21 November 2015

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.

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. Cecilia, 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.

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.

20 November 2015

Presentation of Mary

St. Joachim and St. Anne, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, had prayed for a child, and part of their prayer was the promise that they would dedicate their child to the service of God. Little did they know at that time what great service would be given by their infant daughter.

When Mary reached the age of three, her parents fulfilled their vow. Together with their family and friends, they took her to the Temple. The High Priest and other Temple priests greeted the procession, and tradition says that the child was brought before the fifteen high steps which led to the sanctuary. It is said that the child Mary made her way to the stairs and, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, ascended all fifteen steps, coming to the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest could enter. Tradition then says that the High Priest, acting outside every rule he knew, led the Holy Virgin into the Holy of Holies, astonishing everyone present in the Temple. So it was that she, whose own womb would become the Holy of Holies, came into the presence of the God Whom she would bear.

St. Joachim and St. Anne returned to their home, but the Handmaid of the Lord remained in the Temple until her espousal, where she was prepared by God and protected by angels.

O God, who on this day didst vouchsafe that blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, the dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost, should be presented in the Temple: Grant, we beseech thee; that by her intercession we may be found worthy to be presented unto thee in the temple of thy glory; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

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19 November 2015

St. Edmund, King and Martyr

On November 20th we commemorate St. Edmund, King and Martyr, who lived in the 9th century. He was the king of East Anglia, an independent kingdom within the confederation of kingdoms which comprised England at that time. His name, Edmund, meant “noble protection,” and as an earthly king he certainly lived up to his name. He had a reputation for compassion and the protection of the weak, of widows and of orphans. His greatest challenge, however, was the invasion of his kingdom by the Danish Vikings. They weren’t complete foreigners to the people of East Anglia. They were of the same race, and in fact, their languages were so similar that they were able to understand one another. No, there was only one essential difference between the Danish Vikings and the English - the Vikings were heathens, and the English were Christians.

The Vikings attacked and destroyed churches and monasteries, homes and villages, all throughout the kingdom. King Edmund fought side by side with the great Christian King Alfred. Edmund did his best, but he was finally overwhelmed by the huge numbers of Danes. At Hoxne in the north of Suffolk, King Edmund was captured. The Danes made him an offer: he could renounce his faith and become a puppet-king under them, or he could die. For King Edmund that was no choice at all. He would never renounce his Catholic faith, and so he chose death. There is an eyewitness report from that time, and it tells how he was scourged and bound, then tied to an oak-tree where the Danes fired arrows at him as for target practice. Finally, after suffering immensely from his many wounds, King Edmund was beheaded. His body was thrown to the wild beasts, but his loyal subjects secretly found his body, entombed him in a small chapel, and there he rested among his people. As they sought his heavenly intercession, God sent blessings upon them, and Edmund continued to be king in their hearts, as their faith in Christ the King grew stronger and stronger.

O God of ineffable mercy, thou didst give grace and fortitude to St. Edmund the king to triumph over the enemy of his people by nobly dying for thy Name: Bestow on us thy servants, we beseech thee, the shield of faith, wherewith we may withstand the assaults of our ancient enemy; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

17 November 2015

Dedication of Ss. Peter and Paul

Almighty and eternal Father, who out of the living stones of thy chosen people hast made a temple meet for thy glory; Multiply, we beseech thee, thy blessings upon the Church, that thy faithful people may draw ever closer to the new and heavenly Jerusalem; 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.

15 November 2015

St. Margaret of Scotland

St. Margaret lived in the 11th century, and she was the great-niece of St. Edward the Confessor. She was a Saxon princess, but she was raised in Hungary in exile. Eventually, she and her parents returned to England, but she was forced flee once again after the Battle of Hastings. She went to the court of Malcolm, who was the King of Scotland.

Malcolm was an unrefined man, and Scotland was a wild place – but Margaret and Malcolm fell in love, and they were married. Margaret, in her gentle way and through her exemplary life, lived her Catholic faith in such a way that Malcolm and the people of Scotland gradually changed their ways to be more conformed to Christ’s teaching.

Margaret was a model mother and queen who brought up her eight children in an atmosphere of great devotion and she continued worked hard to improve the lives of the people of Scotland. She had a particular love for the poor, and provided for them out of her own resources, very often serving them herself.

O God, who didst call thy servant St. Margaret of Scotland to an earthly throne that she might advance thy heavenly kingdom, and didst give her zeal for thy Church and love for thy people: Mercifully grant that we who commemorate her this day may be fruitful in good works, and attain to the glorious crown of thy saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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12 November 2015

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, used 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.

O Almighty God, who hast compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of thy servant St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at length, through thy mercy, we may with her attain to thine eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

11 November 2015

St. Josaphat, Martyr for Unity

St. Josaphat was born about the year 1580 in what was the Polish province of Lithuania and was raised as an Eastern Rite Catholic. He had a deep devotion to the suffering of Christ, and looked at the schism between East and West as a wound in the Church as the Sacred Body of our Lord. As a young man in his mid-twenties he entered religious life, joining the Ukrainian Order of Saint Basil (known as the Basilians), and as a monk he gave himself over to penance and mortification, going barefoot even in winter, and eating only the poorest food.

In 1618, after living as a monk for nearly fifteen years, he was appointed to be archbishop of the Eastern Rite Diocese of Polotzk, and he devoted his energies to work for the reunion of the Church, all the while deepening the faith of his people through his preaching and his example. There were those in the Orthodox Church, not in union with Rome, who were very much against his work towards unity, and a group of them decided he must be stopped, making plans to assassinate him. In fact, St. Josaphat knew there were many who did not want unity, and he knew his life was in danger; however, he pressed forward in his work to heal the rift between East and West.

