31 December 2020

Treasury of Truth

On the Octave Day of Christmas our thoughts go to the one whose “yes” allowed it all to happen. How well we know the story, which tells us of how the Archangel Gabriel was sent to Nazareth to a young virgin named Mary, addressing her as “full of grace,” and assuring her that there was nothing to fear, that she had been chosen by God to conceive and bear a Son. And when Mary questioned how such a thing could take place, the Archangel outlined for her the great plan of God, how she would be overshadowed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and would give birth to the Son who would be holy, the Son of the Most High God.

To all of that, Mary said “yes.” And it is in her “yes” to God that we find a treasury of truth – truths around which we form our devotion – because these truths about Mary speak impressively about her divine Son. So what are they?

First, the Church teaches us that Mary was immaculately conceived. At the instant of Mary’s conception in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, she was, by the special grace of God, protected from the stain of original sin. Why would God do that? He did it because of the great destiny which was hers – that of being the Mother of God. It was her flesh which would give flesh to Jesus; it was her body which would be His tabernacle for nine months; therefore, it would be beyond possibility that the Mother of God should be stained with the sin of Adam, since God can endure no sin. This was taught implicitly and explicitly from the earliest days of the Church, and was confirmed and solemnly proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854, when he stated infallibly, “The most holy Virgin Mary was, in the first moment of her conception, by a unique gift of grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ the Redeemer of mankind, preserved free from all stain of original sin.”

Second, the Church teaches us that Mary was impeccable. In other words, she committed no personal sin, and she was free from every moral imperfection. Certainly, she lived a human life. She was wife and mother, so had work to do and was subject to pain and tiredness; but she, like her son Jesus Christ, had nothing in her which led her to act against the perfect moral law of God. This formal teaching of the Church is deduced from the words of the archangel Gabriel, when he addressed her as being “full of grace,” since moral guilt could not be reconciled with being filled completely with God’s grace. Once again, this teaching is defined because of Mary’s relationship with her Son, and not through simple merit of her own. She did not sin because of a special grace and privilege given to her by God, because He had chosen her to bear the Incarnate Word.

Third, the Church teaches us that Mary was perpetually a virgin. Three states of virginity are professed in this teaching: Mary conceived her Son without a human Father; she gave birth to Jesus without violating her virginity; and she remained a virgin after our Lord was born, for the rest of her life. The virginal conception is contained in all the ancient creeds, which speak of “Jesus Christ… who was conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary...” The biblical basis of this, of course, is the prophecy of Isaiah (“A virgin shall conceive and bear a son...”), and it is confirmed in St. Matthew’s Gospel, which quotes this directly from the prophecy of Isaiah. All the early Church Fathers confirm this teaching, and it was verified by the fifth general council of the Church, held at Constantinople in the year 553, where Mary was confirmed as being “perpetually virgin.” Certainly, the ancient theologians did not go into the physical details, but they speak in modest analogies, such as the “emergence of Christ from the sealed tomb,” his “going through closed doors,” the “penetration of light through glass,” the “going out of human thought from the mind.” The Church also teaches us that she remained a virgin after Christ was born. Her marriage to Joseph was not consummated physically, and so she bore no other children. From the fourth century on, such sayings as that of St. Augustine became common: “A virgin conceived, a virgin gave birth, and a virgin remained.”

All these truths about Mary go beyond her, to her Son Jesus Christ. All of them are true because of the one great truth of history: that Almighty God took human flesh upon Himself, and was born of this special woman, a virgin, chosen by God Himself, a virgin prepared for this task through her immaculate conception, a virgin preserved for this task through her impeccability, a virgin honoured for this task through her perpetual virginity, as a constant witness to the fact that it was her pure flesh which was given to the Incarnate Word. These truths are not simply esoteric theological statements. They are truths which impact history. They are truths which prepared for that ultimate moment of history when God entered personally into time and space.

It was at that time that Caesar Augustus, the master of the world, determined to issue an order for a census of the world which was ruled by Rome. To every outpost, to every corner, the order went out: every Roman subject must be enrolled in his own city. It certainly was not in the mind of Caesar Augustus that his imperial order was a part of God’s great plan that the Saviour of the world should be born of the chosen Virgin Mary in a little-known place called Bethlehem. But this order of Caesar Augustus – perhaps thought of by him only incidentally, and then ordered casually – meant that countless lives were interrupted as people gathered the necessary supplies for their various journeys. So it was that Joseph and Mary, visited by angels and touched by God, were traveling in eternity at the order of an earthly ruler. And because of that, how things were to change! In a dirty stable, Pure Love was born. The “Living Bread come down from heaven” was laid where animals had eaten. The ancestors of Joseph and Mary, the Jews, had worshipped the golden calf, and now the ox and the ass were bowing down before their God.

As Mary fulfilled the plan of God by conceiving and giving birth to Jesus Christ, so His passion began. He was born in a borrowed stable; He was buried in a borrowed tomb. The swaddling clothes which Mary wrapped around him when he was born looked forward to the grave-clothes which she would help to wrap around His lifeless body some thirty-three years later. The wooden manger in which His mother had laid him foreshadowed the wooden Cross from which she would receive His body into her arms.

And so in Christ, heaven came to earth, and it came through the Blessed Virgin Mother. God’s glory was announced to shepherds and to kings. And they came, as men and women have been coming ever since, to worship the Word Made Flesh.

Into our midst He came...

Into our human condition Christ came. Into our tragedies and our sicknesses and our confusions, into our every need, He came. He chose to become, really and entirely, very Man. He took our flesh and blood. He breathed our breath of life. He was, while He was here, a man with men. And so that we might not feel Him to be in His situation and condition to be above any of us, He actually chose to be below most of us, on a level with the most humble and helpless. He asked for no privilege as the Son of God. He went through all that man must endure. He had no desire to be spared any burden of our mortal state. As each thing came in the course of years, He accepted it. He hurried nothing. He waited until the years changed the baby into the child, and the child into the boy, and the boy into the man. He came to be among us, not as a passing vision, not as something strange, but to be “bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.”

He accepted what was most universal in human experience, including pain and suffering. He was willing to be man. A simple, plain man was He, unknown, unhonoured in the world, “made like in all things unto his brethren.” He came because mankind is so precious in God’s sight. He died as we do, and in dying, so He died for each of us. 

And we must remember, too, that as He came for the good and the blessing of each of us, so He came for all those around us. He came for our friends and neighbours. He came for those whom we love, and for those whom we don’t especially like. He came for those from whom we are estranged and for those against whom we might have done some wrong. He was incarnate and He died, not only for those who hope that they are in His grace, and who live in His peace, but He came, too, for those who are misguided and blinded by the things of this world. He came for the outcast and the forsaken and foolish and for those who are in ignorance. He came for all sinners, for criminals, for those who seem to have no hope. He came for them all. He was “for a little while made lower than the angels.” He came to heal all of the unspeakable agonies that the multitudes have suffered from war and from disease and from every torture; He came to alleviate all that has been endured throughout the ages by those faithful departed whom we remember by name at the altar. For all of us He came.

It is a pretty season, this time of birth and guiding stars, this time of gifts and good feelings. But He came not to make it pretty. He came to make us whole.

30 December 2020

Pope St. Sylvester

St. Sylvester was born in Rome and was ordained to the priesthood by Pope St. Marcellinus. This took place during a brief time of peace for the Church, immediately preceding the persecutions of Diocletian. Sylvester was one of the clergy who survived the cruelties during the reign of terror which ensued, and eventually saw the triumph of Constantine in the year 312. Two years later he succeeded St. Melchiades as Bishop of Rome.

