22 January 2019

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.

18 January 2019

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 I’ve always found it 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 John XXIII (who urged its observance more widely throughout the world) and Pope 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.

THE OCTAVE PRAYERS

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.

16 January 2019

St. Anthony of Egypt


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.

12 January 2019

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.

11 January 2019

Manifestation of the Divine

The Epiphany involves more than the visit from the Wise Men.  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.

08 January 2019

Let's study the Scriptures!


We're continuing our Wednesday evening Scripture study, meeting at 6:45 p.m. in the St. John Paul II Library at Our Lady of the Atonement Church. We have just finished our study of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and we are about to begin an in-depth study of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans.

06 January 2019

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 lots of things, and 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 20, St. Raymond was teaching philosophy. In his early 30s he earned a doctorate in both canon law and civil law. When he was 41 he became a Dominican. 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, the first actual Code of Canon Law was put together in 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 60, St. Raymond was appointed archbishop of Tarragona, the capital of Aragon. He didn't like the honor at all and ended up getting sick and resigning in two years.

He didn't get to enjoy his peace for long, however, because when he was 63 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 65, resigned as the head of the Dominicans. He still had 35 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.

St. Raymond was a lawyer, especially a canon lawyer, and we might think that’s kind of a boring and dry job, but it is the law which outlines matters of justice and provides for the protection of the rights of individuals. Imagine the chaos if we had no laws in society. The same is true in the Church. Laws state ideally those things that are for the best interests of everyone and make sure the rights of all are safeguarded. From St. Raymond, we can learn a respect for law as a means of serving the common good.

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.

05 January 2019

The Epiphany of Our Lord

"Star of Bethlehem" by Burne-Jones

Epiphany is about light. "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you." It is about the coming of the true Light into the darkness of this world. "Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome." "In Him was life, and that life was the light of men."

The chief image of Epiphany is the star in the East whose light guided the Magi to the Child-King enthroned on His mother's lap. The Light of God's love had come to shine on the Gentiles, too. "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined." The Gentiles worship Him with gifts fit for a king: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Magi rejoice in the light, and bow down and worship Him.

Light was the first word spoken by God into the chaotic darkness of creation. "Let there be light." And there was light. “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness."

Our lives are given to reflect the light of God's glory, and this is the noblest and most blessed purpose of all. We are, in a mystical way, to be an “epiphany” of Christ, so that every man can see His glory, and so welcome His Light into the dark world.

O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy Only Begotten Son to the Gentiles: mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may be led onward through this earthly life, until we see the vision of thy heavenly glory; 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.

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

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

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

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

Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips (1990)
Music: “Lucerna Laudoniae”
David Evans (1874-1948)

04 January 2019

St. John Neumann


This American saint was born in Bohemia, which today is within the Czech Republic, in 1811. He completed his seminary formation, and was looking forward to being ordained in 1835, when his bishop decided there would be no more ordinations. It is difficult for us to imagine now, but Bohemia had more priests than they needed. John wrote to bishops all over Europe but the story was the same everywhere: no one wanted any more priests. He was sure he was called to be a priest but all the doors to follow that vocation seemed to close in his face.

But John didn't give up. He had learned English by working in a factory with English-speaking workers, so he wrote to the bishops in America. Finally, the bishop in New York agreed to ordain him. So John left his homeland, and sailed to America, knowing he would probably never return to his home again.

In New York, Fr John Neumann was one of 36 priests for 200,000 Catholics. His parish in western New York stretched from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania. He spent most of his time traveling from village to village, climbing mountains to visit the sick, staying with different families, or in taverns and inns along the way, finding places to teach the Faith, and celebrating the Mass at kitchen tables.

Because of the work and the isolation of his parish, the young priest felt the need to be part of a community, and so he joined the Redemptorists, a congregation of priests and brothers dedicated to helping the poor and most abandoned.

Fr John Neumann was appointed bishop of Philadelphia in 1852. As bishop, he was the first to organize a diocesan Catholic school system. Sharing same vision as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. John Neumann was a founder of Catholic education in this country, and he increased the number of Catholic schools in his diocese from two to 100.

He had a great ability to learn languages, and he was able to learn Spanish, French, Italian, and Dutch, so that he could hear confessions in at least six languages. When Irish immigration started, he learned Gaelic so well that one Irish woman remarked, "Isn't it grand that we have an Irish bishop!"

He spent all his energy on being a great bishop to his people, and he lived very simply. He was only forty-eight years old when he died. He is buried in Philadelphia, in St. Peter’s Church, where pilgrims venerate his tomb and ask for his prayers.

O God, who didst call the Bishop Saint John Neumann, renowned for his charity and pastoral service, to shepherd thy people in America: grant, by his intercession; that, as we foster the Christian education of youth and are strengthened by the witness of brotherly love, we may constantly increase the family of thy Church; 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. Elizabeth Ann Seton

Pope Paul VI, when he preached at the canonization of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, spoke these words: "She is a saint!... Rejoice for your glorious daughter." Born in 1774, just as our nation was stirring in preparation for its own birth, little would indicate that some two hundred years later this delicate infant, born in wealth and raised in the society of the established elite, would be raised to the honor of the altar by the Vicar of Christ on the site of the martyrdom of St. Peter.

"Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton is a Saint! She is the first daughter of the United States of America to be glorified with this incomparable attribute!" The Pope spoke with unexpected emotion and excitement, so remarkable was the revelation that a woman who should have remained anonymous and safe within the fold of her respectable family, had embarked upon the spiritual journey for truth which she knew could lead only to one unfashionable destination: the Catholic Church.

The Holy Father took care to remind the world that the religious sensibility, the spiritual goodness of the saint, was planted and nurtured in Anglicanism. "We willingly recognize this merit, and, knowing well how much it cost Elizabeth to pass over to the Catholic Church, we admire her courage for adhering to the religious truth and divine reality which were manifested to her therein," the Pope said.

The young widow could have remained in her Trinity Church pew, gazing out the window toward St. Peter's Church on Barclay Street. Everything and everyone around her should have caused hesitation, but her heart had gone before, because the Divine Heart was waiting for her there. As another great convert would later say, "Cor ad cor loquitur."
O God, who didst crown with the gift of true faith Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s burning zeal to find thee: grant by her intercession and example; that we may always seek thee with diligent love and find thee in daily service with sincere faith; 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.

+ + + + +

A brief biography, from various sources:

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, known as Mother Seton, is one of the great saints of our nation. Her accomplishments were amazing. Although she was a widow with five young children, she founded the first American religious community for women, the Sisters of Charity, and she opened the first American parish school and established the first American Catholic orphanage. She accomplished all this, even though she lived to be only 46 years old.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was a true daughter of the American Revolution. She was born in 1774, just two years before the Declaration of Independence. By birth and through her marriage, she was part the most prominent and wealthy families of New York. She was raised as an Episcopalian by her mother and stepmother, and through her religion, she learned the value of prayer, Scripture and a nightly examination of conscience.

Her mother died in when St. Elizabeth was not quite four years old, and her baby sister died that next year. Losing these people who were so important to her gave Elizabeth an understanding that life in this world is temporary, and she knew that it was important to accomplish as much as possible every day. She developed a sense of hope, and she made the effort to face everything with cheerfulness.

When she was 19, Elizabeth was the one of the most beautiful and wealthiest young women in all of New York. She married a handsome, successful businessman, William Seton. They had five children and were very happy. However, their fortunes changed -- his business failed, and eventually he died of tuberculosis. At the young age of 30, Elizabeth was widowed, she had no money left, and she had five small children to support.

She and her husband had traveled to Italy when he was very sick, hoping that he would get better in that warmer climate. That wasn’t to be, and as her husband was dying, Elizabeth witnessed the Catholic faith in action through family friends. Three basic points led her to become a Catholic: belief in the Real Presence, devotion to the Blessed Mother and conviction that the Catholic Church led back to the apostles and to Christ. She herself decided to enter the Catholic Church in 1805, and when she did that, most of her family and friends never spoke to her again.

In order to support her children, Elizabeth opened a school in Baltimore. From the beginning, she and her teachers followed the pattern of a religious community, and it was formally founded as the Sisters of Charity in 1809.

We have more than a thousand letters written by Mother Seton, and they reveal the development of her spiritual life from ordinary goodness to heroic sanctity. She suffered great trials of sickness, misunderstanding, the death of loved ones (her husband and two young daughters) and the heartache of a wayward son. She died January 4, 1821, and became the first American-born citizen to be beatified (1963) and then canonized (1975). She is buried in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Elizabeth Seton had no extraordinary gifts. She was not a mystic or stigmatic. She did not prophesy or speak in tongues. She had two great devotions: abandonment to the will of God and an ardent love for the Blessed Sacrament.

02 January 2019

The Holy Name of Jesus


A worthy custom to be maintained is that of bowing one's head at the name of our Lord as a sign of respect at the sound of the Name of our salvation. There are so many acts of courtesy and respect which have been lost in our everyday living, but there are things such as this that I refuse to put aside. It may seem a little thing, but I believe it is important that we pause and acknowledge the wonder of what God in Christ has done, and is doing. The very idea that the Creator of all things has such love for us that He has put on human flesh in the womb of the chosen maiden, and has taken for Himself the particular name of Jesus, and gives Himself to us daily in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass -- that should make us want to bow our heads in wonder and praise. "For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved."

Almighty God, who by thy blessed Apostle hast taught us that there is none other name given among men whereby we must be saved, but only the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ: grant, we beseech thee; that we may ever glory in this Name, and strive to make thy salvation known unto all mankind; 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.
*  *  *  *  *

Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus

V. Lord, have mercy on us.
R. Christ, have mercy on us.
V. Lord, have mercy on us. Jesus, hear us.
R. Jesus, graciously hear us.
V. God the Father of Heaven
R. Have mercy on us.
V. God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
R. Have mercy on us.
V. God the Holy Spirit,
R. Have mercy on us.
V. Holy Trinity, one God,
R. Have mercy on us.
V. Jesus, Son of the living God, R. Have mercy on us.
Jesus, splendor of the Father, [etc.]
Jesus, brightness of eternal light.
Jesus, King of glory.
Jesus, sun of justice.
Jesus, Son of the Virgin Mary.
Jesus, most amiable.
Jesus, most admirable.
Jesus, the mighty God.
Jesus, Father of the world to come.
Jesus, angel of great counsel.
Jesus, most powerful.
Jesus, most patient.
Jesus, most obedient.
Jesus, meek and humble of heart.
Jesus, lover of chastity.
Jesus, lover of us.
Jesus, God of peace.
Jesus, author of life.
Jesus, example of virtues.
Jesus, zealous lover of souls.
Jesus, our God.
Jesus, our refuge.
Jesus, father of the poor.
Jesus, treasure of the faithful.
Jesus, good Shepherd.
Jesus, true light.
Jesus, eternal wisdom.
Jesus, infinite goodness.
Jesus, our way and our life.
Jesus, joy of Angels.
Jesus, King of the Patriarchs.
Jesus, Master of the Apostles.
Jesus, teacher of the Evangelists.
Jesus, strength of Martyrs.
Jesus, light of Confessors.
Jesus, purity of Virgins.
Jesus, crown of Saints.

