27 September 2021

St. Lawrence Ruiz and Companions


The mixed-race child of a Chinese father and a Filipino mother, Lawrence Ruiz grew up in Manila and married a local Catholic girl. They had three children, and lived a simple life on his modest salary as a clerk working for the local parish. What they lacked in material things they more than made up for in their deep Catholic faith. Living something of an anonymous life, known only to their immediate circle of family and friends, life was good but not extraordinary. That is, not until a false accusation was made. And then, life as Lawrence Ruiz and his wife knew it, no longer existed. Everything was turned upside down as he made the nearly-impossible decision to run from his accusers. He was completely innocent, but he paid a very heavy price, which involved leaving his beloved wife and children and the only home he knew.

Lawrence made his way to a ship which was headed for Japan, and his travelling companions were three Dominican priests, a Japanese priest, and a layman who suffered from leprosy. They arrived in Okinawa and made no secret of their Catholic faith. And for that, they were arrested and tortured mercilessly. They were dragged off to Nagasaki, where further sport was made of Lawrence and the others, in an attempt to get them to deny Christ. They remained steadfast in professing their love for God and His Church. Lawrence had already had a false accusation made against him, but this accusation - that he was a Catholic - was an accusation he was happy to confirm, no matter what the consequences. And the consequences were brutal. He and his companions were hung upside down while having heavy stones tied to them; they were held under water until the moment before they would drown; they had wood splinters driven under their fingernails. But through it all, their hearts were filled with love for God and forgiveness for their persecutors.

When they finally died from their tortures, the bodies of Lawrence and his companions were burned and the ashes were thrown into the sea. Their faithful witness, however, fed that great burning fire of God's love, which continues to burn to this day.

Grant us, we pray, Lord God, the same perseverance shown by thy Martyrs Saint Lawrence Ruiz and his Companions in serving thee and their neighbour: even as those persecuted for the sake of righteousness are blessed in thy kingdom; 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. Wenceslaus, King and Martyr


St. Wenceslaus, duke of Bohemia, was born about the year 907 at Prague, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). His father was killed in battle when he was young, leaving the kingdom to be ruled by his pagan mother. Wenceslaus was educated by his grandmother, Ludmilla, also a saint. She taught him to be a Christian and to be a good king. She was killed by pagan nobles before she saw him king, but she left him with a deep commitment to the Christian faith.

Throughout his life he lived as a completely faithful Catholic. As duke he was a father to his subjects, generous toward orphans, widows, and the poor. He himself frequently carried wood to the houses of the needy. He often attended the funerals of the poor.  He ransomed captives, and visited those suffering in prison. He was filled with a deep reverence toward the clergy. With his own hands he planted the wheat for making altar breads and pressed the grapes for the wine used in the Mass. During winter he would visit the churches barefoot through snow and ice, frequently leaving behind bloody footprints.

Wenceslaus was eighteen years old when he succeeded his father to the throne. Without regard for the opposition, he worked in close cooperation with the Church to convert his pagan country. He ended the persecution of Christians, built churches and brought back exiled priests. As king he gave an example of a devout life and of great Christian charity, with his people calling him "Good King" of Bohemia.

His brother Boleslaus, however, turned to paganism. One day he invited Wenceslaus to his house for a banquet. The next morning, on September 28, 929, as Wenceslaus was on the way to Mass, Boleslaus struck him down at the door of the church. Before he died, Wenceslaus forgave his brother and asked God's mercy for his soul. Although he was killed for political reasons, he is listed as a martyr since the dispute arose over his faith. This king, martyred at the age of twenty-two, is the national hero and patron of the Czech Republic. He is the first Slav to be canonized.

O God, who through the victory of martyrdom didst exalt thy blessed Saint Wenceslaus from his earthy principality to the glory of thy heavenly kingdom: we pray thee, at his intercession, to defend us against all adversities; and to suffer us to rejoice in his eternal fellowship; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

26 September 2021

St. Vincent de Paul, Priest


St. Vincent was born of poor parents in a little village in France, in about 1580. He was able to go to school, which was run by a community of Franciscans, and it was there that he learned the value of humility and poverty, and the importance of serving others. Young Vincent was a good student, and in fact, he made such good progress that when he was in his fourth year of school, a wealthy man chose him to be a tutor for his own children, and Vincent was able to continue his studies at the same time, using the money he earned to pay for his education. When he was about sixteen, he went to the University for his theological studies, and he was eventually ordained to the priesthood.

St. Vincent was a very young priest in 1605, and he was travelling on a ship off the coast of France, when the ship was attacked by a band of pirates. They were Muslims from north Africa, and they captured St. Vincent and carried him off to Tunis, where he was sold into slavery. He lived as a slave for about two years, but then he managed to escape. Having gained his freedom, he went immediately to Rome to give thanks to God, and he then returned to France. Once again he became a tutor for the children of a wealthy family, and it was during that time that he had an important experience which changed the direction of his life.

There was a poor servant in the household who was dying. St. Vincent went to him to hear his last confession and to prepare him for death, and as he visited him, St. Vincent realized that the poor and those who worked in service to others really hadn’t been receiving very much spiritual care. When he brought this to the attention of his employers, they urged him to do what he thought best to remedy the situation. He began to a great ministry to the poor, preaching missions so they could know the Gospel, and he founded a religious community for men and also another for women, whose purpose was to serve the poor.

St. Vincent’s work was recognized throughout the Church, and although many wanted to honour him, he himself remained completely humble, continuing his work for the poor. He became known as the Apostle of Charity, continuing his work, until he died at the age of eighty. His work continues through the communities of priests and sisters which he established, and also through the Church’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which encourages laypeople to join in the work of alleviating the needs of the poor.

O God, who didst strengthen blessed Vincent de Paul with apostolic power for preaching the Gospel to the poor, and for promoting worthiness in the clergy: grant, we beseech thee; that we who reverence his pious deeds may also be taught by the example of his virtues; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

25 September 2021

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity


John said to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us."

- St. Mark 9:38-40

The Apostle John and the other apostles had seen someone using the name of Jesus to defeat the power of demons, and he went to Jesus, upset that this was happening. In fact, John and the others had actually tried to stop this from going on, because whoever was doing it wasn’t part of their group. 

