13 December 2018

St. John of the Cross


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

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

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

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

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

O God, who didst give to blessed St. John of the Cross, thy Confessor and Doctor, grace to show forth a singular love of perfect self-denial and of bearing thy Cross: grant, we beseech thee; that we cleaving steadfastly to his pattern, may attain to everlasting glory; 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.

12 December 2018

St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 December 2018

Our Lady of Guadalupe

The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe
at Our Lady of the Atonement Church

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

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

O God, who hast willed that under the special patronage of the most Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, we should receive an abundant measure of unceasing favours: grant us, thy suppliant people; that as we rejoice to honour her upon earth, so we may enjoy the vision of her in heaven; 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.

10 December 2018

Pope St. Damasus I


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

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

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

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

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

Grant, we pray thee, O Lord: that we may constantly exalt the merits of thy Martyrs, whom Pope Saint Damasus so venerated and loved; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

07 December 2018

The Immaculate Conception


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O GOD, who in the foreknowledge of thy Son’s most precious death didst consecrate for him a dwelling-place by the immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary: mercifully grant that she who was preserved from all defilement, may evermore pray for us, until we attain unto thee in purity of heart; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen. 

06 December 2018

St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

05 December 2018

St. Nicholas of Myra


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

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

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

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

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

Relic of St. Nicholas, in the Lady Chapel.


O God, who didst adorn thy blessed Bishop Saint Nicholas with power to work many and great miracles: grant, we beseech thee; that by his prayers and merits, we may be delivered from the fires of everlasting torment; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

04 December 2018

Advent Ember Days


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. The Ember Days are known in Latin as the quattuor anni tempora (the "four seasons of the year"). The word “ember” is from the Old English word “ymbren” which means a “circle” because as the year progresses and returns to its beginning, these days are part of the circle of the year. The ember days originated in Rome, and slowly spread throughout the Church. They were brought to England by St. Augustine in the year 597.

These days are to be used to pray for vocations to Holy Orders – 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. Another aspect of the Ember Days is for us 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’s a time when we remind ourselves to treat creation with respect, and not waste the things God has given us.

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 the four periods of time throughout the year.

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that the coming festival of our redemption may obtain for us the comfort of thy succour in this life, and in the life to come the reward of eternal felicity; 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.

Making Merbecke Catholic again...

Most Anglicans, when they hear the name John Merbecke, probably think immediately of the very simple and plain setting used for “The Order for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion.” Each year in our parish we use this setting for some of the Sung Masses in Advent and Lent. Musically it’s not terribly exciting, but that’s the point of using it during these seasons. It’s tuneful but not overwhelming, and when it’s sung by the pure voices of children, it affords an interesting seasonal change.

The roots of this little setting couldn’t be more Anglican. In 1550, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer had asked Merbecke to provide service music “containing so much of the Order of Common Prayer as is to be sung in Churches.” It was to be simple and able to be sung by everyone, and the requirement was “for every syllable a note.”

We don’t know anything about Merbecke’s musical education, but apparently he was an accomplished singer and organist. Born in c.1505, by 1531 his name heads the list of choristers at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. He was appointed Organist of St. George’s in 1541. The virulent protestantism creeping through Europe was making its way into England at that time, and Merbecke was drawn into it, even though he was serving at the King’s Royal Chapel. That was a strange time – King Henry had broken with Rome, but in many ways he remained conservative in his religion, and in those circumstances, Merbecke’s protestant sympathies forced him into a double life. Of course, it couldn’t last forever, and by 1543 his protestantism was revealed. He was accused of owning and writing heretical documents – something that was, in fact, true. Along with two other colleagues at St. George’s, Merbecke was arrested. Charged with being a heretic, he was condemned to death. Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester, pleaded Merbecke’s case before the King, and he was given a reprieve. Released from his imprisonment, Merbecke returned to his post of Organist at St. George’s, where he stayed until his death in c.1585.

Although John Merbecke is probably best remembered for his 1550 work on the "Booke of Common Praier Noted," before the English Reformation he was a somewhat talented composer of liturgical music for the Catholic Church, although not many of his compositions survive. His "Missa Per arma iustitie" is still available, as well as the Marian anthem "Ave Dei patris filia." The antiphon "Domine Ihesu Christe" is probably one of his better works, although it’s more sturdy than beautiful.

