28 March 2020

Lazarus


In one way or another it seems that we’re always remembering. It’s part of human nature to look back over the day, the week, the year. We savour experiences, we remember conversations, we go over old arguments. We take lots of pictures on our vacations so that we can, in some small way, relive the good times we had, and this remembering contributes a lot towards who we are.

We began our Lenten journey to Easter by “remembering.” The words, "Remember, O man, thou art but dust and unto dust thou shalt return" were spoken to us as we were marked with ashes. We were reminded of what we are: we are but dust; we will die.

The Ash Wednesday “remembering of death” actually draws us closer to Easter by reminding us of life at the same time as we remember death. The great Lenten Gospel readings which we hear from St. John are filled with life: Jesus, the source of the water of life, awakens and quenches the thirst of the woman of Samaria who is caught in sin and death; Jesus, the light of the world, enters into the darkness of the man born blind; Jesus, the Word of life, speaks, and Lazarus rises from the dead.

In the account of the raising of Lazarus we cannot help but remember the gift of life God gives to us in Jesus. The whole story speaks about life, even in a story about death. Here are the bare bones of what happened: the two sisters, Mary and Martha, have a brother named Lazarus. All of them are friends of Jesus. Lazarus becomes very ill, and his sisters send for Jesus to come and heal Lazarus before he dies. Jesus waits for two days before returning to Bethany to see Lazarus. Meanwhile Lazarus dies.

Throughout this story there is a tension between death and life. When Jesus arrived, the family and friends of Lazarus were filled with grief. Jesus met Martha who turned to Him for the gift of life. Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die."

Surrounded by weeping and grieving, Jesus looks up and thanks His heavenly Father for hearing Him and then He cries with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" As Lazarus came out, Jesus turned to those who had gathered and said, "Unbind him, and let him go."

And with those words we have a picture of how Jesus would work in the future, as He establishes His Church, and then ministers through it. With Christ’s call to Lazarus to come out, the power and the reality of God’s Kingdom was manifested very clearly to that little group standing outside of the mouth of the tomb. And then Jesus asked them to do something. He asked them to unbind Lazarus and let him go free. Jesus was linking, in an inextricable way, His work, and our role in that work.

St. Paul affirms this in his letter to the Romans. He wrote, "If the spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through the Spirit who dwells in you." And because of that, so the mission of the Church – our mission - becomes one of releasing others from death, from the things that kill the soul. The story of what happened at the raising of Lazarus helps us remember we are Children of the Resurrection. We are to give the gift of life to others through Jesus Christ who is present with us. Death and life, as St. John records these events, are so close together that one of them cannot be without the other. “Remember O Man, thou art but dust, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Those were the words with which we began Lent, and those words are the gateway to life.

This is the Good News of Easter. This is the good news of the Church founded by Jesus Christ to unbind people and set them free. The message is the same – that even though “we are but dust” God doesn’t leave us there. Even in this life, Jesus is constantly calling to people, “Come out…!” He wants people to “come out” from sin and from those things that kill. He wants people to “come out” from those things that stop them from being all that they could be. He has established His Church which has the job of “unbinding” people after they have been called – unbinding them by a clear preaching of the Gospel; unbinding them by bringing them into the sacramental life which He has given to us..

Jesus called out to Lazarus – He called him out of the tomb, out of the stench and darkness of death – and He commanded others to “unbind” him. It couldn’t be clearer: we belong to Christ and we are to live and speak and minister in ways which unbind those who were bound, and to bring them into that fellowship with Christ and His Church, which is a place of freedom, a place of holiness, a place of new life.

24 March 2020

Solemnity of the Annunciation


At the Annunciation, God sent His messenger, the archangel Gabriel, to announce to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she would bear the Incarnate Son of God, and it would be Jesus who would take human flesh from her, to bring salvation into the world. When Mary heard these words, she was filled with awe and wonder, and she asked for clarification: “How can this be…?” When Gabriel told her that it would be by the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary responded by saying, “Let it be unto me according to thy word.”

That is an important phrase, “Let it be…” It takes us back to creation itself, when by the word of God, all things came into being.

In the beginning, God said “Let there be light,” and there was. God brought into being everything there was – by His word there came into being all of creation, including man himself. In fact, creation itself is the larger context for the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

As God spoke His creative word in the beginning, so our remembrance of beginning of the Incarnation we call to mind Mary’s words, “Let it be…. Let it be unto me according to thy word.” The Virgin Mary’s words, “Let it be,” echo God’s words, “Let there be.” It is, in a way, the continuation of creation and the beginning of our salvation. God says, “Let there be…” and his word brings forth creation; Mary says, “Let it be,” and her words bring forth the Incarnate God into the world.

We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts: that, as we have known the Incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an Angel; so by his Cross and Passion we may be brought unto the glory of his 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.

22 March 2020

St. Turibius, Bishop and Confessor



Together with St. Rose of Lima, St. Turibius is among the first of the known saints of the New World, serving the Lord in Peru, South America, for twenty-six years.

Born in Spain and educated for the law, he became so brilliant a scholar that he was made professor of law at the University of Salamanca and eventually became chief judge at Granada. He was a great success, but he was about to enter upon a surprising sequence of events.

When the archbishopric of Lima in Spain's Peruvian colony became vacant, it was decided that Turibius was the man needed to fill the post. It was generally agreed that he was the one person with the strength of character and holiness of spirit to heal the scandals that had infected that area. Turibius cited all the canons that forbade giving laymen ecclesiastical dignities, but he was overruled. He was ordained priest and bishop and sent to Peru, where he found colonialism at its worst. The Spanish conquerors were guilty of every sort of oppression of the native population. Abuses among the clergy were wide-spread, and he devoted his energies (and his suffering) to this area first.

He began the long and arduous visitation of an immense archdiocese, studying the language, staying two or three days in each place, often with no place to sleep, and little or no food. He made his confession every morning to his chaplain, and he would then celebrate Mass with tremendous devotion. Among those to whom he gave the Sacrament of Confirmation was Saint Rose of Lima, and most likely Saint Martin de Porres. After 1590 he had the help of another great missionary, Saint Francis Solanus.

His people, although they were very poor, also had a sense of personal pride, and they were unwilling to accept public charity from others. Turibius solved the problem by helping them himself, anonymously.

When Turibius undertook the reform of the clergy, along with unjust officials, he encountered tremendous opposition. Some tried to "explain" God's law in such a way as to make it appear that God approved of their accustomed way of life. He answered them in the words of Tertullian, "Christ said, 'I am the truth'; he did not say, 'I am the custom."'

O God, who gavest increase to thy Church through the apostolic labours and zeal for truth of the Bishop Saint Turibius: grant that the people consecrated to thee may always receive new growth in faith and holiness; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

21 March 2020

Lent IV: Healing the blind man


Although He is God Incarnate, our Lord’s earthly ministry was pretty simple. With a touch, a word, Jesus made profound changes in people’s lives. Cutting to the heart of a matter, He would bring His divine power into the situation, and things would never be the same.

His ministry, demonstrated with such power during His time on earth, continues through the Catholic Church which He founded. And as He acted simply, so the same principle continues. With a little water, or some bread and wine, or with a trace of oil, or a touch of consecrated hands, His holy will is accomplished. Lives are changed, bodies and souls are made whole, and God’s presence is manifested in the world.

One day our Lord came across a man who had been born blind. His was a difficult life. He had been reduced to begging. His parents had lived with the guilt of wondering if the common opinion of the day was true, that perhaps his affliction was due to some sin they had committed. He had become so anonymous in his suffering that those who were accustomed to his begging rarely even looked at him any longer.