Jesus and His apostles were headed toward Jerusalem, and there had been many experiences which had bound them into what felt like a real brotherhood. A few of them had experienced the Transfiguration event; all of them together had witnessed marvelous healings; and now we can see threads of an “exclusive attitude” developing, expressed by John in telling Jesus about someone using His name to defeat demons.

How did Jesus react? Certainly not in the way the apostles wanted or expected. “Do not forbid him,” Jesus said, “for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us.”

Our Lord uses the occasion to teach a lesson which is important not only for the apostles, but for all of us, which is this: even though a person might not be fully mature in the faith, the more one associates with the things of Christ – the more time spent with Him, the more one reflects on the things of Christ – then the more a person will be open to a relationship with Him.

It is no accident that when Christian values permeated our society, the world was a better, more humane, more moral place in which to live. Certainly we have seen a disheartening regression from standards and morality, as Christ has been pushed more and more outside the sphere of everyday life in society. Our Lord, in His divine knowledge, was fully aware all this would happen, which is why He makes the important point of teaching that a world which isn’t “against” Him, may soon turn around, and be “for” Him.

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Pictured: "Christ Teaching the Disciples" 
Coptic, Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib, c. 1684

24 September 2021

A well-traveled crucifix...



This crucifix has special meaning for me. 

I purchased it nearly fifty years ago at the old S.P.C.K. shop near the High Street gate just outside the Cathedral Close in Salisbury, England, when I began my studies at the Theological College there. I had it in my college study, and it then was in my office at the Anglican parish I served in Bristol, England. 

It was brought back to America when we returned, and it was in my office at both Episcopal parishes in which I served. It was in the first parish office when we came to Texas to establish the Parish of Our Lady of the Atonement. 

A relic of the True Cross which was given to me was embedded in it in 1987, and it was used for many years at the parish for the Veneration of the Cross. When I retired as pastor it was then placed at the altar of my private Chapel of the Martyr St. George, where I now see it every day as I offer Mass and pray the daily Offices.

23 September 2021

Our Lady of Walsingham


In the year 1061 the lady of the manor of Little Walsingham in Norfolk, a widow named Lady Richeldis, prayed to our Lady asking how she could honour her in some special way. In answer to this prayer Mary led Lady Richeldis in spirit to Nazareth and showed her the house in which she had first received the angel's message. Mary told Richeldis to take the measurements of this house and build another one just like it in Walsingham. It would be a place where people could come to honour her and her Son, remembering especially the mystery of the Annunciation and Mary's joyful 'yes' to conceiving the Saviour.

The late eleventh century and all through the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was the era of the crusades, which saw a growing interest in the sites consecrated by the human presence of Jesus in the Holy Land. But now pilgrims need not go so far; in England itself there was a 'new Nazareth' built by one of their own countrywomen.

The actual house from Nazareth was moved – perhaps even miraculously – to Loreto, and we find that the measurements of the house in Loreto and the house in Walsingham are the same.

Why venerate a house? Because it reminds us that the Word-made-Flesh lived as Man with mankind.

O God, who, through the mystery of the Word made flesh, didst in thy mercy sanctify the house of the Blessed Virgin Mary: do thou grant that we may keep aloof from the tabernacle of sinners, and become worthy indwellers of thy house; 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 September 2021

St. Pius of Pietrelcina


St. Pius was born in 1887 in Pietrelcina, a town in southern Italy. His family were farmers, and his father worked also as a shepherd to support the family. In fact, when St. Pius was a boy his father was gone for periods of time because he had come to America looking for work, sending money back to his family. When St. Pius was 15 he entered the novitiate of the Capuchin Friars and made his first vows when he was 19. He suffered several health problems, but he was eventually ordained at age 22 on 10 August 1910, and was known after that as Padre Pio.

He had been a priest for about eight years. One morning he was praying before a crucifix, when he received the stigmata, the physical marks Christ's crucifixion.  Because this became a source of curiosity for so many people, Padre Pio was forbidden from having any public ministry for some years, even having to say Mass privately. This was a tremendous burden for him; however, he accepted it in complete obedience to his superiors. But as word spread, especially after American soldiers brought home stories of Padre Pio following WWII, the priest himself became a point of pilgrimage for both the pious and the curious. He would hear confessions by the hour, reportedly able to read the consciences of those who held back. He was able to bi-locate, levitate, and heal by touch, although he himself never understood or emphasized these gifts.

People always seem to be most fascinated with these dramatic gifts, but the foundation of St. Pius’s life was his total love for Jesus, especially in the Blessed Sacrament, and his life of prayer for others, especially prayer for healing – both spiritual and physical healing. In fact, in 1956 he founded the House for the Relief of Suffering, a hospital that today serves about 60,000 patients a year.

St. Pius died in 1968, and people continued to report many miracles and healings that had come through his intercession. Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1999, and then in 2002 he was canonized in the presence of more than 300,000 people who gathered in Rome for the Mass.

Almighty everliving God, who, by a singular grace, didst give the Priest Saint Pius a share in the Cross of thy Son and, by means of his ministry, renewed the wonders of thy mercy: grant that, through his intercession, we may be united constantly to the sufferings of Christ, and so brought happily to the glory of the Resurrection; 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 September 2021

St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist


As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he rose and followed him. And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when he heard it, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, `I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."
St. Matthew 9:9-13

Matthew was a Jew who worked for the occupying Roman forces, collecting taxes from other Jews. The Romans didn’t care what the tax collectors got by collecting extra for themselves, and so they were generally hated as traitors by their fellow Jews. The Pharisees lumped them with "sinners.” So it was shocking to them to hear Jesus call such a man to be one of His followers.

Matthew got Jesus in further trouble by having a sort of going-away party at his house. The Gospel tells us that "many tax collectors and those known as sinners" came to the dinner. The Pharisees were still more shocked. What business did this supposedly great teacher have associating with such immoral people? Jesus' answer was, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Jesus is not setting aside ritual and worship; rather, he is saying that it cannot be a substitute for loving others.

When Jesus saw Matthew sitting at his tax office – no doubt counting his day's profit – Jesus spoke only two words: "Follow me." Those two words changed Matthew from a self-serving profiteer to a God-serving apostle who would bring the treasures of God's kingdom to the poor and needy. He turned from his sin, so that he could follow Jesus.

