31 January 2020

Stilling the storm

On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care if we perish?" And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?" And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?"

- St. Mark 4:35-41

In this passage from St. Mark’s Gospel we see Jesus and His disciples being caught out on the Sea of Galilee when a storm came up.  The disciples were fearful that they would drown. Although Jesus was sleeping, when they woke Him He rose up and commanded the wind and sea, and an immediate calm came.

What should we make of this scene? Did it really happen? Did the wind die down and the sea become calm simply at the word of Jesus? Yes. If we were there, that's what we would have experienced.

But there’s a further meaning in this account. When the Gospel writers speak of a boat, often they are also referring to the Church. In fact, this is one of the titles of the Church – the Barque, or Boat, of Peter - referring to the Catholic Church founded by Christ Himself.

And as the little boat referred to in the Gospel was being beaten by the storm and the waves, so the Church even today is being pounded by external forces and weakened by a few corrupt leaders. The Church, the Barque of Peter, is sailing in perilous waters. Like the disciples, there are many who are fearful. There are those who are tempted to believe that God has abandoned His people, and that because of our sins He has turned His back on us.

Yet we know that cannot be true. Though the gates of hell seem to stand against us, they cannot prevail. Our Lord promised it. Look back through the centuries at the number of times God’s promise has been fulfilled. And just as the disciples wondered, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him,” so we know exactly what sort of man our Saviour Christ is: He is God Incarnate, in complete control, and even though the storms around us seem very great, we need have no fear at all. At Christ’s Word, everything will be made calm.

30 January 2020

St. John Bosco

St. John Bosco was born near Turin, Italy, in 1815. His father died when John was only two years old, but his mother made sure he received a good education. His early years were financially difficult but at the age of twenty he entered the major seminary, thanks to the financial help received from a benefactor. John Bosco was ordained a priest on June 5, 1846.

At that time the city of Turin was on the threshold of the industrial revolution and as a result there were many challenges and problems, especially for the young men who came there to work. Many of them had little or no education, and since they worked long hours, there were few opportunities to get an education. Gifted as he was as an educator and a leader, Don Bosco formulated a system of education based on "reason, religion and kindness." In spite of the criticism and violent attacks of the anti-clericals, he conducted workshops for the tradesmen and manual laborers, schools of arts and sciences for young workers, and schools of the liberal arts for those preparing for the priesthood. In 1868 there were 800 students involved in this educational system. To ensure the continuation of his work, Don Bosco founded the Society of St. Francis de Sales (Salesians), which was approved in 1869. Also, with the help of Sister Mary Dominic Mazzarello, he founded the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Auxiliatrix.

He also found time to write popular catechetical pamphlets, which were distributed throughout Italy, as was his Salesian Bulletin. This great apostle of youth died on January 31, 1888, and was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1934. Pope John Paul II named him "father and teacher to the young."

O God, who didst raise up Saint John Bosco thy Confessor to be a father and teacher of the young, and through him, with the aid of the Virgin Mary, didst will that new families should flourish in thy Church: grant, we beseech thee; that being kindled by the same fire of charity, we may have the strength to seek for souls, and to serve thee alone; 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.

28 January 2020

Soil and Seeds

Jesus taught many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to the crowds: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil; and when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty fold and sixty fold and a hundredfold." And he said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

-St. Mark 4:2-9

The time came when Jesus was no longer teaching in the synagogue, but rather out in the open by the Sea of Galilee. The basis of Christ’s method of teaching was the use of the parable. A parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” Something on earth is compared with something in heaven, so that the heavenly truth may be better grasped in light of the earthly illustration.

So we see Jesus is sitting in a boat just off the edge of the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He begins with the “here and now” and moves to the “there and then.” In other words, He started from a thing that was happening at that moment before their eyes. They could see the fields. They knew how seeds were planted, and how they would grow, depending upon the soil.

This was the very essence of our Lord’s teaching, that He started with the simplest things that even a child could understand, and led people to truths they had never realized before, showing that there is a direct relationship between earth and heaven.

It isn’t just possible - but indeed it is necessary - to see the things of God in common and ordinary things. Life is filled with things which can lead us to God, if we will only look at them with eyes of faith. The soil before their eyes became for the people a picture of their own lives as they heard it in Christ’s parable. The seed in the parable became the Word of God. And through this parable we can learn how to cultivate God’s truth, and so grow in God’s Kingdom.

27 January 2020

St. Thomas Aquinas, Angelic Doctor

One of the greatest Catholic teachers in the history of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas is honored with the titles Doctor of the Church and Angelic Doctor.

His parents had plans for him. In the year 1230, when he was only five years old, they took him to the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, and it was their hope that he would choose to become a Benedictine there, and eventually become abbot. In 1239 he was sent to Naples to complete his studies. It was here that he was first attracted to philosophy of Aristotle, and he saw how that philosophy could be used in the service of Catholic theology.

Thomas abandoned his family's plans for him and he joined the Dominicans, much to his mother's dismay. In fact, she ordered one of her other sons to capture Thomas away from the Dominicans, and he was kept at home for over a year. Of course, that couldn’t last forever, and once he was free, he went to Paris and then to Cologne, where he finished his studies with St. Albert the Great. He eventually became a professor at the University of Paris, and was known throughout the Church as one of the great scholars of all time.

But along with his fame as a scholar, he remained modest, a perfect model of childlike simplicity and goodness. He was known for his mildness in speaking and for his great kindness. Whatever clothing or other items he could give away, he gladly did. He kept nothing superfluous in his efforts to alleviate the needs of others.

His great Summa – which was his last and, unfortunately, uncompleted work, is a compendium of the whole of Catholic theology. He stopped work on it after celebrating Mass on December 6, 1273. When asked why he stopped writing, he replied, "I cannot go on.... All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me." He died just a few months later.

Everlasting God, who didst enrich thy Church with the learning and holiness of thy servant Saint Thomas Aquinas: grant to all who seek thee a humble mind and a pure heart; that they may know thy Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth and the life; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Building God's Family

The mother of Jesus and his brethren came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brethren are outside, asking for you." And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brethren?" And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brethren! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother."  -St. Mark 3:31-35

In this brief passage from the Gospel we hear our Lord Jesus expanding the idea of kinship, of what it is to be part of a family, that it isn’t just a matter of flesh and blood. Now certainly, we should understand that Jesus wasn’t minimizing family ties. In fact, the teaching of the Church is very clear about the obligation that parents have to care for their children, and the obligation that children have to honour their parents. But here Jesus is developing and building upon this as He speaks about the larger family; namely, the family of God.

