30 August 2020

St. Aidan of Lindisfarne



The Holy Island of Lindisfarne has a recorded history from the 6th century AD. It was an important center of Christianity not only under St. Aidan of Lindisfarne, but also is known for its association with St. Cuthbert, St. Eadfrith of Lindisfarne and St. Eadberht of Lindisfarne.

St. Aidan studied under St. Senan, one of the great Irish monk-saints, and he became a monk at Iona in about the year 630. His obvious virtues caused him to be selected as first Bishop of Lindisfarne in 635.

Lindisfarne is an island of about one thousand acres, and is off the northeast coast of England. It served as a home base for the evangelizing of the mainland, and in time St. Aidan became known as the "apostle of Northumbria," because the king of Northumbria, Oswald, asked him to come and spread the Christian faith among the people. St. Bede spoke highly of the spiritual care given by St. Aidan to his people. King Oswald had studied in Ireland and because of their common spiritual heritage he eventually became a close friend of St. Aidan, supporting him in his work to the end of his life.

St. Aidan died at Bamborough on 31 August 651, and his remains were taken to Lindisfarne. St. Bede writes that "he was a pontiff inspired with a passionate love of virtue, but at the same time full of a surpassing mildness and gentleness."

O loving God, who didst call thy servant St. Aidan of Lindisfarne from the peace of a cloister to reestablish the Christian mission in northern England, and didst endow him with gentleness, simplicity, and strength: Grant, we beseech thee, that we, following his example, may use what thou hast given us for the relief of human need, and may persevere in commending the saving Gospel of our Redeemer Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

29 August 2020

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

 

At that time: Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.”

- St. Matthew 16:21-27


Jesus had asked the disciples who men said that He was, and Peter had just professed that He is the Christ. Immediately they then heard our Lord say that He must go to Jerusalem, where He would suffer and die.

Of course, the disciples – especially Peter – were aghast at what Jesus was revealing to them, but He knew He had a work to complete. The Father’s will was His will. He had no other task but to do upon earth what the Father had sent Him to do. The Divine Son was under orders from the Father.

And in imitation of Christ, the Christian is also a man under orders. What are those orders? Our Lord said it: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

So, He makes it clear. Our first order of business in following Christ is that we must deny ourselves. What does that mean? Think of it in this way: Peter once denied his Lord. He said of Jesus, "I do not know the man." So, to deny ourselves is to say, "I do not know myself." It is to ignore oneself. It is to treat the “self” as if it were not the most important thing to us – in fact, to treat it almost as though it doesn’t exist. Usually we treat ourselves as if our self is far and away the most important thing in the world. If we are to follow Jesus, we must put self aside.

And then, we are to take up our cross. To take up our cross means to be prepared to face sacrifice, suffering, and even death out of loyalty to Jesus. It means to be ready to endure the worst that can be done to us for the sake of being true to Him.

And the taking up of the cross is a voluntary thing. It isn’t something that is thrust upon us by surprise, but it is something we choose. Part of Christian discipleship is to choose willingly the cross which has been prepared for us.

Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve: pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of 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.

28 August 2020

The Passion of St. John the Baptist

"The Beheading of St. John the Baptist" ca. 1869
by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

The circumstances surrounding the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist are rather unsavoury.  We have a drunken king who makes an oath because he doesn’t want to be embarrassed in front of others. We have a hateful queen who wants revenge. We have a young girl who is pushed into the situation by her mother, and made to do a seductive dance and then make a deal to have John murdered.

John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets, and he was the first New Testament prophet. Of course, he was treated like most of the prophets were – he was hated for speaking the truth. Sent by God to prepare the people for the Messiah, his vocation was one of selfless giving. The only power he claimed was the Spirit of God. “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).

Scripture tells us that many people followed John looking to him for hope, perhaps in anticipation of some great messianic power. John never allowed himself the false honor of receiving these people for his own glory. He knew his calling was one of preparation. When the time came, he led his disciples to Jesus: “The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus” (John 1:35-37), and so the life and death of St. John the Baptist had the great purpose of pointing the way to Christ.

Almighty God, by whose grace and power thy servant St. John the Baptist triumphed over suffering and despised death: Grant, we beseech thee, that we, enduring hardness and waxing valiant in fight, may with the noble army of martyrs receive the crown of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

27 August 2020

St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine was born in A.D. 354 in what is modern-day Algeria. His family was of some substance and highly respected. His father Patricius was a pagan, though he converted to Christianity on his deathbed. His mother St. Monica was a Christian and raised Augustine in the faith, though he was not baptized until he was an adult.

As a boy Augustine became conscious of sin in a special way when he participated in a pointless act of theft – an act which made a profound impression on him and he later wrote about and regretted it. He and some companions stole pears from a tree, not necessarily to eat, but just to steal for the fun of it. In his spiritual autobiography, the Confessions, he described the incident, and ended his account by writing, “Foul was the evil, and I loved it.”

When he was nineteen, Augustine began a long-term affair with a woman. We do not know her name, because Augustine deliberately didn’t record it. He never married her, but they did have a son. Despite his Christian upbringing, Augustine abandoned the Faith and became a Manichean, a gnostic sect, which crushed his mother.

So far it doesn’t sound much like the life of a saint, so how did he turn things around? He happened to take a position teaching rhetoric in Milan, Italy and, with the encouragement of his mother, began to have more contact with Christians and Christian literature, which brought him in contact with the great St. Ambrose, then the bishop of Milan.

One day, in the summer of 386, he heard a childlike voice chanting “Tolle, lege” (“Take, read”). He took this as a divine command and opened the Bible, randomly, to Romans 13:13-14, which reads: “Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

Applying this to his own life, Augustine was cut to the heart, and his conversion began in earnest. He was baptized, along with his son Adeodatus, at the next Easter Vigil by St. Ambrose. A few short years later his mother Monica and his son Adeodatus both died. Augustine returned to him home in North Africa, where he was alone on the family property. He sold almost all his possessions and gave the money to the poor and he turned the family home into a monastery. In 391, he was ordained a priest of the diocese of Hippo. In 395, he became the city’s coadjutor bishop and then its bishop. As bishop, he wrote extensively, and the value of his writings was such that he became a Church Father.

This great Doctor of the Church spent over 30 years working on his treatise De Trinitate [about the Holy Trinity], endeavouring to conceive an intelligible explanation for the mystery of the Trinity. 

Augustine was walking by the seashore one day contemplating and trying to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity when he saw a small boy running back and forth from the water to a spot on the seashore. The boy was using a sea shell to carry the water from the ocean and place it into a small hole in the sand. 

The Bishop of Hippo approached him and asked, “My boy, what are doing?” 

