08 May 2021

Easter VI: Faith Made Visible

Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.”

Our Lord spoke those words on the night of His betrayal and arrest. Judas had just left the table to put his plot into action. Within mere hours Jesus would be tried and crucified. Earlier that evening He had stooped down as a servant would, to wash the feet of His disciples, showing that He came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. He commanded His disciples to stoop down in the same humble way, and to serve one another.

Later, at the Passover meal, He gave them everything He had, His very death and life. He spoke of His coming death - "Where I am going, you cannot come." Jesus loved His disciples, more than they ever could have imagined or hoped for. He loved them all the way to His death on the cross. And having loved them, He gave them this mandate: "Love one another, as I have loved you." In other words, "In the same way that I stooped down for you as a servant, and gave myself to you, and laid down my life for you, in that way you are to love one another." That was Christ’s mandate to His disciples on the night before He went to His death. And it is His mandate to His Church, His commandment to everyone He has called through baptism to be His disciples: "Love one another, as I have loved you."

When Jesus says to His followers that they must "love one another," He means they must have a love which transcends mere feelings. He speaks of a divine and holy love that reaches out to the one who is difficult to love. It means reaching out to the unlovable, even to someone who seems to be an enemy and to those who want to hurt us, or who have hurt us in the past.

When we love with the love of Christ, we will be patient and kind with one another. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: Love means that we will bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things - for no other reason than that is exactly how God loves us.

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Christ makes this divine love the unique mark of His disciples. This is how the world will recognize a disciple of Jesus, by the love shining through that person. Christian love is like the beam of light shining from a lighthouse, guiding the ships at sea out of the darkness into port.

And that kind of Love makes a difference in the world. The unbelieving world will sit up and take notice, just as the pagan Roman world could not help but notice how the first believers cared for one another, when they said, "See how they love one another!" The world saw the love of Christ through the love of Christians, and that is what drew them to the Church.

If Christians seems to have such little impact in today's world it is not for lack of words or books or advertising or communication. It is for lack of love. Without genuine Christian love for one another, no one will know that we are disciples of Jesus Christ, no matter what we say we believe. Love makes faith visible.

And so, we probably need to acknowledge that we have not always loved one another as Christ has loved us. We have sometimes let our own egos and prejudices and pride interfere with our love. We have not always let God's love have its way in our hearts, and so our love for others has failed. And sometimes our failure to love one another has turned people away and kept them from hearing the Gospel. We need to be truly sorry, and we need to do better. It might be in some simple way – a word, a kindly action, an act of generosity – but what a difference it might make. The Lord gives us His love, not so that we can keep it for ourselves – but so that we can love others, as He loves us.


Pictured: "Jesus Washing Peter's Feet" by Ford Madox Brown (1821–1893)


"Rogation" comes from the Latin "rogare," which means "to ask." The Sixth Sunday of Easter and the following three days leading up to the Solemnity of the Ascension are days during which we beg God's mercy for the avoidance of natural disasters, and it is a time to ask for His blessings, particularly with regard to farming, gardening, and all things related to agriculture.

Assist us mercifully, O Lord, in these our supplications and prayers: and dispose the way of thy servants towards the attainment of everlasting salvation; that, among all the changes and chances of this mortal life, they may ever be defended by thy most gracious and ready help; 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.

Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth: we humbly pray that thy gracious providence may give and preserve to our use the harvests of the land and of the seas, and may prosper all who labour to gather them; that we, who constantly receive good things from thy hand, may always give thee thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

O Almighty God who hast created the earth for man, and man for thy glory: mercifully hear the supplications of thy people, and be mindful of thy covenant; that both the earth may yield her increase, and the good seed of thy word may bring forth abundantly, to the glory of 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.


Pictured: "The Blessing of the Wheat in the Artois" 1857, by Jules Breton

03 May 2021

The English Martyrs

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

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

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

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

O Merciful God, who, when thy Church on earth was torn apart by the ravages of sin, didst raise up men and women in England who witnessed to their faith with courage and constancy: give unto thy Church that peace which is thy will, and grant that those who have been divided on earth may be reconciled in heaven and be partakers together in the vision of thy glory; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.


Pictured: Stained glass in the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and the English Martyrs, Cambridge. 

02 May 2021

St. Philip and St. James, Apostles

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

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

O Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: grant us perfectly to know thy Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth and the life; that, following the steps of thy holy Apostles, Saint Philip and Saint James, we may steadfastly walk in the way that leadeth to eternal life; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.


Pictured: "St. Philip and St. James" by Spinello Aretino (1350-1410)

01 May 2021

Fifth Sunday of Easter

St. John the Apostle wrote in his first epistle, "this is his commandment, to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another as he has commanded us.” [I St. John 3:23]

As St. John's words make clear, faith and love always run together, which means we cannot have real faith in Christ without having love for one another. Love is the fruit of faith, like apples are the fruit of an apple tree. If the tree is alive and well and drawing nutrients from the soil and energy from the sun, it produces fruit. Likewise, if faith in Christ is alive and well, drawing life from Him through His Word and Sacraments, it produces love.

God’s love was shown in this: that He sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. We did not first love God; rather, God first loved us, and He sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Christ came out of love for us, while we were still loveless and unlovable. He laid down His life for us, so that we might live through Him and love through Him, and He through us.

