28 February 2021

Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus


Happy St. David’s Day, as the title of this post says. My Welsh ancestors would want me to make mention of our great patron for his feast day, which is March 1st. Following is an excerpt from an anonymous account of the saint:

Saint David, or Dewi Sant, as he is known in the Welsh language, is the patron saint of Wales. He was a Celtic monk, abbot and bishop, who lived in the sixth century. During his life, he was the archbishop of Wales, and he was one of many early saints who helped to spread Christianity among the pagan Celtic tribes of western Britain.

For details of the life of Dewi, we depend mainly on his biographer, Rhigyfarch. He wrote Buchedd Dewi (the life of David) in the 11th century. Dewi died in the sixth century, so nearly five hundred years elapsed between his death and the first manuscripts recording his life. As a result, it isn't clear how much of the history of Dewi's life is legend rather than fact.

However, sources tell us that Dewi was a very gentle person who lived a frugal life. It is claimed that he ate mostly bread and herbs - probably watercress, which was widely used at the time. Despite this supposedly meager diet, it is reported that he was tall and physically strong.

Dewi is said to have been of royal lineage. His father, Sant, was the son of Ceredig, who was prince of Ceredigion, a region in South-West Wales. His mother, Non, was the daughter of a local chieftain. Legend has it that Non was also a niece of King Arthur.

Dewi was born near Capel Non (Non's chapel) on the South-West Wales coast near the present city of Saint David. We know a little about his early life. He was educated in a monastery called Hen Fynyw, his teacher being Paulinus, a blind monk. Dewi stayed there for some years before going forth with a party of followers on his missionary travels.

Dewi travelled far on his missionary journeys through Wales, where he established several churches. He also travelled to the south and west of England and Cornwall as well as Brittany. It is also possible that he visited Ireland. Two friends of his, Saints Padarn and Teilo, are said to have often accompanied him on his journeys, and they once went together on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to meet the Patriarch.

Dewi is sometimes known, in Welsh, as 'Dewi Ddyfrwr' (David the Water Drinker) and, indeed, water was an important part of his life. He is said to have drunk nothing else. Sometimes, as a self-imposed penance, he would stand up to his neck in a lake of cold water, reciting Scripture.

He founded a monastery at Glyn Rhosyn (Rose Vale) on the banks of the small river Alun where the cathedral city of St. David stands today. They had to get up very early in the morning for prayers and afterwards work very hard to help maintain life at the monastery, cultivating the land and even pulling the plough. Many crafts were followed, and beekeeping, in particular, was very important. The monks had to keep themselves fed as well as the many pilgrims and travelers who needed lodgings. They also had to feed and clothe the poor and needy in their neighborhood.

There are many stories regarding Dewi's life. It is said that he once raised a youth from death, and milestones during his life were marked by the appearance of springs of water. These events are arguably more apocryphal than factual, but are very well known to Welsh-speaking schoolchildren.

Perhaps the most well-known story regarding Dewi's life is said to have taken place at the Synod of Llanddewi Brefi. They were to decide whether Dewi was to be archbishop. A great crowd gathered at the synod, and when Dewi stood up to speak, one of the congregation shouted, 'We won't be able to see or hear him'. At that instant the ground rose till everyone could see and hear Dewi. Unsurprisingly, it was decided, very shortly afterwards, that Dewi would be the archbishop.

It is claimed that Dewi lived for over 100 years, and it is generally accepted that he died in 589. His last words to his followers were in a sermon on the previous Sunday. Rhigyfarch transcribes these as 'Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.'

“Do the little things” (“Gwnewch y pethau bychain”) is today a very well-known phrase in Welsh, and has proved an inspiration to many. On a Tuesday, the first of March, in the year 589, the monastery is said to have been 'filled with angels as Christ received his soul'.

Dewi's body was buried in the grounds of his own monastery, where the Cathedral of St. David now stands. After his death, his influence spread far and wide - first through Britain, along what was left of the Roman roads, and by sea to Cornwall and Brittany.

For those who might like to celebrate St. David’s Day with an authentic comestible, here is the recipe for cawl, which is the dish most commonly served for dinner on the farm during the winter months in the counties of South and West Wales. The broth would be served in basins or bowls, with bread, and the meat and vegetables served as a second course.

2 lb Best end of neck Welsh Lamb
1/2 lb Carrots
2 large Leeks
1/2 oz Flour
1 small Swede or Turnip
1 lb Potatoes
1 oz parsley
Salt and Pepper

Put the meat into the saucepan, cover with cold water, add salt and pepper, bring slowly to the boil and skin carefully. (This can be done beforehand, and the fat allowed to set on the surface. This makes it easier to skim off). Then add the carrots (cut in half), the swede (sliced) and the white of the leeks, and simmer gently for two to two-and-a-half hours. Add the potatoes (cut in flour) and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes. When the potatoes are almost cooked, thicken with flour and a little water. Lastly add the green of the leeks and parsley (chopped) and simmer for another 10 minutes and serve in basins while hot.

During Lent, this recipe for Caws Pobi (Welsh rarebit, also known as Welsh Rabbit, although it has nothing to do with rabbits) makes a great Friday night supper.

