28 February 2020

Our best for God...

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

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

A little thought to consider at the beginning of Lent.

21 February 2020

The power of the tongue...

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

– St. James 3:3-6a

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 February 2020

St. Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 February 2020

"You are the Christ."

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

-St. Mark 8:27-33

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 February 2020

Sight to the blind...

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

- St. Mark 8:22-26

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

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

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

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

17 February 2020

It's really just one President's Day

This editorial from the New Hampshire Union Leader seems most appropriate for today:

Washington's Birthday Editorial: Celebrating America's father

TODAY is generally known as Presidents Day, but its official name is George Washington's Birthday. And for good reason.

Without George Washington, there might never have been a United States of America. Washington shaped his world more profoundly than any other man of his time. Not bad for a hot-tempered adventurer with little formal schooling.

Washington was 6-foot-3 and so strong a cousin said he could throw a stone clear across the Rappahannock River (not a coin across the Potomac, as legend later had it). He was a professional surveyor by age 17. By age 21, he was a major in the Virginia militia, trusted enough that the governor sent him to order the French out of the Ohio River Valley.

On his second trip to assert England's claim on the territory, he accidentally started the French and Indian War. Really. He wrote a friend after the skirmish that ended in his surrender, "I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me, there is something charming in the sound."

In a later battle, Washington, though only a volunteer aide, took command as Gen. Braddock's army was being routed, and rode before the men in a courageous attempt to rally them. He had two horses shot out from under him and four bullets shot through his coat. He liked it so much, it became a trademark behavior. During the Revolutionary War, when most commanders watched the battle from safely behind their forces, Washington routinely rode the line, shouting orders, encouraging his men, and defying death and the enemy.

Washington's personal bravery was matched by his creativity as a commander. Unable to beat the British head-on, he outfoxed them. Had any other general been in charge of the Continental Army, it almost surely would have failed. Washington figured out how to beat the British by fighting a new style of war.

Having won that war, Washington in 1783 ceremoniously resigned his command. He could have taken over the country, something many expected him to do. Instead, he baffled the princes of Europe by relinquishing his power and returning to his farm.

Four years later, he was called from retirement to preside over the Constitutional Convention, where he helped shape the Constitution. His efforts to encourage ratification were probably the difference in some states, especially Virginia, which ratified the Constitution by a single vote.

Again, Washington retired. But not for long. Without campaigning for the job, he was elected President by a unanimous vote of the Electoral College.

As President, Washington again baffled his detractors by refusing to assert authoritarian control. His administration was marked with great successes and some blunders. But he achieved his wish of making the presidency a short-term office held in trust on behalf of the people.

"His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motive of interest or consanguinity, friendship, or hatred, being able to bias his decision," Thomas Jefferson wrote.

That is the standard Washington set. It has not always been followed, of course. But Americans to this day strive to put someone in office who can live up to Washington's ideals.

To call today Presidents Day is to do an injustice to our greatest President and the man without whom we would not have a republic of our own. Yes, we have had some great Presidents since, but none as great as George Washington.

16 February 2020

Looking for signs...

The Pharisees came and began to argue with Jesus, seeking from him a sign from heaven, to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, "Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation." And he left them, and getting into the boat again he departed to the other side.

– St. Mark 8:11-13

People tend to expect God to reveal Himself in the abnormal, anticipating that the actions of God should be extraordinary. It was no different during the time of the earthly ministry of Jesus. It was believed then that when the Messiah came, startling things would happen. In fact, one of the things that the many false messiahs invariably promised was that if people would follow them, they would do amazing things.

In this gospel passage we see the Pharisees demanding just such an abnormal sign – something from heaven which would “prove” that Jesus was the Messiah. They wanted to see some shattering event blazing across the sky, defying nature and giving astonishment to people.

Jesus knew their demand wasn’t due to a real desire to see the hand of God. In fact, they were blind to what was already happening. The whole world was full of signs. God had already made Himself known through His creation. God doesn’t need to “break into creation” to make Himself known because there is already enough evidence for anyone who has eyes to see.

