13 December 2017

St. John of the Cross


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

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

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

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

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

O God, who didst inspire thy holy Confessor Saint John with an ardent love of self-denial and of the Cross: grant that by constantly following his example, we may attain to everlasting 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.

12 December 2017

St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 December 2017

Our Lady of Guadalupe


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

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

10 December 2017

Pope St. Damasus I


Pope St. Damasus is one the many popes whose name isn’t immediately recognizable to most people, but whose faithful service in the Chair of St. Peter is still reflected in the Church today. Damasus had served as a deacon under Pope Liberius, whose pontificate was filled with upheaval from both outside and inside the Church. In fact, when Pope Liberius died in the year 366, there were riots that broke out over the election of his successor. Most people favoured the deacon Damasus, a Roman who was of Spanish descent. Damasus was a very faithful man who upheld the fullness of the Catholic faith, and although there were some who supported another man whom they tried to install as pope, but Damasus finally was installed, with the Emperor Valentinian interceding to expel the anti-pope.

A time of peace in the Church came with Pope Damasus, and he was able to concentrate on the growth and strengthening of the Church. He knew the importance of the Holy Scriptures in the life of the Church, and one of his first projects was to gather together a list of the books of the Old and New Testaments, which until this time had been scattered piecemeal throughout the Church. He then asked his longtime friend and secretary, St. Jerome, to translate the Bible into Latin. St. Jerome’s Vulgate translation still serves as a foundation to the study and translation of the Scriptures to this very day.

Damasus had a great devotion to the martyrs who had gone before, and he searched out the tombs of the martyrs which had been blocked up and hidden in the catacombs during previous times of persecution, and he marked their tombs with beautiful slabs of marble. He lighted the passages of the catacombs, and encouraged the Faithful to make pilgrimages to the burial places of the martyrs. Damasus also beautified existing churches, on the principle that the worship of God demands our best, and that places of beauty can point us to heaven.

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Damasus was a strong defender of the orthodox Catholic faith, making it a point to publicly condemn various heresies which had crept into the Church, especially the heresy of Arianism. If fact, the place of Peter and his successors was never more respected as it was during the time of Pope Damasus, and he spent much of his energy in promoting the primacy of the Holy See, even leading the civil Roman government to recognize the special rights of the Church in society.

Pope St. Damasus was able to bring peace and strength to the Church, which had been so fractured under his predecessor, and this holy man died on December 11th in the year 384, after serving the Church as the Supreme Pontiff for eighteen years.

Grant, we pray thee, O Lord: that we may constantly exalt the merits of thy Martyrs, whom Pope Saint Damasus so venerated and loved; 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 December 2017

Judgement


During Advent our thoughts should include the coming judgement of our Lord Jesus Christ. As we profess in the Creed, "...and He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead..."

First, some facts. God’s judgement is really two-fold. There is the Particular Judgement, and there is the General Judgement. Particular Judgement is that judgement which takes place immediately upon the death of an individual.  When we die, we are no longer the “pilgrims” that we are in this life – we will no longer be able to sin, nor will we be able to repent from sin. If there is the rare individual who dies in a state of perfect grace, with no further need of purification, and with no temporal punishment due to them because of their previous sins, that person will directly enter heaven with the other saints. Those who die in the state of grace, but who still need some purification before the final destination of heaven will enter purgatory, where they will be cleansed and made ready for heaven, aided by the prayers and sacrifices of the faithful. And finally, those who die in the state of mortal and unrepented sin – those who have purposely offended God and don’t care that they have – will, at the Particular Judgement, enter into their unending punishment in hell. This is, of course, a much simplified explanation of Particular Judgement.

But in addition to the Particular Judgement upon each and every soul, which will take place individually at our death, there also will be the General Judgement – that judgement which we profess in the Creed, when we proclaim that “He shall come again in glory, to judge both the quick and the dead...” This is the Final Judgement of God upon all mankind. It is not simply the summation of all of the particular judgements which have taken place, but it involves the consummation of all things in Christ, when God’s kingdom will be complete. At that time, there will be no further question in anyone’s mind or heart as to the power of God, or as to the Kingship of Christ, or as to the truth of the Catholic Faith. All things will be put in subjection to Christ, and it will be the age of “the new heaven and the new earth.” Of course, we should understand that these two judgements are not as separate as they sound, because in this, God acts outside of time.  In fact, they are really the one judgement by God, bringing all lives and all things to a final end.

Having outlined those basic facts, what does it really mean to us? Actually, a great deal. God’s judgement necessarily involves God’s system of justice, so we must have some understanding of divine justice as we face the reality of divine judgement. Perhaps we can better understand it if we look for a moment at the system of justice which we have in the United States.

When American justice works as it is supposed to (which, of course, is not always the case) it is based upon the supposition that if a person is found to have done something wrong, then he has to pay a price for that action. In other words, if a man is caught robbing your house, then you should be able to expect him to spend some time in prison. It’s not enough for him simply to go into the courtroom and say, “I’m sorry, your Honor,” and then expect it all to go away. The question that gets asked is, “How to you plead: guilty or not guilty,” and if he is found to be guilty, then a punishment will be exacted. That is our system of justice, and it is what we expect to happen in our courts of law.

Now let’s look at Divine Justice. One of its tenets is that it is Christ who will be our Judge. On that Last Day, when the secrets in the hearts of all men shall be disclosed, it will be Jesus who will mete out Divine Justice. And because of that, it will not be the justice of our human law-court that will be given out. If God were to administer justice in the same way that we expect our human law-courts to administer justice, then our chances of escaping eternal punishment on the Day of Judgement would be slim-to-none. We have all grievously sinned; every one of us has come short of the glory of God. Each and every one of us will stand guilty before the Divine Judge. That is why, thanks be to God, it is a different kind of court-room where Christ is the judge. Certainly, in that court-room we will all stand guilty – and in fact, we will all deserve the death penalty. But in the Divine court-room, when the judge passes the death-sentence, He then gets up from behind the bench to stand next to the guilty party, and He takes the death sentence upon Himself. Why? Because in God’s court-room, He doesn’t ask us to plead “guilty or not guilty” – rather, we are asked to plead “sorry or not sorry.” If we have lived lives which plead “sorry” – lives which have had real repentance and which have been healed and fed with His sacraments – then Christ shoulders the sentence Himself. Here’s the beauty of it all, when it comes to Divine Judgement. Christ is not only our Judge, but He is our Redeemer, too. This is God’s justice: He demands righteousness, and then He proceeds to provide us with the means to become righteous. He demands perfection, and then He provides the means whereby we may be made perfect.

