31 May 2020

Whit Monday


Send, we beseech thee, Almighty God, thy Holy Spirit into our hearts: that he may direct and rule us according to thy will, comfort us in our afflictions, defend us from all error, and lead us into the truth; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

30 May 2020

The Solemnity of Pentecost


Fifty days ago it was Easter, and we celebrated the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. Ten days ago, we commemorated the fact of the Ascension, that He disappeared from the sight of His apostles, restored to His rightful place at the right hand of the Father. But before leaving, Jesus had promised them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you - you are to be my witnesses...” And so on the Solemnity of Pentecost we celebrate the fulfillment of that promise.

The description in the book of the Acts of the Apostles reports it like this: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.” And in the Gospel of St. John, we’re told that when Jesus communicated His Spirit to his apostles, he “breathed on them.”

So then – to express the presence of the Holy Spirit, we have the scriptural picture of the Spirit as being the “breath of God” blowing throughout the creation. In fact, the Spirit can be so impetuous, so unexpected, that the actions of the Holy Spirit are comparable to that of a mighty wind blowing upon us.

The wind isn’t seen. We can’t know its exact source, nor can we know where it stops. Certainly, meteorologists can talk about the start and finish of violent storms, but if you have ever been overtaken by a violent storm you know the feeling of being almost swallowed by something powerful and mysterious. The wind blows and creates a violent stir; it bends things, breaks things, uproots things. It propels clouds and seeds and dust particles. It can devastate by its power, or it can spread the seeds of new life with its movement. And yet with all of the power of the wind, we cannot see it. We can only observe its effect.

So too with the Spirit of God. Like the wind, it can devastate, uproot and destroy – but what God’s Spirit devastates and uproots and destroys is the evil which is brought by the devil. And like the wind, God’s Spirit can refresh, fertilize, transform – but what God’s Spirit refreshes and fertilizes and transforms is us – God’s own people.

In the city of Jerusalem on that first Pentecost day, the noise of the great wind was enough to attract the attention of all those who had gathered in that holy city for the Temple feast. And when they heard the noise, they came running to see what was happening. It was amazing: “Each one heard these men speaking in his own language...” And they all wondered, “How is it that each of us hears them in his native tongue?” This was the true gift of tongues, and it was the first and most spectacular sign of the Spirit’s presence: all of these people gathered in Jerusalem had been separated from each other by the different languages which had come into being because of the curse of Babel, but now they were able to communicate and understand the Gospel. Here was the curse of Babel reversed. The true gift of tongues wasn’t some sort of ecstatic speech; rather, it was the gift of communicating the Gospel in all the known languages, and so bringing unity to those who heard it.

The Spirit of God had been unleashed, which would tear down those things that keep men apart, binding us together by the same Spirit, and so restoring that unity, that communion, which was lost because of the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve.

Of all the lessons to be learned on the Solemnity of Pentecost, perhaps one of the most practical and important is this: that in this world today, with the confusion and selfishness and lack of communication we experience, we have this most excellent gift which has come to us. The Holy Spirit, dwelling within us, truly “gives us utterance” – it allows us to “speak in tongues” – not necessarily in different languages, but transforming us so that through baptism and by being incorporated into Christ’s Body the Church, people from the most diverse backgrounds can understand one another. They truly can speak the same language, which is the language of obedience to the one Heavenly Father, and the language of unity in the one Jesus Christ, His Divine Son.

If, in your life, confusion seems to reign, or broken relationships seem to be normal, or conflict seems to be your daily language, perhaps you’re not using this great gift of God’s Holy Spirit. Remember that a gift is pointless if, after it’s given, it’s never unwrapped or used. That’s not really a gift. No, when something is given to us, we need to untie the ribbons and take it out of the box and put it to the use for which it was intended.

This is what God has given to us in baptism and in confirmation: He gives us Himself – His Spirit – which can blow throughout our lives, cleaning out the dust and clutter, and planting the seeds of Christ’s new life within each of us.

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[Pictured: "The Pentecost" by Louis Galloche (24 August 1670 - 21 July 1761)]

26 May 2020

St. Augustine, Apostle to the English


At the end of the sixth century it looked like St. Augustine had found his place in life. He was the respected prior of St. Andrew’s monastery in Rome, and everyone thought he would spend his life there, instructing, governing, and settling into a satisfying and sedentary life.

But the pope had other ideas. The pope been a young monk under Augustine; now that young monk was Pope Gregory, known to history as St. Gregory the Great. We all know the story of how Gregory had seen some fair-skinned people being sold as slaves, and when he asked about them, he was told they were Angles. “Not Angles, but angels!” he had responded, and 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. Now the time had come to re-evangelize, and Gregory chose 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 to bring them back into the fullness of the Church, and also to convince their warring conquerors to become Christians themselves.

Every step of the way Augustine and his monks heard the horrid stories of the cruelty and barbarity of the Anglo-Saxons. By the time they had reached France the stories became so frightening that the monks turned back to Rome. Gregory had heard encouraging news that England was far more ready for Christianity than the stories would indicate, including the marriage of King Ethelbert of Kent to a Christian princess, Bertha. He sent Augustine and the monks on their way again, fortified with his belief that now was the time for evangelization.