O Almighty God, who by thy blessed Son didst call Saint Matthew from the receipt of custom to be an Apostle and Evangelist: grant us grace to forsake all covetous desires and inordinate love of riches; and to follow the same thy Son Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
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Image: "St. Matthew and the Angel" by Simone Cantarini (1612-1648)

19 September 2021

The Holy Martyrs of Korea


On September 20th we celebrate the Memorial of Saint Andrew Kim Tae-gon, priest and martyr, Saint Paul Chong Hasang, martyr, and their companions, the martyrs of Korea.

The Catholic faith came to Korea during the Japanese invasion in 1592 when some Koreans were baptized, probably by Christian Japanese soldiers. Evangelization was difficult because Korea refused all contact with the outside world except for an annual journey to Peking to pay taxes. On one of these occasions, around 1777, Christian literature obtained from Jesuits in China led educated Korean Christians to study. A home Church began. When a Chinese priest managed to enter secretly about twelve years later, he found 4,000 Catholics, none of whom had ever seen a priest. Seven years later there were 10,000 Catholics. Religious freedom didn’t come until 1883.

In the meantime, there were horrible persecutions against the Christians. The major religion in Korea consisted of ancestor worship, and this was considered to be a cornerstone of their society. If anyone refused to take part in ancestor worship, they were considered traitors to the country, and would be killed. Obviously, Catholics would not be able to be part of that, and as a result, more than 8,000 of them were executed, and in unspeakable ways. Most of them were simple country people, whose names were known only to those closest to them. 103 of them were canonized by name, by Pope John Paul II in 1984.

O God, who wast pleased to increase thy adopted children in all the world, and who made the blood of thy Martyrs Saint Andrew Kim Tae-gon and his Companions a most fruitful seed of Christians: grant that we may be defended by their help and profit always from their example; 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.

18 September 2021

Effective Prayer

 

Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

- St. James 3:16-4:3


Most everyone would concede that his prayer life isn’t what it should be, or at least, isn’t what he would like it to be. No doubt each of us has had the experience of feeling spiritually dry and empty in our prayers. Haven’t all of us tried to pray about something which is important to us, and yet we seemed to get no answer? St. James describes this very experience: “You ask, and do not receive..."

When we look at Scripture, we see that for our prayer to be acceptable and effective, there are certain ingredients or conditions which should be present. In fact, there are three things are shown to us by our Lord Jesus Christ in His divine teaching. Let’s look briefly at them:

First, our prayer is to be made in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus taught His disciples this. “Whatever you ask the Father in My Name, He will give it to you.” Now this is deeper than it might first appear. Praying in Christ’s name is more than simply using His name in each prayer before it can be accepted by the Father. No, to pray in Christ’s Name is to pray as members of Christ. It is to come before our Father, not in our own name, but in His Name as being members of His Body, as being inspired by His Spirit, as not possessing any claim to be heard on our own merits, but only on Christ’s merits. This means that we can only pray in Christ’s Name by seeking to be in perfect harmony with Him. If our prayer is in Christ’s Name, then it will be a prayer such as Christ Himself would have prayed, which means that it always, implicitly or explicitly, includes the petition, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” Even if this isn’t said in so many words, it must always be our intention, if the prayer is to be made in Christ’s Name. So, if our prayer should contain any request which we make in ignorance, not knowing that we are praying for something that would be harmful if it was granted, we can be certain that it will not be granted, because such a thing would not be in accordance with God’s Divine Will. This means we can be assured that our prayers will be answered only insofar as they may be best for us.

The second condition of effective prayer is that we love the Lord Jesus Christ. Once again, this is what our Lord teaches, when He said, “The Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me.” There are times when the idea of loving God is a difficult thing, because it is not easy to know how to love someone who is Invisible, Eternal, and Omnipresent. But this difficulty vanishes when we understand that to love our Lord Jesus Christ is to love God. We can love Him, although we have never seen Him. But it is impossible to have any serious thoughts about Him and His loving work for us, without feeling our hearts and minds overflow with a sense of love. We love Him, because He first loved us; and when through His love, we learn to love, He loves us all the more, which then kindles ever more love within us. When we think of His words, and His saving act of sacrifice, how can we not love God?

There is a third condition which we must fulfil if we would offer prayer which is effective and acceptable to the Father. It is the condition of faith. Once again, Jesus teaches us, “The Father Himself loves you, because you have believed that I came from God.” We must believe that He whom we love, while He condescended to become one of us, was at the same time one with the Father. The love of our Lord, while it is in the highest sense a true human love, yet it is also a Divine love. It is this which gives it its value in the eyes of God. As such, it becomes love and faith in one act.

Consider the power and the dignity of this weapon of prayer which is placed in our hands by our Lord Himself. By entrusting it to us, He admits us to a share in the government of His kingdom of grace. Prayer is at the same time the refuge of the weak and the strength of the mighty, since it is the way by which we participate in the life of Christ, who has overcome the world. And because He has “overcome” – conquered – the things of this world, so in Him we can do the same.  We can overcome those things that would try to drag us away from Him.

Surely prayer is one of the greatest powers given to us by God, and we see the results of prayer in the unexpected and hidden character of God’s workings among us. Don’t think for a moment that what happens for good in the world is not a result of effective prayer. And how much more might be accomplished by prayer if we had greater faith in it, and greater perseverance in offering it!
 
Prayer is not intended to do away with human effort; rather, it is intended to guide it, to sanctify it, to rescue it from being merely fruitless worry, and to make it an act done in the Name of Christ. We must learn to value and to use this great weapon of prayer. We must approach our Heavenly Father as His children, coming to Him, not in our own strength, but in that strength which is ours as members of Christ’s Body. Through prayer we can learn to grow in love for our Lord, and in faith in Him, and so our prayers will become more and more effective. We will learn greater patience, even though our prayers don’t appear to be answered immediately, because we will rest in the knowledge that all is safely in the hands of God.

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Painting: "Le Pater Noster" by James Tissot (1836−1902)

16 September 2021

St. Robert Bellarmine, Bishop and Doctor


Born in the year 1542, Robert Bellarmine's family was large and relatively poor. His mother was especially devout and was given to works of charity, fasting, and regular prayer. Young Robert learned these things from her, and never forgot them. As a very young man he entered the Society of Jesus, and was eventually ordained. He had a tremendous gift for preaching, and was also a notable scholar, going on to teach at the University of Louvain. The Church recognized his faithfulness and his intellectual brilliance, and after a time he became a bishop, and was named a Cardinal.