Our Lord teaches that true kinship is based upon a common obedience. He says, “...whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.” His band of disciples was a mixed group, as is the Church today, but we are bound together because we choose to obey Jesus as our master. People can truly come to love one another when they share a common love of the Lord Jesus Christ.

26 January 2020

Christ's power over evil...

The scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He is possessed by Beelzebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons." And he called them to him, and said to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may plunder his house. Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" - for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit."

- St. Mark 3:22-30

Those scribes weren’t questioning Christ’s power to exorcise demons. They fully accepted the fact that He had that power. What they got wrong was what they considered the source of that power to be. They were convinced that He had this power because He was in league with the head of all the demons, Satan himself. But they weren’t thinking logically, and Jesus had no difficulty in showing the fallacy in what they were saying.

The essence of exorcism is always that the exorcist calls upon a stronger power in order to drive out the weaker, and this is a basic premise of Catholic exorcism. So when those scribes said that Jesus was using the power of Satan to drive out demons, He makes the powerful point that if there is dissension in a kingdom, then that kingdom won’t last. If there are quarrels in a house, then that household won’t stand for long. So if Satan is making war with his own demons, then Satan would be undermining his own power.

He then goes on to emphasize His point: if you want to rob a strong man, you can’t do it until you subdue him. Once you’ve restrained him, then you can take his belongings. So it should be obvious to the scribes that Jesus certainly isn’t in league with Satan; rather, He was showing that Satan’s defenses were being destroyed. Indeed, someone stronger had arrived, and the conquest of Satan had begun in earnest. Jesus is showing us that there is a struggle between the power of evil and the power of God, and that the power of God will always win because it is definitely not a struggle between equals!

And then there are some very serious words about what has been called “the unforgivable sin.” Now to understand, it’s important to know the circumstances in which our Lord was speaking. When Jesus said, “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness…” it was when the scribes and Pharisees had claimed that the cures He had done were accomplished, not by the power of God, but by the power of the devil. They were religious leaders looking at at the incarnate love of God, and yet they were able to think that it was the power of Satan.

This, then, is the “unforgivable sin” - to call what is good, evil. To identify the source of good with the devil indicates a moral ruin which will not allow itself to be repaired. When an individual rejects the guidance of God, and loses the ability to recognize goodness when he sees it, having his moral values so reversed that to him evil is good and good is evil, he has made himself immune to being conscious of sin. In such a state, he cannot repent, and if he cannot repent then he cannot be forgiven. That is the “sin against the Holy Spirit,” and is “unforgivable,” not because God cannot forgive, but because such a person will not allow Him to forgive.

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 God, who through thy blessed Saint Angela didst cause a new household of Virgins consecrated to thy service to be established in thy Church: grant us, we pray thee, by her intercession, so to live after the manner of thy holy Angels; that, putting aside all things earthly, we may be found worthy to rejoice in everlasting felicity; 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.

25 January 2020

Third Sunday after Epiphany

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles - the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned." From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.

- Matthew 4:12-23

When Jesus began to preach He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

This idea of the Kingdom is deeply rooted in the Old Testament, and it’s a central theme in the teaching of Jesus Christ; namely, that there is the “kingly rule,” the “sovereignty” of God, and that all things are to be made subject to this rule.

Now of course, the kingdom being proclaimed by Christ isn’t confined only to this world – it continues into eternity – but it begins here, and this portion of the Gospel shows us Jesus laying the foundation for the Kingdom with the calling of His first apostles. They were fishermen – simple men, ordinary men – called by our Lord while they were engaged in doing their day’s work.

And how did He call them? All He said was, “Follow me.” He didn’t outline any great theological system for them, or lay out a line of reasoning trying to convince them. He just said, “Follow me.” And they did. With that invitation He called them to a specific service. “I will make you fishers of men...” Of course, they couldn’t have known it then, but Jesus was calling them to a life which wasn’t going to be easy. They were being called to a life in which they would expend all their energy, and they were being called to a Faith for which they ultimately would give their lives.

There was no other assurance that He gave them. He didn’t outline the future for them. He didn’t give any guarantees. He was simply inviting them to put themselves under the sovereignty of God, to move into the kingdom which He had come to establish, and in that kingdom they would find their fulfillment and true purpose. They were being invited to put aside all their other interests and activities – all the other things they thought were important – and they would be required to do only one thing: to follow Christ.

In fact, the invitation He extended to them, He continues to extend down to our own day, to us. This invitation to place our lives under the rule of God is an open invitation to every one of us.

To live in God’s Kingdom means to follow Christ more closely. It often calls for a radical change in direction, and it always involves entrusting ourselves to God, realizing that God’s plan for us might not coincide with our own best-laid plans.

24 January 2020

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 converted by a miraculous apparition of Our Lord. Was it a sudden conversion? It seemed so, and in a sense it was; however, it other ways it was the culmination of his many experiences with Christians, beginning with the martyrdom of St. Stephen. Paul was a young man, given the job of holding the cloaks of those who carried out the sentence of death on St. Stephen. In fact, even when Paul was arresting Christians, he could not help but be impressed by their deep faith, their innocency of life, and their willingness to die for Christ.

Eventually he became the great Apostle of the Gentiles, making three missionary journeys which brought him to the important 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, by the preaching of thine apostle St. 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 our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Following Jesus, taking risks...

Then Jesus went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, "He is beside himself."
-St. Mark 3:20-21

It’s a brief excerpt from the gospel, and at first glance, an odd one. Why would it be appointed to be read at Mass, and what could it possibly be about?

St. Matthew records in his gospel (10:36) that Jesus had once made the statement, “A man’s foes will be those of his own household.” Here we have an example of something like that very thing coming true. Some members of His extended family were wanting to take hold of Him, because it appeared to them that “He is beside himself...” In other words, “He’s crazy!” Why did they feel that way? There are a couple of possible reasons.

First, Jesus had left home and had left what was probably a flourishing carpenter’s business developed by His foster-father Joseph in Nazareth. And what did He decide to do instead? He went out to be an itinerant rabbi. They probably thought that no sensible man would go from being a stable craftsman to being a wandering beggar with no place even to lay His head.

Also, Jesus had left His family only to gather a new little community of His own. And it probably seemed to be a rather strange gathering at that: some fishermen, a reformed tax collector, a fanatical nationalistic zealot. It would seem to many that these weren’t the kind of people whom a normal person would gather as one’s closest associates.