King Ethelbert was a good king and he was curious about his wife’s religion. So he went to hear what the missionaries had to say after they landed in England. But he was just as afraid of them as they were of him! He was afraid that these missionaries would use magic on them, so he held the meeting in the open air. But he listened to what they had to say about Christianity. The king was baptized in 597, and unlike other kings who forced all subjects to be baptized as soon as they were converted, Ethelbert left religion to be a free choice. Nonetheless, the following year many of his subjects were baptized.

Augustine was consecrated bishop for the English and more missionaries arrived from Rome to help with the new task. Augustine had to be very careful because although the English had embraced the new religion, they still respected the old pagan ways. St. Gregory the Great was very wise, and he urged Augustine not simply to destroy the things of the old pagan religion, but to consecrate the pagan temples for Christian worship and pagan festivals were transformed into feast days of martyrs. Canterbury itself was built on the site of an ancient church which had been built during the earlier days of Christianity.

St. Augustine was in England for only eight years before he died in 605, but he planted the seeds for the growth of the Christian faith in what had been a dark pagan land.

O God, who by the preaching and miracles of blessed Augustine thy Confessor and Bishop, hast enlightened the English people with the light of the true faith: mercifully grant that by his intercession the hearts of them that have gone astray may return to the unity of thy truth; 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.

25 May 2020

St. Philip Neri


If we had to choose the one saint who always had a funny story to tell, or a harmless practical joke to play, it would be St. Philip Neri, who lived in the 16th century. His sense of humor was for a reason – he said there were plenty of gloomy saints – he wanted to use laughter and good-natured fun as a way of growing closer to God.

Philip’s life wasn’t always easy. His father was a financial failure, and when he was a young man of eighteen, Philip was sent to work with an older cousin who was a successful businessman. During this time, Philip found a favorite place to pray up in the fissure of a mountain that had been turned into a chapel. We don't know anything specific about his conversion but during these hours of prayer he decided to leave worldly success behind and dedicate his life to God.

After thanking his cousin, he went to Rome in 1533 where he was the live-in tutor of the sons of a fellow Florentine. He studied philosophy and theology, but he really wanted to live a life of prayer. During one of his times of prayer, he felt as though a globe of light had entered into him. This experience gave him so much energy to serve God that he went out to work at the hospital of the incurables and starting speaking to others about God, everyone from beggars to bankers.

In 1548 Philip formed a kind of confraternity with other laymen to minister to pilgrims who came to Rome without food or shelter. The spiritual director of the confraternity convinced Philip that he could do even more work as a priest, so after completing his studies, Philip was ordained in 1551.

At his new home, the church of San Girolamo, he learned to love to hear confessions. Young men especially found in him the wisdom and direction they needed to grow spiritually. But Philip began to realize that these young men also needed guidance during their daily lives. So Philip began to ask the young men to come by in the early afternoon when they would discuss spiritual readings and then stay for prayer in the evening. The numbers of the men who attended these meetings grew rapidly. In order to handle the growth, Philip and a fellow priest Buonsignore Cacciaguerra gave a more formal structure to the meetings and built a room called the Oratory to hold them in.

Philip understood that it wasn't enough to tell somebody not to do something – they had to have something to do in its place. So at Carnival time, when crowds were involved in all sorts of things that could lead to trouble, Philip organized a pilgrimage to the Seven Churches with a picnic accompanied by instrumental music for the mid-day break. After walking twelve miles in one day everyone was too tired to be tempted!

Eventually, Philip’s success with young people started to make some of the other priests jealous, and the good work he was doing was threatened. But eventually Philip and the others who worked with him were seen to be doing God’s work, so they were able to continue. In fact, St. Philip wouldn’t allow a single bad thing to be said about the people who had tried to destroy him. Eventually he and the others who worked with him realized they needed a center for their activities, and they were able to take up residence at what was known as “Chiesa Nuova,” or the “New Church.”

Humility was the most important virtue he tried to teach others and to learn himself. Some of his lessons in humility seem cruel, but they always had a humorous side. When one priest gave a beautiful sermon, Philip ordered him to give the same sermon six times in a row so people would think he only had one sermon. When one man asked Philip if he could wear a hair shirt, Philip gave him permission -- if he wore the hair shirt outside his clothes! The man obeyed and found humility in the jokes and name-calling he received.

And Philip carried out his own mortifications to learn humility. There are stories of him wearing ridiculous clothes or walking around with half his beard shaved off. The greater his reputation for holiness the sillier he wanted to seem. When some people came from Poland to see the great saint, they found him listening to another priest read to him from joke books.

But Philip was very serious about prayer, spending hours in prayer. He was so easily carried away that he refused to preach in public and could not celebrate Mass with others around. But he when asked how to pray his answer was, "Be humble and obedient and the Holy Spirit will teach you."

St. Philip Neri died in 1595 after a long illness, at the age of eighty years.

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Whenever I have led a pilgrimage to Rome, we always visit the magnificent but charming Church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, better known as the Chiesa Nuova, or New Church. This served as the center of operation for St. Philip Neri, the fun-loving saint who combined humor with holiness, and whose work resulted in the foundation of the Oratorians.