He never forgot the lessons he learned at home, and his charity to the poor was manifested in the fact that even though he lived in a Cardinal’s palace, he ate the same food as the poor would eat, he dressed in rough clothing, and he even stripped the plush curtains and tapestries from the walls to sell them and gave the money to the poor. As he said, “The poor can catch cold; the walls cannot.”

He lived at the time when the Protestants were causing great dissension in the Church, and St. Robert Bellarmine used his considerable talents in presenting Catholic truth, and helping others to see the errors of protestantism.

He knew the best way to keep the Church strong was to make strong Catholics, and he compiled an important catechism for teachers and students. In fact, it was his work with the young that gave him the most satisfaction, and he had an immense effect on the lives of the students who learned from him. One the most famous of his students was a young man named Aloysius, who eventually was himself raised to the altar, and is known to us as St. Aloysius Gonzaga.

St. Robert Bellarmine – a great man who never forgot his humble beginnings, and who loved the Church and worked for her unity.

O God, who didst adorn blessed Robert Bellarmine, thy Bishop and Doctor, with wondrous learning and virtue, to banish the wiles of error and contend for the rights of the Apostolic See: grant by his merits and intercession; that we may grow in the love of truth, and that the hearts of those that err may return to the unity 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.

15 September 2021

St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian, Martyrs


The Church had been without a pope for about a year because of the persecution of the Emperor Decius when Cornelius was elected Bishop of Rome in 251. Although it was a time of persecution, that wasn’t the biggest problem he had to face. Divisions in the Church had been taking place, stemming from the argument about whether or not the Church could forgive a person’s very serious sins – for instance, if someone had turned away from their faith, but then wanted to return to the Church, the question was whether the Church could give forgiveness and take that person back. A popular priest during that time named Novatian was against the practice of giving forgiveness. He claimed that the Church had no power to pardon those who had lapsed during time of persecution. The same applied to cases of murder, and other serious sins. In fact, Novatian felt so strongly about this that he set himself up as a rival pope.
However, St. Cornelius, with the strong support of St. Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage in North Africa, insisted that the Church did have the power to forgive apostates and other sinners, and that they could be re-admitted to Holy Communion after having performed an appropriate period of penance. Some letters of Cornelius to Cyprian together with Cyprian’s replies have survived.

A synod of Western bishops in Rome in October 251 upheld Cornelius, condemned the teachings of Novatian, and excommunicated him and his followers. When persecutions of the Christians started up again in 253 under Emperor Gallus, Cornelius was exiled and he died as a martyr.

His friend and supporter, St. Cyprian was from a very wealthy pagan background, but he became a Christian, and was known as a great orator. After his baptism he distributed most of his wealth to the poor, and was eventually ordained as a priest, and then became the bishop of the city where he had grown up, Carthage. Just as Pope Cornelius faced persecution, so did Cyprian. He was a strong defender of the teaching of Cornelius, and even though they lived a continent apart, after they were both martyred, they were always linked together in the mind of the Church as having stood up for the mercy of God, and His desire to forgive the sins of those who repented.

O God, who didst give Saints Cornelius and Cyprian to thy people as diligent shepherds and valiant Martyrs: grant that, through their intercession, we may be strengthened in faith and constancy and spend ourselves without reserve for the unity of the 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.

14 September 2021

The Autumn 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. The Ember Days 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.

The fasting is modified – basically no food between meals – and there are particular things for which we are to pray and give thanks. 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.

Our Lady of Sorrows


Immediately following the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Church commemorates the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows, remembering her standing at the foot of the cross, keeping a sorrowful vigil as she saw her son dying. 

Over time it came to include what are called the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary, growing out of the prophecy of St. Simeon, who, at the time of the Presentation, told Mary that a sword should pierce through her own soul. 

These seven sorrows are: 
The Prophecy of Simeon concerning the Jesus, born for the rise and fall of many.
The Flight into Egypt of the Holy Family.
The Loss of the Child Jesus for Three Days.
The Meeting of Jesus and Mary on the way to Calvary.
The Crucifixion, where Mary stands at the foot of the cross.
The Descent from the Cross, with Jesus placed in Mary's arms.
The Burial of Jesus. 

This commemoration helps us to remember Mary’s sacrifice for our salvation, and also the importance of avoiding things in our own lives which would cause further sorrow to Mary, who is our Mother. 

O God, who didst will that in the passion of thy Son a sword of grief should pierce the soul of the blessed Virgin Mary his Mother: Mercifully grant that thy Church, having shared with her in his passion, may be made worthy to share in the joys of his resurrection; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

13 September 2021

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

 
Site of the Crucifixion, Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.

After the crucifixion of our Lord on the hill of Calvary, and after His subsequent resurrection from the nearby tomb where His body had been placed, there was a concerted effort by both the Jewish and Roman authorities in Jerusalem to obliterate any physical evidence or reminder of these events. They didn’t want there to be any rallying-place for the disciples of Jesus to gather, so dirt was piled up over the general site, and with the passage of time there were pagan temples built on top of it. But a persistent story was passed from generation to generation; namely, that the Cross on which Christ had died had been hidden somewhere underneath the site which was subsequently covered by pagan places of worship.

Saint Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, was nearing the end of her life. A devout Christian, she received the divine inspiration that she should journey to Jerusalem to excavate the area where the Holy Sepulchre was, and attempt to locate the True Cross. The year was 326, and she set off on her pilgrimage. When St. Helena arrived in Jerusalem she was able to find someone who was very familiar with the story of where the Holy Cross had been hidden, and she ordered the excavation to begin – obviously able to arrange such a project because she was the Emperor’s mother.

The excavation was a success, but the problem was that three crosses were found on the spot. How was St. Helena to determine which one was the True Cross of Jesus? What happened next has come to us down through history in a tradition which tells us that St. Helena, along with the Bishop of Jerusalem, devised an experiment. The three crosses were taken to a woman who was near death; when she touched the True Cross, she was healed. This confirmed to St. Helena that the actual Cross upon which our Lord was crucified had been found.

Such a discovery called for celebration, and along with the great rejoicing and prayers of thanksgiving to God, the Emperor Constantine ordered that two churches be built – one at the site of the burial of Christ (the Holy Sepulchre) and one on the site of the crucifixion (Mount Calvary). Because the sites were very close to one another, the churches were actually connected by a great colonnade, and today they are fully incorporated as one structure. The solemn dedication of the churches took place on September 13 and 14, in the year 335. The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was fixed on September 14th, spreading from Jerusalem, on to other churches, until by the year 720 the celebration was kept throughout the whole Church.