Therefore, taking account of those things, and from a purely human point of view, it is somewhat understandable that He might be thought of as being a bit mad. Apparently He didn’t care about being secure. He didn’t “play it safe.” He didn’t live according to the usual expectations of others.

So then, what apparently compelled these individuals to take Him in hand was that He seemed to be taking tremendous risks that no sensible man would take.

 And yet, that is exactly what we as His disciples must be willing to do, which is why we should hear and take seriously this gospel account.

Choosing His Apostles

“And he went up on the mountain, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons: Simon whom he surnamed Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder; Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him."
- St. Mark 3:13-19

Christ’s earthly ministry clearly was a divine mission, reflecting the mind and intention of God, and yet there were many practical things to take into consideration. He had, by this time, clearly stated the purpose of his earthly ministry. He had gone throughout Galilee preaching and healing, and had begun to make a sizable impact upon people in that area.

Jesus knew that the time of His own earthly ministry was limited, and even though He was God Incarnate, He was still only able (because of his human nature) to reach a limited number of people. There were no newspapers, no television, certainly no internet! To solve these two problems (the time limitation, and the limited numbers he could reach) He chose certain men to be with Him, to learn from Him, to be formed by Him, and who would be given the specific task of carrying on His work after His death and resurrection.

In choosing these men, Jesus called them for two purposes. Firstly, he called them to be with Him. They were to be His companions. They were to be with Him from that time on. Other people might come and go, the crowds might be there one day, and be gone the next, others might fluctuate in their attachment to Him, but these twelve were to identify their lives with His life and live with Him all the time. Secondly, Jesus called them in order to send them out (this is what “apostle” means: “one who is sent”). They were to be His representatives. They were to tell others about Him and His gospel. Just as they had been called by Jesus, so they were to call others to Jesus.

And for all of this, Jesus equipped the apostles with two things. He gave them a message; that is, the Gospel. They were made the “heralds” of Christ, announcing the Good News which Jesus was making clear in His own preaching and teaching. And He gave them power. He told them that they would have authority to cast out demons, able to exercise power over the destructive power of evil. In other words, His power was to be their power.

These facts begin to outline for us not only the ministry of the apostles, but also that of their successors the bishops, and indeed, the whole Church.

23 January 2020

St. Francis de Sales, Gentleman Saint

St. Francis de Sales was urged by his father to be a lawyer so that the young man could eventually take his elder’s place as a senator from the province of Savoy in France. To prepare him for this he was sent to the University of Padua to study law. He was a good student, and after receiving his doctorate, he returned home. It was then that he told his parents that he wanted to become a priest. His father wasn’t very happy about it, but young Francis was very persuasive, and eventually his father gave his consent. Francis was ordained and he was appointed by his bishop to be one of the officials of the Diocese of Geneva. Geneva was a city which was almost totally protestant, and Francis set out to convert them. By preaching and distributing the little pamphlets he wrote to explain true Catholic doctrine, he had remarkable success.

When he was 35 years old, he became bishop of Geneva. While administering his diocese he continued to preach, hear confessions and catechize the children. His gentle character was a great asset in winning souls. In fact, it was St. Francis who said, “A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar.” In other words, to have a gentle and sweet attitude will influence people much more than being argumentative with them.

St. Francis wrote two very important books on the spiritual life – the Introduction to the Devout Life and A Treatise on the Love of God. He wrote many pamphlets and carried on a vast correspondence, and because of his great amount of writing, he has been named patron of the Catholic Press. His writings are addressed to lay people, and he wanted to help them understand that they, too, are called to be saints.

St. Francis de Sales was known as the “gentleman saint” because of his gracious and gentle nature. In fact, it was he who said, “A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar.” But it wasn't always so with him. By his own admission, he had a very quick temper, and although it took him more than twenty years to master it, no one suspected he had such a problem because he worked so hard to suppress it. With the “let it all hang out” attitude which is so prevalent today, probably psychologists and counselors wouldn't think that was such a good idea – but by exercising self-control under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, St. Francis was able to achieve great sanctity.

O God, who for the salvation of souls didst cause thy blessed Confessor Saint Francis de Sales to become all things to all men: pour into our hearts, we pray thee, the sweetness of thy charity; that by the direction of his counsels and the succor of his merits we may attain to the joys of life everlasting; 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.

22 January 2020

St. Marianne Cope

Canonized in 2012, St. Marianne Cope (1838-1918) devoted herself to God through her vows as a Franciscan religious and through the care of the sick. One of her patients was St. Damien of Molokai, whom she nursed in his final months. This is her story.

As a leader in her community, Mother Marianne was instrumental in opening two of the first Catholic Hospitals in Central New York: St. Elizabeth in Utica and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. Recognizing the need for basic health care in a city of immigrants, she and a small group of women defied convention by purchasing a saloon in Syracuse, New York and transforming it into a hospital to serve the needs of a diverse community. Here they welcomed everyone and provided the same quality of care regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or economic means. They pioneered rules of patient’s rights and cleanliness practices not seen before in the United States. And this was just the beginning. Throughout upstate New York, Mother Marianne and her growing community educated and provided healthcare to children and adults with dignity and compassion for all.

In 1883, Mother Marianne and a group of six other Sisters of St. Francis bravely journeyed across the United States by train and took a ship to the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) to care for individuals believed to have leprosy (now known as Hansen’s disease). They initially served at the Branch hospital at Kaka’ako on the island of Oahu to provide care for those exiled from their families. The king and queen then asked that the sisters open a home to care for the healthy children of patients and Marianne named it the Kapiolani Home in honor of the queen.

Mother Marianne traveled to Maui in 1884 where she was asked to manage Malulani Hospital, the island’s first general hospital, as well as St. Anthony School. In 1888, she and the sisters moved to Kalaupapa to care for those with Hansen’s disease who had been exiled to the remote peninsula on the island of Molokai. There she cared for Father Damien in his last months and attended temporarily to the boy’s home that he had established there until the Sacred Heart Fathers sent a permanent replacement.

Mother Marianne not only provided healthcare to the girls in her care at Bishop Home in Kalaupapa, she offered healing for mind, body and spirit by creating a community that supported individual creativity, dignity and respect. A community of family was established enhanced by gardens, music, art, games and laughter. The grave sites of thousands of people who died from Hansen’s disease cover the peninsula on Molokai. It is heartening to know that the sisters provided them with some measure of peace and comfort during their time there.