The Council of Nicaea was assembled during Pope St. Sylvester's pontificate, in the year 325. By that time he was advanced in years, and so was not able to attend personally. He sent legates to the Council, and because they were the Pope's personal representatives, their names appear first among the signatories of the Decrees, preceding the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch. St. Sylvester was Pope for twenty-four years and eleven months, and he died in the year 335.

Be merciful to the people of thy flock, O Lord, eternal Shepherd of our souls: and keep us in thy continual protection at the intercession of Saint Sylvester, whom thou didst raise up to be shepherd of the whole Church; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

28 December 2020

St. Thomas Becket

St. Thomas was born in London, England around the year 1117. He was the son of pious parents, and his mother converted to Christianity through the example and teachings of his father. From his early youth, Thomas was educated in religion and holiness. After his childhood, Thomas was then taught at a monastery and later at a school in London. After the death of both his parents, Thomas decided to finish his schooling by studying canon law. He was successful in his studies and was made secretary to one of the courts of London.

After working for a while at law, Thomas decided to dedicate the rest of his life to God, and began to work towards ordination. In all that he did, Thomas diligently applied himself and became well known as a holy and honest worker. His work came under the scrutiny of King Henry II and, in 1157, Thomas was asked to serve as Lord Chancellor to the king. After the bishop of Canterbury died, Henry sought to elect Thomas to the position, and in 1162 this suggestion was accepted by a synod. Thomas warned the king that it might cause friction and conflict of interests, but accepted the position.

Thomas served as bishop by seeking to help the people and develop his own holiness. He practiced many penances and was very generous to the poor with both his time and his money. As Henry's reign continued, he began more and more to exercise his hand in Church affairs. This caused many disagreements with Thomas, and after one especially trying affair, he retired for a while to France. When Thomas returned to England, he again became involved in a dispute with the king. Some of the king's knights saw this as treason, and as a result they killed Thomas in his own Church. Henry did penance at the grave of Thomas, seeking forgiveness for the actions of his knights, and the tomb soon became a place of pilgrimage for the faithful.

- Reprinted from the Catholic News Agency

O God, for whose Church the glorious Bishop Thomas Becket fell by the swords of wicked men: grant, we beseech thee; that all who call upon him for succour may be profited by the obtaining of all that they desire; 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.

27 December 2020

The Holy Innocents

In the midst of celebrating the incarnation of holy innocence, our joy is tempered by the remembrance of the deaths of the Holy Innocents. A wicked ruler ordering death much as he might order the destruction of an unwanted animal; terrified parents seeing their children's blood on the same streets where their families had walked for generations; brutalized children having their lives stolen scarcely after they had begun; a whole town maimed beyond recognition, all because the sin of Adam and Eve necessitated the birth of a Saviour.

We relate the slaughter of the Holy Innocents to the millions of children murdered through abortion -- and quite rightly so. But the horror of abortion is something that goes even beyond what happened on the streets of Bethlehem. The deaths of those little boys in Bethlehem afforded some safety to the Christ Child, because the sly Herod thought he had accomplished his purpose, and so the Holy Family was able to continue unmolested on its journey to the safety of Egypt. Those little boys, even in their suffering, had parents who did all they could to protect them from the violence descending upon them. Those little boys were named, and they were loved, and they were incorporated into God's family through the religious rites attended to by their mothers and fathers. The little boys of Bethlehem are remembered even today, and their deaths are able to be seen as being directly related to the mystery of the Holy Incarnation.

But the little victims of abortion... theirs is a holocaust that defies description. Not a single action of a single wicked ruler are their deaths; rather, their deaths are "a matter of choice" -- choices made by the very ones who should be protecting their innocent lives. These are not deaths being endured for any noble cause. These are deaths born of ignorance, of selfishness, of greed, of any number of the spoiled fruits of sin.

As we remember the deaths of the Holy Innocents, pray also for those who are being murdered in their holy innocence. And pray, too, that the twisted hearts which allow and encourage such unspeakable things might be changed.

O Almighty God, who out of the mouths of babes and nurslings hast ordained strength, and madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths: mortify and kill all vices in us; and so strengthen us by thy grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith, even unto death, we may glorify 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.

26 December 2020

The Feast of the Holy Family

The Feast of the Holy Family gives honour to Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and it is an occasion when we remember the importance of every family. In fact, it is so essential in the Church’s understanding of herself that the family is known as the “domestic Church.” Parents have the great privilege and responsibility of raising up yet another generation of Catholics who will walk in the great “stream of faith” which has come from others, and they are given the grace to do this through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. 

While parents have this as their primary obligation, every one of us – whether parents or grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, clergy, teachers, friends – has the responsibility of assisting in the solid Catholic upbringing of children. Christ Himself has given us this responsibility as members of His Body. 

Children need to be developed in virtue; they need to be formed in character. And as our children learn the virtues, so our families – and the Church – will be strengthened and will be that leaven which will help our society come to know God as He has revealed Himself to us. 

How do children learn these things? 

First, through the examples they see around them. What children witness in the lives of parents and grandparents, and in the other adults whom they admire, they will tend to imitate. 

Second, by repeated practice. We need to remind our children constantly to do the right thing, to the point that they know they can do the right thing because they have become accustomed to doing it. 

And finally, by word; that is, by what they hear coming from our own lips, and having those words match the actions they see in our lives. 

We do our children no favour when we allow them to control us; rather, we have an obligation to assert a godly control over them, guiding them and correcting them and forming them in the image of Christ. 

Let this Feast of the Holy Family be a reminder to us of our responsibility to exhibit a solid, holy Catholic life. We must impart good habits of mind, will, and heart to our children, and to do it through hard work and sacrifice each day, setting an example for them of what a Catholic life can be, when it is well lived. 

With God's assistance and with our own dedicated and sacrificial work, we can help our children to grow into great men and women, and that will lay the foundation for every family to become more like the Holy Family.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the prayers of the Blessed Mother and of St. Joseph, help us to do this. 

O Lord Jesus Christ, who by thy wondrous holiness didst adorn a human home, and by thy subjection to Mary and Joseph didst consecrate the order of earthly families: grant that we, being enlightened by the example of their life with thee in thy Holy Family, and assisted by their prayers, may at last be joined with them in thine eternal fellowship; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.


Away in a manger, no crib for his bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

Dear Mary, his Mother, sang sweet lullabies,
as Jesus, awaking, gazed into her eyes.
The most holy Virgin, with loving caress
embraced the world’s Saviour with Love’s tenderness.

Good Joseph stood guarding the Mother and Child,
his soul filled with awe and his heart undefiled.
The birth of young Jesus made angels to sing,
but Joseph in silence kept watch o’er his King.

What once was a stable may our hearts become;
may God’s holy fam’ly in us find a home.
With Mary and Joseph and angels above
we worship the Infant, the gift of God’s Love.

Text: V.1, Traditional
Vv. 2-4, Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1995
Music: Cradle Song, William James Kirkpatrick, (1838-1921)

25 December 2020

St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr

Saint Stephen was one of the first ordained deacons of the Church. He is also the first Christian martyr. The Greek word from which we derive the English word martyr literally means witness. In that sense, every Christian is called to bear witness to Jesus Christ, in both their words and their actions. Not all are asked to shed their blood.