The story doesn’t end there. In the early seventh century, the Persians conquered Jerusalem. The Persian king looted the city and stole the True Cross, taking it to Persia. Eventually, however, the Emperor recaptured the True Cross and brought it back to Jerusalem. The tradition says that he carried the Cross on his own back, but when he attempted to enter the church on Mount Calvary, he was unable to take another step. Bishop Zacharias of Jerusalem saw that the emperor was having difficulty, and so advised him to take off his royal robes and crown, and to dress in a penitential robe instead. As soon as the Emperor took the bishop’s advice, he was able to carry the True Cross into the church, where it was enshrined for the veneration of the Faithful. Eventually, smaller pieces of the relic were distributed throughout Christendom.

Almighty God, whose Son our Saviour Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world unto himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

12 September 2021

St. John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor


St. John Chrysostom is known as one of the greatest preachers in the long history of the Church, and surely his homilies form a major legacy, but John lived at a time and in circumstances which demanded great holiness – something which God granted him in abundance.

John was born in 347, the son of Christian parents. His mother, Anthusa, was widowed at the age of twenty, soon after his birth. Anthusa gave all of her attention to her son. She gave him the best classical education available, and he was enrolled as a catechumen when he was eighteen. He came under the influence of Bishop Meletius of Antioch, who baptized him and ordained him lector.

At this time, John felt called to lead the life of a monk-hermit. He took up residence in a cave, spent his time studying the Scriptures, and put himself under the discipline of an elderly hermit named Hesychius. The discipline was demanding and austere, eventually breaking the health of John. He returned to Antioch, where he was ordained a priest, and he came to be known as a great preacher.

During the next twelve years the people of Antioch were enthralled with his sermons. He preached with a depth of knowledge and persuasiveness that were memorable to those who heard him. It was during this time that he received the nickname of Chrysostom, or “golden mouth,” because it was commonly said that “his words are like pure gold.” In the year 397, the Emperor Arcadius appointed John Chrysostom to the vacant See of Constantinople. It was feared that John’s humility would lead him to refuse the position, so he had to be lured to Constantinople, where he subsequently was consecrated bishop in 398.

It was not a peaceful or holy place in which John Chrysostom found himself. There was an abundance of political intrigue. Fraud and extravagance were the order of the day. Those around him were driven by their raw ambition to be advanced in their positions. John Chrysostom brought about immediate changes: he cut back expenses; he gave generously to the poor; he constructed hospitals. He set about reforming the clergy, called the monks back to a life of discipline, and reminded all the people of the importance of leading faithful and moral lives.

As might be expected, his program of reforms made enemies – especially the Empress Eudoxia along with Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria. With the city of Constantinople in an uproar and his life under threat, John was exiled by the emperor in the year 404.

The situation continued to deteriorate, with the papal envoys being imprisoned, and John (who was defended by the pope and who had ordered John to be restored to his See) was sent even further into exile. Eventually he found himself six hundred miles from Constantinople, across the Black Sea. St. John Chrysostom was weary and he was sick. He died in exile in the year 407, and yet his last words were, "Glory to God for all things."

O God of truth and love, who gavest to thy Bishop John Chrysostom eloquence to declare thy righteousness in the great congregation, and courage to bear reproach for the honour of thy Name: mercifully grant to the ministers of thy Word such excellence in preaching; that all people may share with them in the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

11 September 2021

"Who Do Men Say That I Am?"

Jesus went on with his disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that I am?" And they told him, "John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others one of the prophets." And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ." And he charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men." And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

-St. Mark 8:27-35

Caesarea Philippi was outside of Galilee and it had a long pagan history. In ancient times it had been a great center for the worship of Baal and also it was said to be the birthplace of the Greek god Pan, the god of nature. From a cave in the hillside there is a stream gushing out which was considered to be the source of the River Jordan, and further up on that same hillside there was a gleaming temple of white marble which had been built in honor of Caesar, the Roman Emperor, who was regarded as a god.

It was there, in that center of pagan worship, that Peter was inspired to recognize Jesus as the Christ. This place which had echoed with reverence toward pagan gods, and memories of Baal, with the huge marble temple to Caesar – like a backdrop of all religions and history – it was there that St. Peter made his great confession. It comes in the very middle of St. Mark’s gospel, and it serves as the climax of the whole Gospel.

And then Jesus decided to put His disciples to the test. He asked them what men were saying about Him, and He heard from them the popular rumours and reports. But then He put the question which meant so much. “Who do you say that I am?” And suddenly Peter realized what he had always known deep down in his heart. This was the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of God.

And then we see Jesus do and say what He has done before. No sooner had Peter declared this, than Jesus told His disciples that they must tell no one. Why? Because, first and foremost, Jesus had to teach Peter and the others what Messiahship really meant – not the common, mistaken Jewish notion of Messiahship which looked for an earthly military leader, but the truth about the Messiah, as it was demonstrated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When Jesus connected Messiahship with suffering and death, He was making statements that were, to the disciples, both incredible and incomprehensible. All their lives they had thought of the Messiah in terms of conquest and nationalistic victory, but now they were being presented with an idea which was utterly revolutionary. That’s why Peter protested so strongly. To him, the whole thing seemed impossible.

But why did Jesus rebuke Peter so sternly? Because Peter was putting into words the very temptations which Satan had put to Jesus in the desert. The turning of stones into bread, the claim of an earthly kingship – all that was offered by Satan to Jesus in the wilderness, if only Jesus would kneel down and do homage to Satan. And what made this even worse was that Peter was one who was loved by Jesus – it was Peter’s loving voice that was saying all of this – and this is why Jesus answered so sternly.

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Image: "Get Thee Behind Me, Satan" 
by James Tissot (1836-1902)

10 September 2021

Remember and pray...

 
World Trade Center, 9/11

O God, whose mercies cannot be numbered: Accept our prayers on behalf of thy servants departed, and grant them an entrance into the land of light and joy, in the fellowship of thy saints; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Pentagon, 9/11

For none of us liveth to himself,
and no man dieth to himself.
For if we live, we live unto the Lord,
and if we die, we die unto the Lord.
Whether we live, therefore, or die,
we are the Lord's.


