30 January 2021

"They were astonished..."


In Capernaum on the Sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
-St. Mark 1:21-28

Our Lord’s earthly ministry was inaugurated at His baptism. He was then tested by the devil in the wilderness. He announced the purpose of His ministry with the proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God. He gathered His initial circle of followers, the apostles, to assist Him in carrying out His work. And now, He begins in earnest.

St. Mark makes note of the fact that the people were “astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”

So then, how did Jesus’ teaching differ so much from the teaching of the scribes? Primarily it was because He taught with His own personal authority. This was vastly different from the technique of the scribes. No scribe ever gave a decision on his own. He would always begin with a phrase like, “There is a teaching that says thus and so...” and he would then quote all his various authorities. But when our Lord spoke, He needed no authority beyond Himself. He spoke with absolute independence; He cited no authorities; He quoted no experts. To those who heard Him, it was like a fresh breeze blowing in and they were truly “astonished” at His teaching. And no wonder, since they were hearing the very voice of God Himself!

If our Lord’s words had astonished the people in the synagogue, then what He did next left them absolutely thunderstruck! In the synagogue there was a man who was possessed by an “unclean spirit.” All through the gospels we come across people who had unclean spirits, who were possessed by demons or devils. This was a manifestation of evil – a manifestation of the work of Satan, that fallen “angel of light” who “goes about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour whom he will...” Unfortunately, our world today feels that it’s too “sophisticated” to believe in such things, and this is just what Satan loves. He is never more successful than when he can get us to deny his existence because then he can have free reign.

Our Lord knew this, of course. That’s why we see Him exercise His divine power over this power of evil in men’s lives. It’s a reminder to us that God is always stronger than Satan. And as Jesus showed the power He had over these malevolent forces, so He became better and better known, and the power of God was manifested.

27 January 2021

St. Thomas Aquinas


One of the greatest Catholic teachers in the history of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas is honoured with the titles Doctor of the Church and Angelic Doctor.

His parents had plans for him. In the year 1230, when he was only five years old, they took him to the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, and it was their hope that he would choose to become a Benedictine there, and eventually become abbot. In 1239 he was sent to Naples to complete his studies. It was there that he was first attracted to philosophy of Aristotle, and he saw how that philosophy could be used in the service of Catholic theology.

Thomas abandoned his family's plans for him and he joined the Dominicans, much to his mother's dismay. In fact, she ordered one of her other sons to capture Thomas away from the Dominicans, and he was kept at home for over a year. Of course, that couldn’t last forever, and once he was free, he went to Paris and then to Cologne, where he finished his studies with St. Albert the Great. He eventually became a professor at the University of Paris, and was known throughout the Church as one of the great scholars of all time.

But along with his fame as a scholar, he remained modest, a perfect model of childlike simplicity and goodness. He was known for his mildness in speaking and for his great kindness. Whatever clothing or other items he could give away, he gladly did. He kept nothing superfluous in his efforts to alleviate the needs of others.

His great Summa – which was his last and, unfortunately, uncompleted work, is a compendium of the whole of Catholic theology. He stopped work on it after celebrating Mass on December 6, 1273. When asked why he stopped writing, he replied, "I cannot go on.... All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me." He died just a few months later.

Everlasting God, who didst enrich thy Church with the learning and holiness of thy servant Saint Thomas Aquinas: grant to all who seek thee a humble mind and a pure heart; that they may know thy Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth and the life; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

26 January 2021

St. Angela Merici


St. Angela Merici was born in 1474 in Verona (in what is now Italy), and she founded the first teaching congregation of women in the Church, the community dedicated to St. Ursula, known as the Ursulines.

As a young woman she became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis, and lived a very simple life – in fact, a life that was so austere, that she wanted to live like St. Francis of Assisi. She wanted to own nothing of her own, so that she wouldn’t become attached to anything. Early in her life she was very concerned about the ignorance about the Faith among poorer children, whose parents could not or would not teach them even their basic catechism. She set out to provide simple lessons for those children who needed to be formed in their understanding of God, and also of basic things like reading.

St. Angela was a very attractive person – not only in the way she presented herself, but also through her very sweet personality and her ability to lead others. Soon, other young women joined her in giving regular instruction to the children in their neighborhood, and it developed into a place where girls who had no other opportunities to study could come to learn.

One day she received the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This was an amazing thing for her – she had never traveled far from home, and she was very excited as she began the great journey with a group of her friends. When they had gotten as far as the island of Crete, she was struck with blindness. Her friends wanted to return home, but she insisted on going through with the pilgrimage, and she visited the sacred shrines with as much devotion and enthusiasm as if she had her sight. On the way back, while praying before a crucifix, her sight was restored at the very same place where it had been lost.

At the age of 57, she organized a group of twelve young women to help her in catechetical work. Four years later the group had increased to twenty-eight. She formed them into the Company of St. Ursula, who was the patroness of medieval universities and venerated as a leader of women. Their purpose was to re-build family life through the solid Christian education of future wives and mothers. The importance of the education of children was beginning to be seen as more and more essential, and we see it being developed through such people as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann, who were simply carrying on the work of people like St. Angela.

O God, who through thy blessed Saint Angela didst cause a new household of Virgins consecrated to thy service to be established in thy Church: grant us, we pray thee, by her intercession, so to live after the manner of thy holy Angels; that, putting aside all things earthly, we may be found worthy to rejoice in everlasting felicity; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

25 January 2021

St. Timothy and St. Titus, Bishops

St. Paul had many colleagues and helpers who took part in his missionary journeys, and into whose charge he often entrusted some of the young churches.

On January 26th we commemorate two such men, Timothy and Titus. We know about them because St. Paul referred to them in his writings, and he also wrote letters to them through which we begin to see how the Church developed and few during those first years.

St. Timothy was the son of a pagan father and a Jewish mother. He was from Lystra in the Roman province of Asia. He was probably baptized as a young boy, and when he grew up, he went with Paul and Silas on their journeys. Over the next 13 years he travelled throughout the Greek world with Paul – Corinth, Thessalonica, and even Rome – ending up in Ephesus, where he was made bishop. From what St. Paul writes to St. Timothy, he seems to have had an affectionate nature, he was frail in health, and a bit young for his important office. In fact, St. Paul wrote to him saying, “Let no one disregard you because of your youth,” and St. Paul warned him remain faithful to the gospel, because there were various Gnostic heresies infiltrating the Church at that time.

St. Titus was born probably in Antioch, which at that time was an extremely important city in the Roman Empire, and it was in Antioch that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. Titus was born into a pagan family, and he received baptism from the apostles. For several years he served as an interpreter and secretary to St. Paul, and he accompanied Paul to Jerusalem when the apostles met to decide on the very important question of whether the Gentile converts had to follow Jewish law or not. Later Titus was sent by Paul to the island of Crete to take charge of the church there. Titus received careful instructions on the selection of elders for the churches in that country, and was associated with the community there until his death as a very old man in the year 96.

The lives of these two bishops give us an important look at life in the Church in New Testament times. We see that the Gospel has been preached and accepted; small churches have been formed. We see also that there were some troubles and difficult times – there were persecutions by the government; there were those who were trying to change the gospel as it had been revealed by Christ; there were quarrels among some of the Christians themselves. The lives of Timothy and Titus remind us of how the apostles slowly laboured at building up the Church, and we see how the succession of the bishops who came after the apostles continued on through the years, down to our very day.