Those who shed their blood for the faith are the greatest of witnesses. They have been especially honored since the very beginning of Christianity. Stephen was so conformed to Jesus in his holy life that his martyrdom was both a natural and supernatural sign of his love for the Lord. It also inspired the early believers as they faced the first round of brutal persecution.

His name means “crown” and he was the first to be martyred. His final words showed his understanding that Christ had come not just for the Jews, but for the whole world.

As he was being stoned, the young rabbi holding the cloaks of those who were stoning Stephen was named Saul, and what he saw in this young martyr eventually led to his own conversion.

I find it spiritually invigorating to move so rapidly from celebrating the birth of Our Lord, into the next day's commemoration of the first one to die for faith in that same Lord. St. Stephen, the great deacon, the compelling preacher, the martyr whose blood was a seed of faith in St. Paul, his was a life which showed very early that the Catholic faith was not designed for cowards!

When I celebrate Mass each year on St. Stephen's Day, it is a special day for me as it is the anniversary of my father's death, and it is a privilege to be able to pray for the repose of the soul of George William Phillips.  It makes the day bittersweet - it seems to me to be right for such a good man to have died on the feast of such a good saint.

Pray, good St. Stephen... pray for us all.

Grant, O Lord, that in all our sufferings here upon earth, for the testimony of thy truth, we may steadfastly look up to heaven, and by faith behold the glory that shall be revealed: and, being filled with the Holy Spirit, may learn to love and bless our persecutors, by the example of thy first Martyr Saint Stephen; who prayed for his murderers to thee, O blessed Jesus, who standest at the right hand of God to succour all those that suffer for thee, our Mediator and Advocate; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Salvation is born!

Lest the fact of the Incarnation and the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ become something relegated to cards expressing the greetings of the season with stars and angels hovering over nothing, our Holy Mother the Church marks each day of of the year, including Christmas, with the offering of the Mass, making the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ a present reality.

The Child was born for that purpose. The wood of the cradle makes way for the wood of the cross. The infant in the arms of Mary is the Saviour reposed in her arms. The beginning of the Passion of our Lord was at the moment of His conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. Shepherds came to adore the Lamb of God, and the Magi brought gifts in preparation for the death and resurrection of the King of the universe.

Here is mysterium tremendum: salvation is born in the stable, salvation is born on the cross, salvation is born on our altars.

24 December 2020

St. Francis and the Crèche

Chapel of the Crib at Greccio

It was in a grotto at Greccio, on Christmas Eve in 1223, that St. Francis created a crèche depicting the birth of our Savior. It was a simple affair, but as word spread throughout the area the people began to arrive with torches and candles. There they heard the Poor Man of Assisi read the Gospel telling of Christ's birth in Bethlehem, and he preached about Jesus taking poverty upon Himself, so that we might become rich in our love for God.

Since that time, the scene has been recreated in our homes and in our churches, in places public and private, allowing us to "go to Bethlehem, to see this great thing which has come to pass..."

This is the contemporary account written by St. Thomas of Celano, a follower of St. Francis:

Francis’ highest intention, his chief desire, his uppermost purpose was to observe the holy Gospel in all things and through all things and, with perfect vigilance, with all zeal, with all the longing of his mind and all the fervor of his heart, "to follow the teaching and the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ." He would recall Christ’s word through persistent meditation and bring to mind his deeds through the most penetrating consideration. The humility of the incarnation and the charity of the passion occupied his memory particularly, to the extent that he wanted to think of hardly anything else.

What he did on the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ near the little town called Greccio in the third year before his glorious death should especially be noted and recalled with reverent memory. In that place there was a certain man by the name of John, of good reputation and an even better life, whom blessed Francis loved with a special love, for in the place where he lived he held a noble and honorable position in as much as he had trampled upon the nobility of his birth and pursued nobility of soul.

Blessed Francis sent for this man, as he often did, about fifteen days before the birth of the Lord, and he said to him: "If you want us to celebrate the present fast of our Lord at Greccio, go with haste and diligently prepare what I tell you. For I wish to do something that will recall to memory the little Child who was born in Bethlehem and set before our bodily eyes in some way the inconveniences of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he lay upon the hay where he had been placed.” When the good and faithful man heard these things, he ran with haste and prepared in that place all the things the saint had told him.

But the day of joy drew near, the time of great rejoicing came. The brothers were called from their various places. Men and women of that neighborhood prepared with glad hearts, according to their means, candles and torches to light up that night that has lighted up all the days and years with its gleaming star. At length the saint of God came, and finding all things prepared, he saw it and was glad. the manger was prepared, the hay had been brought, the ox and ass were led in. There simplicity was honored, poverty was exalted, humility was commended, and Greccio was made, as it were, a new Bethlehem. The night was lighted up like the day, and it delighted men and beasts. The people came and were filled with new joy over the new mystery. The woods rang with the voices of the crowd and the rocks made answer to their jubilation. The brothers sang, paying their debt of praise to the Lord, and the whole night resounded with their rejoicing. The saint of God stood before the manger, uttering sighs, overcome with love, and filled with a wonderful happiness. The solemnities of the Mass were celebrated over the manger and the priest experienced a new consolation.

The saint of God was clothed with the vestments of the deacon, for he was a deacon, and he sang the holy Gospel in a sonorous voice. And his voice was a strong voice, a sweet voice, a clear voice, a sonorous voice, inviting all to the highest rewards. Then he preached to the people standing about, and he spoke charming words concerning the nativity of the poor king and the little town of Bethlehem. Frequently too, when he wished to call Christ Jesus, he would call him simply the Child of Bethlehem, aglow with overflowing love for him; and speaking the word Bethlehem, his voice was more like the bleating of a sheep. His mouth was filled more with sweet affection than with words. Besides, when he spoke the name Child of Bethlehem or Jesus, his tongue licked his lips, as it were, relishing and savoring with pleased palate the sweetness of the word. The gifts of the Almighty were multiplied there, and a wonderful vision was seen by a certain virtuous man. For he saw a little child lying in the manger lifeless, and he saw the holy man of God go up to it and rouse the child as from a deep sleep. This vision was not unfitting, for the Child Jesus had been forgotten in the hearts of many; but, by the working of his grace, he was brought to life again through his servant St. Francis and stamped upon their fervent memory. At length the solemn night celebration was brought to a close, and each one returned to his home with holy joy.

The hay that had been placed in the manger was kept, so that the Lord might save the beasts of burden and other animals through it as he multiplied his holy mercy. And in truth it so happened that many animals throughout the surrounding region that had various illnesses were freed from their illnesses after eating of this hay. Indeed, even women laboring for a long time in a difficult birth, were delivered safely when some of this hay was placed upon them; and a large number of persons of both sexes of that place, suffering from various illnesses, obtained the health they sought. later, the place on which the manger had stood was made sacred by a temple of the Lord, and an altar was built in honour of the most blessed father Francis over the manger and a church was built, so that where once the animals had eaten the hay, there in the future men would eat unto health of soul and body the flesh of the Lamb without blemish and without spot, our Lord Jesus Christ, who in highest and ineffable love gave himself to us, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, God, eternally glorious, forever and ever. Amen. Alleluia, Alleluia.

The most important section of the sanctuary at Greccio is the Chapel of the Crib, which was built in the present form in 1228. A rock under the altar indicates the place where Francis arranged the manger. The cave wall is surrounded by a fresco from the school of Giotto. It shows Francis wearing the dalmatic of a deacon and taking into his arms the infant Jesus.

