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.


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