Heavenly Father, who didst send thine Apostle Paul to preach the Gospel, and gavest him Timothy and Titus to be his companions in the Faith: grant that, through their prayers, our fellowship in the Holy Spirit may bear witness to the Name of Jesus; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

24 January 2021

The Conversion of St. Paul


St. Paul was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, and was born in Tarsus, the capitol of Cilicia. Although he was a Roman citizen, he was brought up as a strict Jew, studied to be a rabbi, and later became a violent persecutor of the Christians.

While on his way to Damascus to arrest the Christians there, he was converted by a miraculous apparition of Our Lord. Was it a sudden conversion? It seemed so, and in a sense it was; however, it other ways it was the culmination of his many experiences with Christians, beginning with the martyrdom of St. Stephen. Paul was a young man, given the job of holding the cloaks of those who carried out the sentence of death on St. Stephen. In fact, even when Paul was arresting Christians, he could not help but be impressed by their deep faith, their innocency of life, and their willingness to die for Christ.

Eventually he became the great Apostle of the Gentiles, making three missionary journeys which brought him to the important centers of Asia Minor and southern Europe, making many converts as he travelled. He was beheaded in Rome in 66, and his relics are kept in the Basilica of St. Paul near the Ostian Way.

O God, who, by the preaching of thine apostle St. Paul, hast caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we beseech thee, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show forth our thankfulness unto thee for the same by following the holy doctrine which he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

23 January 2021

The Third Sunday after Epiphany


After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and followed him.

St. Mark 1:14-20

When Jesus began to preach He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.”

This idea of the Kingdom is deeply rooted in the Old Testament, and it’s a central theme in the teaching of Jesus Christ; namely, that there is the “kingly rule,” the “sovereignty” of God, and that all things are to be made subject to this rule.

Now of course, the kingdom being proclaimed by Christ isn’t confined only to this world – it continues into eternity – but it begins here, and this portion of the Gospel shows us Jesus laying the foundation for the Kingdom with the calling of His first apostles. They were fishermen – simple men, ordinary men – called by our Lord while they were engaged in doing their day’s work.

And how did He call them? All He said was, “Follow me.” He didn’t outline any great theological system for them, or lay out a line of reasoning trying to convince them. He just said, “Follow me.” And they did. With that invitation He called them to a specific service. “I will make you fishers of men...” 

Of course, they couldn’t have known it then, but Jesus was calling them to a life which wasn’t going to be easy. They were being called to a life in which they would expend all their energy, and they were being called to a Faith for which they ultimately would give their lives.

There was no other assurance that He gave them. He didn’t outline the future for them. He didn’t give any guarantees. He simply invited them to put themselves under the sovereign rule of God, to move into the kingdom which He had come to establish, and in that kingdom they would find their fulfillment and true purpose. They were being invited to put aside all their other interests and activities – all the other things they thought were important – and they would be required to do only one thing: to follow Christ.

In fact, the invitation He extended to them, He continues to extend down to our own day, to us. This invitation to place our lives under the rule of God is an open invitation to every one of us.

To live in God’s Kingdom means to follow Christ more closely. It often calls for a radical change in direction, and it always involves entrusting ourselves to God, realizing that God’s plan for us might not coincide with our own best-laid plans.


_______________________________________________

Painting by Edward Armitage (1817 - 1896)
"Christ calling the Apostles James and John"

22 January 2021

St. Marianne Cope


Canonized in 2012, St. Marianne Cope (1838-1918) devoted herself to God through her vows as a Franciscan religious and through the care of the sick. One of her patients was St. Damien of Molokai, whom she nursed in his final months. This is her story.

As a leader in her community, Mother Marianne was instrumental in opening two of the first Catholic Hospitals in Central New York: St. Elizabeth in Utica and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. Recognizing the need for basic health care in a city of immigrants, she and a small group of women defied convention by purchasing a saloon in Syracuse, New York and transforming it into a hospital to serve the needs of a diverse community. Here they welcomed everyone and provided the same quality of care regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or economic means. They pioneered rules of patient’s rights and cleanliness practices not seen before in the United States. And this was just the beginning. Throughout upstate New York, Mother Marianne and her growing community educated and provided healthcare to children and adults with dignity and compassion for all.

In 1883, Mother Marianne and a group of six other Sisters of St. Francis bravely journeyed across the United States by train and took a ship to the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) to care for individuals believed to have leprosy (now known as Hansen’s disease). They initially served at the Branch hospital at Kaka’ako on the island of Oahu to provide care for those exiled from their families. The king and queen then asked that the sisters open a home to care for the healthy children of patients and Marianne named it the Kapiolani Home in honor of the queen.

Mother Marianne traveled to Maui in 1884 where she was asked to manage Malulani Hospital, the island’s first general hospital, as well as St. Anthony School. In 1888, she and the sisters moved to Kalaupapa to care for those with Hansen’s disease who had been exiled to the remote peninsula on the island of Molokai. There she cared for Father Damien in his last months and attended temporarily to the boy’s home that he had established there until the Sacred Heart Fathers sent a permanent replacement.

Mother Marianne not only provided healthcare to the girls in her care at Bishop Home in Kalaupapa, she offered healing for mind, body and spirit by creating a community that supported individual creativity, dignity and respect. A community of family was established enhanced by gardens, music, art, games and laughter. The grave sites of thousands of people who died from Hansen’s disease cover the peninsula on Molokai. It is heartening to know that the sisters provided them with some measure of peace and comfort during their time there.
- from https://www.saintmarianne.org

Graciously hear us, O God of our salvation: that, like as we do rejoice in the festival of blessed Marianne Cope, thy holy Virgin; so we may learn to follow her in all godly and devout affections; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

St. Vincent, Deacon and Martyr


St. Vincent of Saragossa was one of the Church's three most illustrious deacons, the other two being Stephen and Lawrence. He is also Spain's most renowned martyr. Ordained deacon by Bishop Valerius of Saragossa, he was taken in chains to Valencia during the Diocletian persecution and put to death. From legend we have the following details of his martyrdom. After brutal scourging in the presence of many witnesses, he was stretched on the rack; but neither torture nor blandishments nor threats could undermine the strength and courage of his faith. Next, he was cast on a heated grating, lacerated with iron hooks, and seared with hot metal plates. Then he was returned to prison, where the floor was heavily strewn with pieces of broken glass. A heavenly brightness flooded the entire dungeon, filling all who saw it with greatest awe.

After this he was placed on a soft bed in the hope that lenient treatment would induce apostasy, since torture had proven ineffective. But strengthened by faith in Christ Jesus and the hope of everlasting life, Vincent maintained an invincible spirit and overcame all efforts, whether by fire, sword, rack, or torture to induce defection. He persevered to the end and gained the heavenly crown of martyrdom.

- from The Church's Year of Grace, by Pius Parsch

Almighty God, by whose grace and power thy holy Deacon and Martyr Vincent triumphed over suffering and despised death: grant, we beseech thee, by his intercession; that enduring hardness, and waxing valiant in fight, we may with the noble army of Martyrs receive the crown of everlasting life; 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.