Shanksville, Pennsylvania, 9/11

Thou only art immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and unto earth shall we return. For so thou didst ordain when thou createdst me, saying, "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

08 September 2021

St. Peter Claver


A native of Spain, the young Jesuit priest Peter Claver left his homeland forever in 1610 to be a missionary in the colonies of the New World. He sailed into what is now Colombia, and he was ordained there in 1615.

By this time the slave trade had been established in the Americas for nearly 100 years, and Cartagena was a chief center for it. Ten thousand slaves poured into the port each year after crossing the Atlantic from West Africa under conditions so foul and inhuman that an estimated one-third of the passengers died in transit. Although the practice of slave-trading was condemned by Pope Paul III and later labeled "supreme villainy" by Pius IX, it continued to flourish.

Fr. Peter Claver's predecessor, Jesuit Father Alfonso de Sandoval, had devoted himself to the service of the slaves for 40 years before Fr. Claver arrived to continue his work, declaring himself "the slave of the Negroes forever."

As soon as a slave ship entered the port, Peter Claver moved into its infested hold to minister to the ill-treated and exhausted passengers. After the slaves were herded out of the ship like chained animals and shut up in nearby yards to be gazed at by the crowds, the young priest plunged in among them with medicines, food, bread, brandy, lemons and tobacco. With the help of interpreters he gave basic instructions and assured his brothers and sisters of their human dignity and God's saving love. During the 40 years of his ministry, he instructed and baptized an estimated 300,000 slaves.

His apostolate extended beyond his care for slaves. He preached in the city square, gave missions to sailors and traders as well as country missions, during which he avoided, when possible, the hospitality of the planters and owners and lodged in the slave quarters instead. 

After four years of sickness which forced the saint to remain inactive and largely neglected, he died on September 8, 1654. The city magistrates, who had previously frowned at his kindness toward the slaves, ordered that he should be buried at public expense and with great pomp.

He was canonized in 1888, and Pope Leo XIII declared him the worldwide patron of missionary work among those who are in slavery or any kind of forced servitude.

O God, who madest Saint Peter Claver a slave of slaves, and strengthened him with wonderful charity and patience as he came to their help: grant, through his intercession; that, seeking the things of Christ, we may love our neighbour in deeds and in truth; 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.

07 September 2021

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

"The day of the Nativity of the Mother of God is a day of universal joy, because through the Mother of God, the entire human race was renewed, and the sorrow of the first mother, Eve, was transformed into joy." - St. John Damascene

The birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been celebrated as a liturgical feast at least from the sixth century. Its origin can be traced to the occasion of the consecration of a church in Jerusalem just inside St. Stephen’s Gate, near the Pool of Bethesda, on the traditional site of the house of Ss. Joachim and Anne. Within a few years the liturgy was celebrated in Rome, having been introduced by monks from the East, and the celebration included a procession to the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

Although the actual date of Mary’s birth isn’t known, the Church settled on September 8th, and the celebration Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception was fixed on December 8th, as the date corresponding to nine months before the celebration of her Nativity.

These two feasts can be seen as a kind of bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament. With the conception and birth of the Blessed Virgin, God completed the new Ark – the living Temple – in which He would dwell. Through Mary, Jesus the Incarnate God has come to us.

O Lord, we beseech thee, bestow on thy servants the gift of heavenly grace: that as our redemption began to dawn in the child-bearing of the Blessed Virgin Mary; so this festival of her Nativity may yield us an increase of peace; 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 September 2021

Labor Day

Labor Day has become synonymous with barbeques and bargains, but it was instituted originally as a day to honour workers, and especially to feature the place of organized labour. Labor unions have had an up-and-down place in the history of our nation, but whatever one's view of unions, it is a good thing to honour workers and their labour.

The patron saint of labourers is St. Joseph the Worker. The actual commemoration falls on the first day of May, but it is appropriate to remember him on Labor Day too, as a way of accentuating the dignity of labour and as a reminder of the spiritual dimension of work.

The teaching of the Church reaches back into the Old Testament, when we read in the Book of Genesis that God created man, and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend to it. From that time, God, who is the creator and ruler of the universe, has called men and women in every age to develop and use their talents for the good of others, and as a way of sharing in the creative work of God. In every kind of labour we are to remember that we are obeying the command of God to use our talents, and to receive the fruit of our labours. Our work allows us to provide for our own needs, and for the needs of those for whom we are responsible. It also allows us to show proper charity toward those who are in need.

As we celebrate Labor Day, we should look to St. Joseph and follow his example of work, by which he showed his love and responsibility for the Blessed Virgin Mary and for the Child Jesus. St. Joseph shows the dignity of work – and whether it is manual work, or any other kind of work, we are to do it in a spirit of cooperation with God, and as an offering to Him. Any task, well done, is an offering to God. When we work, we should see it as a work done for God, and it is part of what shows that we are created in His image. In creation itself, God worked for six days, and rested the seventh. So in our own lives, we are to keep that balance between using our energy for work, and then out of respect for our minds and bodies, give a day for our spiritual and physical renewal.

O LORD Jesus Christ, who in thy earthly life didst share man’s toil, and thereby hallow the labour of his hands: prosper all those who maintain the industries of this land; and give them pride in their work, a just reward for their labour, and joy both in supplying the needs of others and in serving thee their Saviour; who with the Father and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest, ever one God, world without end. Amen.


04 September 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.

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"Christ healing the deaf mute at Decapolis"
by Bartholomeus Breenbergh (1598-1657)

03 September 2021

St. Cuthbert, Bishop and Confessor


St. Cuthbert, one of the great saints of Britain, was born in Northumbria in about the year 635, at about the same year in which St. Aidan founded the monastery on Lindisfarne. He was raised as a Christian, and in his youth he spent time in military service, and also seems to have spent time as a shepherd.

His life changed when he was about 17 years old. He was tending sheep out in the hills, and looking into the night sky he saw a great light descend to earth and then return, and he believed that a human soul was being taken to heaven at that moment. The date was August 31, 651, the night of the death of St. Aidan, who was the great bishop and monk of Lindisfarne. This became Cuthbert’s time of decision for the future of his life. He immediately went to one of the monasteries, Melrose monastery, which had been founded by St. Aidan, and requested admittance as a novice.