When Jesus saw him He had pity and stopped to heal him. Our Lord’s actions were simple, almost crude. He spat on the ground and He made a clay of the spittle and the dirt. He took the clay and put it on the blind man’s eyes and then told the man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, just a short distance away. So the man did as he was told. With spittle and dirt smearing his face, and still blind, he made his way through the streets to do as Jesus had told him, without questioning. Through these simple actions, his sight was restored. God acted; a man responded, and he was made whole. A man was touched by God and so was able to begin a new life, both with his physical sight, and more importantly, with a greater spiritual sight.

But then something ugly happened. Those who had little interest in the man when he was blind now had plenty to say. “Is this really the same man?” the Pharisees scoffed. Assured that he was, they demanded to know how he had received his sight. When they were told, the Pharisees declared, “It cannot be from God because it was done on the sabbath.” They even asked the man himself, and when he told them that the one who had healed him must be a prophet, the Pharisees became indignant. How could this beggar presume to teach them!

Jesus heard this, and He pointed out to them all that He gives spiritual sight to those who are blind, and He blinds those who, in their pride, think they can see. The Pharisees demand to know if He thinks they are blind. And Jesus gave them a simple answer: “If you really were blind then you would have no sin; but you claim to be able to see, and so you remain in sin.”

Here’s a case of there being “nothing new under the sun.” Has there ever been a time when God has presented His truth without it being questioned or made more complicated than it really is?

God, in revealing Himself to us, has acted in a way which certainly is astounding and deep, but which is at the same time simple and clear. He has taken upon Himself human flesh from the Virgin Mary. He has taken upon Himself our sin and has died on the cross for our salvation. He has conquered death by rising from the dead. He has given us access to the fruits of His death and resurrection through the sacramental ministry of the Catholic Church.

And what does He require of us? We are to acknowledge our own sinfulness and unworthiness of His gifts, and we are to make every effort, with His grace, to live our lives in conformity with His divine will. And He makes His will clear to us in the teaching of His Church. Living the Christian life certainly is demanding, and yet it really is quite simple and clear.

But we have Pharisees in our own day who attempt to complicate and confuse things. What God has done in Christ Jesus is called into doubt by some. The requirements of the Christian life as defined by the Church are made confusing and subjective by others. There are those who set themselves as teachers who claim that it’s only they who truly see. And yet, they are the very ones whom Jesus would call blind – blind to the real truth of what God has done, blind to the real demands of the Christian life.

Faced with the good news of Christ Jesus we should respond as the blind man did: “I was blind, but now I see.” We are children of the Light, and God has shone His light upon us in all its fullness.

The simple truth is this: once we were in darkness, but in Christ we can turn away from the darkness towards God’s Light. God has come to us so that we can come to Him. Christ died so that we can live. We’re to be slaves to God’s law so that we can be truly free.

Jesus said, “I come into the world to give sight to those who cannot see, and to make blind those who think they can see.” We’re called to live in that clarity of vision which comes from embracing the fullness of the Gospel in all its simplicity.

18 March 2020

St. Joseph


Our knowledge about Joseph is not extensive, and yet enough is known to reveal what his character was. What we know of him, we know from the Gospels, and it is there that we see him to be a man who was determined to do what is right in the sight of God, and to do it in a kindly way. He was betrothed to Mary, and according to Jewish practice, betrothal was as sacred as marriage. Because of that, any infidelity before the actual marriage were treated in the same way as infidelity after marriage: death by stoning was the punishment for such sins. By all human appearance, Joseph's beloved betrothed was in just such circumstances, and he had to act in the way that seemed best. Certainly, he was a just man, but he was a kind man, too, and surely what Mary told him made a great demand on his faith. But that is the point: Joseph was, above all, a man of faith and completely obedient to the divine will of Almighty God. When it was revealed to him that Mary was to bear the Incarnate Son of God he took her to be his wife. There was no hesitation, no consideration of what others might think or how they might judge. It mattered little to him that it was assumed he was the human father of this Child -- not that he would have encouraged others to believe such a thing, for he knew the truth -- but it was better than having people think that Mary had shamefully conceived with someone else, and so Joseph took the responsibility, knowing that one day the truth would be known, and that Truth "would make men free." It is in this very situation, brought about by God Himself, that Saint Joseph's justness and kindness are both revealed.

His justness is shown in that he was a devout servant of God, and he ordered his life according to the standard of that law which had been revealed to the Jewish nation. He sought to please God in all things, even when it meant that he would be misunderstood or even harshly judged by the world. And because justness does not exclude kindness, his response to the revelation that Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit was one of deep gladness and joy, and so he took his place in God's plan without fear or hesitation. This place was not one of glory; rather, it was one of quiet reserve. Whether on the way to Bethlehem, or in the stable, or at the Child's circumcision on the eighth day, or in the Temple when He was presented, or in everyday life in Nazareth, Joseph simply was there. Loved and respected both by the Incarnate Son of God and by the Mother of God, he was a man of deep piety and gracious character.

Within Saint Paul's Cathedral in London is the tomb of its architect, and on that tomb are the words, "If ye seek his monument, look around you." How much more impressive are those words when they are used of Saint Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church. There could be no greater remembrance of Joseph's holy life, than that glorious Church founded by the Lord Jesus Christ, the foster-son of the quiet, just, kind man of God.

O God, who from the family of thy servant David didst raise up St. Joseph to be the guardian of thine incarnate Son and the spouse of his Virgin Mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to thy commands; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

17 March 2020

St. Cyril of Jerusalem


Cyril of Jerusalem loved to study the Holy Scriptures from the time he was a child, and he made such progress that he became known for his deep faith. He was eventually ordained priest by St. Maximus, Patriarch of Jerusalem, and he was given the work of preaching to the faithful and instructing those preparing for baptism. His Catechetical Instructions, which explain clearly and fully all the teaching of the Church, still exist today for us to read. His treatment of these subjects is so distinct and clear that he refuted not only the heresies of his own time, but also, by a kind of foreknowledge, he was able to expose heresies which would develop later. Upon the death of Patriarch St. Maximus, Cyril was chosen to be bishop in his place.

As bishop he endured many injustices and sufferings for the sake of the faith at the hands of the Arians. They could not bear his strenuous opposition to their heresy, and so they told lies about him, and drove him into exile. They were so violent against him that he fled to Tarsus in Cilicia, but eventually, with a new emperor and the death of many of his enemies, Cyril was able to return to Jerusalem, where he taught his people and led them away from false doctrine and from sin. If once wasn’t enough, he was driven into exile a second time under the Emperor Valens, but eventually peace returned to the Church, and the Arians were once again brought under control, so he was able to return again to Jerusalem. The earnestness and holiness with which he fulfilled the duties of being bishop were evident in the strength and holiness of the Church in Jerusalem.

Tradition states that God gave a sign of His divine blessing upon the spiritual leadership of Cyril by granting the apparition of a cross, brighter than the sun, which was seen by pagans and Christians alike. Another marvel happened when the Jews were commanded by the wicked Emperor Julian to restore the Temple which had been destroyed. They no sooner began the work when an earthquake happened and great balls of fire broke out of the earth and consumed the work, so that Julian and the Jews were terrified and gave up their plan. This had been clearly foretold by Cyril. He lived long enough to see the Arian heresy condemned, and he died as a beloved and holy bishop, eventually acknowledged to be a doctor of the Church.

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that at the intercession of thy blessed Bishop Saint Cyril, we may learn to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent; that we may be found worthy to be numbered for ever among the sheep that hear his voice; 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.

16 March 2020

St. Patrick, Bishop and Confessor


St. Patrick is known as the Apostle to Ireland. We’re not sure exactly where he was born, except that it was someplace in Britain. Some claim he was born in England, others say he was born in Scotland, and still others claim he was born in Wales. Wherever his birth took place, the year was about 385, and his parents were Romans, living in Britain, because his father was overseeing the Roman colonies in Britain.