- from https://www.saintmarianne.org/her-story.html

Almighty God, our heavenly Father: we remember before thee all thy servants who have served thee faithfully in their generation, and have entered into rest, especially St. Marianne Cope, beseeching thee to give us grace so to follow in their steps; that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom; 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.

St. Vincent, Deacon and Martyr

From The Church's Year of Grace, by Pius Parsch:
St. Vincent of Saragossa was one of the Church's three most illustrious deacons, the other two being Stephen and Lawrence. He is also Spain's most renowned martyr. Ordained deacon by Bishop Valerius of Saragossa, he was taken in chains to Valencia during the Diocletian persecution and put to death. From legend we have the following details of his martyrdom. After brutal scourging in the presence of many witnesses, he was stretched on the rack; but neither torture nor blandishments nor threats could undermine the strength and courage of his faith. Next, he was cast on a heated grating, lacerated with iron hooks, and seared with hot metal plates. Then he was returned to prison, where the floor was heavily strewn with pieces of broken glass. A heavenly brightness flooded the entire dungeon, filling all who saw it with greatest awe.

After this he was placed on a soft bed in the hope that lenient treatment would induce apostasy, since torture had proven ineffective. But strengthened by faith in Christ Jesus and the hope of everlasting life, Vincent maintained an invincible spirit and overcame all efforts, whether by fire, sword, rack, or torture to induce defection. He persevered to the end and gained the heavenly crown of martyrdom.

Almighty God, by whose grace and power thy holy Deacon and Martyr Vincent triumphed over suffering and despised death: grant, we beseech thee, by his intercession; that enduring hardness, and waxing valiant in fight, we may with the noble army of Martyrs receive the crown of everlasting 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.

21 January 2020

Protecting the Unborn

January 22nd is set apart as a day of prayer and penance, seeking restoration of the legal protection of the unborn. We know that life is the most basic gift given to us by God. From the moment we were conceived, God had made each of us unique, with a soul which carries His divine image, and with all the human dignity we have, right down to this very moment, and which each one of us will have even into eternity. And what is true for each of us is true for each and every baby throughout the world and throughout all time.

Our nation was founded upon this truth. In our Declaration of Independence it states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

There are some who reject this truth, and it was forty-seven years ago that the legal protection you and I have was taken away from unborn children. So we pray, first, that legal protection be restored to the unborn. But we pray also that hearts will be changed; that everyone will recognize the dignity of every human being, no matter how young, whether they have been born yet or not.

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.

20 January 2020

St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr

St. Agnes was a Roman girl who was only twelve or thirteen years old when she suffered martyrdom for her Faith. Agnes had made a promise, a promise to God never to stain her purity. Her love for the Lord was very great and she hated sin even more than death! Since she was very beautiful, many young men wished to marry Agnes, but she would always say, "Jesus Christ is my only Spouse."

Procop, the Governor's son, became very angry when she refused him. He had tried to win her for his wife with rich gifts and promises, but the beautiful young girl kept saying, "I am already promised to the Lord of the Universe. He is more splendid than the sun and the stars, and He has said He will never leave me!" In great anger, Procop accused her of being a Christian and brought her to his father, the Governor. The Governor promised Agnes wonderful gifts if she would only deny God, but Agnes refused. He tried to change her mind by putting her in chains, but her lovely face shone with joy. Next he sent her to a place of sin, but an Angel protected her. At last, she was condemned to death. Even the pagans cried to see such a young and beautiful girl going to death. Yet, Agnes was as happy as a bride on her wedding day. She did not pay attention to those who begged her to save herself. "I would offend my Spouse," she said, "if I were to try to please you. He chose me first and He shall have me!" Then she prayed and bowed her head for the death-stroke of the sword.

The following is an account of the martyrdom of St. Agnes, described by St. Ambrose as he writes "On the Dignity of Virginity":

It is the birthday of St. Agnes, let men admire, let children take courage, let the married be astounded, let the unmarried take an example. But what can I say worthy of her whose very name was not devoid of bright praise? In devotion beyond her age, in virtue above nature, she seems to me to have borne not so much a human name, as a token of martyrdom, whereby she showed what she was to be.
But I have that which may assist me. The name of virgin is a title of modesty. I will call upon the martyr, I will proclaim the virgin. That panegyric is long enough which needs no elaboration, but is within our grasp. Let then labour cease, eloquence be silent. One word is praise enough. This word old men and young and boys chant. No one is more praiseworthy than he who can be praised by all. There are as many heralds as there are men, who when they speak proclaim the martyr.
She is said to have suffered martyrdom when twelve years old. The more hateful was the cruelty, which spared not so tender an age, the greater in truth was the power of faith which found evidence even in that age. Was there room for a wound in that small body? And she who had no room for the blow of the steel had that wherewith to conquer the steel. But maidens of that age are unable to bear even the angry looks of parents, and are wont to cry at the pricks of a needle as though they were wounds. She was fearless under the cruel hands of the executioners, she was unmoved by the heavy weight of the creaking chains, offering her whole body to the sword of the raging soldier, as yet ignorant of death, but ready for it. Or if she were unwillingly hurried to the altars, she was ready to stretch forth her hands to Christ at the sacrificial fires, and at the sacrilegious altars themselves, to make the sign of the Lord the Conqueror, or again to place her neck and both her hands in the iron bands, but no band could enclose such slender limbs.
A new kind of martyrdom! Not yet of fit age for punishment but already ripe for victory, difficult to contend with but easy to be crowned, she filled the office of teaching valour while having the disadvantage of youth. She would not as a bride so hasten to the couch, as being a virgin she joyfully went to the place of punishment with hurrying step, her head not adorned with plaited hair, but with Christ. All wept, she alone was without a tear. All wondered that she was so readily prodigal of her life, which she had not yet enjoyed, and now gave up as though she had gone through it. Every one was astounded that there was now one to bear witness to the Godhead, who as yet could not, because of her age, dispose of herself. And she brought it to pass that she should be believed concerning God, whose evidence concerning man would not be accepted. For that which is beyond nature is from the Author of nature.
What threats the executioner used to make her fear him, what allurements to persuade her, how many desired that she would come to them in marriage! But she answered: It would be an injury to my spouse to look on any one as likely to please me. He who chose me first for Himself shall receive me. Why are you delaying, executioner? Let this body perish which can be loved by eyes which I would not. She stood, she prayed, she bent down her neck. You could see the executioner tremble, as though he himself had been condemned, and his right hand shake, his face grow pale, as he feared the peril of another, while the maiden feared not for her own. You have then in one victim a twofold martyrdom, of modesty and of religion. She both remained a virgin and she obtained martyrdom.