6 ounces strong Cheddar cheese;
1 tablespoon butter;
1-2 teaspoons Worcester sauce (to taste);
1 level teaspoon dry mustard;
2 teaspoons flour or cornflour;
4 tablespoons beer (about);
4 slices bread toasted on one side.

Put cheese, mustard, Worcester Sauce, butter and flour into saucepan and mix well, moisten with beer, but don't make too wet. Stir over gently heat until all is melted and become a thickish paste. Allow to cool a little while you make the toast. Spread mixture on untoasted side and put under hot grill until bubbling.

And finally, for something deliciously sweet and authentically Welsh, try some wonderful Bara Brith (Welsh fruitcake):

1 lb (450g) mixed dried fruit, such as raisins and currants
1 pint (300ml) tea
2 tbsp marmalade
1 egg, beaten
6 tbsp soft brown sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
1 lb (450g) self raising flour
honey to glaze

Soak the fruit overnight in the tea. Next day, mix in the marmalade, egg, sugar, spice and flour. Spoon mixture into a greased 2 lb (900g) loaf tin and bake in a warm oven 325°F, 170°C for 1 hour or until the center is cooked through. Check from time to time to see that the top does not brown too much, and cover with a sheet of foil or move down a shelf in the oven if necessary. Once cooked, leave the Bara Brith to stand for 5 minutes then turn out of the tin on to a cooling tray. Using a pastry brush, glaze the top with honey. Served sliced with salted butter and some tasty farmhouse cheddar.

But between bites, remember St. David’s words: Gwnewch y pethau bychain, Do the little things.

27 February 2021

Second Sunday in Lent: Jesus Only


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O God, who before the Passion of thy Only Begotten Son didst reveal his glory upon the holy mount: grant unto us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen. 

____________________________

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


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


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


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

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[Pictured: "Transfiguration of Jesus" by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1824-1890]

23 February 2021

The Ember Days


This week we keep the Lenten Ember Days.  The Ember Days are four separate sets of three days within the same week — specifically, the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday — within the circuit of the year, that are set aside for a modified fasting and prayer. They are known in Latin as the quattuor anni tempora (the "four seasons of the year"). There are those who say that the word “ember” is a corruption of the Latin "tempora" from the title, but it is as likely that it comes from the Old English word “ymbren” which means a “circle." As the year progresses and returns to its beginning, the ember days are part of the circle of the year. These days of prayer and fasting originated in Rome, and slowly spread throughout the Church. They were brought to England by St. Augustine with his arrival in the year 597.

These days are to be used to give thanks for the earth and for the good things God gives us - for our food, for the rain and the sunshine, for all the blessings of life through nature. And because of that, it is a time when we remind ourselves to treat creation with respect, and not waste the things God has given us.

Another important aspect of the Ember Days is for us to pray for those men called to be priests or deacons. We pray also for those who are already ordained – for our parish clergy, for our bishop, and for the Holy Father. Of course, we pray for all this throughout the year, but the Ember Days bring all this to mind in a special way, so that we can concentrate our prayers during these four periods of time throughout the year.

Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord, to us thy humble servants: that we, who do refrain ourselves from carnal feastings, may likewise fast from sin within our souls; 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.

22 February 2021

St. Polycarp of Smyrna


Imagine being able to sit at the feet of the apostles and hear stories of life with Jesus from their own lips. That was what Polycarp was able to do as a disciple of Saint John the Evangelist. But being part of the second generation of Church leaders had challenges that the first generation had not known. With the apostles gone, heresies sprang up pretending to be true teaching, persecution was strong, and controversies arose.

Polycarp, as a holy man and bishop of Smyrna, found there was only one answer -- to be true to the life of Jesus and to imitate that life. As Jesus often responded strongly to the Pharisees, so Polycarp, when confronted by a heretic who demanded respect by saying, "Recognize us, Polycarp," was told by Polycarp, "I recognize you, yes, I recognize the son of Satan."

Polycarp faced persecution the way Christ did. He didn’t seek out martyrdom as some did, but he avoided it until it was God's will. One day, during a bloody martyrdom when Christians were attacked by wild animals in the arena, the crowd became so mad that they demanded more blood by crying, "Down with the atheists; let Polycarp be found." (They considered Christians "atheists" because they didn't believe in their pantheon of gods).

Polycarp was calm but others persuaded him to leave the city and hide at a nearby farm. He spent his time in prayer for people he knew and for the Church. During his prayer he saw a vision of his pillow turned to fire and announced to his friends that the dream meant he would be burned alive.

As the search closed in, he moved to another farm, but he was discovered. He had a little warning since he was upstairs in the house but he decided to stay, saying, "God's will be done."

Then he went downstairs, talked to his captors and fed them a meal. All he asked of them was that they give him an hour to pray. He spent two hours praying for everyone he had every known and for the Church, "remembering all who had at any time come his way -- small folk and great folk, distinguished and undistinguished, and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world." Many of his captors started to wonder why they were arresting this holy, eighty-six-year-old bishop.

But that didn't stop them from taking him into the arena. As he entered the arena, the crowd roared, rather like the animals they cheered. Those around Polycarp heard a voice from heaven above the crowd, "Be brave, Polycarp, and act like a man."

