20 January 2020

St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr

St. Agnes was a Roman girl who was only 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.

God in Man made manifest...

Many newspapers and magazines and television news programs use these first days of the new year to publish a recap of the previous year. At a glance we’re reminded of those things that captured our attention and were the subjects of our conversations. But we should also remember that during those same twelve months there were approximately 130 million babies born in the world, almost every one of them anonymous. Unless they were family or friends, their births meant little to us, whereas the big news events were what kept our attention.

A few thousand years ago the world was filled with political intrigue. The enormous military might of Rome captured the attention of the world. The emperor Caesar Augustus had ordered a census to be taken so he could increase taxes. The greed of one man caused an upheaval in the lives of millions of anonymous people. Everyone was thinking about this oppressive empire, and all the talk was of the hardship it was causing.

While the attention of the whole world was on Rome, few people noticed a young couple making an eighty-mile trip south from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Who cared about a Jewish couple heading for Bethlehem, when Rome was making such an impact on the world? Who cared that the young woman was expecting a child, when there were bigger things to be concerned with? Yet the impact of this anonymous birth upon the world would be beyond anything Caesar Augustus could have imagined. While Rome was busy making history, God had descended into history in the person of Jesus Christ, who had been conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and who was now about to be born in an obscure corner of the greatest empire ever to exist.

Time and time again, man has been caught up in the events of history, but misses what’s really important. And just as those who were living at the time ignored the birth of the God-Man, so men have continued to ignore it since that time, and there are even many today who still overlook the birth of Jesus and its consequences. Times have changed, but Man has not; and the reactions to the birth of Christ at the time have been repeated throughout history.

Look at how Herod the king reacted. Herod was first and foremost a self-absorbed and wicked man. If he showed any mercy or justice, it was only because he would eventually benefit from it himself. He married his wife only because he thought that by marrying a Jewish woman it would soften the hearts of his subjects towards him. He was a jealous man, suspicious, and constantly afraid that someone would take his position and power from him. And because of his jealousies and suspicions, he had his brother-in-law drowned, he had his wife and her mother killed, and finally he killed three of his own sons. In fact, shortly before his own death, he had the most distinguished citizens of Jerusalem imprisoned and ordered them executed the moment he died. Why? Because he wanted to make sure there was mourning when he died, and if people didn’t mourn his death, they’d at least be mourning something! And that barbaric act was surpassed only by his slaughter of all the male children two years and younger who were in Bethlehem and in the surrounding area, in an attempt to kill the one of them whom the wise men had said was born king of the Jews.

The hostility shown by Herod towards Christ has been a thread throughout history ever since. The leaders of the Roman Empire did their best to stamp out the Church, murdering countless of Christ’s followers, because they perceived the Gospel to be a threat to their own position and power. Whole political systems have been founded upon a hatred of God, with an institutional hostility to the birth of Jesus and all that it means. And we don’t need to look as far away as systems such as communism to find that hostility; we have it increasingly in our own country, where freedom of religion has been twisted into freedom from religion, attempting to go so far as to outlaw the public mention of God, and the banishment of any public display of Christian symbols. Even innocent human life is wantonly destroyed because of the greed and selfishness that so often accompanies godlessness.

But it wasn’t just Herod’s hostility that greeted the birth of Christ. There was that equally damaging attitude called indifference – and we see this attitude in the chief priests and scribes. The Gospel tells us that when Herod heard that a king had been born, he gathered these Jewish leaders to find out where prophecy foretold that the Christ would be born. They gave him the information he asked: “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet.” And that’s all we hear from them. Now understand who these people were. They were the religious leaders in the Temple. They were the expert scholars of Judaism. But when Herod called them together to find out where the Messiah was to be born, did they show any interest, or any curiosity about what the wise men had reported? Not at all. They were able to tell Herod what he wanted to know, but they showed no excitement whatsoever when the wise men said that they had seen a star indicating the birth of the Messiah. And these were the people who had been waiting for the Messiah for generations!