V. Be merciful, R. spare us, O Jesus.
V. Be merciful, R. graciously hear us, O Jesus.
V. From all evil, R. deliver us, O Jesus.
From all sin, deliver us, O Jesus.
From Your wrath, [etc.]
From the snares of the devil.
From the spirit of fornication.
From everlasting death.
From the neglect of Your inspirations.
By the mystery of Your holy Incarnation.
By Your Nativity.
By Your Infancy.
By Your most divine Life.
By Your labors.
By Your agony and passion.
By Your cross and dereliction.
By Your sufferings.
By Your death and burial.
By Your Resurrection.
By Your Ascension.
By Your institution of the most Holy Eucharist.
By Your joys.
By Your glory.

V. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
R. spare us, O Jesus.
V. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
R. graciously hear us, O Jesus.
V. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
R. have mercy on us, O Jesus.

V. Jesus, hear us.
R. Jesus, graciously hear us.

Let us pray.

O Lord Jesus Christ, You have said, "Ask and you shall receive, seek, and you shall find, knock, and it shall be opened to you." Grant, we beg of You, to us who ask it, the gift of Your most divine love, that we may ever love You with our whole heart, in word and deed, and never cease praising You. Give us, O Lord, as much a lasting fear as a lasting love of Your Holy Name, for You, who live and are King for ever and ever, never fail to govern those whom You have solidly established in Your love. R. Amen.

01 January 2019

St. Basil and St. Gregory Nazianzen


St. Basil was educated in Caesarea, Constantinople, and Athens in the fourth century. He enjoyed stimulating university life. There he met St. Gregory Nazianzen, a quiet, scholarly man. The two became close friends.

Basil traveled through the East and studied monastic life. As a result, he formed his own monastic group. Gregory joined him. From their discussions, Basil composed a rule of life for monks. He allowed monks and nuns to operate hospitals and guesthouses and work outside the community. His principles still influence Eastern monasticism.

The two friends lived the monastic life for only about five years. Then Gregory had to return home to care for his father, who was a bishop. When Gregory got home, he was ordained a priest, although he did not think himself worthy. He watched over his father’s diocese.

In 374, Basil was made bishop of Caesarea. The Church called on him to refute the Arian heresy, which claimed that Jesus was not God. Emperor Valens promoted the heresy. Basil believed the Church must remain independent of the emperor and boldly defended the Church. He preached morning and evening to large crowds. When a famine struck, he gave his money to people who were poor. He organized a place to feed the hungry and served the people himself. Basil even built a town, which included a church, a hospital, and a guesthouse.

Basil continued to write for the Church and to clarify the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. When one town was falling away from the faith, Basil ordained Gregory to be a bishop and sent him there. Gregory went unhappily because he disliked conflict. The two friends were later reconciled.

For 30 years, Constantinople had been under the leadership of supporters of the Arian movement. The bishops of the surrounding areas begged Gregory to come and restore the faith, and again he went, dreading the task. Gregory made his house a church and preached on the Trinity. The people called him “the theologian.”

Both St. Basil and St. Gregory were misunderstood, but in spite of this, they rebuilt the faith. Basil died at age 49. Gregory resigned from Constantinople because of opposition and spent his last years reading, writing his autobiography, and enjoying his gardens.

Almighty God, whose servants Basil and Gregory proclaimed the mystery of thy Word made flesh, that thy Church might be built up in wisdom and strength: grant that we, through their prayers, and rejoicing in the Lord’s presence among us, may with them be brought to know the power of thine unending love; 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.

31 December 2018

Mary, Mother of God


O God, who by the fruitful virginity of Blessed Mary, hast bestowed upon mankind the reward of eternal salvation: grant, we beseech thee, that we may know the help of her intercession, through whom we have been accounted worthy to receive the Author of our life, Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

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

30 December 2018

Pope St. Sylvester


St. Sylvester was born in Rome and was ordained to the priesthood by Pope St. Marcellinus. This took place during a brief time of peace for the Church, immediately preceding the persecutions of Diocletian. Sylvester was one of the clergy who survived the cruelties during the reign of terror which ensued, and eventually saw the triumph of Constantine in the year 312. Two years later he succeeded St. Melchiades as Bishop of Rome.

The Council of Nicaea was assembled during Pope St. Sylvester's pontificate, in the year 325. By that time he was advanced in years, and so was not able to attend personally. He sent legates to the Council, and because they were the Pope's personal representatives, their names appear first among the signatories of the Decrees, preceding the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch. St. Sylvester was Pope for twenty-four years and eleven months, and he died in the year 335.