20 January 2021

St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr


St. Agnes was a Roman girl who was only twelve or thirteen years old when she suffered martyrdom for her Faith. Agnes had made a promise, a promise to God never to stain her purity. Her love for the Lord was very great and she hated sin even more than death! Since she was very beautiful, many young men wished to marry Agnes, but she would always say, "Jesus Christ is my only Spouse."

Procop, the Governor's son, became very angry when she refused him. He had tried to win her for his wife with rich gifts and promises, but the beautiful young girl kept saying, "I am already promised to the Lord of the Universe. He is more splendid than the sun and the stars, and He has said He will never leave me!" In great anger, Procop accused her of being a Christian and brought her to his father, the Governor. The Governor promised Agnes wonderful gifts if she would only deny God, but Agnes refused. He tried to change her mind by putting her in chains, but her lovely face shone with joy. Next he sent her to a place of sin, but an Angel protected her. At last, she was condemned to death. Even the pagans cried to see such a young and beautiful girl going to death. Yet, Agnes was as happy as a bride on her wedding day. She did not pay attention to those who begged her to save herself. "I would offend my Spouse," she said, "if I were to try to please you. He chose me first and He shall have me!" Then she prayed and bowed her head for the death-stroke of the sword.

The following is an account of the martyrdom of St. Agnes, described by St. Ambrose as he writes "On the Dignity of Virginity":

It is the birthday of St. Agnes, let men admire, let children take courage, let the married be astounded, let the unmarried take an example. But what can I say worthy of her whose very name was not devoid of bright praise? In devotion beyond her age, in virtue above nature, she seems to me to have borne not so much a human name, as a token of martyrdom, whereby she showed what she was to be.

But I have that which may assist me. The name of virgin is a title of modesty. I will call upon the martyr, I will proclaim the virgin. That panegyric is long enough which needs no elaboration, but is within our grasp. Let then labour cease, eloquence be silent. One word is praise enough. This word old men and young and boys chant. No one is more praiseworthy than he who can be praised by all. There are as many heralds as there are men, who when they speak proclaim the martyr. She is said to have suffered martyrdom when twelve years old. The more hateful was the cruelty, which spared not so tender an age, the greater in truth was the power of faith which found evidence even in that age. Was there room for a wound in that small body? And she who had no room for the blow of the steel had that wherewith to conquer the steel. But maidens of that age are unable to bear even the angry looks of parents, and are wont to cry at the pricks of a needle as though they were wounds. She was fearless under the cruel hands of the executioners, she was unmoved by the heavy weight of the creaking chains, offering her whole body to the sword of the raging soldier, as yet ignorant of death, but ready for it. Or if she were unwillingly hurried to the altars, she was ready to stretch forth her hands to Christ at the sacrificial fires, and at the sacrilegious altars themselves, to make the sign of the Lord the Conqueror, or again to place her neck and both her hands in the iron bands, but no band could enclose such slender limbs.

A new kind of martyrdom! Not yet of fit age for punishment but already ripe for victory, difficult to contend with but easy to be crowned, she filled the office of teaching valour while having the disadvantage of youth. She would not as a bride so hasten to the couch, as being a virgin she joyfully went to the place of punishment with hurrying step, her head not adorned with plaited hair, but with Christ. All wept, she alone was without a tear. All wondered that she was so readily prodigal of her life, which she had not yet enjoyed, and now gave up as though she had gone through it. Every one was astounded that there was now one to bear witness to the Godhead, who as yet could not, because of her age, dispose of herself. And she brought it to pass that she should be believed concerning God, whose evidence concerning man would not be accepted. For that which is beyond nature is from the Author of nature.

What threats the executioner used to make her fear him, what allurements to persuade her, how many desired that she would come to them in marriage! But she answered: It would be an injury to my spouse to look on any one as likely to please me. He who chose me first for Himself shall receive me. Why are you delaying, executioner? Let this body perish which can be loved by eyes which I would not. She stood, she prayed, she bent down her neck. You could see the executioner tremble, as though he himself had been condemned, and his right hand shake, his face grow pale, as he feared the peril of another, while the maiden feared not for her own. You have then in one victim a twofold martyrdom, of modesty and of religion. She both remained a virgin and she obtained martyrdom.


Almighty and everlasting God, who dost choose the weak things of the world to confound those things that are strong: mercifully grant that we, who keep the festival of blessed Agnes thy Martyr, may perceive within ourselves the effect of her prayers; 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 January 2021

Ss. Fabian and Sebastian, Martyrs


January 20th is the commemoration of two great 3rd century martyrs – one a pope, and one a soldier.

St. Fabian was simple farmer but was an extraordinary person, who took his Catholic faith very seriously. One day he came into the city of Rome from the countryside, but this wasn’t just any day – it happened to be the day when a new pope was being chosen. Who knows? Perhaps Fabian had come to Rome that day out of curiosity, to see who the next pope would be, or perhaps it was some other business that brought him there. But he was there on that particular day. Those who had gathered to elect the next pope prayed for a sign. They probably had no idea that God would give them such a clear sign, because at that very moment a dove flew towards Fabian and settled on his head. They took this as a sign that Fabian had been chosen by God. Although he was not even ordained at the time, he was immediately acclaimed by the whole city of Rome. He was ordained and installed as pope. Fabian’s fourteen year reign as pope was fairly peaceful, but the end came with a new persecution by the Emperor Decius. Fabian was one of the first to be martyred during that persecution, in the year 250.

St. Fabian is commemorated on the same day as is St. Sebastian, although they lived in very different circumstances. St. Sebastian was born in Gaul, and he came from a rich Roman family, who sent him to Milan for his education. He became an officer in the Imperial Roman army and captain of the guard, and was known for his goodness and bravery. He was a favorite of Emperor Diocletian. It was during the persecution by Diocletian that Sebastian visited Christians in prison, bringing them supplies and comfort. He even healed the wife of one of the soldiers by making the sign of the cross over her. Seeing his witness, many soldiers and even a Roman governor became Christians.

Diocletian ordered Sebastian to give up his Christian faith but he refused. It was then that Sebastian was tied to a tree and archers shot arrows into his body and left him for dead. When a devout Christian woman came to bury him, she was amazed to find him still alive. She took him to her home and nursed his wounds. When Sebastian was well enough, the woman pleaded with him to escape the dangers of Rome. But Sebastian was a brave soldier. He would not run away. He returned to preach to Diocletian and urged him to stop torturing the Christians.

The emperor was shocked to see Sebastian alive. He refused to listen to what Sebastian had to say, and ordered that Sebastian be immediately clubbed and beaten to death. He died in 288.

St. Fabian’s remains are in the Basilica of St. Sebastian, and these two, whose lives were so different, were linked together by their common faith, and are two of our great martyrs.

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that we, on this day devoutly observing the feast of thy holy Martyrs Saints Fabian and Sebastian, 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 Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

17 January 2021

Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity


From January 18 through January 25, Christians throughout the world keep the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The official material composed for it each year tends to be non-specific, as far as what we’re actually supposed to pray for (other than nice feelings and politeness) whereas the original prayers and intentions for the Octave of Prayer concentrate much more on the fact that unity according to the mind of Christ is a specific kind of unity.

