30 May 2016

The Visitation of the Virgin Mary


The Feast of the Visitation honours the Blessed Virgin Mary, who bore in her womb the Incarnate Word of God. It shows her as the first missionary and evangelist, as she takes the Word to her cousin Elizabeth. The unborn infant, St. John, was cleansed from original sin as the two expectant mothers embraced. St. Elizabeth addressed her as the "Mother of the Lord," and Mary responded with the great canticle of praise, the Magnificat:

"My soul doth magnify the Lord : and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded : the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth : all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me : and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him : throughout all generations.
He hath shewed strength with his arm : he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel : as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever."

O God, who didst lead the Blessed Virgin Mary to visit Elizabeth, to their exceeding joy and comfort: grant unto thy people; that as Mary did rejoice to be called the Mother of the Lord, so we may ever rejoice to believe the Incarnation of thine Only Begotten Son; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

29 May 2016

Memorial Day


ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead; We give thee thanks for all those thy servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our country. Grant to them thy mercy and the light of thy presence, that the good work which thou hast begun in them may be perfected; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Amen.

28 May 2016

Solemnity of Corpus Christi


On Sunday, May 29th, we will celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi -- giving special thanks to Almighty God for the gift of the Sacrament of His Most Holy Body and Blood.

The Mass schedule is as follows:

7:30 a.m. - Low Mass

9:00 a.m. - Sung Mass

11:00 a.m. - Sung Mass with Procession to the outdoor Shrine for Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, returning to the High Altar for Benediction in Latin.

6:00 p.m. - Sung Mass (Ordinary Form in Latin)

26 May 2016

St. Augustine, Apostle to the English


At the end of the sixth century it looked like St. Augustine had found his place in life. He was the respected prior of St. Andrew’s monastery in Rome, and everyone thought he would spend his life there, instructing, governing, and settling into a satisfying and sedentary life.

But the pope had other ideas. The pope been a young monk under Augustine; now that young monk was Pope Gregory, known to history as St. Gregory the Great. We all know the story of how Gregory had seen some fair-skinned people being sold as slaves, and when he asked about them, he was told they were Angles. “Not Angles, but angels!” he had responded, and he decided he needed to send missionaries to their people to bring them the knowledge of the Gospel. England had once known the faith, but the Angles and the Saxons had conquered the land, and had driven the Christians out. Now the time had come to re-evangelize, and Gregory chose Augustine and thirty monks to make the unexpected and dangerous trip to England. Augustine and his monks had the task of finding what few Christians there were to bring them back into the fullness of the Church, and also to convince their warring conquerors to become Christians themselves.

Every step of the way Augustine and his monks heard the horrid stories of the cruelty and barbarity of the Anglo-Saxons. By the time they had reached France the stories became so frightening that the monks turned back to Rome. Gregory had heard encouraging news that England was far more ready for Christianity than the stories would indicate, including the marriage of King Ethelbert of Kent to a Christian princess, Bertha. He sent Augustine and the monks on their way again, fortified with his belief that now was the time for evangelization.

King Ethelbert was a good king and he was curious about his wife’s religion. So he went to hear what the missionaries had to say after they landed in England. But he was just as afraid of them as they were of him! He was afraid that these missionaries would use magic on them, so he held the meeting in the open air. But he listened to what they had to say about Christianity. The king was baptized in 597, and unlike other kings who forced all subjects to be baptized as soon as they were converted, Ethelbert left religion to be a free choice. Nonetheless, the following year many of his subjects were baptized.

Augustine was consecrated bishop for the English and more missionaries arrived from Rome to help with the new task. Augustine had to be very careful because although the English had embraced the new religion, they still respected the old pagan ways. St. Gregory the Great was very wise, and he urged Augustine not simply to destroy the things of the old pagan religion, but to consecrate the pagan temples for Christian worship and pagan festivals were transformed into feast days of martyrs. Canterbury itself was built on the site of an ancient church which had been built during the earlier days of Christianity.

St. Augustine was in England for only eight years before he died in 605, but he planted the seeds for the growth of the Christian faith in what had been a dark pagan land.

O God, who by the preaching and miracles of blessed Augustine thy Confessor and Bishop, hast enlightened the English people with the light of the true faith: mercifully grant that by his intercession the hearts of them that have gone astray may return to the unity of thy truth; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

25 May 2016

St. Philip Neri


If we had to choose the one saint who always had a funny story to tell, or a harmless practical joke to play, it would be St. Philip Neri, who lived in the 16th century. His sense of humor was for a reason – he said there were plenty of gloomy saints – he wanted to use laughter and good-natured fun as a way of growing closer to God.

Philip’s life wasn’t always easy. His father was a financial failure, and when he was a young man of eighteen, Philip was sent to work with an older cousin who was a successful businessman. During this time, Philip found a favorite place to pray up in the fissure of a mountain that had been turned into a chapel. We don't know anything specific about his conversion but during these hours of prayer he decided to leave worldly success behind and dedicate his life to God.

After thanking his cousin, he went to Rome in 1533 where he was the live-in tutor of the sons of a fellow Florentine. He studied philosophy and theology, but he really wanted to live a life of prayer. During one of his times of prayer, he felt as though a globe of light had entered into him. This experience gave him so much energy to serve God that he went out to work at the hospital of the incurables and starting speaking to others about God, everyone from beggars to bankers.

In 1548 Philip formed a kind of confraternity with other laymen to minister to pilgrims who came to Rome without food or shelter. The spiritual director of the confraternity convinced Philip that he could do even more work as a priest, so after completing his studies, Philip was ordained in 1551.

At his new home, the church of San Girolamo, he learned to love to hear confessions. Young men especially found in him the wisdom and direction they needed to grow spiritually. But Philip began to realize that these young men also needed guidance during their daily lives. So Philip began to ask the young men to come by in the early afternoon when they would discuss spiritual readings and then stay for prayer in the evening. The numbers of the men who attended these meetings grew rapidly. In order to handle the growth, Philip and a fellow priest Buonsignore Cacciaguerra gave a more formal structure to the meetings and built a room called the Oratory to hold them in.

Philip understood that it wasn't enough to tell somebody not to do something – they had to have something to do in its place. So at Carnival time, when crowds were involved in all sorts of things that could lead to trouble, Philip organized a pilgrimage to the Seven Churches with a picnic accompanied by instrumental music for the mid-day break. After walking twelve miles in one day everyone was too tired to be tempted!