The sign of the truly religious individual is that he finds God in all sorts of circumstances – not just in the astounding or inexplicable. So Jesus asks in exasperation: “Why does this generation seek a sign?” And then He states just as abruptly, “Truly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation…”

Seven Founders of the Servite Order

The following is excerpted from The Church's Year of Grace, by Pius Parsch.
These seven men were the founders of the Servite Order, a community instituted for the special purpose of cultivating the spirit of penance and contemplating the passion of Christ and Mary's Seven Sorrows. Due to the spirit of humility cherished by the members of the Order, their accomplishments are not too widely known. But in the field of home missions great things are to their credit, and certainly they have benefited millions by arousing devotion to the Mother of Sorrows.

The Breviary tells us that in the midst of the party strife during the thirteenth century, God called seven men from the nobility of Florence. In the year 1233 they met and prayed together most fervently. The Blessed Mother appeared to each of them individually and urged them to begin a more perfect life. Disregarding birth and wealth, in sackcloth under shabby and well-worn clothing they withdrew to a small building in the country. It was September 8, selected so that they might begin to live a more holy life on the very day when the Mother of God began to live her holy life.

Soon after, when the seven were begging alms from door to door in the streets of Florence, they suddenly heard children's voices calling to them, "Servants of holy Mary." Among these children was St. Philip Benizi, then just five months old. Hereafter they were known by this name, first heard from the lips of children. In the course of time they retired into solitude on Monte Senario and gave themselves wholly to contemplation and penance. Leo XIII canonized the Holy Founders and introduced today's feast in 1888.

O Lord Jesus Christ, who for the remembrance of the sorrows of thy most holy Mother didst by the seven blessed Fathers enrich thy Church with a new household of her servants: mercifully grant that we may in such wise be joined to them in their sorrowing; that we may be made worthy to be partakers of their gladness; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

13 February 2020

Ss. Cyril and Methodius

Cyril and Methodius were brothers who were born in Thessalonica in the 9th century, where their father was an army officer. This was a part of Greece where many Slavic people lived – people from central and eastern Europe – and the mother of Cyril and Methodius may well have been Slavic. Both of them were highly educated, and gave themselves in service to the Church, becoming missionaries to the Slavic peoples.

The time came when the Duke of Moravia (the present-day Czech Republic) received political independence from German rule, and also received ecclesiastical autonomy, which meant having their own clergy and their own form of the liturgy. It was in these circumstances that Cyril and Methodius became missionaries, devoting themselves to spreading the Gospel and to strengthening the Church among the Slavic people.

Cyril's first work was to invent an alphabet, still used in some Eastern liturgies. The Cyrillic alphabet was formed, being based on Greek capital letters. Together the brothers translated the Gospels, the psalter, St. Paul's epistles, as well as the liturgical books, into Slavonic. They composed a Slavonic liturgy, which was very unusual at that time, since the expectation was that the liturgy would be unified with the liturgy of the Western Church, and would use Latin as its language.

Because of these liturgical differences, the use of a different alphabet, and their free use of the vernacular in preaching, it led to opposition from the German clergy. The bishop refused to consecrate Slavic bishops and priests, and Cyril was forced to appeal to Rome. On their visit to Rome, he and Methodius had the joy of seeing their new liturgy approved by Pope Adrian II. Cyril died during this visit to Rome, and is buried at San Clemente, but Methodius continued his mission work for 16 more years. There were still many in the Church who fought against what the brothers had been doing, and it seemed as though their efforts would die with them. However, the Slavic people held on to their liturgy and their language, and it continued to spread, as it has done to this day.

Almighty and everlasting God, we thank thee for thy servants Cyril and Methodius, whom thou didst call to preach the Gospel to the Slavic peoples: raise up, we pray thee, in this and every land, heralds and evangelists of thy kingdom; that thy Church may make known the unsearchable riches of Christ, and may increase with the increase of God; 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.