 Almighty and everlasting God, who dost choose the weak things of the world to confound those things that are strong: mercifully grant that we, who keep the festival of blessed Agnes thy Martyr, may perceive within ourselves the effect of her prayers; 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.

19 January 2020

Ss. Fabian and Sebastian, Martyrs

January 20th is the commemoration of two great 3rd century martyrs – one a pope, and one a soldier.

St. Fabian was simple farmer but was an extraordinary person, who took his Catholic faith very seriously. One day he came into the city of Rome from the countryside, but this wasn’t just any day – it happened to be the day when a new pope was being chosen. Who knows? Perhaps Fabian had come to Rome that day out of curiosity, to see who the next pope would be, or perhaps it was some other business that brought him there. But he was there on that particular day. Those who had gathered to elect the next pope prayed for a sign. They probably had no idea that God would give them such a clear sign, because at that very moment a dove flew towards Fabian and settled on his head. They took this as a sign that Fabian had been chosen by God. Although he was not even ordained at the time, he was immediately acclaimed by the whole city of Rome. He was ordained and installed as pope. Fabian’s fourteen year reign as pope was fairly peaceful, but the end came with a new persecution by the Emperor Decius. Fabian was one of the first to be martyred, in the year 250, during that persecution.

St. Fabian is commemorated on the same day as is St. Sebastian, although their lives had very different circumstances. St. Sebastian was born in Gaul, and he came from a rich Roman family, who sent him to Milan for his education. He became an officer in the Imperial Roman army and captain of the guard, and was known for his goodness and bravery. He was a favorite of Emperor Diocletian. It was during the persecution by Diocletian that Sebastian visited Christians in prison, bringing them supplies and comfort. He even healed the wife of one of the soldiers by making the sign of the cross over her. Seeing his witness, many soldiers and even a Roman governor became Christians.

Diocletian ordered Sebastian to give up his Christian faith but he refused. It was then that Sebastian was tied to a tree and archers shot arrows into his body and left him for dead. When a devout Christian woman came to bury him, she was amazed to find him still alive. She took him to her home and nursed his wounds. When Sebastian was well enough, the woman pleaded with him to escape the dangers of Rome. But Sebastian was a brave soldier. He would not run away. He returned to preach to Diocletian and urged him to stop torturing the Christians.

The emperor was shocked to see Sebastian alive. He refused to listen to what Sebastian had to say, and ordered that Sebastian be immediately clubbed and beaten to death. He died in 288.

St. Fabian’s remains are in the Basilica of St. Sebastian, and these two, whose lives were so different, were linked together by their common faith, and are two of our great martyrs.

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that we, on this day devoutly observing the feast of thy holy Martyrs Saints Fabian and Sebastian, may thereby increase in godliness to the attainment of everlasting salvation; 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.

18 January 2020

"Behold, the Lamb of God..."

St. John the Baptist knew that the ministry given to him by God was drawing to a close. He had been born to prepare the way for the Messiah. He had done that, and now it was time for him to leave the scene. So when he sees Jesus coming toward him, he exclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” In other words, “Look there. The one you see is the Lamb of God.”

Last week we celebrated the fact that John had baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. It was at that time that the voice of the Father was heard coming out of heaven, proclaiming to the world that Jesus was the Beloved Son; the Holy Spirit had hovered over Jesus in the form of a dove. The fullness of the Holy Trinity was revealed to the world on the banks of the Jordan that day. And now we hear St. John: “Behold, the Lamb of God…”

What would those words have meant to those who heard them? Every Jew knew all about the lambs that were sacrificed as sin-offerings in the Temple. The Passover Lamb was a fixed and important part of their history, which served as a reminder that God had led His people out of slavery in Egypt. For generations they had heard of the innocence and purity and meekness of the lamb referenced by Isaiah, when he described the Suffering Servant as the “lamb that is led to the slaughter…” And as the words of St. John the Baptist spoke to those who heard him, they speak with an even greater force to us – we know what he meant when he exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God…”

There is no longer any need for the sacrifice of Passover lambs on an altar in a temple in Jerusalem. Instead, we have the one true Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ, sacrificed once for all on the cross, and now given to us as the Body and Blood of our Saviour under the forms of bread and wine.

Jesus Christ, our Risen Saviour,
Of Thy sacrifice we sing;
As the lamb in ancient myst'ry
To Thy people life didst bring,
So in Eucharistic glory,
Thou, God's Lamb, art made our King.

17 January 2020

Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity

From January 18 through January 25, Christians throughout the world will be keeping the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The official material composed for it each year is fine, but it tends to be pretty non-specific, as far as what we’re actually supposed to pray for – other than nice feelings and politeness – whereas the original prayers and intentions for the Octave of Prayer zero in much more on the fact that unity according to the mind of Christ is a specific kind of unity.

The Octave was first conceived by Father Paul of Graymoor on 30 November 1907, before his entrance into the Catholic Church. The initial success in 1908 was so encouraging that he decided to promote it annually, and he regarded the Octave as one of the special means which brought his Society of the Atonement into the Church on 30 October 1909. It was given papal blessing by Pope St. Pius X on 27 December 1909, just two months after the Society of the Atonement had entered the Catholic Church. Other popes have given it their blessings over the years, including Pope St. John XXIII (who urged its observance more widely throughout the world) and Pope St. Paul VI (who had promoted it in his archdiocese when he was the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan). Father Paul considered the Octave as the greatest project which came from Graymoor, and even though it was overshadowed by the less-specific "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity" during his own lifetime, he rejoiced that those separated from the Catholic Church felt called to observe the January period as a time of prayer for unity. Even though their concept of unity differs from that of the Catholic Church, it is significant that so many pray for that unity which God desires for His people.

The Octave, as originally conceived by Father Paul, reflects the unchanging truth that there can be no real unity apart from union upon that Rock, established by Christ Himself, which is Peter and his successors. For that reason, St. Peter is considered the special Patron of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity.


ANTIPHON: That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, in me and I in Thee; that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me.

V. I say unto thee, thou art Peter;

R. And upon this rock I will build my Church.

[Here is brought to mind the intention for the day's prayer.]

