30 September 2019

St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus


Marie Thérèse Martin was born into a family of very faithful Catholics, and she was the youngest of five daughters. Her father was a watchmaker, and her mother, Zelie, who died when Thérèse was four, was a lace maker.

While still a child she felt the attraction of the cloister, and at fifteen obtained permission to enter the Carmel of Lisieux, taking the name of Sr. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. For the next nine years she lived a very ordinary religious life. There are no miracles or exceptional experiences recorded about her. She attained a very high degree of holiness simply by carrying out her ordinary daily duties with perfect faithfulness, having a childlike confidence in God's providence and merciful love and by being ready to be at the service of others at all times. She also had a great love of the Church and a zeal for the conversion of souls, and she prayed especially for priests.

She died of tuberculosis on September 30, 1897, at the age of 24, and was canonized in 1925. She has never ceased to fulfill her promise: "I will pass my heaven in doing good on earth." Her interior life is known through her autobiography called The Story of a Soul.  In 1997 Pope St. John Paul II declared her to be a Doctor of the Church.

O Lord Jesus Christ, who hast said, except ye become as little children ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven: grant us, we beseech thee, in meekness and lowliness of heart to follow the footsteps of blessed Thérèse thy Virgin; and so at last to come unto thine everlasting kingdom; who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

On a personal note, with the Commemoration of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus - the Little Flower - come remembrances of occasions when she has sent a rose into someone's life at just the right time.

My own experience was several years ago, during a time of great trial, when I very much needed a sign of God's love and something which would indicate I was acting in accordance with His Divine Will. It was at about 4:45 a.m., when I was walking from my car to offer Mass at the Carmelite convent where I was chaplain. It was a winter morning, and the temperature was near freezing. I had been asking St. Thérèse and the Blessed Mother for their intercession. Just before opening the gate to the convent I looked down, and on the sidewalk was a fresh rose with some drops of water on the petals. When I got inside I asked the nuns if they had been bringing roses in from someplace, but they assured me that they hadn't. I took it as a sign of God's love, sent by the Little Flower, and it was all I needed at that important time.

26 September 2019

St. Vincent de Paul, Apostle of Charity


St. Vincent was born of poor parents in a little village in France, in about 1580. He was able to go to school, which was run by a community of Franciscans, and it was there that he learned the value of humility and poverty, and the importance of serving others. Young Vincent was a good student, and in fact, he made such good progress that when he was in his fourth year of school, a wealthy man chose him to be a tutor for his own children, and Vincent was able to continue his studies at the same time, using the money he earned to pay for his education. When he was about sixteen, he went to the University for his theological studies, and he was eventually ordained to the priesthood.

St. Vincent was a very young priest in 1605, and he was travelling on a ship off the coast of France, when the ship was attacked by a band of pirates. They were Muslims from north Africa, and they captured St. Vincent and carried him off to Tunis, where he was sold into slavery. He lived as a slave for about two years, but then he managed to escape. Having gained his freedom, he went immediately to Rome to give thanks to God, and he then returned to France. Once again he became a tutor for the children of a wealthy family, and it was during that time that he had an important experience which changed the direction of his life.

There was a poor servant in the household who was dying. St. Vincent went to him to hear his last confession and to prepare him for death, and as he visited him, St. Vincent realized that the poor and those who worked in service to others really hadn’t been receiving very much spiritual care. When he brought this to the attention of his employers, they urged him to do what he thought best to remedy the situation. He began to a great ministry to the poor, preaching missions so they could know the Gospel, and he founded a religious community for men and also another for women, whose purpose was to serve the poor.

St. Vincent’s work was recognized throughout the Church, and although many wanted to honor him, he himself remained completely humble, continuing his work for the poor. He became known as the Apostle of Charity, continuing his work, until he died at the age of eighty. His work continues through the communities of priests and sisters which he established, and also through the Church’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which encourages laypeople to join in the work of alleviating the needs of the poor.