12 February 2020

Food enough for all

At that time: Jesus arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house, and would not have any one know it; yet he could not be hid. But immediately a woman, whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, "Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." But she answered him, "Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." And he said to her, "For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter." And she went home, and found the child lying in bed, and the demon gone.

– St. Mark 7:24-30

In the gospel passages appointed to be read these days, we’re seeing our Lord exercising His ministry in Gentile territory. Tyre and Sidon were cities of Phoenicia. Although these cities were part of Syria, they were all independent, and they were all rivals. They had their own kings and their own gods. The gospel passage just before this one showed Jesus doing away with the distinction between clean and unclean foods. Now, we see Him doing away with the difference between clean and unclean people. Just as the Jew would never soil his lips with forbidden foods, so he would never soil his life by contact with the unclean Gentile. But here we see Jesus indicating that the Gentiles are not unclean, but that they, too, have their place within God’s kingdom.

Jesus came north to this region probably for a temporary escape from the attacks He was experiencing. The scribes and Pharisees had branded Him as a sinner because of His seeming disregard for their rules and regulations. Herod regarded Him as a threat. The people of Nazareth treated Him with disdain. So we begin to see the movement of the Gospel from the Jews to the Gentiles.

The gospel tells us of a Gentile woman coming to Jesus and asking Him for help for her daughter. His answer was that it wasn’t right to take the children’s bread and give it to dogs. At first hearing, this seems rather harsh. In that society at that time the dog wasn’t the lovable companion we think of today; rather, it was a symbol of dishonor. To the Greek, the word “dog” referred to a shameless woman. In fact, the Jews often used the word “dog” as a term of contempt for Gentiles. Now, since this word was obviously an insult, how do we explain Jesus’ use of it here? First of all, He didn’t use the usual word for the dogs of the street; rather, He used a term which denoted the pet dogs of a household. Also, His tone of voice made all the difference. We know how a word can be used in one way as an insult, or with a different tone can be almost affectionate in its use. We can imagine our Lord’s tone taking some of the harshness out of the word.

In any event, Jesus didn’t shut the door on the woman. First, He said, the children must be fed; but only first. We can infer from His words that there was food left for the household pets. True, Israel had the first offer of the gospel, but only the first. There were others still to come.

The woman no doubt had a sense of humour, and she saw that Jesus was speaking with a smile. She said, “I know the children are fed first, but might I not get the scraps which the children throw away?” Here was a woman with a faith that wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. This woman, with a daughter tragically ill, still had enough light in her heart to reply with a smile. Her faith was tested, her faith was real, and her prayer was answered. We can see in this woman a symbol for the Gentile world which eventually would receive the Bread of heaven which many of the Jews rejected.

11 February 2020

Out of the heart...

Jesus called the people to him again, and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him." And when he had entered the house, and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, "What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man."

-St. Mark 7:14-23

When Jesus first said, "there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him," it was, from a Jewish perspective, about the most revolutionary thing He had ever said. Over and over throughout the gospels we see Jesus arguing with the Jewish legal experts about different aspects of the traditional law. But now Jesus says something which is unthinkable to the orthodox Jew by declaring that nothing that goes into a man can, in and of itself, defile him, since it’s only received into his body and then passes through him in a natural way.

No Jew ever believed that, and to this day, no orthodox Jew would ever believe that. In the Old Testament we find long lists of animals that are considered to be unclean and which may not be used as food. In fact, there were many times in the history of the Jews that people were willing to be put to death rather than to eat something which was declared to be unclean. During the time of the Maccabees, there were horrific deaths inflicted on Jews for not eating swine’s flesh. It was in the face of that historical reality that Jesus made this revolutionary statement that nothing which goes into a man can make him unclean. Jesus seemed to be sweeping aside the laws for which Jews had suffered and died.