When Patrick was about fourteen he was captured during a raid being carried out by Irish invaders, and he was taken to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep. Ireland at this time was a land of Druids and pagans. During his time of captivity he learned the language and practices of the people who held him, and even though he was among them as a slave, he began to love the Irish people.

Patrick's captivity lasted until he was twenty years old, and he then escaped, after having a dream from God in which he was told to leave Ireland by going to the coast. When he reached the sea, he found some sailors who took him back to Britain, and he was reunited with his family.

The time came when he had another dream in which the people of Ireland were calling out to him, "We beg you, Patrick, to come and walk among us once more."

He began his studies for the priesthood, and he was eventually ordained. Subsequently Patrick was consecrated to the episcopacy, and was sent to take the Gospel to Ireland. He arrived in Ireland on March 25, 433, and he came upon a chieftain of one of the tribes, who tried to kill Patrick. Patrick converted this chieftain, and he then began preaching the Gospel throughout Ireland, converting many. He and his disciples preached and converted thousands and began building churches all over the country. Kings, their families, and entire kingdoms converted to Christianity when hearing Patrick's message.

St. Patrick preached throughout Ireland for 40 years, working many miracles and writing of his love for God in his “Confessions.” After years of living in poverty, traveling and enduring great suffering, he died on March 17, 461.

O Almighty God, who in thy providence didst choose thy servant Patrick to be an apostle to the people of Ireland, to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error to the true light and knowledge of thee: grant us, by his intercession, so to walk in that light; that we may come at last to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

15 March 2020

A lesson from Naaman


When Jesus had come to Nazareth, he said to those in the synagogue, "Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. But passing through the midst of them he went away.

- St. Luke 4:24-30


In this passage from St. Luke’s Gospel Jesus refers to the healing of Naaman the Syrian. Naaman was a great military leader, but he had leprosy. Naaman's slave-girl was a young Jewish woman who had faith in God and compassion for Naaman her master. She urged him to seek out Elisha, the great prophet of Israel, and ask for healing.

When Naaman went to the land of Israel in hope for a cure for his leprosy, the prophet Elisha instructed him to bathe seven times in the Jordan river. At first, Naaman was indignant. He expected that there would be a whole lot more to being healed than just going into the Jordan River. After all, there were better rivers than that in Syria. But Naaman’s advisors pointed out to him that if he had been asked to do something really involved and more difficult, then he would have. Instead, Elisha had asked him to do something simple, and he felt insulted! Naaman got their point and followed the prophet's instructions. In doing so he was immediately restored to health.

There are lots of lessons we could learn from this, but an important one is for us to understand what God is asking of us, and then to do it. And in many ways, what God asks of us is fairly simple.

What does He lay out for us to do?

We need to be faithful in receiving the sacraments He has given us. When we sin, we need to repent and confess it. We need to stop and think carefully before we speak or act. We need to choose to be obedient to God’s commandments.

These things are simple. They may not be easy, but they are simple. And if we do them faithfully, we will have that wholeness – the spiritual health – God wants for us.

13 March 2020

Living Water


If you were to go about forty miles by road north of Jerusalem, you would come to the modern city of Nablus, which is the site of the ancient city of Shechem. There’s a practical reason why people have lived in this place for so many centuries, and that’s because of water – water which from the earliest days was drawn from what is known as Jacob’s Well.

To reach Jacob’s Well today you must enter a very beautiful Orthodox church. Near the front there are stone steps which descend below the altar. After making your way down, the well is there, just as it was on that day when Jesus came to it.

It was about noon. He was tired and thirsty from His travelling. As He rested at the edge of the well, a woman came to draw water. Now, that in itself was rather odd. Most women would have come to draw water in the cool early morning, before the sun rose too high in the sky. They would take their supply of water home with them so that they could get on with their day’s work, rather than waiting for the hottest part of the day to go to the well. But there was a reason for this particular woman to have come at noon, when she thought no one else would be around – and that reason was revealed in Christ’s conversation with her.

Jesus asks her for a drink. She’s amazed that He would ask her. In the culture of that day and time, no man would speak to an unaccompanied woman, much less would he ask her for something. And in addition to that, she was a Samaritan, and the Jews had nothing to do with the Samaritans because they considered them to be unclean half-breeds, unworthy of any contact whatsoever with God’s chosen people.

She asks Him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” And it’s then that Jesus begins to get to the divine nature of this encounter. He says to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water...” He spoke of a water which is more powerful, more satisfying than any natural water that could be drawn from this well, no matter how historic a well it might be.

She misses the point, probably because she has a mind which is more practical than it is curious. “Give me that water,” she says. She figures that if she didn’t get thirsty again, then she wouldn’t have to make the daily trek to the well. Our Lord, of course, sees that she hasn’t grasped what He’s talking about, so He goes immediately to the cause of her spiritual deafness. Getting right to the point, He brings up the reason why she has to come to the well at a time when others aren’t around. “Go call your husband,” He says. Then the truth about her life comes out. She has no husband, but she’s had five men whom she has called her husband, and the man she’s presently living with isn’t her husband. She didn’t need a road map to figure this out – there’s something unique about this Jew who had asked her for water, and it’s as though a light went on for her – she sees Him at last as He truly is; namely, the Christ. So she runs off to tell others about her discovery.

Those are the bare facts of the encounter, and it was a meeting unique to this Samaritan woman. And yet, there’s a kind of universality about it, because Christ’s encounter with every individual is an echo of this encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well.

As He asked her for a simple kindness, so He asks every one of us for a particular service through the specific vocation He gives to each of us. Each of us has been called by God to use what we have and what we are, to serve Him, to build up His Kingdom, to make Him better known to those around us.

And too often our response is as the Samaritan woman’s was. “Why would you ask me, Lord? Why would you single me out to do something for you? Why would you want me to tell others about my faith? Why would you want me to get involved in that charitable work?” Instead of being eager to respond, we act surprised, and we start excusing ourselves. “I couldn’t do that,” we tell ourselves. “I’m so busy.” “I’m too shy.” “There are others who would be better at it.” We’ve got all the excuses memorized. But remember what Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman? That if she knew who it was who was doing the asking, she would have responded immediately? We do know who’s doing the asking. And the Church tells us that God gives the necessary grace to those who respond to the vocation which is given. Remember, God never asks us to do something without giving us the means to do it.

At first the Samaritan woman was deaf to Christ’s words to her, and all too often, so are we. For her that day by Jacob’s Well, the most necessary thing was for her to see her own sinfulness before she could move on from there and tell others about Christ. And that’s an important part of our own encounter with Him. We need to acknowledge our sinfulness, and our complete dependence on God. That was the point of this conversation at Jacob’s Well, and that’s the point of Christ’s daily encounter with each of us: to help us see our need for Him, so that we can move on into the real life He has in store for us.

When we live for Christ, when we try to do His will in all things – that’s when we’ll have that well of water springing up in us – that water which is eternal life. We’re right in the middle of Lent. God has asked us to especially scrutinize our lives, to face up to our own sins and our own shortcomings, and with His grace, to do something about it. This is the time for us to confess our sins, to renew our devotion, to live in real humility, and to grasp hold of the life that God wants for us – a life which is infused with the Holy Spirit, a life which reflects the holiness to which we’re called, a life which is saturated with the living water of eternal life in Christ.

Because of what Jesus said to her at the well that day, the Samaritan woman came to know that He was, indeed, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And when she grasped the knowledge, she told the world about it. That’s our job, too – to tell the world about Christ, through our words and our actions and the holiness of our lives. That’s our vocation – it’s a holy calling which will lead us, and those around us, to eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.