Be merciful to the people of thy flock, O Lord, eternal Shepherd of our souls: and keep us in thy continual protection at the intercession of Saint Sylvester, whom thou didst raise up to be shepherd of the whole Church; 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.

29 December 2018

St. Thomas Becket


St. Thomas was born in London, England around the year 1117. He was the son of pious parents, and his mother converted to Christianity through the example and teachings of his father. From his early youth, Thomas was educated in religion and holiness. After his childhood, Thomas was then taught at a monastery and later at a school in London. After the death of both his parents, Thomas decided to finish his schooling by studying canon law. He was successful in his studies and was made secretary to one of the courts of London.

After working for a while at law, Thomas decided to dedicate the rest of his life to God, and began to work towards ordination. In all that he did, Thomas diligently applied himself and became well known as a holy and honest worker. His work came under the scrutiny of King Henry II and, in 1157, Thomas was asked to serve as Lord Chancellor to the king. After the bishop of Canterbury died, Henry sought to elect Thomas to the position, and in 1162 this suggestion was accepted by a synod. Thomas warned the king that it might cause friction and conflict of interests, but accepted the position.

Thomas served as bishop by seeking to help the people and develop his own holiness. He practiced many penances and was very generous to the poor with both his time and his money. As Henry's reign continued, he began more and more to exercise his hand in Church affairs. This caused many disagreements with Thomas, and after one especially trying affair, he retired for a while to France. When Thomas returned to England, he again became involved in a dispute with the king. Some of the king's knights saw this as treason, and as a result they killed Thomas in his own Church. Henry did penance at the grave of Thomas, seeking forgiveness for the actions of his knights, and the tomb soon became a place of pilgrimage for the faithful.

- Reprinted from the Catholic News Agency
_______________________

St. Thomas Becket (of Canterbury) has a special place in the devotional life of our parish.  Not only does his image (in the form of a lovely old English statue) keep watch at the tabernacle, but his relics are contained under the stone in our high altar.

O God, for whose Church the glorious Bishop Thomas Becket fell by the swords of wicked men: grant, we beseech thee; that all who call upon him for succour may be profited by the obtaining of all that they desire; 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.

Tabernacle at the High Altar, flanked by St. Stephen (l.) and St. Thomas Becket (r.)

28 December 2018

The Holy Innocents


In the midst of celebrating the incarnation of holy innocence, our joy is tempered by the remembrance of the deaths of the Holy Innocents. A wicked ruler ordering death much as he might order the destruction of an unwanted animal; terrified parents seeing their children's blood on the same streets where their families had walked for generations; brutalized children having their lives stolen scarcely after they had begun; a whole town maimed beyond recognition, all because the sin of Adam and Eve necessitated the birth of a Saviour.

We relate the slaughter of the Holy Innocents to the millions of children murdered through abortion -- and quite rightly so. But the horror of abortion is something that goes even beyond what happened on the streets of Bethlehem. The deaths of those little boys in Bethlehem afforded some safety to the Christ Child, because the sly Herod thought he had accomplished his purpose, and so the Holy Family was able to continue unmolested on its journey to the safety of Egypt. Those little boys, even in their suffering, had parents who did all they could to protect them from the violence descending upon them. Those little boys were named, and they were loved, and they were incorporated into God's family through the religious rites attended to by their mothers and fathers. The little boys of Bethlehem are remembered even today, and their deaths are able to be seen as being directly related to the mystery of the Holy Incarnation.

But the little victims of abortion... theirs is a holocaust that defies description. Not a single action of a single wicked ruler are their deaths; rather, their deaths are "a matter of choice" -- choices made by the very ones who should be protecting their innocent lives. These are not deaths being endured for any noble cause. These are deaths born of ignorance, of selfishness, of greed, of any number of the spoiled fruits of sin.

As we remember the deaths of the Holy Innocents, pray also for those who are being murdered in their holy innocence. And pray, too, that the twisted hearts which allow and encourage such unspeakable things might be changed.

O Almighty God, who out of the mouths of babes and nurslings hast ordained strength, and madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths: mortify and kill all vices in us; and so strengthen us by thy grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith, even unto death, we may glorify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.


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26 December 2018

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

The cave of St. John on Patmos.

Our spiritual journey continues during this Octave of Christmas, as we travel from the Feast of young St. Stephen to the Feast of the aged St. John. And what a journey he made, being taken from tending his fishing nets by the Galilean sea to a cave of exile on the island of Patmos. In both places he was called by the Lord Jesus; first, to listen to the Divine Word so he could follow, and second, to record the Divine Word so those of us who have come later can also follow.

On one of our parish pilgrimages we went to Greece and Turkey, where we visited the cave in which St. John received the apocalyptic vision. As many holy places as I have visited, rarely have I been as affected as I was while standing in that place. There it was that the Risen Lord spoke to John with a power so overwhelming that a fissure was left overhead, dividing the rock into three pieces as a reminder that the Trinity had revealed the truth on that spot. Every place one looked, there was a reminder of John: the hollow in the rock where he rested his head when he grew so tired he could no longer stand upright; the sloping shelf on which the Revelation was recorded. It was all I could do to keep my shoes on my feet, so clearly was this "holy ground." It seemed as though the breath of history was held in that place, and that the apostle would at any moment appear once again to take up his pen to continue recording the living and awe-full word of the Lord. But of course, that could not be. It was there, in that cave, that the final word was spoken. What St. John heard there was the last word of truth. There is no more to be revealed; all we can pray for now is for our increased understanding of what Christ has spoken once for all. Here are the last words the Lord spoke to the last living apostle, written down with trembling hand:
"I Jesus have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star." The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let him who hears say, "Come." And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price. I warn every one who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints. Amen.