Eventually, Philip’s success with young people started to make some of the other priests jealous, and the good work he was doing was threatened. But eventually Philip and the others who worked with him were seen to be doing God’s work, so they were able to continue. In fact, St. Philip wouldn’t allow a single bad thing to be said about the people who had tried to destroy him. Eventually he and the others who worked with him realized they needed a center for their activities, and they were able to take up residence at what was known as “Chiesa Nuova,” or the “New Church.”

Humility was the most important virtue he tried to teach others and to learn himself. Some of his lessons in humility seem cruel, but they always had a humorous side. When one priest gave a beautiful sermon, Philip ordered him to give the same sermon six times in a row so people would think he only had one sermon. When one man asked Philip if he could wear a hair shirt, Philip gave him permission -- if he wore the hair shirt outside his clothes! The man obeyed and found humility in the jokes and name-calling he received.

And Philip carried out his own mortifications to learn humility. There are stories of him wearing ridiculous clothes or walking around with half his beard shaved off. The greater his reputation for holiness the sillier he wanted to seem. When some people came from Poland to see the great saint, they found him listening to another priest read to him from joke books.

But Philip was very serious about prayer, spending hours in prayer. He was so easily carried away that he refused to preach in public and could not celebrate Mass with others around. But he when asked how to pray his answer was, "Be humble and obedient and the Holy Spirit will teach you."

St. Philip Neri died in 1595 after a long illness, at the age of eighty years.

_________________________________


Whenever we have a parish pilgrimage to Rome, we always visit the magnificent but charming Church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, better known as the Chiesa Nuova, or New Church. This served as the center of operation for St. Philip Neri, the fun-loving saint who combined humor with holiness, and whose work resulted in the foundation of the Oratorians.





O God, who didst exalt thy blessed Confessor Philip to the glory of thy Saints: mercifully grant that we, who rejoice in his festival, may learn to follow rightly the example of his virtues; 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. Bede in the Triptych


St. Bede is one of the five major figures depicted on the large triptych which is over the High Altar at Our Lady of the Atonement Church. The following is taken from the fuller description of the triptych, which can be found in its entirety at this link.

SAINT BEDE THE VENERABLE (673-735)

Although very little is known about Saint Bede, we do know that he was a monk of the monastery of Sts. Peter and Paul at Wearmouth and Jarrow, where at the age of seven he had been given into the care of the abbot. His monastic life was uneventful, and we can sum it up in his own words: “I have spent the whole of my life devoting all my pains to the study of the Scriptures, and, amid the observance of monastic discipline and the daily task of singing in the church, it has ever been my delight to learn or teach or write.”

It was as a teacher and writer that Bede was supreme. He wrote both theological and secular works, prose and poetry. He was interested in science and the natural order. His historical writings are perhaps the best remembered. His chief work was The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, one of the most important historical writings of the early Middle Ages. It is the sole source for much information about the early Saxon history.

Saint Bede died at his work. On the Tuesday before Ascension Day he summoned the priests of the monastery, made them little gifts of paper and incense, and begged their prayers. At intervals during the next forty-eight hours, propped up in bed, he dictated to the last sentence an English rendering of the Gospel of Saint John upon which he was engaged at the onset of his illness. Finally, asking to be laid on the floor he sang the anthem “O King of Glory” from the Office of Ascension Day and died with the doxology, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,” on his lips.

Bede is the only Englishman who was named by Dante in the Paradiso. Saint Boniface, when he learned of Bede’s death, said “The light, lit by the Holy Spirit for the good of the whole Church, has been extinguished.” In the reredos Saint Bede appears in his simple monastic garb. He was dedicated to the monastic office and to the life of prayer, thus his red prayer beads are shown in the folds of his habit. He carries the crosier, though he was never a bishop, to recall the bishop’s role of teacher and scholar, characteristics of Bede. He also carries an opened copy of his Ecclesiastical History, and the picture on the frontispiece is of the original small church of Our Lady of the Atonement, before its expansion. Next to him is the extinguished candle, recalling Saint Boniface’s words. At the top of the candlestick is the inscription of the doxology Bede was praying at the moment of death.

“Remember,” writes Cardinal Gasquet, “what the work was upon which Saint Bede was engaged upon his deathbed – a translation of the gospels into English …” But of this work “to break the word to the poor and unlearned” nothing is now extant.

24 May 2016

St. Bede the Venerable


Bede is one of the few saints honored as such even during his lifetime. His writings were filled with such faith and learning that even while he was still alive, a Church council ordered them to be read publicly in the churches.

Bede was born near St. Peter and St. Paul monastery at Jarrow, England, and at an early age he was entrusted to the care of the abbot of the monastery. It was happy combination of Bede’s genius and the instruction he received from scholarly, saintly monks which produced a saint and an extraordinary scholar, perhaps the most outstanding one of his day. He became very learned in all the sciences of his times: natural philosophy, the philosophical principles of Aristotle, astronomy, arithmetic, grammar, ecclesiastical history, the lives of the saints and, especially, Holy Scripture. He was the first one to date historical events using the designation “A.D.” – Anno Domini. He was ordained as a deacon at the age of nineteen, and then as a priest at the age of thirty. From the time of his ordination to the priesthood until his death, he spent all his time writing, teaching and living the prayerful life of a Benedictine monk. Besides the many books that he copied, he composed 45 of his own, including 30 commentaries on books of the Bible.

His advice and spiritual guidance was sought out by kings and important leaders, including the Pope himself. Bede managed to remain in his own monastery till his death. Only once did he leave for a few months in order to teach in the school of the archbishop of York. Bede died in 735 praying his favorite prayer: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end. Amen.”

O God, who hast caused thy Church to shine with the learning of blessed Bede thy Confessor and Doctor: mercifully grant that we thy servants may ever be enlightened by his wisdom, and holpen for his merits’ sake; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

22 May 2016

The Holy Trinity


Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity: we beseech thee; that this holy faith may evermore be our defence against all adversities; who livest and reignest, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

St. Augustine and the Trinity


The great Doctor of the Church St. Augustine of Hippo spent over 30 years working on his treatise De Trinitate [about the Holy Trinity], endeavouring to conceive an intelligible explanation for the mystery of the Trinity.

Augustine was walking by the seashore one day contemplating and trying to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity when he saw a small boy running back and forth from the water to a spot on the seashore. The boy was using a sea shell to carry the water from the ocean and place it into a small hole in the sand.