08 March 2020

Be merciful. Judge not.


At that time: Jesus said to his disciples, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back."

- St. Luke 6:36-38


Our Lord gave us what we call the “golden rule,” that we should do to others what we would want them to do to us. And He taught us about forgiveness, especially in the prayer He taught us, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

In this brief excerpt from St. Luke’s gospel He repeats and summarizes what we have heard from Him, saying that we should show mercy to others, just as we have received mercy from God. And not just mercy towards those whom we like – not just to close family and friends – but to those whom we don’t necessarily like, even towards those whom we see as our enemies.

Jesus isn’t saying that we must like our enemies, but He does teach us that we must love them. And what is it to love them? It is to wish them good – and not just to wish it, but actually to do what is good.

This means we need to pray for our enemies – yes, even those who are doing evil in the world. And what should we be praying for? For their conversion, that they might turn from their wicked acts.

This is what Jesus means when He tells us not to judge. He’s saying it’s not up to us to consign them to hell. We can certainly judge wicked acts as being wicked. That’s what is known as “discernment.” We can judge an act as being sinful and wicked, but it’s not our job to judge the souls of those who commit such things. That’s God’s job.

And that goes for things we experience every day. If someone is a bully, or acting unjustly, or if someone is making wrong decisions and is doing hurtful things, we can certainly judge their actions as being wrong, but our responsibility is to pray that they turn from these wrong things, and do those things that are pleasing to God.

If we seek the best for others, God will turn that around so that it will be a blessing to us. But if we curse others, or do the same bad things to them, then we bring judgement upon ourselves.

So in all things, show the same mercy and love to others as God gives to us.

St. Frances of Rome

Lest we forget that God's plan for us is always best, just look at the life of St. Frances of Rome. She was a child born into privilege in the latter part of the 14th century, with parents who had the means to give her a very comfortable life. Young Frances was keenly aware of society's poor around her, and she had the good desire to give herself to the alleviation of their suffering by entering religious life and dedicating herself to this mission. Her parents had other ideas, and apparently so did God.

A young nobleman was selected by her family, and Frances was expected to marry him. She threw herself into prayer, asking God to deliver her from what she saw as a terrible fate. In fact, she was so persistent in this that her confessor asked her a difficult but important question: "Frances, are you really praying to do God's Will, or are you trying to make God bend to your will?"

That simple question brought about a profound change in Frances. With some reluctance, she married the young nobleman, and to her surprise the marriage turned out to be very happy. They had three children, and she found that her husband was perfectly willing for her to carry out an apostolate to the poor. In fact, she discovered that her sister-in-law had the same desire to serve, and the two were able to work together and pray together, eventually inspiring others to join in their good works. The group of women became a quasi-religious community, and when Frances was widowed she was able to go and live with them, sharing a common life of work and prayer.

St. Frances also had the great comfort of being able to see her Guardian Angel, and she was careful in following the angelic guidance she received.

Frances came to realize that God had given her far more than she had asked for. She had a happy marriage, and she was able to fulfill her desire for religious life, too. That's the way it is with God. He always gives in abundance, albeit in unexpected ways. All we need to do is follow Him in love, and pray as our Lord Himself did, "...not my will, but Thine be done."

O God, who amongst other gifts of thy grace, didst honour blessed Frances, thy handmaid, with the familiar converse of an Angel: grant, we beseech thee; that by the help of her intercession, we may be worthy to attain unto the fellowship of the Angels in thy heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

06 March 2020

Second Sunday in Lent


It was an astonishing sight for Peter, James, and John, when they saw the Lord Jesus Christ radiating His divine glory, talking with Moses and Elijah. He manifested His glory, the glory that was His as the only begotten Son of the Father - God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.

His face shone like the sun. His clothing became blinding and brilliant, whiter than any bleach on earth could bleach them. His divine nature shone through His humanity, making it clear that our Lord Jesus Christ is at once true God and true man. But He isn't like two things that are mixed together to form a third thing. He isn’t a hybrid of God and man. He is neither a “super man” nor is He a lesser god. He is the God-man, the unique Person in whom the fullness of the Deity dwells in human flesh and blood. That's what the disciples glimpsed on the mountain that day. They saw Jesus in His glory as God shining through His humanity.

And this is an important point about Jesus. His divine nature is never without His human nature. So, when we say that Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament, we mean that He is present as the God-man.  Both His divine and human natures are present. Of course, there are some who deny this. They say that His presence is simply symbolic or spiritual – but what God has joined we must not separate. We must leave Jesus whole, and not try to pull Him apart. We cannot have a human Jesus sometimes, and a divine Jesus at other times. Either He is the God-man in the crib, on the Mount of Transfiguration, on the cross, at the right hand of the Father, and in the Blessed Sacrament, or else He is not the One who mediates between God and man. He touches our humanity and the Father's divinity, and He does it without dividing Himself.

In Christ, God was born of a virgin mother. In Christ, a man shone with the glory of God on the mountain. In Christ, God suffered on the cross. In Christ, a man reigns over all things at the right hand of the Father.

This means when Jesus deals with us, He deals with us according to our humanity, in a flesh and blood way. He comes to us under the outward signs of simple bread and wine. He speaks to us through words spoken by a human mouth which enter our hearts and minds by way of our physical ears. He uses things like water and oil to give us eternal life and healing. He deals with us in earthy and ordinary ways. He honours our humanity by becoming human and engaging us as human beings, as the creatures of God that we are. It is through the human flesh of Jesus that God has chosen to reveal Himself to us.

Jesus is the true Light that shines into the darkness of this world. He is the Light that shines into the darkness of death, the Light that shines into the darkness of everything that we fear.  It is the very same Jesus who was laid in a manger, who was carried in Simeon's arms in the temple, who was changed in appearance before His three disciples, who hung on the cross, who died and was buried, who was raised from the dead and now lives and reigns. It's all one and the same Jesus, whether He is gloriously gleaming like the sun or ingloriously dying in the darkness.

And at every single Mass we come into that same glorious presence of Jesus Christ together with the angels and the archangels and all the company of heaven. At every Mass we are setting foot on the mountain with Jesus. At every Mass we receive forgiveness, life, and salvation. At every Mass Christ comes to preach His Word of forgiveness to us and to feed us with His Body and Blood. At every Mass something greater than the transfiguration takes place. The same Jesus is present for us as He was for His disciples on the mountain. The only difference is that we cannot see Him as the apostles did that day.

Nor would we want to see Him, really. The sight of Jesus in His glory would be too much to bear. Peter was left talking about making booths. In the Book of the Revelation, St. John the Divine saw Christ in all His glory and fell at His feet like a dead man. As Scripture says, "no one may look on God and live." But Jesus is kind and gentle toward us. He reserves His full blast glory for the Last Day.

For now, He comes hidden in humility. He is so hidden that sometimes people pass Him by without noticing. But the voice from the cloud draws our attention on where it needs to be: namely, on Jesus. "This is my beloved Son. Hear Him." As great as was this vision of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in His glory, the center and focus is always Jesus alone. The voice of the Father declares Him to be His beloved Son, just as He did at His Baptism. He directs our ears to His voice. "Listen to Him." Listen to Him because He alone has the words of eternal life. Listen to Him because His words are Spirit and they are life. Listen to Him because He is God's word of undeserved kindness to us. In the former times God spoke by the prophets, by Moses and Elijah. But now in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son Jesus Christ.

Where Jesus is, Moses and Elijah slip into the background. When Jesus speaks, Moses and Elijah become silent. With the Father's voice having spoken from the cloud, the gospel says that the disciples "saw no one but Jesus only."

