28 July 2017

St. Martha of Bethany


Our first thought upon hearing the name of St. Martha is probably the recollection of the woman preparing a meal for the Lord Jesus, upset that her sister Mary is not helping her, and who then is gently rebuked by Christ when He told her that “Mary has chosen the better portion.” What we should more readily recall, however, is her exchange with the Lord when He came to her house after the death of her brother Lazarus.

Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world."

Here is Martha, the woman of great faith; the woman who professes Jesus as the Christ; the woman who professes the power of God in the coming resurrection. Is there any doubt that in her heart, Martha, too, had chosen “the better portion,” as Christ urged her to do?

Almighty and most merciful God, whose Son did vouchsafe to be welcomed in the home of blessed Martha: grant, we beseech thee, by the merits of her who lovingly served him; that we of thy mercy may be received into our heavenly home; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

21 July 2017

St. Mary Magdalene


St. Mary Magdalene -- a woman of mystery!  Was she one and the same as Mary of Bethany?  Had she been an immoral woman in her past life, or simply a woman from Magdala who was delivered from evil spirits?  Whatever the case, we know she stood with the Blessed Mother and St. John at the foot of the cross; we know she was the first witness of the risen Lord Jesus Christ; and it was St. Mary Magdalene who ran to tell the apostles this Good News. Pope St. Gregory writes about it:


When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and did not find the Lord’s body, she thought it had been taken away and so informed the disciples. After they came and saw the tomb, they too believed what Mary had told them. The text then says: The disciples went back home, and it adds: but Mary wept and remained standing outside the tomb.

We should reflect on Mary’s attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.

At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a great love. As David says: My soul has thirsted for the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God? And so also in the Song of Songs the Church says: I was wounded by love; and again: My soul is melted with love.

Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She is asked why she is sorrowing so that her desire might be strengthened; for when she mentions whom she is seeking, her love is kindled all the more ardently.

Jesus says to her: Mary. Jesus is not recognized when he calls her “woman”; so he calls her by name, as though he were saying: Recognize me as I recognize you; for I do not know you as I know others; I know you as yourself. And so Mary, once addressed by name, recognizes who is speaking. She immediately calls him rabboni, that is to say, teacher, because the one whom she sought outwardly was the one who inwardly taught her to keep on searching.


O Almighty God, whose blessed Son did call and sanctify Mary Magdalene to be a witness to his Resurrection: mercifully grant that by thy grace, and assisted by her prayers, we may be healed of all our infirmities, and always serve thee in the power of his endless life; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

17 July 2017

Fr. Peter J. Scagnelli, 1949-2017


A good friend and brother priest, Fr. Peter J. Scagnelli, died this past Wednesday. This is a picture of him when I was ordained to the priesthood in 1983. The ceremony called for a priest to present the one to be ordained to the bishop, and he did that for me.

It was just a year ago that God gave me the overwhelming feeling that I should go to Massachusetts and visit him. Although we kept in constant touch by telephone and text, we hadn't actually seen one another in several years. It was a wonderful visit. We had three days together, and although conversation was difficult because of his illness, we knew exactly what we were wanting to say. We shared old times, and we talked about God and about how good He has been to both of us. We prayed together, and I offered Mass in his little chapel.

As I looked at him sitting in his chair, with his precious companion Rex (a Siamese cat) by his side, he looked physically frail but I knew him to be a spiritual giant whom God had used to change my life.  When it was time for me to leave he stood on the porch and made the sign of the cross in my direction.  We both knew it was the last time we would see one another in this life.

I'm not exactly certain about the finer details of how the cleansing of purgatory works, but I'm thinking that he won't need much more than a quick brush-up, and he'll be good to go. It was a brain tumor that took him, and the suffering he endured was unimaginable to me. I don't mean the physical suffering so much, but the distress of having a brilliant mind and being unable to put into words what he wanted to say. It must have been terrible for him.

I have often recounted the story of how we first met:

I was a young Episcopal cleric just returned to Rhode Island from a stint of serving in the Anglican Diocese of Bristol, England. The parish I had come to was middle-to-high: vestments, occasional incense, a few statues strategically placed.

There was a parishioner who wanted us to have a new statue of St. Joseph. The old statue was small and not in terribly good shape. I was deputized to find a new one, but there were a couple of requirements. It had to be two feet tall and it had to be cheap. The only solution was to go to a local religious goods store and look for something that might look half-way acceptable if the lights were dim.

I found one. It wasn’t beautiful, but it was acceptable. “Wrap it up and I’ll take it,” I told the clerk. “Sorry, sir, but this is the last one and we don’t have a box for it,” was the reply. A dilemma. I was driving a Volkswagen, and the back seat was already fairly full with a child’s car seat and other assorted items. The only option I could see was to stand it up in the passenger’s seat and strap the seat belt around it, which I did.

