers. He won the great battle of Belgrade in the summer of 1456. He died in the field a few months later, but his army delivered Europe from the Moslems.

Almighty God, who willest to be glorified in thy saints, and didst raise up thy servant St. John of Capistrano 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.

21 October 2017

My morning with a saint...


I have posted this before, but several people asked if I would again:

Approaching the feast day of St. John Paul II has triggered the memory of one of the most amazing times of my life. It was in November of 1983 that I was in Rome, taking part in the meetings which would result in the Book of Divine Worship, which serves as the foundation of the Anglican Use liturgy in the Catholic Church. 
It was my first time in Rome. I had been ordained as a Catholic priest only a few months before. They were rather heady days for a young priest, walking each morning from the Casa del Clero to the Vatican offices where we were working. 
On my first morning in Rome, I needed to find an altar where I could say Mass. There was a concelebrated Mass at the Casa, but I was ready for an adventure, so I headed on foot to St. Peter’s Basilica. I knew I needed to get there early, and I knew I should head immediately to the sacristy. Beyond that, I was completely ignorant about making arrangements for celebrating Mass there. 
Arriving in the sacristy, and after being overwhelmed by my walk through the basilica, I was fortunate that the man at the desk was patient (and by Vatican standards, even somewhat merciful). He directed me to the vesting area, summoned an altar boy for me, and before long I was following the young server down the long corridor out into the basilica. 
In my mind I can still hear the murmur of Masses being said at altar after altar, some with small congregations, others with a solitary priest. Eventually I was taken to one of the many side altars, and I began the celebration of the Mass, my first in Rome. 
It was strangely comforting to hear the low hum of the other Masses proceeding, as I made my way through the liturgy. Everything seemed to be at a concentrated level as I began the Eucharistic prayer.  At the consecration of the Host, when I genuflected, my eyes happened to catch the inscription on the front of the altar: S. Gregorius Magnus. It was overwhelming for me as I continued with the Mass, knowing that I was celebrating Holy Mass at the tomb of Pope St. Gregory, who had sent St. Augustine to England. 
After Mass, as I made my way out of the basilica, reality returned with the work at hand. All of us serving on the special commission spent a brief time getting to know one another, and the discussions began. Although I threw myself into the work, and felt the excitement of participating in something historic, the recurring thought came to me that I would very much like to attend the upcoming Wednesday general audience with the Pope. It was a few days before that when I began to drop subtle hints, but the work was keeping us very busy. One of the kindly bishops also serving in the group knew what I was thinking, and he spoke to me during one of our breaks. He expressed his regret that our work would keep me occupied during the Wednesday audience, and then he said something which seemed rather mysterious. “On Thursday morning, if you will be in the Piazza San Pietro just to the right of the obelisk at 5:00 a.m., there will be a surprise for you,” he said. 
I couldn’t imagine what he meant, but I was there by 4:00 a.m. because I could hardly sleep with the anticipation of this mystifying appointment I was keeping. It was still dark as I was saying the rosary, with the moon hanging over St. Peter’s Basilica, and when 5:00 a.m. came, I caught sight of a sliver of artificial light coming from an opening door off to my right. Being summoned to the open door by a guard, a most wonderful pilgrimage began at the bottom of a long flight of stairs. 
I still was unaware of what was waiting for me – perhaps a glimpse of some great art treasure, I thought, or maybe a private visit to the basilica – whatever it was to be, it was still a mystery to me. We reached a landing on the staircase, and entered an elevator. The elevator went up a few floors and then stopped. When we exited, we were asked to turn to the right and go down another corridor. After walking several yards, I happened to glance to my left through some open doors. The mystery was solved. 
There in front of me was the Holy Father’s private chapel. A familiar white-cassocked figure was kneeling before the altar, and the realization of where I was nearly took my breath away. After being escorted into the sacristy, I was told to vest for Mass. My mind was in a blur as I put on the vestments, and when I was ready I was taken to my place in the papal chapel, which was at a kneeler right next to the Holy Father himself. 