23 December 2020

A pure reflection...

The prophet Malachi spoke of “a refiner and a purifier of silver.” It was the Messiah to whom he was referring. “He shall sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver.” [Malachi 3:3]

The refiner of silver worked like this: he would sit before the furnace and hold a crucible above the fire, containing the impure mixture of silver and lead. Then, as the crucible was heated, the lead would crumble away, until the pure silver would begin to shine. And when the refiner could see his own reflection shining clearly in the silver, then he would know that the metal was pure, and needed no further refining.

When our Lord Jesus was born and when He looked at His mother’s face, the first recollection of His earthly life would have been His own face, shining, reflected in His Mother’s eyes, as the refiner of silver could see himself in the purity of the metal before him.

That’s what Jesus saw in Mary. He saw His own image, the image of God, shining and reflecting in her soul. He saw the reflection of His own love and holiness in her.

That’s what He looks for in us. Our sins are to be purged away. Our selfishness and our worldliness are to be refined away, as the lead is from silver, in the furnace of our contrition, until Christ sees His own face reflected in our hearts. He has promised that He will purify us, if we come to Him.

What Jesus saw in Mary, He looks for mystically in us, and He has made it possible through His saving work of redemption. As Mary bore the Incarnate Word within her, so we are afforded the privilege of bearing Christ within us. He was planted within us at baptism, and each time we receive Holy Communion, we bear Him within us in a marvelous way as we become living tabernacles for His Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.

22 December 2020

"He shall be called John."

Now the time came for Elizabeth to be delivered, and she gave birth to a son. And her neighbors and kinsfolk heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they would have named him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said, "Not so; he shall be called John." And they said to her, "None of your kindred is called by this name." And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he would have him called. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, "His name is John." And they all marveled. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea; and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, "What then will this child be?" For the hand of the Lord was with him.

- St. Luke 1:57-66

In the Old Testament it is written in the Book of Malachi that when the Day of the Lord approached, the great prophet Elijah would return to announce the coming of the Messiah, who would be the Saviour and Ruler of all creation.

Elijah did indeed return, or it would be proper to say that one came who stood in Elijah’s place, fulfilling the role of the great prophet; that is, St. John the Baptist. His birth shows the love God has for His people, as everything was prepared meticulously for the coming of the Incarnate Word.

The Gospel appointed for December 23rd relates a very human situation. The relatives of Zechariah and Elizabeth have gathered on the eighth day after their son’s birth. It was the occasion on which the child would be named, but there was disagreement over what to name him.

In our own families, sometimes there are those who think a newborn child should be named after his paternal grandfather, or a child should be named such-and-such because “I’ve always loved that name.” In our ordinary family life we have opinions about such things. But the child in the Gospel today has already been named, and the name was made clear by the very angel who first brought the news. Both Zechariah and Elizabeth are firm about it: “He shall be called John.” It is an important name, and a name appropriate to the circumstances. It means "the Lord has been gracious."

With the birth of St. John the Baptist the way is paved for the outpouring of the grace and favour of God in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, the Lord has been gracious, because the world which had been maimed by sin and death is now able to be a place of hope and new life for all mankind.

21 December 2020

In the fullness of time...

O precious Lord, once born for us
in stable small and poor;
be born again within our hearts,
and there let us adore.
As once our Saviour thou didst come,
both Man and God divine,
so now thou givest Flesh and Blood
'neath forms of bread and wine.
Sweet Fruit of Virgin Mary's womb,
once hid from earthly sight,
may we thy children fruitful be,
and show the world thy Light.
Now stay with us, Lord Jesus Christ,
in solemn Mystery,
that when our work on earth be done
thy glory we may see.
Tune: "St. Botolph" by Gordon Slater (1896-1979)
Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1992

20 December 2020

Mary, Missionary and Evangelist

The Gospel for December 21st:
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."
-Luke 1:39-45

It was shortly after the Annunciation that the Blessed Virgin Mary visited her cousin St. Elizabeth, who in a few months would give birth to St. John Baptist.

It was the Blessed Virgin Mary who in her womb bore the King of heaven and earth, the Creator of the world, the Son of the Eternal Father, the Sun of Justice. She was the first missionary and evangelist, as she carried in her womb the Incarnate Word, taking Him to others. And when the two mothers embraced, it was the close proximity of Jesus which brought about the cleansing of John from original sin in his mother's womb. Hearing herself addressed by the most lofty title of "Mother of the Lord" and realizing what grace her visit had conferred on John, the Blessed Virgin would later break out in a canticle of praise proclaiming: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because he that is mighty hath magnified me and holy is His name" (Lk. 1:46).

As we approach the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, all these things should increase and inspire our love and devotion to Mary, Mother of God.  In imitation of her, we are all called to be missionaries and evangelists, carrying the Lord Jesus within us so that He might be shown to others through our own words and deeds.

19 December 2020

"With God nothing will be impossible."

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!”

- St. Luke 1:26-28

A prophecy had been given long ago, that a virgin would conceive and bear a son, and the prophecy has been fulfilled. The Virgin spoken of in the prophecy we now know is a young girl named Mary, and she would be lifted from obscurity to become the best-known woman in history. And the son spoken of in the prophecy now has a name: it is Jesus, and He is the Son of the Most High God.

Until that time the prophets had been called to announce the will of God to a particular people in a particular place. But God has revealed something not just to the Children of Israel, but to the whole world. Until then prophets and kings had desired to see this great thing, but they had not been so privileged. In fact, no human being was to know it before it was revealed to the Virgin herself.

The archangel Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, always ready to announce the divine Will of God to mankind, was the messenger. The purpose in visiting Nazareth was to announce the coming of the God-Man.

We can never know what Mary was thinking when the archangel came to her. We can only imagine that Gabriel’s gaze was kind and steady as the words were spoken to her – words which have woven themselves into our own devotion: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you…” And the archangel went on to deliver the divine message: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

In simplicity Mary asks a question: “How can this be...?” Gabriel makes everything clear to her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God…” and then those beautiful words of assurance: “…for with God nothing will be impossible.” And it was when Mary heard those words that she eagerly replied, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” In those words was the obedience which would change history.

“For with God nothing will be impossible.” That’s what strengthened Mary and opened the door to her complete obedience to God’s plan. And in the face of the difficulties we sometimes have in our own lives, with the decisions we have to make, and with the responsibilities we have, we should remember the words of Gabriel to the Virgin Mary: “with God nothing will be impossible.” 

When we seem to be almost crushed with worry or confused by the many thing in this life that try to draw us away from our life in Christ, we should remember those words. Those are the words which contain God’s promise that He will be with us in all things, just as He was with Mary. His promise, and her faithfulness, meant that she bore the Incarnate Word for the salvation of the world.

And God makes the promise to us – that with Him nothing will be impossible. All He asks is that we say “yes” to what we’ve been called to do – to pour our heart and soul into our marriage, into being parents to our children, into the priesthood, into religious life – whatever our state in life, and whatever our vocation, to seek God’s Will and then to do it. 

It really is that simple. It may not always be easy, but it is quite simple. God is asking for our obedience in remaining faithful to Him – and if we do that, He’ll give us the grace and the strength to meet every challenge, and to bear the good fruit of the Incarnate Word in our own lives, so that through our cooperation, the world might be sanctified, and that all mankind might come to know Emmanuel – the fact that God is with us, in our Saviour Jesus Christ.