I was just closing the passenger door. St. Joseph was safely strapped in, facing ram-rod straight ahead. I heard a voice behind me. “You might want to let him drive.” I turned around to see a young priest about my age, with a grin on his face. We exchanged quips about the statue with the seat belt, and then began to chat about other things. We quickly discovered that my Episcopal parish and his Catholic parish were located fairly close to one another. We seemed to click, we made lunch plans, and one of the most important friendships of my life began.

We got together regularly to talk. It didn’t take long for our discussions to turn into question and answer sessions – me asking the questions, and him giving the answers. I wanted to know about the Catholic faith. And he told me. He was always gentle in his answers, but he never watered down the truth. Even if the issue was a difficult one, he always told me what the Church teaches. I was grateful for that. I would have resented it if I had discovered that he was tailoring what he said to make it fit what he might have thought I wanted to hear. I learned Catholic truth, and when it was presented to me in its fullness and in its beauty, I knew I had to embrace it. I believed it completely.

How grateful I am to St. Joseph. Without saying a word, he helped bring me into the Catholic Church by introducing me to a faithful Catholic priest. The statue may not have been very beautiful, but everything else in the story is.


As I said, he died last Wednesday. That's the day of the week traditionally dedicated to St. Joseph, patron of a holy death. We always remembered that it was St. Joseph who had brought us together as friends and eventually as brother priests.

So it was a good day for him to die, and it was a good day for him to be born into eternal life.

16 July 2017

"Lantern of the Lothians"

One of the truly beautiful hymn tunes in the Church’s treasury is David Evans’ “Lucerna Laudoniae.” The name of the tune means “Lantern of the Lothians,” which was a Franciscan monastery at Haddington, East Lothian in Scotland. The monastery was destroyed in 1355, but in the fifteenth-century a church was built on the site – and it is now immortalized by this simple and dignified hymn tune.

There are several texts which have made use of the tune, perhaps the most famous being “For the beauty of the earth.” Some years ago I wrote the following words specifically for the tune.

Jesus Christ, our Saviour King,
unto thee thy people sing;
hear the prayers we humbly make,
hear them for thy mercy’s sake.
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
fill our souls, and make us thine.

Give us eyes that we may see;
give us hearts to worship thee;
give us ears that we may hear;
in thy love, Lord, draw us near.
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
fill our souls and make us thine.

In our darkness, shed thy light;
lift us to thy heav’nly height;
may we be thy dwelling-place,
tabernacles of thy grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
fill our souls and make us thine.

In thy Kingdom grant us rest,
in Jerusalem the blest;
with the saints our lips shall sing,
with the angels echoing:
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
thou dost reign, and we are thine!


Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips (1990)
Music: “Lucerna Laudoniae”

14 July 2017

St. Bonaventure

St. Bonaventure is known as "the seraphic doctor," was born in the Lazio region of central Italy in 1221. His baptismal name was John. He received the name of Bonaventure because of an exclamation which was made by St. Francis of Assisi, when little John’s mother took him to Francis, begging him to pray for her little boy who was very ill. Francis prayed, and little John recovered. When Francis foresaw the future greatness of the boy, he cried out "O buona ventura" - O good fortune! – and that was the name given to John when he entered the Franciscan order.

He was twenty-two when St. Bonaventure joined the Franciscans. Having made his vows, he was then sent to Paris to complete his studies. His main tutor was the celebrated doctor Alexander of Hales, who was an Englishman and a Franciscan. While he was in Paris, St. Bonaventure became a close friend of the great St. Thomas Aquinas. They received their doctoral degrees together, but St. Bonaventure – always a very humble man, insisted that at the ceremony Thomas Aquinas should have the honor of receiving it first. Both St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure became well known throughout the Church for their great scholarship and brilliance, and both even became quite close to the holy king of France, St. Louis.

At the age of thirty-five St. Bonaventure was chosen to be the General of the Franciscan Order. It was a difficult time for the Franciscans, because of internal dissension. The friars had argued about the meaning and practice of poverty – already they were straying from the vision and teaching of their Founder – but St. Bonaventure restored peace to the Order. He worked tirelessly for the Franciscan Order, and composed an important work, The Life of St. Francis. He was nominated Archbishop of York in England by Pope Clement IV, but he begged the pope not to force him to accept. The next pope, Gregory X, obliged Bonaventure to take upon himself an even more difficult position, that of the Cardinal Archbishop of Albano, one of the six suffragan Sees of Rome, while still being General of his Order. However, before his death he resigned his office of General of the Franciscan Order. He died while he was at the Second Council of Lyons, on July 15, 1274, working for the good of the Church until his very last breath. How right St. Francis was when he exclaimed “O buona ventura” – “O good fortune!” It was certainly good fortune for the Church when St. Bonaventure gave his life in service to Christ.

It was said of St. Bonaventure (1221-1274) that he was "...a unique personality. He was unsurpassed in sanctity, wisdom, eloquence, and gifted with a remarkable skill of accomplishing things, a heart full of love, a winning disposition, benevolent, affable, pious, charitable, rich in virtue, beloved by God and man. . . . The Lord endowed him with such a charming disposition that everyone who saw him was immediately attracted to him."