The Octave was first conceived by Father Paul of Graymoor on 30 November 1907, before his entrance into the Catholic Church. The initial success in 1908 was so encouraging that he decided to promote it annually, and he regarded the Octave as one of the special means which brought his Society of the Atonement into the Church on 30 October 1909. It was given papal blessing by Pope St. Pius X on 27 December 1909, just two months after the Society of the Atonement had entered the Catholic Church. Other popes have given it their blessings over the years, including Pope St. John XXIII (who urged its observance more widely throughout the world) and Pope St. Paul VI (who had promoted it in his archdiocese when he was the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan). 

Father Paul considered the Octave as the greatest project which came from Graymoor, and even though it was overshadowed by the less-specific "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity" during his own lifetime, he rejoiced that those separated from full communion with the Catholic Church felt called to observe the January period as a time of prayer for unity. Even though their concept of unity differs from that of the Catholic Church, it is significant that so many pray for that unity which God desires for His people.

The Octave, as originally conceived by Father Paul, reflects the unchanging truth that there can be no real unity apart from union upon that Rock, established by Christ Himself, which is Peter and his successors. For that reason, St. Peter is considered the special Patron of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity.

THE OCTAVE PRAYERS

ANTIPHON: That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, in me and I in Thee; that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me.

V. I say unto thee, thou art Peter;

R. And upon this rock I will build my Church.

[Here is brought to mind the intention for the day's prayer.]

January 18: For the return of the "other sheep" to the One Fold of our Lord Jesus Christ.

January 19: For the return of the Eastern Orthodox Christians to communion with the Apostolic See.

January 20: For the return of the Anglicans to the authority of the Vicar of Christ.

January 21: For the return of all Protestants throughout the world to the unity of the Catholic Church.

January 22: That Christians in America (or, in my own country) may be one, in union with the Chair of Saint Peter.

January 23: That lapsed Catholics will return to the Sacraments of the Church.

January 24: That the Jewish people will be converted to the Catholic Faith.

January 25: That missionary zeal will conquer the world for Christ.

Let us pray. O Lord Jesus Christ, who saidst to thine Apostles, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: regard not our sins, but the faith of thy Church; and grant to her peace and unity according to thy will; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

_______________________________________

Pictured: "Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter"
by Peter Paul Rubens c.1700

16 January 2021

Continuing the Epiphany


“There was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples.”

-St. John 2:1, 2

The commemoration of the visit from the Wise Men only begins Epiphany. The Church actually links three events - the visit of the Magi, the Baptism of Our Lord, and Christ's first miracle at the wedding in Cana – and together these are the Epiphany: the manifestation of the Divine, the showing of the God-Man to the world.

He had come to take away the sins of the world, and to restore the communion between God and man which had been lost as a result of the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. He came to enter into our lives fully. He is true God, yet He does not cut Himself off from the everyday joys and activities of our lives. In Cana, we see Jesus and His disciples sharing in a festive wedding. Even though we do not know the names of the bride and groom, we do know that our Lord was there and He was celebrating with them.

In the society of that time a wedding was a special occasion, just as it is in our own day, although many of the customs were different. There, the wedding festivities lasted for a whole week. The wedding ceremony itself took place late in the evening, after a feast. After the ceremony the young couple was conducted to their new home. They were taken there by as long a route as possible so that everybody could have the opportunity to wish them well.

The newly married couple would stay at home and for a whole week while they kept an open house, there would be feasting and dancing for the whole community. In lives where there was so much poverty and constant hard work, this week of festivity and joy was a supremely bright and happy occasion. It was that joyful time that our Lord gladly shared, and to have run out of wine would have cut the whole thing short. It was Christ’s provision of the wine that allowed for it to continue.

It is not accidental that this first miracle – or what St. John calls a “sign” – takes place at a wedding feast. Marriage is an important image, being a symbol of that relationship that is between Christ and His Church. This miracle of turning the water into wine points ahead to the water and blood which would flow from our Lord on the cross, and it looks forward to baptism and the Mass, two sacraments which incorporate us and bind us to Christ. And it points even further ahead to the messianic banquet when Jesus will feast with all the members of the kingdom in heaven, in the age to come. Some of the earliest Christian works of art have depicted the wedding at Cana as the heavenly feast, the Supper of the Lamb.

Also, this sign is an expression of God’s overflowing grace – the supernatural help we receive from God to assist our growth in holiness – grace that is mediated to us especially through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this Gospel account it was the Blessed Mother who told her Son that there was no wine. It was she who interceded on behalf of those who were in need.

We know that God’s grace is full and overflowing, and this is symbolized in the story of the wedding when St. John tells us that there were six stone jars, each containing twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus commanded the servants to fill them all to the brim with water, a reminder that when the grace of Jesus comes to us there is more than enough for everyone and still much more left over. There is no need on earth so great that it could possibly exhaust the grace of Christ.

And not only is this grace full and overflowing, but its quality is always the best. Jesus touches a wedding and lifts it not just with the miracle but also with His presence. He took something ordinary and made it extraordinary.

He took a fisherman named Peter and transformed him into the Rock on which He has built His Church. He takes ordinary men and women, just like us, and He uses us as His instruments to evangelize and transform the world.

All we have to do is call on Him and be touched by Him and we will witness the fact that He takes something plain and ordinary and makes it extraordinary. If Jesus can turn the water into wine, He can certainly turn the sinner into a saint.

So often God reveals his glory to us in the least likely places – in a stable at Bethlehem, on a bloody cross at Golgatha, on the road to Emmaus, or at a village wedding party in Cana.

At Cana in Galilee we see the first public sign and miracle which Jesus performed. The Lord Jesus brought great blessing and joy to a newly-wed couple and their wedding party. Every miracle of Jesus demonstrates the power of God's love and mercy for His people. God's kindness knows no limits. And the ultimate expression of His love is revealed in the Person of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
He became flesh for our sake, He died for our redemption, and He rose that we, too, might be raised up and glorified with Him. As this miracle signifies the "new rich wine" of the Gospel, may we thirst for God and for the abundant life and blessings He offers to us.

And by the way, the key to living a life filled with blessings is summed up by our Lady herself: “Do whatever he tells you.”

Almighty and everlasting God, who dost govern all things in heaven and earth: mercifully hear the supplications of thy people; and grant us thy peace all the days of our life; 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.

________________________________________

Pictured: The Marriage at Cana (Les noces de Cana), by James Tissot (French, 1836-1902).


12 January 2021

St. Hilary of Poitiers


In the early years of the Church it was constantly persecuted by outside forces – sometimes by groups of Jews, frequently by the civil government – and that persecution continued until the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in the year 312. But scarcely had the days of bloody persecution ended, when there arose up within the Church a most dangerous enemy of another sort, Arianism. The heresy of Arianism denied the divinity of Christ; it was, in fact, hardly more than a form of paganism masquerading as the Christian Gospel. The smoldering strife soon flared into a mighty conflict endangering the whole Church; and its spread was all the more rapid and powerful because emperors, who called themselves Christian, proved its best supporters. Once again countless martyrs sealed in blood their belief in Christ's divinity; and orthodox bishops who voiced opposition were forced into exile amid extreme privations.