The icon pictured here was obtained during a parish pilgrimage, which included a visit to the island of  Patmos, where St. John had been exiled and where the Revelation was given to him by the Risen Christ. This image hangs in the Chapel of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, near the altar.

Shed upon thy Church, we beseech thee, O Lord, the brightness of thy light; that we, being illumined by the teaching of thine apostle and evangelist St. John, may so walk in the light of thy truth, that we may at length attain to the fullness of life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

25 December 2018

St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr


Saint Stephen was one of the first ordained deacons of the Church. He was also the first Christian martyr. The Greek word from which we derive the English word martyr literally means witness. In that sense, every Christian is called to bear witness to Jesus Christ, in both their words and their actions. Not all are asked to shed their blood.

Those who shed their blood for the faith are the greatest of witnesses. They have been especially honored since the very beginning of Christianity. Stephen was so conformed to Jesus in his holy life that his martyrdom was both a natural and supernatural sign of his love for the Lord. It also inspired the early believers as they faced the first round of brutal persecution.

His name means “crown” and he was the first to be martyred. His final words showed his understanding that Christ had come not just for the Jews, but for the whole world.

As he was being stoned, the young rabbi holding the cloaks of those who were stoning Stephen was named Saul, and what he saw in this young martyr eventually led to his own conversion.

I find it spiritually invigorating to move so rapidly from celebrating the birth of Our Lord, into the next day's commemoration of the first one to die for his faith in that same Lord. St. Stephen - the great deacon, the compelling preacher, the martyr whose blood was a seed of faith in St. Paul - his was a life which showed very early that the Catholic faith was not designed for cowards!

St. Stephen has been something of a patron saint for me for many years, but in an unconventional way. In 1975, I was ordained as an Anglican deacon in Bristol, England, and was assigned to St. Stephen's Church, Southmead, which was one of the post-war council housing estates outside the city. The martyr Stephen had never been particularly important to me up to that point, but a spiritual bond began, which caused me to want to know more about him. The idea of his intercessory role in my life was not part of my thinking at that time in my spiritual life, but as I look back, I can see that was exactly what was happening.

In 1976, my ordination as an Anglican priest took place in St. Stephen's Church, Providence. Oddly, the thing I remember most about that day was kneeling before Bishop Belden, wishing that he was a Catholic bishop so that I could be a Catholic priest. Why should such an idea have come into my mind at that very moment? Because of St. Stephen's prayers, no doubt. Of course, at that time it was a ridiculous thought, and I pushed it aside as being one of those silly things that pops into one's head at odd times. Now I can see that it was God's plan for me being unfolded gradually. Only a few years later, Pope John Paul II approved the Pastoral Provision, which allowed that very thing to happen.

When I celebrate Mass each year on St. Stephen's Day, it is a special day for me. It always has a sense of quiet holiness, after the crowded Masses of the day before. It is a day when I especially give thanks to God for the priestly vocation He has given me, and the day serves as a reminder to me that the diaconate remains part of priestly ministry. Even the year when my father died on St. Stephen's Day, it was bittersweet - it seemed to me to be right for such a good man to have died on the feast of such a good saint.

Pray, good St. Stephen... pray for us all.

Grant, O Lord, that in all our sufferings here upon earth, for the testimony of thy truth, we may steadfastly look up to heaven, and by faith behold the glory that shall be revealed: and, being filled with the Holy Spirit, may learn to love and bless our persecutors, by the example of thy first Martyr Saint Stephen; who prayed for his murderers to thee, O blessed Jesus, who standest at the right hand of God to succour all those that suffer for thee, our Mediator and Advocate; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Healing the rift


"When all things were in quiet silence and night was in the midst of her swift course, thine Almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne…" and that Word took flesh untainted by sin from the Virgin chosen from the beginning of time. It was done for the healing of that tragic rift between God and Man.

God created all things to be in perfect unity. He made the universe as a reflection of His own divine order. He created Man in His own image, to be in perfect communion with Him. But through the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, disorder entered into the world, and perfect communion was broken. And ever since that time, there has been a tendency in the natural order of things for there to be disintegration, the breakdown of things, a crumbling. Sadly, what should be unnatural has become all too normal in the world around us, and within us, and even within the Church.

Christ founded the Church to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic – and so it is. But our sin has caused division, and that’s a clear contradiction to the Divine Will of our Lord. While there may well be an invisible spiritual communion deeper than we know, especially through the bonds of baptism, nonetheless there is to be a visible communion, too, because that’s the Will of Christ, and the constant invitation from God is that we work and pray to build up both the spiritual and visible unity of Christ’s Body.

It’s this purpose – the building up of unity – which is outlined at the very beginning of the Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum coetibus. In fact, this stated purpose is sometimes glossed over in the search for the particulars of the Personal Ordinariates. People tend to look at the details of how they’re established, and of who can belong, of the liturgical use, and of who can be ordained – indeed, any number of other details.

