26 January 2018

St. Angela Merici


St. Angela Merici was born in 1474 in Verona (in what is now Italy), and she founded the first teaching congregation of women in the Church, the community dedicated to St. Ursula, known as the Ursulines. As a young woman she became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis, and lived a very simple life – in fact, a life that was so austere, that she wanted to live like St. Francis of Assisi. She wanted to own nothing of her own, so that she wouldn’t become attached to anything. Early in her life she was very concerned about the ignorance about the Faith among poorer children, whose parents could not or would not teach them even their basic catechism. She set out to provide simple lessons for those children who needed to be formed in their understanding of God, and also of basic things like reading. St. Angela was a very attractive person – not only in the way she presented herself, but also through her very sweet personality and her ability to lead others. Soon, other young women joined her in giving regular instruction to the children in their neighborhood, and it developed into a place where girls who had no other opportunities to study could come to learn.

One day she received the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This was an amazing thing for her – she had never traveled far from home, and she was very excited as she began the great journey with a group of her friends. When they had gotten as far as the island of Crete, she was struck with blindness. Her friends wanted to return home, but she insisted on going through with the pilgrimage, and she visited the sacred shrines with as much devotion and enthusiasm as if she had her sight. On the way back, while praying before a crucifix, her sight was restored at the very same place where it had been lost.

At the age of 57, she organized a group of twelve young women to help her in catechetical work. Four years later the group had increased to twenty-eight. She formed them into the Company of St. Ursula, who was the patroness of medieval universities and venerated as a leader of women. Their purpose was to re-build family life through the solid Christian education of future wives and mothers. The importance of the education of children was beginning to be seen as more and more essential, and we see it being developed through such people as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann, who were simply carrying on the work of people like St. Angela.

O Almighty God, who hast compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of thy servant St. Angela Merici, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at length, through thy mercy, we may with her attain to thine eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

24 January 2018

Conversion of St. Paul


St. Paul was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, and was born in Tarsus, the capitol of Cilicia. Although he was a Roman citizen, he was brought up as a strict Jew, studied to be a rabbi, and later became a violent persecutor of the Christians. While on his way to Damascus to arrest the Christians there, he was suddenly converted by a miraculous apparition of Our Lord. He became the great Apostle of the Gentiles, making three missionary journeys which brought him to the great centers of Asia Minor and southern Europe, making many converts as he travelled. He was beheaded in Rome in 66, and his relics are kept in the Basilica of St. Paul near the Ostian Way.

O God, who, through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Paul, hast caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: grant, we beseech thee; that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show forth our thankfulness unto thee for the same, by following the holy doctrine which he taught; 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 January 2018

Pray for the unborn



O God our Creator, we give thanks to thee, who alone hast the power to impart the breath of life as thou dost form each of us in our mother’s womb: grant, we pray; that we, whom thou hast made stewards of creation, may remain faithful to this sacred trust and constant in safeguarding the dignity of every human 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.

15 January 2018

What a trip!


Thirty-six years ago this week my family and I were on a journey unlike any we had ever been on before. It was on January 17th that we arrived in San Antonio from Rhode Island. We had driven for almost five days, having left New England in the midst of a near-blizzard.

As we were about to begin the road trip, I took our rather decrepit Volkswagen to a mechanic, and when I asked him if we’d make it to Texas his reply was, “Hell, Mister, I don’t think you’ll make it out of town!” We did, though. We arrived with our (then) three very young children, our dog and a hamster, along with whatever supplies we could pack in around them.

On the day we left Rhode Island I was removed from the clerical ranks of the Episcopal diocese – officially deposed by the Episcopal bishop, George Hunt. My salary was terminated, we were immediately stricken from all diocesan insurance policies, and even my small pension plan had been confiscated. As we approached San Antonio, we were entering the unknown. I wasn't sure even how to start a new work in the untested Pastoral Provision of Pope John Paul II, and I had no sense of a vocation to be a pioneer. Of course, God had a plan. It would have been nice at the time to have known what it was, but I suppose He wanted us to learn to walk in faith, which we did.

Looking back, those were some tough days. Fortunately, I was (and still am) blessed with a wife who understood as I did, that God had called us to become Catholics and to cooperate with Him in establishing the parish of Our Lady of the Atonement. And it was fortunate, too, that she was able to create a meal out of next to nothing, since in those early years we had an extremely small amount of money to live on, especially with three young children. But as difficult as those times were, they were exciting, too. We were doing something worthy, something that hadn't been done before. Big challenges led to little victories, as we worked and waited for a year an a half in the hope that the Holy Father would grant my petition and allow my ordination to the Sacred Priesthood. Happily, he did.