Considered to be a "second founder" of the Franciscans, he was an outstanding teacher and a spell-binding preacher.  He was known for his virtue and wisdom.  He is known as the "Seraphic Teacher" because of his deeply mystical understanding of the Faith.

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O God, by whose providence blessed Bonaventure was sent to guide thy people in the way of everlasting salvation: grant, we beseech thee; that as we have learned of him the doctrine of life on earth, so we may be found worthy to have him for our advocate in heaven; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Prayer of St. Bonaventure.

Pierce, O most sweet Lord Jesus, my inmost soul with the most joyous and healthful wound of Thy love, and with true, calm and most holy apostolic charity, that my soul may ever languish and melt with entire love and longing for Thee, may yearn for Thee and for thy courts, may long to be dissolved and to be with Thee.

Grant that my soul may hunger after Thee, the Bread of Angels, the refreshment of holy souls, our daily and super substantial bread, having all sweetness and savor and every delightful taste.

May my heart ever hunger after and feed upon Thee, Whom the angels desire to look upon, and may my inmost soul be filled with the sweetness of Thy savor; may it ever thirst for Thee, the fountain of life, the fountain of wisdom and knowledge, the fountain of eternal light, the torrent of pleasure, the fullness of the house of God; may it ever compass Thee, seek Thee, find Thee, run to Thee, come up to Thee, meditate on Thee, speak of Thee, and do all for the praise and glory of Thy name, with humility and discretion, with love and delight, with ease and affection, with perseverance to the end; and be Thou alone ever my hope, my entire confidence, my riches, my delight, my pleasure, my joy, my rest and tranquility, my peace, my sweetness, my food, my refreshment, my refuge, my help, my wisdom, my portion, my possession, my treasure; in Whom may my mind and my heart be ever fixed and firm and rooted immovably. Amen.

12 July 2017

St. Henry of Bavaria


St. Henry (973–1024) is a patron saint for those who are childless.  He was known also as Henry the Lame, and for that reason he is also counted as a patron saint for the disabled and handicapped.  Here's his story:
Henry, surnamed the Pious, Duke of Bavaria, became successively King of Germany and Emperor of the Romans; but not satisfied with a mere temporal principality, he strove to gain an immortal crown, by paying zealous service to the eternal King. As emperor, he devoted himself earnestly to spreading religion, and rebuilt with great magnificence the churches which had been destroyed by the infidels, endowing them generously both with money and lands. He built monasteries and other pious establishments, and increased the income of others; the bishopric of Bamberg, which he had founded out of his family possessions, he made tributary to St. Peter and the Roman Pontiff. When Benedict VIII, who had crowned him emperor, was obliged to seek safety in flight, Henry received him and restored him to his see.

Once when he was suffering from a severe illness in the monastery of Monte Cassino, St. Benedict cured him by a wonderful miracle. He endowed the Roman Church with a most copious grant, undertook in her defense a war against the Greeks, and gained possession of Apulia, which they had held for some time. It was his custom to undertake nothing without prayer, and at times he saw the angel of the Lord, or the holy martyrs, his patrons, fighting for him at the head of his army. Aided thus by the divine protection, he overcame barbarous nations more by prayer than by arms. Hungary was still pagan; but Henry having given his sister in marriage to its King Stephen, the latter was baptized, and thus the whole nation was brought to the faith of Christ. He set the rare example of preserving virginity in the married state, and at his death restored his wife, St. Cunigund, a virgin to her family.

He arranged everything relating to the glory or advantage of his empire with the greatest prudence, and left scattered throughout Gaul, Italy, and Germany, traces of his munificence towards religion. The sweet odor of his heroic virtue spread far and wide, till he was more celebrated for his holiness than for his imperial dignity. At length his life's work was accomplished, and he was called by our Lord to the rewards of the heavenly kingdom, in the year of salvation 1024. His body was buried in the church of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul at Bamberg. God wished to glorify His servant, and many miracles were worked at his tomb. These being afterwards proved and certified, Eugenius III inscribed his name upon the catalogue of the saints. 
- from The Liturgical Year, Abbot Gueranger O.S.B.

O God, whose abundant grace prepared Saint Henry to be raised by thee in a wonderful way from the cares of earthly rule to heavenly realms: grant, we pray, through his intercession; that amid the uncertainties of this world, we may hasten towards thee in perfect purity of heart; 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.

When small means big...


One of Christ’s best-known descriptions of the Kingdom of God likens it to a mustard seed, which, although among the smallest of seeds, grows up into a mighty shrub.  Not only is it an apt picture of the Kingdom, but it is well-suited to describe the actions of our own lives as Christians.  We may never know the wider ramifications of some small word or deed, how it might be just the catalyst for a dramatic change in someone's life.  God often uses a small action or a quiet word of encouragement to accomplish a great thing.



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03 July 2017

A Prayer For Our Country


ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favour and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.