The Bishop of Hippo approached him and asked, “My boy, what are doing?”

“I am trying to bring all the sea into this hole,” the boy replied with a sweet smile.

“But that is impossible, my dear child, the hole cannot contain all that water” said Augustine.

The boy paused in his work, stood up, looked into the eyes of the Saint, and replied, “It is no more impossible than what you are trying to do – comprehend the immensity of the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your small intelligence.”

The Saint was absorbed by such a keen response from that child, and turned his eyes from him for a short while. When he glanced down to ask him something else, the boy had vanished.

Some say that it was an Angel sent by God to teach Augustine a lesson on pride in learning. Others affirm it was the Christ Child Himself who appeared to the Saint to remind him of the limits of human understanding before the great mysteries of our Faith.

14 May 2016

Fr. Hunwicke on Pentecost

On the Solemnity of Pentecost a few years ago, Fr. Hunwicke preached this sermon, which is well worth hearing again.



The Casting of Lots


Even after thirty-three years as a Catholic, I still think of the Feast of St. Matthias as falling on February 24th, but upon reflection, I think the change in date was a good thing. Unless Ash Wednesday came especially late, St. Matthias' Day often fell within the Lenten season, but having it on May 14th means it’s closer to the time of the ascension – and historically it was soon after that event that the “casting of lots” took place. So I’ve adjusted myself to the kalendar.

St. Matthias had been a follower of Jesus and was probably one of the seventy-two disciples. After our Lord’s ascension into heaven, the nascent Church was gathered in prayer and St. Peter said that it was right to choose an apostle to replace Judas. He said it should be someone who had been with Jesus from the time of His baptism in the Jordan until the ascension. Two names were proposed: one was Matthias, and the other was Joseph, called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus). Both of them were good men, but since the Church needed only one, they prayed and asked God to reveal the right choice. This is where the “casting of lots” came in. Sometimes people have the mistaken notion that this was akin to gambling, or some kind of game of chance, and there are those who think perhaps it wasn’t the most appropriate means of determining God’s Will in the matter.

Actually, casting lots was a fairly common way of making a decision. When we look back through Scripture, we come across it pretty often. It was the method used to choose the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:8); it was used to determine the priests’ duties in the temple (I Chronicles 24:5); during the terrible storm at sea, poor Jonah was determined to be the guilty one by the casting of lots (Jonah 1:7). For us, it has the unsavoury connection with the crucifixion, since it was by casting lots that the soldiers divided our Lord’s clothing (St. Matthew 27:35). In the case of choosing a replacement for Judas, it was settled in this way because of the very fact that both candidates were equally good. Casting lots was done in different ways, but a common way of doing it was to put the necessary number of polished stones of different colour in a container, and to shake it until one stone fell out, determining the choice. Whatever we might think of the method, it certainly worked. St. Matthias proved to be such a good apostle that after spreading the Gospel in Cappadocia (modern-day Turkey), Egypt and Ethiopia, he was so successful he ended up being martyred for his efforts.

There are plenty of things we can get out of the account of the choosing of Matthias, but I like the thought that the dignity of apostleship seemed to hang by the thread of chance – and yet it wasn’t really chance, was it? God had His plan all worked out, and Peter (along with the others) knew that. They could have pushed their own human will and agenda into the situation: (“Hey, that Joseph Barsabbas is a really nice guy. Let’s choose him!”). In fact, the very fact that Christ’s original choice for that particular seat in the College of Apostles didn’t work out – at least by human standards – shows that God is very much in control of every detail. I mean, would we have planned things that way? The betrayal by Judas which led to the sacrifice which has atoned for man’s sin wouldn’t have been at the top of my list for a good plan. Finding an apostolic replacement by shaking some stones in a container isn’t something I would have thought of.

It seems like we’re rarely prepared for the twists and turns which define God’s plan, and yet that’s the way He works. Why are we surprised when things don’t follow the meticulous plan we’ve worked out in our own minds? After all, even our Lord Jesus Christ Himself prayed in Gethsemane, “Nevertheless, not My Will, but Thine be done.” And isn’t it our universal experience that, in the end, God’s plan is always best? Quite so.

O Almighty God, who into the place of the traitor Judas didst choose thy faithful servant Matthias to be of the number of the twelve Apostles: grant that thy Church, being alway preserved from false Apostles, may be ordered and guided by faithful and true pastors; 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 May 2016

Mary: A Treasury of Truth


The earthly life of the Blessed Virgin Mary marks one of the great pivotal points of history, because of the task given to her by God. And yet, this earth-shattering event took place in a surprisingly quiet way, as St. Luke tells us:

“The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God...”

And so to this, Mary said “yes,” and in her “yes” to God is a treasury of truth. Just as God heard Mary’s “yes” and so the Son was conceived in her womb, so the Church has listened to Mary’s “yes”, and it has communicated the great truths about Mary in a voice loud and clear – truths which we accept, and around which we form our devotion – because these truths about Mary speak impressively about her divine Son.

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. This was done 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 bear 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 was never stained with any personal sin, and she was free from every moral imperfection. Certainly, she lived a human life. She had to labor, 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, and she could 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 of the ancient creeds: “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 by St. Matthew’s Gospel, which quotes this directly from the prophecy of Isaiah. All of the early Church Fathers confirm this teaching. The virginal birth was not questioned until a monk named Jovinian, teaching in the 4th century, said that “a virgin conceived, but a virgin did not bring forth,” and he was condemned by a synod of the Church meeting at Milan in the year 390, which was presided over by St. Ambrose. This was confirmed by the fifth general council of the Church, which was 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 of the perpetual virginity of Mary, that she remained a virgin after Christ was born. Her marriage to Joseph was a spiritual one, which was not consummated physically, and so she bore no other children. From the fourth century on, such formulas as that of St. Augustine became common: “A virgin conceived, a virgin gave birth, and a virgin remained.”

All of these truths about Mary have to do not only with her, but they are intimately related to Our Lord 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 honored 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. How far it was from 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. An 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.

And so it was that Joseph and Mary, this couple 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 the Christ, 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 the Child Jesus, 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.

Our Lady of Fatima


The famous apparitions of the Virgin Mary to the children of Fatima took place during the summer of 1917, during the time of the First World War. The little Portuguese village where this took place were mostly poor people, many of them farmers, and the children of the village traditionally were given the job of taking the sheep out to graze on the hillsides.