But all that neglects the reason for Pope Benedict XVI’s great generosity, and that is to help bring about the prayer of Christ “that they all may be one.” It’s not accidental that the first three paragraphs of the Apostolic Constitution speak of the Church as “a people gathered into the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” and that the Church was instituted by Christ as “a sacrament…of communion with God and of unity among all people,” and that this Church is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. Then, recognizing that there are “many elements of sanctification and of truth [which] are found outside her visible confines,” he says that these “are forces impelling towards Catholic unity.”

What had been broken, the Personal Ordinariates invite us to repair. The communion that has been impaired, we are asked to restore. The fellowship which has been strained, we are bidden to strengthen.

God’s Incarnate Love came into this world by Our Lady’s “yes,” and it would gladden her heart for her children to be one again. She, who stood beside the Cross and saw her Son in agony, would be comforted by us taking away this pain of separation. There are few things that touch a mother’s heart more, than to see her whole family together at one table. This is why we have been given the Apostolic Constitution: so that we can put division behind us, and join together with one voice and one heart in “that most holy cause, the preaching of the Gospel” to the whole world.

“Lord Jesus, make us one, as you and the Father are one.” Amen.

24 December 2018

Pure Love rested here...

Chapel of the Manger, Basilica of the Holy Nativity, Bethlehem.

One of my very earliest Christmas memories was learning to sing "Away in a manger" for a pageant.  I must have been very young indeed, because I can remember it hadn't been too long before that I had stopped sleeping in a crib, and I had the thought that we could probably give the one I had been using to the baby Jesus.  It was a child's charitable thought which never worked out, but I've always loved the lullaby that inspired it.

Here's the traditional first verse, with three other verses I wrote several years ago.

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

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

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

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

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

St. Francis and the Crèche

Chapel of the Crib at Greccio

It was in a grotto at Greccio, on Christmas Eve in 1223, that St. Francis created a crèche depicting the birth of our Savior. It was a simple affair, but as word spread throughout the area the people began to arrive with torches and candles. There they heard the Poor Man of Assisi read the Gospel telling of Christ's birth in Bethlehem, and he preached about Jesus taking poverty upon Himself, so that we might become rich in our love for God.

Since that time, the scene has been recreated in our homes and in our churches, in places public and private, allowing us to "go to Bethlehem, to see this great thing which has come to pass..."

This is the contemporary account written by St. Thomas of Celano, a follower of St. Francis:

Francis’ highest intention, his chief desire, his uppermost purpose was to observe the holy Gospel in all things and through all things and, with perfect vigilance, with all zeal, with all the longing of his mind and all the fervor of his heart, "to follow the teaching and the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ." He would recall Christ’s word through persistent meditation and bring to mind his deeds through the most penetrating consideration. The humility of the incarnation and the charity of the passion occupied his memory particularly, to the extent that he wanted to think of hardly anything else.

What he did on the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ near the little town called Greccio in the third year before his glorious death should especially be noted and recalled with reverent memory. In that place there was a certain man by the name of John, of good reputation and an even better life, whom blessed Francis loved with a special love, for in the place where he lived he held a noble and honorable position in as much as he had trampled upon the nobility of his birth and pursued nobility of soul.

Blessed Francis sent for this man, as he often did, about fifteen days before the birth of the Lord, and he said to him: "If you want us to celebrate the present fast of our Lord at Greccio, go with haste and diligently prepare what I tell you. For I wish to do something that will recall to memory the little Child who was born in Bethlehem and set before our bodily eyes in some way the inconveniences of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he lay upon the hay where he had been placed.” When the good and faithful man heard these things, he ran with haste and prepared in that place all the things the saint had told him.

But the day of joy drew near, the time of great rejoicing came. The brothers were called from their various places. Men and women of that neighborhood prepared with glad hearts, according to their means, candles and torches to light up that night that has lighted up all the days and years with its gleaming star. At length the saint of God came, and finding all things prepared, he saw it and was glad. the manger was prepared, the hay had been brought, the ox and ass were led in. There simplicity was honored, poverty was exalted, humility was commended, and Greccio was made, as it were, a new Bethlehem. The night was lighted up like the day, and it delighted men and beasts. The people came and were filled with new joy over the new mystery. The woods rang with the voices of the crowd and the rocks made answer to their jubilation. The brothers sang, paying their debt of praise to the Lord, and the whole night resounded with their rejoicing. The saint of God stood before the manger, uttering sighs, overcome with love, and filled with a wonderful happiness. The solemnities of the Mass were celebrated over the manger and the priest experienced a new consolation.

The saint of God was clothed with the vestments of the deacon, for he was a deacon, and he sang the holy Gospel in a sonorous voice. And his voice was a strong voice, a sweet voice, a clear voice, a sonorous voice, inviting all to the highest rewards. Then he preached to the people standing about, and he spoke charming words concerning the nativity of the poor king and the little town of Bethlehem. Frequently too, when he wished to call Christ Jesus, he would call him simply the Child of Bethlehem, aglow with overflowing love for him; and speaking the word Bethlehem, his voice was more like the bleating of a sheep. His mouth was filled more with sweet affection than with words. Besides, when he spoke the name Child of Bethlehem or Jesus, his tongue licked his lips, as it were, relishing and savoring with pleased palate the sweetness of the word. The gifts of the Almighty were multiplied there, and a wonderful vision was seen by a certain virtuous man. For he saw a little child lying in the manger lifeless, and he saw the holy man of God go up to it and rouse the child as from a deep sleep. This vision was not unfitting, for the Child Jesus had been forgotten in the hearts of many; but, by the working of his grace, he was brought to life again through his servant St. Francis and stamped upon their fervent memory. At length the solemn night celebration was brought to a close, and each one returned to his home with holy joy.