Painting: "The Annunciation" by Edward Reginald Frampton (1870 – 1923)

18 December 2020

Renewing our hope...

From the readings for Mass on December 19th:
And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, "Behold, you are barren and have no children; but you shall conceive and bear a son.” - Judges 13:3

But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” - St. Luke 1:13

Advent is a time to renew our hope and confidence in God’s faithfulness to the covenant He made with His people. In preparing the way for a Saviour, we see the wondrous miracle of two couples who didn’t think they would have children. But they did conceive and bear sons – Samson in the Old Testament and John the Baptist in the New Testament. These men were used by God to bring hope and deliverance at times of great difficulty in the history of God’s people. 

Zechariah was from a priestly family and it was his privilege to be chosen to enter the inner court of the temple to offer sacrifice to God. While carrying out his duties he was visited by the archangel Gabriel, who told him that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son. The people wondered why Zechariah was delayed and they were amazed that he was speechless when he returned from offering sacrifice. They rightly perceived that something special had transpired. 

It was a great mystery for Zechariah to grasp all at once. Elizabeth, thought to be barren, would conceive, but both of them were beyond the age when they might expect to have a child. The Gospel tells us that Zechariah became speechless until the day his son was dedicated to the Lord and had been named John. 

Silence allowed Zechariah to move more intensely into God’s presence, enabling him to be still and quiet so that he could hear God’s voice more clearly. Zechariah is a reminder to us of the importance of being silent before the Lord, to allow Him to speak to our hearts and reveal His mind to us.


Painting by William Blake, c. 1799
"The Angel appearing to Zacharias"

17 December 2020

St. Joseph and his dream...

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.
- Matthew 1:18-24

What we know of St. Joseph for certain, we know from the Gospels. It's there that we see him to be a man who was determined to do what is right in the sight of God, and to do it in a kindly way.

He was betrothed to Mary. According to Jewish practice, betrothal was as sacred as marriage. Because of that, any infidelity before the actual marriage was treated in the same way as infidelity after marriage: death by stoning was the punishment for such sin. By all human appearance, Mary was in just such circumstances, and Joseph had to act in the way that seemed best. He was a just man, but he was a kind man, too, and surely what was revealed to him about Mary made a great demand on his faith.

But that is the point: Joseph was, above all, a man of faith and completely obedient to the divine Will of Almighty God. When it was revealed to him that Mary was to bear the Incarnate Son of God he took her to be his wife. There was no hesitation, no consideration of what others might think or how they might judge. It mattered little to him that it was assumed he was the human father of this Child – not that he would have encouraged others to believe such a thing, for he knew the truth – but it was better than having people think that Mary had shamefully conceived with someone else. So Joseph took the responsibility, knowing one day the truth would be known, and that Truth "would make men free."

16 December 2020

Don't neglect the begats!

In our modern western culture it's important for families to have a sense of heritage. Some may have family traditions, but large numbers of people don’t even know the names of their great-great grandparents, or care where they lived, or what they did. Even those who might dip into genealogy do it out of a curiosity which is often short-lived.

In contrast, genealogies were a deeply integral part of Jewish society at the time of Jesus. Land was inherited based on family lines, and those who could not prove their ancestry in Israel were considered to be outsiders.

Because of this difference, modern readers tend to skip over the genealogies in Scripture. The “begats” may not be fascinating reading, but don’t disregard them. God had reasons for inspiring every part of the Bible—even the genealogies of Christ.

On December 17th, with the beginning of Late Advent, we hear the lineage of our Lord Jesus Christ as it’s recorded in St. Matthew’s Gospel. His genealogy is recorded all the way back to Abraham, and in the Old Testament we have the genealogy from Abraham back to the first man, Adam. This is not an insignificant detail. Indeed, it is a crucial fulfillment of prophecy. Adam’s sin brought judgment and death into the world, but a Savior was promised—the Seed of the woman who would strike the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). Jesus Christ is the “Last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45), the promised Seed of the woman.

Jesus is the Saviour who was promised throughout history. The genealogies in Matthew and Luke show Him as the descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and eventually David—men to whom these prophecies were made. God promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed through his offspring, a promise which was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

By reading these genealogies, we see that Jesus was a direct descendent of King David. This is also a fulfillment of many Old Testament promises. The promised Messiah would be the descendant of David (2 Samuel 7:12–14) and would one day rule on David’s throne (Isaiah 9:6–7).

Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah—the descendant of Abraham and David, and He is our Saviour who gave His life to redeem us from our sins.

Late Advent

With the beginning of Late Advent on December 17th, so we begin the great “O" Antiphons, which lead up to the Vigil of the Nativity. Each antiphon highlights a title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel (O God With Us), and they are taken from the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the coming of the Messiah.

Of course, most of the Catholic Church already shares our patrimony’s gift regarding the O Antiphons in the metrical translation of these antiphons, the universally beloved: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” That translation is, in large part, the work of the famed Anglican priest, translator and hymnographer, John Mason Neale (1818-1866), to whose scholarly and literary gifts the Anglican Church owes its recovery of the great treasury of pre-Reformation Latin hymnody.

There is, however, another antiphon which is firmly part of our patrimony.  It is our unique eighth O Antiphon, which we hear on the morning of December 24th — a most fitting antiphon indeed to echo throughout the monasteries and churches of the land known then – and now again – as “Our Lady’s Dowry,” the antiphon O Virgo virginum:
O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud? quia nec primam similem visa es, nec habere sequentem. Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? for neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? the thing which ye behold, is a divine mystery.

13 December 2020

St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross was born in Spain in 1542, and he learned some important lessons from his parents - especially the importance of sacrificial love. His father gave up tremendous wealth and social status when he fell in love and married a weaver's daughter, and was disowned by his noble family. After his father died, John’s mother kept the destitute family together as they wandered homeless in search of work. These were the examples of sacrifice that John followed as he came to know that one great love in his own life -- God.

When the family finally found work, the family still lived in poverty. When he was only fourteen, John took a job caring for people in a hospital for those with incurable diseases or who were insane. It was in the midst of this poverty and suffering that John learned to search for beauty and happiness not in the world, but in God.

St. John eventually became a priest and joined the Carmelite order. This was at the time of great Saint Teresa of Avila, and she asked him to help her in her efforts to reform the Carmelites, who had become very worldly. John supported her belief that the order should return to its life of prayer, but many Carmelites felt threatened by this reform, and some members of John's own order kidnapped him. He was locked in a cell which was only six feet by ten feet, where he was frequently beaten. There was only one tiny window high up near the ceiling. Yet in that unbearable dark, cold, and desolate cell, his love and faith continued to grow. He had nothing left but God -- and God brought John his greatest joys in that tiny cell.

After nine months, John escaped. Taking only the mystical poetry he had written in his cell, he climbed out a window using a rope made of strips of blankets. He managed to hide from his pursuers, and from then on his life was devoted to sharing and explaining his experience of God's love.

"What more do you want, o soul! And what else do you search for outside, when within yourself you possess your riches, delights, satisfaction and kingdom -- your beloved whom you desire and seek? Desire him there, adore him there. Do not go in pursuit of him outside yourself. You will only become distracted and you won't find him, or enjoy him more than by seeking him within you."
Saint John of the Cross
Priest, Mystic, Poet, Doctor of the Church

O God, who didst give to blessed St. John of the Cross, thy Confessor and Doctor, grace to show forth a singular love of perfect self-denial and of bearing thy Cross: grant, we beseech thee; that we cleaving steadfastly to his pattern, may attain to everlasting glory; 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.