Of course, what Jesus was teaching was that it wasn’t the thing, in and of itself, that could be clean or unclean. It is the act of obedience or disobedience which can defile. It’s much as is the situation with the matter of meat on Friday for Catholics. It’s not so much the meat that was somehow “unholy” on that particular day; rather, it’s the fact that this was the sacrifice which was required by the law of the Church, and to purposely ignore it was to commit an act of disobedience. And just as the Church still requires some sacrificial act on the normal Fridays of the year, so to ignore it is still an act of disobedience, and so can be the occasion of sin.

What Jesus was condemning was the attitude that the mere avoidance of unclean things was all that was required, rather than having an understanding that such things need to flow from our love for God, and our desire to be obedient to him.

Jesus says that what can make a man unclean is what comes from within his heart – not what goes into his mouth. And then Jesus lists a number of things which are much more serious in the total holiness of individuals than externals. A list such as the one contained in St. Mark’s gospel surely is a sobering thing, and really calls us to examine our lives, and what “comes out of our hearts.”

09 February 2020

Receiving and giving...

When Jesus and his disciples had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the shore. And when they got out of the boat, immediately the people recognized him, and ran about the whole neighborhood and began to bring sick people on their pallets to any place where they heard he was. And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or country, they laid the sick in the market places, and besought him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment; and as many as touched it were made well.
 -St. Mark 6:53-56

As the people saw more and more the things Jesus did – the miracles, the cures, the wise teaching – so increasingly they gathered around Him. Just before this passage from St. Mark’s gospel He had invited His apostles to withdraw with Him and rest for a while, just to have a break from the needs of the crowd.

But no sooner had Jesus landed on the other side of the sea, than once again He was surrounded by throngs of people. When we consider it from a purely human point of view, it must have been somewhat exhausting, since everyone who came, came because they wanted something from Him.

Of course, it’s understandable that people should come to Jesus to get things from Him, because there is so much that only He can give. But it can become habitual constantly to take and only rarely to give in return.

We need to take great care about that when it comes to our relationship with God. If we’re not careful, we can tend to treat God rather like a restaurant server, expecting Him to see to our needs as they arise, and in the way we want. It’s too easy for us to fall into the habit of presenting what we feel are our needs to God and then expecting God to respond accordingly.

Surely, it would give great joy to our Lord if, more often, we came to Him to offer our love, our service, our devotion – and less often simply to demand from Him.

St. Scholastica

Twins often share the same interests and ideas with an equal intensity. Therefore, it is no surprise that Scholastica and her twin brother, Benedict, both established religious communities within a few miles of each other.

The twins were born in 480 of wealthy parents. Scholastica and Benedict were brought up together until he left for Rome to continue his studies.

We don’t know much about Scholastica's early life. She founded a religious community for women near Monte Cassino, five miles from where her brother was the abbot of a monastery.

The twins visited each other once a year in a farmhouse because Scholastica was not permitted inside the monastery. They spent these times discussing spiritual matters.

According to an account written by Pope St. Gregory, the brother and sister spent their last day together in prayer and conversation. Scholastica sensed her death was close at hand and she begged Benedict to stay with her until the next day.

He refused her request because he did not want to spend a night outside the monastery, thus breaking his own Rule. Scholastica asked God to let her brother remain and a severe thunderstorm broke out, preventing Benedict and his monks from returning to the abbey.

Benedict cried out, "God forgive you, Sister. What have you done?" Scholastica replied, "I asked a favour of you and you refused. I asked it of God and he granted it."

Brother and sister parted the next morning after their long discussion. Three days later, Benedict was praying in his monastery and saw the soul of his sister rising heavenward in the form of a white dove. Benedict then announced the death of his sister to the monks and later buried her in the tomb he had prepared for himself.

O God, who for a testimony to the path of innocency didst cause the soul of thy holy Virgin Saint Scholastica to enter heaven in the appearance of a dove; grant unto us, that by her merits and intercession we may walk in such innocency of life; that we may be worthy to attain everlasting felicity; Through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

08 February 2020


Septuagesima Sunday is the name for the ninth Sunday before Easter, the third before Ash Wednesday. The term is sometimes applied also to the period that begins on this day and ends on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. This period is also known as the pre-Lenten season or Shrovetide. The other two Sundays in this period of the liturgical year are called Sexagesima and Quinquagesima, the latter sometimes also called Shrove Sunday.