Whatever else is true about God’s judgements, one thing is certain: on Judgement Day, there will not be any surprises. It will be obvious to everyone that God’s judgement is completely fair. In fact, we will receive precisely what we ask for. The record of our relationship with God will lay before us in complete truth and openness, and the facts will speak for themselves. If we have been faithful to God, if we have shown sorrow for our sins and have sought His absolution, if we have been generous to those in need, following the path of the Lord which began at our baptism, then God our Judge will say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant...” But if we have been purposely unfaithful to God, untrue to our baptismal promises, stingy toward those in need, prejudiced and cruel to others who are also children of God, if we have been too proud to confess our sins and too lazy to do penance, if we have thrown away our birthright by clinging too closely to the things of this world, then God our Judge will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire...”

It is not some fickle or uncertain justice which God will give out on Judgement Day. In a very real sense, we will actually bring judgement upon ourselves – or, at least, our actions and our attitudes will. The righteousness and the mercy of God will prevail on the Day of Judgement. The righteousness of God demands perfection – and the mercy of God means that we will have been given the means of righteousness through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the Cross. And it is through the Cross that we receive the forgiveness which brings us to the joy of life in eternal communion with Almighty God.

08 December 2017

St. Juan Diego


Although we don’t know very much about the life of Juan Diego before his conversion, we know that he was born in the year 1474 in part of what is today Mexico City. The Catholic faith was brought to Mexico in 1519 when Cortez landed on the coast of Mexico, and there were Catholic priests with him. Juan Diego was among the first of those the hear the Gospel, and in 1524, when he was 50 years old, Juan Diego was baptized by a Franciscan priest, Fr. Peter da Gand.

Juan Diego took his faith very seriously and attended Mass on a daily basis. He walked many miles to Mass every morning, and on December 9, 1531, when Juan Diego was on his way to morning Mass, the Blessed Mother appeared to him on Tepeyac Hill, the outskirts of what is now Mexico City. She asked him to go to the Bishop and to request that the bishop build a shrine be built at Tepeyac, where she promised to pour out her grace upon those who asked for her prayers. The Bishop at first didn’t believe Juan Diego, and he asked for some sign to prove that the apparition was true. On December 12, Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac. The Blessed Mother told him to climb the hill and to pick the flowers that he would find in bloom. He obeyed, and even though it was winter time, he found roses blooming. He gathered the flowers and took them to Our Lady who carefully placed them in his mantle and told him to take them to the Bishop as "proof". When he opened his mantle, the flowers fell on the ground and there remained impressed, in place of the flowers, an image of the Blessed Mother, the apparition at Tepeyac.

With the Bishop's permission, Juan Diego lived the rest of his life as a hermit in a small hut near the chapel where the miraculous image was placed for veneration. Here he cared for the church and the first pilgrims who came to ask for Mary’s intercession.

O God, who by means of Saint Juan Diego didst show the love of the most holy Virgin Mary for thy people: grant, through his intercession; that, by following the counsels our Mother gave at Guadalupe, we may be ever constant in fulfilling thy will; 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 December 2017

The Immaculate Conception


It was Archbishop Fulton Sheen who famously said, “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church…” He was referring, of course, not simply to the institution, but more to what the Catholic Church teaches.

In my work with converts to the Faith, there are usually certain predictable teachings that are like “red flags” to those who are inquiring about Catholic teaching. Along with issues such as Papal Infallibility, one of the biggest “red flags” tends to be the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Let’s look first at what this doctrine is not. It does not refer to the conception of Christ in the womb of Mary, nor does it mean that Mary was somehow miraculously conceived. Mary was conceived in the normal way as the natural fruit of the marriage of Ss. Joachim and Anne, but at the moment of her conception she was preserved from original sin and its stain.

As we know, the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, became their bitter legacy to us. Original sin deprives us of sanctifying grace, and the stain of original sin corrupts our human nature. But by God’s grace, given at the moment of Mary’s conception, she was preserved from these defects, and so from the first instant of her existence Mary had the fullness of sanctifying grace, and was unburdened by the corrupt nature caused by original sin. In this way, Mary becomes a “second Eve,” conceived in the same state of original purity as God intended for mankind.

Why would God do this? We state the reason every time we say the Creed. When we profess that Jesus Christ “was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,” we’re proclaiming that God took human flesh upon Himself. And from whom did He take that flesh? From Mary. So the question must be asked: would God – who can have no part in sin – take upon Himself that which was fallen, stained and corrupt? The answer is obvious: of course He wouldn't. So, as we can see already, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception has as much to do with our Lord Jesus Christ and His Incarnation, as it does with the Blessed Virgin Mary. In fact, as we explore the various Marian dogmas, we see this consistently. What God does in and through Mary finds its ultimate purpose in Jesus Christ.

We can find a strong implicit reference to the Immaculate Conception in St. Luke 1:28. In the original Greek text, when the archangel Gabriel is addressing the young Virgin Mary, the word used is translated to say that she is “full of grace.” In some translations of scripture, Gabriel’s words are translated as “highly favored one,” but that translation doesn’t capture the best and fullest meaning. The original Greek clearly indicates that Mary was filled with grace in the past, and the effect of it continues into the present. Understanding that, it’s apparent that the grace received by Mary didn’t come about through Gabriel’s visit; rather, she was always filled with grace.

Here’s another point used by those who doubt the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception: They ask, “What about the words Mary spoke in her Magnificat, when she says, “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”? If she wasn’t a sinner, why would she need a Savior?” Remember, Mary was a human being, a descendant of Adam and Eve. When she was conceived, she was certainly subject to the contracting of original sin, like all of us. But she was preserved from it – and how so? By grace. Mary was redeemed by the grace of Christ, but in a special way; that is, by anticipation. There’s a helpful analogy which has been used by the Church to illustrate this very fact: a man falls into a deep pit, and somebody reaches down and pulls him out. It would be true to say that the man was “saved” from the pit. A woman is walking by that same pit, and she’s about to fall in, but at that very moment someone reaches out and pulls her back from the edge. She also has been “saved” from the pit. And in fact, she didn’t even get dirty like the poor man did, who actually fell in. God, who is outside of time, applied Christ’s saving grace to Mary before she was stained by original sin, rather like the woman in the story who didn’t get dirty because she was prevented from falling into the pit. So yes, Mary had a Savior, and He is none other than Christ, her Son and her Lord.