One day when he was visiting part of his diocese in territory which is now in Russia, his enemies made an attack on the place where he was staying, and many of those who were traveling with St. Josaphat were killed. Quietly and with humility, St. Josaphat went toward the attackers and asked them why they had done such a thing, saying to them, “If you have something against me, see, here I am.” The crowd screamed at him saying, “Kill the papist!” They ran towards him with their weapons, killing him with an axe-blow to his head.

St. Josaphat's body was thrown into the river, but it remained on the surface of the water, surrounded by rays of light, and was recovered. Those who had murdered him, when they were sentenced to death, repented of what they had done. Through the gentle example of St. Josaphat and helped by his heavenly intercession, through the grace of God they became Catholics.

Raise up, O Lord, we pray thee, in thy Church the Spirit whereby Saint Josaphat thy martyr and bishop laid down his life for the sheep: That by his intercession, we, being moved and strengthened by the same, may not fear to lay down our lives for our brethren; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

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A Prayer for Veterans' Day

O Lord, we give You thanks for our veterans, for their willingness to risk all so that our nation might dwell in peace and safety. May they receive the honor and recognition they deserve. We pray for those who suffer from physical, spiritual, and psychological wounds, that they might know Your healing presence. We pray for our nation, that it may treasure the freedoms which have been won through the sacrifices and courage of those who have given themselves for the protection of others. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

10 November 2015

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.

Lord God of hosts, who didst clothe thy servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and didst set him as a bishop in thy Church to be a defender of the catholic faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

09 November 2015

Pope 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 our God, grant that thy Church, following the teaching of thy servant St. Leo of Rome, may hold fast the great mystery of our redemption, and adore the one Christ, true God and true Man, neither divided from our human nature nor separate from thy divine Being; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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08 November 2015

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.

Almighty and eternal Father, who out of the living stones of thy chosen people hast made a temple meet for thy glory; Multiply, we beseech thee, thy blessings upon the Church, that thy faithful people may draw ever closer to the new and heavenly Jerusalem; 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.
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Here are some thoughts on the Gospel for this Feast:


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.

07 November 2015

Solemn Evensong and Fauré Requiem

On Sunday, November 8, 2015, at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church will celebrate Solemn Evensong for All Souls. We will be featuring the Gabriel Fauré "Requiem" sung by the Parish Festival Choir and The Atonement Academy Honors Choir. Please join us in praying for all the faithful departed.

This will be a time of prayer and exquisite music which you will not want to miss.

05 November 2015


I'm teaching a scripture course at the parish on St. Mark's Gospel. The following story was part of what we covered this week.  As I was teaching, my mind flashed back to sixty years ago...

And when Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, `Rise, take up your pallet and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" -- he said to the paralytic -- "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"  - St. Mark 2:1-12

This is one of the Gospel stories that has captured my imagination from the time I was a child. I can still hear my old Sunday School teacher reading it to us. As she explained it to us, there wasn't any question about the miraculous healing itself -- Jesus had, of course, healed the man. The lesson she drew out of it (and this was what impressed my child's mind) was the obvious love the friends had for this man. They were so persistent! They couldn't get through the crowd, so they willingly put in the great effort of carrying their paralyzed friend up to the roof-top, making an opening large enough, and then letting him down into the presence of Jesus.

It was such a simple lesson she was imparting to us about friendship, as our young minds considered the effort these men were willing to make. I remember she asked us about how we treated our friends. Did we become impatient when someone couldn't keep up with us in a game? Were we cruel toward someone because they weren't part of our close circle of friends? Did we go out of our way to show kindness to others?

As those of us in that class of very young children listened to her, it formed new and unaccustomed thoughts of unselfishness in us (you know how self-centered children can sometimes be!) and I believe it was one of those moments that brought us a deeper idea of friendship. Suddenly in our minds we began considering the importance of befriending people not for what we could get, but rather, for what we could give.

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04 November 2015

"I absolve you..."

It is my privilege to spend many hours every week in the confessional. As I hear the low voices whispering the sins which are common to most of us, there's always a temptation to try and be "original and creative" in giving advice and guidance. But the confessional is the place for the tried-and-true. Our Holy Mother the Church has been dispensing medicine for these two thousand years, and She knows what is best: the truth, spoken gently but clearly, and then the comforting and liberating words of absolution. The penitent doesn't need or want the priest's creativity; the penitent needs and wants Christ's love and forgiveness.

03 November 2015

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."

O heavenly Father, Shepherd of thy people, we give thee thanks for thy servant St. Charles, who was faithful in the care and nurture of thy flock; and we pray that, following his example and the teaching of his holy life, we may by thy grace grow into the stature of the fullness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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St. Martin de Porres

St. Martin de Porres was born in very difficult circumstances. His mother was a woman who had been a slave, but now freed, and was of African background. His father was of Spanish nobility who was living in Peru. St. Martin’s parents were not married, but lived as common law man and wife, and they had two children, Martin and his sister. The children inherited the dark complexion and African features of their mother, and the father, who was cruel and shallow in his attitude towards race, left the family, and they were reduced to poverty. Because they were of mixed race, this meant that Martin and his sister were considered to be on the lowest level of Lima’s society.