Septuagesima comes from the Latin word for "seventieth." Likewise, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima, and Quadragesima mean "sixtieth," "fiftieth," and "fortieth" respectively. Septuagesima Sunday is so called because it falls within seventy days but more than sixty days before Easter. The next Sunday is within sixty, Sexagesima, and the next within fifty, Quinquagesima. Falling within forty days of Easter (excluding Sundays) the next Sunday is Quadragesima, the Latin word for the season of Lent, which (not counting Sundays) is forty days long. Because every Sunday recalls the resurrection of Christ, they are considered "little Easters" and not treated as days of penance.

The 17-day period beginning on Septuagesima Sunday is intended to be observed as a preparation for the season of Lent, which is itself a period of spiritual preparation for Easter. The “Alleluia” ceases to be said during the liturgy, and the Gloria in excelsis is not used. Likewise, violet vestments are worn, except on feasts, from Septuagesima Sunday until Holy Thursday.

07 February 2020

St. Josephine Bakhita

On February 8, the Church commemorates the life of St. Josephine Bakhita, a Canossian Sister who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Sudan.

Josephine Bakhita was born in 1869, in a small village in the Darfur region of Sudan. She was kidnapped while working in the fields with her family and subsequently sold into slavery. Her captors asked for her name but she was too terrified to remember so they named her “Bakhita,” which means “fortunate” in Arabic.

Retrospectively, Bakhita was very fortunate, but the first years of her life do not necessarily attest to it. She was tortured by her various owners who branded her, beat and cut her. In her biography she notes one particularly terrifying moment when one of her masters cut her 114 times and poured salt in her wounds to ensure that the scars remained. “I felt I was going to die any moment, especially when they rubbed me in with the salt,” Bakhita wrote.

She bore her suffering valiantly though she did not know Christ or the redemptive nature of suffering. She also had a certain awe for the world and its creator. “Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself: 'Who could be the Master of these beautiful things?' And I felt a great desire to see Him, to know Him and to pay Him homage.”

After being sold a total of five times, Bakhita was purchased by Callisto Legnani, the Italian consul in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. Two years later, he took Bakhita to Italy to work as a nanny for his colleague, Augusto Michieli. He, in turn, sent Bakhita to accompany his daughter to a school in Venice run by the Canossian Sisters.

Bakhita felt called to learn more about the Church, and was baptized with the name “Josephine Margaret.” In the meantime, Michieli wanted to take Josephine and his daughter back to Sudan, but Josephine refused to return.

The disagreement escalated and was taken to the Italian courts where it was ruled that Josephine could stay in Italy because she was a free woman. Slavery was not recognized in Italy and it had also been illegal in Sudan since before Josephine had been born.

Josephine remained in Italy and decided to enter Canossians in 1893. She made her profession in 1896 and was sent to Northern Italy, where she dedicated her life to assisting her community and teaching others to love God.

She was known for her smile, gentleness and holiness. She even went on record saying, “If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and Religious today.”

St. Josephine was beatified in 1992 and canonized shortly after on October 2000 by Pope John Paul II. She is the first person to be canonized from Sudan and is the patron saint of the country.

O God, who didst lead Saint Josephine Bakhita from abject slavery to the dignity of being thy daughter and a bride of Christ: grant, we pray; that by her example we may show constant love for the Lord Jesus crucified, remaining steadfast in charity and prompt to show compassion; 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.