Among the foremost defenders of the true faith stood Hilary. He belonged to a distinguished family and had received an excellent education. Though a married man, he was made bishop of Poitiers by reason of his exemplary life. It was not long before his valiant defense of the faith precipitated his exile to Phrygia. Here he composed his great work on the Blessed Trinity (in twelve books). It is a vigorous defense of the faith, which, he said, "triumphs when attacked." Finally, after four years he was permitted to return to his native land. He continued his efforts, and through prudence and mildness succeeded in ridding Gaul of Arianism. Because of his edifying and illustrious writings on behalf of the true religion, the Church honors him as one of her doctors.

He wrote to his fellow bishops, “Be ready for martyrdom! Satan himself is clothed as an angel of light.” A favourite motto of St. Hilary was, "Servants of the truth ought to speak the truth."  [adapted from CatholicCulture.org]

Almighty, everlasting God, whose servant Hilary steadfastly confessed thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to be very God and very Man: grant that we may hold to this faith, and evermore magnify his holy Name; 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.

11 January 2021

St. Benedict Biscop, Abbot


St. Benedict Biscop is not the best known saint, by any means. He didn’t suffer for his faith. He lived fairly comfortably when compared to his contemporaries. But he had a sense of destiny, not just for himself, but for his people. He was (as hagiographers are so fond of saying) “of noble birth." He served his king and he was rewarded with his own land grant. His was the typical “local lad makes good” story.

It could have stopped there. A young man, a property owner, a good Catholic boy, who might have settled down and married the maiden next door, have a passel of children, pass into old age and a quiet death, unknown except to those closest to him. And that would have been fine, if God hadn’t had other plans for him.

Benedict Biscop wanted to travel. He wanted to go to Rome. There was a deep desire within him to make his own kind of ad limina. Saints had lived there, and they had died there, and he wanted to see it, experience it, soak it in for himself. He wanted to pray at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul. He wanted to take in the beauty of it all. And he did, not only once, but several times. In fact, much of his life was spent traveling back and forth to Rome, and what he saw there he wanted to carry back to his own people. And that he did too. Art, liturgy, theology, music, everything he experienced in that great city of faith was something he knew would benefit his people in cold, far-away Northumbria.

Here’s part of the spiritual genius of St. Benedict Biscop. Great music, great art, great architecture isn’t just for the great centers of civilization. God intends it for us all. He has created us with a hunger for such things. The good abbot built the first stone structure his people had ever seen. He brought the finest continental glaziers to wild Northumbria to give his monastery unheard-of glass windows. He filled the place with paintings which served as poor men’s books. He established the expectation of learning amongst his monks, astonishing even them with what they could accomplish. His work reached even a young boy named Bede who came and never left.

When it comes to fitting out God’s house, and the worship offered within it, it takes godly imagination, obedience to Catholic tradition, a readiness to reach higher than one thought possible, a desire to do all things well for God. It was done by Benedict Biscop then, and we can do it now.

O God, by whose gift the blessed Abbot Benedict left all things that he might be made perfect: grant unto all those who have entered upon the path of evangelical perfection; that they may neither look back nor linger in the way; but hastening to thee without stumbling, may lay hold on life eternal; 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 January 2021

Christ's Baptism: At One With Us


Like so many other pious Jews, our Lord Jesus Christ came to John and let him baptize Him. And in first thinking about it, it’s strange that He would have done that. If Jews were receiving John’s baptism as a sign of repentance and to mark a new beginning, why would Christ go through it? As the sinless Incarnate God, He certainly had nothing for which He had to repent, and as the eternal Son of God – in Whom is no beginning and no end – He wouldn’t be marking a new beginning. So we can understand John’s initial reaction of being hesitant. God had already revealed to John the real identity of Jesus, so of course John would protest the whole idea of baptizing Christ.

When we put together all the Gospel accounts of the baptism of Christ, we learn a number of things.

The scripture is clear in telling us that the Lord was baptized “when all the people were baptized.” In other words, it was done publicly, at the same time as others were being baptized. When Christ was baptized, He looked like the countless other Jews who were lined up along the Jordan River. And this is an important point: although He was the Incarnate Word of God, outwardly Jesus led a life like the lives of other Jews. As an infant He was circumcised, and then was presented in the Temple in accordance with traditional Jewish practice. He took part in the customary pilgrimages to Jerusalem. He attended the synagogue, and He worked like other Jewish men. Nothing particularly distinguished Him from those around Him – so much so, that later on during His earthly ministry, people began to ask, “Where does He get these ideas? Isn’t He the son of Joseph the carpenter? Isn’t Mary His mother? Don’t we know His family?” To all outward appearances, Jesus was a typical Jewish boy who grew into typical Jewish manhood, faithfully following the demands of the Law.

And this principle applies to His baptism, too. Christ wanted to make it clear that He was truly “at one” with those He had come to save. Now, certainly, He didn’t have any sin or guilt for which He had to ask pardon; rather, His baptism was a profound expression of union with mankind. And this is reason enough for His baptism to be important to us. It shows Christ to be one of us. It reminds us that He knows our deepest needs. He knows our longing to be forgiven and to be restored to a right relationship with God. But His baptism proclaims much more than that.

The Gospel tells us that the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended, and the Father’s voice said “You are my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The prophet Isaiah had foretold this generations before, when he wrote, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him.” And ever since that prophecy the people had been looking for the coming of this servant. He would be a servant who would inaugurate a new age. He would “bring forth justice to the nations.” In Him, the old darkness would be swept away, and the new age of God’s light would dawn. This servant would “open the eyes that are blind.” He would “bring prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” No more would mankind have to grope blindly for the truth, hoping to find God. No, now God would seek out man, and would come to him. And in Christ, God had come very near indeed; in fact, He was in the world, even though the world did not recognize Him.

So, with the baptism of Jesus, something new was beginning, something that would give mankind access to God in a way which had never existed before. It was as though every twisting thread of history was converging at this point, when Jesus was publicly manifested as the Son with whom the Father was well-pleased. Christ was the long-awaited Servant who had come to do the Father’s will. And the Father’s will is to open the way of salvation to the whole world – not just to the Jews, but to everybody.

In this baptism, the first public act of His earthly ministry, Christ wanted to manifest His closeness and unity with us. He wanted to emphasize the unique importance of what He had come to do. He wanted it to serve as a pledge that He would strengthen us in all that God has called us to do as a result of our own baptism. 

HEAVENLY Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ did take our nature upon him, and was baptised for our sakes in the river Jordan: mercifully grant that we, being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace, may also be partakers of thy Holy Spirit; 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.

___________________________________________

Painting: "Baptism of Christ" c.1473-1482, Pedro García de Benabarre, Barcelona.

07 January 2021

"God in Man made manifest..."


Many newspapers and magazines and television news programs use the first days of a new year to publish a recap of the previous year. At a glance we’re reminded of those things that captured our attention and were the subjects of our conversations. But we should also remember that during those same twelve months there were approximately 130 million babies born in the world, almost every one of them anonymous. Unless they were family or friends, their births meant little to us, whereas the big news events were what kept our attention.

A few thousand years ago the world was filled with political intrigue. The enormous military might of Rome captured the attention of the world. The emperor Caesar Augustus had ordered a census to be taken so he could increase taxes. The greed of one man caused an upheaval in the lives of millions of anonymous people. Everyone was thinking about this oppressive empire, and all the talk was of the hardship it was causing.