January 18: For the return of the "other sheep" to the One Fold of our Lord Jesus Christ.

January 19: For the return of the Eastern Orthodox Christians to communion with the Apostolic See.

January 20: For the return of the Anglicans to the authority of the Vicar of Christ.

January 21: For the return of all Protestants throughout the world to the unity of the Catholic Church.

January 22: That Christians in America (or, in my own country) may be one, in union with the Chair of Saint Peter.

January 23: That lapsed Catholics will return to the Sacraments of the Church.

January 24: That the Jewish people will be converted to the Catholic Faith.

January 25: That missionary zeal will conquer the world for Christ.

Let us pray. O Lord Jesus Christ, who saidst to thine Apostles, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: regard not our sins, but the faith of thy Church; and grant to her peace and unity according to thy will; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Forgiveness and healing

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, `Rise, take up your pallet and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" – he said to the paralytic – “I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"

-St. Mark 2:1-12

Jesus was in a house teaching. Like all houses in that time and place, it was flat-roofed and composed of beams laid from wall to wall, quite a short distance apart. The space between the beams was filled with close packed twigs, then covered with a coating of a clay mixture. It was easy to take out the packing between two beams, so that’s how these men let their friend down through the roof on his pallet, so that he was right in front of our Lord.

This Gospel is about Christ healing, and it’s also about Christ forgiving sin. It teaches us that sin and suffering often are connected, and sometimes it’s our own personal sin which causes suffering. There are choices people make which might be dangerous, or have a bad effect on their health, and that choice can cause suffering to them and to others.

The Pharisees went further and believed that if a man was suffering it automatically meant that he had sinned. Although we know that’s not universally true, yet because it was the way of thinking at that time, so it’s why Jesus began by forgiving the sins of the sick man, and it was through that forgiveness that Christ restored him to health. Because of the connection they made between sin and sickness, so the Pharisees’ objections to Jesus fell apart. Logically, and according to what the Pharisees believed, the man’s sin caused his sickness; but Jesus declares the man to be forgiven of sin, and he is completely restored to health; therefore, his newfound health proved that Jesus was able to forgive sin – the very thing the Pharisees said He couldn’t do!

There’s one more thing here. Notice that the man who was forgiven and healed was brought to Jesus by his friends. It’s a pretty powerful reminder to each of us that we have a responsibility to help our friends, and all those around us, to come to know God – and we do it by our words and by our example. Whenever we speak, or when we do something, we should ask, “Is this helping others to know God better?”

16 January 2020

St. Anthony of Egypt, Abbot

Before the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in 312 AD, back in the days when Christianity was still a persecuted religion, the act of becoming a Christian meant that a person turned his back on security, prestige, popularity, and success as far as the world was concerned. After the Emperor Constantine had changed Christianity from being a persecuted religion into one that was acceptable to society, and it became fairly easy to be a Christian, many who were serious about their faith felt that they needed to make a bigger sacrifice. As a result, some of them wanted to show their Christian commitment by leaving society and going out into the desert to become hermits, where they could devote themselves to a life of solitude, fasting, and prayer. Although this had begun to happen even before Christianity became legal, after Constantine this “going out into the desert” was seen more and more. One of the earliest examples is St Anthony of Egypt, who is considered to be the founder of Christian monasticism.

St Anthony of Egypt was the son of Christian parents, and from them he inherited a large estate. On his way to church one day, he found himself thinking about the words of Jesus, where He said, "Sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and come follow me." When he got to church, he heard the preacher speaking on those very words. He took this as a message from God for him, so having provided for the care of his sister, he gave his land to the tenants who lived on it, and gave his other wealth to the poor, and became a hermit, living alone for twenty years, praying and reading, and doing manual labor. As more Christians sought out that solitary life, they tended to gravitate towards the place where St Anthony was, so in the year 305, he decided to give up his solitude, and he became the head of a group of monks, living in a cluster of huts or cells, devoting themselves to communal singing and worship, to prayer and study and manual labor under Anthony's direction. They weren’t there simply to renounce the world, but they wanted to develop their lives of prayer for others, and they worked with their hands to earn money so they could give it to the poor, and they gave spiritual guidance to those who sought them out.

In 321, Christians in Alexandria were beginning to experience persecution again, this time by the Emperor Maximinus – even though the Christian faith had been made legal by Constantine – and Anthony visited Alexandria to encourage those who were facing the possibility of martyrdom. He visited again in 335, when Arianism had become strong in the city, and he converted many by his preaching and testimony, and by prayer and the working of miracles. What we know of Anthony’s life we learn from the writings of St Athanasius, one of the followers of St Anthony. It was Athanasius who said about Anthony: "No one ever met him grieving, without failing to go away rejoicing."

Anthony died after a long, prayerful life in 356. He was 105.

Most gracious God, who didst call thy servant Anthony to sell all that he had and to serve thee in the solitude of the desert: grant that we, through his intercession and following his example, may learn to deny ourselves and to love thee before all things; 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 2020

Cleansed by Christ

At that time: a leper came to Jesus beseeching him, and kneeling said to him, "If you will, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I will; be clean." And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And he sternly charged him, and sent him away at once, and said to him, "See that you say nothing to any one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to the people." But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
-St. Mark 1:40-45

As we read the scriptures – both Old and New Testaments – we see there was no disease that struck more terror in men’s hearts and minds than the disease of leprosy, now known medically as Hansen’s disease. To contract leprosy meant a condemnation to a slow death, and it meant complete social ostracization, too.

We can see that Jesus treated it with the seriousness with which society viewed it. For instance, when He sent the twelve disciples out, he commanded them to “heal the sick, cleanse lepers.”

The fate of the leper was truly horrible. The body becomes covered with ulcers; the appearance is changed over the course of time, losing the human look; the voice becomes hoarse; fingers and toes are lost – it really is a kind of “living death.”

Because of all of this, the leper was pronounced to be “unclean” and he was banished from living within society. He had to live apart, either alone or with other lepers. If anyone came close to him, he had to shout out “Unclean, unclean...” So the leper had to bear not only the physical pain of his disease, but also the mental anguish of being completely banished from family, friends, and society in general.