“I am trying to bring all the sea into this hole,” the boy replied with a sweet smile. 

“But that is impossible, my dear child, the hole cannot contain all that water” said Augustine. 

The boy paused in his work, stood up, looked into the eyes of the Saint, and replied, “It is no more impossible than what you are trying to do – comprehend the immensity of the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your small intelligence.” 

The Saint was absorbed by such a keen response from that child, and turned his eyes from him for a short while. When he glanced down to ask him something else, the boy had vanished. 

Some say that it was an Angel sent by God to teach Augustine a lesson on pride in learning. Others affirm it was the Christ Child Himself who appeared to the Saint to remind him of the limits of human understanding before the great mysteries of our Faith.

Augustine died on August 28, 430. He was canonized by popular acclaim and was subsequently proclaimed to be one of the four original Doctors of the Church.

O Merciful Lord, who didst turn Saint Augustine from his sins to be a faithful Bishop and teacher: grant that we may follow him in penitence and godly discipline; till our restless hearts find their rest in thee; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

26 August 2020

St. Monica, Widow and Confessor



The circumstances of St. Monica's life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of those temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and lived an immoral life. Monica also had to put up with an ill-tempered mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius constantly criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but he always respected her. Monica's prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law over to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his Baptism.

Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine, is the most famous. At the time of his father's death, Augustine was 17 and a student of rhetoric in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy – which was a combination of gnostic Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and various other elements, with the basic doctrine of a conflict between light and dark, with matter (physical things) being regarded as dark and evil. At this point, Augustine was living an immoral life. For a while, Monica refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted.

When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine's trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan.

In Milan Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica's spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her. Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan, as she had been in Tagaste.

She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was nearing the end. She told Augustine, "Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled." She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death.

O God, who art the Comforter of them that mourn, and the Salvation of them that hope in thee, who didst graciously regard the tearful pleading of blessed Monica for the conversion of her son Augustine: grant, we beseech thee, at their united intercession; that we may truly lament our sins and be made worthy to obtain thy gracious pardon; 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 August 2020

St. Louis, King and Confessor


St. Louis IX, (1215-1270) became King of France at the age of twelve. He had been brought up by his mother to be a faithful Catholic ruler, and during his whole life he remembered her words to him: "Never forget that sin is the only great evil in the world.” Then she went on to say, “No mother could love her son more than I love you. But I would rather see you lying dead at my feet than to know that you had offended God by one mortal sin."

Throughout his life he remained deeply devout and as a king his conduct was that of a real saint. He devoted himself to the people of his kingdom and he was a great peacemaker — kings and princes constantly sought his aid in settling disputes. He was a humble man, and was always helpful to the needy, inviting them to his own table to eat. He took time himself to care for lepers and the sick. St. Louis gave to all his people an example of a life that overflowed with charity and with justice for every single person.

He was a person whom it was easy to love.  He was a kind husband, the father of eleven children. He took great care in practicing his faith and in receiving the sacraments. St. Louis was known also for his bravery in battle, going on two crusades to protect the Church in the Holy Land from the Muslims who were trying to destroy it. In fact, he was on his second crusade when he was taken ill by the plague. As a penance he asked to be laid on a bed of ashes, and his last words were from Psalm 5, "I will enter Thy house; I will worship in Thy holy temple and sing praises to Thy Name!"

O God, who didst call thy servant St. Louis of France to an earthly throne that he might advance thy heavenly kingdom, and didst give him zeal for thy Church and love for thy people: Mercifully grant that we who commemorate him this day may be fruitful in good works, and attain to the glorious crown of thy saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

23 August 2020

St. Bartholomew, Apostle


In St. John's Gospel, Bartholomew (son of Tolomai) is known by the name Nathaniel.  His home was Cana in Galilee, where the miraculous turning of water into wine took place, and he was one of the first disciples called by the Lord Jesus. It was of Bartholomew that Christ said, "Behold, an Israelite indeed in whom there is no guile!" After the Resurrection of our Lord, he was blessed by being one of the few apostles who witnessed the appearance of the risen Saviour on the sea of Galilee (John 21:2). Following the Ascension the tradition is that he preached the Gospel in Greater Armenia, and it was there that he was martyred by being flayed, which means that while he was still alive, his skin was torn from his body. The Armenians honor him as the apostle of their nation. His relics were brought eventually to Rome to a small island in the middle of the Tiber, where there is a basilica and hospital.

O Almighty and everlasting God, who didst give to thine apostle St. Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach thy Word: Grant, we beseech thee, unto thy Church to love what he believed and to preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tomb of St. Bartholomew, Tiber Island

22 August 2020

Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

 

At that time: when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one.

- St. Matthew 16:13-20

Jesus went with His disciples to the region of Caesarea Philippi, which was a place with a long and important history, and a place in which pagan worship had been strong for centuries. In fact, a beautiful temple had been built there by Herod the Great in honour of Caesar. Also there were several temples dedicated to the worship of Baal. And not only was the worship of Baal going on in that place, but nearby there was a great hill in which there was a deep cavern, and the legend was that this cavern was the birthplace of the Greek god Pan, the god of nature, so this area was also a center for the worship of various pagan Greek gods.

That sets the scene. Here it was, in this area so firmly dedicated to false worship – a place of demonic sacrifices to pagan gods – it was there that Jesus turned to His disciples and asked, “Who do men say that I am?”

As the disciples were thinking about their answers, they would have been looking at the various pagan temples and grottoes surrounding them throughout the area, and so they wanted to answer carefully. There were many reminders around them of how wrong people can be when it comes to religion. So it was almost like they were testing the waters – “Well, some say that you’re John the Baptist; there are others who say that you’re Elijah; some say that you’re one of the prophets.” 

But our Lord wants them to get this clear in their minds. He wants this to be their own answer, and so He lets them know that He’s not interested in what others are saying. He asks them for a straight answer: “And you – who do you say that I am?”

It’s Peter, the one who would be the Rock, the Prince of the Apostles, Christ’s Vicar on earth – it is he who says, “You are the Christ.”

In fact, this is not unlike the situation in which we find ourselves now, in our own day – surrounded by strange beliefs, many of which are completely at odds with the revealed truth of the Christian faith, and Jesus is asking us: “Who do you say that I am?” What took place in the Gospel was one of those moments that are referred to “hinge moments” in history. Something that had never been said before, was now put into words. “You are the Christ.”

In those few words, Peter proclaimed that Jesus is the one who would bring to Israel the glory which had been promised since the days of Abraham, the day for which all creation was preparing from the very beginning.

So with those words Christ designates St. Peter as the Rock, and we are guaranteed that upon the foundation of that Rock would be built the Church which continues to teach the truth which had been entrusted to Peter and the Apostles by our Lord Himself. That truth has been passed on in its entirety throughout the centuries, and it will continue until Christ returns in glory.