Jesus knew His disciples. He knew what was in their hearts. He knew they were prone to arguing, to envy, to bickering over who was the greatest among them, who would get the seats of honour, who was in charge. He knew that they were opinionated men, passionate men. He knew they could be egotistical and self-centered, worried about themselves instead of each other. Jesus knew all that, and yet He loved them. He washed their feet, and He gave them a place at His table, and He said, "Love one another, as I have loved you."

And Jesus knows us. He knows what is in our hearts. Yet He loves us, bathing us in the waters of baptism and giving us a place at His table. He works in our hearts and He fills them with His love. He says to all of us as His disciples, "Love one another, as I have loved you."

It is the Lord Jesus Christ who is the actual source of His love. He is the Vine, we are the branches. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. Apart from Him, we cannot really love. Unless we are first joined to His death and His life by faith, unless we are buried with Him in baptism and are raised with Him and seated with Him in glory, unless we are in communion with Him and He with us, we will not and cannot truly love God or one another.


Pictured: "Christ the True Vine" 16th century Greek icon

30 April 2021

St. Joseph the Worker

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

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

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

Holy Joseph, Intercessor
Unto thee God’s children sing;
Be our Patron and Protector,
To God’s throne our praises bring.

Faithful Spouse of faithful Virgin,
Lover of God’s purity;
From thy worthy place in heaven,
Pray that we may faithful be.

Guardian of the Word Incarnate,
Silent guide of God’s own Son;
Guard our hearts and lead us onward
To the life that Christ has won.

Humble man in lofty station,
God has poured His grace on thee;
Pray such grace to us be given,
That we live eternally.

Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1991
Music: "Stuttgart" adapted by C. F. Witt, 1715

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life learned from Saint Joseph to share our toil, and thus hallowed our labour: Be present with thy people where they work; make those who carry on the industries and commerce of the world responsive to thy will; and give us all a pride in what we do and a just return for our labour; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Pictured: "Our Saviour Subject To His Parents At Nazareth"
by John Rogers Herbert 1810–1890

29 April 2021

St. Pius V: the Pope of Lepanto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O God, who for the confusion of the enemies of thy Church, and for the restoring of the honour of thy worship, didst appoint thy blessed Saint Pius V to be Chief among thy Pastors: grant that we, being defended by his intercession, may so steadfastly follow after thy commandments, that we may overcome all the devices of our enemies, and rejoice in perpetual peace and security; 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.

28 April 2021

St. Catherine of Siena

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

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

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

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

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

27 April 2021

St. Peter Chanel, Priest and Martyr

On April 28, 1841, a band of native warriors entered the hut of a missionary priest, Father Peter Chanel on the island of Futuna in the New Hebrides islands – now called Vanuatu. They clubbed the missionary to death and cut up his body with hatchets. But just two years after this murder, the complete population of the island was Catholic. St. Peter Chanel's death bears witness to the ancient axiom that "the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians."

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

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

O God, who for the spreading of thy Church didst crown Saint Peter Chanel with martyrdom: grant that, in these days of Paschal joy, we may so celebrate the mysteries of Christ’s Death and Resurrection as to bear worthy witness to newness of life; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

24 April 2021

Easter IV: The Good Shepherd

Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” [St. John 10:14, 15]

In those words He outlines the two characteristics – the two marks – that distinguish the Good Shepherd: an intimate personal knowledge of us, and a sacrificial love for us. And these two characteristics, or marks, embrace two of the major doctrines of our faith: first, the Incarnation – the fact that our Lord took human flesh upon Himself and lived a human life which means that He truly knows us; and the Atonement – the fact that He willingly went to the cross as a sacrifice for our sin, so that each of us could be restored to a unity with God.

From a purely human point of view, we are unable to really sympathize with someone unless we have a knowledge of the other person. The better we know someone, the more understanding we can have. For instance, we are all able to sympathize to some degree with someone who has lost a child, but if we ourselves have experienced the death of a child, our sympathy becomes empathy – we know exactly what they are going through. When we have shared the same difficulties, or we have had the same temptations, or if we have had any sort of similar experience as another person, there is an empathetic knowledge that helps form a bond between us.

This is a tiny glimpse of the knowledge that Christ speaks about in His relationship with us. He shares our human nature, including all our sorrows, our temptations, our difficulties – He says that He “knows us.” And because He shares our human nature, He says that we can know Him.

But He goes even further: He says that He knows us, and we know Him, just as the Father knows Him and He knows the Father. This reveals a profound truth: our Lord Jesus Christ shares our nature, and He also shares the nature of the Father. In other words, He is God and Man in one Person. Here is the foundational doctrine of our faith: that the Eternal Son, who is One with the Father, has taken upon Himself our nature, so that He is Man also, feeling with human feelings, sharing in our human sorrows, knowing by actual experience all aspects of human life. He is our Good Shepherd because He is the Incarnate Son. The two are completely interwoven.

And there is the other distinguishing characteristic, or mark, of the Good Shepherd: that He “lays down his life for the sheep.” Just as His knowledge of us rests upon the truth of the Incarnation, so the sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross reveals another essential Catholic truth: Christ’s Atonement. Although we cannot fully understand the exact way – the precise mechanics – by which the Atonement achieves our redemption because it is, after all, a mystery which is beyond human grasp – it is enough to know that by His death, He has rescued us from the power of Satan, and restored us to a proper relationship with our Father in heaven.