O God, who didst exalt thy blessed Confessor Philip to the glory of thy Saints: mercifully grant that we, who rejoice in his festival, may learn to follow rightly 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.

24 May 2020

St. Bede the Venerable


Bede is one of the few saints honored as such even during his lifetime. His writings were filled with such faith and learning that even while he was still alive, a Church council ordered them to be read publicly in the churches.

Bede was born near St. Peter and St. Paul monastery at Jarrow, England, and at an early age he was entrusted to the care of the abbot of the monastery. It was happy combination of Bede’s genius and the instruction he received from scholarly, saintly monks which produced a saint and an extraordinary scholar, perhaps the most outstanding one of his day. He became very learned in all the sciences of his times: natural philosophy, the philosophical principles of Aristotle, astronomy, arithmetic, grammar, ecclesiastical history, the lives of the saints and, especially, Holy Scripture. He was the first one to date historical events using the designation “A.D.” – Anno Domini. He was ordained as a deacon at the age of nineteen, and then as a priest at the age of thirty. From the time of his ordination to the priesthood until his death, he spent all his time writing, teaching and living the prayerful life of a Benedictine monk. Besides the many books that he copied, he composed 45 of his own, including 30 commentaries on books of the Bible.

His advice and spiritual guidance was sought out by kings and important leaders, including the Pope himself. Bede managed to remain in his own monastery till his death. Only once did he leave for a few months in order to teach in the school of the archbishop of York. Bede died in 735 praying his favorite prayer: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end. Amen.”

O God, who hast caused thy Church to shine with the learning of blessed Bede thy Confessor and Doctor: mercifully grant that we thy servants may ever be enlightened by his wisdom, and holpen for his merits’ sake; 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 May 2020

Consecrated in God's Truth


At that time: Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee, since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him.

- St. John 17:1

The Gospel for the seventh and final week of Eastertide puts us back in the Cenacle, the Upper Room. We’re taken back to that night of nights, when our Lord gave us so much, and when He taught us so much. On that night He prayed His great High Priestly prayer, entrusting us to the great purpose and mission for which we have been created.

Our Lord’s aim and mission during His earthly ministry was to glorify His heavenly Father by His obedience. All He said and did gave glory to His Father. On the eve of His sacrifice on the cross and in the presence of His disciples, Jesus made His high priestly prayer: "Holy Father, keep them in your name that they may be one as we are one". Our Lord prayed for the unity of His disciples and for all who would believe in Him. His prayer for His people is that we be united with God the Father in His Son and through His Holy Spirit and so be joined together in unity with all who are members of Christ's body.

What was it that motivated Jesus to lay down His life on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world? It was love – divine love - love for His Father in heaven and love for each one of us who are made in the image and likeness of God. Jesus was sent into the world by His Father for a purpose, and that purpose was a mission of love to free us from slavery to sin – slavery to Satan, to fear, to death, to hopelessness. Jesus saw glory in the cross rather than shame. Obedience to His Father's will was His glory. Jesus kept His Father's word even when, on that dark night in Gethsemane, He was tempted to forgo the cross. Jesus did not rely on His own human resources and strength to accomplish his Father's will. He trusted in His Father to give Him strength, courage, and perseverance in the face of opposition, trials, and temptation.

Because God created us for a purpose and a mission, we also must take up our cross and follow the Lord Jesus wherever He may call us. He will give us the strength and power of the Holy Spirit to live as His disciples. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote: "God has created me to do him some definite service; he has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission - I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for nothing. Therefore, I will trust him. Whatever, wherever I am, I cannot be thrown away." And so we must trust in God and in His call and purpose for our life.

Jesus prayed that His disciples would be sanctified and consecrated in God's truth and holiness. The scriptural word for “consecration” comes from the same Hebrew word which means “holy” or “set apart for God.” And it also means to be equipped with the qualities which will enable us to fulfill our vocation.

Just as Jesus was called by the Father to serve in holiness and truth, so we, too, are called and equipped for the task of serving God in the world as His ambassadors. God's truth frees us from ignorance and the deception of sin. It reveals to us God's goodness, love, and wisdom. And it gives us a thirst for God's holiness.

The Holy Spirit is the source and giver of all holiness. As we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, He transforms us by His purifying fire and changes us into the likeness of Christ.

May our lives be consecrated to God, may we be wholly pleasing to God. May we be sanctified in God’s truth, and may we be guided by the Holy Spirit so that we may follow faithfully wherever God leads us.