What we read in this account from St. Mark’s gospel gives a simple and beautiful picture of Jesus and His care for those in need. This particular leper had broken the law, since he had approached Jesus, which was something strictly forbidden. However, Jesus simply met this desperate act with understanding and compassion. He actually reached out and touched him. It was the general belief that physical contact with a leper was contagious, but to Jesus the man wasn’t unclean. He was simply a human being in desperate need. Then, having miraculously cleansed him, Jesus sent him to fulfill Jewish law by going to one of the temple priests. The man would need a certificate to show that he was free of leprosy. In directing the man to do that we see that Jesus didn’t defy conventions, but He submitted to them.

So, in Christ, we see compassion, power and wisdom all joined to bring healing and wholeness to a man in need of God’s loving embrace.

14 January 2020

Christ the Healer

“At that time: Jesus left the synagogue, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever, and immediately they told him of her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her; and she served them. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered together about the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him pursued him, and they found him and said to him, ‘Every one is searching for you.’ And he said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.’ And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.”

-St. Mark 1:29-39

Just before the events recounted in this section of St. Mark’s Gospel Jesus had been in the synagogue where He had spoken to the people and where He had cast out the evil spirit from the man who was suffering. When the synagogue service ended He went a short distance away to the house of Simon Peter. Peter’s wife’s mother was there, very sick with fever, and our Lord healed her of this sickness.

These things our Lord had said and done couldn’t be concealed. The manifestation of such great power and authority wasn’t something that could be kept secret, and so that evening there were crowds gathering outside Simon Peter’s house, people wanting to experience Christ’s healing touch. And as they came, so Jesus healed.

In these Gospel readings early in Epiphanytide we’ve already seen Jesus healing on three different occasions and in three different circumstances. First, He healed in the synagogue; second, He healed in the house of Simon Peter; third, He healed outside in the street. The people were flocking to Jesus because they recognized in Him one who could actually do things. There were plenty of religious leaders who could talk and expound and lecture and preach; but here was one who dealt not only in words but also with action.

But there is the beginning of trouble here. The crowds came, but they came, for the most part, because they wanted something out of Jesus. They didn’t come because they loved Him; they didn’t come because they had caught a glimpse of some new vision; in the last analysis they wanted to use Him.

One of the very important lessons for us in what we see in this excerpt from the Gospel is that God isn’t someone to be used only in difficult times, but He is someone to be loved and worshipped and obeyed every day of our lives.

13 January 2020

He came to be at one with us...

Like so many other pious Jews, our Lord Jesus Christ came to John and let him baptize Him. And in first thinking about it, it’s strange that he would have done that. If Jews were receiving John’s baptism as a sign of repentance and to mark a new beginning, why would Christ go through it? As the sinless Incarnate God, He certainly had nothing for which he had to repent, and as the eternal Son of God – in whom is no beginning and no end – He wouldn’t be marking a new beginning. So we can understand John’s initial reaction of being hesitant. God had already revealed to John the real identity of Jesus, so of course John would protest the whole idea of baptizing Christ.

When we put together all the Gospel accounts of the baptism of Christ, we learn a number of things.

The scripture is clear in telling us that the Lord was baptized “when all the people were baptized.” In other words, it was done publicly, at the same time as others were being baptized. When Christ was baptized, He looked like the countless other Jews who were lined up along the Jordan River. And this is an important point: although He was the Incarnate Word of God, outwardly Jesus led a life like the lives of other Jews. As an infant He was circumcised, and then was presented in the Temple in accordance with traditional Jewish practice. He took part in the customary pilgrimages to Jerusalem. He attended the synagogue, and He worked like other Jewish men. Nothing particularly distinguished Him from those around Him – so much so, that later on during His earthly ministry, people began to ask, “Where does He get these ideas? Isn’t He the son of Joseph the carpenter? Isn’t Mary His mother? Don’t we know His family?” To all outward appearances, Jesus was a typical Jewish boy who grew into typical Jewish manhood, faithfully following the demands of the Law.

And this principle applies to His baptism, too. Christ wanted to make it clear that He was truly “at one” with those he had come to save. Now, certainly, He didn’t have any sin or guilt for which he had to ask pardon; rather, His baptism was a profound expression of union with mankind. And this is reason enough for His baptism to be important to us. It shows Christ to be one of us. It reminds us that He knows our deepest needs. He knows our longing to be forgiven and to be restored to a right relationship with God. But His baptism proclaims much more than that.

The Gospel tells us that the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended, and the Father’s voice said “You are my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The prophet Isaiah had foretold this generations before, when he wrote, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him.” And ever since that prophecy the people had been looking for the coming of this servant. He would be a servant who would inaugurate a new age. He would “bring forth justice to the nations.” In Him, the old darkness would be swept away, and the new age of God’s light would dawn. This servant would “open the eyes that are blind.” He would “bring prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” No more would mankind have to grope blindly for the truth, hoping to find God. No, now God would seek out man, and would come to him. And in Christ, God had come very near indeed; in fact, He was in the world, even though the world didn’t recognize Him.

So, with the baptism of Jesus, something new was beginning, something that would give mankind access to God in a way which had never existed before. It was as though every twisting road of history was converging at this point, when Jesus was publicly manifested as the Son with whom the Father was well-pleased. Christ was the long-awaited Servant who had come to do the Father’s will. And the Father’s will is to open the way of salvation to the whole world – not just to the Jews, but to everybody.

In this baptism, the first public act of his earthly ministry, Christ wanted to manifest His closeness and unity with us. He wanted to emphasize the unique importance of what He had come to do. He wanted it to serve as a pledge that He would strengthen us in all that God has called us to do as a result of our own baptism.

"They were astonished..."

In Capernaum on the Sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
-St. Mark 1:21-28

Our Lord’s earthly ministry is inaugurated at His baptism. He was then tested by the devil in the wilderness. He announced the purpose of His ministry with the proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God. He gathered His initial circle of followers, the apostles, to assist Him in carrying out His work. And now, He begins in earnest.

St. Mark makes note of the fact that the people were “astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”

So then, how did Jesus’ teaching differ so much from the teaching of the scribes? Primarily it was because He taught with His own personal authority. This was vastly different from the technique of the scribes. No scribe ever gave a decision on his own. He would always begin with a phrase like, “There is a teaching that says thus and so...” and he would then quote all his various authorities. But when our Lord spoke, He needed no authority beyond Himself. He spoke with absolute independence; He cited no authorities; He quoted no experts. To those who heard Him, it was like a fresh breeze blowing in and they were truly “astonished” at His teaching. And no wonder, since they were hearing the very voice of God Himself!