Then we’ve got Romans 3:23, where St. Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Did St. Paul mean this statement to be understood in an all-inclusive, no-one-excluded way? Well, let’s consider. First of all, we certainly have to exclude Jesus Himself. Even though He was fully man, we know He didn’t sin. And what about a new-born baby? If sin is the deliberate disobedience to God’s law, could we say that a little baby has committed sin? I don’t think so. Although St. Paul was certainly stating the truth about mankind, his purpose in writing this section of Romans wasn’t to discuss the possibility of exceptions; rather he was constructing an important argument about law and grace, justification and redemption. If anybody wants to apply Romans 3:23 to Mary, then they’d have to apply it to babies and young children, too.

Sometimes people object to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception using this argument: “if we’re saying Mary was without sin, then we’re making her equal to God, because only God is without sin.” But we need to remember that in the beginning, Adam and Eve were created without sin, but they weren’t equal to God. The angels were created without sin, and in fact, from Scripture we know that only some of the angels sinned – Lucifer and his friends – but that means a lot of angels never sinned.  And they certainly are not equal to God.

Tragically, after the fall of our first parents, sin became commonplace and even expected. In fact, think about how often someone will say, after doing something wrong, “Well, I’m only human,” as though sin is perfectly natural, and somehow even defines humanity. Actually, sin is unnatural. We weren’t created to sin; we were created to know God, and to love Him, and to spend eternity with Him in heaven. In Mary, because of the Immaculate Conception, we see a human being as God intends all of us to be. What was maimed by the first Adam and Eve, is restored by the Second Adam and the Second Eve.

So then, what about the Immaculate Conception? It is logical. It is scriptural. And it is definitely an essential ingredient in God’s loving act of redemption.

O GOD, who in the foreknowledge of thy Son’s most precious death didst consecrate for him a dwelling-place by the immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary: mercifully grant that she who was preserved from all defilement, may evermore pray for us, until we attain unto thee in purity of heart; 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. 

06 December 2017

St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor


St. Ambrose was born around 339 in what is now France, the son of the Roman prefect of Gaul. Following his father's footsteps, Ambrose embarked upon a career in law and politics and by 370 AD, he had become the Imperial governor of Northern Italy, where the main city was Milan. In about 374 the bishop of Milan died. At this same time, the Arian heresy that argued against the divinity of Christ threatened to destroy the Church. The bishop, who wasn’t a very good one, had supported the Arians. So now, the question was, who would take his place - an Arian or a Catholic? Both sides met in the cathedral and a riot broke out.

Public order was Ambrose's responsibility as governor so he hurried to the church and made a passionate speech not in favor of either side, but in favor of peace. He begged the people to make their choice without fighting, using restraint and moderation.

Suddenly, while he was speaking, what sounded like a child’s voice called out, "Ambrose for bishop!" Soon everyone was shouting, "Ambrose for bishop!" The neighboring bishops and the Emperor convinced him to accept this call as the will of God, and so the catechumen Ambrose was baptized and ordained first deacon, then priest, then bishop, all in a single week!

This politician, now suddenly a bishop, was very much aware of his lack of preparation for this great responsibility and so set himself immediately to prayer and the study of Scripture. His deep spirituality and love of God's Word, put together with the speaking skill he had acquired in law and politics, made St. Ambrose one of the greatest preachers of the early church.

St. Ambrose proved to be a fierce opponent of heresy. He battled to preserve the independence of the Church from the state and courageously excommunicated the powerful Catholic Emperor Theodosius I, who had massacred a group of innocent people in Thessalonica. St. Ambrose also had a significant impact on sacred music through the composition of hymns and psalm tones that are known to this day as Ambrosian chant. Besides many sermons and treatises on the spiritual life, Saint Ambrose is responsible for two of the first great theological works written in Latin, De Sacramentis on the Sacraments and De Spiritu Sancto on the Holy Spirit.

Around 385, a young man who was a teacher of rhetoric named Augustine came to hear Saint Ambrose preach in order to study his speaking technique, and in the process, was attracted to the Catholic faith. In 386 Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose and went on to become bishop of Hippo in North Africa. Ambrose and his pupil, Augustine, together with St. Jerome and St. Gregory the Great, make up the four original Doctors of the Latin Church. Saint Ambrose, the great bishop of Milan, died on Holy Saturday (April 4) in the year 397 AD. His feast day is December 7, the day he was ordained bishop.

O God, who didst give to thy servant St. Ambrose grace eloquently to proclaim thy righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honour of thy Name: Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellency in preaching, and fidelity in ministering thy Word, that thy people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

05 December 2017

St. Nicholas of Myra


St. Nicholas was born of Christian parents in the last part of the third century, and was raised in the Faith. His parents died when he was young, and they left him a large sum of money. Rather than using this for himself, Nicholas secretly disbursed his fortune to those who were in particular need.

His uncle was the archbishop of Myra, and he ordained Nicholas and appointed him to be the abbot of a nearby monastery. At the death of the archbishop, Nicholas was chosen to fill the vacancy, and he served in this position until his death. About the time of the persecutions of Diocletian, he was imprisoned for preaching Christianity but was released during the reign of Emperor Constantine.

There are lots of stories surrounding the life of Saint Nicholas, one of which relates Nicholas' charity toward the poor. A certain man, who was the father of three daughters, had lost his fortune, and finding himself unable to support his daughters, he was planning to sell them into slavery. Nicholas heard of the man's intentions and secretly threw three bags of gold through a window into the home, thus providing dowries for the daughters, enabling them to be married. There are other stories of his generosity in giving to others, but he always tried to do it secretly.

After Nicholas' death on December 6 in or around 345, his body was buried in the cathedral at Myra, and a great devotion to him grew up. More and more people visited his tomb to ask for his prayers. His body remained there until 1087, when some sailors from Bari, an Italian coastal town, came and took the relics of the saint and transferred them to their own city. Veneration for Nicholas had already spread throughout Europe as well as Asia, but this occurrence led to a renewal of devotion in the West. Countless miracles were attributed to the saint's intercession. His relics are still preserved in the church of San Nicola in Bari.

St. Nicholas is known as the patron saint of children – and we’re reminded of this here in the parish because we have our St. Nicholas Field as a place for our children to play.