There were only a few of us there – the Sisters who served in the papal household, a couple of priests, and a bishop. We spent a good deal of time in silent prayer before the Mass began, and at first I was distracted by the thought that I was kneeling immediately next to the Vicar of Christ. Soon, however, the Holy Spirit took over and I found that I was able to enter deeply into prayer. From time to time a deep sigh would come from the Holy Father, and I was reminded of St. Paul’s words to the Romans, when he wrote about “sighs too deep for words.” 
After nearly a half-hour of prayer, it was time for the Mass to begin. The Pope’s vestments had been laid on the altar, and after he was vested we began the liturgy. I remained at my place during the Liturgy of the Word, but after the altar was prepared at the Offertory, I joined the Holy Father at the altar. At the time of Holy Communion, he held the paten from which I received a portion of the Host, and when he had received from the chalice he passed it to me. Certainly every time we receive Holy Communion it is a special encounter with God, but I must say that it was a unique experience for me to receive the Body and Blood of Christ while standing next to the Vicar of Christ, having concelebrated with him in his own chapel. 
At the conclusion of the Mass, we spent a good amount of time in thanksgiving. It was once again my privilege to kneel next to the Holy Father for this, and I had much for which to be thankful – but there would be more. 
Having been escorted to a reception room, there was now the opportunity to speak briefly with the Pope. When I was presented to him, he took my hands in his, and then made what could only be described as an extraordinary statement. “I know you,” he said to me. The puzzled look on my face, and my faltering question, “How, Holy Father…?” prompted him to continue. He went on to describe how my dossier had been given to him. Because mine was the first case of a married former Episcopal priest to be considered for the position of being the canonical pastor of a parish (rather than simply a parish administrator or chaplain) it was decided that such approval should be reserved to the Pope himself, rather than simply being processed through the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith as others were. 
With my eyes widening, Pope John Paul II described to me how my dossier was placed on his desk. He then told me how he had some uncertainty about approving a married man as an actual pastor, so he placed the dossier in his desk drawer. He then got it out again, only to put it back in the drawer. “Finally,” he said, “I once more put it on my desk, and I prayed, and the Holy Spirit told me to say ‘yes’.” 
Surely that must count as the most astonishing thing I had ever heard, that the Vicar of Christ was having a conversation about me with the Holy Spirit, Who then directed him to give his approval for my ordination and appointment as pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Church. If I hadn’t heard the story from the lips of the Pope himself, I would never have believed such a thing. 
When I regained my voice, I asked the Holy Father if I could take his blessing back to my family and to the people of the parish. He threw his arms around me and drew me close while he said, “With all of my heart, I bless you and your people!” And what a blessing that has been throughout the years. 
After all this, it is hardly possible to imagine there would be more, but there was yet another “once in a life-time” experience that morning. The Pope called upon one of the priests in his household to take me to “the chapel.” This confused me, because we had just come from his private chapel; however, I dutifully followed the priest, and we went off in a completely different direction down a long corridor, until we came to a large set of doors. He unlocked them and directed me in, saying to me, “Take as long as you like. I’ll wait for you out here.” He then shut the doors and left me alone without telling me where I was. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dim light, and as I looked around me I immediately knew where I was standing – it was in the Sistine Chapel. 
The unexpected experience of being in a place so famous was, for a moment, disorienting. To look up at the magnificent ceiling (even though it was before the restoration), and to be able to explore the chapel all by myself, thinking about the papal elections which had taken place there, was overwhelming. I spent quite a bit of time taking it all in, offering thanks to God for such a blessed experience, and then I remembered the priest outside the door, patiently waiting for me. 
He helped me find my way back to the stairs which I had climbed earlier that morning, and when I went through the doors leading into Piazza San Pietro, it was filled with the usual bustle of a day in Rome. It was all I could do to stop myself from rushing up to the first person I saw and asking him to guess where I’d just been! Instead, I headed across the Piazza to the office where we were working on the Book of Divine Worship, and I continued on the project which was the reason for my being there. 
But I have to say, it had been quite a morning.