O God, the King of Glory, who hast exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven: we beseech thee, leave us not comfortless; but send to us thy Holy Spirit to comfort us, and exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
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 [Pictured: “The High Priestly Prayer” by Eugène Burnand (30 August 1850 – 4 February 1921)]

21 May 2020

St. Rita of Cascia


What a remarkable woman St. Rita was! She was born into a happy and faithful Catholic family, and from the time of her childhood she had a very deep desire to live a life pleasing to God. In fact, her parents gave her a little room in their home as an oratory, where she spent all her spare moments. At the age of twelve, however, she wanted to consecrate herself to God by joining a religious community. As pious as her parents were, they pleaded with Rita not to do that, and instead they arranged for her to be married, at the age of eighteen, to an impulsive, disagreeable young man, who was a great trial to young Rita. They had two sons who had both inherited their father's quarrelsome nature. Throughout that time, however, Rita continued in her devotional life, and eventually her holiness and prayers won her husband's heart, so that he was not only willing for her to continue her religious practices, but he himself began to turn towards God.

They had been married for eighteen years, when her husband was murdered. No sooner had that happened, than both of her sons died shortly after. Rita's former desire to consecrate herself to God in the religious life came back even more strongly. Three times she tried to join the Augustinian nuns in Cascia, but her request was refused each time, and each time she returned to her home. But God had plans for her. One night as Rita was praying in her home she heard herself called by name, while someone knocked at the door. In a miraculous way she found she was in the nuns’ enclosure, even though it was completely locked. Needless to say, the nuns were astonished at this miracle, and took her in as a member of the monastery.

St. Rita's hidden, simple life in religion was defined by her obedience and charity, and she lived a life filled with penances. One day, after hearing a sermon on the Passion of Christ she returned to her cell. Kneeling before the crucifix, she asked the Lord to let her share in His sufferings. Her prayer was answered. Suddenly one of the thorns detached from the image on the cross, and embedded itself in her forehead so deeply that she couldn’t remove it. The wound became worse, and it became horribly infected. Because of the foul odor coming from the wound, she wasn’t allowed to be near the other sisters, and this went on for fifteen years.

One day the Pope proclaimed a jubilee at Rome. Rita wanted nothing more than to attend. She was given permission, but only if the wound in her forehead had healed. Miraculously, it was healed, but only for as long as the pilgrimage lasted. When she returned to the monastery, the wound reappeared, and remained until her death.

As the time of her death approached, St. Rita asked for a rose from the garden of her old home. Although it wasn’t the season for roses, a rose was found in full bloom and it was brought to her. After St. Rita's death in 1457, her face took on a radiance, and the odor from her wound was as fragrant as that of the roses she loved so much. The smell of roses spread through the convent and into the church, where it has continued ever since. At the time of her death, witnesses saw her cell fill with light, and the bells in the tower rang by themselves. Immediately there were miracles of healing, and the world then knew that a saint had lived in their midst.

Bestow upon us, we pray, O Lord, the wisdom and strength of the Cross, with which thou wert pleased to endow Saint Rita: so that, suffering in every tribulation with Christ, we may participate ever more deeply in his Paschal Mystery; 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.

20 May 2020

The Ascension of Our Lord


We’re in the end times.

We live in the last days.

When our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven it was the beginning of the end of the world. However permanent this world may seem, however impossible it may seem at times to resist the powers of this world, the last days of the world are bracketed by the ascension of Jesus Christ and by His return to be our Judge on the Last Day.

God has already determined when the end of this world will happen, and even if He has chosen not to share the information about the precise time with us, He knows it, and His Providence is active in bringing His work in this world to a close.

God’s most important work is, in fact, complete already. Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of the Father, came into this world to save it.  This He has already done. He has died on the cross as the sacrifice for our sins, atoning with His own Blood for our rebellion against his Father. He has risen from the dead and He is our great High Priest, making atonement so that we may become by adoption and grace the sons of God in Him. He has already been taken into heaven, into the Holy of Holies not made with hands, into the living presence of the Father, to offer His one sacrifice of Himself for all sin, for all time, to his Father.

And now Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of His Father, in the place of the highest honour and glory, because His work of salvation is done. Every human being who will ever be saved, is saved by that one sacrifice of Christ once offered. There is no other price for sin, no other saviour, no other hope of eternal life. There is nothing that we can do to add to the pure gift of salvation that Jesus Christ has given to us and to all who believe in Him; and there is nothing that we can do, or that anyone else can do, to save those who refuse to believe, except to pray to Jesus Christ that He will intervene and save them, not by dying again, but by giving them the gift of faith in his death, resurrection, and ascension.

Our Lord’s ascension is also the proof of our salvation.  Since He is true man, as well as true God, and He has taken human flesh and human life into the very presence of God, no one can ever say again that there is no place for man in heaven or before the throne of God, because man in Jesus Christ is already there. In Christ, mankind is made fit, by salvation and grace, for eternal fellowship with God, so that where Christ is now, one day, on the Last Day, all of redeemed humanity will gather before the Father’s throne in their own resurrected and glorified bodies.

Until our Lord’s return to judge the living and the dead, there is but one main task before mankind, and that is to get ready for Christ’s return and for the end of the world.

Getting ready for the end of the world, however, has nothing to do with chasing after every apparition, or listening to every persistent seer, because God has reserved the time and the hour of the end to Himself. Therefore, guessing about the end or trying to predict the end is a complete waste of time. Getting ready for the end of the world has nothing to do with filling our pantries with food or stocking up on other supplies, as though we would actually need them when Christ comes to give the faithful a new heaven and a new earth ruled absolutely by a good and gracious God. And getting ready for the end of the world most certainly has nothing to do with just sitting quietly and piously, waiting for the end to come.