How is it today that people can hear the Gospel and they can see what Christ does in people’s lives, and yet be indifferent towards Him? How is it that the greatest mystery of all time can be celebrated at every Catholic altar, and yet people find excuses to stay away? How is it that Christ can hold out the promise of healing and wholeness and eternal life, and yet people feel no need to respond to him? The indifference of the chief priests and scribes later turned into animosity towards Christ, until they became His enemies. And that can happen to anyone who ignores Him. We cannot stay indifferent forever; men will either love Christ, or eventually they’ll come to hate Him.

But Epiphany tells us of one more attitude at the birth of Christ. Herod had his hostility; the Jewish leaders had their indifference; but the wise men gave their worship. When they left Herod, they went to Bethlehem. The star stood over the place where the child King was, and when they found the One for whom they had searched, they fell down and worshipped Him. And not only did they worship Him, but they presented gifts to him. Their giving was part of their worship. They gave because of the love and adoration they had for the Incarnate God.

Now, having looked at these three attitudes, the obvious question is, “What about us?” No doubt, every one of us wants to be counted in with the wise men. But every one of us would also have to admit that there are times when we’re hostile to Christ – when we feel as though what He asks of us cramps our style, or isn’t convenient for us. When we know what Christ requires of us, but we willfully ignore it, we’re putting ourselves right there with Herod. Christ demands our obedience, not just when we agree with Him, but also when He asks something difficult of us.

And every one of us would have to admit to moments of indifference – those times when we convince ourselves that something else is more important than prayer, or missing Mass once in while isn’t going to hurt, or someone else can take care of that person in need. Unfortunately, every one of us can find all sorts of ways to ignore Christ.

No, we should want to be like the wise men, who sought the Promised One, and when they found Him, they could do nothing but fall down before Him, and present Him with the best they had. The Gospel tells us that they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they went back to their own country “by another way.”

It wasn’t just a different route they took. Everything was changed for them. They were transformed. They had met God face to face, and they weren’t the same when they returned home. This is what happens when we come to Christ; when we worship Him with our whole being, with all that we are and all that we have. God changes us. His epiphany becomes our own. He manifests Himself – and He wants to show Himself to the world through our own transformed lives.

05 January 2020

St. André Bessette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



St. Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal in Montreal, Quebec, was founded by St. Andre Bessette, and grew out of his great devotion to the Foster-father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Here are two hymns in honour of St. Joseph:

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Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1991
Music: "Stuttgart" adapted by C. F. Witt, 1715

1. Holy Joseph, Intercessor,
Unto thee God's children sing;
Be our Patron and Protector,
To God's throne our praises bring.

2. Faithful Spouse of faithful Virgin,
Lover of God's purity;
From thy worthy place in heaven,
Pray that we may faithful be.

3. Guardian of the Word Incarnate,
Silent guide of God's own Son;
Guard our hearts and lead us onward
To the life that Christ has won.

4. Humble man in lofty station,
God has shed His grace on thee;
Pray such grace to us be given,
That we live eternally.

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Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1992
Music: "Bread of Heaven" by William D. Maclagan, 1875

1. Blesséd Joseph, Guardian mild,
Who didst love the Holy Child,
Show thy love to us who pray,
Shield us from all harm this day:
Foster-father of the Word,
Keep us close to Christ our Lord.

2. Great Saint Joseph, Patron bold
Of the Church from days of old,
Give us courage strong and new,
To proclaim God's Gospel true:
Foster-father of the Word,
Keep us close to Christ our Lord.

3. He Whom thou didst guide in youth,
We receive in very truth;
In this Sacrament of love,
We are one with thee above:
Foster-father of the Word,
Keep us one with Christ our Lord!

04 January 2020

The Magi

Who were the Magi? They were the first Gentiles to believe in Christ, and were guided by a mysterious star which led them from the East to the village of Bethlehem, where they found the Infant Jesus.

They are called "sages" or "wise men" in the New Testament, but the idea that they were kings first appears in Christian tradition in the writings of Tertullian, who called them "fere regis," or "almost kings." This became generally accepted by the sixth century, because of the implication of Psalm 72, which speaks of the kings of Tarshish, Arabia, and Saba, "who shall bring presents." The New Testament says nothing of how many there were, although the traditional number of three was first ascribed by Origen, based upon the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Their names (Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar) are first mentioned in the sixth century, and are also included in the writings of the Venerable Bede. In the Middle Ages the Magi were venerated as saints, and there are relics enshrined in the cathedral in Cologne.