All this is a reminder to us that we are not members of some man-made religion, but that we are part of the one true Church, founded by our Lord Jesus Christ upon the Rock which will endure until the end of time and into eternity itself. No matter how fierce the storm, no matter how vicious the attacks, whether they are from the outside or from within, that Rock remains the one sure foundation upon which we safely stand.

O God, who declarest thy almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity: mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace; that we, running the way of thy commandments, may obtain thy gracious promises, and be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure; 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.

-----------------------------------------

Painting: "Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter"
by Giovanni Battista Castello (1509-1569)

21 August 2020

Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary


Our understanding of the queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary has grown over the centuries, but it has its roots in Scripture. At the Annunciation, Gabriel announced that Mary’s Son would receive the throne of David and rule forever. At the Visitation, Elizabeth calls Mary “mother of my Lord.” As in all the mysteries of Mary’s life, Mary is closely associated with Jesus: Her queenship is a share in Jesus’ kingship, and when it comes to her queenship, we can go all the way back to the Old Testament to see why it’s true: in the Old Testament the mother of the king has great influence in court. All the things we know about the Blessed Virgin Mary always flows from what we know about the Lord Jesus Christ.

As early as in the fourth century, St. Ephrem called Mary “Lady” and referred to her as “Queen.” Later Church fathers and doctors continued to use the title. Hymns of the 11th to 13th centuries address Mary as queen: “Hail, Holy Queen,” “Hail, Queen of Heaven,” “Queen of Heaven.” The Church’s devotional life reflects our belief: one of the mysteries of the Rosary, for instance, is the crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven. In several of the Church’s prayers and litanies, the Blessed Virgin is assigned the title of Queen.

The feast is a logical follow-up to the Assumption and is now celebrated on the octave day of that feast. In 1954, Pope Pius XII established this feast, and he wrote an encyclical titled “To the Queen of Heaven.” In that encyclical, the Pope teaches that Mary deserves the title of Queen because she is Mother of God, and because she is closely associated as the New Eve with Jesus’ redemptive work. As Queen, the Blessed Virgin Mary shows us the highest state of perfected humanity, and she intercedes for us in our own growth in holiness.

Grant us, O merciful God, protection in our weakness: That we who celebrate the memory of the holy Mother of God, Our Lady Queen of Heaven, may, by her intercession, be delivered from our sins; 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.

20 August 2020

Pope St. Pius X


A young boy named Joseph Sarto grew up in Venetia on June 2, 1835. He was the son of a cobbler – someone who repairs shoes – and he grew up in a loving family, but a poor one. He was educated only in the village school, and received a vocation to the priesthood. He did so well, and was so suited to the ordained life, special permission was given for him to be ordained at the age of 23. He worked for seventeen years as a parish priest, and when he arrived as curate in the parish of Tombolo he worked tirelessly amongst the people, especially the poor, organizing evening courses to bring a higher level of education to the parish, as well as training the parishioners in the singing of Gregorian chant, all in the context of his sacramental ministry. His pastor, Fr. Constantini, wrote of young Fr. Sarto: "They have sent me as curate a young priest, with orders to mould him to the duties of pastor; in fact, however, the contrary is true. He is so zealous, so full of good sense, and other precious gifts that it is I who can learn much from him. Some day or other he will wear the mitre, of that I am sure. After that—who knows?"

He was obviously marked for great things.  He was appointed as bishop of a small diocese, and in 1892 was advanced to the metropolitan see of Venice with the honorary title of patriarch. On August 4, 1903, he was elected Pope, "a man of God who knew the unhappiness of the world and the hardships of life, and in the greatness of his heart wanted to comfort everybody.

The primary aim of his pontificate Pius X announced in his first encyclical letter, which was "to renew all things in Christ." To accomplish this, he encouraged early and frequent reception of Holy Communion; he called for a renewal and improvement of church music; he encouraged daily Bible reading and the establishment of various Biblical institutes; and he is known for his very strong stand against Modernism, which he called the "synthesis of all heresies." All these were means toward the realization of his main objective of renewing all things in Christ.

The outbreak of the first World War, practically on the date of the eleventh anniversary of his election to the See of Peter, was the blow that occasioned his death. Bronchitis developed within a few days, and on August 20, 1914, St. Pius X succumbed to "the last affliction that the Lord will visit on me." He had said in his will, "I was born poor, I have lived poor, I wish to die poor" — and no one questioned the truth of his words. He was one of those chosen few men whose personality is irresistible. Everyone was moved by his simplicity and his kindness. Yet it was something more that carried him into all hearts: and that 'something' is best defined by saying that all who were ever admitted to his presence had a deep conviction of being face to face with a saint.


The relic of Pope St. Pius X (pictured here) belonged originally to the Atonement Friars in Graymoor. It had been obtained by Fr. Paul of Graymoor, and after the establishment of our parish it was given to us by the friars.

It was during the pontificate of St. Pius X that the Society of the Atonement entered the Catholic Church, bringing with them the beloved title of Our Lady of the Atonement.

O God, who for the defence of the Catholic faith, and the restoring of all things in Christ, didst fill thy Supreme Pontiff, Saint Pius the Tenth, with heavenly wisdom and apostolic fortitude: graciously grant that, following his teaching and example, we may attain unto eternal rewards; 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.

19 August 2020

St. Bernard of Clairvaux


It has been said of St. Bernard that his personality “was so attractive, his power of persuasion so difficult to withstand, that we are told that mothers hid their children and wives clung to their spouses lest he attract them into the monastery.”

Who was this man? Bernard’s father was a knight who had died in battle and his mother also died when Bernard was still quite young. In the year 1098 Bernard felt called to join a monastic community of reformed Benedictines. In his excitement about entering the monastery, he also persuaded 24 of his friends, four of his brothers and two of his uncles to join with him. This shows the influence that he had at a young age! The community had been dwindling, so we can imagine what it meant when this zealous young man showed up with thirty other men, ready to learn and live the monastic life.

Bernard really wanted to live a hidden life, spending his time doing simply manual work and praying to God. Instead, St. Bernard and 11 others were sent out to establish a monastery. Before the monastery was established the town was called Wormwood and was a haven for thieves; after the monastery was established the area was known as Clairvaux, the Valley of Light. It was here in Clairvaux where Bernard was positioned as abbot and became well-known throughout Christendom.