12 December 2020

"Rejoice in the Lord"

“Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.”

- St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians

The purple of Advent gives way to rose-coloured vestments on this Third Sunday of the season, called Gaudete because of the day’s introit. As we prepare for the celebration of the birth of our redeemer, and prepare to meet Him as our judge, so it comes as a trumpet before dawn: “Rejoice. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” And there is a reason why we should rejoice. Because “the Lord is at hand.” We, who have been born by the waters of baptism and through the blood of Christ have every reason to rejoice, because our Lord and Saviour is close by, ready to draw us closer to Him, to give us the place which He has prepared for us.

But St. Paul doesn’t leave it at that. He tells us that even though the Lord is at hand, there are things which are expected of us. “Have no anxiety about anything,” he says. Of course, it’s right to think about the future and to do everything that we can to provide for it. God has given us a capacity to work and to plan to that we can do all that’s possible to make our future secure. But St. Paul is reminds us that God wants us, above all, to trust in Him and not to fret and worry ourselves with over-anxiousness about the result of our labor. If we’ve honestly does all He has told us to do, then we should be at peace in the assurance that He won’t allow us to lack anything that we truly need.

And we’re told by St. Paul how we can gain an entrance into this peace of God; namely, we should take all our anxieties, our perplexities, our concerns, to God in prayer. And having referred them to Him, to dwell no longer on them. As he says, “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds…”

St. Paul says that if we want freedom from anxiety and a quiet confidence in God then we must take everything to God in prayer. This means that we really need to fulfill the command to “pray without ceasing.” Obviously we can’t be always on our knees in prayer – but we can live a life of constant prayerfulness. Wherever we are, whomever we’re with, whatever we’re doing, we can remember that we are in God’s presence. Even at the busiest times and in the most crowded places, we can offer to God our thoughts and words and acts, and so be perpetually in an attitude of prayerfulness. If we would cultivate that attitude, then what peace would be ours! Yet so few seem to know that peace, because so few of us take everything to Him in prayer.

Certainly, at the solemn times of our lives, when great difficulties face us or great fears overpower us, we take our troubles to God. But if in those times of special trial we want the comfort of confidence in our heavenly Father, we really need to take to Him also the little things which make up the greater part of our lives, and so lay up for ourselves a store of confidence which will stand us in good stead in even the most difficult times. We cannot learn to trust God fully in only one moment. It is a life-long thing.

We mustn’t be discouraged if we don’t receive the answers we expect. Nowhere does God promise to answer our prayers exactly as we desire. But we can be assured that every prayer is answered. “Ask and ye shall receive,” said the Lord Jesus. We will receive, but we might not receive exactly what we ask, because our Father, in His divine knowledge of us, knows best what we need. Oftentimes, if our prayers were granted exactly as we prayed them, we would have sorrow and hurt brought upon us. An earthly father doesn’t give his child exactly what is asked for if a father knows it would be harmful. Nor does our heavenly Father give us those things that we think would make us happy, but which He knows would, in the end, cause us sorrow. But even if we don’t receive exactly what we ask for, we certainly shall receive what is for our good, because God truly is our loving Father.

And we’re reminded of another thing: we must live in a spirit of thankfulness. There can be no peace or joy in an unthankful heart. If we would count the blessings and comforts that God has showered upon us so bountifully, then we would be able to look forward to the future and believe that as God has blessed us in the past, so in the future He will never leave us of forsake us.

In the midst of Advent how simple is this teaching about knowing the peace of God. It is as simple as God coming to earth, and almost as profound. If we do what God has told us to do in the way of preparation, and then trust Him as our Father; if we will tell Him everything in our hearts, relying on His care, then we will find freedom from the anxieties of this world, and we will know the promises of the world to come. Having honestly done our best, we must then trust Him, not relying on our own efforts, but on God’s love, which is perpetually shown to us in Jesus Christ. In doing that, we will have that “peace which passes all understanding…”

A Prayer to Grow in Goodness

May I be no man's enemy, and may I be the friend of that which is eternal and abides.
May I never quarrel with those nearest me: and if I do, may I be reconciled quickly.
May I love, seek, and attain only that which is good.
May I wish for all men's happiness and envy none.
May I never rejoice in the ill-fortune of one who has wronged me.
When I have done or said what is wrong, may I never wait for the rebuke of others, but always rebuke myself until I make amends.
May I win no victory that harms either me or my opponent.
May I reconcile friends who are angry with one another.
May I never fail a friend who is in danger.
When visiting those in grief may I be able by gentle and healing words to soften their pain.
May I respect myself.
May I always keep tame that which rages within me.
May I accustom myself to be gentle, and never be angry with people because of circumstances.
May I never discuss who is wicked and what wicked things he has done, but know good men and follow in their footsteps.

- Eusebius of Caesarea, 263-339

11 December 2020

Our Lady of Guadalupe

On December 9, 1531, in Mexico, Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego, a poor and humble Indian who had recently converted to the Catholic faith. She asked him to go to the Bishop and tell him to build a church where she said “I will show and offer all of my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to my people.” 

Juan Diego did as she asked, but the Bishop asked for a sign that this message was really from Our Lady. Mary granted his request. On December 12, she showed Juan where the most beautiful Castilian roses were and told him to gather them. It was a miracle that the roses were there and in bloom because there was frost on the ground, and the ground was an infertile place where only cactus and thistles grew. 

After he gathered them, she helped arrange them in his tilma and told him to show them to the Bishop. When he brought them to the Bishop, the Bishop was amazed at the roses, but was even more amazed at what began to happen to Juan Diego’s tilma. Right before their very eyes, the image of Our Lady began to form on the cloth. The picture of Mary was beautiful and the Bishop fell to his knees. He had the church built at her request. 

The tilma is still intact after 485 years. The colors have not faded and the cloth has not deteriorated. It has been on display in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe for all this time.

The manner in which Our Lady appeared on the tilma was very significant to the Aztec Indians. God had her dressed in a way that they would understand who she was. She was dressed in royal clothes that showed that she was very important, perhaps a queen. She also had the symbol of the cross at her neck which was the same symbol the Spaniards had on their ships and in the churches they built. She had a sash tied around her waist which meant that she was going to have a child, for this was the way the Aztec women dressed when they were pregnant. And on her beautiful dress were all sorts of designs and flowers. But there was one flower on her dress that was very significant. It had only four petals. To the Aztecs, the four petal flower was the symbol for the true God, the God above all gods. This flower was located on her abdomen, right over the place where Jesus was growing inside of her. The Aztecs immediately understood that this was the mother of the true God! 

This appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe was very important to the history of our continent. The Aztec Indians and the Spaniards were on the brink of war. The Aztec Indians’ culture and religion were very different. They worshipped gods to whom they would offer human sacrifices, often killing 50,000 people a year. If a war had occurred, it would have been very brutal and the Spaniards and Christianity would have been totally wiped out. Mary’s appearance changed everything. It helped the Indians to embrace Christianity and it helped the Spaniards to treat the Indians with respect and as human beings. In the course of seven years, 6,000,000 Indians converted to the Catholic faith. This was the biggest conversion in the history of the Church! This is why Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Patroness of the Americas. 