While the attention of the whole world was on Rome, few people noticed a young couple making an eighty-mile trip south from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Who cared about a Jewish couple heading for Bethlehem, when Rome was making such an impact on the world? Who cared that the young woman was expecting a child, when there were bigger things to be concerned with? Yet the impact of this anonymous birth upon the world would be beyond anything Caesar Augustus could have imagined. While Rome was busy making history, God had descended into history in the person of Jesus Christ, who had been conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and who was now about to be born in an obscure corner of the greatest empire ever to exist.

Time and time again, man has been caught up in the events of history, but misses what’s really important. And just as those who were living at the time ignored the birth of the God-Man, so men have continued to ignore it since that time, and there are even many today who still overlook the birth of Jesus and its consequences. Times have changed, but Man has not; and the reactions to the birth of Christ at the time have been repeated throughout history.

Look at how Herod the king reacted. Herod was first and foremost a self-absorbed and wicked man. If he showed any mercy or justice, it was only because he would eventually benefit from it himself. He married his wife only because he thought that by marrying a Jewish woman it would soften the hearts of his subjects towards him. He was a jealous man, suspicious, and constantly afraid that someone would take his position and power from him. And because of his jealousies and suspicions, he had his brother-in-law drowned, he had his wife and her mother killed, and finally he killed three of his own sons. In fact, shortly before his own death, he had the most distinguished citizens of Jerusalem imprisoned and ordered them executed the moment he died. Why? Because he wanted to make sure there was mourning when he died, and if people didn’t mourn his death, they’d at least be mourning something! And that barbaric act was surpassed only by his slaughter of all the male children two years and younger who were in Bethlehem and in the surrounding area, in an attempt to kill the one of them whom the wise men had said was born king of the Jews.

The hostility shown by Herod towards Christ has been a thread throughout history ever since. The leaders of the Roman Empire did their best to stamp out the Church, murdering countless of Christ’s followers, because they perceived the Gospel to be a threat to their own position and power. Whole political systems have been founded upon a hatred of God, with an institutional hostility to the birth of Jesus and all that it means. And we don’t need to look as far away as systems such as communism to find that hostility; we have it increasingly in our own country, where freedom of religion has been twisted into freedom from religion, attempting to go so far as to outlaw the public mention of God, and the banishment of any public display of Christian symbols. Even innocent human life is wantonly destroyed because of the greed and selfishness that so often accompanies godlessness.

But it wasn’t just Herod’s hostility that greeted the birth of Christ. There was that equally damaging attitude called indifference – and we see this attitude in the chief priests and scribes. The Gospel tells us that when Herod heard that a king had been born, he gathered these Jewish leaders to find out where prophecy foretold that the Christ would be born. They gave him the information he asked: “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet.” And that’s all we hear from them. Now understand who these people were. They were the religious leaders in the Temple. They were the expert scholars of Judaism. But when Herod called them together to find out where the Messiah was to be born, did they show any interest, or any curiosity about what the wise men had reported? Not at all. They were able to tell Herod what he wanted to know, but they showed no excitement whatsoever when the wise men said that they had seen a star indicating the birth of the Messiah. And these were the people who had been waiting for the Messiah for generations!

How is it today that people can hear the Gospel and they can see what Christ does in people’s lives, and yet be indifferent towards Him? How is it that the greatest mystery of all time can be celebrated at every Catholic altar, and yet people find excuses to stay away? How is it that Christ can hold out the promise of healing and wholeness and eternal life, and yet people feel no need to respond to him? The indifference of the chief priests and scribes later turned into animosity towards Christ, until they became His enemies. And that can happen to anyone who ignores Him. We cannot stay indifferent forever; men will either love Christ, or eventually they’ll come to hate Him.

But Epiphany tells us of one more attitude at the birth of Christ. Herod had his hostility; the Jewish leaders had their indifference; but the wise men gave their worship. When they left Herod, they went to Bethlehem. The star stood over the place where the child King was, and when they found the One for whom they had searched, they fell down and worshipped Him. And not only did they worship Him, but they presented gifts to him. Their giving was part of their worship. They gave because of the love and adoration they had for the Incarnate God.

Now, having looked at these three attitudes, the obvious question is, “What about us?” No doubt, every one of us wants to be counted in with the wise men. But every one of us would also have to admit that there are times when we’re hostile to Christ – when we feel as though what He asks of us cramps our style, or isn’t convenient for us. When we know what Christ requires of us, but we willfully ignore it, we’re putting ourselves right there with Herod. Christ demands our obedience, not just when we agree with Him, but also when He asks something difficult of us.

And every one of us would have to admit to moments of indifference – those times when we convince ourselves that something else is more important than prayer, or missing Mass once in while isn’t going to hurt, or someone else can take care of that person in need. Unfortunately, every one of us can find all sorts of ways to ignore Christ.

No, we should want to be like the wise men, who sought the Promised One, and when they found Him, they could do nothing but fall down before Him, and present Him with the best they had. The Gospel tells us that they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they went back to their own country “by another way.”

It wasn’t just a different route they took. Everything was changed for them. They were transformed. They had met God face to face, and they weren’t the same when they returned home. This is what happens when we come to Christ; when we worship Him with our whole being, with all that we are and all that we have. God changes us. His epiphany becomes our own. He manifests Himself – and He wants to show Himself to the world through our own transformed lives.

06 January 2021

St. Raymond of Peñafort


St. Raymond of Peñafort lived to be a hundred years old, and with such a long life, he had the opportunity to do many things.  He certainly took full advantage of all the time God gave him on this earth. St. Raymond was born into a Spanish family of noblemen, which meant that he had the resources and the education to get a very good start in life.

By the time he was twenty, St. Raymond was teaching philosophy. By the time he was little more than thirty years old he had earned a doctorate in both canon law and civil law. When he was forty-one he entered the Dominican order. Pope Gregory IX called him to Rome to work for him and to be his confessor. One of the things the pope asked him to do was to gather together all the decrees of popes and councils. St. Raymond compiled five books called the Decretals, and this was really the beginning of an organized system of canon law for the Church. In fact, since St. Raymond’s work, there was no other actual Code of Canon Law organized until 1917.

St. Raymond wrote a book for confessors which was a collection of various situations and sins, and in this book he discussed the different doctrines and laws of the Church which would be applied in the various cases – a work which was very helpful to confessors.

At the age of sixty, St. Raymond was appointed archbishop of Tarragona, the capital of Aragon. It was a position which he found to be very difficult.  It caused him to become sick and after two years he resigned.

The peace he felt from that resignation was soon over, however, because when he was sixty-three he was elected by his fellow Dominicans to be the head of the whole Order, the successor of St. Dominic. St. Raymond worked hard, visited on foot all the Dominican houses, reorganized their constitutions, and managed to put through a provision that a master general be allowed to resign. When the new constitutions were accepted, St. Raymond, then sixty-five, resigned as the head of the Dominicans. He still had thirty-five years ahead of him, and he spent those years very productively, opposing heresies and working for the conversion of the Muslims who were occupying Spain.

The most famous miracle associated with him was when St. Raymond accompanied the King of Aragon on an expedition to Majorca. While they were there the saint rebuked the king for giving public scandal. However, finding that his rebuke had no effect on the king, Raymond prepared to return to Barcelona. The king attempted to keep St. Raymond on the island by force, but the saint put his mantle into the sea.  With his staff serving as a mast, and he sailed on his mantle, like a boat, the nearly one hundred miles back to the mainland. On reaching Barcelona, St. Raymond took up his mantle, which was perfectly dry, and was transported through the locked doors of the convent and beyond the astonished crowd that had witnessed his landing. Touched by the miracle, the King of Aragon renounced his evil ways and forevermore led a good life.