The three children who received the apparitions were Lucia, who was ten years old, and her two younger cousins, Francisco and Jacinta. Together they tended the sheep and, with Lucia in charge, they would often pass the day by praying the Rosary. It was in the summer of 1916 that an Angel appeared to them several times and taught them a prayer to the Blessed Trinity.

On Sunday, May 13, 1917, toward noon, a flash of lightning caught the attention of the children, and they saw a bright, radiant figure appearing over the trees of the Cova da Iria. They saw this figure only as “a Lady,” and the "Lady" asked them to pray for the conversion of sinners and for an end to the war. Also, they were told to come back every month, on the 13th.

Further apparitions took place on June 13 and July 13. This began to get the attention of large crowds of people, and the local government authorities did not like the idea of people gathering together like this, fearing that the people might just turn into a mob. So on August 13, when the children tried to go to the Cova da Iria, they were stopped by local authorities from going. Even though they were stopped on the 13th, they saw the apparition on the 19th. On September 13 the Lady requested that the Rosary be prayed for the intention of an end to the war. Finally, on October 13, the "Lady" identified herself as "Our Lady of the Rosary," and again she asked for prayer and penitence.

On that day, something strange also took place: the sun seemed to tumble from the sky and crash toward earth. The children had been forewarned of it as early as May 13, the first apparition. The large crowd, which was estimated to be at 30,000 by reporters who were there, saw this phenomenon and came away astounded.

Official recognition of these visions which the children had at the Cova da Iria came on October 13, 1930, when the local bishop - after long inquiry - authorized devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary at the site. The two younger children had died: Francisco in 1919, and his sister Jacinta in 1920. Sister Lucia died in 2005.

Even though people seem more interested in the apparitions themselves, and the miracle of the sun, the important thing is the message brought by the Blessed Virgin Mary – namely, that we should pray, that we should repent of our sins, and that we should dedicate ourselves to being like Mary herself – obedient, and willing to do whatever God tells us.

On this day in 1981 an attempt was made on the life of Pope St. John Paul II, when he was shot while moving through the crowds at the Wednesday audience. He credited Our Lady of Fatima with saving his life. "It was a mother's hand that guided the bullet's path," he said. He made a pilgrimage of thanksgiving to Fatima on this date in 2000, and presented one of the bullets which hit him. It is now incorporated into the crown of Our Lady.

O God, who didst choose the Mother of thy Son to be our Mother also: grant us that, persevering in penance and prayer for the salvation of the world, we may further more effectively each day the reign of Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

11 May 2016

Ss. Nereus and Achilleus

The story begins with a young woman named Flavia Domitilla. She was the niece of the emperor, she was very beautiful, and she was engaged to be married to a young man named Aurelianus. The young man was very much a product of society at that time – he had little respect for Domitilla, and was marrying her mainly because she was the niece of the emperor. He had relationships with other women at the same time, and had no intention of breaking them off.

Nereus and Achilleus were Roman soldiers in the household of Flavia Domitilla. They were instructed and baptized by St. Peter. These two soldiers admired Domitilla, and began to tell her about the Christian faith. They helped her to understand her own human dignity, and she decided that she really wanted to give herself to Christ completely, and that she wouldn’t marry. Aurelianus reported all three to the Roman authorities as being Christians. They were beheaded, martyred out of hatred for the Christian faith.

Domitilla owned some property outside the city of Rome, and she had given this land to the Christians as a cemetery, and to this day it is the site of one of the major catacombs. Nereus, Achilleus, and Domitilla were buried there.

Grant, O Lord, that this holy festival of thy blessed Martyrs, Nereus and Achilleus, may ever assist us in thy service: and that we may thereby be rendered worthy to walk after thy commandments; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

09 May 2016

St. Damien of Molokai


In the year 1840, Joseph De Veuster was born in Belgium, to a large family of farmers and merchants.  This was the future Father Damien.  When his oldest brother entered the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, his father planned that Joseph should take charge of the family business. Joseph, however, decided to become a religious.  When he was nineteen he entered the novitiate in the same house as his brother. It was there that he took the name of Damien.

In 1863, Damien’s brother was supposed to leave for the mission in the Hawaiian Islands, but he became seriously ill. Since preparations for the voyage had already been made, Damien obtained permission from the Superior General to take his brother's place. He arrived in Honolulu on March 19th, 1864, where he was ordained to the priesthood the following May 21st. He immediately devoted himself as a travelling missionary on the island of Hawaii.

At that time, the Hawaiian Government decided on a very harsh measure which they thought would stop the spread of the dreaded disease of leprosy, or Hansen’s disease. It was decided that anyone who contracted this disease would be taken to the neighboring island of Molokai, where they would have to stay for the rest of their lives. The Catholic Church was deeply concerned about these abandoned lepers and the Bishop spoke to the priests about the problem. He didn’t want to send anyone "in the name of obedience," because he knew that whoever went would probably contract the disease. Four of the priests volunteered, and they would take turns visiting and ministering to the lepers. Fr. Damien was the first to leave, and at his own request and that of the lepers, he remained permanently on Molokai.

He brought hope to this place of despair. He became a source of consolation and encouragement for the lepers.  He became their pastor, the doctor of their souls and of their bodies, without any distinction of race or religion. He gave a voice to the voiceless, he built a community where the joy of being together and openness to the love of God gave people new reasons for living.  He saw the beauty and dignity of each person, no matter how deformed and grotesque their outward appearance.

After Father Damien contracted the disease in 1885, he was able to identify completely with them.  He spoke of "we lepers…" Father Damien was, above all, a witness of the love of God for His people. He got his strength from the Eucharist: "It is at the foot of the altar that we find the strength we need in our isolation..." He said that he was "the happiest missionary in the world.”

Fr. Damian served for sixteen years among the lepers, and died on April 15th 1889.
O Father of mercy, who gavest us in Saint Damien a shining witness of love for the poorest and most abandoned: grant that, by his intercession; as faithful witnesses of the heart of thy Son Jesus, we too may be servants of the most needy and rejected; 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.

07 May 2016

The Ascension of Our Lord

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that like as we do believe thy Only Begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.


A hymn of glory let us sing;
New songs throughout the world shall ring:
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Christ, by a road before untrod,
Ascendeth to the throne of God.

The holy apostolic band
Upon the Mount of Olives stand;
Alleluia! Alleluia!
And with His followers they see,
Jesus’ resplendent majesty.