For the next 13 years he was with the Melrose monks. At that time Melrose was then given land to found a new monastery at Ripon, and Cuthbert went with the founding party and was made guestmaster of the new foundation. After serving in that capacity for a time, St. Cuthbert returned to his original monastery and was appointed as Prior of Melrose.

After a time, St. Cuthbert moved to Lindisfarne and settled into the life of the monastery. He became an active missionary, and he was very much in demand as a spiritual director. He was an outgoing, cheerful, compassionate person and no doubt became popular. But when he was about forty years old he believed that he was being called to be a hermit and to dedicate himself completely to prayer. He moved to a remote island, where he remained for another ten years.

He was not destined to remain in the life of a hermit. When he was about fifty years old, he was asked by the Church to leave his hermitage and become a bishop, and he very reluctantly agreed. For two years he was an active, travelling bishop, and he journey far and wide ministering to those under his spiritual care.

Finally, feeling that death was approaching, he retired to his old hermitage where, in the company of Lindisfarne monks, he died on March 20, 687.

St. Cuthbert is often depicted with otters because it is said that his practice was to pray while wading in the frigid North Sea, and when he emerged from the water he would be accompanied by otters that would dry his feet with their fur, and warm him.

The 4th of September is kept as a commemoration of St. Cuthbert in remembrance of the transference of his relics to Durham. With the invasion of the Vikings near the end of the 9th century, the body of St. Cuthbert was taken from Lindisfarne by the monks to a new location for safekeeping, until finally arriving at the place known as “Deer’s meadow,” or “Durham,” where a chapel was built for the relics, and this chapel marked the place where the great Durham Cathedral now stands.

Almighty God, who didst call St. Cuthbert from following the flock to be a shepherd of thy people: Mercifully grant that, as he sought in dangerous and remote places those who had erred and strayed from thy ways, so we may seek the indifferent and the lost, and lead them back to thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

02 September 2021

Pope St. Gregory the Great


St. Gregory, known as "the Great," served the Church as Supreme Pontiff from 590 until 604. Before this he had served the city of Rome as a senator and prefect, all by the age of thirty. He then dedicated himself to God by entering religious life as a Benedictine monk. It was during his time as abbot that a well-known incident took place.In about the year 573 A.D. the abbot Gregory, during a walk through the marketplace, saw some fair-skinned people being sold as slaves. When he asked about them he was told they were Angles. He responded, “Non Angli, sed angeli” (“Not Angles, but angels!”).  

After he became the pope he decided he needed to send missionaries to their people, to bring them the knowledge of the Gospel. England had once known the faith, but the Angles and the Saxons had conquered the land and had driven the Christians out. But now the time had come to re-evangelize, and St. Gregory chose St. Augustine and thirty monks to make the unexpected and dangerous trip to England. Augustine and his monks had the task of finding what few Christians there were and bringing them back into the fullness of the Faith, and to convince the war-loving conquerors to become Christians themselves.

Pope St. Gregory also had a tremendous influence on the liturgical and musical life of the Church, and in an ancient account it says, “St. Gregory established at Rome two schools of song, that one beside the church of S. Peter, and that other by the church of S. John Lateran, where the place is yet, where he taught the scholars, and the rod with which he menaced them is yet there.”

Pope St. Gregory well-deserves to be called “the Great,” not just for his re-evangelization of England, but for his liturgical, musical, and spiritual influence upon the whole of the Western Church.

O God, the strength of them that put their trust in thee, who didst stablish thy blessed Confessor and Bishop Saint Gregory with the strength of constancy to defend the freedom of thy Church: grant, we pray thee, that by his prayers and good example, we may manfully conquer all things contrary to our 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.
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Painting: "St. Gregory the Great, Pope" 
by Francisco José de Goya (1746–1828)

01 September 2021

The Master Artist


The world's best and finest art is that which serves as a kind of window. Through it one can grasp a fuller knowledge of life, of truth, of beauty. It becomes a passageway for light which illuminates the mind and the soul, and so reality is made a little clearer, a little richer.

The artist who can achieve this we call a “master.” But such a one is only the merest shadow of the truly artistic Master, that One Who does not fashion great works with clay or canvas, but Whose crown of creation is mankind. It is He Who makes saints, forming them after His own image, colouring them with grace, and placing them in the world as windows through which we see something of God's divine beauty and truth, and through whom we are illumined by God's own Light.

30 August 2021

St. Aidan of Lindisfarne


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

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

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

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

O Everlasting God, who didst send thy gentle Bishop Aidan to proclaim the Gospel in Britain: grant that, aided by his prayers, we may live after his teaching in simplicity, humility, and love for the poor; 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.

29 August 2021

Ss. Margaret Clitherow, Anne Line, and Margaret Ward


The three martyrs we commemorate on August 30th are numbered amongst the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, who suffered death for the Catholic faith which had been outlawed in the kingdom. These three women – St. Margaret Clitherow, St. Anne Line, and St. Margaret Ward – were all martyred because they protected Catholic priests from the Elizabethan authorities, who were seeking out all Catholic priests for execution. During this dark time in history, it was illegal for priests to be in the country, as it was illegal for Catholics to receive the Sacraments of the Catholic Church.

St. Margaret Clitherow was a convert to the faith. She became a Catholic when she was eighteen. Although her husband was not a Catholic, he supported her in the practice of her faith, along with their son Henry, who was studying for the priesthood. Margaret’s husband even went so far all to allow her to welcome priests into their home for the celebration of Mass, and 1586 she was arrested for giving shelter to a priest. She was condemned to the horrifying death of being slowly crushed to death, being made to lay upon a sharp stone with a door placed upon her while nearly eight hundred pounds of stone were gradually added on top of the door. This took place on Good Friday in 1586. She died with the name of Jesus upon her lips.

St. Anne Line was also a convert, and was completely disowned by her family. In 1586 she married a man who was also a convert to the faith, but who was soon exiled from the country, leaving Anne by herself. She eventually managed two “safe houses” where travelling priests could hide, but was arrested on February 2, 1601, when she assisted a priest in escaping arrest. When she was brought to court, she fully admitted what she had done, and told the judge that her only regret was that she had not helped more priests. St. Anne Line was hung in London, and before her death she repeated what she had said in court, stating clearly that she did not repent for her actions, but that she wished she could have done it a thousand times.