Mary’s appearance put an end to the worship of stone gods and the ritual of human sacrifice. Our Lady of Guadalupe is also called the Patroness of the Unborn. We pray for Mary’s help today to bring an end to the human sacrifice of God’s children through abortion and to convert non-believers.

O God, who hast willed that under the special patronage of the most Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, we should receive an abundant measure of unceasing favours: grant us, thy suppliant people; that as we rejoice to honour her upon earth, so we may enjoy the vision of her in heaven; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

10 December 2020

Pope St. Damasus I

Pope St. Damasus is one the many popes whose name isn’t immediately recognizable to most people, but whose faithful service in the Chair of St. Peter is still reflected in the Church today. Damasus had served as a deacon under Pope Liberius, whose pontificate was filled with upheaval from both outside and inside the Church. In fact, when Pope Liberius died in the year 366, there were riots that broke out over the election of his successor. Most people favoured the deacon Damasus, a Roman who was of Spanish descent. Damasus was a very faithful man who upheld the fullness of the Catholic faith, and although there were some who supported another man whom they tried to install as pope, but Damasus finally was installed, with the Emperor Valentinian interceding to expel the anti-pope.

A time of peace in the Church came with Pope Damasus, and he was able to concentrate on the growth and strengthening of the Church. He knew the importance of the Holy Scriptures in the life of the Church, and one of his first projects was to gather together a list of the books of the Old and New Testaments, which until this time had been scattered piecemeal throughout the Church. He then asked his longtime friend and secretary, St. Jerome, to translate the Bible into Latin. St. Jerome’s Vulgate translation still serves as a foundation to the study and translation of the Scriptures to this very day.

Damasus had a great devotion to the martyrs who had gone before, and he searched out the tombs of the martyrs which had been blocked up and hidden in the catacombs during previous times of persecution, and he marked their tombs with beautiful slabs of marble. He lighted the passages of the catacombs, and encouraged the Faithful to make pilgrimages to the burial places of the martyrs. Damasus also beautified existing churches, on the principle that the worship of God demands our best, and that places of beauty can point us to heaven.

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Damasus was a strong defender of the orthodox Catholic faith, making it a point to publicly condemn various heresies which had crept into the Church, especially the heresy of Arianism. If fact, the place of Peter and his successors was never more respected as it was during the time of Pope Damasus, and he spent much of his energy in promoting the primacy of the Holy See, even leading the civil Roman government to recognize the special rights of the Church in society.

Pope St. Damasus was able to bring peace and strength to the Church, which had been so fractured under his predecessor, and this holy man died on December 11th in the year 384, after serving the Church as the Supreme Pontiff for eighteen years.

Grant, we pray thee, O Lord: that we may constantly exalt the merits of thy Martyrs, whom Pope Saint Damasus so venerated and loved; 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.

09 December 2020

Our Lady of Loreto

The shrine of the Holy House of Loreto is located along the Adriatic Sea coast of Italy, in a small town located three hours from Rome. The house has been said to have been miraculously transported from Palestine to Italy, and by the 14th century this shrine in Loreto is one of the most famous shrines of Our Lady in Europe.

The large basilica provides the setting of the small house within the basilica itself. Though the rough walls of the little building have been raised in height and are cased externally in richly sculptured marble, the interior measures only thirty-one feet by thirteen feet.

Within the house an altar stands at one end beneath a statue, blackened over time from the smoke of burning candles and incense, of the Virgin Mother and her Divine Infant. The current statue is a 1920 replacement of damaged ancient original made of cedars of Lebanon. The replacement is made of cedar wood from the Vatican.

The inscription on the altar, Hic Verbum caro factum est, is a reminder that this building is honored by Christians as the house at Nazareth in which the Holy Family lived, and site of the Incarnation, when the Word became Flesh. Another inscription of the sixteenth century which decorates the eastern façade of the basilica sets forth at greater length the tradition which makes this shrine so famous.

Christian pilgrim, you have before your eyes the Holy House of Loreto, venerable throughout the world on account of the Divine mysteries accomplished in it and the glorious miracles herein wrought. It is here that most holy Mary, Mother of God, was born; here that she was saluted by the Angel, here that the eternal Word of God was made Flesh. Angels conveyed this House from Palestine to the town Tersato in Illyria in the year of salvation 1291 in the pontificate of Nicholas IV. Three years later, in the beginning of the pontificate of Boniface VIII, it was carried again by the ministry of angels and placed in a wood near this hill, in the vicinity of Recanati, in the March of Ancona; where having changed its station thrice in the course of a year, at length, by the will of God, it took up its permanent position on this spot three hundred years ago [now, of course, more than 600]. Ever since that time, both the extraordinary nature of the event having called forth the admiring wonder of the neighboring people and the fame of the miracles wrought in this sanctuary having spread far and wide, this Holy House, whose walls do not rest on any foundation and yet remain solid and uninjured after so many centuries, has been held in reverence by all nations.

- from CatholicCulture.org

08 December 2020

St. Juan Diego

Although we don’t have many details about the life of Juan Diego before his conversion, we know that he was born in the year 1474 in part of what is today Mexico City. The Catholic faith was brought to Mexico in 1519 when Cortez landed on the coast of Mexico, and there were Catholic priests with him. Juan Diego was among the first of those the hear the Gospel, and in 1524, when he was 50 years old, Juan Diego was baptized by a Franciscan priest, Fr. Peter da Gand.

Juan Diego took his faith very seriously and attended Mass on a daily basis. He walked many miles to Mass every morning, and on December 9, 1531, when Juan Diego was on his way to morning Mass, the Blessed Mother appeared to him on Tepeyac Hill, the outskirts of what is now Mexico City. She asked him to go to the Bishop and to request that the bishop build a shrine be built at Tepeyac, where she promised to pour out her grace upon those who asked for her prayers. The Bishop at first didn’t believe Juan Diego, and he asked for some sign to prove that the apparition was true. On December 12, Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac. The Blessed Mother told him to climb the hill and to pick the flowers that he would find in bloom. He obeyed, and even though it was winter time, he found roses blooming. He gathered the flowers and took them to Our Lady who carefully placed them in his mantle and told him to take them to the Bishop as "proof". When he opened his mantle, the flowers fell on the ground and there remained impressed, in place of the flowers, an image of the Blessed Mother, the apparition at Tepeyac.

With the Bishop's permission, Juan Diego lived the rest of his life as a hermit in a small hut near the chapel where the miraculous image was placed for veneration. Here he cared for the church and the first pilgrims who came to ask for Mary’s intercession.

O God, who by means of Saint Juan Diego didst show the love of the most holy Virgin Mary for thy people: grant, through his intercession; that, by following the counsels our Mother gave at Guadalupe, we may be ever constant in fulfilling thy will; 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.

07 December 2020

The Immaculate Conception

[Several years ago I wrote articles for a now-defunct blog called "The Anglo-Catholic."  It was intended to assist those who were considering a move into full Catholic communion, and I wrote this article to explain in simple terms the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.]


It was our beloved and venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen who famously said, “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church…” He was referring, of course, not simply to the institution, but more to what the Catholic Church teaches.

Over the years in my work with converts to the Faith, there are usually certain predictable teachings that are like “red flags” to those who are inquiring about Catholic teaching. Along with issues such as Papal Infallibility, one of the biggest “red flags” tends to be the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Let’s look first at what this doctrine is not. It does not refer to the conception of Christ in the womb of Mary, nor does it mean that Mary was somehow miraculously conceived. Mary was conceived in the normal way as the natural fruit of the marriage of Ss. Joachim and Anne, but at the moment of her conception God preserved her from original sin and its stain.