Christ told us what to do to prepare for the end of the world, and we hear what he had to say as it's recorded in the Acts of the Apostles: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).

Since the Holy Ghost descended on Pentecost, our work in the world, and the way we’re to prepare for the end of the world, is to witness to Jesus Christ everywhere from our own homes and towns to the farthest reaches of the earth. To witness is not just "talking about Jesus," but it’s also showing people that Jesus Christ is alive and at work in us by the Christian lives that we’re living in Him.

The way we work, pray, and do charity; the way we stand up for justice, especially for the weak; the way we relax and amuse ourselves as the children of God and not as the children of fallen Adam; the way we embrace the joys and the sorrows of our lives with hope and grace: if we do these things in Christ, knowing that Christ is alive and glorious at His Father’s side and that our salvation is the already-accomplished work of the Son of God made man, then we witness to Jesus Christ by our living. It’s then that we’re preparing ourselves and our neighbors for the end of the world, whenever it comes.

As the angels who attended the ascension told the Apostles, we don’t need to stare up with astonishment at the heavens. What Jesus Christ has already done is a sure and certain thing. We don’t have to gaze at it to make it true. So, also, is Christ’s Second Coming a sure and certain thing, making it completely unnecessary to watch in curiosity for Christ’s return as if watching will make it so, or that it will somehow change the timetable that God has established from before His creation of the world. God will have His way. He will have His redeemed children in a fellowship of love forever. Jesus Christ has already made this so. Our job is to live that fellowship right now, as much as we are able, knowing that God in heaven has already decided when He will make our lives perfect by sending his Son in all His glory, to bring this world to its perfect conclusion in Him.

But it begins in us.

Fathers, love your families by being the spiritual leader they need, as St. Joseph was for the Holy Family.

Mothers, remember that you are the heart of your household, so dedicate yourselves to the Blessed Mother by asking for her prayers and following her example.

Children, obey your parents, and honour them as God’s gift to you.

And for all of us, let’s rededicate our lives to the service of Jesus Christ. Renew the promises made at your baptism. Heal those relationships that are broken. Pay attention to those around you, and see to their needs insofar as possible. This is how we honour and prepare for the return of the Risen and Ascended Lord Jesus Christ.

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that like as we do believe thy Only Begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

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Painting by James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). The Ascension (L'Ascension)

19 May 2020

St. Bernardine of Siena


In the year 1400, there was a terrible plague going throughout what we now know as Italy. In the city of Siena, dozens of people were dying each day, and many of those who were dying were the very ones who were caring for the sick. It was a terrible situation – more and more people getting sick, but fewer and fewer people to care for them. It was then that a young man came to the door of the largest hospital in Siena. He had not come because he was sick, but because he wanted to help. And there were several young men whom he’d brought with him – again, not because they were sick, but like him, they were willing to tend the sick. For four months Bernardine and his companions worked day and night not only to comfort the patients but to organize and clean the hospital. Only at the end of the plague did Bernardine himself fall ill – not of the plague, but of exhaustion.

After he recovered, he returned to his aunt, who had raised him, and he nursed her in her final illness. After his aunt died, Bernardine started to think about where his life should be going. He was the son of a noble family, but he had been orphaned at seven and raised by the aunt whom he had cared for. As a young man, he hated indecent talk so much that he would blush when he heard it. Even his schoolmates hesitated to make him so uncomfortable. One day in the marketplace, a man thought it would be a great joke to tease Bernardine, and in a public place he started to talk to Bernardine in a shameful way. He was surprised when Bernardine slapped him in the face. The man slunk away, shamed in front of the very crowd he'd been trying to impress.

Bernardine, who had come to Siena to study, threw himself into prayer and fasting to discover what God wanted him to do. One might have expected him to continue his work with the sick but in 1403 he joined the Franciscans and in 1404 he was ordained a priest.

The Franciscans were known as missionary preachers, but Bernardine did very little preaching with because he had a very weak and raspy voice. For twelve years he remained in the background, spending his time in prayer. At the end of that time, he went to Milan on a mission. He was told by his superior to preach, but he didn’t want to, because his voice was so weak. But when he got up to preach his voice was strong and commanding, and his words were so convincing that the crowd would not let him leave unless he promised to come back.

Thus began the missionary life of this friar, who came to be called a “second St. Paul.” He crisscrossed Italy on foot, preaching for hours at a time, several times a day. We are told he preached on punishment for sin as well as reward for virtue but focusing in the end on the mercy of Jesus and the love of Mary. His special devotion was to the Holy Name of Jesus. In fact, even when it was clear he was dying, he preached on fifty consecutive days. He died in 1444 when he was almost 64 years old.

O Lord Jesus Christ, who didst endue St. Bernardine of Siena, thy holy Confessor, with preeminent love of thy most holy Name: we beseech thee, that, by the virtue of his merits and intercession: thou wouldest graciously pour into our hearts the spirit of love towards thee; who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

18 May 2020

Ss. Dunstan, Ethelwold, and Oswald


In the mid-10th century there was a king in England whose name was Edgar the Peaceable. Not that he was a peaceable man himself – he wasn’t. But he brought peace to the English, and it is that for which he is remembered.