But what do the Magi teach us? Surely, the overwhelming lesson is the absolute importance of complete and utter adoration. These three had traveled great distances and risked both physical danger and the wrath of Herod himself just to kneel before the Incarnate Word of God. All we need to do is to go to the nearest Catholic Church, where the same Christ waits for us in the tabernacle. O come, let us adore Him: Christ the Lord!

The Epiphany of Our Lord

"Star of Bethlehem" by Burne-Jones

Epiphany speaks of 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."

An important 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)

03 January 2020

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

Pope St. 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.

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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 2020

The Most 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 we should refuse to put aside. It may seem a little thing, but 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.
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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 2020

"If you have love..."

The Lord Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” He declares love to be the unique mark of His disciples. And He’s not speaking just of warm feelings. Love is doing the right thing, not just saying the right thing. It’s how the world can recognize a disciple of Jesus, by the love shining through that person. Christian love is like the beam of light shining from a lighthouse, guiding the ships at sea out of the darkness into a safe port.

And that kind of Love makes us different. The unbelieving world will sit up and take notice, just as the pagan Roman world couldn’t help but notice how the first believers cared for one another.  They said with amazement, "See how they love one another!"

The first century pagans weren’t attracted to the Church by an impressive system of doctrine, or glorious liturgies and music, or magnificent buildings. What was most attractive about Christians was their selfless, sacrificing love for each other – a love which obviously was grounded in their love for the Lord Jesus Christ. The world saw the love of Christ through the love of Christians. That's what drew them to the Church.

In the book of the Revelation of St. John the Divine, the Apostle writes what the Risen Christ says about the various churches. When he gets to the Church at Ephesus, he highly commends its doctrinal purity, its discernment, its ability to weed out false prophets, and its hatred of heresy. But there was one thing the Lord had against the Christians in Ephesus. They had forsaken the Christian love which they once had.

It’s possible to have the purest doctrine, the most dynamic preaching and teaching, the most beautiful music and liturgy, the most ambitious program of mission and outreach, the most gorgeous facilities – but if we don’t have love for one another, it will all be, as St. Paul says, "like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."

If Christians sometimes seem to have little impact in today's world it's not for lack of words or books or advertising or communication. It's for lack of love. Without genuine Christian love for one another, no one will know that we are disciples of Jesus Christ, no matter what we say we believe.

Love makes faith visible.

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 2019

Solemnity of 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.

Treasury of Truth

On the Octave Day of Christmas our thoughts go to the one whose “yes” allowed it all to happen. St. Luke tells us of how the Archangel Gabriel was sent to Nazareth to a young virgin named Mary, addressing her as “full of grace,” and assuring her that there was nothing to fear, that she had been chosen by God to conceive and bear a Son. And when Mary questioned how such a thing could take place, Gabriel outlined for her the great plan of God, how she would be overshadowed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and would give birth to the Son who would be holy, the Son of the Most High God.

To all of that, Mary said “yes.” And it is in her “yes” to God that we find a treasury of truth – truths which we accept, and around which we form our devotion – because these truths about Mary speak impressively about her divine Son. So what are they?

First, the Church teaches us that Mary was immaculately conceived. At the instant of Mary’s conception in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, she was, by the special grace of God, protected from the stain of original sin. Why would God do that? He did it because of the great destiny which was hers – that of being the Mother of God. It was her flesh which would give flesh to Jesus; it was her body which would be His tabernacle for nine months; therefore, it would be beyond possibility that the Mother of God should be stained with the sin of Adam, since God can endure no sin. This was taught implicitly and explicitly from the earliest days of the Church, and was confirmed and solemnly proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854, when he stated infallibly, “The most holy Virgin Mary was, in the first moment of her conception, by a unique gift of grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ the Redeemer of mankind, preserved free from all stain of original sin.”