O God, who didst strengthen blessed Vincent de Paul with apostolic power for preaching the Gospel to the poor, and for promoting worthiness in the clergy: grant, we beseech thee; that we who reverence his pious deeds may also be taught by the example of his virtues; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

23 September 2019

Our Lady of Walsingham

In 1061, so the story goes, the lady of the manor of Little Walsingham in Norfolk, a widow named Lady Richeldis, prayed to our Lady asking how she could honour her in some special way. In answer to this prayer Mary led Lady Richeldis in spirit to Nazareth and showed her the house in which she had first received the angel's message. Mary told Richeldis to take the measurements of this house and build another one just like it in Walsingham. It would be a place where people could come to honour her and her Son, remembering especially the mystery of the Annunciation and Mary's joyful 'yes' to conceiving the Saviour.

The late eleventh century and all through the twelfth and thirteenth century was the era of the crusades, which saw a growing interest in the sites consecrated by the human presence of Jesus in the Holy Land. But now pilgrims need not go so far; in England itself there was a 'new Nazareth' built by one of their own countrywomen.

The actual house from Nazareth was moved – perhaps even miraculously – to Loreto, and we find that the measurements of the house in Loreto and the house in Walsingham are the same.

Why venerate a house? Because it reminds us that the Word-made-Flesh lived as Man with mankind.

O God, who, through the mystery of the Word made flesh, didst in thy mercy sanctify the house of the Blessed Virgin Mary: do thou grant that we may keep aloof from the tabernacle of sinners, and become worthy indwellers of thy house; 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.

17 September 2019

The Ember Days


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

The fasting is modified – basically no food between meals – and there are particular things for which we are to pray and give thanks. These days are to be used to give thanks for the earth and for the good things God gives us -- for our food, for the rain and the sunshine, for all the blessings of life through nature. And because of that, it is a time when we remind ourselves to treat creation with respect, and not waste the things God has given us.

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

Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord, to us thy humble servants: that we, who do refrain ourselves from carnal feastings, may likewise fast from sin within our souls; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

16 September 2019

St. Robert Bellarmine


Born in the year 1542, Robert Bellarmine's family was large and relatively poor. His mother was especially devout and was given to works of charity, fasting, and regular prayer. Young Robert learned these things from her, and never forgot them. As a very young man he entered the Society of Jesus, and was eventually ordained. He had a tremendous gift for preaching, and was also a notable scholar, going on to teach at the University of Louvain. The Church recognized his faithfulness and his intellectual brilliance, and after a time he became a bishop, and was named a Cardinal.

He never forgot the lessons he learned at home, and his charity to the poor was manifested in the fact that even though he lived in a Cardinal’s palace, he ate the same food as the poor would eat, he dressed in rough clothing, and he even stripped the plush curtains and tapestries from the walls to sell them and gave the money to the poor. As he said, “The poor can catch cold; the walls cannot.”

He lived at the time when the Protestants were causing great dissension in the Church, and St. Robert Bellarmine used his considerable talents in presenting Catholic truth, and helping others to see the errors of protestantism.

He knew the best way to keep the Church strong was to make strong Catholics, and he compiled an important catechism for teachers and students. In fact, it was his work with the young that gave him the most satisfaction, and he had an immense effect on the lives of the students who learned from him. One the most famous of his students was a young man named Aloysius, who eventually was himself raised to the altar, and is known to us as St. Aloysius Gonzaga.

St. Robert Bellarmine – a great man who never forgot his humble beginnings, and who loved the Church and worked for her unity.

O God, who didst adorn blessed Robert Bellarmine, thy Bishop and Doctor, with wondrous learning and virtue, to banish the wiles of error and contend for the rights of the Apostolic See: grant by his merits and intercession; that we may grow in the love of truth, and that the hearts of those that err may return to the unity of thy Church; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

12 September 2019

St. John Chrysostom


St. John Chrysostom is known as one of the greatest preachers in the long history of the Church, and surely his homilies form a major legacy, but John lived at a time and in circumstances which demanded great holiness – something which God granted him in abundance.

John was born in 347, the son of Christian parents. His mother, Anthusa, was widowed at the age of twenty, soon after his birth. Anthusa gave all of her attention to her son. She gave him the best classical education available, and he was enrolled as a catechumen when he was eighteen. He came under the influence of Bishop Meletius of Antioch, who baptized him and ordained him lector.