Only Jesus. That's what the Mount of Transfiguration is all about. That's what the sacraments are all about. Only Jesus. Only He is God's beloved Son. Only He shines with the glory of God through human flesh and blood. Only He bore our sins in His own body nailed to the tree. Only He sits at the right hand of the Father to pray for us, to forgive us, to give us life in His Name. Only He reveals the glory of God to save us and deliver us.

And as Jesus has His way with us, we too are being transfigured, changed from the inside out, changed to be like Him. For now, that work is hidden under weakness. But on the Day when Jesus again appears in glory for all the world to see, He will change our bodies to be like His glorious body.

And what a Day of Transfiguration that will be! Our Lent will be changed to Easter. Our weakness will be transformed into strength. Every tear will be wiped away, and there will be no sorrow which is not turned to joy, as He brings about a “new heaven and a new earth,” restoring all things to Himself.

O God, who before the Passion of thy Only Begotten Son didst reveal his glory upon the holy mount: grant unto us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.



Behold our Lord transfigured,
In Sacrament Divine;
His glory deeply hidden,
'Neath forms of Bread and Wine.
Our eyes of faith behold Him,
Salvation is outpoured;
The Saviour dwells among us,
by ev'ry heart adored.


No longer on the mountain
With Peter, James and John,
Our precious Saviour bids us
To walk where saints have gone.
He has no lasting dwelling,
Save in the hearts of men;
He feeds us with His Body,
To make us whole again.


With Moses and Elijah,
We worship Christ our King;
Lord, make our souls transfigured,
Let us with angels sing.
Lead us in paths of glory,
Give tongues to sing thy praise;
Lord Jesus, keep us faithful,
Now and for all our days.


Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1990
Music: "Ewing" by Alexander C. Ewing, 1853

04 March 2020

The Ember Days


This week we keep the Lenten Ember Days.  The Ember Days are four separate sets of three days within the same week — specifically, the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday — within the circuit of the year, that are set aside for a modified fasting and prayer. They are known in Latin as the quattuor anni tempora (the "four seasons of the year"). There are those who say that the word “ember” is a corruption of the Latin "tempora" from the title, but it is as likely that it comes from the Old English word “ymbren” which means a “circle." As the year progresses and returns to its beginning, the ember days are part of the circle of the year. These days of prayer and fasting originated in Rome, and slowly spread throughout the Church. They were brought to England by St. Augustine with his arrival in the year 597.

These days are to be used to give thanks for the earth and for the good things God gives us - for our food, for the rain and the sunshine, for all the blessings of life through nature. And because of that, it is a time when we remind ourselves to treat creation with respect, and not waste the things God has given us.

Another important aspect of the Ember Days is for us to pray for those men called to be priests or deacons. We pray also for those who are already ordained – for our parish clergy, for our bishop, and for the Holy Father. Of course, we pray for all this throughout the year, but the Ember Days bring all this to mind in a special way, so that we can concentrate our prayers during these four periods of time throughout the year.

Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord, to us thy humble servants: that we, who do refrain ourselves from carnal feastings, may likewise fast from sin within our souls; 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 March 2020

St. Casimir, Confessor


St. Casimir known to the people of Poland as "The Peace-maker," was the third of the thirteen children of Casimir IV, King of Poland. Casimir was devout from the time he was a little child, and was known for his life dedicated to prayer and penance. Although he was part of the royal family, he often made his bed on the ground, and he would spend lots of the night in prayer and meditation, especially on the passion of Christ. He always wore very plain clothing, and under them he wore a hairshirt.

Because he lived constantly in the presence of God, Casimir always seemed serene and cheerful, and pleasant to everybody. He had a tremendous love of the poor, whom he saw as members of Christ's body, and he was known for giving his possessions away to relive the suffering of the poor.

Throughout his life he had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and he would often recite a long and beautiful hymn to the Virgin Mother – a hymn we know in English as "Daily, daily sing to Mary."

There came the time when the noblemen of neighboring Hungary became dissatisfied with their king.  In 1471 they went to King Casimir of Poland, the father of St. Casimir, to allow them to place young Casimir on the throne. At that time, Casimir hadn’t yet turned fifteen years old, and he really wanted no part of the plan, but in obedience to his father he set out towards Hungary at the head of an army.

As they got closer, Casimir’s soldiers heard that the King of Hungary had assembled a large and strong army, and so Casimir’s army began to desert and go back home. Casimir had been given no money by his father or the Hungarian noblemen, so he wasn’t able to pay his soldiers to stay. It became obvious that Casimir wasn’t going to be able to march into Hungary with any kind of an army at all, so on the advice of his officers, he decided to return home to Poland.

King Casimir was very angry with his son Casimir. He had wanted to see his son on the throne of Hungary, because that meant he could control that country, as well as be King of Poland. As young Casimir got closer to home, his father had troops meet him, and instead of allowing the young boy to go to his family in Cracow, instead his father imprisoned him in a dark, musty castle.

Young Casimir accepted that with great patience, and let his father know that he would stay in the castle dungeon forever, before he would ever take up arms again. His father finally released him, and Casimir returned to his life of study and prayer, but his life of penance and his time in the dungeon, meant that he developed a disease of the lungs, and he died when he was only twenty-six years old. He was buried at the Church of St. Stanislaus in Vilna. Many miracles were reported at his tomb, and he was canonized in 1521.

O God, who, amidst the pleasures of a temporal kingdom, didst endue thy blessed Saint Casimir with constancy to resist all temptations: grant, we beseech thee; that by his intercession, thy faithful people may learn to despise all things earthly, and to seek earnestly after all things heavenly; 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 March 2020

St. Katharine Drexel


Katharine Drexel was born in Philadelphia in 1858, into a very wealthy and prominent family, which meant that she had an excellent education and traveled widely. As a rich girl, she had a grand debut into society. But her life was radically changed when she nursed her stepmother through a three-year terminal illness, and she saw that all the Drexel money could not buy safety from pain or death.

She had read a book about the plight of the American Indians, and how difficult their lives were. Once, when she was on a tour of Europe, she met Pope Leo XIII and she asked him to send more missionaries to Wyoming, where a family friend was the bishop. The pope said to her, "Why don't you become a missionary?" His answer shocked her into considering new possibilities.

When she returned to America, she visited the Dakota Indian tribe, met the Sioux leader Red Cloud and began her systematic aid to Native American missions.

She could easily have married. But after much discussion with Bishop O'Connor, she wrote in 1889, "The feast of Saint Joseph brought me the grace to give the remainder of my life to the Indians and the Colored." Newspaper headlines screamed "Heiress gives Up Her Millions!"

After three and a half years of training, she and her first band of nuns (Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament) opened a boarding school in Santa Fe. A string of foundations followed. By 1942 she had a system of African American Catholic schools in thirteen states, plus forty mission centers and twenty-three rural schools. Segregationists harassed her work, even burning a school in Pennsylvania. In all, she established fifty missions for Native Americans in sixteen states.

Two saints met when she was advised by Mother Cabrini about the "politics" of getting her order's rule approved in Rome. Her crowning achievement was the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first university in the United States for African Americans.

At seventy-seven, she suffered a heart attack and was forced to retire. Apparently her life was over. But then came almost twenty years of quiet, intense prayer from a small room overlooking the sanctuary. Small notebooks and slips of paper record her various prayers, ceaseless aspirations and meditation. She died at ninety-six and was canonized in 2000.
- from various sources

O God of love, who didst call Saint Katharine Drexel to teach the message of the Gospel and to bring the life of the Eucharist to the Native American and African American peoples: by her prayers and example, enable us to work for justice among the poor and the oppressed; and keep us undivided in love in the Eucharistic family of thy Church; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

29 February 2020

Temptation


In the Scriptures we see two major accounts of temptation. First there was the temptation of Adam and Eve when they were in the Garden of Eden, and then there was the temptation of Jesus Christ when He was in the wilderness. In both these events there’s one common presence, one common figure: Satan.