10 October 2017

St. John XXIII


St. John XXIII was born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli at Sotto il Monte, Italy, in the Diocese of Bergamo on 25 November 1881. He was the fourth in a family of 14. The family worked as sharecroppers. It was a patriarchal family in the sense that the families of two brothers lived together, headed by his great-uncle Zaverio, who had never married and whose wisdom guided the work and other business of the family. Zaverio was Angelo's godfather, and to him he always attributed his first and most fundamental religious education. The religious atmosphere of his family and the fervent life of the parish, under the guidance of Fr. Francesco Rebuzzini, provided him with training in the Christian life.

He entered the Bergamo seminary in 1892. Here he began the practice of making spiritual notes, which he continued in one form or another until his death, and which have been gathered together in the Journal of a Soul. Here he also began the deeply cherished practice of regular spiritual direction. In 1896 he was admitted to the Secular Franciscan Order by the spiritual director of the Bergamo seminary, Fr. Luigi Isacchi; he made a profession of its Rule of life on 23 May 1897.

From 1901 to 1905 he was a student at the Pontifical Roman Seminary. On 10 August 1904 he was ordained a priest in the church of Santa Maria in Monte Santo in Rome's Piazza del Popolo. In 1905 he was appointed secretary to the new Bishop of Bergamo, Giacomo Maria Radini Tedeschi.

When Italy went to war in 1915 he was drafted as a sergeant in the medical corps and became a chaplain to wounded soldiers. When the war ended, he opened a "Student House" for the spiritual needs of young people.

In 1919 he was made spiritual director of the seminary, but in 1921 he was called to the service of the Holy See. Benedict XV brought him to Rome to be the Italian president of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. In 1925 Pius XI named him Apostolic Visitator in Bulgaria, raising him to the episcopate with the titular Diocese of Areopolis. For his episcopal motto he chose Oboedientia et Pax, which became his guiding motto for the rest of his life.

On 19 March 1925 he was ordained Bishop and left for Bulgaria. He was granted the title Apostolic Delegate and remained in Bulgaria until 1935, visiting Catholic communities and establishing relationships of respect and esteem with the other Christian communities.

In 1935 he was named Apostolic Delegate in Turkey and Greece. His ministry among the Catholics was intense, and his respectful approach and dialogue with the worlds of Orthodoxy and Islam became a feature of his tenure. In December 1944 Pius XII appointed him Nuncio in France.

At the death of Pius XII he was elected Pope on 28 October 1958, taking the name John XXIII. His pontificate, which lasted less than five years, presented him to the entire world as an authentic image of the Good Shepherd. Meek and gentle, enterprising and courageous, simple and active, he carried out the Christian duties of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy: visiting the imprisoned and the sick, welcoming those of every nation and faith, bestowing on all his exquisite fatherly care. His social magisterium in the Encyclicals Pacem in Terris and Mater et Magistra was deeply appreciated.

He convoked the Roman Synod, established the Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law and summoned the Second Vatican Council. The faithful saw in him a reflection of the goodness of God and called him "the good Pope." He was sustained by a profound spirit of prayer. He launched an extensive renewal of the Church, while radiating the peace of one who always trusted in the Lord. Pope John XXIII died on the evening of 3 June 1963, in a spirit of profound trust in Jesus and of longing for his embrace.

-Taken from L'Osservatore Romano, September 6, 2000.

Almighty and eternal God, who in Pope Saint John the Twenty-third didst give to the whole world the shining example of a good shepherd: grant, we beseech thee; that, through his intercession, we may with joy spread abroad the fulness of Christian charity; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

09 October 2017

In 1492...


The second Monday in October is observed as Columbus Day – the anniversary of the day in 1492 when Christopher Columbus and his men first sighted land in their amazing voyage across the ocean from Europe. Some people try to paint a very black picture of Columbus, and you might hear or read things that make him and his motives look very bad – all for the cause of political correctness. But the truth is, Columbus had two reasons and two reasons only for this adventure: one practical, and one spiritual.

Spain had just ejected the Muslims who had overrun huge parts of Europe, and these invaders had ravaged places like Spain, and had made it very poor. So one of the reasons for the voyage was to find another trade route to the Far East, where they hoped to find sources of revenue to rebuild what the Muslims had destroyed; but the other reason – the purpose closest to the heart of Columbus – was to bring the Catholic Faith to the native people in this new world, people who were living in the darkness of paganism.

So on August 2nd 1492 the three ships – the Niña, the Pinta , and the Santa Maria, carrying 120 men, set sail from the shores of Spain. Christopher Columbus was an experienced sailor, having served on ships from the time he was a boy. He was raised in the Catholic Faith, and always took the practice of his faith very seriously. When he received the inspiration for this voyage, he tried to convince the King of Portugal to sponsor him, but with no success. So he set off for Spain, spending years trying to convince King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to support him, which he finally did, with the help of a holy Franciscan priest, Fr. Juan Perez. In fact, it was this priest who would eventually celebrate the first Mass in America on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and that is a reason our nation is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, which is commemorated by our national basilica in Washington, D.C.