The proconsul begged the old bishop to give in because of his age. "Say 'Away with the atheists'" the proconsul urged. Polycarp calmly turned to face the crowd, looked straight at them, and said, "Away with the atheists." The proconsul continued to plead with him. When he asked Polycarp to swear by Caesar to save himself, Polycarp answered, "If you imagine that I will swear by Caesar, you do not know who I am. Let me tell you plainly, I am a Christian." Finally, when all else failed the proconsul reminded Polycarp that he would be thrown to the wild animals unless he changed his mind. Polycarp answered, "Change of mind from better to worse is not a change allowed to us."

Because of Polycarp's lack of fear, the proconsul told him he would be burned alive, but Polycarp knew that a fire which burned only for an hour was far preferable to the flames of eternal fire.

When he was tied up to be burned, Polycarp prayed. The fire was lit and then the eyewitnesses who reported said they saw a miracle. The fire burst up in an arch around Polycarp, the flames surrounding him like sails, and instead of being burned he seemed to glow like bread baking, or gold being melted in a furnace. When the captors saw he wasn't being burned, they stabbed him. The blood that flowed put the fire out.

The proconsul wouldn't let the Christians have the body because he was afraid they would worship Polycarp. The witnesses reported this with scorn for the lack of understanding of Christian faith: "They did not know that we can never abandon the innocent Christ who suffered on behalf of sinners for the salvation of those in this world." After the body was burned, they took away the bones in order to celebrate the memory of his martyrdom and prepare others for persecution. The date was about February 23, 156.

Fulfil, O Lord, the petitions of thy servants who on this day devoutly reverence the passion of blessed Polycarp thy Martyr and Bishop: and accept us, together with him, as a whole burnt offering dedicated unto thee; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

21 February 2021

The Chair of St. Peter


At that time: when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

- St. Matthew 16:13-19

Enshrined in the beautiful Bernini reliquary in St. Peter’s Basilica is a chair which was known in the sixth century, parts of which date to the earliest years of the Christian faith. This is the famous Chair of St. Peter. It’s the reason for the feast we celebrate, and is the dedication of the Ordinariate to which we belong.

Why would the entire Catholic world celebrate a feast in honor of a chair? It’s got to be for more reason than that an apostle sat on it – and indeed the reason goes beyond that alone. This Chair is the concrete symbol to us of the authority and primacy of St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, the one to whom our Lord entrusted the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, and who was called the Rock on which Christ would build His Church.

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

That sets the scene. Here it was, in this area so firmly dedicated to false worship – a place of demonic sacrifices to pagan gods – it was here that Jesus turned to His disciples and asked, “Who do men say that I am?” As the disciples were thinking about their answers, they would have been looking at the various pagan temples and grottoes surrounding them throughout the area, and so they wanted to answer carefully. There were many reminders around them of how wrong people can be when it comes to religion. So it was almost as though they were testing the waters – “Well, some say that you’re John the Baptist; there are others who say that you’re Elijah; some say that you’re one of the prophets.” But our Lord wants them to get this clear in their minds. He wants this to be their own answer, and so He lets them know that He’s not interested in what others are saying. He asks them for a straight answer: “And you – who do you say that I am?” It’s Peter, the one who would be the Rock, the Prince of the Apostles, Christ’s Vicar on earth – it is he who says, “You are the Christ.”

In fact, this is not unlike the situation in which we find ourselves now, in our own day – surrounded by strange beliefs, many of which are completely at odds with the revealed truth of the Christian faith, and Jesus is asking us: “Who do you say that I am?” What took place in the Gospel was one of those moments that are referred to “hinge moments” in history. Something that had never been said before, was now put into words. “You are the Christ.” In those few words, Peter is proclaiming that Jesus is the one who would bring to Israel the glory which had been promised since the days of Abraham, the day for which all creation was preparing from the very beginning.

And so, because of those words – that great confession made by the apostle designated by Christ as the Rock – the fragments of the Chair of St. Peter are venerated. It’s venerated because it was from that very place that the first Pope, the Vicar of Christ, continued to teach the truth which had been entrusted to him by our Lord Himself. That truth has been passed on in its entirety throughout the centuries, and it will continue until Christ returns in glory.

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

O Almighty God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst give to thy Apostle Saint Peter many excellent gifts, and commandedst him earnestly to feed thy flock: make, we beseech thee, all Bishops and Pastors diligently to preach thy holy Word, and the people obediently to follow the same; that they may receive the crown of everlasting 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.

20 February 2021

First Sunday in Lent: Temptation


In the Scriptures we see two major accounts of temptation. First there was the temptation of Adam and Eve when they were in the Garden of Eden, and then there was the temptation of Jesus Christ when He was in the wilderness for forty days.  In both these events there’s one common presence, one common figure: Satan.

But the two events are very different. The temptation of Adam and Eve resulted in the short-term triumph of Satan, and the fall of humanity into sin and death. The temptation of Christ resulted in the ultimate fall of Satan, and the rescue of humanity from sin and death.

Temptation, in and of itself, isn’t sinful. Christ was tempted in every way as we are, yet He was without sin. But there’s something else we should understand about temptation. Temptation is not so much a matter of choosing between good and evil; rather, we should understand it as being two opposite ways of experiencing the gifts of God. Something is “good” when it’s used according to the will of the God. Something is “evil” when it’s used against the will of God, and against God Himself.