But the two events are very different. The temptation of Adam and Eve resulted in the short-term triumph of Satan, and the fall of humanity into sin and death. The temptation of Christ resulted in the ultimate fall of Satan, and the rescue of humanity from sin and death.

Temptation, in and of itself, isn’t sinful. Christ was tempted in every way as we are, yet He was without sin. But there’s something else we should understand about temptation. Temptation is not so much a matter of choosing between good and evil; rather, we should understand it as being two opposite ways of experiencing the gifts of God. Something is “good” when it’s used according to the will of the God. Something is “evil” when it’s used against the will of God, and against God Himself.

So then, to be tempted is to be presented with circumstances in which we choose to misuse our gifts, so we end up being someone whom we’re not supposed to be in our relationship with God. Adam and Eve were tempted not to be the image of God. Satan tried to tempt Jesus not to be the Son of God. In our own temptations, we’re tempted to be something we’re not; namely, the devil tries to get us not to be the sons and daughters of God.

Temptation began in the Garden of Eden, the place God had made for the happiness and fulfillment of mankind. In the center of that garden were two trees, and these two trees defined the relationship between God and man. There was the tree of life, and there was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The central place in all that was God's place. Man's life is supposed to revolve around God, with God in the center. This means that life, knowledge, and death are God's to give. They’re not something that man can reach out and grab for himself. Man received his life and his knowledge as a gift from God, Who is in the center of it all. Man was made from the dust of the ground by the hand of God, and he had God's breath of life breathed into his nostrils. Man was alive with the life of God, and when he was created he knew only good, because he was created in the “image of God,” Who is the supreme Good.

In the center of the garden God had erected a boundary – a line which declared that there’s a difference between God and the image of God. There’s a difference between the Creator and His foremost creature, Man. Now, God had shown great care in this creation. Man had everything he needed for life as God intended it. Every tree in the garden was given to man for food to preserve his life - every tree, that is, except the tree of knowing good and evil. This was the only limit on man's freedom. He was free to eat of any tree in the garden except one. That was the boundary, and over that boundary man was not allowed to venture or he would die. For man to reach his hand over that line to take and eat the forbidden food, was to reach into the center - the place that only God may occupy. It was an attempt to usurp God's place. It was to try and be a kind of god in place of the one true God. It was to try and push God out from the center of life, to grab for something that wasn’t given to man. And to reach into that place reserved for God meant death, because only God can be God.

This is our temptation. We’re tempted to trespass the boundaries established by God, and to exercise a freedom without any limit whatsoever. We try to push God from the center and put ourselves there, to draw life and knowledge from ourselves and our experiences, rather than from God - to live as if God doesn’t matter and as if we mattered most. To try and live without God in the center is nothing other than death disguised as life. So then, what it comes down to is this: temptation is really a matter of life and death, not good and evil.

The temptation of Christ was an assault by Satan on Christ the Incarnate Word of God. And when we look at the first temptation, back in Genesis, it began with an assault on the very words of God. “Did God really say that you must not eat from any tree in the garden?” the serpent asked. That’s the question which formed the basis of Man’s first temptation – to call into question the word of God. Satan was luring Eve into stepping back and to become a critic of God’s word, rather than simply being the one to whom God was speaking. She was being invited to speculate about God, to judge God and His word, to draw conclusions about God apart from His word, to use her own subjective thought about God against God’s word. And what was Satan trying to make happen? Basically, if Eve’s experience conflicted with God’s word, then maybe God’s word was wrong, or she must have misunderstood it.

It’s a subtle temptation that Satan put before Eve, when he made her question what God had said. It’s a question that drives a wedge between God and Man. That’s what temptation is: the attempt to separate us from the God who loves us. And it’s something we’ve heard throughout history. “Don’t worry about the Ten Commandments – they’re the product of old-fashioned thinking and times gone by.” The temptation is to think that maybe God’s eternal law doesn't apply to our modern, enlightened situation, so making everything subjective. “Do I really have to listen to my parents if I disagree with them?” “Is it really murder if I feel that I just can’t cope with another child?” These are the sorts of questions we hear today. And when it comes to religion, it's a matter of questioning whether God really said, "This is my body; this is my blood" or did He mean something else? Did God really say to His apostles and their successors, "The sins you forgive are forgiven?" Did God really say, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved?" Did God really say that He forgives sin unconditionally, that Christ has died and been raised for us?

Satan is always trying to open a little crack, a tiny separation between God and man. And as we know very well, a serpent can slip into the smallest of openings. Satan, always the serpent, tries to force a little opening, because if he can just get his head in, and the rest of him will follow soon enough.

Adam and Eve decided to take charge of their own lives. And in taking charge, they lost control. Adam fell, and in Adam all mankind fell. Man reaches out to be "like God" and what he gets is death; but God reaches out to us in Christ, and He gives us life.

So much does God reach out to us, that Jesus was even led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil – but this means that Christ, in human flesh, has triumphed over temptation. And because we are baptized into Christ, His victory is our victory.

This doesn’t mean that we won’t be tempted. We will. The forty days of Lent remind us of this reality. We’ll be tempted in our flesh and in our faith. We’ll be tempted to try and care for ourselves, instead of being cared for by God. We’ll be tempted to despair of God's love, to doubt His promises, to live in denial of His forgiveness. We’ll be tempted to exchange the kingdom of God for the glory and the riches of the kingdoms of this world; to love things and hate God.

Temptations will come, but Adam in us must die and Christ in us must rise. Our comfort and strength in every temptation is that Christ has already triumphed over temptation in our place.

The cross of Christ is our tree of life, and it must be planted in the center of our life, because it’s through Christ and His cross that we have eternal life.

28 February 2020

Our best for God...


When we’re planning an important dinner party for respected guests we don’t rifle around in the refrigerator and drag out last Tuesday’s leftovers to warm up for the occasion. Instead, we make a special trip to the grocery store, list in hand, and find the best our circumstances will allow. We want the meal to represent our best offering as a sign of respect for those whom we’ve invited.

If this is true about dinner for our guests, surely it must be true when it comes to our relationship with God. The offering of our first-fruits to the Lord is a scriptural principle. It’s easy for us to slip into the bad habit of giving God our leftover time, our leftover money, and our leftover love. But the Lord, Who has given Himself for us, deserves nothing less than our very best.

A little thought to consider at the beginning of Lent.

27 February 2020

Fasting


At that time: the disciples of John came to Jesus, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

- St. Matthew 9:14-15


Lent is like athletic training for the soul. We’re encouraged to take up three practices which are as essential for spiritual health as are regular physical exercise and healthy diet for an athlete; namely, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Today, consider fasting.

The voluntary giving up things we may legitimately enjoy can be an expression of our love for God, and it can strengthen our wills and spiritual muscles. This helps us to resist the lures and lies of Satan, when he tempts us to make choices that we know to be sinful.

Fasting may be of many kinds, such as refraining from food or drink, or reducing the time we spend in front of the television or on our phones. It’s not that those things are bad in and of themselves, but we voluntarily fast from them so that we can become spiritually stronger in the face of temptations which may well be bad for us.

The prophet Isaiah reminds us of the wrong kind of fasting. “Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.” (Is. 58:4)

Let’s not forget what we’re really supposed to be fasting from, which is anything not pleasing to God, anything which gives a bad example to others, anything which stops us from doing God’s will.

26 February 2020

Taking up the cross...