This newly established monastery grew fast and soon had 130 monks. At first St. Bernard was very strict about fasting and would allow the monks to eat very little, but an experience with serious sickness helped him to understand that God had created the body with a need for food, so he reformed the requirements, although life was still quite strict. He felt led to start preaching and became so famous for his preaching that he was sought from all over and people started flocking to hear Bernard of Clairvaux. The teachings brought a lot of people, but St. Bernard also prayed for the sick who came, and many of them were healed by God – sometimes when St. Bernard simply made the sign of the cross over them.

All St. Bernard wanted was a life of contemplation in Clairvaux, but his reputation was wide spread and his advice sought after by princes, popes, and other high ranking leaders in the religious and political arenas. St. Bernard used his influence to work for real justice and he did his very best to make sure that holy and righteous men were placed in positions of leadership. In fact, St. Bernard influenced many bishops and other leaders to change their ways and humble themselves.

As St. Bernard grew older, he began to tire from all his travelling and preaching, and settling disputes, but finally he was able to return to Clairvaux where he continued in his meditations and writings. He spent his last few years writing, and his works are still among the classic works on the Catholic faith. On August 20, 1153 he gathered those who were close to him and received the Last Sacraments. He died at the age of 63.

O God, by whose grace thy servant St. Bernard of Clairvaux, enkindled with the fire of thy love, became a burning and a shining light in thy Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and may ever walk before thee as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

18 August 2020

St. John Eudes


St. John Eudes was born on a farm in northern France. He was 79 years old when he died, and with all he accomplished, at the end of his live he was living only in the next county. 

During his life he was a religious, a parish missionary, founder of two religious communities and a great promoter of the devotion to the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He joined the religious community of the Oratorians and was ordained a priest at 24. At that time, there were some severe outbreaks of terrible sickness which was taking the lives of thousands of people, and he volunteered to care for the sick. He didn't want to risk bringing the disease to his fellow religious, so he lived in a huge barrel that had been turned on its side in the middle of a field during the plague.

After that time, he became a parish missionary. His gifts as preacher and confessor meant that people flocked to hear him. He preached over a hundred parish missions, some lasting from several weeks to several months.

He had a great concern for the spiritual lives of the clergy, and he realized that the greatest need was for seminaries. He had permission from his general superior and the bishop to do this work, but the a new superior decided he didn't like St. John Eudes or his work, so John decided it was best for him to leave the religious community. He immediately founded a new community, the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, which was devoted to the formation of the clergy by conducting diocesan seminaries, but there were some who tried to ruin this effort, too, until John finally had to give up that work.

In his parish mission work, John was disturbed by the sad condition of women and young girls living on the streets, but who wanted to escape their terrible existence. Temporary shelters were found but arrangements were not satisfactory, until St. John, with the help of others, took on this work by founding another religious community, called the Sisters of Charity of the Refuge.

He is probably best known for the central theme of his writings: Jesus as the source of holiness, Mary as the model of the Christian life. His devotion to the Sacred Heart and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is what formed his own spiritual life.

Holiness is the wholehearted openness to the love of God. It is visibly expressed in many ways, but the variety of expression has one common quality: concern for the needs of others. We see how St. John Eudes carried out this concern in very practical ways.

O God, who didst wonderfully choose thy Priest Saint John Eudes to proclaim the unfathomable riches of Christ: grant us, by his example and teachings; that, growing in knowledge of thee, we may live faithfully by the light of the Gospel; 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.

14 August 2020

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary


On 1 November 1950, His Holiness Pope Pius XII solemnly defined the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus. If you haven’t already read it, have a look at the whole document. It’s beautiful.

Here’s an excerpt:

“…after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma:
that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.”

There is a beautiful story about Pope St. John XXIII, who was once recalling his earliest childhood memory. He tells of being a four-year old boy, and of how his family had gone to Mass for the one of the feasts of the Blessed Virgin. When they arrived, the church was overflowing with people, and being just a little boy, he was not able to see the ceremonies or venerate the image of the Blessed Mother. 

Seventy-seven years later when he was reminiscing, Pope St. John XXIII recalled it in this way: “My only chance of seeing the image of the Madonna was through one of the two windows of the main entrance, which were very high and covered with an iron grating. Then my mother raised me up in her arms and said, “Look, Angelo, look how lovely the Madonna is – I consecrate you entirely to her!” 

The Assumption of the Blessed Mother is something like that: Mary our Mother lifts us up. She lifts us up, and she lifts our cares and our concerns, all up to her Divine Son. She lifts us up in her Immaculate Heart so that we can catch a glimpse of the glory that will be ours in heaven.

Almighty and everlasting God, who didst assume the Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of thy Son, body and soul to the glory of heaven: grant us, we beseech thee; that being ever intent on things above, we may be worthy to be partakers of her glory hereafter; 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.

13 August 2020

St. Maximilian Kolbe, Martyr


On August 14th we commemorate a remarkable and brave priest who gave his life for his faith in that terrible and dark place, Auschwitz. St. Maximilian Kolbe was born in Poland in 1894, and when he was sixteen he entered the Franciscan Order. He was sent to study in Rome where he was ordained a priest in 1918. 

Maximilian returned to Poland in 1919 and began spreading the Gospel and devotion to the Blessed Virgin, whom he called the “Immaculata.” He founded a religious community of Franciscans to do this work, and by 1939 it had expanded from just eighteen friars, to 650 all living in one place, making it the largest Catholic religious house in the world. 

To spread the Gospel and devotion to the Immaculata, St. Maximilian used the most modern printing equipment, and he not only published catechetical and devotional tracts, but also a daily newspaper with a circulation of almost a quarter of a million, and a monthly magazine with a circulation of over one million. He started a radio station and planned to build a Catholic movie studio--he was a true "apostle of the mass media." 

In 1939 Nazis invaded his homeland of Poland, and his religious house was severely bombed. He and his friars were arrested, although they were released in less than three months, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. But in 1941 he was arrested again. The Nazis wanted to get rid of anyone who could be considered a leader, and St. Maximilian was taken to the internment camp in Auschwitz. He was there for three months before he was killed, after undergoing terrible beatings and humiliations. 

The circumstances of his martyrdom were these: a prisoner had escaped. The commandant announced that ten men would die. He was an especially cruel man, and as he walked through the ranks of the prisoners he would say “This one. That one,” as he pointed. As they were being marched away to the starvation bunkers, St. Maximilian, who was only known as Number 16670, stepped from the line. Maximilian pointed to one of the prisoners who had been chosen to die. “I would like to take that man’s place. He has a wife and children.” “Who are you?” “A priest.” He gave no name, even though he was one of the best-known priests in all of Poland. There was silence for a moment, and then the commandant, wanting to show his power of life and death over the prisoners, removed the condemned man out of line and ordered St. Maximilian to go with the other nine. They were taken to the “block of death.” They were ordered to strip naked and they were locked in a building where their slow starvation began in complete darkness. But there was no screaming — instead, the prisoners sang hymns together. By the eve of the Assumption, only four were left alive. The jailer came to finish them off, and St. Maximilian was in a corner praying. He lifted his fleshless arm for the needle, which was filled with carbolic acid. They burned his body with all the others. He was beatified in 1971 and in 1982 Pope St. John Paul II canonized Maximilian as a "martyr of charity," because, out of his love for Christ, he had laid down his life for another. 