At this time, John felt called to lead the life of a monk-hermit. He took up residence in a cave, spent his time studying the Scriptures, and put himself under the discipline of an elderly hermit named Hesychius. The discipline was demanding and austere, eventually breaking the health of John. He returned to Antioch, where he was ordained a priest, and he came to be known as a great preacher.

During the next twelve years the people of Antioch were enthralled with his sermons. He preached with a depth of knowledge and persuasiveness that were memorable to those who heard him. It was during this time that he received the nickname of Chrysostom, or “golden mouth,” because it was commonly said that “his words are like pure gold.” In the year 397, the Emperor Arcadius appointed John Chrysostom to the vacant See of Constantinople. It was feared that John’s humility would lead him to refuse the position, so he had to be lured to Constantinople, where he subsequently was consecrated bishop in 398.

It was not a peaceful or holy place in which John Chrysostom found himself. There was an abundance of political intrigue. Fraud and extravagance were the order of the day. Those around him were driven by their raw ambition to be advanced in their positions. John Chrysostom brought about immediate changes: he cut back expenses; he gave generously to the poor; he constructed hospitals. He set about reforming the clergy, called the monks back to a life of discipline, and reminded all the people of the importance of leading faithful and moral lives.

As might be expected, his program of reforms made enemies – especially the Empress Eudoxia along with Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria. With the city of Constantinople in an uproar and his life under threat, John was exiled by the emperor in the year 404.

The situation continued to deteriorate, with the papal envoys being imprisoned, and John (who was defended by the pope and who had ordered John to be restored to his See) was sent even further into exile. Eventually he found himself six hundred miles from Constantinople, across the Black Sea. St. John Chrysostom was weary and he was sick. He died in exile in the year 407, and yet his last words were, "Glory to God for all things."

O God of truth and love, who gavest to thy Bishop John Chrysostom eloquence to declare thy righteousness in the great congregation, and courage to bear reproach for the honour of thy Name: mercifully grant to the ministers of thy Word such excellence in preaching; that all people may share with them in the glory that shall be revealed; 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.

11 September 2019

The Most Holy Name of Mary


The Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated on September 8th and on September 12th we commemorate the giving of her name by her parents, Ss. Joachim and Anne. They chose the Hebrew name of Miryãm, which means “lady” or “sovereign.” The feast of the Holy Name of Mary originated in Spain and was approved by the Holy See in 1513. It was Pope Innocent XI who extended its observance to the whole Church in 1683, and for a very special reason. It was an act of thanksgiving to our Lady for the victory on September 12, 1683 by John Sobieski, king of Poland, over the Turks, who were besieging Vienna and threatening the West.

What happened was this: the Turks had been hammering the city of Vienna for a couple of months, and finally enough was enough. Under the leadership of Poland’s king an army comprised of Germans, Austrians and Poles made their move against the Turks, routing them completely. It was such an important victory that the Pope was inspired to do something special – thus, what had been a localized commemoration was now an act of thanks from the whole Church. But there’s more to the story…

When the Turks made their hasty retreat there were all sorts of things left behind, including several sacks containing a strange bean unknown to the victors. Thinking it was food for the invaders’ camels, the Viennese were about to dump it all in the Danube. But there was a citizen of Vienna who had been a captive under the Turks. He knew these beans were roasted by the Turks, and after grinding them up they would put them in hot water, making a drink they really seemed to relish. This man, Kolinsky, received exclusive permission to make and sell this new and unfamiliar drink – coffee.

The Viennese people hated it. It was bitter. The grounds got stuck in their teeth. It didn’t seem much better than drinking a cup of mud. Then a friend of Kolinsky made a suggestion. Strain out the grounds. Put a little milk in it to lighten it up. Add some sugar to make it more palatable. After following that advice, the people flocked to buy it, and so the first coffee house was born.

But let’s face it – what’s a cup of coffee without something to go with it? And with that came a new pastry which not only tasted good, but poked a stick in the eye of the defeated Muslim invaders. The delectable comestible was formed into the shape of a crescent – that symbol which had become so hated during the Turkish occupation – and with every bite of these wonderful pastries the Viennese were able to have another small victory over their invaders.