At that time: Jesus said to his disciples, "The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." And he said to all, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

- St. Luke 9:22-25


Jesus had just asked the disciples who men said that He was, and Peter had just professed that He was the Christ, and then they heard our Lord say, "I must go to Jerusalem and die." He knew he had a work to complete. The Father’s will was His will. He had no other task but to do upon earth what the Father had sent him to do.  The Divine Son was under orders from the Father.

And in imitation of Christ, the Christian is also a man under orders. What are those orders? First, that we must deny ourselves. What does that mean? Think of it in this way: Peter once denied his Lord. He said of Jesus, "I do not know the man." So, to deny ourselves is to say, "I do not know myself." It is to ignore oneself. It is to treat the “self” as if it were not the most important thing to us – in fact, to treat it almost as though it doesn’t exist. Usually we treat ourselves as if our self was far and away the most important thing in the world. If we are to follow Jesus, we must put self aside.

And then, we are to take up our cross. To take up our cross means to be prepared to face sacrifice, suffering, and even death out of loyalty to Jesus. It means to be ready to endure the worst that can be done to us for the sake of being true to Him.

And the taking up of the cross is a voluntary thing. It isn’t something that is thrust upon us by surprise, but it is something we choose. Part of the reason for our Lenten discipline is to help us choose willingly the cross which has been prepared for us.

25 February 2020

As Lent begins...


In days gone by, the Pope, as the Bishop of Rome, would walk barefoot to St. Sabina's Church on the Aventine hill, built on the site of the martyr's house. It was there that he blessed the sackcloth which was worn by the Penitenti throughout Lent's forty days, and they would be covered also with ashes. The Penitenti were a special class of Christians who had committed very public and widely known sins. They were expelled from all Christian holy places on account of their sins, driven out, just as Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden, on account of their sin. After a long and public period of penance throughout Lent they were reconciled in the Body of Christ on Maundy Thursday by the bishop with sacramental absolution after the public confession of their sins.

When we are marked with ashes it is only a tiny remainder of what used to happen when the Christian Faith was first openly practiced in the Roman Empire. The imposition of ashes along with the admonition "Remember man, thou art but dust, and unto dust shalt thou return" reminds us of the truth that we have all sinned, and that as a consequence, we all stand under the sentence of death. We shall all return to the dust of the earth from which we were made.

Like so much in Catholic worship and life, whatever is signed and acted outwardly by the body is an external activity designed to effect changes in the inner soul. Behavior modification isn’t something recently discovered. The salutary effect of behavior changes in the body can, with the cooperation of the will, modify attitudes in the inner soul. The Church has always known this.

Of course, we need to understand that there is nothing about this which would denote a kind of "self-help" approach to salvation. Certainly, we cannot save ourselves by human "works."  We are obliged, however, to respond to God. God offers, and we respond. And response involves more than smiles, pious thoughts and good wishes. Our response is found in our human activity. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” Jesus said, "It’s not those who cry out Lord, Lord, who will be saved. It’s those who hear the word of God and keep it." Without our response, nothing changes within us.

God is at work. God is offering, calling, inviting and making Himself present to us in Christ. And Christ is working in us. He is interacting with us in His Mystical Body, the Church. He is working to bring about our salvation. He suffered and died for our sins. He suffered and died so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, our humanity can be raised up from spiritual death to victory.

So then, how can we not respond? How can we fail to act? How can we possibly ignore Him and turn away from all that God is doing for us in Christ?

Now is the time of our salvation. Now the day is at hand. Now is the opportunity for us to act. Now is the time for prayer, for fasting and for almsgiving, so that we might empty ourselves of those things that bring death, and make room for the Source of Life, Jesus Christ, to enter into us, to marry Himself to us, and to make us one with Him forever in Paradise. And that is the purpose of Lent: to prepare us for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

22 February 2020

The Chair of St. Peter


At that time: when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

- St. Matthew 16:13-19

Enshrined in the beautiful Bernini reliquary in St. Peter’s Basilica is a chair which was known in the sixth century, parts of which date to the earliest years of the Christian faith. This is the famous Chair of St. Peter. It’s the reason for the feast we celebrate, and is the dedication of the Ordinariate to which we belong.

Why would the entire Catholic world celebrate a feast in honor of a chair? It’s got to be for more reason than that an apostle sat on it – and indeed the reason goes beyond that alone. This Chair is the concrete symbol to us of the authority and primacy of St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, the one to whom our Lord entrusted the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, and who was called the Rock on which Christ would build His Church.

At the opening of the Gospel appointed for this feast, Jesus has gone with His disciples to the region of Caesarea Philippi, a place with a very long and important history – and a place in which pagan worship had been very strong for centuries. In fact, a very beautiful temple had been built there by Herod the Great in honor of Caesar. Also there were several temples dedicated to the worship of Baal. And not only was there the worship of Baal going on here, but nearby there was a great hill, in which there was a deep cavern, and the legend was that this cavern was the birthplace of the Greek god Pan, the god of nature, so this area was also a center for the worship of various pagan Greek gods.

That sets the scene. Here it was, in this area so firmly dedicated to false worship – a place of demonic sacrifices to pagan gods – it was here that Jesus turned to His disciples and asked, “Who do men say that I am?” And as the disciples were thinking about their answers, they would have been looking at the various pagan temples and grottoes surrounding them throughout the area, and so they wanted to answer carefully. There were many reminders around them of how wrong people can be when it comes to religion. So it was almost like they were testing the waters – “Well, some say that you’re John the Baptist; there are others who say that you’re Elijah; some say that you’re one of the prophets.” But our Lord wants them to get this clear in their minds. He wants this to be their own answer, and so He lets them know that He’s not interested in what others are saying. He asks them for a straight answer: “And you – who do you say that I am?” It’s Peter, the one who would be the Rock, the Prince of the Apostles, Christ’s Vicar on earth – it is he who says, “You are the Christ.”

In fact, this is not unlike the situation in which we find ourselves now, in our own day – surrounded by strange beliefs, many of which are completely at odds with the revealed truth of the Christian faith, and Jesus is asking us: “Who do you say that I am?” What took place in the Gospel was one of those moments that are referred to “hinge moments” in history. Something that had never been said before, was now put into words. “You are the Christ.” In those few words, Peter is proclaiming that Jesus is the one who would bring to Israel the glory which had been promised since the days of Abraham, the day for which all creation was preparing from the very beginning.

And so, because of those words – that great confession made by the apostle designated by Christ as the Rock – the fragments of the Chair of St. Peter are venerated. It’s venerated because it was from that very place that the first Pope, the Vicar of Christ, continued to teach the truth which had been entrusted to him by our Lord Himself. And that truth has been passed on in its entirety throughout the centuries, and it will continue until Christ returns in glory.

The Chair of St. Peter is a reminder to us that we are not members of some man-made religion, but that we are part of the one true Church, founded by our Lord Jesus Christ upon the Rock which will endure until the end of time and into eternity itself. No matter how fierce the storm, no matter how vicious the attacks, whether they are from the outside or from within, that Rock remains the one sure foundation upon which we safely stand.

O Almighty God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst give to thy Apostle Saint Peter many excellent gifts, and commandedst him earnestly to feed thy flock: make, we beseech thee, all Bishops and Pastors diligently to preach thy holy Word, and the people obediently to follow the same; that they may receive the crown of 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.

21 February 2020

The power of the tongue...


"If we put bits into the mouths of horses that they may obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Look at the ships also; though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire."

– St. James 3:3-6a


St. James, in his brief epistle, reminds us of the power of the tongue by giving us a couple of familiar pictures from everyday life.

We know that when a bridle is placed on a horse, we can control the whole horse simply by the small bit in its mouth. So St. James makes the point that if we can control the tongue, we can control the whole body, but if the tongue is uncontrolled, then our whole life is set on the wrong path.