So then, to be tempted is to be presented with circumstances in which we choose to misuse our gifts, so we end up being someone whom we’re not supposed to be in our relationship with God. Adam and Eve were tempted not to be the image of God. Satan tried to tempt Jesus not to be the Son of God. In our own temptations, we’re tempted to be something we’re not; namely, the devil tries to get us not to be the sons and daughters of God.

Temptation began in the Garden of Eden, the place God had made for the happiness and fulfillment of mankind. In the center of that garden were two trees, and these two trees defined the relationship between God and man. There was the tree of life, and there was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The central place in all that was God's place. Man's life is supposed to revolve around God, with God in the center. This means that life, knowledge, and death are God's to give. They’re not something that man can reach out and grab for himself. Man received his life and his knowledge as a gift from God, Who is in the center of it all. Man was made from the dust of the ground by the hand of God, and he had God's breath of life breathed into his nostrils. Man was alive with the life of God, and when he was created he knew only good, because he was created in the “image of God,” Who is the supreme Good.

In the center of the garden God had erected a boundary – a line which declared that there’s a difference between God and the image of God. There’s a difference between the Creator and His foremost creature, Man. Now, God had shown great care in this creation. Man had everything he needed for life as God intended it. Every tree in the garden was given to man for food to preserve his life - every tree, that is, except the tree of knowing good and evil. This was the only limit on man's freedom. He was free to eat of any tree in the garden except one. That was the boundary, and over that boundary man was not allowed to venture or he would die. For man to reach his hand over that line to take and eat the forbidden food, was to reach into the center - the place that only God may occupy. It was an attempt to usurp God's place. It was to try and be a kind of god in place of the one true God. It was to try and push God out from the center of life, to grab for something that wasn’t given to man. And to reach into that place reserved for God meant death, because only God can be God.

This is our temptation. We’re tempted to trespass the boundaries established by God, and to exercise a freedom without any limit whatsoever. We try to push God from the center and put ourselves there, to draw life and knowledge from ourselves and our experiences, rather than from God - to live as if God doesn’t matter and as if we mattered most. To try and live without God in the center is nothing other than death disguised as life. So then, what it comes down to is this: temptation is really a matter of life and death, not good and evil.

The temptation of Christ was an assault by Satan on Christ the Incarnate Word of God. And when we look at the first temptation, back in Genesis, it began with an assault on the very words of God. “Did God really say that you must not eat from any tree in the garden?” the serpent asked. That’s the question which formed the basis of Man’s first temptation – to call into question the word of God. Satan was luring Eve into stepping back and to become a critic of God’s word, rather than simply being the one to whom God was speaking. She was being invited to speculate about God, to judge God and His word, to draw conclusions about God apart from His word, to use her own subjective thought about God against God’s word. And what was Satan trying to make happen? Basically, if Eve’s experience conflicted with God’s word, then maybe God’s word was wrong, or she must have misunderstood it.

It’s a subtle temptation that Satan put before Eve, when he made her question what God had said. It’s a question that drives a wedge between God and Man. That’s what temptation is: the attempt to separate us from the God who loves us. And it’s something we’ve heard throughout history. “Don’t worry about the Ten Commandments – they’re the product of old-fashioned thinking and times gone by.” The temptation is to think that maybe God’s eternal law doesn't apply to our modern, enlightened situation, so making everything subjective. “Do I really have to listen to my parents if I disagree with them?” “Is it really murder if I feel that I just can’t cope with another child?” These are the sorts of questions we hear today. And when it comes to religion, it's a matter of questioning whether God really said, "This is my body; this is my blood" or did He mean something else? Did God really say to His apostles and their successors, "The sins you forgive are forgiven?" Did God really say, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved?" Did God really say that He forgives sin unconditionally, that Christ has died and been raised for us?

Satan is always trying to open a little crack, a tiny separation between God and man. And as we know very well, a serpent can slip into the smallest of openings. Satan, always the serpent, tries to force a little opening, because if he can just get his head in, and the rest of him will follow soon enough.

Adam and Eve decided to take charge of their own lives. And in taking charge, they lost control. Adam fell, and in Adam all mankind fell. Man reaches out to be "like God" and what he gets is death; but God reaches out to us in Christ, and He gives us life.

So much does God reach out to us, that Jesus was even led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil – but this means that Christ, in human flesh, has triumphed over temptation. And because we are baptized into Christ, His victory is our victory.

This doesn’t mean that we won’t be tempted. We will. The forty days of Lent remind us of this reality. We’ll be tempted in our flesh and in our faith. We’ll be tempted to try and care for ourselves, instead of being cared for by God. We’ll be tempted to despair of God's love, to doubt His promises, to live in denial of His forgiveness. We’ll be tempted to exchange the kingdom of God for the glory and the riches of the kingdoms of this world; to love things and hate God.

Temptations will come, but Adam in us must die and Christ in us must rise. Our comfort and strength in every temptation is that Christ has already triumphed over temptation in our place.

The cross of Christ is our tree of life, and it must be planted in the center of our life, because it is through Christ and His cross that we have eternal life.

18 February 2021

Friday after Ash Wednesday: Fasting


At that time: the disciples of John came to Jesus, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

- St. Matthew 9:14-15


Lent is like athletic training for the soul. We’re encouraged to take up three practices which are as essential for spiritual health as are regular physical exercise and healthy diet for an athlete; namely, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Today, consider fasting.