St. Jerome Emiliani

St. Jerome Emiliani was born in the 15th century, and as a young man he became a soldier for the city-state of Venice. During that time he wasn’t terribly religious; in fact, he was fairly selfish, and didn’t think much about other people. He loved the life of a soldier, and was never happier than when he was heading off to do battle against someone else. One day, when he was engaged in a minor battle, Jerome was captured and chained in a dungeon. While he was in prison, Jerome had a lot of time to think. He began to think about his life, and he began to think about God, and gradually he learned how to pray. One day he managed to escape from prison. He returned to Venice to his family, and with nothing else to do, he took charge of the education of his nephews. At the same time, he began his own studies for the priesthood.

St. Jerome was eventually ordained, and settled into the life of a parish priest. But soon after his ordination, God began to call St. Jerome into a new ministry – not in a parish, but a ministry which would reach far beyond a single parish. A terrible plague was sweeping across Europe, and there was widespread famine throughout northern Italy where St. Jerome was. He began caring for the sick and feeding the hungry at his own expense. While serving the sick and the poor, he made the decision to devote himself and all his resources to assist others, particularly for the care of abandoned children. He founded three orphanages and a hospital.

In about the year 1532, Jerome and two other priests established a religious congregation dedicated to the care of orphans and the education of youth. Jerome died in 1537 from a disease he caught while tending the sick. He was eventually canonized, and was named the universal patron of orphans and abandoned children.

O God, the Father of mercies, who didst raise up Saint Jerome Emiliani to be a defender and father of the fatherless: vouchsafe, through his merits and intercession; that we may faithfully guard thy spirit of adoption, whereby we are called and are indeed thy children; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

06 February 2020

Thoughts on Being Salt and Light

At that time: Jesus said to his disciples, "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.  You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.  Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

-St. Matthew 5:13-16

A pilgrimage to the Holy Land is always filled with great moments and experiences. One of the highlights is visiting and praying at the place which has come to be known as the Mount of the Beatitudes. Other than the present-day church with its surrounding buildings, it looks today much as it did when a crowd had surged around our Lord, eager to hear what He had to say. The reasons for them being there were probably as varied as the people themselves. But there they were, ready to listen, and Jesus was ready to speak. He made His way to the top of that hill. His disciples gathered around Him.  The people sat down, and He began.

He started with the Beatitudes – a series of statements, each of which began with the words, “Blessed are…” Each sentence was a kind of gateway which opened up the way into the Kingdom of God. And as He spoke those statements of blessedness, the people’s vision was directed to their eternal destiny, which is life with God.

But He went on from there, because His message wasn’t simply to prepare for the future reward of heaven – no, He went on, showing that those who were willing to follow the path He outlined in the Beatitudes would be keenly aware of the importance of the “here and now” as part of the preparation for heaven.

“You are the salt of the earth…” He said. “You are the light of the world…” He told them. And these weren’t just poetic phrases He was using. They were filled with meaning for those who were hearing them that day by the Sea of Galilee.

Salt was highly valued in the time of Christ. In that time, salt was indispensable for the preservation of food. In fact, it was so valuable that part of the Roman soldier’s payment was in salt, and our word “salary” comes from the same word. So in saying to the disciples and others gathered around Him that they were the “salt of the earth,” He was reminding them of their immense value in the sight of God, and of their importance in the building up of the Kingdom of God. They shouldn’t worry if their numbers were small – after all, a pinch of salt is effective in a way that’s completely out of proportion to its amount.

Salt is inconspicuous. In many ways, it’s ordinary. It’s intended to be mixed with common things – and that’s the way it’s supposed to be for the followers of Christ. Their witness is supposed to be a day-by-day thing. The living of the Christian life means mixing in with the things of this world, giving everything a new flavour and a new meaning.

And as Christians are called to be salt, there’s a warning that goes along with it: “…if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.” In other words, Christ was saying that if we squander the gifts and the grace He gives us, then we’re of little use to Him. No – we’re supposed to be a preservative of all that’s good in the world, bringing out the best in others. The graces and blessings given to us by God aren’t meant for us alone; they’re to be salt to the world – a seasoning which, when it’s spread among others, preserves in them what God intends for them to be.