John Merbecke became a convinced Calvinist, and he expressed great regret for his Catholic compositions. In fact, in 1550 he wrote, “…in the study of music and playing on organs, I consumed vainly the greatest part of My life.” It’s really his "Booke of Common Praier Noted," with its simple Communion setting, which has made Merbecke best known, and that wasn’t actually a work of composition; rather, it was a fitting of the words of the English liturgy to modified plainsong melodies.

I’ve wondered, as I hear his Communion setting being sung at a Catholic Mass, what he would think. I’m quite sure that if he had witnessed such a thing during his earthly life, he would have been appalled – but now that he has the knowledge which comes with eternity (and I do hope he’s spending it in heaven), I would imagine he appreciates the unexpected turn of events which has brought his music back to the Church in which he was baptized.

03 December 2018

St. John Damascene


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

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

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

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

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

-from www.catholicculture.org

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

02 December 2018

St. Francis Xavier

Jesus asked, "What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?" The words were repeated to a young teacher of philosophy who had a highly promising career in academics, with success and a life of prestige and honor before him.

Francis Xavier, 24 at the time, and living and teaching in Paris, did not heed these words at once. They came from a good friend, Ignatius of Loyola, whose tireless work and example finally won the young man to Christ. Francis then made the spiritual exercises under the direction of Ignatius, and in 1534 joined his little community, known as the Society of Jesus. Together they vowed poverty, chastity and apostolic service according to the directions of the pope.

From Venice, where he was ordained priest in 1537, Francis Xavier went on to Lisbon. From there he sailed to the East Indies, landing on the west coast of India. For the next 10 years he labored to bring the faith to such widely scattered peoples as the Hindus, the Malayans and the Japanese. He spent much of that time in India, and served as provincial of the newly established Jesuit province of India.

Wherever he went, he lived with the poorest people, sharing their food and rough accommodations. He spent countless hours ministering to the sick and the poor, particularly to lepers. Very often he had no time to sleep or even to say his breviary but, as we know from his letters, he was filled always with joy.

Francis went through the islands of Malaysia, then up to Japan. He learned enough Japanese to preach in a simple way, to instruct and to baptize, and to establish missions for those who were to follow him. From Japan he had dreams of going to China, but this plan was never realized. Before reaching the mainland he died.

It’s estimated that St. Francis Xavier baptized more than 100,000 people during his years as a missionary. The relic of his right forearm is at the Church of the Gesu in Rome, a remembrance of the power of the Gospel to bring people to new life in Christ through baptism.

Almighty God, who willest to be glorified in thy saints, and didst raise up thy servant St. Francis Xavier to be a light in the world: Shine, we pray thee, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth thy praise, who hast called us out of darkness into thy marvelous light; through 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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Advent

 "From the Cradle to the Cross" by Michael Hayes

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

29 November 2018

St. Andrew, Apostle and Martyr


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

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

Almighty God, who didst give such grace unto thy holy Apostle Saint Andrew, that he readily obeyed the calling of thy Son Jesus Christ, and followed him without delay: grant unto us all; that we, being called by thy holy Word, may forthwith give up ourselves obediently to fulfil thy holy commandments; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God,
world without end. Amen.

24 November 2018

Christ the King of the Universe


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.

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in thy well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

23 November 2018

Holy Martyrs of Vietnam


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

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

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

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

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

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

22 November 2018

Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro, Martyr





Remember BLESSED MIGUEL AGUSTIN PRO, whose commemoration is November 23rd. Since reading his biography several years ago, I think of him frequently and ask for his prayers. There’s something about this man which is captivating – from his wonderful sense of humor to his fearless final cry, “Viva Cristo Rey!” He’s a priest I would have liked to have known, although to have known him in his circumstances would require a courage I wonder if I would have had. I hope I would, but one never knows until faced with the situation. I guess it’s rather like St. Augustine’s prayer, “Lord, make me holy, but not yet…” I want God’s grace for courage, but I'm not sure I would want to face the circumstances which would make me use it.

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This brief account is from the EWTN website:
http://www.ewtn.com/library/mary/miguepro.htm

Miguel Pro was born January 13, 1891, at Guadalupe Zacatecas, Mexico. From his childhood, high spirits and happiness were the most outstanding characteristics of his personality. The loving and devoted son of a mining engineer and a pious and charitable mother, Miguel had a special affinity for the working classes which he retained all his life.