St. Margaret Ward was an unmarried woman, and so is a virgin-martyr. She helped a priest escape from the prison where he was being held by smuggling him a length of rope with which he could lower himself over the prison wall. She was eventually accused of giving assistance to the priest because it was known that she was the last person to have visited him, and therefore was the most obvious person to have given the rope to the prisoner. St. Margaret Ward was bound by chains, hung up by her hands, and was brutally scourged, as the authorities demanded to know where the priest had gone. She steadfastly refused, and was hung publicly in London on August 30, 1588.

Although these three martyrs were canonized in 1970 among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, they are commemorated on a separate day because of the particular reason for their deaths; namely, their deep respect for the priesthood, and their zealous protection of priests.

Steadfast God, as we honour the fidelity in life and constancy in death of thy holy Martyrs Margaret Clitherow, Anne Line, and Margaret Ward: we pray thee to raise up in our day women of courage and resource to care for thy household the Church; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

28 August 2021

Pure and Undefiled Religion


“Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures. Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

- from the Epistle of St. James


St. James wrote his brief epistle during a time when the Church was being greatly persecuted. It was addressed to followers of Christ who had grown discouraged. It just wasn’t easy to sustain their faith when everyone and everything around them was trying to lure them away. St. James addresses these words to encourage them, even though everything around them was discouraging. He is recalling them to the truth of Jesus Christ, which had excited them and attracted them at the time of their conversion. He is calling them from the distractions of the world, back to the true religion revealed by Jesus Christ Himself. He says to them: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

St. James makes clear that there is such a thing as pure and undefiled religion. Just as there were then, so there are those today who would deny this fact. “Look around you,” they would say. Someone who claims to be a follower of Christ, turns out to be insincere, and so there are those who are all too eager to claim that religion is a sham, a hypocrisy.

But we know this is not the case. For every Judas who betrays, there is a St. Paul who struggles to serve Christ. For every Simon the Magician who pretends to practice religion for what he can gain, there is a St. John who seeks only to love God. St. James is reminding us that there are those who truly walk with God, and have the desire to honor and please God. In the midst of the whirl of business, amidst the selfishness and malice and short tempers in the world, there are those who are struggling upward toward the light of Christ, fighting against sin, and looking forward to that time when all things will be brought to perfection in Christ.

So then, what are the marks of the “pure and undefiled” religion St. James is talking about? We need to know, because this is what we are trying to practice. So what defines its reality? First of all, this kind of religion comes from God. It is approved and accepted by God. James teaches us, “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” In other words, there is nothing from man that is “pure and undefiled.” No one can say, “I have made my own heart clean. I have purified myself from my sin.” No, the best that man can bring forth out of his own power is bound to be stained. But pure religion comes down from above. Its origin is from above. It is sent by the Father to sanctify us and renew us.

But how does this pure and undefiled religion find its way into our corrupt and sinful hearts? Scripture gives the answer: “God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He has loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, has made us alive with Christ… We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has ordained that we should walk in…” We know through Scripture and the constant teaching of the Church, that God’s Holy Spirit renews the heart, and teaches us to think and feel and act in the right way. God has planted in us the spirit of repentance and of faith and of love. He has made us worthy and righteous through the worthiness and righteousness of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

St. James then goes on to speak of two “marks” of this pure religion: “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” In other words, true religion – real faith – leads to tender and kindly actions towards the desolate and afflicted. St. Paul put it this way in his epistle to the Galatians: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” No one can have true religion unless he has the Spirit of Christ, and he who has the Spirit of Christ will have something of the mind of Christ. And certainly Christ had a true pity and sympathy for all those who were touched by sorrow and affliction. Didn’t He say to the widow of Nain, “Do not weep,” and then gave back to her her only son who had died? Didn’t He carry in His heart the sorrows of His disciples when He was about to leave them as a flock of fatherless children in a cold and cruel world? And He give them encouragement with the promise, “I will not leave you comfortless.” Surely, every disciple, in the practice of pure and undefiled religion, must follow in the footsteps of the Master; and Christ has pleaded with every disciple to care for His poor, to care for His little ones, to comfort all those whom He Himself would comfort, and to speak His word to those who do not know His grace and love.

Remember Christ’s important lesson: “What you have done to the least of these my brethren, you have done to me.” And remember also, that it is the willing heart that Christ cares about. It is the desire and the readiness to visit the orphan and the widow, or to care for those who are living without God and without hope, when the opportunity presents itself, This is what is really pleasing to our Heavenly Father.

Now, of course there are times when it isn’t always possible to respond to every need we hear about. We can’t deal with every single person in need; we can’t alleviate every case of suffering throughout the world. There may be constraints of family responsibilities, and no one has unlimited resources. However, where there is true sincerity, and a honest effort to do what we really can do, God accepts desire as being like the deed. Remember in the Old Testament, King David truly wanted to build the Temple, but he was unable; and God told him, “You did well, David, because it was in your heart.” All God asks is that we have that desire in our hearts, and that we follow God’s guidance in doing what we can in showing real charity towards others.

But a second mark of true religion is mentioned by St. James. It is “to keep oneself unstained from the world.” We cannot overcome the world through our own strength. There is only one way to keep from being irreparably stained by the world, and that’s by the exercise of constant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. As St. John tells us in his first epistle: “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith…” If we want to live a life which “overcomes the world,” we need to understand clearly what that means. It means that we are to have our affections set on things above; that our values come from God, and that our goal is eternal union with God. It means that we must let the love of God be supreme in our actions; that we allow no idol to share God’s throne in our hearts. It means that we must make everything we have, everything we are, to be in the service of God’s kingdom. It means that all that we have – our time, our money, our influence, our intellectual gifts, our position in life – all of that must be regarded as already belonging to God.

In our efforts to live a religion which is “pure and undefiled,” remember that it is a gift from God, and not a result of our own work. And when you are discouraged, when it seems that no matter how hard you try, you still fail, remember that others have gone before, and have known the same difficulties. St. Paul writes in his epistle to the Romans, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do…”

Surely, this is why God has given us the sacrament of penance, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is through the regular and faithful use of those gifts that we exercise constant faith in the Lord Jesus, and through them we have Christ’s power always with us. Through that power, even though we are not yet made perfect, by God’s grace others will see in us that “religion which is pure and undefiled before God…”

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Image: "Giving Comfort" digital art by Debra Minnard