When Martin was 12, his mother apprenticed him to a barber-surgeon. He learned how to cut hair and also how to give basic medical care, which was usual for barbers at that time. After a few years in this medical apostolate, St. Martin applied to the Dominicans to be a "lay helper," not feeling himself worthy to be a religious brother. After nine years, the example of his prayer and penance, charity and humility led the community to request him to make full religious profession. Many of his nights were spent in prayer and penitential practices; his days were filled with nursing the sick and caring for the poor. He treated all people regardless of their color, race or status. He was instrumental in founding an orphanage, took care of slaves brought from Africa and managed the daily alms of the priory with practicality as well as generosity. He became the procurator for both priory and city, whether it was a matter of "blankets, shirts, candles, candy, miracles or prayers!" When his priory was in debt, he said, "I am only a poor mulatto. Sell me. I am the property of the order. Sell me."

Side by side with his daily work in the kitchen, laundry and infirmary, Martin's life reflected God's extraordinary gifts: ecstasies that lifted him into the air, light filling the room where he prayed, bilocation, miraculous knowledge, instantaneous cures and a remarkable rapport with animals. His charity extended to beasts of the field and even to the vermin of the kitchen. He would excuse the raids of mice and rats on the grounds that they were underfed; he kept stray cats and dogs at his sister's house.

Many of his fellow religious took him as their spiritual director, but he continued to call himself a "poor slave." He was a good friend of another Dominican saint of Peru, Rose of Lima.

O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: Deliver us, we pray thee, from an inordinate love of this world, that, inspired by the devotion of thy servant St. Martin de Porres, we may serve thee with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

01 November 2015

Indulgence for Souls in Purgatory

One of the spiritual works of mercy is to pray for the Faithful Departed, who can do no more for themselves. There are plenary indulgences assigned to this season, outlined in the Enchiridion, which you may obtain for the Holy Souls in Purgatory:

1. A plenary indulgence, applicable ONLY to the souls in purgatory, may be obtained by those who, on All Souls Day, piously visit a church, public oratory, or for those entitled to use it, a semi-public oratory. It may be acquired either on the day designated as All Souls Day or, with the consent of the bishop, on the preceding or following Sunday or the feast of All Saints. On visiting the church or oratory it is required that one Our Father and the Creed be recited.

2. You may make a visit to a Cemetery or Columbarium. A plenary indulgence is applicable to the souls in Purgatory when one devoutly visits and prays for the departed. This work may be done each day between November 1 and November 8.

To obtain a Plenary Indulgence, one must fulfill the following requirements:

1. Make a Sacramental Confession,
2. Receive Holy Communion,
3. Offer prayer for the intention of the Holy Father.

All these are to be performed within days of each other, if not at the same time.

Venerating the Saints

The following is a list of the relics of saints which have been placed on the Lady Chapel Altar for your veneration:

The Holy Apostles, Ss. Peter, James the Greater, John, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the Lesser, Simon the Zealot, Jude Thaddaeus, Matthias.

St. Barnabas, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Luke the Evangelist, St. John Neumann, St. Paul the Apostle, St. Pius X, St. Dominic , St. Nicholas of Myra, St. Gregory the Great, St. Bede the Venerable, St. Laurence, St. Camillus, St. Anne, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Augustine, St. Stephen Protomartyr, St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Adrian, St. Margaret of Castello, St. Ambrose, Bl. Francis Xavier Seelos, St. Clare of Assisi, St. John Bosco, St. Theresa of the Infant Jesus, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Julia, St. Francis de Sales, St. Maria Goretti, Bl. John Henry Newman (2nd class).

29 October 2015

Real hope for the future...

We had our academic awards ceremony yesterday at The Atonement Academy (we refer to it, tongue-in-cheek, as The Academy Awards). We give Gold Arrow and Silver Arrow awards, and I am constantly impressed with these students. It's not easy to get an academic award here. Our standards are high and our demands are rigorous, but it's wonderful to see the number of students who manage to achieve academic excellence.

It's not just the high level of academic achievement which impresses me, however. These are students who also excel on the athletic field and in the choir loft. They're involved in pro-life activities and other works of charity. They're serious about their faith.  Are they perfect? Obviously not...but that's why I get a steady stream of them knocking on my office door and asking, "Father, do you have a few minutes to hear my confession?" They know there's always room for improvement, and they're eager to grow spiritually. They're at Mass daily, and these kids actually look forward to it. They come for spiritual advice, because they're concerned about pleasing God.

I love these kids, and I can't imagine what it would be like around here if the parish didn't have a school. I know there are some of my brother priests and some of our diocesan "professional educators" who think I'm overly protective and even a micro-manager because I insist on such things as having only practicing Catholics on our faculty, or because I won't adopt the government-school agenda, especially when it appeared as the incarnation called "Common Core."

I didn't have the advantage of a Catholic school education. Of course, public school education was a bit different fifty years ago from what it is today, but the seeds of destruction were already planted even then. The formation of children in the fullness of truth is all-important, and for us as Catholics it is by far the best when our children are formed through a seamless partnership between the Catholic home and the Catholic school.

We're in our twentieth year since the founding of the Academy, and although the devil has tried to destroy it from time to time, God has preserved it, and He continues to nurture it, and I absolutely love being part of it. As student after student came forward to receive the Gold and Silver Arrow Awards, I gave thanks to God, and I have absolute confidence that the Church will continue to provide, through the lives of these young Catholics, the much-needed medicine for our ailing society.

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27 October 2015

St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles

Both Simon and Jude were ordinary men who were chosen by Jesus Himself to teach others about God’s love and to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Their lives help us to understand that even the most ordinary people can become saints when they decide to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

Both these men were known by other names during their lives. Simon was often called “the Zealot.” He firmly believed in the importance of people following Jewish law. Once he met Jesus, his life was changed and he became convinced that the most important thing was to follow the Lord and His teachings. We believe that another reason Simon had a nickname was to keep people from confusing him with the other Apostle named Simon, the one Jesus called Peter.