To whom the angels, drawing nigh:
“Why stand and gaze upon the sky?”
Alleluia! Alleluia!
“This is the Savior,” thus they say,
“This is His noble triumph day.”

“Again shall ye behold Him so
As ye today have seen Him go,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
In glorious pomp ascending high,
Up to the portals of the sky.”

The Venerable Bede (673-735);
Trans. by Benjamin Webb, 1854

04 May 2016

Novena to the Holy Ghost


This year the Novena begins on Friday, May 6th.

FIRST DAY
Come, O Holy Ghost, the Lord and Lifegiver; take up thy dwelling within our souls, and make of them thy sacred home. Make us live by grace as adopted children of God. Pervade all the energies of our souls, and create in us fountains of living water, springing up unto eternal life.

SECOND DAY
Come, O Spirit of Wisdom, and reveal to our souls the mysteries of heavenly things, their exceeding greatness, and power, and beauty. Teach us to love them above and beyond all the passing joys and satisfactions of earth. Show us the way by which we may be able to attain to them, and possess them, and hold them hereafter, our own forever.

THIRD DAY
Come, O Spirit of Understanding, and enlighten our minds, that we may know and believe all the mysteries of salvation, and may merit at last to see the eternal light in thy light; and in the light of glory to have the clear vision of thee and the Father and the Son.

FOURTH DAY
Come, O Spirit of Counsel, help and guide us in all our ways, that we may always do thy holy will. Incline our hearts to that which is good, turn them away from all that is evil, and direct us by the path of thy commandments to the goal of eternal life.

FIFTH DAY
Come, O Spirit of Fortitude, and give courage to our souls. Make our hearts strong in all trials and in all distress, pouring forth abundantly into them the gifts of strength, that we may be able to resist the attacks of the devil.

SIXTH DAY
Come, O Spirit of Knowledge, and make us to understand and despise the emptiness and nothingness of the world. Give us grace to use the world only for thy glory and the salvation of thy creatures. May we always be faithful in putting thy rewards before every earthly gift.

SEVENTH DAY
Come, O Spirit of Piety, possess our hearts, and incline them to a true faith in thee, to a holy love of thee, our God. Give us thy grace, that we may seek thee and find thee, our best and our truest joy.

EIGHTH DAY
Come, O Spirit of holy Fear, penetrate our inmost hearts, that we may set thee, our Lord and God, before our faces forever; and shun all things that can offend thee, so that we may be made worthy to appear before the pure eyes of thy divine Majesty in the heaven of heavens.

NINTH DAY
Come, O Holy Comforter, and grant us a desire for holy things. Produce in our souls the fruits of virtue, so that, being filled with all sweetness and joy in the pursuit of good, we may attain unto eternal blessedness.

The following prayer concludes the Novena each day:

O GOD, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit: grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things, and evermore to rejoice in His holy comfort; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the same Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The English Martyrs


The English Martyrs include 284 men and women who gave their lives during the 16th and 17th centuries. They were martyred simply because they remained steadfast in their Catholic faith. What had happened?

King Henry VIII had proclaimed himself supreme head of the Church in England, claiming for himself and his successors power over his subjects not only in civil matters, but also in spiritual things. He took to himself a spiritual power that can belong only to the Pope as the Vicar of Christ and Successor of St. Peter. The Catholics at that time wanted to be loyal subjects of the Crown, but their consciences could not allow them to grant the power of spiritual supremacy. It is as though, in the United States, the president and Congress took upon themselves the power to determine what we as Catholics believe, and how we worship. We could not allow Congress to pass laws that changed the Church’s teaching about the Mass, or what we believe about God. But this was what had happened in England and Wales. This was what led many people to face death courageously rather than act against their consciences and deny their Catholic faith.

This firm attitude in defense of their freedom of conscience and of their faith in the truth of the Holy Catholic Church is identical in all these Martyrs, although they were a diverse group of people – priests, religious, laymen, housewives and mothers, some highly educated, some very simple laborers. But they all shared the same faith, and the same determination to keep that faith – and for that, they were put to death. And this persecution was not only under Henry VIII, but it continued under Elizabeth I and her successors, all the way into the Commonwealth under Cromwell.

The torments they endured were horrible. Most of them were killed in extremely violent ways – the priests, for instance, were hanged, drawn and quartered. Others were tortured for long periods of time before their deaths. But every one of them remained steadfast in their Catholic faith, and they died praying for their executioners, and even praying for the monarch who had ordered their deaths.

O Merciful God, who, when thy Church on earth was torn apart by the ravages of sin, didst raise up men and women in England who witnessed to their faith with courage and constancy: give unto thy Church that peace which is thy will, and grant that those who have been divided on earth may be reconciled in heaven and be partakers together in the vision of 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.

02 May 2016

Ss. Philip and James, Apostles


St. Philip was born in Bethsaida, Galilee. He may have been a disciple of John the Baptist and is mentioned as one of the Apostles in the lists of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and in Acts. Aside from the lists, he is mentioned only in John’s Gospel in the New Testament. He was called by Jesus Himself and brought Nathanael to Christ. Philip was present at the miracle of the loaves and fishes, when he engaged in a brief dialogue with the Lord, and was the Apostle approached by the Hellenistic Jews from Bethsaida to introduce them to Jesus. Just before the Passion, Jesus answered Philip's request to show them the Father, but no further mention of Philip is made in the New Testament beyond his listing among the Apostles awaiting the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room. According to tradition he preached in Greece and was crucified upside down at Hierapolis under Emperor Domitian. His feast day is May 3

St. James the Less, the author of the first catholic Epistle (addressed to the Church generally), was the son of Alphaeus of Cleophas. His mother Mary was either a sister or a close relative of the Blessed Virgin, and for that reason, according to Jewish custom, he was sometimes called the brother of the Lord. The Apostle held a distinguished position in the early Christian community of Jerusalem. St. Paul tells us he was a witness of the Resurrection of Christ; he is also a "pillar" of the Church, whom St. Paul consulted about the Gospel. According to tradition, he was the first Bishop of Jerusalem, and was at the Council of Jerusalem about the year 50. St. James was martyred for the Faith by the Jews in the Spring of the year 62. He was held in great respect by everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, which earned him the of "James the Just."

O Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: grant us perfectly to know thy Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth and the life; that, following the steps of thy holy Apostles, Saint Philip and Saint James, we may steadfastly walk in the way that leadeth to eternal life; 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.