Relic of St. Nicholas, in the Lady Chapel.


O God, who didst adorn thy blessed Bishop Saint Nicholas with power to work many and great miracles: grant, we beseech thee; that by his prayers and merits, we may be delivered from the fires of everlasting torment; 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.

03 December 2017

St. John Damascene


St. John of Damascus or Damascene, the last of the Greek Fathers, was one of the principal defenders of the veneration of images against the Iconoclasts, who condemned this practice.

When John was born, Damascus was under the jurisdiction of caliphs, but Christians were allowed to hold high offices. John's father was chief revenue officer of the caliph and a sterling Christian. He entrusted his son's education to a monk, Cosmas, who had been brought from Sicily as a slave, and who schooled the young man in theology, the sciences, and poetry.

John succeeded his father in office, and while living at the court gave an example of a model Christian. But he had set his sights higher, and after resigning his office he became a monk at St. Sabbas monastery near Jerusalem. Here he spent his time writing books and composing hymns. When Leo the Isaurian issued decrees against the veneration of images, John took up the challenge and wrote treatises defending this ancient practice.

At this time the Patriarch of Jerusalem, desirous of having John among his clergy, ordained him priest and brought him to Jerusalem. After some time, however, John returned to the monastery and devoted the rest of his life to writing. His most important work is his Fountain of Wisdom, in which he compiled and collated the teachings of all the great theologians before him; this is the first attempt at a Summa Theologica, a summary of philosophy and theology, that has come down to us. John's writings are a rich treasure of ancient traditions, and are held in high esteem. Pope Leo XIII declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1890.

St. John was such a great orator that he was known as Chrysorrhoas ("golden-stream"). He was the last of the Greek Fathers of the Church, and the first of the Christian Aristotleans. He also adapted choral music for use in the liturgy. His eloquent defense of Christian images has given him the title of "Doctor of Christian Art."
-from www.catholicculture.org

Confirm our minds, O Lord, in the mysteries of the true faith, set forth with power by thy servant St. John of Damascus; that we, with him, confessing Jesus to be true God and true Man, and singing the praises of the risen Lord, may, by the power of the resurrection, attain to eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Advent

 "From the Cradle to the Cross" by Michael Hayes

The time of Advent has a sense of mystery all its own. We know it best as that time of waiting before the Solemnity of the Nativity, but it contains a much more comprehensive expectation than mere preparation for Christmas. Truly, it collects the many strands of our faith, and weaves them into one fabric, for during Advent the cradle rests in expectation of the cross; the Child Redeemer speaks of the coming Judge resplendent in the clouds; the awaited birth of Jesus is the beginning of His passion; the swaddling-clothes prepared by the expectant Mother foretell the shroud of Christ's burial. Perhaps at no other time of the year is the totality of Christ's work put before us so clearly as it is at this time of Advent.

01 December 2017

Mary: The 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.

29 November 2017

St. Andrew, Apostle and Martyr


Andrew, like his brother Simon Peter, was a fisherman. He became a disciple of the great St. John the Baptist, but when John pointed to Jesus and said, "Behold the Lamb of God!" Andrew understood that Jesus was greater. At once he left John to follow the Divine Master. Jesus knew that Andrew was walking behind him, and turning back, he asked, "What do you seek?" When Andrew answered that he would like to know where Jesus lived, Our Lord replied, "Come and see." Andrew had been only a little time with Jesus when he realized that this was truly the Messiah.

From then on, he chose to follow Jesus, and became the first disciple of Christ. Next, Andrew brought his brother Simon (St. Peter) to Jesus and Jesus received him, too, as His disciple. At first the two brothers continued to carry on their fishing trade and family affairs, but later, the Lord called them to stay with Him all the time. He promised to make them fishers of men, and this time, they left their nets for good. It is believed that after Our Lord ascended into Heaven, St. Andrew went to Greece to preach the gospel. He is said to have been put to death on a cross, to which he was tied, not nailed. He lived two days, still preaching the Gospel to those who gathered around him in his last hours.

Almighty God, who didst give such grace unto thy holy Apostle Saint Andrew, that he readily obeyed the calling of thy Son Jesus Christ, and followed him without delay: grant unto us all; that we, being called by thy holy Word, may forthwith give up ourselves obediently to fulfil thy holy commandments; 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.

28 November 2017

The Holy Water Font


Just inside the main doors of the church in the narthex is a simple marble holy water font. On a typical day during the year, hundreds of the faithful dip their fingers into its water to make the sign of the cross upon themselves, both as a blessing and as a reminder of their own baptism. This means that over the course of an average week, water from this font has been taken thousands of times, and yet few know the rich history of where it had been and how it came to be in our church.

It was in the year 1895 that a young woman, Lurana Mary White, began a correspondence with an Episcopal cleric, Lewis Wattson (later known as Fr. Paul of Graymoor), because of their mutual interest in the life and spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi. Both of them were Episcopalians at the time, although both were searching for the fullness of the Catholic faith. They felt a call to the religious life, and had the sense that God was calling them to found a Franciscan community within Anglicanism.

Through various circumstances, Lurana White (with a few companions) was able to pioneer this effort, with Fr. Paul joining her soon after. An unused chapel called St. John’s-in-the-Wilderness in Graymoor, New York, was put at her disposal, along with a building in some disrepair, called Dimond House, which was about half a mile from the chapel. Now known as Sister Lurana Mary, she arrived there on a bitterly cold day in December, 1898, and so began the foundation of the Society of the Atonement.

In Lent of 1899 funds were raised to begin building a convent near St. John’s-in-the-Wilderness. Combined with donations from others, Sister Lurana (now known as Mother Lurana) gave the totality of her own personal funds for the purpose of building and furnishing the convent, along with its chapel, known as the Oratory of Our Lady of the Angels. One of the items chosen and purchased by Mother Lurana was a simple marble holy water font.

The Oratory of Our Lady of the Angels has seen a number of historic events. It was there that the first Atonement Sisters made their religious profession; it was there that Fr. Paul spent the night in prayer before being clothed in his Franciscan habit, becoming the first Friar of the Atonement; it was there that the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity was prayed for the first time; it was there that the members of the Society of the Atonement were received into the Catholic Church; and it was at the Oratory altar that Fr. Paul celebrated his first Mass as a Catholic priest. Through all those events, and more, the simple marble holy water font stood at the entrance.