Jude was also known as “Jude Thaddeus.” People used this formal title so that he was not confused with Judas, the Apostle who betrayed Jesus and handed Him over to be arrested. Jude is the patron saint of hopeless cases. People often pray to Jude when they feel that there is no one else to turn to. They ask Jude to bring their problem to Jesus. Because Jude had such great faith, we know that nothing is impossible for those who believe in the Lord.

Simon and Jude traveled together to teach others about Jesus. Because of their eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ miracles and His death and resurrection, many people became believers and were baptized. Simon and Jude died for their faith on the same day in Persia, the land we now call Iran. These two saints remind us to learn all we can about Jesus and to share it with others, as they did.

O God, we thank thee for the glorious company of the apostles, and especially on this day for Ss. Simon and Jude; and we pray that, as they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so we may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

When small means big...

One of Christ’s best-known descriptions of the Kingdom of God likens it to a mustard seed, which, although among the smallest of seeds, grows up into a mighty shrub.  Not only is it an apt picture of the Kingdom, but it is well-suited to describe the actions of our own lives as Christians.  We may never know the wider ramifications of some small word or deed, how it might be just the catalyst for a dramatic change in someone's life.  God often uses a small action or a quiet word of encouragement to accomplish a great thing.

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There is a mystery to stained glass.  When one views it during the day from outside, it appears to be nothing but darkness.  There is no beauty, no riot of color, no apparent reason for its existence.  But step inside, and what was darkness becomes a thing of beauty and meaning.  Mysteries of the faith are brought to life through the artisan's craft.  Things are seen that never could have been imagined when standing outside. 

This makes for an apt illustration of the Church itself.  To remain outside is to be cheated of so much of the beauty of what Christ has done for us, and to miss the fullness of the truth He teaches.  Just as natural light, when filtered through stained glass, becomes a thing of immense beauty, so when the Light of Christ is perceived through that "window" of His own creation -- the Church -- we come to know things that only the angels could have imagined.

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25 October 2015

"Lantern of the Lothians"

One of the truly beautiful hymn tunes in the Church’s treasury is David Evans’ “Lucerna Laudoniae.” The name of the tune means “Lantern of the Lothians,” which was a Franciscan monastery at Haddington, East Lothian in Scotland. The monastery was destroyed in 1355, but in the fifteenth-century a church was built on the site – and it is now immortalized by this simple and dignified hymn tune.

There are several texts which have made use of the tune, perhaps the most famous being “For the beauty of the earth.” Some years ago I wrote the following words specifically for the tune.

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

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

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

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

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

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22 October 2015

Remembering history...

As we celebrate the Feast of Pope St. John Paul II it should be recognized by all who benefit from the establishment of the three existing Ordinariates that in him they have a pioneer and a heavenly patron. His place should be acknowledged. While it is true to say that these jurisdictions were the creation of Pope (now Emeritus) Benedict XVI, it was St. John Paul II who first made a place for the Anglican Patrimony in the Catholic Church, and by his action the possibility of what we know as the Ordinariates was made clear.

In the Decree issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, dated July 22, 1980 (Prot. N. 66/77), regarding the care of the reconciled lay Faithful and speaking of the structure of what was called the "Common Identity" of the Pastoral Provision, it is stated that "the preference expressed by the majority of the Episcopal Conference for the insertion of these reconciled Episcopalians into the diocesan structures under the jurisdiction of local Ordinaries is recognized." There was no juridical reason to go further. However, it did. An important sentence immediately followed in the Decree: "Nevertheless, the possibility of some other type of structure as provided for by canonical dispositions, and as suited to the needs of the group, is not excluded."

With that statement the spade began turning the soil, preparing the ground for Anglicanorum Coetibus. The important place St. John Paul II has occupied in all this from the very beginning should not be forgotten.

History is clear. St. John Paul II was the first to give our Anglican Patrimony an honoured place in the Church, and it was his own trusted and beloved successor who brought to fruition "the possibility of some other type of structure..."

Sancte Ioannes Paule, ora pro nobis.

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My morning with a saint...

I have posted this before, but several people asked if I would again:

Approaching the feast day of St. John Paul II has triggered the memory of one of the most amazing times of my life. It was in November of 1983 that I was in Rome, taking part in the meetings which would result in the Book of Divine Worship, which serves as the foundation of the Anglican Use liturgy in the Catholic Church. 
It was my first time in Rome. I had been ordained as a Catholic priest only a few months before. They were rather heady days for a young priest, walking each morning from the Casa del Clero to the Vatican offices where we were working. 
On my first morning in Rome, I needed to find an altar where I could say Mass. There was a concelebrated Mass at the Casa, but I was ready for an adventure, so I headed on foot to St. Peter’s Basilica. I knew I needed to get there early, and I knew I should head immediately to the sacristy. Beyond that, I was completely ignorant about making arrangements for celebrating Mass there. 
Arriving in the sacristy, and after being overwhelmed by my walk through the basilica, I was fortunate that the man at the desk was patient (and by Vatican standards, even somewhat merciful). He directed me to the vesting area, summoned an altar boy for me, and before long I was following the young server down the long corridor out into the basilica. 
In my mind I can still hear the murmur of Masses being said at altar after altar, some with small congregations, others with a solitary priest. Eventually I was taken to one of the many side altars, and I began the celebration of the Mass, my first in Rome. 
It was strangely comforting to hear the low hum of the other Masses proceeding, as I made my way through the liturgy. Everything seemed to be at a concentrated level as I began the Eucharistic prayer.  At the consecration of the Host, when I genuflected, my eyes happened to catch the inscription on the front of the altar: S. Gregorius Magnus. It was overwhelming for me as I continued with the Mass, knowing that I was celebrating Holy Mass at the tomb of Pope St. Gregory, who had sent St. Augustine to England. 
After Mass, as I made my way out of the basilica, reality returned with the work at hand. All of us serving on the special commission spent a brief time getting to know one another, and the discussions began. Although I threw myself into the work, and felt the excitement of participating in something historic, the recurring thought came to me that I would very much like to attend the upcoming Wednesday general audience with the Pope. It was a few days before that when I began to drop subtle hints, but the work was keeping us very busy. One of the kindly bishops also serving in the group knew what I was thinking, and he spoke to me during one of our breaks. He expressed his regret that our work would keep me occupied during the Wednesday audience, and then he said something which seemed rather mysterious. “On Thursday morning, if you will be in the Piazza San Pietro just to the right of the obelisk at 5:00 a.m., there will be a surprise for you,” he said. 
I couldn’t imagine what he meant, but I was there by 4:00 a.m. because I could hardly sleep with the anticipation of this mystifying appointment I was keeping. It was still dark as I was saying the rosary, with the moon hanging over St. Peter’s Basilica, and when 5:00 a.m. came, I caught sight of a sliver of artificial light coming from an opening door off to my right. Being summoned to the open door by a guard, a most wonderful pilgrimage began at the bottom of a long flight of stairs. 
I still was unaware of what was waiting for me – perhaps a glimpse of some great art treasure, I thought, or maybe a private visit to the basilica – whatever it was to be, it was still a mystery to me. We reached a landing on the staircase, and entered an elevator. The elevator went up a few floors and then stopped. When we exited, we were asked to turn to the right and go down another corridor. After walking several yards, I happened to glance to my left through some open doors. The mystery was solved. 
There in front of me was the Holy Father’s private chapel. A familiar white-cassocked figure was kneeling before the altar, and the realization of where I was nearly took my breath away. After being escorted into the sacristy, I was told to vest for Mass. My mind was in a blur as I put on the vestments, and when I was ready I was taken to my place in the papal chapel, which was at a kneeler right next to the Holy Father himself. 
There were only a few of us there – the Sisters who served in the papal household, a couple of priests, and a bishop. We spent a good deal of time in silent prayer before the Mass began, and at first I was distracted by the thought that I was kneeling immediately next to the Vicar of Christ. Soon, however, the Holy Spirit took over and I found that I was able to enter deeply into prayer. From time to time a deep sigh would come from the Holy Father, and I was reminded of St. Paul’s words to the Romans, when he wrote about “sighs too deep for words.” 
After nearly a half-hour of prayer, it was time for the Mass to begin. The Pope’s vestments had been laid on the altar, and after he was vested we began the liturgy. I remained at my place during the Liturgy of the Word, but after the altar was prepared at the Offertory, I joined the Holy Father at the altar. At the time of Holy Communion, he held the paten from which I received a portion of the Host, and when he had received from the chalice he passed it to me. Certainly every time we receive Holy Communion it is a special encounter with God, but I must say that it was a unique experience for me to receive the Body and Blood of Christ while standing next to the Vicar of Christ, having concelebrated with him in his own chapel. 
At the conclusion of the Mass, we spent a good amount of time in thanksgiving. It was once again my privilege to kneel next to the Holy Father for this, and I had much for which to be thankful – but there would be more. 
Having been escorted to a reception room, there was now the opportunity to speak briefly with the Pope. When I was presented to him, he took my hands in his, and then made what could only be described as an extraordinary statement. “I know you,” he said to me. The puzzled look on my face, and my faltering question, “How, Holy Father…?” prompted him to continue. He went on to describe how my dossier had been given to him. Because mine was the first case of a married former Episcopal priest to be considered for the position of being the canonical pastor of a parish (rather than simply a parish administrator or chaplain) it was decided that such approval should be reserved to the Pope himself, rather than simply being processed through the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith as others were. 
With my eyes widening, Pope John Paul II described to me how my dossier was placed on his desk. He then told me how he had some uncertainty about approving a married man as an actual pastor, so he placed the dossier in his desk drawer. He then got it out again, only to put it back in the drawer. “Finally,” he said, “I once more put it on my desk, and I prayed, and the Holy Spirit told me to say ‘yes’.” 
Surely that must count as the most astonishing thing I had ever heard, that the Vicar of Christ was having a conversation about me with the Holy Spirit, Who then directed him to give his approval for my ordination and appointment as pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Church. If I hadn’t heard the story from the lips of the Pope himself, I would never have believed such a thing. 
When I regained my voice, I asked the Holy Father if I could take his blessing back to my family and to the people of the parish. He threw his arms around me and drew me close while he said, “With all of my heart, I bless you and your people!” And what a blessing that has been throughout the years. 
After all this, it is hardly possible to imagine there would be more, but there was yet another “once in a life-time” experience that morning. The Pope called upon one of the priests in his household to take me to “the chapel.” This confused me, because we had just come from his private chapel; however, I dutifully followed the priest, and we went off in a completely different direction down a long corridor, until we came to a large set of doors. He unlocked them and directed me in, saying to me, “Take as long as you like. I’ll wait for you out here.” He then shut the doors and left me alone without telling me where I was. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dim light, and as I looked around me I immediately knew where I was standing – it was in the Sistine Chapel. 
The unexpected experience of being in a place so famous was, for a moment, disorienting. To look up at the magnificent ceiling (even though it was before the restoration), and to be able to explore the chapel all by myself, thinking about the papal elections which had taken place there, was overwhelming. I spent quite a bit of time taking it all in, offering thanks to God for such a blessed experience, and then I remembered the priest outside the door, patiently waiting for me. 
He helped me find my way back to the stairs which I had climbed earlier that morning, and when I went through the doors leading into Piazza San Pietro, it was filled with the usual bustle of a day in Rome. It was all I could do to stop myself from rushing up to the first person I saw and asking him to guess where I’d just been! Instead, I headed across the Piazza to the office where we were working on the Book of Divine Worship, and I continued on the project which was the reason for my being there. 
But I have to say, it had been quite a morning.