Most gracious God, who didst fill thy Priest and Martyr Maximilian Kolbe with zeal for thine house and love of his neighbour: vouchsafe that, holpen by the prayers of this devoted servant of the immaculate Mother of God; we too may strive to serve others for thy glory, and become like unto thy dear Son, who loved his own even unto the end; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

12 August 2020

Ss. Pontian and Hippolytus, Martyrs


St. Pontian was a Roman who served as pope from 230 to 235. He was a faithful and holy man, and upheld the Catholic faith even when there were those around him who were trying to change it. But he happened to live at a time when the Roman emperor was persecuting the Church horribly, and killing as many Christians as he could find. Pontian was treated in a very cruel way: he was banished to the island of Sardinia, where they mined silver and lead, and where prisoners were forced to work in horrible conditions. Pontian was not only exhausted from the work, but he was constantly beaten by his jailers, and his life was one long torture.

While Pontian was enduring all that, he met another Christian who had been exiled to Sardinia – Hippolytus – who had been a Catholic priest in Rome. Actually, this wasn’t the first time they had met; in fact, Hippolytus was a fierce rival to Pontian. Hippolytus thought that Pontian the pope was too easy on those who had been trying to water down the faith. He spoke out against Pontian whenever he could, and in fact, Hippolytus gathered around him a group of followers who said that Pontian wasn’t really suitable to be the pope, so they proclaimed Hippolytus to be the pope. Hippolytus led many Christians into schism, claiming that only the really good people could be members of the Church. He taught that Christians should be completely separate from the world, and should have nothing to do with anyone who might sin – naturally, Hippolytus and his followers never thought that they were sinners. This, of course was a heresy.

The emperor didn’t care what differences these two men might have – as far as he was concerned, they were both part of the Church, and since Hippolytus seemed to be a trouble-maker, he was sent off to Sardinia to work in the mines. As Pontian and Hippolytus were brought together as two prisoners, Hippolytus came to realize how wrong he had been about Pontian. He confessed his errors to Pontian, and the two became friends and companions in their suffering. Both of them were worked to exhaustion, and beaten unmercifully, until both of them died – rivals and enemies when they were free, but friends and fellow Catholics when they were facing death. Both of them are numbered with the martyrs of the Church – Catholic who refused to deny Christ, and whose death gave witness to the power of God.

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that we, who on this day devoutly observe the festival of thy holy Martyrs, blessed Pontian and Hippolytus, may thereby increase in godliness to the attainment of everlasting salvation; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

11 August 2020

St. Jane Frances de Chantal


St. Jane Frances de Chantal was born in 1572 and came from a noble family. Her father gave her in marriage to the Baron von Chantal in 1592. She was a loving wife and mother, and she brought up her children as faithful Catholics, teaching them the importance of obeying God's laws, and always showing kindness to others. She was extremely generous to the poor, and she made a personal vow that she would never turn away anybody who was in need.

Her family was a very happy one, and she deeply loved her husband, Baron de Chantal, and their children. But then, an unexpected tragedy came to them. One day in 1601 her husband was out hunting. A terrible thing happened – one of the men with whom he was hunting accidentally shot him, and he died. When she was told what happened, she was grief-stricken – but instead of reacting with anger towards the man who had killed her husband, St. Jane forgave him. In fact, she even agreed to be the godmother to one of his children. This heroic act of forgiveness shows her deep faith in Christ.

Now that she was a widow, and as her children were growing up, St. Jane felt more and more that she wanted to spend her time in prayer, giving adoration to God and praying for the needs of others. She had a very holy priest as her spiritual director, St. Francis de Sales, and as St. Jane talked with him about her desire to give her life over to prayer, he encouraged her to form a community for herself and others like her. She founded the Community of the Visitation Nuns – reflecting the time when the Blessed Virgin Mary withdrew from her life in Nazareth, and went to visit her cousin St. Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Baptist. There was a holy friendship between her and her spiritual guide, Francis de Sales; with his approval she left her father and children and founded the Visitation nuns. She spent the rest of her life showing her love for God and for others by living a life of prayer until she died, in 1641 when she was nearly seventy years old.

St. Jane gave herself completely to God – first through the sacrament of marriage, then as a loving mother to her children, and finally in religious life.

O God, who madest Saint Jane Frances de Chantal radiant with outstanding merits in divers paths of life in the way of perfection: grant us, through her intercession; that, walking faithfully in our vocation, we may ever be examples of thy shining light; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

10 August 2020

St. Clare of Assisi


St. Clare was born in 1194 to a well-to-do family in Assisi. As with all girls at that time, she was expected to marry at a young age, and spend her life being a wife and mother. However, Clare refused to marry, even though her family had chosen a suitable young man for her. Instead, she began listening to another young man, Francis, who had given his life over to God, and was living a life based on the Gospel, and in complete poverty. St. Francis and St. Clare became life-long friends, and he served as her spiritual guide.

When she was 18, Clare left her father’s house one night in secret, and she was met on the road by some of the religious brothers of St. Francis. Together they went to the poor little chapel called the Portiuncula – the “Little Portion” – where Clare was clothed in a rough woolen habit, and she exchanged her jeweled belt for a common rope with knots in it. Her beautiful long hair was cut and a veil was placed over her head. St. Francis placed her temporarily in a Benedictine convent, where her father and her brothers came – very angry – and they tried to drag her back home. She clung to the altar of the church, and she threw aside her veil to show her cropped hair and remained absolutely adamant that she was giving her life over to God.

Sixteen days later her sister Agnes joined her. Others came. They lived a simple life of great poverty, and in complete seclusion from the world, according to a Rule which Francis gave them as a Second Order (Poor Clares). Francis obliged her under obedience at age 21 to accept the office of abbess, and she remained abbess until her death in 1253, when she was nearly 60 years old.

The nuns went barefoot, they slept on the ground, they ate no meat and they observed almost complete silence. They possessed no property, even in common, subsisting on daily contributions. When even the pope tried to persuade her to mitigate this practice, she showed her characteristic firmness: "I need to be absolved from my sins, but I do not wish to be absolved from my obligation of following Jesus Christ."