At 20, he became a Jesuit novice and shortly thereafter was exiled because of the Mexican revolution. He traveled to the United States, Spain, Nicaragua and Belgium, where he was ordained in 1925. Father Pro suffered greatly from a severe stomach problem and when, after several operations his health did not improve, in 1926 his superiors allowed him to return to Mexico in spite of the religious persecution in the country.

The churches were closed and priests were in hiding. Father Pro spent the rest of his life in a secret ministry to the sturdy Mexican Catholics. In addition to fulfilling their spiritual needs, he also carried out the works of mercy by assisting the poor of Mexico City with their temporal needs. He adopted many disguises to carry out his secret ministry. In all that he did, he remained filled with the joy of serving Christ, his King, and obedient to his superiors.

Falsely accused in a bombing attempt on the President-elect, Pro became a wanted man. He was betrayed to the police and sentenced to death without the benefit of any legal process.

On the day of his death, Father Pro forgave his executioners, prayed, bravely refused the blindfold, and died proclaiming "Long Live Christ the King!"

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Our God and Father, who didst confer upon thy servant Blessed Miguel Agustín Pro the grace of ardently seeking thy greater glory and the salvation of others: grant, through his intercession and example; that by faithfully and joyfully performing our daily duties and charitably assisting those around us, we may serve thee with zeal and ever seek thy glory; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Pope St. Clement I, Martyr


St. Clement I of Rome (92-101) was one of the first popes. According to St. Ireneus, he was the third after Peter, following Pope Linus and Pope Cletus. Clement died as a martyr, but otherwise we know little about his life. He may be the one Paul mentions as his companion in Phil. 4:3. St. Clement wrote a letter to the Corinthians, and we have the text of that, in which he intervenes as the Pope to that community, which had a number of troubles going on – showing us very early the place of the successor of St. Peter in the Church.

Because of his zeal for souls, Pope Clement was banished from Rome to a distant place, where he found two-thousand Christians who had also been banished. When he came to these exiles he comforted them. "They all cried with one voice: Pray for us, blessed Clement, that we may become worthy of the promises of Christ. He replied: Without any merit of my own, the Lord sent me to you to share in your crowns." When they complained because they had to carry the water six miles, he encouraged them, "Let us all pray to the Lord Jesus Christ that He may open to His witnesses a fountain of water." "While blessed Clement was praying, the Lamb of God appeared to him; and at His feet a bubbling fountain of fresh water was flowing." Seeing the miracle, "All the pagans of the neighborhood began to believe."

When the Emperor Trajan heard of these marvels, he ordered Clement to be drowned with an iron anchor around his neck. "While he was making his way to the sea, the people cried with a loud voice: Lord Jesus Christ, save him! But Clement prayed in tears: Father, receive my spirit." At the shore the Christians asked God to give them the body. The sea receded for three miles and there they found the body of the saint in a stone coffin within a small marble chapel; alongside lay the anchor. The body was taken to Rome by Sts. Cyril and Methodius and placed in a church dedicated to his honor (S. Clemente). This is one of the most venerable of the churches in Rome because it retains all the liturgical arrangements of ancient times.

O Everlasting Shepherd, favourably look upon thy flock: and keep it with perpetual protection, through the intercession of blessed Clement thy Pope and Martyr, whom thou didst appoint to be shepherd of the whole 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.

20 November 2018

Thanksgiving Day


Our Lord teaches us that “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” So in giving thanks for the blessings of this life we should not unduly concern ourselves with the things of this world.

As we hear of the man who thought it would be good to build larger barns in which he could store all his belongings, we hear also the voice of Christ reminding us that for all we know, our souls might be required of us this night, making our well thought-out plans useless.

As we gather to give thanks, we need to remember that we do not control life; rather, God does. No matter what our best-laid plans might be, they will be defeated unless they are in harmony with God’s plan for us. If God cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, we can certainly know that He cares for us. The birds are fed, the flowers are clothed, because all these things fulfill their nature – the purpose for which they were created.

So then, if man fulfills his nature – not in idleness, but in trustful work; not in selfishly gathering things to himself, but in caring for those around him – God certainly will not fail in providing what we truly need to fulfill the purpose He has given us.

We are created in God’s image, and our lives are to reflect the mystical life of the Holy Trinity. As God created all things, it is part of our proper nature to cooperate with God through our daily work. As God cares for us, so it is part of our proper nature to care for others, sharing in what God has given us.