Sadly, when the misguided ideas of “renewal” after Vatican II swept through the various religious communities, the Society of the Atonement was not spared. Things which had been given for the glory of God were ruthlessly tossed aside, and one of the casualties was the holy water font which had stood guard for so many years inside the Oratory of Our Lady of the Angels. It was thrown outside behind the convent, where the erstwhile font became a makeshift birdbath – and there it remained until I happened to be visiting Graymoor shortly after my ordination as a Catholic priest.

One of the aged Sisters pulled me aside, and asked to talk to me. Sr. Cyril, S.A., was one of the last of “Mother Lurana’s girls” – members of the Sisters of the Atonement who had been formed as a religious by their Mother Foundress – and she told me how she was heart-broken to see “Mother’s holy water font” thrown outside in the garden. Sr. Cyril asked if I would consider giving it a home in our parish, and I told her that if her superiors approved, I would happily have it transported back to Texas. She asked; her superiors gave permission, and so I set about finding a way of getting it shipped to San Antonio. One of my father’s old friends, who happened to own a long-distance trucking company, was able to accommodate my request, and in due time the font arrived at the church.

After all the history it had seen, the holy water font was for a time put to yet another use – we had no baptismal font when we first built our church, and so Mother Lurana’s holy water font became our baptismal font for some years.  In fact the first child baptized in it was my own daughter, Lurana, named after the Mother Foundress of the Sisters of the Atonement. For several years all the children of our parish were “born again in the waters of baptism” using that simple marble holy water font, which had come so far from its original home.

It was not until the church was expanded to its present size that we were able to have a proper baptistry, and a real baptismal font, which finally allowed us to return Mother Lurana’s font to its original purpose. So it stands at the entrance of Our Lady of the Atonement Church, more than a hundred years after it was lovingly chosen by Mother Lurana to stand at the entrance of her little Oratory, now serving the same purpose of providing holy water for the Faithful who come to give worship and glory to Almighty God.

The Altar in the Oratory of Our Lady of the Angels.

25 November 2017

Christ the King


The Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, was dragged before a minor earthly ruler, Pilate, and was asked the question, “Are you a king, then?” It was a simple question, and yet so fertile. As a seed bursting with the beginning of life when it falls into good soil is able to produce a harvest beyond imagining, so Christ’s answer to Pilate's question (if it had been met with some glimmer of grace, some hint of human charity) might have lifted the life of that petty potentate into the upper reaches of God’s glory, for our Lord told him “My kingdom is not of this world...” But that, Pilate could not grasp, and so instead has been immortalized with the phrase, “...suffered under Pontius Pilate...” which describes the death of the King he could never understand. We, however, have been given to know that kingdom “not of this world,” and so have been spared the blindness which afflicted Pilate. In the cross we see a throne; in the thorns we see a crown; in the wounded side we see a gateway to Christ’s kingdom, which is eternal.

St. Catherine of Alexandria


The account of the life and death of St. Catherine of Alexandria was recorded by Eusebius in about the year 320, just a few years after her martyrdom. Eusebius was the Bishop of Caesarea and is known as the "father of Church history."

Catherine was born of into a noble family of Alexandria, and from childhood she had devoted herself to study. Through her reading she had learned a great deal about Christianity, and was subsequently converted after being given a vision of Our Lady and the Holy Child Jesus.

When the Emperor Maxentius began his persecution against the Church, Catherine went to him and gave him a firm rebuke for his cruelty, after which she told him about Christ and the Gospel. The emperor could not answer her arguments against his pagan gods, so he gathered together fifty philosophers to argue against her. Quite the opposite happened, and they were won over by her reasoning. When the emperor learned that they all had become Christians, he had them burned to death.

He then tried to seduce Catherine with an offer to be his consort. She refused him, so he had her beaten and imprisoned. The Emperor went off to inspect his military forces, but when he returned he discovered that his wife Faustina and one of his high officials had been visiting Catherine and had been converted, along with the soldiers of the guard. They too were put to death, and Catherine was sentenced to be killed on a spiked wheel. As soon as her body touched the instrument of torture, the wheel broke into pieces. That did not stop her martyrdom, however, because the emperor ordered that she be taken to a place of execution, where she was beheaded.

St. Catherine of Alexandria could just as well be called St. Catherine the Brilliant because of her intellect and wisdom, along with her ability to explain the Catholic faith with great conviction. As many in her day discovered, to hear her expound upon the Gospel meant almost certainly that those who listened would be converted to follow Christ.

O GOD, whose dwelling-place is in the pure of heart: grant we beseech thee; that we who venerate the memory of the martyr Catherine, thy faithful bride, may have grace to follow the example of her holiness and courage; 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 .

23 November 2017

Holy Martyrs of Vietnam


Saint Andrew Dung-Lac and the Holy Martyrs of Vietnam are 117 individuals who endured tremendous suffering and eventual death because of their Catholic Faith.  They weren’t all martyred at the same time, but persecutions went on for nearly three hundred years.  And there were far more than these 117 martyrs – there were some 100,000 people martyred for their faith, but their names are known only to God.

Christian missionaries first brought the Catholic faith to Vietnam during the 16th century.  The traditional Vietnamese religion is Buddhism, mixed with elements of Taoism, Confucianism and the cult of ancestors. When Christianity came with missionaries early in the 16th century, it was seen as a foreign element and during those following three centuries the Faith became the object of persecution.

Over that time various emperors banned all foreign missionaries and ordered Vietnamese Christians to renounce Christianity by trampling on a crucifix. Churches were to be destroyed and teaching Christianity forbidden. Very many suffered death or extreme hardship.

Imprisoned bishops, hardly 30 years old, were mocked in prison, and were given a piece of bamboo as crozier and a paper mitre to wear – much like Jesus was mocked by the soldiers when he was arrested, and made to wear a crown of thorns.  Older priests were put on display in cages to be publicly mocked, and simple poor peasants were murdered for refusing to trample on a crucifix. These tortures were barbaric and the persecutions have been compared with those of ancient Rome.


During the persecutions, Christians were marked on their faces with the words which meant “false religion,” husbands were separated from their wives, and children from their parents. Christian villages were destroyed and their possessions distributed.  It wasn’t until 1862 that there was religious freedom, which marked the beginning of the end of the persecutions.