So there we have it. There’s the story of how Turkish coffee was made drinkable, and how the croissant – the “Turkish crescent” – came into being. And it all happened as part of the victorious triumph achieved under the banner of the Most Holy Name of Mary.

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that thy faithful people who rejoice in the name and protection of the most holy Virgin Mary, may by her loving intercession be delivered from all evils on earth and be found worthy to come to everlasting joys 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.

08 September 2019

St. Peter Claver, Priest and Missionary

A native of Spain, the young Jesuit priest Peter Claver left his homeland forever in 1610 to be a missionary in the colonies of the New World. He sailed into what is now Colombia, and he was ordained there in 1615.

By this time the slave trade had been established in the Americas for nearly 100 years, and Cartagena was a chief center for it. Ten thousand slaves poured into the port each year after crossing the Atlantic from West Africa under conditions so foul and inhuman that an estimated one-third of the passengers died in transit. Although the practice of slave-trading was condemned by Pope Paul III and later labeled "supreme villainy" by Pius IX, it continued to flourish.

Fr. Peter Claver's predecessor, Jesuit Father Alfonso de Sandoval, had devoted himself to the service of the slaves for 40 years before Fr. Claver arrived to continue his work, declaring himself "the slave of the Negroes forever."

As soon as a slave ship entered the port, Peter Claver moved into its infested hold to minister to the ill-treated and exhausted passengers. After the slaves were herded out of the ship like chained animals and shut up in nearby yards to be gazed at by the crowds, the young priest plunged in among them with medicines, food, bread, brandy, lemons and tobacco. With the help of interpreters he gave basic instructions and assured his brothers and sisters of their human dignity and God's saving love. During the 40 years of his ministry, he instructed and baptized an estimated 300,000 slaves.

His apostolate extended beyond his care for slaves. He preached in the city square, gave missions to sailors and traders as well as country missions, during which he avoided, when possible, the hospitality of the planters and owners and lodged in the slave quarters instead. 

After four years of sickness which forced the saint to remain inactive and largely neglected, he died on September 8, 1654. The city magistrates, who had previously frowned at his kindness toward the slaves, ordered that he should be buried at public expense and with great pomp.

He was canonized in 1888, and Pope Leo XIII declared him the worldwide patron of missionary work among those who are in slavery or any kind of forced servitude.

O God, who madest Saint Peter Claver a slave of slaves, and strengthened him with wonderful charity and patience as he came to their help: grant, through his intercession; that, seeking the things of Christ, we may love our neighbour in deeds and in truth; 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.

07 September 2019

Nativity of the Virgin Mary

"The day of the Nativity of the Mother of God is a day of universal joy, because through the Mother of God, the entire human race was renewed, and the sorrow of the first mother, Eve, was transformed into joy." - St. John Damascene

The birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been celebrated as a liturgical feast at least from the sixth century. Its origin can be traced to the occasion of the consecration of a church in Jerusalem just inside St. Stephen’s Gate, near the Pool of Bethesda, on the traditional site of the house of Ss. Joachim and Anne. Within a few years the liturgy was celebrated in Rome, having been introduced by monks from the East, and the celebration included a procession to the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

Although the actual date of Mary’s birth isn’t known, the Church settled on September 8th, and the celebration Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception was fixed on December 8th, as the date corresponding to nine months before the celebration of her Nativity.

These two feasts can be seen as a kind of bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament. With the conception and birth of the Blessed Virgin, God completed the new Ark – the living Temple – in which He would dwell. Through Mary, Jesus the Incarnate God has come to us.

O Lord, we beseech thee, bestow on thy servants the gift of heavenly grace: that as our redemption began to dawn in the child-bearing of the Blessed Virgin Mary; so this festival of her Nativity may yield us an increase of peace; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

03 September 2019

St. Cuthbert, Bishop and Confessor

    St. Cuthbert is often depicted with otters because it is 
    said that his practice was to pray while wading in the frigid 
    North Sea, and when he emerged from the water he would 
    be accompanied by otters that would dry his feet with their 
    fur, and warm him.