Second, the Church teaches us that Mary was impeccable. In other words, she committed no personal sin, and she was free from every moral imperfection. Certainly, she lived a human life. She had to labour and was subject to pain and tiredness; but she, like her son Jesus Christ, had nothing in her which led her to act against the perfect moral law of God. This formal teaching of the Church is deduced from the words of the archangel Gabriel, when he addressed her as being “full of grace,” since moral guilt could not be reconciled with being filled completely with God’s grace. Once again, this teaching is defined because of Mary’s relationship with her Son, and not through simple merit of her own. She did not sin because of a special grace and privilege given to her by God, because He had chosen her to bear the Incarnate Word.

Third, the Church teaches us that Mary was perpetually a virgin. Three states of virginity are professed in this teaching: Mary conceived her Son without a human Father; she gave birth to Jesus without violating her virginity; and she remained a virgin after our Lord was born, for the rest of her life. The virginal conception is contained in all the ancient creeds, which speak of “Jesus Christ… who was conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary...” The biblical basis of this, of course, is the prophecy of Isaiah (“A virgin shall conceive and bear a son...”), and it is confirmed in St. Matthew’s Gospel, which quotes this directly from the prophecy of Isaiah. All the early Church Fathers confirm this teaching, and it was verified by the fifth general council of the Church, held at Constantinople in the year 553, where Mary was confirmed as being “perpetually virgin.” Certainly, the ancient theologians did not go into the physical details, but they speak in modest analogies, such as the “emergence of Christ from the sealed tomb,” his “going through closed doors,” the “penetration of light through glass,” the “going out of human thought from the mind.” The Church also teaches us that she remained a virgin after Christ was born. Her marriage to Joseph was not consummated physically, and so she bore no other children. From the fourth century on, such sayings as that of St. Augustine became common: “A virgin conceived, a virgin gave birth, and a virgin remained.”

All these truths about Mary go beyond her, to her Son Jesus Christ. All of them are true because of the one great truth of history: that Almighty God took human flesh upon Himself, and was born of this special woman, a virgin, chosen by God Himself, a virgin prepared for this task through her immaculate conception, a virgin preserved for this task through her impeccability, a virgin honoured for this task through her perpetual virginity, as a constant witness to the fact that it was her pure flesh which was given to the Incarnate Word. These truths are not simply esoteric theological statements. They are truths which impact history. They are truths which prepared for that ultimate moment of history when God entered personally into time and space.

It was at that time that Caesar Augustus, the master of the world, determined to issue an order for a census of the world which was ruled by Rome. To every outpost, to every corner, the order went out: every Roman subject must be enrolled in his own city. It certainly was not in the mind of Caesar Augustus that his imperial order was a part of God’s great plan that the Saviour of the world should be born of the chosen Virgin Mary in a little-known place called Bethlehem. But this order of Caesar Augustus – perhaps thought of by him only incidentally, and then ordered casually – meant that countless lives were interrupted as people gathered the necessary supplies for their various journeys. So it was that Joseph and Mary, visited by angels and touched by God, were traveling in eternity at the order of an earthly ruler. And because of that, how things were to change! In a dirty stable, Pure Love was born. The “Living Bread come down from heaven” was laid where animals had eaten. The ancestors of Joseph and Mary, the Jews, had worshipped the golden calf, and now the ox and the ass were bowing down before their God.

As Mary fulfilled the plan of God by conceiving and giving birth to Jesus Christ, so His passion began. He was born in a borrowed stable; He was buried in a borrowed tomb. The swaddling clothes which Mary wrapped around him when he was born looked forward to the grave-clothes which she would help to wrap around His lifeless body some thirty-three years later. The wooden manger in which His mother had laid him foreshadowed the wooden Cross from which she would receive His body into her arms.

And so in Christ, heaven came to earth, and it came through the Blessed Virgin Mother. God’s glory was announced to shepherds and to kings. And they came, as men and women have been coming ever since, to worship the Word Made Flesh. The Blessed Virgin, holding out the Child Jesus, just as she is depicted in the image of Our Lady of the Atonement, becomes truly our Mother and our example, as God calls each one of us to hold out Christ to the world – to hold Him out in our actions and in our words – so that all may come to worship Him, the Incarnate God.