O God, by whose providence the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church: Grant that we who remember before thee St. Andrew Dung-Lac and his Companions, the Holy Martyrs of Vietnam, may, like them, be steadfast in our faith in Jesus Christ, to whom they gave obedience even unto death, and by their sacrifice brought forth a plentiful harvest; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

22 November 2017

My Thanksgiving memories...

My childhood home at the Phillips Farm in New Hartford, Connecticut.

This has become something I post each year...

For me it’s impossible to think of Thanksgiving without thinking of Grandpa and Grandma Phillips when they lived at the farm in Connecticut. Of course, childhood memories may change with the passing of years. Some of the details may get blurred. But there are so many happy memories of family gatherings, with Grandpa presiding at the head of it all and Grandma seeming to move constantly between her stove, the pantry, and her place at the table.

Could it have been normal to have had snow by Thanksgiving? When I was little it always seemed as though there was snow on the ground at that time, but maybe it’s my imagination. I do remember how warm it would seem when I went into Grandma’s kitchen, especially on Thanksgiving morning. No matter how early I went in, she would already have been working for hours on what always seemed like the biggest turkey I’d ever seen. I don’t know how she did it with that ancient wood-burning stove she had. Of course, everyone would bring more food when they came – different vegetables, various desserts – but the centerpiece was always Grandma’s turkey. And the heavenly smell which all of that made – it never seemed to be able to be duplicated at any other time of the year.

How did we all fit in their kitchen and living room? There were loads of us, but we found room. And Grandpa was always insistent that we all had to be at the same table, so the big oval kitchen table would get other tables added to it, stretching through the double door into the living room and turning the corner down to the far end. We may not have been able to see everyone at the same time, but we were all at the same table – and Grandpa loved that. I’ve tried to remember how many of us there would have been in those days – certainly more than fifty, with all the grandchildren.

Other than the big oak table, the most important piece of furniture in Grandma’s kitchen was the china cabinet. It was from there that we took out the treasures we used on Thanksgiving Day. Nana’s beautiful Bavarian china set would be used. The little green candy dishes, with gold leaf on the edges, would be filled with mints and placed at different places on the table. Of course, I’d try to figure out where I’d be sitting, so that one of those little green dishes would be near my place. And I remember my Aunt Alice’s fruit arrangements! As a little boy, I was amazed that she seemed to be able to build the fruit up so high that it looked like it was balancing in mid-air.

I can picture it all, and it seems almost like yesterday that we were all together. I can see Grandma at the stove, and I can picture her pantry with the sink at the end of it. I can hear the sound of their little dog Chippy, his nails clicking on the linoleum floor, trying to keep out of the way. I can see Grandpa in his chair, so happy that his family was all together in one place on his favourite holiday. I can see all of us cousins together – lots of little children excited and wanting to help, but really getting underfoot. And I can remember Grandma trying to come up with jobs to keep some of us busy, and she’d go through all the names until she got to the one she wanted. I used to laugh so hard – and she would, too – when she would start in with “George… Johnny… Earl… Denny… I mean, Chris, why don’t you run outside and see if you can find some pretty berries to make a centerpiece for the table, and Alice… I mean Linda, you can go and help.” And out we’d go, thinking we were on an important mission – not realizing that it was her way of clearing a couple of little ones out of the kitchen so she could have a bit more room to get things prepared. And when we’d come back with some orange berries on a branch and a couple of dried milkweed stalks, Grandma would exclaim about what a beautiful arrangement it would make!

What wonderful times those were, and I think we knew it, even then. How God blessed us as a family. Of course, there have been difficult times, and we miss those whom God had called to be with Him. But we have known God’s love through the love of our family, and we must continue to make memories so that today’s little children can recall them when they are grown with grandchildren of their own.

The family has expanded tremendously, and although miles separate us, the bonds of love keep us together. And when I pray for those of our family who have died, it reminds me that we are all still one family – whether on this earth or in God’s eternal keeping. Even though we may not be able to see everyone whom we love, God sees us all – and He keeps each and every one of us in His divine heart.

St. Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr


St. Cecilia is one of several martyrs in the early Church who were young girls, and very serious about their faith. Cecilia was of noble birth. At an early age, she dedicated her life to God with a vow that she wouldn’t marry, but would give herself completely to Christ. However, her family wanted her to marry, and she was engaged to a young nobleman named Valerian. On her wedding day, she prayed to the Lord and asked Him to help Valerian to understand that she couldn’t live with him as his wife. History records, "The day on which the wedding was to be held arrived and while musical instruments were playing she was singing in her heart to God alone saying: Make my heart and my body pure that I may not be confounded." St. Cecilia's prayers were answered, and Valerian understood the importance of her vow to God. In fact, not only did he accept it, but he and his brother Tiburtius were both converted to the Christian faith, and were baptized.

At this time, Christianity was still illegal in Rome. Both Valerian and his brother Tiburtius were soon discovered to be Christians, and they were martyred. Cecilia was discovered soon after, and she was condemned to death. It required two attempts, however, before the death of Cecilia was successful. She was first locked in a bath in her own home to be suffocated by the steam. When she emerged from the bath unharmed, she was then beheaded. The stroke of the axe failed to sever her head from her body, however, and she lived for three days. During this time, she saw to the disbursment of her assets to help the poor, and she donated her home to be used as a church, and there is a great church on that site to this day, which bears her name. When Cecilia finally died, she was buried in the Catacombs of Callixtus. In the 9th century Pope Paschal I had St. Cecilia's remains unearthed from the catacombs and reported that her body was incorrupt and that her hands signaled the Trinity, with one extending three fingers and the other a single finger.


O God, who makest us glad with the yearly festival of blessed Cecilia thy Virgin and Martyr: grant that we who venerate her in our service, may also follow the example of her godly 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.

12 November 2017

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini


St. Frances Xavier Cabrini was the first American citizen to be canonized. She was a naturalized citizen, having been born in Italy. Her parents were simple farmers, accustomed to hard work and little money, but always ready to welcome another child. In fact, St. Frances was the thirteenth child, and her mother was fifty-two years old when she was born. It was a devout Catholic family in which she was raised, and at night after the day’s work was done, the children would listen to their father read them stories of the saints. Young Frances was especially fascinated by the saints who went on missions to foreign countries.

St. Frances had a great desire to help others, and after she finished school she assisted in the local parish by teaching catechism, and visiting the sick and the poor. She also taught school, and supervised the running of an orphanage, where she was assisted by a group of young women. Their work became so well-known that the bishop in a neighboring diocese heard of their work, and he asked Frances to establish a missionary institute to work in the area of education. Frances did as the bishop requested, and she called this new community the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. They opened an academy for girls, and before long the work spread with the establishment of new houses.