As we know, the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, became their bitter legacy to us. Original sin deprives us of sanctifying grace, and the stain of original sin corrupts our human nature. But by God’s grace, given at the moment of Mary’s conception, she was preserved from these defects, and so from the first instant of her existence Mary had the fullness of sanctifying grace, and was unburdened by the corrupt nature caused by original sin. In this way, Mary becomes a “second Eve,” conceived in the same state of original purity as God intended for mankind.

Why would God do this? We state the reason every time we say the Creed. When we profess that Jesus Christ “was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,” we’re proclaiming that God took human flesh upon Himself. And from whom did He take that flesh? From Mary. So the question must be asked: would God – who can have no part in sin – take upon Himself that which was fallen, stained and corrupt? The answer is obvious: of course He wouldn't. So, as we can see already, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception has as much to do with our Lord Jesus Christ and His Incarnation, as it does with the Blessed Virgin Mary. In fact, as we explore the various Marian dogmas, we see this consistently. What God does in and through Mary finds its ultimate purpose in Jesus Christ.

We can find a strong implicit reference to the Immaculate Conception in St. Luke 1:28. In the original Greek text. When the archangel Gabriel is addressing the young Virgin Mary, the word used is translated to say that she is “full of grace.” In some translations of scripture, Gabriel’s words are translated as “highly favored one,” but that translation doesn’t capture the best and fullest meaning. The original Greek clearly indicates that Mary was filled with grace in the past, and the effect of it continues into the present. Understanding that, it’s apparent that the grace received by Mary didn’t come about through Gabriel’s visit; rather, she was always filled with grace.

Here’s another point used by those who doubt the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception: They ask, “What about the words Mary spoke in her Magnificat, when she says, “my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour…”? If she wasn’t a sinner, why would she need a Saviour?” Remember, Mary was a human being, a descendant of Adam and Eve. When she was conceived, she was certainly subject to the contracting of original sin, like all of us. But she was preserved from it – and how so? By grace. Mary was redeemed by the grace of Christ, but in a special way; that is, by anticipation. There’s a helpful analogy which has been used by the Church to illustrate this very fact: a man falls into a deep pit, and somebody reaches down and pulls him out. It would be true to say that the man was “saved” from the pit. A woman is walking by that same pit, and she’s about to fall in, but at that very moment someone reaches out and pulls her back from the edge. She also has been “saved” from the pit. And in fact, she didn’t even get dirty like the poor man did, who actually fell in. God, who is outside of time, applied Christ’s saving grace to Mary before she was stained by original sin, rather like the woman in the story who didn’t get dirty because she was prevented from falling into the pit. So yes, Mary had a Saviour, and He is none other than Christ, her Son and her Lord.

Then we’ve got Romans 3:23, where St. Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Did St. Paul mean this statement to be understood in an all-inclusive, no-one-excluded way? Well, let’s consider. First of all, we certainly have to exclude Jesus Himself. Even though He was fully man, we know He didn’t sin. And what about a new-born baby? If sin is the deliberate disobedience to God’s law, could we say that a little baby has committed sin? I don’t think so. Although St. Paul was certainly stating the truth about mankind, his purpose in writing this section of Romans wasn’t to discuss the possibility of exceptions; rather he was constructing an important argument about law and grace, justification and redemption. If anybody wants to apply Romans 3:23 to Mary, then they’d have to apply it to babies and young children, too.

Sometimes people object to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception using this argument: “if we’re saying Mary was without sin, then we’re making her equal to God, because only God is without sin.” But we need to remember that in the beginning Adam and Eve were created without sin, but they weren’t equal to God. The angels were created without sin, and in fact, from Scripture we know that only some of the angels sinned – Lucifer and his friends – but that means a lot of angels never sinned.  And they certainly are not equal to God.

Tragically, after the fall of our first parents, sin became commonplace and even expected. In fact, think about how often someone will say, after doing something wrong, “Well, I’m only human,” as though sin is perfectly natural, and somehow even defines humanity. Actually, sin is unnatural. We weren’t created to sin; we were created to know God, and to love Him, and to spend eternity with Him in heaven. In Mary, because of the Immaculate Conception, we see a human being as God intends all of us to be. What was maimed by the first Adam and Eve, is restored by the Second Adam and the Second Eve.

So then, what about the Immaculate Conception? It is logical. It is scriptural. And it is definitely an essential ingredient in God’s loving act of redemption.

O GOD, who in the foreknowledge of thy Son’s most precious death didst consecrate for him a dwelling-place by the immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary: mercifully grant that she who was preserved from all defilement, may evermore pray for us, until we attain unto thee in purity of heart; 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. 

06 December 2020

St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor

St. Ambrose was born about the year 339 in what is now France, the son of the Roman prefect of Gaul. Following his father's footsteps, Ambrose embarked upon a career in law and politics and by 370 AD, he had become the Imperial governor of Northern Italy, where the main city was Milan. In about 374 the bishop of Milan died. At this same time, the Arian heresy that argued against the divinity of Christ threatened to destroy the Church. The bishop, who wasn’t a very good one, had supported the Arians. So now, the question was, who would take his place - an Arian or a Catholic? Both sides met in the cathedral and a riot broke out. 

Public order was Ambrose's responsibility as governor so he hurried to the church and made a passionate speech not in favor of either side, but in favor of peace. He begged the people to make their choice without fighting, using restraint and moderation.

Suddenly, while he was speaking, what sounded like a child’s voice called out, "Ambrose for bishop!" Soon everyone was shouting, "Ambrose for bishop!" The neighboring bishops and the Emperor convinced him to accept this call as the will of God, and so the catechumen Ambrose was baptized and ordained first deacon, then priest, then bishop, all in a single week!

This politician, now suddenly a bishop, was very much aware of his lack of preparation for this great responsibility and so set himself immediately to prayer and the study of Scripture. His deep spirituality and love of God's Word, put together with the speaking skill he had acquired in law and politics, made St. Ambrose one of the greatest preachers of the early church.

St. Ambrose proved to be a fierce opponent of heresy. He battled to preserve the independence of the Church from the state and courageously excommunicated the powerful Catholic Emperor Theodosius I, who had massacred a group of innocent people in Thessalonica. St. Ambrose also had a significant impact on sacred music through the composition of hymns and psalm tones that are known to this day as Ambrosian chant. Besides many sermons and treatises on the spiritual life, Saint Ambrose is responsible for two of the first great theological works written in Latin, De Sacramentis on the Sacraments and De Spiritu Sancto on the Holy Spirit.

Around 385, a young man who was a teacher of rhetoric named Augustine came to hear Saint Ambrose preach in order to study his speaking technique, and in the process, was attracted to the Catholic faith. In 386 Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose and went on to become bishop of Hippo in North Africa. Ambrose and his pupil, Augustine, together with St. Jerome and St. Gregory the Great, make up the four original Doctors of the Latin Church. Saint Ambrose, the great bishop of Milan, died on Holy Saturday (April 4) in the year 397 AD. His feast day is December 7, the day he was ordained bishop.

O God, who didst give to thy servant St. Ambrose grace eloquently to proclaim thy righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honour of thy Name: Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellency in preaching, and fidelity in ministering thy Word, that thy people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.