So on this Thanksgiving Day, as we gather with families and friends, let us be patient and forgiving, being thankful for what we have been given by God in this life. And because what we have can never become an end in itself, be generous in sharing with others. With all we have to be thankful for, we should give thanks most of all for the love of our Heavenly Father, Who has provided for our needs, and Who has opened the way for our eternal salvation through His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

May God give us all a happy, joyful, and holy Thanksgiving Day.

O ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who crownest the year with thy goodness, and hast given unto us the fruits of the earth in their season: give us grateful hearts, that we may unfeignedly thank thee for all thy loving-kindness, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; 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.

Presentation of Mary in the Temple


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.

19 November 2018

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.

18 November 2018

"He shall come again..."


Throughout the New Testament there is the eager note sounded again and again about “waiting for the coming our Lord Jesus Christ.” Some of the very earliest Christians made the mistake of trying to pin down the time of Christ’s return, as there have been those throughout history who have made the same mistake — forgetting that our Lord taught us that “no man knows the day or the hour” of His return.

But we do believe that Christ will return to us, “we believe that he shall come again in glory to judge both the quick and the dead.” We do live in the “last days,” and they began with the conception, birth, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

At the time of His ascension into heaven, the promise was given to the apostles that “this Jesus, whom you have seen taken from your sight, will return in the same way as you have seen Him go.” The second coming of Christ is a doctrine of our faith, and it is the underlying theme of the season of Advent which will be here in just a few weeks, that time before the Feast of His Nativity when we commemorate Christ’s first coming into the world.

16 November 2018

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

St. Elizabeth lived in the 13th century, and she was a princess, the daughter of the King of Hungary. She married the young man she had loved for as long as she could remember, Ludwig of Thuringia, and their life together was blessed with three children. St. Elizabeth took seriously her duties as wife and mother, and because of her deep love for Christ, she took seriously also her duty toward the poor.  She embraced the words of our Lord, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you have done it to me.”  She put herself at the service of widows and orphans, she cared for the sick and the needy. Her life was really an expression of her deep love – love for God, love for her husband and children, and love for those who had no one else to love them. Hers was a very beautiful life, and no doubt she would have liked it to go on like that forever.

But sometimes, things can change dramatically – we might not understand why, but it’s always for God’s purpose. St. Elizabeth experienced an especially painful change in her life when her husband, whom she so deeply loved, went off to the Crusades, and there he was killed. Elizabeth was devastated – and not only was she sorrowing for the death of her husband, but her husband’s family, who never approved of her charitable works, cast her and her children out of the family home, and left her with no means of support.

Here was Elizabeth, a princess and the widow of a nobleman, reduced to poverty, wandering with her children for a place to live, until a poor man whom she had helped previously was able to offer her shelter in an abandoned pig sty. Her faith sustained her – not only was she not bitter, but she put in even more effort to caring for the poor, with a renewed feeling for them, since she and her children were now counted among them. She supported herself and her children, as well as her works of charity, by spinning wool and making cloth to sell. She exhausted herself, and was only 24 years old when she died. Her feast day is November 16th.

O Lord God, who didst teach Saint Elizabeth of Hungary to recognize and to reverence Christ in the poor of this world: grant that we, being strengthened by her example and assisted by her prayers, may so love and serve the afflicted and those in need that we may honour thy Son, the servant King; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

15 November 2018

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 to work 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 Margaret to an earthly throne that she might advance thy heavenly kingdom, and didst endue her with zeal for thy Church and charity towards thy people: mercifully grant that we who ask her prayers and commemorate her example may be fruitful in good works, and attain to the glorious fellowship of thy Saints; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.


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14 November 2018

St. Albert the Great


The life of St. Albert covered almost all of the 13th century. His father was a very wealthy German nobleman, and Albert was able to receive an excellent education at the best universities of his day. He was a philosopher, a bishop, a prolific writer, and one of the most influential scientists of the Middle Ages. We all know the phrase, “a know-it-all” – but St. Albert really was, and in the best sense. He was able to compile a complete system of all the knowledge of his day. The subjects he encompassed included astronomy, mathematics, economics, logic, rhetoric, ethics, politics, metaphysics and all branches of natural science. It would take him more than 20 years to complete this phenomenal presentation.