These theological doctrines of the Incarnation and the Atonement are not just matters of speculation, to be considered by professional theologians; but they describe the close and personal relationship we have with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We have a Good Shepherd who laid down His life for us. Even though we cannot now see Him with our human eyes, He knows us and we know Him. Sight, although it can be a great help towards knowledge, is not necessary to it. Millions who have never seen Christ in the flesh have learned to know Him more deeply than some of those who were able to witness His life and miracles first-hand. As the Scriptures remind us, there is a knowledge by faith as well as by sight – and it is by faith that we know Him. We know that He has laid down His life for us; that, while we were yet sinners, He died for us. And however deficient we may be in our love for Him, nonetheless He is filled with love for us, and in that love He gives us everything we need. It really is as simple as that: if you want to know Him, then believe in Him; the more you live in faith, the more knowledge of Him you will have.

Our faith is true, and so we know that the Good Shepherd gives us everything we need, both for body and soul; grace sufficient for every need; strength in temptation, guidance in perplexity, comfort in sorrow, companionship in our loneliness, solace in our suffering. And even in death itself, we need fear no evil, for He is there to be our Life, to bring us through the dark valley, and to make us dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.


Pictured: "Christ the Good Shepherd"
by Charles Bosseron Chambers (1883-1964)

22 April 2021

The Martyr St. George

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

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

This account keeps before us the importance of the witness of St. George, who fought against the Emperor and against all those things that were trying to destroy the Church. The lesson is that good eventually will conquer evil, and all we need to do is put our fear aside, and live in the grace of our baptism.

O God of hosts, who didst so kindle the flame of love in the heart of thy servant George that he bore witness to the risen Lord by his life and by his death: grant us the same power of faith and love; that we, who rejoice in his triumphs, may come to share with him the fulness of the Resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Tomb of St. George
Lod (Lydda)

Heat and Light

What is it about faith and good works which makes them so inextricably bound together? Together they are like a single flame which gives both heat and light: where one is present, so the other must be. The Christian faith, and those good works which accompany it, comprise that single flame which enlightens the world, driving away the shadows of sorrow and death, and shedding the warmth of God's love upon all who encounter it.

21 April 2021

The Master Artist

The world's best and finest art is that which serves as a kind of window through which one can grasp a fuller knowledge of life, of truth, of beauty. It becomes a passageway for light which illumines one's mind and soul, so that reality is made a little clearer, a little richer. The artist who can achieve this we call a “master,” but such a one is but the merest shadow of the truly artistic Master – that One who does not fashion great works from stone or on canvas, but whose crowning work is mankind. It is He who makes saints, forming them after His own image, colouring them with grace, and placing them in the world as windows through which we see something of God's divine beauty and truth, and through whom we are illumined by God's own Light.

20 April 2021

St. Anselm of Canterbury

"I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this I believe - that unless I believe, I should not understand."
  - St. Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogium, Chapter 1

St. Anselm was uninterested in the Church and in religion generally in his youth, but he became one of the Church's greatest theologians and leaders. He received the title "Father of Scholasticism" for his attempt to analyze and illumine the truths of faith through the aid of reason.

At the age of 15 Anselm experienced a change in attitude towards religion and felt strongly that he wanted to enter a monastery, but was refused acceptance because of his father's opposition. Twelve years later, after once again having lost interest in religion and with years of worldly living behind him, he finally fulfilled his desire to be a monk. He entered the monastery of Bec in Normandy, three years later was elected prior, and 15 years later was unanimously chosen abbot.

Considered an original and independent thinker, Anselm was admired for his patience, gentleness and teaching skill. Under his leadership, the abbey of Bec became a monastic school, influential in philosophical and theological studies. During these years, at the community's request, Anselm began publishing his theological works, comparable to those of St. Augustine. His best-known work is the book Cur Deus Homo ("Why God Became Man").

At 60, and really against his will, Anselm was appointed archbishop of Canterbury in 1093. His appointment was opposed at first by England's King William Rufus, the son of William the Conqueror, but the king eventually accepted the appointment. Rufus persistently refused to cooperate with efforts to reform the Church. Anselm finally went into voluntary exile until Rufus died in 1100. He was then recalled to England by Henry I, who was Rufus's brother and successor. Disagreeing fearlessly with Henry over the king's insistence on investing England's bishops, Anselm spent another three years in exile in Rome.

His care and concern extended to the very poorest people, and he was known for his opposition to the slave trade. In fact, Anselm obtained from the national council at Westminster the passage of a resolution prohibiting the sale of human beings. Anselm, like every true follower of Christ, had to carry his cross, especially in the form of opposition and conflict with those in political control. Though personally a mild and gentle man and a lover of peace, he would not back off from conflict and persecution when principles were at stake.

O Everlasting God, who gavest to thy Bishop Anselm singular gifts as a pastor and teacher: grant that we, like him, may desire thee with our whole heart; and, so desiring, may seek thee and, seeking, may find thee; 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.

18 April 2021

"...we are all witnesses."

The first Christian sermon, preached by St. Peter on the day of Pentecost, is recorded by St. Luke in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Within that sermon he sums up all the truth of Easter when he says, “This Jesus, God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.” [Acts 2:32]

That truth is so great, the victory it describes is so decisive, and the implications so life-changing, that the sole celebration of Easter Sunday cannot fully embrace it. Therefore Eastertide is not just one Sunday, but it’s a full seven Sundays. It is a “week of weeks” in which we celebrate the glory of Christ's victory over sin and death by His resurrection from the dead.