He then makes the same point using a ship’s rudder as the example. The rudder is extremely small in comparison to the size of a ship, and yet when we put a little pressure on that rudder, the course of the whole ship can be altered. So also the tongue, small as it is, can direct the whole course of an individual’s life.

St. James isn’t saying that silence is always better than speaking. What he is teaching us, however, is that we must control our tongues. When we speak, we must be sure that we’re speaking prudently.

To illustrate this, St. James uses yet another picture. He points out the damage that can be caused by a small flame, or even a spark, which can turn into a raging forest fire. This is an especially apt illustration for what he is saying. The damage to a huge forest, beginning with a small spark, can be all-consuming.

A chance word dropped in one place can cause tremendous damage someplace else. We have no control over what happens once we set the spark of some misplaced word. Almost before we know it, it can rage out of control. Is there anything harder to kill than a rumour? Is there anything more difficult to stamp out than an idle story? So, before we speak, we need to remember than once a word is spoken it is gone from our control.

20 February 2020

St. Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor


Peter was orphaned when he was very young child, and had the misfortune of being taken in by one of his older brothers who was very cruel to him. Another brother named Damian, who was a priest, saw this unjust treatment, and so took Peter into his own house, and cared for him. Peter was so grateful to this brother’s kindness that he added his name to his own, and was forevermore known as Peter Damian. Because of the previous ill-treatment, Peter Damian was always very good to the poor.  It was quite usual for him to invite the poor to eat with him, and he would care personally for them their needs. Also, because of his brother’s generosity to him, Peter Damian was able to receive an excellent education, and eventually became a university professor in Ravenna.

From early in his life Peter Damian was very strict with himself. He wore a hair shirt under his clothes, he fasted, and he spent many hours in prayer. Soon he decided to leave his teaching and give himself completely to prayer with the Benedictines. Peter Damian was so eager to pray, and he slept so little, that it began to take a toll on his health, and the other monks warned him to use some prudence in taking care of himself.

When his abbot died, Peter Damian was chosen to take his place, and subsequently founded five more monasteries. He encouraged his brothers in a life of prayer and solitude and wanted nothing more for himself. The Holy See periodically called on him, however, to be a mediator in various disputes that might arise, or if some cleric or government official had a disagreement with Rome.

Eventually Pope Stephen IX made Peter the cardinal-bishop of Ostia. He worked hard to bring about much-needed reform, by encouraging his priests to lead chaste and holy lives, and to maintain scheduled prayer and proper religious observance. He sought to restore discipline among religious and priests, warning them against excessive travel and too comfortable living. He concerned himself with what might seem to be small details – for instance, he once wrote to a bishop to point out that his clergy were sitting down for the psalms in the Divine Office – but he knew that care in small things would lead to carefulness in more important things.

He was eventually allowed to retire as cardinal-bishop of Ostia, and he was happy to become once again a simple monk, but he was still called to serve as a papal mediator from time to time. It was when returning from such an assignment in Ravenna that he was developed a fever. With the monks gathered around him saying the Divine Office, he died on February 22, 1072. In 1828 he was declared a Doctor of the Church.

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that we may so follow the teaching and example of thy blessed Confessor and Bishop, St. Peter Damian; that learning of him to despise all things earthly, we may attain in the end to everlasting felicity; Through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

19 February 2020

"You are the Christ."


Jesus went on with his disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that I am?" And they told him, "John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others one of the prophets." And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ." And he charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men."

-St. Mark 8:27-33


Caesarea Philippi was outside of Galilee and it had a long pagan history. In ancient times it had been a great center for the worship of Baal and also it was said to be the birthplace of the Greek god Pan, the god of nature. From a cave in the hillside there is a stream gushing out which was considered to be the source of the River Jordan, and further up on that same hillside there was a gleaming temple of white marble which had been built in honor of Caesar, the Roman Emperor, who was regarded as a god.

It was there, in that center of pagan worship, that Peter was inspired to recognize Jesus as the Christ. This place which had echoed with reverence toward pagan gods, and memories of Baal, with the huge marble temple to Caesar – like a backdrop of all religions and history – it was there that St. Peter made his great confession. It comes in the very middle of St. Mark’s gospel, and it serves as the climax of the whole Gospel.

And then Jesus decided to put His disciples to the test. He asked them what men were saying about Him, and He heard from them the popular rumours and reports. But then He put the question which meant so much. “Who do you say that I am?” And suddenly Peter realized what he had always known deep down in his heart. This was the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of God.

And then we see Jesus do and say what He has done before. No sooner had Peter declared this, than Jesus told His disciples that they must tell no one. Why? Because, first and foremost, Jesus had to teach Peter and the others what Messiahship really meant – not the common, mistaken Jewish notion of Messiahship which looked for an earthly military leader, but the truth about the Messiah, as it was demonstrated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When Jesus connected Messiahship with suffering and death, He was making statements that were, to the disciples, both incredible and incomprehensible. All their lives they had thought of the Messiah in terms of conquest and nationalistic victory, but now they were being presented with an idea which was utterly revolutionary. That’s why Peter protested so strongly. To him, the whole thing seemed impossible.

But why did Jesus rebuke Peter so sternly? Because Peter was putting into words the very temptations which Satan had put to Jesus in the desert. The turning of stones into bread, the claim of an earthly kingship – all that was offered by Satan to Jesus in the wilderness, if only Jesus would kneel down and do homage to Satan. And what made this even worse was that Peter was one who was loved by Jesus – it was Peter’s loving voice that was saying all of this – and this is why Jesus answered so sternly.

18 February 2020

Sight to the blind...


And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man, and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the village; and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands upon him, he asked him, "Do you see anything?" And he looked up and said, "I see men; but they look like trees, walking." Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and saw everything clearly. And he sent him away to his home, saying, "Do not even enter the village."

- St. Mark 8:22-26


Blindness, in the time of Jesus, and at that time in history especially, was not uncommon. In many cases it probably was caused by a combination of genetics, the glaring sunlight, and a general lack of hygiene. This particular incident is told only in St. Mark’s Gospel, and there are some very interesting things contained in this event.

As is frequently seen in the interaction that our Lord has with people in need is the great consideration shown by Him to the individual. Jesus took him out of the crowd and out of the village, so that they could be alone. Why? Remember that this man apparently had been born blind, and if he had been suddenly given back his sight in the midst of a large crowd of people, there would have come into his eyes suddenly hundreds of people and things, dazzling colors, sights he never could have imagined, and he would have been completely bewildered. Jesus knew it would be far better if he could be taken to a place where this would be less dramatic or traumatic.

And as was His usual practice, Jesus used methods that the individual could understand. Those in the ancient world believed in the healing power of spittle, and this belief isn’t so strange, when we think about it. Isn’t our first instinct, when we have a cut or burnt finger, to put it into our mouths? I can well remember from my childhood on the farm, when an animal was cut or scraped, the best medicine often seemed to be to let the animal lick its wounds, which tended to speed the healing. This would have been common knowledge, and so Jesus used a method of curing him which he could understand. He didn’t begin with words or methods which were foreign to ordinary people, and this is part of the greatness of Christ: His greatness can be comprehended by the simplest of minds.

There’s one thing in this miracle that is unique among all of Christ’s miracles, and that is that it’s the only one which can be said to have happened gradually. Usually, Christ’s miracles happened suddenly and completely. In this miracle the blind man’s sight came back in stages – perhaps in consideration of the man himself, to spare him the shock – but also for a symbolic reason, too. No one sees the totality of God’s truth all at once. Certainly, a conversion to God can be sudden, but the apprehension of God’s truth is always gradual, and rarely can we know or see all of God’s truth without effort and time and progression.