01 May 2016

St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor


St. Athanasius, the great champion of the Catholic Faith was born at Alexandria, about the year 296, of Christian parents. Educated under Alexander, who became the bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius made great progress in learning and virtue, eventually going into the desert to spend some time in retreat with St. Anthony.

In 319, Athanasius became a deacon, and as a young cleric, he was called upon to take an active part against the rising heresy being put forth by Arius, an ambitious priest of the Alexandrian Church who denied the Divinity of Christ. This was to be the life struggle of St. Athanasius.

In 325, he assisted his bishop at the Council of Nicaea, where his influence began to be felt. Five months later Alexander died. On his death bed he recommended St. Athanasius as his successor. In consequence of this, Athanasius was unanimously elected Patriarch in 326.

His refusal to tolerate the Arian heresy was the cause of many trials and persecutions for St. Athanasius. He spent seventeen of the forty-six years of his episcopate in exile. After a life of virtue and suffering, this intrepid champion of the Catholic Faith, the greatest man of his time, died in peace on May 2, 373.

Grant, O Lord, we pray thee: that our devout observance of this yearly festival of thy Confessor and Bishop Saint Athanasius may render us thy servants acceptable unto thy loving-kindness; that the oblation of this our bounden duty and service may be profitable unto him in the reward of his godliness, and obtain for us thy servants the bountiful gifts of thy grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

St. Joseph the Worker

The commemoration of St. Joseph the Worker falls on the first day of the month that is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and was fixed in the calendar by Pope Pius XII in 1955. The pope expressed the hope that this feast would accentuate the dignity of labor and would bring a spiritual dimension to the work we do.

The teaching of the Church reaches back into the Old Testament, when we read in the Book of Genesis that God created man, and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend to it. From that time, God, who is the creator and ruler of the universe, has called men and women in every age to develop and use their talents for the good of others, and as a way of sharing in the creative work of God. In every kind of labor we’re to remember that we are obeying the command of God to use our talents, and to receive the fruit of our labors. Our work allows us to provide for our own needs, and for the needs of those for whom we are responsible. It also allows us to show proper charity towards those who are in need.

The Church asks us to look to St. Joseph on this day, and follow his example of work, by which he showed his love and responsibility for the Blessed Virgin Mary and for the Child Jesus. St. Joseph shows the dignity of work – and whether it is manual work, or any other kind of work, we are to do it in a spirit of cooperation with God, and as an offering to Him. Any task, well done, is an offering to God – when we work, we should see it as a work done for God, and it is part of what shows that we are created in His image. In creation itself, God worked for six days, and rested the seventh. So in our own lives, we are to keep that balance between using our energy for work, and then out of respect for our minds and bodies, give a day for our spiritual and physical renewal.

[The statue pictured is in the sacristy of Our Lady of the Atonement Church.]

O God, the Creator of all things, who hast appointed for mankind the law of labour: graciously grant that through the example and patronage of Saint Joseph we may accomplish the work that thou hast commanded, and attain unto the rewards that thou dost promise; 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 April 2016

Pope St. Pius V


Pope St. Pius V -- Michael Ghislieri -- was born into a poor family on 17 January 1504.  He spent his childhood working as a shepherd, until he entered the Dominican Order at the age of fourteen.  His keen intelligence served well, and eventually he was ordained as a bishop, ultimately occupying the Throne of St. Peter.

St. Pius V lived in times much like our own.  The Council of Trent took place during his lifetime, and as is the case with most Councils, there was a time of confusion following.  He spent much of his life -- before his time as pope, and then until his death -- working to implement the principles of the Council, and strengthening the witness of the Catholic Church.

A very important event took place on October 7, 1571.  It is associated with Our Lady, and also with Pope St. Pius V.

For some time the Muslims had attempted to conquer Europe, not only for political reasons, but also in an attempt to destroy the Church and impose Islam throughout the known world.

On that clear October morning a huge gathering of ships appeared in the Mediterranean Sea, near the Greek port of Lepanto -- 280 Turkish ships, and 212 Christian ships. For years the Muslims had been raiding Christian areas around the Mediterranean and had carried off thousands of Christians into slavery. In fact, all of the ships gathered on that morning were powered by rowers – and the Muslim ships had nearly 15,000 Christian slaves in chains, being forced to pull the oars to guide the ships into battle. The Catholic fleet was under the command of Don Juan of Austria, but the Catholic fleet was at a great disadvantage in its power and military ability. This was a battle that would decide the fate of the world – either the Turks would be victorious and the Church destroyed, or the Catholics would be victorious and would put down the Muslim threat.

Pope St. Pius V knew the importance of victory. He called upon all of Europe to pray the rosary, asking for the intercession of Our Lady, that God would grant a Catholic victory. Although it seemed hopeless, the people prayed. Don Juan guided his battleships into the middle of the Turkish fleet; meanwhile, many of the Christian slaves had managed to escape their chains and poured out of the holds of the Muslim ships, attacking the Turks and swinging their chains, throwing the Muslims overboard. The combination of the attack by the Catholic fleet and the uprising of the Christian slaves meant that there was a great victory by the Catholics fleet over the mighty Turkish fleet.

We know today that this victory was decisive. It prevented the Islamic invasion of Europe at that time, and it showed the Hand of God working through Our Lady. At the hour of victory, St. Pope Pius V, who was hundreds of miles away in his Papal residence, is said to have gotten up from a meeting, went over to a window, and through supernatural knowledge exclaimed, "The Christian fleet is victorious!" and he wept tears of thanksgiving to God.

This day has been remembered throughout the Church, first as Our Lady of Victory, and then as Our Lady of the Holy Rosary – remembering the victory God granted, and also remembering the means by which that victory was achieved – that it was an intervention by God through the prayers offered by praying the Rosary... perhaps something we might consider in our own generation.


O God, who, for the overthrow of the enemies of thy Church and for the restoring of divine worship, wast pleased to choose blessed Pius to be Supreme Pontiff: grant that we may be defended by his protection, and so cleave to thy service; that overcoming the devices of all our enemies, we may rejoice in perpetual peace; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

28 April 2016

St. Catherine of Siena


St. Catherine was born in Siena in the year 1347, and she was the last of 25 children born to her parents. Her father was a wealthy man in the business of dying wool. From her earliest life, Catherine was a different kind of child, spiritually sensitive, and being part of such a large family, she liked to find times when she could be alone with God. It was at the age of six that she had some sort of vision near the Church of San Domenico in Siena. From that moment onward, she followed an even stricter path of devotion, and when she was only seven, she dedicated herself to Christ, taking a private and internal vow that she would never marry, but would live only to serve God.