His elder brother, Eadwig, had been king before him. Eadwig was a rather disagreeable man who brought discord to the land. His reign was known most for the conflict between his noblemen and the Church, which Eadwig had fueled by exiling some of the prominent clergy, which included St. Dunstan.

Eventually people tired of the turmoil and disunity under Eadwig, and it was then that they switched their allegiance to Edgar the Peaceable. This opened up all sorts of opportunities for rebuilding a stable society, because Edgar saw the importance of the place of the Church in the nation. He immediately called St. Dunstan back from exile, requesting that he be made a bishop. St. Dunstan remained King Edgar’s advisor for the rest of his reign.

Having St. Dunstan at his side meant that King Edgar could repair the great damage that had been done to the monasteries throughout the land. A series of attacks from the Danes had all but destroyed these important centers of learning and pastoral care, and it was at St. Dunstan’s urging that King Edgar sought out St. Ethelwold and St. Oswald, petitioning also that they be made bishops. The combined efforts of these three saints meant that the monasteries were restored, which assisted in making England unified as a nation.

We see in the story of these three great British saints the importance of seeking cooperation between the Church, with her preaching of the Gospel and her work of teaching and sanctifying, and the State, with its responsibility to uphold the law and good order of society. When the Church and the State work in harmony, each respecting the God-given role of the other, the good fruits which come from that are undeniable. St. Dunstan, St. Ethelwold, and St. Oswald carried out God’s work faithfully. They sought no honour for themselves, but rather they brought honour to God and His Church by teaching the faith, providing the Sacraments, and showing that ultimately God must be the King of every nation.

We beseech thee, O Lord, graciously to hear the prayers which we offer unto thee on this feast of thy bishops Ss. Dunstan, Ethelwold and Oswald: that like as they were found worthy to do thee faithful service in reforming and administering thy church; so, by their example, we too may have a singular zeal for upholding thy household; 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.

16 May 2020

Rogationtide


"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.

"If you love me..."


Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter, to be with you forever."

- St. John 14:15

As Jesus made this promise of the Holy Spirit, He made it with the requirement that we love Him. And as we learn what love is, we know it is an action and not primarily a feeling. Love is an act of the will, not the state of our mood. Love is an action of one toward another. We love by doing.

And when He says that we are to keep His commandments, He means that we are to guard them, and treasure them as what is most precious in this life. When we keep His commandments, it shows our love for Him. It’s in the keeping of His commandments – the treasuring of His word – that we establish and strengthen the most important relationship in our lives, the one we most need, that is, our relationship with God. And that relationship He seals with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We were created for this – to know God and to love Him, and to be with Him forever. And it is in that relationship that we find the “peace which passeth all understanding.” Isn’t that what we want in the midst of this sometimes-crazy world? Peace? Of course it is. It is by having that peace that we can cope with anything that comes our way. It is when we keep Christ’s commandments, and so show our love for Him, that we can forgive when we have been wronged. It’s by keeping Christ’s commandments, and so loving Him, that we can choose to do the right thing, the noble thing, which makes sense of St. Peter’s words when he writes in his First Epistle, “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

Every one of us, at some time or another, has been treated badly by someone. Every one of us has experienced injustice. Sometimes it’s done to us by institutions. Sometimes it’s done to us by the very people who should be supporting and caring for us. And yet, if we are keeping Christ’s commandments – that is, if we’re doing what is right – St. Peter reminds us that “it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God’s will, than for doing wrong.”

It is difficult, isn’t it, to show love when we have been wronged, or slandered, or have been done real injury by someone. And yet, it’s the command of Christ that we must love God by loving others – even those who hate us. So when opportunities of showing kindness, or being merciful, or of denying oneself for the sake of others – when any of those things occur, let’s not allow them to pass by, but let’s make use of them. Our lives must be, insofar as possible, an imitation of the gracious, loving, tender, sympathizing, self-sacrificing life of Jesus Christ Himself.

We bear Christ within us. We have been marked with His cross. We live in the power of His resurrection. And Christ promises us the Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness, and who will strengthen us with His gifts and supernatural virtues – gifts and virtues which enable us to live as holy and faithful disciples of Christ – choosing the right, not returning hatred for hatred, not seeking to destroy those who would try to destroy us.

The bottom line is this: the closer we’re conformed to Christ – that is, the more we keep His commandments and the more we show His forgiveness - then the more we will be showing our love for Jesus Christ, our Lord.

When we do as Christ asks, we find that it works. Forgive others, even if it has to be an act of the will. And you will have that “peace of God, which passeth all understanding” which will keep your heart and mind in the knowledge and love of God.

14 May 2020

St. Isidore the Farmer


St. Isidore the Farmer, born into a poor but devotedly Catholic family, wouldn’t have appeared to be destined for much in life. His parents had high hopes for him, so it would seem. They named him after the great bishop of Seville, St. Isidore, but that was about all they could give him. As soon as he was old enough to labour in the fields, he was sent off to work. And there he stayed. The boy became a young man who fell in love with an equally devout young woman, Maria. They married, they had a child. They knew immense sorrow when their child died, but they never wavered in their faith.