The hay that had been placed in the manger was kept, so that the Lord might save the beasts of burden and other animals through it as he multiplied his holy mercy. And in truth it so happened that many animals throughout the surrounding region that had various illnesses were freed from their illnesses after eating of this hay. Indeed, even women laboring for a long time in a difficult birth, were delivered safely when some of this hay was placed upon them; and a large number of persons of both sexes of that place, suffering from various illnesses, obtained the health they sought. later, the place on which the manger had stood was made sacred by a temple of the Lord, and an altar was built in honour of the most blessed father Francis over the manger and a church was built, so that where once the animals had eaten the hay, there in the future men would eat unto health of soul and body the flesh of the Lamb without blemish and without spot, our Lord Jesus Christ, who in highest and ineffable love gave himself to us, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, God, eternally glorious, forever and ever. Amen. Alleluia, Alleluia.
The most important section of the sanctuary at Greccio is the Chapel of the Crib, which was built in the present form in 1228. A rock under the altar indicates the place where Francis arranged the manger. The cave wall is surrounded by a fresco from the school of Giotto. It shows Francis wearing the dalmatic of a deacon and taking into his arms the infant Jesus.

Little Bethlehem


This is a good time of the year to remember that great things can come in small packages, and the village of Bethlehem certainly is a case in point. A place of little consequence became the focus of the universe, and in its most rude and humble spot the Savior of the world drew His first breath. We should remember Bethlehem, not just at Christmas-time, but every time we are feeling that our own lives are not grand or influential. God found room in a mean stable for His miraculous work; let Him find room in our hearts, and just see what He will do!

21 December 2018

In the fullness of time...

O precious Lord, once born for us
in stable small and poor;
be born again within our hearts,
and there let us adore.
-
As once our Saviour thou didst come,
both Man and God divine,
so now thou givest Flesh and Blood
'neath forms of bread and wine.
-
Sweet Fruit of Virgin Mary's womb,
once hid from earthly sight,
may we thy children fruitful be,
and show the world thy Light.
-
Now stay with us, Lord Jesus Christ,
in solemn Mystery,
that when our work on earth be done
thy glory we may see.
-
Tune: "St. Botolph" by Gordon Slater (1896-1979)
Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1992

17 December 2018

Joseph, Just and Kind


Little is known about Joseph, and yet enough is known to reveal what his character was. All that we know of him for certain, we know from the Gospels, and it is there that we see him to be a man who was determined to do what is right in the sight of God, and to do it in a kindly way. He was betrothed to Mary, and according to Jewish practice, betrothal was as sacred as marriage. Because of that, any infidelity before the actual marriage was treated in the same way as infidelity after marriage: death by stoning was the punishment for such sin. By all human appearance, Mary was in just such circumstances, and Joseph had to act in the way that seemed best. He was a just man, but he was a kind man, too, and surely what was revealed to him about Mary made a great demand on his faith.

But that is the point: Joseph was, above all, a man of faith and completely obedient to the divine will of Almighty God. When it was revealed to him that Mary was to bear the Incarnate Son of God he took her to be his wife. There was no hesitation, no consideration of what others might think or how they might judge. It mattered little to him that it was assumed he was the human father of this Child – not that he would have encouraged others to believe such a thing, for he knew the truth – but it was better than having people think that Mary had shamefully conceived with someone else, and so Joseph took the responsibility, knowing one day the truth would be known, and that Truth "would make men free." It is in this very situation, brought about by God Himself, that Saint Joseph's justness and kindness are both revealed.



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

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

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

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

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

16 December 2018

Late Advent


As we begin this time of Late Advent, so we begin the great “O" Antiphons, which lead up to the Vigil of the Nativity. Each antiphon highlights a title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel (O God With Us), and they are taken from the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the coming of the Messiah.

Of course, most of the Catholic Church already shares our patrimony’s gift regarding the O Antiphons in the metrical translation of these antiphons, the universally beloved: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” That translation is, in large part, the work of the famed Anglican priest, translator and hymnographer, John Mason Neale (1818-1866), to whose scholarly and literary gifts the Anglican Church owes its recovery of the great treasury of pre-Reformation Latin hymnody.

There is, however, another antiphon which is firmly part of our patrimony.  It is our unique eighth O Antiphon, which we will hear on the morning of December 24th — a most fitting antiphon indeed to echo throughout the monasteries and churches of the land known then – and now again – as “Our Lady’s Dowry,” the antiphon O Virgo virginum:
O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud? quia nec primam similem visa es, nec habere sequentem. Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? for neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? the thing which ye behold, is a divine mystery.

13 December 2018

St. John of the Cross


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

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

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

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

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

O God, who didst give to blessed St. John of the Cross, thy Confessor and Doctor, grace to show forth a singular love of perfect self-denial and of bearing thy Cross: grant, we beseech thee; that we cleaving steadfastly to his pattern, may attain to everlasting glory; 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.