She wanted very much to dedicate herself to Religious life, and although her parents initially resisted the idea, eventually her father gave in and allowed Catherine to follow whatever she felt God was calling her to do. In 1363, when she was just 15 years old, Catherine became a Dominican Tertiary, and wore the black cloak which designated her as a Dominican sister. She began to increase her charitable work, and spent a great deal of her time in a nearby hospital, caring for the sick.

Throughout this time she became known as someone who gave excellent spiritual guidance, as more and more people came to her, or wrote to her, for spiritual advice. In fact, she became well-known throughout the Church as a devout and gifted spiritual guide, and even as a mystic. It was during a visit to the city of Pisa that she received the stigmata in the presence of a crucifix hanging in the Church of Santa Cristina. As her spiritual fame grew, she was even asked to travel to different countries to act as a mediator for the papacy, which was at that time in exile at Avignon in France. She was very strong in voicing her opinion to Pope Gregory that he needed to bring the Papal Court back to Rome, and unify the Church. When the terrible situation arose with the false election of a second Pope, leading the Church to the edge of schism, she was instrumental in restoring the true Pope to his rightful place.

In the year 1380, when she was just 33 years old, St. Catherine died. She was eventually proclaimed to be a saint, and along with St. Francis of Assisi, St Catherine of Siena was proclaimed to be patron saint of Italy. Just 45 years ago Pope Paul VI conferred on her the title of Doctor of the Universal Church, and in 1999 she was proclaimed co-patron saint of Europe by St. John Paul II.

O Merciful God, who gavest to thy servant Saint Catherine of Siena a wondrous love of the Passion of Christ: grant that, through her prayers; we thy people may be united to him in his majesty and rejoice for ever in the revelation of his glory; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

St. Peter Chanel, Priest and Martyr


On April 18, 1841, a band of native warriors entered the hut of a missionary priest, Father Peter Chanel on the island of Futuna in the New Hebrides islands – now called Vanuatu. They clubbed the missionary to death and cut up his body with hatchets. But just two years after this murder, the complete population of the island was Catholic. St. Peter Chanel's death bears witness to the ancient axiom that "the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians."

What led up to this wonderful conversion of so many people? St. Peter Chanel came there as the fulfillment of a dream he had had as a boy. He was born in 1803 in France. At the age of seven, he was a shepherd boy, but the local parish priest, recognizing something unusual in the boy, convinced his parents to let him study in a little school the priest had started. From there Peter went on to the seminary, and was ordained a priest and assigned to a very difficult, run-down parish. In three short years there was a complete transformation of the people in the parish – whereas there had been very few who practiced the Faith, when he left, nearly everyone had returned to the Sacraments.

In 1831, he felt called by God to enter a missionary society of priests, and his dream of going to mission territory finally happened in 1836. He was sent to the island of Futuna, where he had to suffer great hardships, disappointments, frustration, and almost complete failure, as well as the opposition of the local chieftain. The work seemed hopeless: only a few had been baptized, and the chieftain continued to be suspicious and hostile. Then, when the chief's son asked for baptism, the chief was so angry that he sent warriors to kill the missionary. It would have seemed that was the end. St. Peter Chanel did not live to see any success coming from his hard work, but his violent death brought about the conversion of the island, and the people of Futuna remain Catholic to this day.

O God, who for the spreading of thy Church didst crown Saint Peter Chanel with martyrdom: grant that, in these days of Paschal joy, we may so celebrate the mysteries of Christ’s Death and Resurrection as to bear worthy witness to newness of 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.

24 April 2016

St. Mark the Evangelist


Excerpted from "The Church's Year of Grace" by Pius Parsch:
John Mark, later known simply as Mark, was a Jew by birth. He was the son of that Mary who was proprietress of the Cenacle or "upper room" which served as the meeting place for the first Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12). He was still a youth at the time of the Savior's death. In his description of the young man who was present when Jesus was seized and who fled from the rabble leaving behind his "linen cloth," the second Evangelist might possibly have stamped the mark of his own identity.

During the years that followed, the rapidly maturing youth witnessed the growth of the infant Church in his mother's Upper Room and became acquainted with its traditions. This knowledge he put to excellent use when compiling his Gospel. Later, we find Mark acting as a companion to his cousin Barnabas and Saul on their return journey to Antioch and on their first missionary journey. But Mark was too immature for the hardships of this type of work and therefore left them at Perge in Pamphylia to return home.

As the two apostles were preparing for their second missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take his cousin with him. Paul, however, objected. Thereupon the two cousins undertook a missionary journey to Cyprus. Time healed the strained relations between Paul and Mark, and during the former's first Roman captivity (61-63), Mark rendered Paul valuable service (Col. 4:10; Philem. 24), and the Apostle learned to appreciate him. When in chains the second time Paul requested Mark's presence (2 Tim. 4:11).

An intimate friendship existed between Mark and Peter; he played the role of Peter's companion, disciple, and interpreter. According to the common patristic opinion, Mark was present at Peter's preaching in Rome and wrote his Gospel under the influence of the prince of the apostles. This explains why incidents which involve Peter are described with telling detail (e.g., the great day at Capharnaum, 1:14f)). Little is known of Mark's later life. It is certain that he died a martyr's death as bishop of Alexandria in Egypt. His relics were transferred from Alexandria to Venice, where a worthy tomb was erected in St. Mark's Cathedral.

The Gospel of St. Mark, the shortest of the four, is, above all, a Roman Gospel. It originated in Rome and is addressed to Roman, or shall we say, to Western Christianity. Another high merit is its chronological presentation of the life of Christ. For we should be deeply interested in the historical sequence of the events in our blessed Savior's life.

Furthermore, Mark was a skilled painter of word pictures. With one stroke he frequently enhances a familiar scene, shedding upon it new light. His Gospel is the "Gospel of Peter," for he wrote it under the direction and with the aid of the prince of the apostles. "The Evangelist Mark is represented as a lion because he begins his Gospel in the wilderness, `The voice of one crying in the desert: Make ready the way of the Lord,' or because he presents the Lord as the unconquered King."