Clare and her community of nuns lived in the convent of San Damiano in Assisi, which is still there today. She served the sick, waited on table, and washed the feet of the nuns who went out to beg. She came from prayer, it was said, with her face so shining it dazzled those about her. She suffered serious illness for the last 27 years of her life. Her influence was such that popes, cardinals and bishops often came to consult her—but she never left the walls of San Damiano.

A well-known story concerns her prayer and trust. She had the Blessed Sacrament placed on the walls of the convent when it faced attack by invading Saracens, who were Muslims. She prayed for Christ to protect them, and she told her sisters not to be afraid. In the face of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, the invaders ran away, and the sisters were safe.

In 1958 Pope Pius XII designated St. Clare as the patron saint of television. One Christmas Eve, when she was too sick to get up from her bed to get to Mass, she was very disappointed. She prayed that God would allow her to take part in the Mass. Although she was more than a mile away she saw Mass on the wall of her dormitory. So clear was the vision that the next day she could name the friars at the celebration.

Graciously hear us, O God of our salvation: that we who rejoice in the festival of blessed Clare, thy Virgin, may grow in the knowledge and love of true devotion; 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.

Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi.

09 August 2020

St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr

Saint Lawrence was one of seven deacons in Rome in charge of giving help to the poor and the needy. In fact, during the first centuries of the Church, the number of deacons for any bishop was limited to seven, following the precedent of Jerusalem. It was said of Lawrence that he was to Rome, what Stephen was to Jerusalem.

When a persecution broke out, Pope St. Sixtus was condemned to death. As he was led to execution, Lawrence followed him weeping, "Father, where are you going without your deacon?" he said. "I am not leaving you, my son," answered the Pope. "in three days you will follow me." Full of joy, Lawrence gave to the poor the rest of the money he had on hand and even sold expensive vessels to have more to give away.

The Prefect of Rome, a greedy pagan, thought the Church had a great fortune hidden away. So he ordered Lawrence to bring the Church's treasure to him. The Saint said he would, in three days. Then he went through the city and gathered together all the poor and sick people supported by the Church. When he showed them to the Prefect, he said: "This is the Church's treasure!"

In great anger, the Prefect condemned Lawrence to a slow, cruel death. The Saint was tied on top of an iron grill over a slow fire that roasted his flesh little by little, but Lawrence was burning with so much love of God that he almost did not feel the flames. In fact, God gave him so much strength and joy that he even joked. "Turn me over," he said to the judge. "I'm done on this side!" And just before he died, he said, "It's cooked enough now." Then he prayed that the city of Rome might be converted to Jesus and that the Catholic Faith might spread all over the world. After that, he went to receive the martyr's reward. Saint Lawrence's feast day is August 10th.

Almighty God, who didst endue blessed Lawrence with power to overcome the fires of his torments: give us grace, we beseech thee, to quench the flames of our sins; 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.



The Holy Deacon Lawrence before the Emperor Valerius.



The grill on which St. Lawrence was martyred.



The stone on which the body of St. Lawrence was laid after his martyrdom.

08 August 2020

Ninth Sunday after Trinity

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
- St. Matthew 14:22-33 

The beautiful hymn, “Sweet Sacrament divine” was written by Fr. Francis Stanfield (1835-1914). Beloved by Catholics throughout the English-speaking world, the first verse says this:
Sweet Sacrament divine,
hid in thine earthly home,
lo, round thy lowly shrine,
with suppliant hearts we come;
Jesus, to thee our voice we raise
in songs of love and heartfelt praise:
sweet Sacrament divine,
sweet Sacrament divine.
It is in the third verse that Fr. Stanfield takes us to the Gospel account of the fearful disciples in the boat, being buffeted by the storm, and reminds us of the experience of St. Peter, and of the safety which our Lord gives:
Sweet Sacrament of rest,
ark from the ocean's roar,
within thy shelter blest
soon may we reach the shore;
save us, for still the tempest raves,
save, lest we sink beneath the waves:
sweet Sacrament of rest,
sweet Sacrament of rest.
In the Gospel account of this storm we see Peter sinking into the waves, and he cries out, “Lord, save me.” That is what shows us the way forward. When we live in the confidence that the Lord can banish fear and that He is present with us to help us – it is then that we can accomplish things we never could have done by ourselves. We should not pay so much attention to the threats of wind and wave, that we stop paying attention to the Lord Jesus Christ.

God is constantly asking us to go beyond ourselves. He invites us to rise above whatever rough seas we have in our lives. But He is not asking us to do it by ourselves. As He did with St. Peter, so He bids us, “Come.” Christ holds out His hand to us to support us – and if we should happen to forget, and we start to sink, then all we need to do is cry out, “Lord, save me.”

In this Gospel is a picture of faith – a faith which gets strengthened by the constant summons from our Lord to surpass our human limitations. We can overcome tragedies. We can overcome sorrows. We can overcome evil – if we walk with Christ.

Jesus comes to us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and in the Sacred Host He holds out His hand to each one of us. And He asks us to “come.” In the confessional, He holds out His hand, and asks us to “come.” There is nothing – no power, no trial, no suffering – that can separate us from Christ’s love, if we keep our confidence in His mercy, and our faith in His power. And it is in this knowledge that we can join our voices with the apostles, and with countless saints throughout the ages, in saying to Him, “Truly, you are the Son of God!”

-------------------------------- 

Painting: "Jesus and Peter on the Water" (Jesus et Pierre sur les eaux), 1863 
by Gustave Brion (1824–1877)

07 August 2020

St. Dominic, Priest and Founder


St. Dominic Guzman was used mightily by God to strengthen the cause of orthodoxy in the medieval Church by founding the Order of Preachers, also known as Dominicans. 

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said of him: “This great saint reminds us that in the heart of the Church a missionary fire must always burn. The search for God's glory and the salvation of souls must go hand in hand.” 

Dominic was born in Spain around the year 1170, and he received his early education from his uncle, who was a priest. He then entered the University of Palencia where he studied for ten years. An indication of his holiness took place while he was a student, when he sold his entire collection of books to provide for the relief of the poor.

After his ordination to the priesthood, Dominic was asked by his bishop to assist him with various ecclesiastical reforms. While he was traveling in France with the bishop, Dominic observed the bad effects of the Albigensian heresy, which had taken hold in southern France during the preceding century. The Albigensians believed in a good spirit who created the spiritual, and in an evil spirit who created the material world, including the human body, which is therefore under its control. The good spirit created the soul but the evil one imprisoned it in the body, which is evil from its source. Due in great part to the preaching and holy example of St. Dominic, this heresy eventually was virtually eradicated.

The time of Dominic was much like our own – the heresies may have been different, but it was a time when the world needed a new evangelism, and St. Dominic would have a major role of evangelizing through his Order of Preachers, who would come to be known as the Dominicans.