12 December 2018

St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr


Lucy’s name has as its root the Latin word for light, lux. This makes her commemoration all the more meaningful during this time of Advent, as we increase each week the number of candles we light on the Advent wreath, reminding us that our lives are to be more and more illumined by the light of Christ.

We can be certain that there was a young Christian girl named Lucy who lived at the end of the 3rd century and into the beginning of the 4th century, because devotion to her is widespread from the 4th century on. Lots of the details of her life, however, come from legends and stories which were told from one generation to the next – and although the stories no doubt have some factual basis, many of the details were added over the years.

So what do we know about her? We know that Lucy’s father died when she was very young, because there is no mention of him whatsoever in the stories about her. Lucy’s mother, Eutychia, suffered from a serious sickness for many years, and she was unable to find any doctor who could help her. Young Lucy had heard of the healing power of the prayers of a young girl, St. Agatha, who had been martyred for the faith. The story is that St. Lucy convinced her mother that they should travel to the tomb of St. Agatha, so they could ask for her prayers for Lucy’s mother. They prayed all night, even falling asleep at the tomb. In her sleep, Lucy had a vision of St. Agatha, and at that moment, her mother Eutychia was cured.

Now, it happened that some time before this, Eutychia had arranged a marriage for Lucy with a young man who was a pagan, but Lucy insisted that she wouldn’t marry, and that the money which would have been used for her dowry should be spent on the poor. In fact, Lucy gave away everything she owned, including her property and her jewelry. News of this came to the attention of the young man whom she was supposed to marry, and he became very angry. He went to the local authorities to report that Lucy was a Christian – and this was a time when it was illegal to belong to the Church.

She was condemned to prison, but when the guards came to take her away, they found that it was impossible to lift her. No matter how much they tried to lift her, she seemed to become immoveable. It is said that she was killed when they plunged a dagger into her throat, and the story is that they had gouged out her eyes before her death. She is often pictured in art with two eyes on a plate, and for that reason she is the patroness of those who are blind or who have any disease of the eyes.

She is Lucy – lux – who lived and died in the light of Christ.

Almighty and everlasting God, who dost choose those whom the world deemeth powerless to put the powerful to shame: Grant us so to cherish the memory of thy youthful martyr St. Lucy, that we may share her pure and steadfast faith in thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

11 December 2018

Our Lady of Guadalupe

The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe
at Our Lady of the Atonement Church

On December 9, 1531, in Mexico, Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego, a poor humble Aztec Indian who had recently converted to the Catholic faith, and we heard about this last week when we commemorated St. Juan Diego. She asked him to go to the Bishop and tell him to build a church where she said “I will show and offer all of my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to my people.” Juan Diego did as she asked, but the Bishop asked for a sign that this message was really from Our Lady. Mary granted his request. On December 12, she showed Juan where the most beautiful Castilian roses were and told him to gather them. It was a miracle that the roses were there and in bloom because there was frost on the ground, and the ground was an infertile place where only cactus and thistles grew. After he gathered them, she helped arrange them in his tilma and told him to show them to the Bishop. When he brought them to the Bishop, the Bishop was amazed at the roses, but was even more amazed at what began to happen to Juan Diego’s tilma. Right before their very eyes, the image of Our Lady began to form on the cloth. The picture of Mary was beautiful and the Bishop fell to his knees. He had the church built at her request. The tilma is still intact after 485 years. The colors have not faded and the cloth has not deteriorated. It has been on display in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe for all this time.

The manner in which Our Lady appeared on the tilma was very significant to the Aztec Indians. God had her dressed in a way that they would understand who she was. She was dressed in royal clothes that showed that she was very important, perhaps a queen. She also had the symbol of the cross at her neck which was the same symbol the Spaniards had on their ships and in the churches they built. She had a sash tied around her waist which meant that she was going to have a child, for this was the way the Aztec women dressed when they were pregnant. And on her beautiful dress were all sorts of designs and flowers. But there was one flower on her dress that was very significant. It had only four petals. To the Aztecs, the four petal flower was the symbol for the true God, the God above all gods. This flower was located on her abdomen, right over the place where Jesus was growing inside of her. The Aztecs immediately understood that this was the mother of the true God! This appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe was very important to the history of our continent. You see, the Aztec Indians and the Spaniards were on the brink of war. The Aztec Indians’ culture and religion were very different. They worshipped gods, to whom they would offer human sacrifices, often killing 50,000 people a year. If a war had occurred, it would have been very brutal and the Spaniards and Christianity would have been totally wiped out. Mary’s appearance changed everything. It helped the Indians to embrace Christianity and it helped the Spaniards to treat the Indians with respect and as human beings. In the course of seven years, 6,000,000 Indians converted to the Catholic faith. This was the biggest conversion in the history of the Church! This is why Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Patroness of the Americas. Mary’s appearance put an end to the worship of stone gods and the ritual of human sacrifice. Our Lady of Guadalupe is also called the Patroness of the Unborn. We pray for Mary’s help today to bring an end to the human sacrifice of God’s children through abortion and to convert non-believers.

O God, who hast willed that under the special patronage of the most Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, we should receive an abundant measure of unceasing favours: grant us, thy suppliant people; that as we rejoice to honour her upon earth, so we may enjoy the vision of her in heaven; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.