On Easter Day, the focus was, understandably, on the open, empty tomb. The empty tomb is a monument to the victory of Jesus Christ. Every skeptic, every agnostic, every would-be follower, every seeker after the truth must confront the plain and simple fact: there was no dead body to be found there. The women went to the tomb expecting to find a body. What they found instead was an empty tomb. The grave cloths, the shroud, were neatly in their places.

Angels preached the good news. "He is not here. He is risen!" And we can be quite sure that if there had been a body, it would have been produced very quickly by the Jewish leaders, or by the Roman officials. Even today, the unbelieving world would love for archaeologists to find the body of Jesus hidden away in an obscure grave someplace, so that it could put an end to this Christian claim once and for all – because the truth of the matter is this: if you take away the resurrection of the body, everything else is meaningless.

St. Peter’s message is ours also: “This Jesus, God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses." Our hearts burn, they are on fire with the confidence that Jesus is our crucified and risen Saviour, our Redeemer, our Shepherd, the Passover Lamb whose blood has redeemed us, and who truly does abide with us until the day of His Coming again.


Pictured: The entrance of the Edicule which surrounds the tomb in which Jesus was buried, and where He rose from the dead.

17 April 2021

Easter III: "Peace To You"

The disciples were behind locked doors on the night of that first Easter day. Rumours of resurrection were all around them, but at this point they were filled with fear rather than joy. They were afraid of the Jewish leaders – after all, if they had done this horrible thing to Jesus, what might they do to His disciples? So they had shut themselves away, unable to take in all that was happening. It was into that prison of fear that Jesus came. He did not knock on the locked doors, nor did He wait for someone to invite Him in; rather, He simply appeared in their midst. And what were His first words to them? "Peace to you.” This was not an idle wish, but real words of peace.

The disciples were afraid. “Is this some kind of apparition?” they wondered, or perhaps a ghost? So He shows them His wounds - the nail marks in His hands, the wound of the spear in His side. And there, before their eyes, was the fulfilment of what the prophet Isaiah had said so many generations before: "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Jesus Christ, the Victim of violence, now stands before them as the Prince of Peace, and saying to them “Peace to you.” This was a peace which the world cannot give. The Hebrew word for peace is “shalom,” which means more than simply the absence of war and fighting.  It means that everything is in its place, everything is in harmony, everything is whole. What Jesus accomplished on the Cross is now spoken to the disciples, and to all of us, “Peace to you.”

Wherever Jesus is, peace is there. Sin is atoned for. Death is conquered. Life is brimming over. And there is peace. Jesus, the Crucified and Risen One, is our peace. From Jesus Christ Himself, from His wounded Body, come His sacraments of peace and life and salvation. They are there for us in the font and on the altar, all as real as was Jesus in the upper room on that first Easter evening.

The Gospel tells us that the disciples were so joyful, they could scarcely believe it. And who wouldn't be overcome with joy? The Easter news is true. The Lord is risen! How great their joy must have been! To see His wounds, to hear His words, to be filled with His peace.

"Peace to you," the Lord Jesus said to them. He was giving peace for themselves, to quiet their fear, to turn their sorrow into gladness, and He was giving them peace for others – peace to move their feet out of their little locked room and into the world. He tells them that they should “preach in His name to all nations” because they are “witnesses” to all that He has done.

And we know from other Gospel accounts that He breathed His breath on them, and He told them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.” Of course, without the Holy Spirit the disciples couldn’t do what Jesus was sending them to do. "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained," He tells them.

So they are sent out with authority. With His breath and with His words, Jesus authorizes them to do what God alone can do – to forgive sin. There would always be those, even in our own day, who demand to know, “How can mere men presume to forgive sin?” But it isn’t men who forgive sin; rather, it’s the One who sends them, the One who breathes on them, who gives them His Spirit and authority. So when Peter or James or John or Bartholomew or Andrew or any of the other apostles forgave, it was Jesus forgiving. Jesus sends them with His own authority, the authority with which the Father had sent Him. Jesus binds His mouth to their mouths, His word to their words, His breath to their breath, His Spirit to their spirit. Their forgiveness was His forgiveness.

And we know that Jesus not only sent out his original apostles, but that He also makes present His words, His peace, and His forgiveness through the priesthood He has entrusted to His Church through apostolic succession. This means that every bishop, and every priest ordained by a bishop, speaks with the very breath and authority of the Risen Christ when it comes to dealing with sin. Every ordination is an echo of that first Easter Sunday in the locked room when the risen Lord Jesus Christ breathed on that fearful band of disciples and sent them as His apostles to be His witnesses, to forgive and to retain sin. Bishops and Priests don’t represent their own persons when they administer Christ's Word and sacraments, but they speak and act in the stead, and by the command, of the Crucified and Risen Christ who sends them through His Church and who ministers through them.

What a comfort this is for those who are looking for forgiveness and peace. This is Christ’s promise – that He doesn't leave us uncertain about forgiveness. He doesn't leave us searching for peace. Rather, God locates forgiveness and peace where it can be found and received - in Peter and the other apostles, and in those who succeed them. Jesus Christ puts men under holy orders, and included as part of those orders is to minister forgiveness in His Name, to conquer sin through the lordship of Christ’s death and resurrection, to proclaim Christ’s word in season and out of season.