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21 October 2015

St. John Paul II

Karol Josef Wojtyla was born in 1920 in Wadowice, Poland. His mother died when he was just a young boy, and he was raised by his father. Even as a boy he was known for his athletic ability, and was in addition to his studies, he was active in all kinds of sports. As a young man, Karol worked as a laborer in factories and at a variety of physically demanding jobs. It was after the death of his father, in 1942, that he felt the call to ordination. The Nazis had come to power, and seminaries were suppressed, but he studied in secret, and after the liberation of Poland by Russian forces in January of 1945 he was able to study openly at the University. He graduated with distinction, and was ordained on All Saints Day in 1946.

After his ordination to the priesthood and theological studies in Rome, he returned to his homeland and resumed various pastoral and academic tasks. He became first auxiliary bishop and, in 1964, Archbishop of Krakow and took part in the Second Vatican Council. On 16 October 1978 he was elected pope and took the name John Paul II. His exceptional apostolic zeal, particularly for families, young people and the sick, led him to numerous pastoral visits throughout the world. Among the many fruits which he has left as a heritage to the Church are above all his rich teaching on the human person and the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as well as the Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church and for the Eastern Churches. In Rome on 2 April 2005, the eve of the Second Sunday of Easter (or of Divine Mercy), he departed peacefully after whispering "I have looked for you. Now you have come to me. And I thank you."

O God, who art rich in mercy and who didst appoint St. John Paul II to be Pastor of the universal Church; Grant, we beseech thee, that being so instructed by his teaching, we may open our hearts to the saving grace of Christ, the Redeemer of mankind; who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

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20 October 2015

Scripture Study Series

We begin a new Scripture study series on Wednesday, October 20th, at 6:45 p.m. in the St. John Paul II Library.

I will be teaching a several-week course on the Gospel according to St. Mark. Bring yourself and your Bible, and get ready to explore the history, theology, and spirituality of this Gospel.

Each week's session will last just one hour, and I use the Ignatius Bible (RSV-Catholic edition).

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Blessed Charles of Austria

Blessed Charles of Austria was a remarkable man – someone who was at the very center of 20th century history, but who treasured his Catholic faith above all else. He was born in 1887 to Archduke Otto and Princess Maria Josephine of Saxony. The Emperor of Austria, Emperor Franz Joseph I was Blessed Charles' Great Uncle. Charles was given an excellent Catholic education, and he developed a deep devotion to the Holy Eucharist and to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He was raised in such a way that he would always turn to prayer before making any important decisions. In 1911 he married Princess Zita of Bourbon and Parma. The couple was blessed with eight children during the ten years of their happy and exemplary married life.

In 1914, an event happened that affected the whole world. The man who was the heir to the Emperor, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated, which was a trigger for the First World War. This assassination meant that very unexpectedly, Blessed Charles became heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. World War I was underway and in 1916, the Emperor Franz Joseph died. Blessed Charles became Emperor of Austria, and he was crowned on December 30th as the apostolic King of Hungary. Blessed Charles took his position as King very seriously, and he understood it as a way for him to follow Christ more closely – he would do that through the love and care of the peoples over whom he ruled, and he dedicated his life to caring for the people of his kingdom.

He also considered most sacred the duty of a king to be committed to peace. If a ruler couldn’t provide a peaceful life for his people, then Blessed Charles considered that to be a failure in ruling a kingdom justly. With the terrible First World War raging around him, he was the only political leader to give his support to the peace efforts of the reigning Pope, Benedict XV.

In his own kingdom, even though there was widespread suffering because of the war, Blessed Charles began reforming the social legislation, basing it completely on Catholic social teaching and justice. In spite of his efforts, and his deep love for his people, when the war was over there was an effort by some to banish him from his country, and that’s exactly what happened. He had done the right thing, but there were those who were stronger than he was, who hated him for his goodness, and they wanted him to abdicate his position.

Because he considered his duty as king to be something mandated by God, he refused to abdicate, and Blessed Charles was exiled to the island of Madeira. He and his family were reduced to a life of poverty, and they ended up living in a very poor house in very unhealthy conditions. He became seriously ill, but he accepted this as a sacrifice for the peace and unity of his people. Blessed Charles suffered terribly during his final sickness, but endured it without complaining. He forgave all those who had conspired against him and he died on April 1st 1922 with his eyes turned toward the Blessed Sacrament, giving adoration to God with his final breath.