A lot of memories can get packed into thirty-six years, but of all of them perhaps the most vivid is when we caught sight of the sign that said "Entering San Antonio." Actually, it probably should have said, "Entering the most exciting and blessed time of your life!"

12 January 2018

St. Hilary, Bishop and Doctor


In the early days and years of the Church, it was constantly persecuted by outside forces – sometimes by groups of Jews, frequently by the civil government – and that persecution continued until the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in the year 312. But scarcely had the days of bloody persecution ended, when there arose up within the Church a most dangerous enemy of another sort, Arianism. The heresy of Arianism denied the divinity of Christ; it was, in fact, hardly more than a form of paganism masquerading as the Christian Gospel. The smoldering strife soon flared into a mighty conflict endangering the whole Church; and its spread was all the more rapid and powerful because emperors, who called themselves Christian, proved its best supporters. Once again countless martyrs sealed in blood their belief in Christ's divinity; and orthodox bishops who voiced opposition were forced into exile amid extreme privations.

Among the foremost defenders of the true faith stood Hilary. He belonged to a distinguished family and had received an excellent education. Though a married man, he was made bishop of Poitiers by reason of his exemplary life. It was not long before his valiant defense of the faith precipitated his exile to Phrygia. Here he composed his great work on the Blessed Trinity (in twelve books). It is a vigorous defense of the faith, which, he said, "triumphs when attacked." Finally, after four years he was permitted to return to his native land. He continued his efforts, and through prudence and mildness succeeded in ridding Gaul of Arianism. Because of his edifying and illustrious writings on behalf of the true religion, the Church honors him as one of her doctors.

He wrote to his fellow bishops, “Be ready for martyrdom! Satan himself is clothed as an angel of light.” A favorite motto of St. Hilary was, "Servants of the truth ought to speak the truth."

Almighty, everlasting God, whose servant Hilary steadfastly confessed thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to be very God and very Man: grant that we may hold to this faith, and evermore magnify his holy Name; 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.

11 January 2018

The Right Use of Authority


When Jesus taught He spoke with authority. In fact, it was one of the things people commented upon when they heard Him. He didn’t support his statements with quotes from other authorities, as a rabbi would usually do. He was authority incarnate - the Word of God made flesh. When He spoke, God spoke. When He commanded even the demons obeyed.

So what about "authority"? The word comes from the Latin auctoritas, which is related to the word augere, which means "to increase; to make bigger.” A person who is given authority is not supposed to be someone who wields coercive power over others. The exercise of genuine authority is not to control, or to keep people in line; rather, to have authority is to be someone who helps people reach their full potential.

So, when parents exercise authority over their children, it should be done in such a way as to help them to become better. When the clergy exercise authority, it should be to help those under their charge to become more and more of what God intends them to be.

This is the kind of authority Jesus showed perfectly. He invited people to follow Him, and to be more like Him. He came to serve, and not to be served. He came to give life, life in its fullness. He came to lead people into the full development of all they were created to be.

We can tell the difference between the good exercise of authority and the bad exercise of authority. Is it making us better people? Is it helping us to become what God wants us to be?

Authority is not a weapon to inflict random decisions upon people. It is a tool, given by God, to help us know what is good and right and true, so that we may embrace and do those things.

St. Benedict Biscop, Abbot

I love telling the stories of the saints. Having Mass every day as we do at the school, it means our children get to know authentic heroes, men and women who show selflessness and genuine godliness in their lives. They are ordinary people made extraordinary by God’s grace. And as we meet them each year, it begins to dawn on many of the students, “if they could do it, maybe I can too.”

St. Benedict Biscop is not the best known saint, by any means. He didn’t suffer for his faith. He lived fairly comfortably when compared to his contemporaries. But he had a sense of destiny, not just for himself, but for his people. He was (as hagiographers are so fond of saying) “of noble birth." He served his king and he was rewarded with his own land grant. The typical “local lad makes good” story.

It could have stopped there. A young man, a property owner, a good Catholic boy, who might have settled down and married the maiden next door, have a passel of children, pass into old age and a quiet death, unknown except to those closest to him. And that would have been fine, if God hadn’t had other plans for him.

Benedict Biscop wanted to travel. He wanted to go to Rome. There was a deep desire within him to make his own kind of ad limina. Saints had lived there, and they had died there, and he wanted to see it, experience it, soak it in for himself. He wanted to pray at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul. He wanted to take in the beauty of it all. And he did, not only once, but several times. In fact, much of his life was spent traveling back and forth to Rome, and what he saw there he wanted to carry back to his own people. And that he did too. Art, liturgy, theology, music, everything he experienced in that great city of faith was something he knew would benefit his people in cold, far-away Northumbria.