Jesus Christ really is risen from the dead. He is alive; He is not dead. He is present; He is not absent. And in the power of His resurrection, He is present with us in the fullness of His divinity and His humanity. Locked doors could not keep Him out. Nothing can. He is present among us as surely and as fully as He was with the disciples in the locked room on that first Easter. He is with us to free us from our fears, to speak His peace into our hearts, to forgive our sins, to turn our sorrow into gladness, and to bless us.
We have been reborn in His baptism; we have received His forgiveness; we are nourished with His Body and His Blood. His words, His sacrifice, His ministry – these are the gifts of Easter from Christ to His Church. This is the peace which Christ promised – the peace of God which passes all understanding.


Pictured: "Appearance Behind Locked Doors" 
by Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1255-1260 - c. 1318-1319)

14 April 2021

The Bodily Resurrection

God cares for our whole being. He cares about our spiritual lives, and He cares about our physical lives, because He has created us as whole persons. This means that what happens to our bodies matters to God.

God created our bodies; He baptizes them; He nourishes them; He blesses them. He makes our bodies His temple, His dwelling place. St. Paul said we all must give an account on the last day for what we have done in the body – whether good or evil. We are to glorify God with our bodies. What goes on with our bodies matters to God. It mattered enough for Him to send His Son to be conceived and to be born, to suffer in His body for our sakes, to take up our sin and death into His body, to have His body nailed to a cross and to die, and to rise from the dead, all in His body.

And because God has done all this through the body, through the human flesh which He took upon Himself, the fact that He rose bodily from the dead takes on an important meaning. It means that Jesus is who He says: the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. He is the Christ, the Messiah. He is everything He said He is: the Resurrection and the Life, the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the only way to the Father, the only door to heaven, the only Source of salvation.

The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ means that His death is the sufficient sacrifice for our sins. The Father has accepted the death of His son, and raised Him from the dead to prove it. When Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished,” He meant that the work of our redemption was finished, completed, done, consummated. Salvation was won. The death of Jesus stands over and against our sin. Nothing more need to be done. Jesus has taken our sin upon His own body, and nailed it to the cross. And in His resurrection He says, “I have triumphed. I have conquered death for you. Trust in me and not in yourselves, and you will never die.”

The resurrection means that Jesus Christ is true to His word. He said He would rise from the dead in three days, and He did. That means we can take Jesus at His word, when He says that those who believe and are baptized will be saved; or when He says that bread and wine are His Body and Blood in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; or when He says that His priests have His power to forgive sins. Those promises are sure. He is true to His word, and His rising from the dead is God’s guarantee of all that.


Pictured: "The Incredulity of St. Thomas" by Caravaggio, c. 1601

13 April 2021

A New Creation

In the crucified and risen body of Jesus Christ the new creation promised by God has come. St. Paul calls Jesus the “first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Like the first rose that blooms, or the first apple that ripens, it is the sign of more to come.

The resurrection of Christ means that death has been dealt the decisive blow. Christ has taken the sting out of death by dying for us, and now He asks us to live for Him. His resurrection means that He has given us a mission and He summarized it when He said, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to Me.”

Christ did not remain in the tomb, nor can we remain in the tombs we make out of our selfishness, or inaction, or lack of love for others. As St. Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.” The resurrection is a call for us to go out in the Name and power of Christ, so that by our example, by our works of charity, and by our speaking the truth, the whole world may know the overwhelming power and the transforming truth of Christ’s resurrection.


Pictured: "Resurrection of Christ" by Marco Basaiti (1470-1530)

12 April 2021

Pope St. Martin I, Martyr

Although little is known of the early life of the seventh century pope and martyr St. Martin I, we do know that he was member of the Roman clergy, and was elected pope in 649. He immediately found himself in the center of a religious and political controversy, which provides us with facts about him during his pontificate.

In the Byzantine (Eastern) Empire there was a heresy, or false teaching, known as Monothelitism, which said that Christ, while on earth, had no human will, but only a divine one. (The Church teaches that Jesus has two wills: a full and perfect divine one, and a full and perfect human one, and these two wills are in perfect accord with each other.) Why is this teaching important? If Christ had no human will, then He wouldn’t be truly human – He would simply be God dressed up in human flesh. We see the two wills of Christ in Scripture when, for example, Jesus was praying in Gethsemane, and He prayed to His father, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.”

Several of the Eastern emperors had favored the Monothelite teaching, and they were supported by the patriarch of the imperial city of Constantinople.

Pope Martin convened a Council at the Lateran, and the bishops gathered there affirmed the true teaching about the two wills of Christ.

Pope Martin lay on a couch in front of the altar, too sick to fight, when the soldiers burst into the Lateran basilica. He had come to the church when he heard the soldiers had landed. The thought of kidnapping a sick pope from the house of God didn't stop the soldiers from grabbing him and hustling him down to their ship.

When Pope Martin arrived in Constantinople after a long voyage he was immediately put into prison. There he spent three months in a filthy, freezing cell while he suffered from dysentery. He was not allowed to wash, and was given the most disgusting food. After he was condemned for treason without being allowed to speak in his defense he was imprisoned for another three months.

From there he was exiled to the Crimea where he suffered horribly. But hardest to take was the fact that the pope found himself friendless. His letters tell how his own clergy had deserted him and his friends had forgotten him.

He died two years later in exile in the year 656, a martyr who stood up for the right of the Church to establish doctrine even in the face of imperial power. Truth is sometimes “politically incorrect,” but, as St. Martin knew, followers of Christ must defend the Faith nonetheless, even at the risk of controversy, personal suffering, and death.