“You are the salt of the earth.” That little statement should make each one of us ask, “How do I, as a follower of Christ, affect others? Do I help them love God by showing them God’s love? Do I assist them in growing closer to Christ by speaking and living Christ’s truth in my own life?”

And we’re to be not only “salt,” but also “light.” In many ways, God’s truth had been obscured in Christ’s time, not only by the darkness of pagan cults, but by turning religion into something that was just an external form, much as what’s happened in our own day. But Jesus had come to shed light so that man might see God. He’s telling us that we’re supposed to shine, too. But it’s not our own value or worth that we’re suppose to make shine – no, we’re to shine by obeying the light that we’ve received from God. He says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Here’s a reminder to us: one of the ways others will come to know God will be because of what they see in us. We can’t make somebody else know God, but we can help others come to know God by our own witness. All we need to do is to be faithful to Christ. It’s the Lord who has made us salt and light, and all we need to do is to be faithful to the responsibilities Christ has given us – faithful in our everyday lives – to be faithful husbands and wives, faithful mothers and fathers, faithful friends and co-workers – doing our best, helped by the grace of God, so that others can see and be moved, not by our imperfect goodness, but by God’s perfect goodness as it’s reflected in our own lives.

Consider this. When you turn on a light in a roomful of beautiful things, it isn’t the light bulb we admire, is it? Rather, we appreciate the things of beauty which have been illuminated. That’s how it’s supposed to be with us. If we’re the “light of the world,” we’re not here to call attention to ourselves; rather, we’re supposed to illuminate God and His goodness. And as a light, we’re supposed to shine light on the evil which has invaded God’s world, so that the light will drive it away.

Christ tells us that we’re the salt of the earth and the light of the world. And we are, if we live in Him and for Him. We’re to be salt, so that Christ can be savoured by those who are starving for Him. And we’re to be light, so that Christ can be seen by those whose sight has been obscured by the darkness that surrounds them.

And if we take that responsibility seriously – to be salt and light – we’ll be a blessing, and we will be blessed, just as Christ said we would be, when He taught from that hilltop by the Sea of Galilee.

02 February 2020

The conquering power of Christ

Jesus and his disciples came to the other side of the sea, to the country of Gerasenes. And when he had come out of the boat, there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who lived among the tombs; and no one could bind him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out, and bruising himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped him; and crying out with a loud voice, he said, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me." For he had said to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!" And Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion; for we are many." And he begged him eagerly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; and they begged him, "Send us to the swine, let us enter them." So he gave them leave. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea. The herdsmen fled, and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus, and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the man who had the legion; and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their neighborhood. And as he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. But he refused, and said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and all men marveled.

-St. Mark 5:1-20

As we read in this passage from St. Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has just cast the demons out of the poor man who was the victim of demonic possession by “Legion, for we are many." This happened in the Decapolis, which literally means “The Ten Cities.” Near the Jordan, and on its east side, there were ten cities that had a rather special character. They were essentially Greek cities, because of the conquests of Alexander the Great, which firmly established Greek culture in that area. This explains how there came to be large herds of swine there – something that would not be found in Jewish areas.

The cities were beautiful. They had their Greek gods and their Greek temples and their Greek amphitheaters. The people were devoted to the Greek way of life. And this is of interest to us. Why? Because with Jesus ministering in the Decapolis, it was a hint of things to come. Although there were Jews in the area, it was fundamentally a Greek area, and this is the first time we see Jesus moving His teaching from a purely Jewish setting out to Gentile territory.

With that in mind, we can see some reason, now, for Jesus not letting the man who had been possessed stay with Him. Jesus sent him back to stay in this area as a witness to the power of the one true God. This man, delivered from demonic possession, was probably a “seed” planted, which would grow into a harvest of people who would ultimately give themselves to Christ after His resurrection. This, then, was the first contact that Christianity had with Greek civilization, and it’s a small, but dramatic picture of the future of the spread of the Church throughout the world by conquering evil and spreading the Gospel.