One day Frances was contacted by Bishop Scalabrini, an Italian bishop who had a great concern for the many immigrants who were leaving Italy for a new life in the United States. It was not easy for these immigrants, and upon their arrival in America they would endure tremendous hardships, and were not being given adequate spiritual care. As Bishop Scalabrini described the situation to Frances, she was very moved by what he said, but it did not occur to her that she might have a part in the solution. It was not until she had an audience with Pope Leo XIII about the future of her religious foundation that she changed her plans. It was her intention to receive papal permission to go to the missions of the orient, but the Holy Father had another suggestion. “Not to the East, but go to the West,” he said to her. “Go to America.”

Now known as Mother Cabrini, she had no hesitation when she heard the Pope’s words. To America she went, and she landed in New York in 1889, immediately establishing an orphanage, and then set about her life’s work – that of seeing a need, and then working for a solution. She built schools, places for child care, medical clinics, orphanages, and homes for abandoned babies. The poor had no place to go when they became seriously ill, so she built a number of hospitals for the needy. At the time of her death, there were more than five thousand children receiving care in the various institutions she built, and her religious community had grown to five hundred members in seventy houses throughout North and South America, France, Spain, and England.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini was a frail woman, of a very small stature, but she amazed others with her energy and imagination. She was constantly traveling, sailing the Atlantic twenty-five times to visit her various religious houses and institutions. It was in 1909 that she adopted the United States as her country and formally became a citizen.

As she reached the end of her life, she had given thirty-seven years to the works of charity she loved so much. In her final illness she was admitted to a hospital in Chicago, Illinois. She died while making dolls to be given to orphans at an upcoming Christmas party, her last activity a simple act of charity. Mother Cabrini was beatified in 1938, and canonized in 1946 by Pope Pius XI.

God our Father, who didst call Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini from Italy to serve the immigrants of America: by her example, teach us to care for the stranger, the sick, and all those in need; and by her prayers help us to see Christ in all whom we meet; 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 November 2017

St. Martin of Tours


When he was merely a boy, Martin became a Christian catechumen against his parents' wishes, and at the age of fifteen he was forced by his father, a pagan soldier, to be enrolled in the army.

It was on a winter's day, while stationed at Amiens, that Martin met a beggar almost naked and frozen with cold. Having nothing to give him, Martin cut his cloak in two and gave poor man half.

That night in a dream Martin saw Our Lord clothed in the half cloak, and heard Him say to surrounding angels: "Martin, yet only a catechumen, has wrapped Me in this garment." He decided to be baptized, and shortly after this he left the army.

Martin succeeded in converting his mother, but he was driven from his home by the Arian heretics who were powerful in that place, and he took shelter with the bishop, St. Hilary. Near Poitiers they founded first monastery in France, and in the year 372 St. Martin was made Bishop of Tours. The people of that area, though Christian in name, were mostly still pagan in their hearts and in their daily practice. Unarmed and attended only by his monks, St. Martin destroyed the heathen temples and groves, and then completed this courageous act by preaching the Gospel. After witnessing many miracles at the hand of their bishop St. Martin, there was a complete conversion of the people. St. Martin’s last eleven years were spent in the humble work of travelling throughout Gaul, preaching and manifesting the power of God through his works and by the purity of his life.

O God, who seest that we are not able to stand in our own strength: mercifully grant that, through the prayers of blessed Martin thy Confessor and Bishop, we may be defended from all adversities; 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 November 2017

Pope St. Leo and Attila the Hun


Pope St. Leo reigned twenty-one years as pope in the 5th century, and is the first pope to be titled "the Great." He truly was a great Pope, defending the Faith, and confirming the primacy of the Successors of St. Peter. But perhaps the most exciting thing Pope Leo did was when he had a confrontation with the infamous and cruel military leader, Attila the Hun. This is the story.

The Huns were a nomadic people, originating probably in Mongolia, but they migrated westward, sacking and pillaging whatever cities or towns that were in their way. Until the time of Attila in the 5th century, the Huns were comprised of a loose confederation of tribes, not really a unified people at all – that is, until Attila came on the scene. He unified them, and they were making their sweep across Europe. By the time of Pope Leo, Attila the Hun was busy ransacking most of Italy, and his plan included the sack of Rome. Attila hoped to add it to his possessions, not only for the riches it would give him, but he was also trying add to his number of wives, and the young woman he had his eye on would be impressed with his taking Rome, or so he thought.

Pope Leo, of course, wanted to protect Rome and keep its citizens alive, but here was Attila, looking to attack and plunder the city, and destroy the Church. With the approach of Attila and his mob of soldiers, Pope Leo went into prayer, committing his papacy to the patronage and protection of St. Peter, the apostle and first pope, and then Leo did a very brave thing – he arranged a meeting with Attila just outside the city of Rome. Nobody thought this was a very good idea – in fact, everyone in Rome was sure that Pope Leo would be immediately martyred by this conqueror who never hesitated to murder and destroy anything or anyone who got in his way.

Nonetheless, Pope Leo went to meet Attila. And then, one of the most dramatic moments in Christian history takes place: Attila calls off the sack of Rome. And Leo goes safely back to Rome. What happened? What made Attila retreat?

This is the account of that meeting: while Attila and Leo were conversing, Attila was shaking in his boots, because that during that conversation, Attila saw a vision like he had never seen before! Attila saw St. Peter himself hovering over Leo's head . . . with a huge sword drawn and pointed directly at him! Attilla was certain he would be immediately killed if he didn’t withdraw and leave the area, so to save his own skin, Attila ran away from the Pope, who was armed only with the Truth.

And that is the story of how Pope Leo the Great saved Rome from being destroyed.

O Lord Jesu Christ, who didst strengthen thy holy Bishop and Doctor, Pope Leo, to maintain both by word and deed the verity of thy sacred Humanity: grant, we beseech thee; that guided by the light of his doctrine, we may earnestly defend the faith of thy holy Incarnation; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.


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"Zeal for thy house..."