If our Lord’s words had astonished the people in the synagogue, then what He did next left them absolutely thunderstruck! In the synagogue there was a man who was possessed by an “unclean spirit.” All through the gospels we come across people who had unclean spirits, who were possessed by demons or devils. This was a manifestation of evil – a manifestation of the work of Satan, that fallen “angel of light” who “goes about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour whom he will...” Unfortunately, our world today feels that it’s too “sophisticated” to believe in such things, and this is just what Satan loves. He is never more successful than when he can get us to deny his existence because then he can have free reign.

Our Lord knew this, of course. That’s why we see Him exercise His divine power over this power of evil in men’s lives. It’s a reminder to us that God is always stronger than Satan. And as Jesus showed the power He had over these malevolent forces, so He became better and better known, and the power of God was manifested.

12 January 2020

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 favourite motto of St. Hilary was, "Servants of the truth ought to speak the truth."  [adapted from CatholicCulture.org]

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 2020

The Baptism of Christ

The sinless Son of God, who has no need to be baptized, submits to a sinner’s baptism.

The Light of God, in whom is no darkness at all, goes into the depths of the River Jordan, buried before His death.

The pure Word of God, who came to proclaim the truth, stands mute before the Voice which prepared His way.

A divine whisper proclaims the Beloved as the Father’s own. Fluttering wings form a nimbus. And with the Baptism of our Lord all water becomes holy.

The water created by God at the beginning; the water through which the ark safely traveled; the water through which the Israelites marched dry-shod -- all is made holy.

The water which flowed over the Word Made Flesh has gone on to mingle with all the water of the whole earth, and by that water we are made clean.

Almighty and everlasting God, who by the Baptism of thy well-beloved Son Jesus Christ in the river Jordan didst sanctify water to the mystical washing away of sin; Mercifully look upon us, who have been cleansed of sin and sanctified with the Holy Ghost, that we may be kept safe in the ark of Christ’s Church; and grant that we, being steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in charity, may so pass the waves of this troublesome world, that finally we may come to the land of everlasting life, there to dwell with thee for ever and ever, world without end. Amen.

Theophany: Showing the Divine

The Epiphany involves more than the visit from the Wise Men.  In what is referred to as the Theophany, the Church links three events - the visit of the Magi, the Baptism of Our Lord, and Christ's first miracle at the wedding in Cana - and together these are the Epiphany: the manifestation of the God-Man to the world.

Almighty God, whose Son our Saviour Jesus Christ is the Light of the world: Grant that thy people, illumined by thy Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

10 January 2020

Saturday is Mary's day...

Every Saturday in the Catholic Church (provided there is no other commemoration of greater importance) is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. A priest may celebrate a special votive Mass on Saturday morning in honor of Our Lady. But why is Saturday marked in this way?

Holy Scripture reveals to us that Saturday is the day when creation was completed and so is celebrated as the day of the fulfillment of the plan of salvation, which found its realization through Mary.  Sunday is the Lord’s Day, so it is appropriate to observe the preceding day as Mary’s day.

In addition, as the book of Genesis describes, God rested on the seventh day, Saturday. The seventh day, Saturday, is the Jewish Sabbath. But we as Christians rest on Sunday, because we celebrate the Resurrection as our Sabbath Day. In parallel, Jesus rested in the womb and then in the loving arms of Mary from birth until she held His lifeless body at the foot of the Cross; thus God Himself rested in Mary before His birth and before His resurrection.

And there is a further tradition: it is a remembrance of the maternal example and discipleship of the Blessed Virgin Mary who, strengthened by faith and hope, on that great Saturday on which Our Lord lay in the tomb, held vigil in expectation of the Lord’s resurrection. And so it is a prelude and introduction to the celebration of Sunday, the weekly memorial of the Resurrection of Christ. Indeed, it is a sign that the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, is continuously present and active in the life of the Church.

06 January 2020

St. Raymond of Peñafort

St. Raymond of Peñafort lived to be a hundred years old, and with such a long life, he had the opportunity to do many things.  He certainly took full advantage of all the time God gave him on this earth. St. Raymond was born into a Spanish family of noblemen, which meant that he had the resources and the education to get a very good start in life.

By the time he was twenty, St. Raymond was teaching philosophy. By the time he was little more than thirty years old he had earned a doctorate in both canon law and civil law. When he was forty-one he entered the Dominican order. Pope Gregory IX called him to Rome to work for him and to be his confessor. One of the things the pope asked him to do was to gather together all the decrees of popes and councils. St. Raymond compiled five books called the Decretals, and this was really the beginning of an organized system of canon law for the Church. In fact, since St. Raymond’s work, there was no other actual Code of Canon Law organized until 1917.

St. Raymond wrote a book for confessors which was a collection of various situations and sins, and in this book he discussed the different doctrines and laws of the Church which would be applied in the various cases – a work which was very helpful to confessors.

At the age of sixty, St. Raymond was appointed archbishop of Tarragona, the capital of Aragon. It was a position which he found to be very difficult.  It caused him to become sick and after two years he resigned.

The peace he felt from that resignation was soon over, however, because when he was sixty-three he was elected by his fellow Dominicans to be the head of the whole Order, the successor of St. Dominic. St. Raymond worked hard, visited on foot all the Dominican houses, reorganized their constitutions, and managed to put through a provision that a master general be allowed to resign. When the new constitutions were accepted, St. Raymond, then sixty-five, resigned as the head of the Dominicans. He still had thirty-five years ahead of him, and he spent those years very productively, opposing heresies and working for the conversion of the Muslims who were occupying Spain.

The most famous miracle associated with him was when St. Raymond accompanied the King of Aragon on an expedition to Majorca. While they were there the saint rebuked the king for giving public scandal. However, finding that his rebuke had no effect on the king, Raymond prepared to return to Barcelona. The king attempted to keep St. Raymond on the island by force, but the saint put his mantle into the sea.  With his staff serving as a mast, and he sailed on his mantle, like a boat, the nearly one hundred miles back to the mainland. On reaching Barcelona, St. Raymond took up his mantle, which was perfectly dry, and was transported through the locked doors of the convent and beyond the astonished crowd that had witnessed his landing. Touched by the miracle, the King of Aragon renounced his evil ways and forevermore led a good life.

O God, who didst appoint blessed Raymond excellently to minister the Sacrament of Penance, and didst wondrously make for him a passage upon the waves of the sea: grant, we pray thee; that, at his intercession, we may bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, and be found meet to attain to the harbour of everlasting salvation; 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.