O Almighty God, who hast instructed thy holy Church with the heavenly doctrine of thy Evangelist Saint Mark: give us grace; that, being not like children carried away with every blast of vain doctrine, we may be established in the truth of thy holy Gospel; 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. Fidelis of Sigmaringen


St. Fidelis was born Mark Rey and took the name of "Fidelis" when he joined the Capuchin Order at the age of 35 in 1612. He was born at Sigmaringen, a town in modern-day Germany. He studied law and philosophy at Freiburg. St. Fidelis subsequently taught philosophy at the University of Freiburg, ultimately earning a "doctor of laws". During his time as a student he did not drink wine, and wore a hair-shirt. He was known for his modesty, meekness, and chastity. In 1604, he and three friends travelled through Europe, and during his travels he attended Mass very frequently; in every town where he came, he visited the hospitals and churches, passed several hours on his knees in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and gave to the poor sometimes the very clothes off his back.

After he returned home, he took up the practice of law, and was known for his great fairness, and his dislike of ruining anyone’s reputation. He didn’t hesitate to offer his legal help to those who couldn’t afford the cost of a lawyer, and his charity earned him the name of "counsellor and advocate for the poor". He became disenchanted with some of the bad practices associated with many lawyers, and he decided to join the Capuchin friars.

When he entered the Franciscan Order of the Capuchins, he was given the religious name of "Fidelis," meaning Faithful. He finished his novitiate and his studies for the priesthood, offering his first Mass on the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi (October 4), in 1612. As soon as St Fidelis finished his course of theology, he was immediately employed in preaching and in hearing confessions. He was named to be Superior of one of the Capuchin Convents, and many people in the area were renewed in their faith, and several Protestant Calvinists were converted. The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith commissioned Fidelis specifically for work among the Protestants.

The Protestants were very angry at this attempt to convert them. They made threats against Fidelis' life, and he began to prepare himself for martyrdom. It was on April 24, 1622, that St Fidelis made his confession, said Mass, and then went out to preach. During the sermon, leaders of the Protestants called for his death. One of them discharged his musket at him in the Church, but missed him, and the Catholics begged him to leave the place, but he was ready to lay down his life. As he went out and was on the road, a group of about twenty Calvinists started to harass him, calling him a false prophet. One of them beat him down to the ground by a stroke on the head with his sword. Fidelis rose again on his knees, and stretching forth his arms in the form of a cross, and prayed to God for their pardon. Another sword struck him in the head, and he fell to the ground and lay in a pool of his own blood. His attackers continued to stab him, and they hacked off his left leg, saying it was punishment for him coming to preach to them. He was buried by the Catholics the next day, and many who had participated in St Fidelis' martyrdom, were converted, and received into the Catholic Church.

O God, who didst enkindle blessed Fidelis with seraphic ardour of spirit in the propagation of the true Faith, and didst vouchsafe to adorn him with the palm of martyrdom, and with glorious miracles: we beseech thee; that, by his merits and intercession, thou wouldest so confirm us through thy grace in faith and charity; that in thy service we may be worthy to be found faithful, even unto death; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

22 April 2016

St. George the Martyr

Edward Burne-Jones,
‘The Legend of St George and the Dragon,
VI: St George Kills the Dragon’, 1866

St. George was born in Cappadocia in what is now Turkey, of noble Christian parents. After his father died, he went with his mother to Palestine, which is where she had come from. Her family there was quite wealthy, and she had a large estate, which fell to her son George. He was strong and robust, and having embraced the profession of a soldier, was made a tribune in the army of the Emperor Diocletian. He showed himself to be an excellent soldier, very brave, and he received many honours and advancements in his military career. When Diocletian began persecuting the Christian religion, St. George gave up his commission and posts, and complained to the emperor himself of his severities and bloody edicts. He was immediately cast into prison, and put on trial, questioned and tortured with great cruelty; but nothing could shake his constancy. The next day he was led through the city and beheaded.

So why the legends, especially the story of St. George slaying the dragon? According to the story, a terrible dragon, which lived in a marshy swamp, had ravaged all the country round a city of Libya, called Selena. It would come near the city looking for something to eat, and when it breathed, it would spread sickness throughout all the people. The people decided to give the monster two sheep every day to satisfy its hunger, but, when they ran out of sheep, they would give the dragon a human victim, whom they would choose by lot. On one occasion the lot fell to the king's little daughter. The king offered all his wealth to purchase a substitute, but the people had said that no substitutes would be allowed, and so the maiden, dressed as a bride, was led to the swamp. At that very time, St. George happened to ride by, and he asked the young girl what she did, but she warned him to leave her, because his own life was in danger. St. George stayed, however, and when the dragon appeared, St. George, making the sign of the cross, bravely attacked it and stabbed it with his lance, wounding it. Then asking the maiden for her belt, he bound it round the neck of the monster, and the princess was able to lead it without any struggle, back to the town. St. George told the people not to be afraid, but only be baptized, after which he cut off the dragon's head and the townsfolk were all converted. The king would have given George half his kingdom, but the saint replied that he must ride on, bidding the king meanwhile take good care of God's churches, honour the clergy, and have pity on the poor.

This legend was a great symbol of St. George who fought against the Emperor and against all those things that were trying to destroy the Church. The lesson is that good eventually will conquer evil, and all we need to do is put our fear aside, and live in the grace of our baptism.

O God of hosts, who didst so kindle the flame of love in the heart of thy servant George that he bore witness to the risen Lord by his life and by his death: grant us the same power of faith and love; that we, who rejoice in his triumphs, may come to share with him the fulness of the Resurrection; 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.

21 April 2016

The Rood Screen

The word "rood" comes from the Saxon word "rode," which means "cross". The rood screen is so called because it is a screen surmounted by the Rood -- a large figure of the crucified Christ -- and it separates the sanctuary from the nave of the church.  The rood screen at Our Lady of the Atonement Church is a major architectural feature of the interior, with the central arch providing a frame for the tabernacle and altar.  The pictures below begin with our rood screen, followed by pictures of other screens (many of which are medieval in origin).

Our Lady of the Atonement Church, San Antonio, Texas
(Another view, below)


Our Lady of the Atonement Rood Screen
(above, decorated for Easter)

St. Brinius, Dorcester-on-Thames, near Oxford

All Saints Church, Turkdean, Gloucestershire

Calvary Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh

All Saints Church, Litcham, Norfolk
(The Rood was destroyed at the time of the Protestant Reformation)

The Minster, Boscastle, Cornwall


(This is a Rood Beam, instead of a full screen)