The voluntary giving up of things we may legitimately enjoy can be an expression of our love for God, and it can strengthen our wills and spiritual muscles. This helps us to resist the lures and lies of Satan, when he tempts us to make choices that we know to be sinful.

Fasting may be of many kinds, such as refraining from food or drink, or reducing the time we spend in front of the television or on our phones. It’s not that those things are bad in and of themselves, but we voluntarily fast from them so that we can become spiritually stronger in the face of temptations which may well be bad for us.

The prophet Isaiah reminds us of the wrong kind of fasting. “Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.” (Is. 58:4)

Let’s not forget what we’re really supposed to be fasting from, which is anything that is not pleasing to God, anything which gives a bad example to others, anything which stops us from doing God’s will.

17 February 2021

Thursday after Ash Wednesday


At that time: Jesus said to his disciples, "The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." And he said to all, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

- St. Luke 9:22-25


Jesus had just asked the disciples who men said that He was, and Peter had just professed that He was the Christ, and then they heard our Lord say, "I must go to Jerusalem and die." He knew he had a work to complete. The Father’s will was His will. He had no other task but to do upon earth what the Father had sent him to do.  The Divine Son was under orders from the Father.

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

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

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

16 February 2021

As Lent begins...


In days gone by, the Pope, as the Bishop of Rome, would walk barefoot to St. Sabina's Church on the Aventine hill, built on the site of the martyr's house. It was there that he blessed the sackcloth which was worn by the Penitenti throughout Lent's forty days, and they would be covered also with ashes. The Penitenti were a particular class of Christians who had committed very public and widely known sins. They were expelled from all Christian holy places on account of their sins, driven out, just as Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden, on account of their sin. After a long and public period of penance throughout Lent they were reconciled in the Body of Christ on Maundy Thursday by the bishop with sacramental absolution after the public confession of their sins.

When we are marked with ashes it is only a tiny remainder of what used to happen when the Christian Faith was first openly practiced in the Roman Empire. The imposition of ashes along with the admonition "Remember man, thou art but dust, and unto dust shalt thou return" reminds us of the truth that we have all sinned, and that as a consequence, we all stand under the sentence of death. We shall all return to the dust of the earth from which we were made.

Like so much in Catholic worship and life, whatever is signed and acted outwardly by the body is an external activity designed to effect changes in the inner soul. Behavior modification isn’t something recently discovered. The salutary effect of behavior changes in the body can, with the cooperation of the will, modify attitudes in the inner soul. The Church has always known this.

Of course, we need to understand that there is nothing about this which would denote a kind of "self-help" approach to salvation. Certainly, we cannot save ourselves by human "works."  We are obliged, however, to respond to God. God offers, and we respond. And response involves more than smiles, pious thoughts and good wishes. Our response is found in our human activity. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” Jesus said, "It’s not those who cry out Lord, Lord, who will be saved. It’s those who hear the word of God and keep it." Without our response, nothing changes within us.

God is at work. God is offering, calling, inviting and making Himself present to us in Christ. And Christ is working in us. He is interacting with us in His Mystical Body, the Church. He is working to bring about our salvation. He suffered and died for our sins. He suffered and died so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, our humanity can be raised up from spiritual death to victory.

So then, how can we not respond? How can we fail to act? How can we possibly ignore Him and turn away from all that God is doing for us in Christ?

Now is the time of our salvation. Now the day is at hand. Now is the opportunity for us to act. Now is the time for prayer, for fasting and for almsgiving, so that we might empty ourselves of those things that bring death, and make room for the Source of Life, Jesus Christ, to enter into us, to marry Himself to us, and to make us one with Him forever in Paradise. And that is the purpose of Lent: to prepare us for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

13 February 2021

Cleansed by Christ


At that time: a leper came to Jesus beseeching him, and kneeling said to him, "If you will, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I will; be clean." And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And he sternly charged him, and sent him away at once, and said to him, "See that you say nothing to any one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to the people." But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
-St. Mark 1:40-45

As we read the scriptures – both Old and New Testaments – we see there was no disease that struck more terror in men’s hearts and minds than the disease of leprosy, now known medically as Hansen’s disease. To contract leprosy meant a condemnation to a slow death, and it meant complete social ostracization, too.

We can see that Jesus treated it with the seriousness with which society viewed it. For instance, when He sent the twelve disciples out, he commanded them to “heal the sick, cleanse lepers.”

The fate of the leper was truly horrible. The body becomes covered with ulcers; the appearance is changed over the course of time, losing the human look; the voice becomes hoarse; fingers and toes are lost – it really is a kind of “living death.”

Because of all of this, the leper was pronounced to be “unclean” and he was banished from living within society. He had to live apart, either alone or with other lepers. If anyone came close to him, he had to shout out “Unclean, unclean...” So the leper had to bear not only the physical pain of his disease, but also the mental anguish of being completely banished from family, friends, and society in general.

What we read in this account from St. Mark’s gospel gives a simple and beautiful picture of Jesus and His care for those in need. This particular leper had broken the law, since he had approached Jesus, which was something strictly forbidden. However, Jesus simply met this desperate act with understanding and compassion. He actually reached out and touched him. It was the general belief that physical contact with a leper was contagious, but to Jesus the man wasn’t unclean. He was a human being in desperate need. Then, having miraculously cleansed him, Jesus sent him to fulfill Jewish law by going to one of the temple priests. The man would need a certificate to show that he was free of leprosy. In directing the man to do that we see that Jesus did not defy conventions, but He submitted to them.