Isidore attended Mass daily, always before he went to the fields to work. His devotion sometimes caused him to arrive late for his duties, but he always accomplished as much or more than the other workers. Out of jealousy, the others reported his daily lateness to the employer, who decided to keep an eye on Isidore. It became evident that Isidore was toiling faithfully and steadily, and as a sign from God of the goodness and honesty of Isidore, the employer saw the image of an angel working beside him.

I love this saint. As little as he had, he was always generous towards others, always willing to share his meager meal with anyone who had less. His love for God formed the foundation of his work. The manual labor which occupied all his years was dignified by his devotion.

All the saints are interesting, although some of them probably would have been difficult to have been around. But this one… this is a saint I would have liked to have known. Maybe it’s because I grew up working on the family farm, and I know the satisfaction that comes from honest labour on the soil. Maybe it’s my own childhood memories of having a team of oxen as St. Isidore did. Maybe it’s my recollection of feeling an especially close bond to the Divine when working the land. But whatever the cause, I love this saint.

O Almighty God, to whom dost belong all creation, and who dost call us to serve thee by caring for the gifts that surround us: inspire us, by the example of Saint Isidore, to share our food with the hungry, and to work for the salvation of all people; 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 May 2020

Our Lady of Fatima


The famous apparitions of the Virgin Mary to the children of Fatima took place during the summer of 1917, during the time of the First World War. The little Portuguese village where this took place was made up mostly of poor people, many of them farmers, and the children of the village traditionally were given the job of taking the sheep out to graze on the hillsides.

The three children who received the apparitions were Lucia, who was ten years old, and her two younger cousins, Francisco and Jacinta. Together they tended the sheep and, with Lucia in charge, they would often pass the day by praying the Rosary. It was in the summer of 1916 that an Angel appeared to them several times and taught them a prayer to the Blessed Trinity.

On Sunday, May 13, 1917, toward noon, a flash of lightning caught the attention of the children, and they saw a bright, radiant figure appearing over the trees of the Cova da Iria. They saw this figure only as “a Lady,” and the "Lady" asked them to pray for the conversion of sinners and for an end to the war. Also, they were told to come back every month, on the 13th.

Further apparitions took place on June 13 and July 13. This began to get the attention of large crowds of people, and the local government authorities did not like the idea of people gathering together like this, fearing that the people might just turn into a mob. So on August 13, when the children tried to go to the Cova da Iria, they were stopped by local authorities from going. Even though they were stopped on the 13th, they saw the apparition on the 19th. On September 13 the Lady requested that the Rosary be prayed for the intention of an end to the war. Finally, on October 13, the "Lady" identified herself as "Our Lady of the Rosary," and again she asked for prayer and penitence.

On that day, something strange also took place: the sun seemed to tumble from the sky and crash toward earth. The children had been forewarned of it as early as May 13, the first apparition. The large crowd, which was estimated to be at 30,000 by reporters who were there, saw this phenomenon and came away astounded.

Official recognition of these visions which the children had at the Cova da Iria came on October 13, 1930, when the local bishop - after long inquiry - authorized devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary at the site. The two younger children had died: Francisco in 1919, and his sister Jacinta in 1920. Sister Lucia died in 2005.

Even though people seem more interested in the apparitions themselves, and the miracle of the sun, the important thing is the message brought by the Blessed Virgin Mary – namely, that we should pray, that we should repent of our sins, and that we should dedicate ourselves to being like Mary herself – obedient, and willing to do whatever God tells us.

On this day in 1981 an attempt was made on the life of Pope St. John Paul II, when he was shot while moving through the crowds at the Wednesday audience. He credited Our Lady of Fatima with saving his life. "It was a mother's hand that guided the bullet's path," he said. He made a pilgrimage of thanksgiving to Fatima on this date in 2000, and presented one of the bullets which hit him. It is now incorporated into the crown of Our Lady.

O God, who didst choose the Mother of thy Son to be our Mother also: grant us that, persevering in penance and prayer for the salvation of the world, we may further more effectively each day the reign of Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

11 May 2020

Ss. Nereus and Achilleus, Martyrs

The story begins with a young woman named Flavia Domitilla. She was the niece of the emperor, she was very beautiful, and she was engaged to be married to a young man named Aurelianus. The young man was very much a product of society at that time – he had little respect for Domitilla, and was marrying her mainly because she was the niece of the emperor. He had relationships with other women at the same time, and had no intention of breaking them off.

Nereus and Achilleus were Roman soldiers in the household of Flavia Domitilla. They were instructed and baptized by St. Peter. These two soldiers admired Domitilla, and began to tell her about the Christian faith. They helped her to understand her own human dignity, and she decided that she really wanted to give herself to Christ completely, and that she wouldn’t marry. Aurelianus reported all three to the Roman authorities as being Christians. They were beheaded, martyred out of hatred for the Christian faith.