O God, who didst call thy servant Blessed Charles of Austria to an earthly throne that he might advance thy heavenly kingdom, and didst give him zeal for thy Church and love for thy people: Mercifully grant that we who commemorate him this day may be fruitful in good works, and attain to the glorious crown of thy saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

19 October 2015

St. Paul of the Cross

St. Paul of the Cross was born at Ovada in the Republic of Genoa, January 3, 1694. His infancy and youth were spent in great innocence and piety. When he was still young he was inspired by God to found a religious congregation that would be dedicated to the Passion of Christ as we see it in the Cross, and in fact, God allowed him, in a vision, to see the habit which he and his companions were to wear. He spoke humbly to his bishop about this, and the bishop understood that this was an inspiration from God. On November 22, 1720, the bishop vested him with the habit that had been shown to him in a vision, the same that the Passionists wear at the present time.

St. Paul of the Cross traveled throughout the Italy, preaching missions, and directing people’s attention to Jesus upon the Cross. God lavished upon him the greatest gifts in the supernatural order, but he treated himself with the greatest rigor, and believed that he was a useless servant and a great sinner. His saintly death occurred at Rome in the year 1775, at the age of eighty-one. He was canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1867.

The Passionists continue their work, and a number of the members of this order have been beatified, perhaps the most famous being Blessed Dominic Barberi, notable for having received John Henry Newman into the Catholic faith.

O Lord Jesus Christ, who for the preaching of the mystery of the Cross, didst endue thy blessed confessor Saint Paul with singular gifts of charity, and didst likewise through him cause a new household of servants to flourish in thy Church: We beseech thee, that at his intercession we may learn so steadfastly to remember thy passion in this our life on earth, that we may be found worthy to attain to the benefits of the same in heaven; who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

18 October 2015

The North American Martyrs

There are eight men whom we know as the Martyrs of North America, and they worked in the area of upstate New York and neighbouring Canada. St. Isaac Jogues and his companions were the first martyrs of the North American continent officially recognized by the Church. Isaac Jogues was a man of learning and culture, and he taught literature in France. He gave up that career to work amongst the Huron Indians in the New World, and in 1636 he and his companions, under the leadership of St. John de Brébeuf, arrived in Quebec. The Hurons were constantly being attacked by the Iroquois, and in a few years Father Jogues was captured by the Iroquois and imprisoned for 13 months. His letters and journals tell how he and his companions were led from village to village, how they were beaten, tortured and forced to watch as their Huron converts were mangled and killed.

An unexpected chance for escape came to Isaac Jogues through the Dutch, and he returned to France, bearing the marks of his sufferings. Several fingers had been cut, chewed or burnt off. Pope Urban VIII gave him permission to offer Mass with his mutilated hands, saying "It would be shameful that a martyr of Christ be not allowed to drink the Blood of Christ." Welcomed home as a hero, Father Jogues could have retired, thanked God for his safe return, and died peacefully in his homeland. But his zeal led him back once more to the fulfillment of his vocation to this missionary work. In a few months he sailed for his missions among the Hurons.

In 1646 he and Jean de Lalande, who had offered his services to the missioners, set out for Iroquois country, thinking that a recently signed peace treaty would be observed. They were captured by a Mohawk war party, and on October 18 Father Jogues was tomahawked and beheaded. Jean de Lalande was killed the next day at a village near Albany, New York.

The first of the Jesuit missionaries to be martyred was René Goupil who, with Lalande, had offered his services as an oblate. He was tortured along with Isaac Jogues in 1642, and was tomahawked for having made the Sign of the Cross on the brow of some children.

Jean de Brébeuf was a French Jesuit who came to Canada at the age of 32 and laboured there for 24 years. He went back to France when the English captured Quebec (1629) and expelled the Jesuits, but returned to his missions four years later. Although medicine men blamed the Jesuits for a smallpox epidemic among the Hurons, Jean remained with them. He composed catechisms and a dictionary in Huron, and saw 7,000 converted before his death. He was captured by the Iroquois and died after four hours of extreme torture.

Father Anthony Daniel, Brother Gabriel Lalemant, Father Charles Garnier, and Father Noel Chabanel, were tortured and killed at different times, but all for the same reason – their love for God, their love for the Indians as God’s children, and their desire to bring them the love of God through life in the Church.

O Almighty God, by whose grace and power St. John, St. Isaac, and all the holy martyrs of North America triumphed over suffering and were faithful even unto death: Grant us, who now remember them with thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to thee in this world, that we may receive with them the crown of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

17 October 2015

St. Luke the Evangelist

St. Luke is the writer of the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, and was referred to by St. Paul as “our beloved physician.” We know a few other facts about Luke's life from Scripture and from early Church historians.

Luke was most likely born a Greek Gentile. In his writings we can see an emphasis on Gentiles, and on the fact that Jesus came for Jew and Gentile alike. It is only in his Gospel that we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan, that we hear Jesus praising the faith of Gentiles such as the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian, and that we hear the story of the one grateful leper who is a Samaritan.

In our day, it would be easy to assume that someone who was a doctor would be fairly well to do, but it is more likely that Luke had been born as a slave, and later was able to secure his freedom. It was very common for families to educate slaves in medicine so that they would have a resident family physician.

In the Acts of the Apostles we see that St. Luke was very often a companion to St. Paul in the missionary journeys, and very often in Acts he uses language which says “We did so and so,” indicating that he was there. Luke was a loyal friend who stayed with St. Paul when he was imprisoned in Rome. After everyone else had deserted Paul in his final imprisonment and sufferings, it was Luke who remained with Paul to the end: "Only Luke is with me" (2 Timothy 4:11).