Everlasting Shepherd, favourably look upon thy flock: and keep it with perpetual protection through the prayers of blessed Martin thy Martyr and Supreme Pontiff, 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.

10 April 2021

Second Sunday of Easter

From the Gospel we heard at the first Mass of Easter, all the way through the Gospels during the Octave, we’ve heard more and more details of those appearances of the Risen Lord Jesus. In fact, in the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter there are two appearances recounted to us, and they were just a week apart. St. John tells us that at the first appearance, which took place in the evening of the day on which Christ rose from the dead, St. Thomas wasn’t there. Later, when he heard that his fellow apostles had seen the Risen Lord, he made his now-famous statement, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” It was that statement which has led to the term in our language which is so familiar – that of being a “doubting Thomas.” And, of course, some eight days later, Thomas is given exactly the opportunity he said he wanted. He got the chance to examine for himself, but all he could do was to sink to his knees and exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”

This raises something interesting for us to look at more closely here. Consider how Christ treated Thomas’ unbelief, compared to how He dealt with unbelief generally during His earthly ministry. It takes only a quick look in the Gospels to see that our Lord’s treatment of the unbelief of the Jewish people and their leaders was very different from His reaction to the initial unbelief of Thomas. We see that the stern words of rebuke which He spoke to unbelievers during His earthly life were very different from the gentle language He used with Thomas. Let’s look at a few of those occasions in our Lord’s ministry when He spoke out about the unbelief which the Jews had for Him and His teaching. In the synagogue at Capernaum, for instance, they were offended when Christ called Himself the Bread which came down from heaven, which must be eaten to have eternal life. In fact, this presented such difficulties for so many, that even quite a few of His followers left Him. And what did He say as they left? “Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him...” And on another occasion, as He taught in the Temple, the Pharisees accused Him of testifying on His own behalf, which they said was the reason why they didn’t believe Him. But instead of modifying His teaching, He was pretty tough on them when He said, “Why do you not understand what I am staying? Because you cannot bear to hear my word. You belong to your father the devil... You do not listen because you do not belong to God.” Or again, as He walked in the Temple on another occasion, the Jews asked Him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” But His reply was a sharp one: “You do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.”

Instances such as those contrast with how Jesus treated His Apostle Thomas, when Thomas expressed his own disbelief, and that he was going to need some proof. Was Jesus stern? Did He berate him? No, Jesus simply said, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless but believing.” This was the gentle reply with which St. Thomas’s inconstant and weak faith was met.

From what we observe, it follows that there must be something essentially different between the unbelief of St. Thomas, and the unbelief of the world. Our Lord Himself is unchangeable, so it follows that when He gave different treatment to cases apparently the same, the cases themselves must actually be different. What was it, then, which made the unbelief of St. Thomas pardonable, while the unbelieving Jews were treated more harshly? Actually, it’s because we’re seeing two different types of unbelievers. First of all, those unbelievers who questioned Christ during His earthly ministry had doubts and questions which didn’t come out of any love for Christ, or from any sense of their own sinfulness and need for God’s mercy. The root of their unbelief lay in their desire to find Christ in the wrong. They didn’t like His teaching; they didn’t want to have Him for their Master; they couldn’t bear to give up their selfishness and their worldliness, and to become His followers – and that meant that there was nothing in them to which Christ could appeal. The only chance of their salvation lay in their repentance, which they had no intention of doing.

Isn’t it true that so much of the unbelief which we see in the world today springs from selfishness and and the attitude that “I’m going to go my own way”? The sad fact is, most people don’t like to give up the things that keep them away from life with God. They don’t want to deny themselves any comfort or any amusement they happen to desire. They can never have their questions answered, or their doubts settled, because both the doubts and the questions rise out of hearts which are at enmity with God. They refuse to subject themselves to the Will of God. If such people are to come to the knowledge of God and His mercy, it won’t be by arguing with them – no, it will be by praying for them, so that they themselves will decide come to know their spiritual poverty, and bring themselves before God in humility and love.

St. Thomas, on the other hand, represents another kind of unbeliever – and he makes us think of those times and situations in which even true disciples of Christ fall into temporary doubt or unbelief – times which many of us have had.

Notice some important things: first of all, Thomas’s unbelief arose during his separation from the other disciples. Where he was, and what he was doing, during that first appearance of the Risen Christ, we don’t know. But the unbelief that settled on him for that ensuing week was like a dark cloud on his soul, and it was due to his absence from his brothers in the Upper Room. Had he been there, he would have had the joy and assurance the others had received when they saw the Lord.

That’s an important lesson for all of us. We cannot separate ourselves from the Church, from our brothers and sisters in Christ, simply to do our own thing, and expect to be able to keep a healthy faith. Thomas’s separation meant that his mind was left to prey upon itself, and that’s what happens to anyone who tries to “go it alone” – we need the fellowship of the Church, and the sacraments of the Church, and the constant teaching of the Church. When God placed an obligation upon us to attend Mass every week, He did it for our good, and not because He simply wanted to keep us from what we might consider to be “more fun.”

So here’s the difference between the unbelief of the world, and the unbelief of Thomas: the world wants its own glory, and it measures everything by its own standards, and it wants nothing to move it away from its own selfishness. Thomas, on the other hand, loved Christ. He may not have fully understood, but his will and his affections were set on God.