O God, who didst appoint blessed Raymond excellently to minister the Sacrament of Penance, and didst wondrously make for him a passage upon the waves of the sea: grant, we pray thee; that, at his intercession, we may bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, and be found meet to attain to the harbour 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.

05 January 2021

St. André Bessette


Brother André, whose baptismal name was Alfred, was born into a poor working family in 1845 in Canada, and both his parents had died by the time he was twelve. He was adopted by his aunt and uncle, but when he was fourteen they had moved to California to seek their fortune in the gold rush, leaving him to fend for himself. Young Alfred was sickly, and his bad health made it difficult for him to keep a job for very long, so he wandered from farm to farm and town to town in Canada and also in the United States, picking up odd jobs as he went. Finally he came to the Holy Cross Brothers in 1870. He carried with him a note from his pastor saying, "I am sending you a saint." The Brothers found that difficult to believe. The Holy Cross Brothers were teachers and, at 25, Alfred still did not know how to read and write. Alfred had no place else to go and so was in a desperate situation, but he was also prayerful and deeply devoted to God and Saint Joseph. He may have had no place left to go, but he believed that was because this was the place where he should have been all along.

The Holy Cross Brothers took him into the novitiate but soon found out what others had learned – as hard as Alfred (now Brother André) wanted to work, he simply wasn't strong enough. They asked him to leave the order, but André, out of desperation again, appealed to a visiting bishop who promised him that André would stay and take his vows as a Religious Brother.

After his vows, Brother André was sent to Notre Dame College in Montreal (a school for boys age seven to twelve) as a porter. There his responsibilities were to answer the door, to welcome guests, find the people they were visiting, wake up those in the school, and deliver mail.

In 1904, he surprised the Archbishop of Montreal by requesting permission to build a chapel to Saint Joseph on the mountain near the college. The Archbishop refused to go into debt and would only give permission for Brother André to build what he had money for. What money did Brother André have? Only the nickels he had collected as donations for Saint Joseph from haircuts he gave the boys; nickels and dimes from a small dish he had kept in a picnic shelter on top of the mountain near a statue of St. Joseph with a sign "Donations for St. Joseph." He had collected this loose change for years but he still had only a few hundred dollars. Who would start a chapel now with so little funding?

André took his few hundred dollars and built what he could – a small wood shelter only fifteen feet by eighteen feet. He kept collecting money and went back three years later to request to do more building. The Archbishop granted him permission to keep building as long as he didn't go into debt. He started by adding a roof so that all the people who were coming to hear Mass at the shrine wouldn't have to stand out in the rain and the wind. Then came walls, heating, a paved road up the mountain, a shelter for pilgrims, and finally a place where Brother André and others could live full-time to take care of the shrine and the pilgrims who came.. Through kindness, caring, and devotion, Brother André helped many souls experience healing and renewal on the mountaintop. There were even cases of physical healing. But for everything, Brother André thanked St. Joseph.

Despite financial troubles, Brother André never lost faith or devotion. He had started to build a basilica on the mountain but the Depression had interfered. When he was ninety years old he told his co-workers to place a statue of St. Joseph in the unfinished, unroofed basilica. He was so ill he had to be carried up the mountain to see the statue in its new home. Brother André died soon after on January 6, and didn't live to see the work on the basilica completed. But he died in peace, having helped hundreds of thousands of people by strengthening their faith, and by giving honor to the foster-father of our Lord.

O Lord our God, who art friend of the lowly and who gavest to thy servant, Saint André Bessette, a great devotion to Saint Joseph and a special commitment to the poor and afflicted: help us through his intercession to follow his example of prayer and love, and so come to share with him in thy glory; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

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


 

St. Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal in Montreal, Quebec, was founded by St. Andre Bessette, and grew out of his great devotion to the Foster-father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Here are two hymns in honour of St. Joseph:

+   +   +   +   +

Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1991
Music: "Stuttgart" adapted by C. F. Witt, 1715

1. Holy Joseph, Intercessor,
Unto thee God's children sing;
Be our Patron and Protector,
To God's throne our praises bring.

2. Faithful Spouse of faithful Virgin,
Lover of God's purity;
From thy worthy place in heaven,
Pray that we may faithful be.

3. Guardian of the Word Incarnate,
Silent guide of God's own Son;
Guard our hearts and lead us onward
To the life that Christ has won.

4. Humble man in lofty station,
God has shed His grace on thee;
Pray such grace to us be given,
That we live eternally.


+   +   +   +   +


Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1992
Music: "Bread of Heaven" by William D. Maclagan, 1875


1. Blesséd Joseph, Guardian mild,
Who didst love the Holy Child,
Show thy love to us who pray,
Shield us from all harm this day:
Foster-father of the Word,
Keep us close to Christ our Lord.

2. Great Saint Joseph, Patron bold
Of the Church from days of old,
Give us courage strong and new,
To proclaim God's Gospel true:
Foster-father of the Word,
Keep us close to Christ our Lord.

3. He Whom thou didst guide in youth,
We receive in very truth;
In this Sacrament of love,
We are one with thee above:
Foster-father of the Word,
Keep us one with Christ our Lord!

04 January 2021

St. John Neumann


This American saint was born in Bohemia, which today is within the Czech Republic, in 1811. He completed his seminary formation, and was looking forward to being ordained in 1835, when his bishop decided there would be no more ordinations. It is difficult for us to imagine now, but Bohemia had more priests than they needed. John wrote to bishops all over Europe but the story was the same everywhere: no one wanted any more priests. He was sure he was called to be a priest but all the doors to follow that vocation seemed to close in his face.

But John didn't give up. He had learned English by working in a factory with English-speaking workers, so he wrote to the bishops in America. Finally, the bishop in New York agreed to ordain him. So John left his homeland, and sailed to America, knowing he would probably never return to his home again.

In New York, Fr John Neumann was one of 36 priests for 200,000 Catholics. His parish in western New York stretched from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania. He spent most of his time traveling from village to village, climbing mountains to visit the sick, staying with different families, or in taverns and inns along the way, finding places to teach the Faith, and celebrating the Mass at kitchen tables.

Because of the work and the isolation of his parish, the young priest felt the need to be part of a community, and so he joined the Redemptorists, a congregation of priests and brothers dedicated to helping the poor and most abandoned.

Fr John Neumann was appointed bishop of Philadelphia in 1852. As bishop, he was the first to organize a diocesan Catholic school system. Sharing same vision as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. John Neumann was a founder of Catholic education in this country, and he increased the number of Catholic schools in his diocese from two to 100.

He had a great ability to learn languages, and he was able to learn Spanish, French, Italian, and Dutch, so that he could hear confessions in at least six languages. When Irish immigration started, he learned Gaelic so well that one Irish woman remarked, "Isn't it grand that we have an Irish bishop!"

He spent all his energy on being a great bishop to his people, and he lived very simply. He was only forty-eight years old when he died. He is buried in Philadelphia, in St. Peter’s Church, where pilgrims venerate his tomb and ask for his prayers.