Christopher Columbus also convinced the Pope, Alexander VI, to help with the cost of the voyage, because this was to be a great missionary journey. Columbus wrote to the Pope: “I trust that by God’s help, I may spread the Holy Name and Gospel of Jesus Christ as widely as possible.” It was a very difficult voyage. The men began to loose hope. Two months passed, and there was still no land to be seen. The crew grew restless and insisted that their captain turn back. But Columbus was certain that God was guiding them, and he told them that if no land was seen by the time of the Feast of Our Lady of the Pillar, October 12th, he would do as they wanted. The men agreed, and land was sighted, on the very day of the great Feast of Our Lady.

The first act by Columbus upon setting foot on this new land was to set up the Cross and claim it in the Name of Jesus Christ. He named the first island he arrived at “San Salvador” (Holy Savior). In all, Christopher Columbus led four excursions from the shores of Spain to America. He maintained his deep faith, even when things were difficult – and whatever his detractors might say, he accomplished what he set out to do – he brought the Catholic Faith to these new and distant lands, so that those living in darkness would know the Light of Christ. Indeed, his adventures paved the way for missionaries to continue the great work of taking the Catholic Faith to every part of the world.

08 October 2017

A simple writing desk...


It has been said that Bl. John Henry Newman "wrote himself into the Church." If there is any truth in that, then it took place on this desk, where he wrote his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. It was 1845, and he had been at Littlemore for the previous few years. He was undergoing spiritual suffering, and he was eating so little that he was described as "ghostly thin." He stood at this desk to write, the writing surface adjusted to be at a slight slope, and by the time he finished the work he knew he would enter the Catholic Church.

Is it possible to know something of the man simply from a piece of furniture? Objectively speaking, perhaps not; but I cannot deny the overwhelming sense of Newman's journey as I laid my hand on the surface of the desk where his own hand had laboured, and where his heart searched out and found its home.

It was on 9 October 1845 that Bl. John Henry Newman was received into the Church by Bl. Dominic Barberi. On 10 October 1845 an altar stone was placed on this very desk, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered -- the Mass at which Bl. John Henry Newman received his first Holy Communion as a Catholic layman.

He never again used this desk as a place to write. He said he could not, knowing that it had been used for so great a Mystery as the Mass.

05 October 2017

St. Bruno, Priest and Founder


St. Bruno founded a religious order, the Carthusians, which is the most demanding, the most strict and the most difficult in which to live – and yet many young men choose it as a way of making a life-long sacrifice for the glory of God.

Born in Cologne, Germany, St. Bruno became a famous teacher at Rheims and an important official the archdiocese. It was a time when many clergy were living lives that were incompatible with their calling, and when Pope Gregory VII brought about reforms, Bruno completely supported it. In fact, he took part in getting his own scandalous archbishop removed from office – of course, the archbishop had his friends, and they made life very difficult for Bruno.

After all this, St. Bruno had the dream of living in solitude and prayer, and persuaded a few friends to join him in a hermitage, and eventually was given some land which was to become famous for his foundation "in the Chartreuse" which described the color of the countryside (yellowish green, and from which comes the word “Carthusian”). The climate, desert, mountainous terrain and inaccessibility guaranteed silence, poverty and small numbers.

Bruno and his friends built an oratory with small individual cells at a distance from each other. They met for Matins and Vespers each day, and spent the rest of the time in solitude, eating together only on great feasts. Their chief work was copying manuscripts.

The pope, hearing of Bruno's holiness, called for his assistance in Rome. When the pope had to flee Rome, Bruno pulled up stakes again, and spent his last years (after refusing becoming a bishop) in the wilderness of Calabria.

He was never formally canonized, because the Carthusians avoided all occasions of publicity. Pope Clement extended his feast to the whole Church in 1674.

Almighty and everlasting God, who dost prepare mansions in heaven for them that forsake the world: we humbly entreat thy boundless mercy; that at the intercession of blessed Bruno, thy Confessor, we may be faithful to vows that we have made, and may obtain, to our eternal salvation, the rewards which thou hast promised to them that persevere unto the end; 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.

02 October 2017

Given as God's love...

“The Wounded Angel” by Hugo Simberg

Who can possibly begin to understand the evil that descended upon Las Vegas? But perhaps a small sign of God's loving presence there is the fact that the cathedral in that city is dedicated to the Holy Guardian Angel. Notice it's not plural - it's dedication is to your guardian angel, and to mine, and to everyone's, individually.

Where were the guardian angels of those who were brutally murdered? You can be sure each one was there, fighting. Fighting for the soul of each person, perhaps bringing about conversion in the last moment, and undoubtedly bringing comfort at the instant of death, for those who would receive it.

Guardian angels are not lucky charms. They are given to us as God's love. They do battle for us and with us. They are dedicated to the job of doing everything possible to bring us to God. .