St. Cuthbert, one of the great saints of Britain, was born in Northumbria in about the year 635, at about the same year in which St. Aidan founded the monastery on Lindisfarne. He was raised as a Christian, and in his youth he spent time in military service, and also seems to have spent time as a shepherd.

His life changed when he was about 17 years old. He was tending sheep out in the hills, and looking into the night sky he saw a great light descend to earth and then return, and he believed that a human soul was being taken to heaven at that moment. The date was August 31, 651, the night of the death of St. Aidan, who was the great bishop and monk of Lindisfarne. This became Cuthbert’s time of decision for the future of his life. He immediately went to one of the monasteries, Melrose monastery, which had been founded by St. Aidan, and requested admittance as a novice.

For the next 13 years he was with the Melrose monks. At that time Melrose was then given land to found a new monastery at Ripon, and Cuthbert went with the founding party and was made guestmaster of the new foundation. After serving in that capacity for a time, St. Cuthbert returned to his original monastery and was appointed as Prior of Melrose.

After a time, St. Cuthbert moved to Lindisfarne and settled into the life of the monastery. He became an active missionary, and he was very much in demand as a spiritual director. He was an outgoing, cheerful, compassionate person and no doubt became popular. But when he was about forty years old he believed that he was being called to be a hermit and to dedicate himself completely to prayer. He moved to a remote island, where he remained for another ten years.

He was not destined to remain in the life of a hermit. When he was about fifty years old, he was asked by the Church to leave his hermitage and become a bishop, and he very reluctantly agreed. For two years he was an active, travelling bishop, and he journey far and wide ministering to those under his spiritual care.

Finally, feeling that death was approaching, he retired to his old hermitage where, in the company of Lindisfarne monks, he died on March 20, 687.

The 4th of September is kept as a commemoration of St. Cuthbert in remembrance of the transference of his relics to Durham. With the invasion of the Vikings near the end of the 9th century, the body of St. Cuthbert was taken from Lindisfarne by the monks to a new location for safekeeping, until finally arriving at the place known as “Deer’s meadow,” or “Durham,” where a chapel was built for the relics, and this chapel marked the place where the great Durham Cathedral now stands.

Almighty God, who didst call St. Cuthbert from following the flock to be a shepherd of thy people: Mercifully grant that, as he sought in dangerous and remote places those who had erred and strayed from thy ways, so we may seek the indifferent and the lost, and lead them back to thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

02 September 2019

Pope St. Gregory the Great


St. Gregory, known as "the Great," served the Church as Supreme Pontiff from 590 until 604. Before this he had served the city of Rome as a senator and prefect, all by the age of thirty. He then dedicated himself to God by entering religious life as a Benedictine monk. It was during his time as abbot that a well-known incident took place.

In about the year 573 A.D. the abbot Gregory, during a walk through the marketplace, saw some fair-skinned people being sold as slaves. When he asked about them he was told they were Angles. He responded, “Non Angli, sed angeli” (“Not Angles, but angels!”).  After he became the pope he decided he needed to send missionaries to their people, to bring them the knowledge of the Gospel. England had once known the faith, but the Angles and the Saxons had conquered the land and had driven the Christians out. But now the time had come to re-evangelize, and St. Gregory chose St. Augustine and thirty monks to make the unexpected and dangerous trip to England. Augustine and his monks had the task of finding what few Christians there were and bringing them back into the fullness of the Faith, and to convince the war-loving conquerors to become Christians themselves.

Pope St. Gregory also had a tremendous influence on the liturgical and musical life of the Church, and in an ancient account it says, “St. Gregory established at Rome two schools of song, that one beside the church of S. Peter, and that other by the church of S. John Lateran, where the place is yet, where he taught the scholars, and the rod with which he menaced them is yet there.”

Pope St. Gregory well-deserves to be called “the Great,” not just for his re-evangelization of England, but for his liturgical, musical, and spiritual influence upon the whole of the Western Church.

O God, the strength of them that put their trust in thee, who didst stablish thy blessed Confessor and Bishop Saint Gregory with the strength of constancy to defend the freedom of thy Church: grant, we pray thee, that by his prayers and good example, we may manfully conquer all things contrary to our salvation; 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.