 

The Gospel (St. John 2:13-22) appointed for the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran puts before us the commanding figure of Jesus Christ striding into the great Temple in Jerusalem. He cleanses it, making a whip of cords and driving out the sellers of animals and the money-changers, overturning their tables and telling them, “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” Christ did this, because those who were buying and selling within the temple of God were not doing it for the glory of God; they were not doing it for the worship of God or for the good of man; rather, it was for personal gain and for selfish reasons.

The Church teaches us that religion is more than just the vertical dimension of the spiritual life – it’s more that simply “God and me.” Ethics and morality must be the practical expression of a true and living faith. How we conduct ourselves in the marketplace reflects our relationship with God. Certain business practices may be legal but that doesn’t insure they are ethical. Certainly, making a profit isn’t condemned in Scripture, but accumulating great wealth by unjustly taking advantage of someone else is.

So, with the crack of a whip, Christ drove the money changers from the temple. And He did it not only because of the contempt that was being shown to the Temple – a place consecrated to God – but also because of the injustice being shown to the people who were there to worship the God in whose honor the Temple had been built. Christ was not kind and gentle that day.

When good people are faced with evil, it would seem that our Lord has given something of an example to follow. He did not limit himself to prayer or to talk; He also did something about it. “To everything there is a season,” the Scriptures tell us, and we can see that even in the life of Christ that there was a season to make a stand against evil by taking specific action.

It was necessary for Christ to drive the money-changers out of the temple because of the evil they had brought into the lives of honest people, and because of the dishonor those actions brought to the House of God. So it is necessary at times that evil must be faced squarely by taking positive action, so that the common good might be preserved. Sometimes, for the triumph of good, the whip must be cracked, and evil must be beaten back.

Whether it be civil leaders inflicting injustice on people; or whether it be those who steal the right to life from the unborn; or whether it be the unfaithful cleric who cheats people from knowing the fullness of the Gospel and from worshipping according to the mind of the Church; or whether it be the gossip who destroys the reputation of another – we are called to stand up for the good, and against the evil.

The Gospel tells us that after Christ had cleansed the Temple, “his disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for thy house will consume me...’” And so should zeal for the things of God consume us. Zeal is the business side of love, whether it be love of God or love of man. “Zeal,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “is the energy of love.” Zeal, as an ardent love of God, is to be shown in our lives as a desire to promote the love of God, to promote the worship of God, to promote the praise of God, to promote the glory of God. It is to be shown in our spiritual lives as we perform those Christian works of mercy and love that we have been taught by our Lord. And zeal, also, is to be shown in practical ways, as we accept our responsibility for the support and work of Christ’s Body the Church. This is one of the reasons we have places of beauty, consecrated to the glory of God – so that you and I can be inspired to be zealous for God and for the things of God; so that we can work for justice in this world; so that we can spread the truth of the Gospel by our words and our actions – and also, to give us a glimpse of the eternity of heaven.

08 November 2017

Dedication of St. John Lateran


On November 9th the Catholic Church throughout the world celebrates the anniversary of the consecration of the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour in the city of Rome, known also as St. John Lateran. On the façade is carved the proud title “Omnium Urbis et Orbis Ecclesiarum Mater et Caput” – “The Mother and Head of all Churches of the City and of the World.” It is the cathedral of Rome – it is the Pope’s Cathedral, and so is, in a sense, the Cathedral of the world – senior in dignity even to St. Peter’s Basilica.

One of the reasons we celebrate this Feast is because the Church wants us to remember the importance of consecrated places in which the worship of God takes place. It reminds us of the importance of the consecration of every Catholic Church throughout the world. It is a reminder to us of the Incarnational principle on which our faith is based – that God extends His spiritual blessings to us through the use of physical things. He took human flesh upon Himself. He has instituted seven sacraments which use outward forms to communicate inward grace. He has established a hierarchical Church, with a physical presence in the world, to be a sign of His own presence with us.

O Most blessed Saviour, who didst vouchsafe thy gracious presence at the Feast of Dedication: be present with us at this time by thy Holy Spirit, and so possess our souls by thy grace; that we may be living temples, holy and acceptable unto thee; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Evensong & Requiem



Evensong was prayed for the Faithful Departed, followed by Antonio Salieri's "Requiem" sung by the Honors Choir of The Atonement Academy and the Parish Choir of Our Lady of the Atonement Church. 

The requiem begins at the 23 minute mark.  If the image is not visible, go to this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzXRkY2M4pU&t=1374s


04 November 2017

St. Charles Borromeo

Charles Borromeo was born into a wealthy, very aristocratic Italian family. The family lived in a beautiful castle, and lived lavishly, with an extravagant life of entertaining a court of noblemen. Charles was very good at athletics, music, art, and he enjoyed all the fine things that went along with the life of a rich and famous family. His mother was one of the Medici family, and one of his uncles was the pope. As was usual in those days, his uncle the pope made Charles a cardinal when he was only twenty-three and gave him many honors and titles. He was appointed papal legate to Bologna, the Low Countries, the cantons of Switzerland, and to the religious orders of St. Francis, the Carmelites, the Knights of Malta, and others.

When Charles’ father died, everybody thought that Charles would give up his positions which had him working for the Church, and that he would marry some young noblewoman, and become the head of the Borromeo family. But Charles didn’t do that. Instead, he discerned a vocation to ordination, and he became a priest. Not long after, he was appointed bishop of Milan, a city that had not had a resident bishop for over eighty years.

Although he had been accustomed to a rich and extravagant life, when Charles was ordained and then became the Bishop of Milan, he spent much of his time dealing with hardship and suffering. There was a terrible famine in the year 1570 and he took on the responsibility of providing food to feed 3,000 people a day for three months. Six years later, another plague swept through the region. Bishop Borromeo organized his priests, religious, and lay volunteers to feed and care for the almost 70,000 people living in part of his diocese. He personally cared for many who were sick and dying, and he spent all his money doing it. In fact, he even ran up huge debts so that he could feed, clothe, and provide medical care, as well as build shelters for thousands of plague-stricken people.

He once ordered an atonement procession and appeared in it with a rope about his neck, with bare and bloody feet, a cross upon his shoulder, thus presenting himself as an expiatory sacrifice for his people to ward off divine punishment. He died, dressed in sackcloth and ashes, holding a picture of Jesus Crucified in his hands, in 1584 at the age of forty-six. His last words were, "See, Lord, I am coming, I am coming soon."

Keep, O Lord, thy Church by the continual protection of Saint Charles Borromeo: that as his zeal for thy flock did render him glorious; so his intercession may ever make us fervent in thy love; 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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