So, in Christ, we see compassion, power and wisdom all joined to bring healing and wholeness to a man in need of God’s loving embrace.

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[Pictured: "Jesus healing the leper" by Jean-Marie Melchior Doze (1827-1913)]

12 February 2021

Ephphatha


At that time: Jesus returned from the region of Tyre, and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand upon him. And taking him aside from the multitude privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And he charged them to tell no one; but the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."

- St. Mark 7:31-37

After Jesus spent time in the Gentile country of Tyre and Sidon where he dealt with the Syro-Phoenecian woman who was pleading for the needs of her little daughter, He left that area and returned to the area around the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis. This is a word which means “Ten Cities” and describes a group of cities which were a mixture of Greek and Roman cultures (so still Gentile) but still very much in the midst of the Jewish people, and there was some crossing back and forth in their cultures. Ministering in this area was one of the ways our Lord emphasized that He had come “for all mankind” – not just for one people, not just for one culture, but to bring the Gospel and the Kingdom of God to everyone. This time away from Galilee was about eight months altogether – an extended period of time away from the Pharisees and those who were always attacking Jesus, and so giving Him time to be with His apostles and to teach them without interruption.

When Jesus did arrive back in the region of Galilee, He came into the district of the Decapolis, and it was there that a man was brought to Him who was deaf and who had an impediment in his speech – obviously, two things that went together, since so often deafness results in difficult speech, because the deaf person cannot hear himself. We see in this miracle an example of the very beautiful and personal way in which Jesus treated people.

He took the man aside from the crowd, all by himself. This was an act of great kindness and consideration. Deafness can be difficult and sometimes embarrassing, when a person is being spoken to, and yet cannot understand.  So we see Jesus having a regard for what was a difficult situation for this man. And then the gospel describes how our Lord brought about the cure. It’s as though what Jesus did in performing the cure included a kind of “acting it out” so that the man could understand. He put his hands in the man’s ears, showing that He was going to heal his deafness. He touched his tongue, showing that He was going to deal with the speech impediment, too. Jesus then looked up to heaven to show that it was from God that the healing was coming. After all that, Jesus then spoke the word, and the man was healed.

One of the things that is evident in this is the great dignity which our Lord showed to this individual. The man had a special need and a special problem, and it was with tenderness and consideration that Jesus dealt with him, always in a way that considered the man’s feelings and also in a way that he could understand.  That’s the way Jesus deals with each one of us. He knows us personally, and looks after our needs personally.

When the miracle was completed, the people said, “He has done all things well…”  That reminds us of God’s statement when He had completed creation – “he saw that all things were good.” When Jesus came, bringing healing and salvation, in a sense He was engaged in the work of creation all over again. In the beginning everything had been good; however, man’s sin had spoiled it. Jesus brings back God's beauty to the world which sin had made ugly.  Now all things are being restored in Christ.

10 February 2021

Our Lady of Lourdes


Four years after the promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (1854), the Blessed Virgin appeared a number of times to a very poor and holy girl named Bernadette. The actual spot was in a grotto on the bank of the Gave River near Lourdes.

The Immaculate Conception had a youthful appearance and was clothed in a pure white gown and mantle, with an azure blue girdle. A golden rose adorned each of her bare feet. On her first apparition, February 11, 1858, the Blessed Virgin told the girl to make the sign of the Cross piously and say the rosary with her. Bernadette saw her take the rosary that was hanging from her arms into her hands. This was repeated in subsequent apparitions.

Bernadette sprinkled holy water on the vision, fearing that it was a deception of the evil spirit; but the Blessed Virgin smiled pleasantly, and her face became even more beautiful. The third time Mary appeared she invited the girl to come to the grotto daily for two weeks. Now she frequently spoke to Bernadette. On one occasion she ordered her to tell the bishop to build a church on the spot and to organize processions. Bernadette also was told to drink and wash at the spring still hidden under the sand.

Finally on the feast of the Annunciation, the beautiful Lady announced her name, "I am the Immaculate Conception."

The report of cures occurring at the grotto spread quickly and the more it spread, the greater the number of Christians who visited the hallowed place. The publicity given these miraculous events on the one hand and the seeming sincerity and innocence of the girl on the other made it necessary for the bishop of Tarbes to institute a judicial inquiry. Four years later he declared the apparitions to be supernatural and permitted the public veneration of the Immaculate Conception in the grotto. Soon a chapel was erected, and since that time countless pilgrims come every year to Lourdes to fulfill promises or to beg graces.

The feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes is a day on which we pray especially for the sick.

O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary didst consecrate a dwelling place meet for thy Son: we humbly pray thee; that we, celebrating the apparition of the same Blessed Virgin, may obtain thy healing, both in body and soul; 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 February 2021

St. Scholastica


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

07 February 2021

St. Josephine Bakhita


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O GOD, who didst lead Saint Josephine Bakhita from abject slavery to the dignity of being thy daughter and a bride of Christ: grant, we pray; that by her example we may show constant love for the Lord Jesus crucified, remaining steadfast in charity and prompt to show compassion; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

06 February 2021

Sexagesima: 2nd Sunday before Lent


“At that time: Jesus left the synagogue, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever, and immediately they told him of her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her; and she served them. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered together about the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him pursued him, and they found him and said to him, ‘Every one is searching for you.’ And he said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.’ And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.”