It was in 1214 that Dominic's extreme physical asceticism caused him to fall into a coma, during which the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to him and instructed him to promote the prayer of the Rosary. Its focus on the incarnation and life of Christ directly contradicted the Albigensian attitude towards matter as evil.

That year, Dominic received his bishop's approval to found an order dedicated to preaching. He and a group of followers gained local recognition as a religious congregation, and the Order of Preachers expanded throughout Europe with papal help in 1218.

The founder spent the last several years of his life building up the order and continuing his preaching missions, during which he is said to have converted some 100,000 people. After several weeks of illness, St. Dominic died in Italy on August 6, 1221.

Almighty God, whose Priest Dominic grew in the knowledge of thy truth, and formed an order of preachers to proclaim the faith of Christ: by thy grace, grant to all thy people a love for thy word and a longing to share the Gospel; that the whole world may be filled with the knowledge of thee and 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.

06 August 2020

St. Sixtus II and His Deacons

The Emperor Valerian (253-60) had a hatred for the Church, and he didn’t hesitate to vent his rage. He mandated that all Christians had to take part in state religious ceremonies, and not only that, he forbade them to assemble for any worship whatsoever in the catacombs. Although the catacombs were constructed as places for the burial of the dead, because even the pagans had respect for burial places, they did become locations where Christians could assemble in relative safety during times of persecution.

So it was that during the reign of Valerian, he issued a decree ordering the execution of all bishops, priests and deacons. The Bishop of Rome at this time was Sixtus II, who had been elected to succeed Stephen I. For nearly a year after the emperor’s decree, Sixtus managed to evade the Roman authorities. Pope Sixtus found that it was a bit safer to gather with his clergy and people in the small private cemetery of Praetextatus. Although it was near the better-known and larger cemetery of Calixtus, the authorities tended not to watch it as closely; however, that could last only for so long.

Early in August of 258, while Sixtus was teaching from his episcopal chair, surrounded by four of his seven deacons and with a congregation of the faithful gathered to hear him, Roman soldiers burst in, arresting Sixtus and the deacons who were there. They dragged him off to force him to offer incense to the pagan gods, which of course he would not do. He was then returned to the place where he had been arrested, thrust brutally onto his chair, and was beheaded on the spot. The four deacons who were with him, Januarius, Vincentius, Magnus, and Stephanus, also were martyred, and very soon afterwards (probably that same day) two other deacons, Felicissimus and Agapitus, were put to death – leaving only the chief deacon, Lawrence, whom the Romans spared temporarily in the hope of having him turn over anything in the Church’s treasury.

When we get to the story of St. Lawrence in a few days, we’ll see how that worked out for the Romans!

Almighty and Everlasting God, who didst enkindle the flame of thy love in the heart of thy holy martyrs Pope St. Sixtus and his Holy Deacons: Grant to us, thy humble servants, a like faith and power of love, that we who rejoice in their triumph may profit by their example; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

05 August 2020

The Transfiguration of our Lord


It was an astonishing sight for Peter, James, and John, when they saw the Lord Jesus Christ radiating His divine glory, talking with Moses and Elijah. He manifested His glory, the glory that was His as the only begotten Son of the Father - God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. 

His face shone like the sun. His clothing became blinding and brilliant, whiter than any bleach on earth could bleach them. His divine nature shone through His humanity, making it clear that our Lord Jesus Christ is at once true God and true man. But He isn't like two things that are mixed together to form a third thing. He isn’t a hybrid of God and man. He is neither a “super man” nor is He a lesser god. He is the God-man, the unique Person in whom the fullness of the Deity dwells in human flesh and blood. That's what the disciples glimpsed on the mountain that day. They saw Jesus in His glory as God shining through His humanity. 

And this is an important point about Jesus. His divine nature is never without His human nature. So, when we say that Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament, we mean that He is present as the God-man.  Both His divine and human natures are present. Of course, there are some who deny this. They say that His presence is simply symbolic or spiritual – but what God has joined we must not separate. We must leave Jesus whole, and not try to pull Him apart. We cannot have a human Jesus sometimes, and a divine Jesus at other times. Either He is the God-man in the crib, on the Mount of Transfiguration, on the cross, at the right hand of the Father, and in the Blessed Sacrament, or else He is not the One who mediates between God and man. He touches our humanity and the Father's divinity, and He does it without dividing Himself. 

In Christ, God was born of a virgin mother. In Christ, a man shone with the glory of God on the mountain. In Christ, God suffered on the cross. In Christ, a man reigns over all things at the right hand of the Father. 

This means when Jesus deals with us, He deals with us according to our humanity, in a flesh and blood way. He comes to us under the outward signs of simple bread and wine. He speaks to us through words spoken by a human mouth which enter our hearts and minds by way of our physical ears. He uses things like water and oil to give us eternal life and healing. He deals with us in earthy and ordinary ways. He honours our humanity by becoming human and engaging us as human beings, as the creatures of God that we are. It is through the human flesh of Jesus that God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. 

Jesus is the true Light that shines into the darkness of this world. He is the Light that shines into the darkness of death, the Light that shines into the darkness of everything that we fear.  It is the very same Jesus who was laid in a manger, who was carried in Simeon's arms in the temple, who was changed in appearance before His three disciples, who hung on the cross, who died and was buried, who was raised from the dead and now lives and reigns. It's all one and the same Jesus, whether He is gloriously gleaming like the sun or ingloriously dying in the darkness. 

And at every single Mass we come into that same glorious presence of Jesus Christ together with the angels and the archangels and all the company of heaven. At every Mass we are setting foot on the mountain with Jesus. At every Mass we receive forgiveness, life, and salvation. At every Mass Christ comes to preach His Word of forgiveness to us and to feed us with His Body and Blood. At every Mass something greater than the transfiguration takes place. The same Jesus is present for us as He was for His disciples on the mountain. The only difference is that we cannot see Him as the apostles did that day. 

Nor would we want to see Him, really. The sight of Jesus in His glory would be too much to bear. Peter was left talking about making booths. In the Book of the Revelation, St. John the Divine saw Christ in all His glory and fell at His feet like a dead man. As Scripture says, "no one may look on God and live." But Jesus is kind and gentle toward us. He reserves His full blast glory for the Last Day. 

For now, He comes hidden in humility. He is so hidden that sometimes people pass Him by without noticing. But the voice from the cloud draws our attention on where it needs to be: namely, on Jesus. "This is my beloved Son. Hear Him." As great as was this vision of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in His glory, the center and focus is always Jesus alone. The voice of the Father declares Him to be His beloved Son, just as He did at His Baptism. He directs our ears to His voice. "Listen to Him." Listen to Him because He alone has the words of eternal life. Listen to Him because His words are Spirit and they are life. Listen to Him because He is God's word of undeserved kindness to us. In the former times God spoke by the prophets, by Moses and Elijah. But now in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son Jesus Christ. 