And understanding this difference is especially important if we’re going to understand what Divine Mercy is about. God’s mercy doesn’t mean that we can simply do whatever we want and believe whatever we want, and God will somehow “wink” at it. That’s part of the gross misunderstanding we see in the world around us today.

For a person to receive God’s mercy means that he has to be like St. Thomas – that is, to follow Christ wherever He may lead, in the way of obedience. To receive God’s mercy means that we come to Him with love and repentance, and that we sink before Him with the words “My Lord and my God” on our lips. We cannot expect God’s mercy if we expect Him simply to take us the way we are. No, God’s mercy comes when we take God the way He is. To receive the mercy of God means that we come to Him with love in our hearts, as Thomas did – and with the intention to be obedient to what God asks of us, and with the desire to live faithfully within the Church which Christ Himself established. God’s mercy cannot be received by a clenched fist of defiance, but only by a heart open to the love of the risen Saviour who died for our sins and who now lives for our salvation, and whom we greet with the words, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification: grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness; that we may always serve thee in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of 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.

Pictured: "The Doubting of Thomas" by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1881)

Divine Mercy

11 April 2021

On DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY, a plenary indulgence, is granted to the Faithful under the usual conditions:

1.     Sacramental confession (within about 20 days before or after);
2.     Reception of Holy Communion;
3.     Prayer for the intentions of Supreme Pontiff (Our Father and Hail Mary).

and who, on the Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday, in any church or chapel, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin:

1.     either take part in the prayers and devotions held in honour of Divine Mercy,


2.     who, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed or reserved in the tabernacle, recite the Our Father and the Creed, adding a devout prayer to the merciful Lord Jesus (such as “Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!").

You may obtain the plenary indulgence for yourself, or it may be applied to the soul of one who is departed, but it cannot be obtained for another person still living.

05 April 2021

The Paschal Sacrifice

Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed.
Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
- I Cor. 5:6b-8

Yeast (leaven) makes bread rise, but it is a kind of bacterium, so it also corrupts, and as St. Paul says, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” St. Paul’s point is that one sin can spoil the whole person, and even the wider community, both within and as seen by others.

The only way to assure that there is no corruption is to become a fresh batch of dough. Through baptism, we are unleavened – the stain of original sin is washed away, and we’re given grace to enable us to avoid sin. Through our baptismal consecration, we have been made a holy people, a people set apart for God. Because of that, we must constantly strive to become what God intends us to be, which means that we are to eliminate those corrupting influences which compromise the integrity of the consecration which took place at our baptism.

And what has made us “unleavened”? We are unleavened – we are like a fresh batch of dough – because the true paschal lamb, Jesus Christ, has been sacrificed. In the old rites during Passover the lambs were sacrificed, and St. Paul reminds us that in Christ’s death and resurrection, He is the fulfillment of the Jewish Passover.

In fact, Jesus – the true Passover Lamb – is the perfection of the sacrificing of the lambs in the temple at Passover. The lambs which were sacrificed in the Temple were only a reminder that the time had come for the Jews to clean out all leaven from their homes; the sacrificing of the lambs did not actually accomplish the cleansing of the leaven. But the sacrifice of Christ the true Passover Lamb actually casts out the leaven – the corruption of sin – and makes us “a new creation.” By His sacrifice we are made into a kind of pure, unleavened bread, ready to serve Christ in this world, and finally to be with Him in heaven.

Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification: grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness; that we may always serve thee in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of 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.

04 April 2021

A Hymn for Eastertide

God our Father, Lord of glory,
Thanks and praise we give to Thee;
In Thy mercy to our fathers,
Thou didst bring them through the sea.
So by water hast Thou saved us,
|: Now from Adam's sin set free. :|

Jesus Christ, our Risen Saviour,
Of Thy sacrifice we sing;
As the lamb in ancient myst'ry
To Thy people life didst bring,
So in Eucharistic glory,
|: Thou, God's Lamb, art made our King. :|

Holy Spirit, Breath from heaven,
We Thy precious gifts embrace;
At creation all things living
Thou didst sanctify with grace.
So may we, creation's glory,
|: Be for Thee a dwelling place. :|

Loving mercy of the Father,
Sacrifice of Christ the Son,
Quick'ning power of the Spirit:
In us let Thy work be done!
May we rise to life eternal,
|: That our Paschal joy be won. :|

Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips
Tune: Cwm Rhondda, John Hughes (1907)

03 April 2021

Easter Day

Our celebration of Easter tends to surround us with familiar things. We commemorate all the events of Holy Week, and when we come to the Easter celebration, we expect the familiar music, the traditional flowers, the usual order of the Mass, a sermon which speaks the day's message.

That was not so for St. Mary Magdalene, as she made her sad journey to the tomb on that first Easter morning. She had kept watch with the Sorrowful Mother at the foot of the cross on Friday afternoon. She had seen the lifeless body of Jesus placed in the arms of His Mother, and she knew He was dead. She had helped to make the hasty burial preparations, and now she was returning to finish what she thought would be her last act of love towards her Master. But it was then that things seemed to be disoriented, and not as she expected.

When Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb in the semi-darkness, what she saw was very disturbing. The massive stone had been rolled away from the opening, the entrance to the tomb was wide open, and she knew things were not the way they should be. Her first thought? Grave robbers! In fact, those were the first anguished words from her mouth when she ran back to tell the disciples, Peter and John. "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have put him!"