Here’s part of the spiritual genius of St. Benedict Biscop. Great music, great art, great architecture isn’t just for the great centers of civilization. God intends it for us all. He has created us with a hunger for such things. The good abbot built the first stone structure his people had ever seen. He brought the finest continental glaziers to wild Northumbria to give his monastery unheard-of glass windows. He filled the place with paintings which served as poor men’s books. He established the expectation of learning amongst his monks, astonishing even them with what they could accomplish. His work reached even a young boy named Bede who came and never left.

When it comes to fitting out God’s house, and the worship offered within it, it takes godly imagination, obedience to Catholic tradition, a readiness to reach higher than one thought possible, a desire to do all things well for God. It was done by Benedict Biscop then, and we can do it now.

O God, by whose gift the blessed Abbot Benedict left all things that he might be made perfect: grant unto all those who have entered upon the path of evangelical perfection; that they may neither look back nor linger in the way; but hastening to thee without stumbling, may lay hold on life eternal; 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.

06 January 2018

St. André Bessette

Brother André, whose baptismal name was Alfred, was born into a poor working family in 1845 in Canada, and both his parents had died by the time he was twelve. He was adopted by his aunt and uncle, but when he was fourteen they had moved to California to seek their fortune in the gold rush, leaving him to fend for himself. Young Alfred was sickly, and his bad health made it difficult for him to keep a job for very long, so he wandered from farm to farm and town to town in Canada and also in the United States, picking up odd jobs as he went. Finally he came to the Holy Cross Brothers in 1870. He carried with him a note from his pastor saying, "I am sending you a saint." The Brothers found that difficult to believe. The Holy Cross Brothers were teachers and, at 25, Alfred still did not know how to read and write. Alfred had no place else to go and so was in a desperate situation, but he was also prayerful and deeply devoted to God and Saint Joseph. He may have had no place left to go, but he believed that was because this was the place where he should have been all along.

The Holy Cross Brothers took him into the novitiate but soon found out what others had learned – as hard as Alfred (now Brother André) wanted to work, he simply wasn't strong enough. They asked him to leave the order, but André, out of desperation again, appealed to a visiting bishop who promised him that André would stay and take his vows as a Religious Brother.

After his vows, Brother André was sent to Notre Dame College in Montreal (a school for boys age seven to twelve) as a porter. There his responsibilities were to answer the door, to welcome guests, find the people they were visiting, wake up those in the school, and deliver mail.

In 1904, he surprised the Archbishop of Montreal by requesting permission to build a chapel to Saint Joseph on the mountain near the college. The Archbishop refused to go into debt and would only give permission for Brother André to build what he had money for. What money did Brother André have? Only the nickels he had collected as donations for Saint Joseph from haircuts he gave the boys; nickels and dimes from a small dish he had kept in a picnic shelter on top of the mountain near a statue of St. Joseph with a sign "Donations for St. Joseph." He had collected this loose change for years but he still had only a few hundred dollars. Who would start a chapel now with so little funding?

André took his few hundred dollars and built what he could – a small wood shelter only fifteen feet by eighteen feet. He kept collecting money and went back three years later to request to do more building. The Archbishop granted him permission to keep building as long as he didn't go into debt. He started by adding a roof so that all the people who were coming to hear Mass at the shrine wouldn't have to stand out in the rain and the wind. Then came walls, heating, a paved road up the mountain, a shelter for pilgrims, and finally a place where Brother André and others could live full-time to take care of the shrine and the pilgrims who came.. Through kindness, caring, and devotion, Brother André helped many souls experience healing and renewal on the mountaintop. There were even cases of physical healing. But for everything, Brother André thanked St. Joseph.

Despite financial troubles, Brother André never lost faith or devotion. He had started to build a basilica on the mountain but the Depression had interfered. When he was ninety years old he told his co-workers to place a statue of St. Joseph in the unfinished, unroofed basilica. He was so ill he had to be carried up the mountain to see the statue in its new home. Brother André died soon after on January 6, and didn't live to see the work on the basilica completed. But he died in peace, having helped hundreds of thousands of people by strengthening their faith, and by giving honor to the foster-father of our Lord.

O Lord our God, who art friend of the lowly and who gavest to thy servant, Saint André Bessette, a great devotion to Saint Joseph and a special commitment to the poor and afflicted: help us through his intercession to follow his example of prayer and love, and so come to share with him in thy glory; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.