Where Jesus is, Moses and Elijah slip into the background. When Jesus speaks, Moses and Elijah become silent. With the Father's voice having spoken from the cloud, the gospel says that the disciples "saw no one but Jesus only." 

Only Jesus. That's what the Mount of Transfiguration is all about. That's what the sacraments are all about. Only Jesus. Only He is God's beloved Son. Only He shines with the glory of God through human flesh and blood. Only He bore our sins in His own body nailed to the tree. Only He sits at the right hand of the Father to pray for us, to forgive us, to give us life in His Name. Only He reveals the glory of God to save us and deliver us. 

And as Jesus has His way with us, we too are being transfigured, changed from the inside out, changed to be like Him. For now, that work is hidden under weakness. But on the Day when Jesus again appears in glory for all the world to see, He will change our bodies to be like His glorious body. 

And what a Day of Transfiguration that will be! Our weakness will be transformed into strength. Every tear will be wiped away, and there will be no sorrow which is not turned to joy, as He brings about a “new heaven and a new earth,” restoring all things to Himself. 



Behold our Lord transfigured,
In Sacrament Divine;
His glory deeply hidden,
'Neath forms of Bread and Wine.
Our eyes of faith behold Him,
Salvation is outpoured;
The Saviour dwells among us,
by ev'ry heart adored.


No longer on the mountain
With Peter, James and John,
Our precious Saviour bids us
To walk where saints have gone.
He has no lasting dwelling,
Save in the hearts of men;
He feeds us with His Body,
To make us whole again.


With Moses and Elijah,
We worship Christ our King;
Lord, make our souls transfigured,
Let us with angels sing.
Lead us in paths of glory,
Give tongues to sing thy praise;
Lord Jesus, keep us faithful,
Now and for all our days.


Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1990
Music: "Ewing" by Alexander C. Ewing, 1853

The Mount of the Transfiguration

Having visited the site of the Transfiguration many times, I must say that if you haven't visited the top of Mt. Tabor, I hope you'll have the opportunity. There's a cliché which says "getting there is half the fun," but that might not refer to the site of our Lord's transfiguration. I'm sure the taxi drivers have great fun at the pilgrims' expense, and no matter how many times I made the trip, taking hair-pin turns at break-neck speed was always nerve-wracking. When you finally get to the top, the terra is reassuringly firma, and the walk to the basilica is a joy. The only dark cloud is remembering that what goes up must come down... that pesky return trip! No wonder St. Peter wanted to build three booths and stay there.

This basilica, built in 1924 over the ruins of more ancient churches, marks the traditional site of the transfiguration of Christ in the presence of Peter, James and John, along with the appearance of Moses and Elijah. There are depressions in the shape of two footprints in the rock. I'm not sure if this was the work of Jesus, or of some over-eager monks in an earlier age. But Mt. Tabor is the spot. It's been attested to from the earliest days of the Church. It's an inspiring place to visit and a most peaceful place to pray.

O God, who on the holy mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thine Only Begotten Son wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may be permitted to behold the King in his beauty; who with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

04 August 2020

Dedication of St. Mary Major


From The Church's Year of Grace, Pius Parsch:

The Basilica of St. Mary Major is important to Christendom for three reasons.

- It stands as a venerable monument to the Council of Ephesus (431), at which the dogma of Mary's divine Motherhood was solemnly defined; the definition of the Council occasioned a most notable increase in the veneration paid to Mary.

- The basilica is Rome's "church of the crib," a kind of Bethlehem within the Eternal City; it also is a celebrated station church, serving, for instance, as the center for Rome's liturgy for the first Mass on Christmas. In some measure every picture of Mary with the divine Child is traceable to this church.

- St. Mary Major is Christendom's first Marian shrine for pilgrims. It set the precedent for the countless shrines where pilgrims gather to honor our Blessed Mother throughout the world. Here was introduced an authentic expression of popular piety that has been the source of untold blessings and graces for Christianity in the past as in the present.

The beginnings of St. Mary Major date to the Constantinian period. Originally it was called the Sicinini Basilica; it was the palace of a patrician family by that name before its transformation into a church by Pope Liberius. The story of its origin is legendary, dating from the Middle Ages. The Breviary gives this version: "Liberius was on the chair of Peter (352-366) when the Roman patrician John and his wife, who was of like nobility, vowed to bequeath their estate to the most holy Virgin and Mother of God, for they had no children to whom their property could go. The couple gave themselves to assiduous prayer, beseeching Mary to make known to them in some way what pious work they should subsidize in her honor.

Mary answered their petition and confirmed her reply by means of the following miracle. On the fifth of August — a time when it is unbearably hot in the city of Rome — a portion of the Esquiline would be covered with snow during the night. During that same night the Mother of God directed John and his wife in separate dreams to build a church to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary on the site where they would see snow lying. For it was in this manner that she wanted her inheritance to be used.

John immediately reported the whole matter to Pope Liberius, and he declared that a similar dream had come to him. Accompanied by clergy and people, Liberius proceeded on the following morning in solemn procession to the snow-covered hill and there marked off the area on which the church in Mary's honor was to be constructed.

Under Pope Sixtus III (432-440) the basilica was rebuilt, and upon the occasion of the definition of Mary's divine Motherhood by the Council of Ephesus, consecrated to her honor (432). He decorated the apse and walls with mosaics from the lives of Christ and His blessed Mother, which even to this day beautify the church and belong to the oldest we possess. As early as the end of the fourth century a replica of the Bethlehem nativity grotto had been added; on this account the edifice became known as "St. Mary of the Crib." To the Christian at Rome this church is Bethlehem. Other names for the basilica are: Liberian Basilica, because it dates to the time of Pope Liberius; St. Mary Major (being the largest church in Mary's honor in Rome); Our Lady of the Snow, because of the miracle that supposedly occasioned its erection.

We could point out how the divine Motherhood mystery dominates all Marian liturgy; for the Theotokos doctrine has kept Mariology Christo-centric in the Church's worship. Although recent popular devotion to Mary has become to a certain extent soft and sentimental and has, one may say, erected its own sanctuary around Mary as the center, devotion to our Blessed Mother in the liturgy has always remained oriented to Christ. In the liturgy the divine Motherhood has always been the bridge from Mary to Jesus. One need only examine Matins in honor of Mary or the Masses from her Common to be reassured. Everywhere Christ takes the central position, and Mary is the Christbearer.

Pope Liberius tracing the outline of the basilica in the August snowfall.

The High Altar.
Reliquary containing the major relic of the Manger.