O God, who didst call the Bishop Saint John Neumann, renowned for his charity and pastoral service, to shepherd thy people in America: grant, by his intercession; that, as we foster the Christian education of youth and are strengthened by the witness of brotherly love, we may constantly increase the family of thy Church; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

03 January 2021

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton


Pope St. Paul VI, when he preached at the canonization of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, spoke these words: "She is a saint!... Rejoice for your glorious daughter." Born in 1774, just as our nation was stirring in preparation for its own birth, little would indicate that some two hundred years later this delicate infant, born in wealth and raised in the society of the established elite, would be raised to the honor of the altar by the Vicar of Christ on the site of the martyrdom of St. Peter.

"Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton is a Saint! She is the first daughter of the United States of America to be glorified with this incomparable attribute!" The Pope spoke with unexpected emotion and excitement, so remarkable was the revelation that a woman who should have remained anonymous and safe within the fold of her respectable family, had embarked upon the spiritual journey for truth which she knew could lead only to one unfashionable destination: the Catholic Church.

The Holy Father took care to remind the world that the religious sensibility, the spiritual goodness of the saint, was planted and nurtured in Anglicanism. "We willingly recognize this merit, and, knowing well how much it cost Elizabeth to pass over to the Catholic Church, we admire her courage for adhering to the religious truth and divine reality which were manifested to her therein," the Pope said.

The young widow could have remained in her Trinity Church pew, gazing out the window toward St. Peter's Church on Barclay Street. Everything and everyone around her should have caused hesitation, but her heart had gone before, because the Divine Heart was waiting for her there. As another great convert would later say, "Cor ad cor loquitur."

O God, who didst crown with the gift of true faith Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s burning zeal to find thee: grant by her intercession and example; that we may always seek thee with diligent love and find thee in daily service with sincere faith; 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.

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A brief biography, from various sources:

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, known as Mother Seton, is one of the great saints of our nation. Her accomplishments were amazing. Although she was a widow with five young children, she founded the first American religious community for women, the Sisters of Charity, and she opened the first American parish school and established the first American Catholic orphanage. She accomplished all this, even though she lived to be only 46 years old.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was a true daughter of the American Revolution. She was born in 1774, just two years before the Declaration of Independence. By birth and through her marriage, she was part the most prominent and wealthy families of New York. She was raised as an Episcopalian by her mother and stepmother, and through her religion, she learned the value of prayer, Scripture and a nightly examination of conscience.

Her mother died in when St. Elizabeth was not quite four years old, and her baby sister died that next year. Losing these people who were so important to her gave Elizabeth an understanding that life in this world is temporary, and she knew that it was important to accomplish as much as possible every day. She developed a sense of hope, and she made the effort to face everything with cheerfulness.

When she was 19, Elizabeth was the one of the most beautiful and wealthiest young women in all of New York. She married a handsome, successful businessman, William Seton. They had five children and were very happy. However, their fortunes changed -- his business failed, and eventually he died of tuberculosis. At the young age of 30, Elizabeth was widowed, she had no money left, and she had five small children to support.

She and her husband had traveled to Italy when he was very sick, hoping that he would get better in that warmer climate. That wasn’t to be, and as her husband was dying, Elizabeth witnessed the Catholic faith in action through family friends. Three basic points led her to become a Catholic: belief in the Real Presence, devotion to the Blessed Mother and conviction that the Catholic Church led back to the apostles and to Christ. She herself decided to enter the Catholic Church in 1805, and when she did that, most of her family and friends never spoke to her again.

In order to support her children, Elizabeth opened a school in Baltimore. From the beginning, she and her teachers followed the pattern of a religious community, and it was formally founded as the Sisters of Charity in 1809.

We have more than a thousand letters written by Mother Seton, and they reveal the development of her spiritual life from ordinary goodness to heroic sanctity. She suffered great trials of sickness, misunderstanding, the death of loved ones (her husband and two young daughters) and the heartache of a wayward son. She died January 4, 1821, and became the first American-born citizen to be beatified (1963) and then canonized (1975). She is buried in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Elizabeth Seton had no extraordinary gifts. She was not a mystic or stigmatic. She did not prophesy or speak in tongues. She had two great devotions: abandonment to the will of God and an ardent love for the Blessed Sacrament.

02 January 2021

The Magi


Who were the Magi? They were the first Gentiles to believe in Christ, and were guided by a mysterious star which led them from the East to the village of Bethlehem, where they found the Infant Jesus.

They are called "sages" or "wise men" in the New Testament, but the idea that they were kings first appears in Christian tradition in the writings of Tertullian, who called them "fere regis," or "almost kings." This became generally accepted by the sixth century, because of the implication of Psalm 72, which speaks of the kings of Tarshish, Arabia, and Saba, "who shall bring presents." The New Testament says nothing of how many there were, although the traditional number of three was first ascribed by Origen, based upon the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Their names (Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar) are first mentioned in the sixth century, and are also included in the writings of the Venerable Bede. In the Middle Ages the Magi were venerated as saints, and there are relics enshrined in the cathedral in Cologne.

But what do the Magi teach us? Surely, the overwhelming lesson is the absolute importance of complete and utter adoration. These three had traveled great distances and risked both physical danger and the wrath of Herod himself just to kneel before the Incarnate Word of God. All we need to do is to go to the nearest Catholic Church, where the same Christ waits for us in the tabernacle. O come, let us adore Him: Christ the Lord!

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[Pictured: "The Three Wise Men" by Joseph Christian Leyendecker, 1874-1951]

The Epiphany of Our Lord


Epiphany speaks of light. "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you." It is about the coming of the true Light into the darkness of this world. "Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome." "In Him was life, and that life was the light of men."

An important image of Epiphany is the star in the East whose light guided the Magi to the Child-King enthroned on His mother's lap. The Light of God's love had come to shine on the Gentiles, too. "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined." The Gentiles worship Him with gifts fit for a king: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Magi rejoice in the light, and bow down and worship Him.

Light was the first word spoken by God into the chaotic darkness of creation. "Let there be light." And there was light. “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness."

Our lives are given to reflect the light of God's glory, and this is the noblest and most blessed purpose of all. We are, in a mystical way, to be an “epiphany” of Christ, so that every man can see His glory, and so welcome His Light into the dark world.

O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy Only Begotten Son to the Gentiles: mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may be led onward through this earthly life, until we see the vision of thy heavenly glory; 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.
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Jesus Christ, our Saviour King,
unto thee thy people sing;
hear the prayers we humbly make,
hear them for thy mercy’s sake.
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
fill our souls, and make us thine.

Give us eyes that we may see;
give us hearts to worship thee;
give us ears that we may hear;
in thy love, Lord, draw us near.
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
fill our souls and make us thine.

In our darkness, shed thy light;
lift us to thy heav’nly height;
may we be thy dwelling-place,
tabernacles of thy grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
fill our souls and make us thine.

In thy Kingdom grant us rest,
in Jerusalem the blest;
with the saints our lips shall sing,
with the angels echoing:
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
thou dost reign, and we are thine!

Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips (1990)
Music: “Lucerna Laudoniae”
David Evans (1874-1948)

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[Pictured: "The Star of Bethlehem" by Edward Burne-Jones, 1833–1898]