-St. Mark 1:29-39

Just before the events recounted in this section of St. Mark’s Gospel Jesus had been in the synagogue where He had spoken to the people and where He had cast out the evil spirit from the man who was suffering. When the synagogue service ended He went a short distance away to the house of Simon Peter. Peter’s wife’s mother was there, very sick with fever, and our Lord healed her of this sickness.

These things our Lord had said and done couldn’t be concealed. The manifestation of such great power and authority wasn’t something that could be kept secret, and so that evening there were crowds gathering outside Simon Peter’s house, people wanting to experience Christ’s healing touch. And as they came, so Jesus healed.

Within a few verses of St. Mark's Gospel we hear of Jesus healing on three different occasions and in three different circumstances. First, He healed in the synagogue; second, He healed in the house of Simon Peter; third, He healed outside in the street. The people were flocking to Jesus because they recognized in Him one who could actually do things. There were plenty of religious leaders who could talk and expound and lecture and preach; but here was One who dealt not only in words but also with action.

But there also is the beginning of trouble here. The crowds came, but they came, for the most part, because they wanted something out of Jesus. They didn’t come because they loved Him; they didn’t come because they had caught a glimpse of some new vision; in the last analysis they wanted something from Him.

All too often we approach God like that. For every time we remember to thank God, there are hundreds of times we are asking Him for something. We should not come to God only in bad times, when things are in a mess, or when some tragedy happens. Certainly, God is concerned for us then - but we need to have gratitude and love for God, too. God isn’t someone to be used only in difficult times, but He is someone to be loved and worshipped and obeyed every day and in all circumstances.

05 February 2021

St. Paul Miki and Martyrs of Japan


Nagasaki, Japan, is known in history as the city on which the second atomic bomb was dropped in 1945 during the last stages of World War II, killing hundreds of thousands. But some 350 years before that, twenty-six martyrs of Japan were crucified on a hill, now known as the Holy Mountain, overlooking Nagasaki. Among them were priests, brothers and laymen, Franciscans, Jesuits and members of the Secular Franciscan Order; there were catechists, doctors, old men and innocent children—all united in a common faith and love for Jesus and his church.

When Christianity first came to Japan, it was tolerated by the shoguns – the leaders – because they thought it would open up trade with the West. However, they soon decided that the Christian faith wasn’t helpful to them, so they outlawed it, and began the systematic destruction of the faith. The martyrs we celebrate today were rounded up and tortured, trying to get them to deny their faith. Each one of them had an ear cut off, and then they were marched for a thousand miles through the winter months, in the hope that they would denounce the faith, and cause others to do the same. All that accomplished was to make their faith grow stronger. The forced march ended at Nagasaki, where the Christians were then crucified on what came to be known as the Holy Mountain.

St. Paul Miki, a Jesuit and a native of Japan, has become the best known among the martyrs of Japan. While hanging upon a cross Paul Miki preached to the people gathered for the execution. He forgave his persecutors and called people to love God and to obey Him. His final words were, "I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain."

When missionaries returned to Japan in the 1860s, at first they found no trace of Christianity. But after establishing themselves they found that thousands of Christians lived around Nagasaki and that even though there were no priests and no sacraments other than baptism, the people had secretly preserved the faith.

Almighty and everlasting God, who didst enkindle the flame of thy love in the hearts of St. Paul Miki and the Martyrs of Japan: Grant to us, thy humble servants, a like faith and power of love, that we who rejoice in their triumph may profit by their example; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

04 February 2021

St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr


St. Agatha was born in Sicily, and is one of the many brave and faithful martyrs of the 3rd century. Her family was a wealthy and important one. Agatha was raised as a Christian, and when she was a very young girl she dedicated her life to God alone, and felt no vocation to be married. Because of her beauty and wealth, and because of the importance of her family, there were many men who sought to marry her. She resisted them all, desiring only a life of prayer and charitable service.

There was a man named Quintian, a Roman prefect, who thought his rank and power could force Agatha into a relationship with him. Knowing she was a Christian, and because this was in a time of persecution, he had her arrested and brought to trial. The judge was none other than himself. He expected Agatha to give in to him when she was faced with torture and death, but she simply rededicated herself to God.

Quintian imprisoned Agatha, locking her up with cruel and immoral women, in order to get her to change her mind. After she had suffered a month of being assaulted and humiliated she never wavered, saying that although they could physically lock her up, her real freedom came from Jesus. Quintian continued to have her tortured. He refused to allow her to have any medical care, but St. Agatha was given great comfort by God, who allowed her to have a vision of St. Peter, in which he encouraged and strengthened her.

Finally, because of the repeated torture and mutilation of her body, St. Agatha died in about the year 251, while whispering a prayer of thanks to God.