We can understand her panic and her grief. First they had crucified her Master. Now they had stolen His body – the body to which she had planned to give her final loving care. As soon as she tells them, Peter and John both run to the tomb.

John is faster; Peter is braver. John takes a tentative peek inside and sees the strips of burial linens. He hesitates. But Peter, never one to hesitate over anything, heads directly into the tomb. He sees the burial linens along with the cloth that covered Jesus' head. But something is strange here, out of the ordinary. Everything is neat and in order. The head cloth is folded up by itself, separate from the shroud. Whoever did this was not in much of a hurry. The grave-clothes are exactly as there were on Christ’s body, completely undisturbed. Whatever had happened, it was obvious that this was hardly the work of grave robbers.

John finally gathers up enough courage to go inside the tomb to take a good look for himself. And he records this solemn sentence about his own reaction: "He saw and he believed." He saw the empty tomb and the undisturbed linens, and he believed Jesus' word that He would rise from the dead on the third day. He saw and he believed. That’s where we get the phrase, “Seeing is believing.”

But we should understand that seeing is not necessarily believing. And conversely, believing does not necessarily involve seeing. When it comes to our faith, “seeing” puts the evidence before the eyes, but “believing” is trusting that Jesus is true to His word. It is quite possible to see and not believe.

The Pharisees saw with their own eyes the miracles Jesus performed, but they did not believe. Peter saw the same things in the tomb that John did, but Peter did not believe at first. Later that week, another apostle, St. Thomas said, "Unless I see His wounds and touch them, I will not believe."

It was not just what John saw, but it was also what Jesus had said, which led John to believe. And Jesus prepared us for the fact that it is possible to not see and yet believe, when He said to St. Thomas, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." That’s a direct reference to us. And St. John emphasizes this point when he writes, "They did not yet know from the Scriptures that Jesus had to rise from the dead."

Jesus would soon open their minds to see from the Scriptures that Christ must suffer and on the third day rise. That is why He gave them an empty tomb and undisturbed linens. It was to preach to them on that first Easter morning. They were not yet able to get it from the Scriptures, because it is later, near the end of his Gospel, that St. John writes, "These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name."

We do not see what those disciples saw on that first morning. In fact, we cannot see what they saw. The original sites are there, and we can visit them as places of prayer and devotion, but things no longer look as they did. If we travel to Jerusalem and visit the very site of the resurrection, the only reason we know it is the place is because others have told us that it is. There is nothing there now that would let us know what had happened.

Sometimes we might be tempted to think that it would have been easier to believe all this back then, at the time of Mary Magdalene, and Peter, and John. They were eyewitnesses to all that surrounded Jesus' death and resurrection. They saw all of this with their own eyes. Sometimes it seems as though it would be so much easier, if we could just see “with our own eyes!” Just to be able to peek into the open, empty tomb to glance at the linen burial cloths, maybe a glimpse of a bright angel or two, and a look at the face of the resurrected Jesus. It would be so easy for us to believe if only we could see, or at least we imagine it would be.

But the written record handed down to us tells us differently. Seeing is not necessarily believing. Mary Magdalene saw Jesus with her own eyes and she thought He was the gardener. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus saw Jesus; in fact, they walked and talked with Him for seven miles, but they didn’t recognize him until He broke the bread at the table with them. Seeing is not necessarily believing.

Look around at the people of any Catholic parish. There is little visible evidence to tell the world that it is a gathering of holy people, cleansed and claimed by the blood of Christ. But God has declared that it is so – and He expects us to live in such a way that this fact becomes evident to the world.

The next time you hear someone say, “Seeing is believing,” don’t accept that. It simply isn’t true. If we follow only what we see, we will end up racing from one tomb to the next, from one church to the next, from one preacher to the next, perhaps even from one religion to the next, – always searching for something that we can see with our eyes, but coming up empty. We will end up as Mary Magdalene started out on that first Easter morning when she said, "They have taken my Lord, and I don't know where they have put him."

As believers and members of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church, we do know where Jesus is. First of all, we know He is at the right hand of the Father in heaven, restored to His place of eternal glory. But we also know that He is in the midst of His Church, which is the living Body of Christ. And we know this: the same crucified and risen Jesus, who defeated death and crushed the head of Satan, and whom Mary Magdalene saw in the garden that morning, is located in the tabernacle of every Catholic church, hidden yet really present, unseen yet truly and objectively with us. He calls each of us by name from the waters of baptism, making us new creatures by the power of His death and resurrection. We are buried in Him and He is buried in us. When we receive Holy Communion, He buries His crucified body and blood in us, and He remakes us by giving us new life. He could not be any clearer about it: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise Him up on the Last Day."

Jesus gave His life so that we could have eternal life.

When we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, we are also claiming the promise of the resurrection of our own bodies on the Last Day. In rising from the dead, Jesus gives us a glimpse of the Last Day of the old creation on this day, which is the first day of the new creation. The stone is rolled away. The tomb is empty and orderly. Death has been swallowed up in victory. The disorder and darkness of death has been reordered by the Light of Christ. Death has been swallowed up in victory. Jesus Christ is risen, and in Him, we too will rise in glory.

Almighty God, who through thine Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life: we humbly beseech thee; that as by thy special grace thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect; 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.

Pictured: Offering Mass in the Tomb of Our Lord