01 October 2017

St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus


Marie Thérèse Martin was born into a family of very faithful Catholics, and she was the youngest of five daughters. Her father was a watchmaker, and her mother, Zelie, who died when Thérèse was four, was a lace maker.

While still a child she felt the attraction of the cloister, and at fifteen obtained permission to enter the Carmel of Lisieux, taking the name of Sr. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. For the next nine years she lived a very ordinary religious life. There are no miracles or exceptional experiences recorded about her. She attained a very high degree of holiness simply by carrying out her ordinary daily duties with perfect faithfulness, having a childlike confidence in God's providence and merciful love and by being ready to be at the service of others at all times. She also had a great love of the Church and a zeal for the conversion of souls, and she prayed especially for priests.

She died of tuberculosis on September 30, 1897, at the age of 24, and was canonized in 1925. She has never ceased to fulfill her promise: "I will pass my heaven in doing good on earth." Her interior life is known through her autobiography called The Story of a Soul. Pope St. John Paul II declared her to be a Doctor of the Church in 1997.

O Lord Jesus Christ, who hast said, except ye become as little children ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven: grant us, we beseech thee, in meekness and lowliness of heart to follow the footsteps of blessed Thérèse thy Virgin; and so at last to come unto thine everlasting kingdom; who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

On a personal note, with the Commemoration of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus - the Little Flower - come remembrances of occasions when she has sent a rose into someone's life at just the right time.

My own experience was several years ago, during a time of great trial, when I very much needed a sign of God's love and something which would indicate I was acting in accordance with His Divine Will. It was at about 4:45 a.m., when I was walking from my car to offer Mass at the Carmelite convent where I was chaplain. It was a winter morning, and the temperature was near freezing. I had been asking St. Thérèse and the Blessed Mother for their intercession. Just before opening the gate to the convent I looked down, and on the sidewalk was a fresh rose with some drops of water on the petals. When I got inside I asked the nuns if they had been bringing roses in from someplace, but they assured me that they hadn't. I took it as a sign of God's love, sent by the Little Flower, and it was all I needed at that important time.

29 September 2017

St. Jerome the Irritable


Most saints are remembered for some outstanding virtue or devotion which they practiced, but Jerome is frequently remembered for his bad temper! It is true that he came across as a bit of a grouch and could use a vitriolic pen, but his love for God was extraordinarily intense. St. Jerome considered that anyone who taught error was an enemy of God and truth, and he went after such a person with his mighty and sometimes sarcastic pen.

He was above all a Scripture scholar, translating most of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. He also wrote commentaries which are a great source of scriptural inspiration for us today. He was an avid student, a thorough scholar, a prodigious letter-writer and a consultant to monk, bishop and pope. St. Augustine said of him, "What Jerome is ignorant of, no mortal has ever known."

His love for scripture lead him to the Holy Land – he wanted to see the places of scripture.  He began work on his greatest achievement, which was the Latin Vulgate version of the scriptures.

He took up residence in Bethlehem, and the cave in which he lived was in close proximity to the cave in which Jesus was born.  It was where he studied and worked for many years, eventually dying there.  His body is now in St. Mary Major in Rome.

Here are some quotes from the inimitable Jerome:

On the study of Hebrew he wrote, “From the judicious precepts of Quintilian, the rich and fluent eloquence of Cicero, the graver style of Fronto, and the smoothness of Pliny, I turned to this language of hissing and broken-winded words.”

On worldly women, he railed against those who “paint their cheeks with rouge and their eyelids with antimony, whose plastered faces, too white for human beings, look like idols; and if in a moment of forgetfulness they shed a tear it makes a furrow where it rolls down the painted cheek; women to whom years do not bring the gravity of age, who load their heads with other people's hair, enamel a lost youth upon the wrinkles of age, and affect a maidenly timidity in the midst of a troop of grandchildren.”

Even the clergy of Rome didn’t get a break. He said, “All their anxiety is about their clothes.... You would take them for bridegrooms rather than for clerics; all they think about is knowing the names and houses and doings of rich ladies.”


No wonder he ended up living in a cave.


St. Jerome's Cave in Bethlehem,
where we have celebrated Mass according to the Anglican Use on a few occasions.

O God, who hast given us the holy Scriptures for a light to shine upon our path: grant us, after the example of thy servant Saint Jerome and assisted by his prayers, so to learn of thee according to thy holy Word; that we may find in it the light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day; 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.