St. Albert taught that there was no discrepancy between theology and science; rather, they were simply different aspects of a harmonious whole. Among his most important contributions to the development of scientific thought in the Middle Ages was helping the scholarly community to recognize the value of Aristotle’s philosophy, and he had as one of his chief students, St. Thomas Aquinas. It was Thomas who carried St. Albert’s teaching out to its logical conclusions.

St. Albert is the only scholar of his time to have earned the title "Great" -- a title that was applied to him even during his lifetime.

O God, who gavest grace unto blessed Albert, thy Bishop and Doctor, to become truly great in the subjection of human wisdom to divine faith: grant us, we beseech thee, so to follow in the footsteps of his teaching; that we may enjoy the perfect light in heaven; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

12 November 2018

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini


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

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

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

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

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

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

God our Father, who didst call Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini from Italy to serve the immigrants of America: by her example, teach us to care for the stranger, the sick, and all those in need; and by her prayers help us to see Christ in all whom we meet; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

11 November 2018

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.

Stir up in thy Church, we pray, O Lord, the Spirit that filled Saint Josaphat: that, as he laid down his life for the sheep; so through his intercession we, too, may be strengthened by the same Spirit and not fear to lay down our life for our brethren; 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.

A Prayer for Veterans Day


Veterans Day (known originally as Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I) is a day on which we honor all military veterans living today, which should not be confused with Memorial Day which we keep in May, when we remember all those who gave their lives in defense of our nation.

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 2018

Pope St. Leo and Attila the Hun


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

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

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

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

This is the account of that meeting: while Attila and Leo were conversing, Attila was shaking in his boots, because that during that conversation, Attila saw a vision like he had never seen before! Attila saw St. Peter himself hovering over Leo's head . . . with a huge sword drawn and pointed directly at him! Attila 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's the story of how Pope Leo the Great saved Rome from being destroyed.

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


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08 November 2018

Dedication of St. John Lateran


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

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

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

05 November 2018

This is one tough girl...


Over the years I have collected a number of icons, and among them are some which depict particularly interesting saints. The one pictured here shows a young virgin-martyr known as St. Margaret of Antioch-in-Pisidia in the West, and as St. Marina the Great-Martyr in the East. Although she was an actual martyr, almost all the stories about her are apocryphal. In fact, in the year 494 Pope Gelasius I cautioned the Faithful about some of the fantastic stories which had grown up around her.

What is historical is that she was a native of Antioch-in-Pisidia, and was the daughter of a pagan priest. Her mother died soon after giving her birth, and she was then nursed by a pious Christian woman. Margaret embraced the Christian faith and was disowned by her father, after which her Christian nurse adopted her. She was asked by a local official to marry him, but she would have to renounce her Christian faith. Refusing to do so, she was tortured and eventually beheaded in 304.

Although many of the stories which grew up around the accounts of her torture were fanciful, (including a story of her being swallowed by Satan in the shape of a dragon, from which she escaped alive when the cross she carried irritated the dragon's innards), nonetheless there is still spiritual truth to be gained from these wondrous accounts.

The icon pictured here illustrates the story of a demon approaching her in her prison cell, attempting to convince her to renounce her faith. According to the story, a hammer was at hand, which she picked up and beat the demon senseless.  I like this picture, and I think it serves as an icon of where we are now.  Demons are nipping at us, and we can either give in or we can take the revealed Truth which has been given to us and we can use it to beat the stuffing out of satan and his demonic little friends.

Devotion to St. Margaret of Antioch was greatly strengthened during the crusades, when soldiers would hear stories of local saints and then bring them back to their homelands. Devotion to her became widespread in England, where more than 250 churches are dedicated to her, most famously St. Margaret's, Westminster, the church of the British Houses of Parliament in London. St. Margaret is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, and is one of the saints who spoke to Joan of Arc.

Even though this remarkable young woman is no longer commemorated in the general liturgical calendar, we can still look to her as a marvelous example and as an intercessor for us in these difficult days.

St. Margaret's Church, Westminster,
dedicated to St. Margaret of Antioch

04 November 2018

Friendship


In my reading I happened across this passage from St. Mark's Gospel, and 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.

02 November 2018

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, who didst lead Saint Martin de Porres by the way of humility to heavenly glory: grant that we may so follow the example of his holiness; that we may be worthy to be exalted with him to heaven; 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.