St. Luke's inspiration and information for his Gospel and Acts came from his close association with St. Paul. St. Luke also had a special connection with the Blessed Virgin Mary, and there are many things in his Gospel that could have come only through conversations with her. For instance, it is only in Luke's Gospel that we hear the story of the Annunciation, of Mary's visit to Elizabeth including the Magnificat, of the Presentation in the Temple, and the story of Jesus' disappearance in Jerusalem. It is in Luke’s Gospel that we hear the Scriptural parts of the Hail Mary: "Hail Mary full of grace," which was spoken at the Annunciation, and "Blessed are art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb," which was spoken by her cousin Elizabeth – all recorded by St. Luke.

Forgiveness and God's mercy to sinners – Jew and Gentile alike – is the theme that runs through Luke’s Gospel. It’s only from St. Luke that we hear the story of the Prodigal Son welcomed back by the overjoyed father. Only in Luke do we hear the story of the forgiven woman disrupting the feast by washing Jesus' feet with her tears. Throughout Luke's Gospel, we see Jesus welcoming those who seek God's mercy.

He is often shown with an ox or a calf because these are the symbols of sacrifice -- the sacrifice Jesus made for all the world. St. Luke is the patron of physicians and surgeons.

Almighty God, who didst inspire thy servant St. Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of thy Son: Graciously continue in thy Church the like love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of thy Name; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

16 October 2015

St. Ignatius of Antioch

St. Ignatius was the second Bishop of Antioch, and had been a disciple of the Apostle St. John. There is a tradition which says that he was the young child whom Christ put in the midst of his disciples and said, “Unless you become as this little child, you cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.” Ignatius was consecrated bishop about the year 69 by the Apostle Peter. He was a holy man who was deeply loved by the Christian faithful, he always made it his special care to defend “orthodoxy” (right teaching) and “orthopraxy” (right practice) among the early Christians.

In 107, during the reign of the brutal Emperor Trajan, St. Ignatius was sentenced to death because he refused to renounce the Christian faith. He was taken under guard to Rome where he was to be publicly executed by being devoured by wild beasts. During his journey from Antioch to Rome, he was taken through Asia Minor and Greece. As he traveled he wrote seven letters to encourage, instruct, and inspire the Christians in the communities along the way, and the texts of these letters survive to this day. They outline the orthodox Christian faith, and in these letter we find the term “catholic” being used to describe the whole Church. These letters connect us to the early Church and to the unbroken, clear teaching of the Apostles which was given to them directly by Jesus Christ.

St. Ignatius was not afraid of death, because he knew it had been defeated by Christ. He wrote to the disciples in Rome: "Permit me to imitate my suffering God ... I am God's wheat and I shall be ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may become the pure bread of Christ.”

Almighty God, we praise thy Name for thy bishop and martyr St. Ignatius of Antioch, who offered himself as grain to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts that he might present unto thee the pure bread of sacrifice. Accept, we pray thee, the willing tribute of our lives, and give us a share in the pure and spotless offering of thy Son Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

15 October 2015

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

St. Margaret Mary was born on July 22, 1647 in Burgundy, France, and was the fifth child of seven in her family. When she was eight years old, her father died suddenly, and her mother had to be away from home quite often, so Margaret Mary went away to attend school and came under the care of nuns. At the age of nine, she received her first Holy Communion. Right after that she wrote, "This Communion made all the small pleasures and amusements so repellent to me, that I could no longer take pleasure in any . . . just when I wanted to begin some game with my companions, I would always feel something drawing me, calling me to some quiet corner, giving me no peace till I had followed and then setting me to pray.” It was at that time that she became seriously ill, and she was bedridden with paralysis. For four years she suffered, but she prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary for healing. The time stretched on, and she continued to pray, finding more and more comfort in receiving and adoring the Blessed Sacrament, as Christ made His presence known to her. At the age of fifteen, she was cured and was no longer bedridden.

Back at home with her family, Margaret Mary continued to grow in her spiritual life, and she experienced private visions of Christ, with an increasing sense of His overwhelming love. During this time her mother had been urging her to marry, but there was a developing vocation to religious life stirring within her.

In 1671, at the age of twenty-three, Margaret Mary entered the Convent of the Visitation Nuns, and it was there just two years later, when she was kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, that she experienced a vision in which the Lord told her that He had a particular work for her to do. She later described what she saw in the vision, how our Lord’s Heart appeared to be on fire and surrounded by a crown of thorns. Our Lord told her that the flames represented His love for humanity, and the thorns represented man’s sinfulness and ingratitude. Jesus revealed to her that her mission was to establish the devotion to His Most Sacred Heart.

Over the next year and a half, she had three more visions. In those visions, Jesus explained to her the spiritual exercises that have become part of devotion to Christ’s Sacred Heart. St. Margaret Mary informed her Mother Superior about the visions, who did not know what to think about them. St. Margaret Mary was examined by priests and other experts, who tried to convince her that these experiences were illusions.

All of this led to another time of serious sickness, but her Superior promised that if Margaret Mary were healed, she herself would believe the visions were real. So Margaret Mary prayed and was healed, and her Mother Superior believed her. However, many others did not. Nonetheless, she received some encouragement from a priest who served as her spiritual director, and St. Margaret Mary was given the confidence she needed to encourage others to see in the Sacred Heart of Jesus the great symbol of His love for mankind. The devotion began to spread, first among the nuns in her community, and gradually it was accepted throughout the world.

On October 17, 1690, St. Margaret Mary was approaching death. As she received the last rites of the Church, her final words were, “I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.”

O Lord Jesus Christ, who in a wondrous manner didst make known unto Saint Margaret Mary thy Virgin, the unsearchable riches of thy Heart: Grant us, by her merits and example; that we may love thee in all things, and far above all things, and so find in thy Heart an habitation wherein we may dwell for evermore; who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.