O God, who among the manifold works of thine almighty power hast bestowed even upon the gentleness of women strength to win the victory of martyrdom: grant, we beseech thee; that we, who on this day recall the heavenly birth of Saint Agatha, thy Virgin and Martyr, may so follow in her footsteps, that we may likewise attain unto thee; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

03 February 2021

St. Gilbert of Sempringham

Born in about the year 1083 in Sempringham, England, into a wealthy family, St. Gilbert’s father was a Norman knight who had decided that his son would follow a different path, and so sent him to France to study and to prepare for ordination.

When St. Gilbert returned to England he was not yet ordained a priest. His father had died, and Gilbert inherited several estates. While many might have chosen a life of ease in such circumstances, St. Gilbert chose to live a simple life, putting himself at the service of the poor by sharing with them his considerable resources. He was ordained to the priesthood, and served as the parish priest at Sempringham, where he had grown up.

There were seven young women in the congregation who had expressed to him a desire to live in community as vowed religious. St. Gilbert took their vocation seriously, and had a house built for them near the parish church. Although their communal life was one of simplicity and austerity, the community grew in numbers. They worked on the land, providing for their own needs and for the needs of the poor. It was St. Gilbert’s hope that the Community would be able to become part of the Cistercians, or one of the other established orders, but that never happened. They became known as the Gilbertines, and they remained as their own order, which continued to grow until King Henry VIII ordered the suppression of all monasteries in 1538.

The Gilbertines developed a beautiful custom in their religious houses, of having what was called “the plate of the Lord Jesus.” On this plate they would place the very best portion of their meals, which would then be shared with the poor. This custom was a direct reflection of St. Gilbert’s own love for the poor, and it continued the charity he had always shown.

Although St. Gilbert came from great wealth, and through inheritance he himself was a man of means, nonetheless he lived the simple life of a devoted parish priest. He ate very little food, and spent many nights in prayer. He lived a life of hardship and sacrifice willingly, as a sign of his love for Christ and for the poor. He died in the year 1190 at the age of 106.

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


02 February 2021

St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr


St. Blaise was a physician and Bishop of Sebaste, Armenia. He lived in a cave on Mount Argeus and was a healer of men and animals. According to legend, sick animals would come to him on their own for help, but would never disturb him at prayer.

Agricola, governor of Cappadocia, came to Sebaste to persecute Christians. His huntsmen went into the forests of Argeus to find wild animals for the arena games, and found many waiting outside Blaise's cave. Discovered in prayer, Blaise was arrested, and Agricola tried to get him to recant his faith. While in prison, Blaise ministered to and healed fellow prisoners, including saving a child who was choking on a fish bone; this led to the blessing of throats on Blaise's feast day.

Thrown into a lake to drown, Blaise stood on the surface and invited his persecutors to walk out and prove the power of their gods; they drowned. When he returned to land, he was martyred by being beaten, his flesh torn with wool combs (which led to his association with and patronage of those involved in the wool trade), and then beheading.

St. Blaise has been extremely popular for centuries in both the Eastern and Western Churches and many cures were attributed to him. In 1222 the Council of Oxford prohibited servile labour in England on his feast. He is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, and he is invoked especially for afflictions of the throat.

— Excerpted from The Church's Year of Grace, Pius Parsch

O God, who makest us glad with the yearly festival of blessed Blaise, thy Martyr and Bishop: mercifully grant that, as we now observe his heavenly birthday; so we may likewise rejoice in his protection; 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.

01 February 2021

Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas)


It is a good and just king who obeys his own laws. And at the time of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, God was doing just that. As the Incarnate Word, He conformed Himself to all those laws which were meant to honour Him. And it took place in the very Temple which was built to worship Him. Old Simeon had waited for years and he had seen countless infants brought into the Temple, but by the stirring of the Holy Ghost within him he knew this was the One. The veil was lifted from Simeon’s eyes, foreshadowing the future day when the Temple veil would be torn in two. The Infant in Simeon’s arms was an image of the Victim on the arms of the Cross. And the aged prophet’s words to the Virgin Mother would be fulfilled when she stood beneath the cross, entering into her Son’s suffering.

This is a continuing epiphany, an ongoing revelation of our Lord. It reminds us of the importance of obedience as we see Christ’s obedience. It reminds us of the importance of waiting upon God as we hear of the waiting of Simeon and Anna. And it reminds us of the importance of offering our best love to God as we witness Joseph and Mary offering back to God the Beloved Infant entrusted to them, giving us a foretaste of the Mass itself, in which Christ is offered to the Father.

There are three times in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ when a period of forty days figure in an important way: the feast of His Presentation in the Temple occurs forty days after His Nativity; the forty days in the wilderness, after which He was “presented” to the world and began His earthly ministry; and the forty days after His Resurrection, after which Christ was “presented” in heaven through His Ascension.

God “speaks His mysteries plain,” and His use of these periods of time tells us something of the nature of God; namely, that the Eternal Word has entered into time and space. At each “presentation” in the earthly life of Christ, it was not He alone who was presented, but He has taken our human nature through these things so that we might experience something similar.

And so we do. We have our own “presentation in the temple” in our baptism. As believing and active Catholics we have a “presentation to the world” as we seek to fulfill our vocation to work for the consecration of all creation in the name of Christ. And, God willing, we will have our “presentation in heaven” when God will say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of thy Lord.”

Almighty and everliving God, we humbly beseech thy majesty: that, as thine Only Begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in substance of our flesh; so we may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts, by the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.