Domitilla owned some property outside the city of Rome, and she had given this land to the Christians as a cemetery, and to this day it is the site of one of the major catacombs. Nereus, Achilleus, and Domitilla were buried there.

Grant, O Lord, that this holy festival of thy blessed Martyrs, Nereus and Achilleus, may ever assist us in thy service: and that we may thereby be rendered worthy to walk after thy commandments; 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 May 2020

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 spiritual things. 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 laborers. 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.

02 May 2020

Jesus, Our Good Shepherd


At that time: Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

– St. John 10:1-10

One of the beautiful images we have of Jesus is of Him as our Shepherd. Scripture says that we are “the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.” He is our crucified and risen Shepherd. He died as a Lamb to save the sheep, and He lives to guide His flock to eternal life.

The Lord Jesus is, in a special way, the incarnation of the twenty-third Psalm. He shepherds us, and we rest in the green pastures of His presence. He anoints our heads with the oil of His Spirit in the quiet waters of Holy Baptism. He prepares the table of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the presence of our fiercest enemies - sin, death, and the devil - and He feeds us with His own Body and Blood. He restores our souls by forgiving our sins. He guides us in the paths of righteousness by His Word, which is the rod of His Law, the staff of His Gospel. He leads us through the dark valley of death on to eternal life.

Jesus is the shepherd of the sheep, and He says that He is also the gate of the sheep pen, the “door of the sheep.” He uses a picture of how sheep were raised in that part of the world at that time. Sheep were kept in walled pens during the night for protection. The sheep pen had only one gate. Every morning the shepherd would stand at the gate and call out to his sheep. They would perk up at the sound of his voice and they would follow him through the gate out into the pasture. A devoted shepherd would even sleep on the ground across the opening of the sheep pen during the night to protect his flock. The shepherd literally became the “gate” for the sheep, and he would be willing to lay down his life for his sheep.

The opening to the sheep pen distinguished true and good shepherds from thieves and robbers. You could always tell if a person was a real shepherd by the way he got into the sheep pen. True shepherds entered through the gate in broad daylight in full view of the gatekeeper. False shepherds and thieves would sneak over the fence at night, in order to steal what wasn’t theirs. And so Jesus distinguishes true pastors from false ones. Those who preach Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins and who guide people through the waters of baptism on into the rich pasture land of the authentic Word of God, and into the Sacraments established by Christ, are true shepherds. But those who preach themselves and who guide people by their own self-invented methods and means are false shepherds.

Jesus warns us that there are plenty of thieves and robbers and false shepherds all around us. They promise life, but instead, they rob us of life. They teach falsely that Holy Baptism is something we do simply as a sign, instead of teaching that it’s something God does, in which He takes away the stain of sin and marks us as His own. They teach falsely that the Mass isn’t the sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood, but rather that it’s simply a symbolic meal in which we think fondly of what Jesus did a long time ago. These false shepherds try to turn people inward to their own beliefs, to their own piety, to their own feelings, to their own works, to their own selves, and away from Jesus and the truth which He reveals through His Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

These are the thieves and robbers that Jesus is talking about. They look for the isolated, scattered, solitary sheep. Sheep who are separated from the flock are easy pickings for the poachers. People who aren’t grounded in the Church, and in what Christ teaches us through His Church, tend to believe in a little bit of everything, and so they wind up believing in nothing at all. Sheep who don't learn the voice of their shepherd, soon will follow any voice that happens to call to them.

Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly, and the greatest freedom we can have in this life is to be sheltered in His sheep pen, the Church, to live under Him in His kingdom, to be under the watchful gaze of the crucified and risen Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.

Jesus our Good Shepherd is the door to eternal life, the only door. His death and resurrection is the only path that leads to eternal life. One day He will stand at the gate and call each of us again by name, as He has already called us in Baptism, as He continues to call us as members of His Body. And we will hear His voice and follow Him through His death and resurrection, and He will raise us up, clothed with His immortality, to eternal life in Him.

01 May 2020

St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor


St. Athanasius, the great champion of the Catholic Faith was born at Alexandria, about the year 296, of Christian parents. Educated under Alexander, who became the bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius made great progress in learning and virtue, eventually going into the desert to spend some time in retreat with St. Anthony.

In 319, Athanasius became a deacon, and as a young cleric, he was called upon to take an active part against the rising heresy being put forth by Arius, an ambitious priest of the Alexandrian Church, who denied the Divinity of Christ. This was to be the life struggle of St. Athanasius.

In 325, he assisted his bishop at the Council of Nicaea, where his influence began to be felt. Five months later Alexander died. On his death bed he recommended St. Athanasius as his successor. In consequence of this, Athanasius was unanimously elected Patriarch in 326.

His refusal to tolerate the Arian heresy was the cause of many trials and persecutions for St. Athanasius. He spent seventeen of the forty-six years of his episcopate in exile. After a life of virtue and suffering, this intrepid champion of the Catholic Faith, the greatest man of his time, died in peace on May 2, 373.

Everliving God, whose servant Saint Athanasius bore witness to the mystery of the Word made flesh for our salvation: give us grace, with all thy Saints, to contend for the truth and to grow into the likeness of thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.