12 April 2021

Pope St. Martin I, Martyr


Although little is known of the early life of the seventh century pope and martyr St. Martin I, we do know that he was member of the Roman clergy, and was elected pope in 649. He immediately found himself in the center of a religious and political controversy, which provides us with facts about him during his pontificate.

In the Byzantine (Eastern) Empire there was a heresy, or false teaching, known as Monothelitism, which said that Christ, while on earth, had no human will, but only a divine one. (The Church teaches that Jesus has two wills: a full and perfect divine one, and a full and perfect human one, and these two wills are in perfect accord with each other.) Why is this teaching important? If Christ had no human will, then He wouldn’t be truly human – He would simply be God dressed up in human flesh. We see the two wills of Christ in Scripture when, for example, Jesus was praying in Gethsemane, and He prayed to His father, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.”

Several of the Eastern emperors had favored the Monothelite teaching, and they were supported by the patriarch of the imperial city of Constantinople.

Pope Martin convened a Council at the Lateran, and the bishops gathered there affirmed the true teaching about the two wills of Christ.

Pope Martin lay on a couch in front of the altar, too sick to fight, when the soldiers burst into the Lateran basilica. He had come to the church when he heard the soldiers had landed. The thought of kidnapping a sick pope from the house of God didn't stop the soldiers from grabbing him and hustling him down to their ship.

When Pope Martin arrived in Constantinople after a long voyage he was immediately put into prison. There he spent three months in a filthy, freezing cell while he suffered from dysentery. He was not allowed to wash, and was given the most disgusting food. After he was condemned for treason without being allowed to speak in his defense he was imprisoned for another three months.

From there he was exiled to the Crimea where he suffered horribly. But hardest to take was the fact that the pope found himself friendless. His letters tell how his own clergy had deserted him and his friends had forgotten him.

He died two years later in exile in the year 656, a martyr who stood up for the right of the Church to establish doctrine even in the face of imperial power. Truth is sometimes “politically incorrect,” but, as St. Martin knew, followers of Christ must defend the Faith nonetheless, even at the risk of controversy, personal suffering, and death.

Everlasting Shepherd, favourably look upon thy flock: and keep it with perpetual protection through the prayers of blessed Martin thy Martyr and Supreme Pontiff, whom thou didst appoint to be shepherd of the whole Church; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

10 April 2021

Second Sunday of Easter


From the Gospel we heard at the first Mass of Easter, all the way through the Gospels during the Octave, we’ve heard more and more details of those appearances of the Risen Lord Jesus. In fact, in the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter there are two appearances recounted to us, and they were just a week apart. St. John tells us that at the first appearance, which took place in the evening of the day on which Christ rose from the dead, St. Thomas wasn’t there. Later, when he heard that his fellow apostles had seen the Risen Lord, he made his now-famous statement, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” It was that statement which has led to the term in our language which is so familiar – that of being a “doubting Thomas.” And, of course, some eight days later, Thomas is given exactly the opportunity he said he wanted. He got the chance to examine for himself, but all he could do was to sink to his knees and exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”

This raises something interesting for us to look at more closely here. Consider how Christ treated Thomas’ unbelief, compared to how He dealt with unbelief generally during His earthly ministry. It takes only a quick look in the Gospels to see that our Lord’s treatment of the unbelief of the Jewish people and their leaders was very different from His reaction to the initial unbelief of Thomas. We see that the stern words of rebuke which He spoke to unbelievers during His earthly life were very different from the gentle language He used with Thomas. Let’s look at a few of those occasions in our Lord’s ministry when He spoke out about the unbelief which the Jews had for Him and His teaching. In the synagogue at Capernaum, for instance, they were offended when Christ called Himself the Bread which came down from heaven, which must be eaten to have eternal life. In fact, this presented such difficulties for so many, that even quite a few of His followers left Him. And what did He say as they left? “Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him...” And on another occasion, as He taught in the Temple, the Pharisees accused Him of testifying on His own behalf, which they said was the reason why they didn’t believe Him. But instead of modifying His teaching, He was pretty tough on them when He said, “Why do you not understand what I am staying? Because you cannot bear to hear my word. You belong to your father the devil... You do not listen because you do not belong to God.” Or again, as He walked in the Temple on another occasion, the Jews asked Him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” But His reply was a sharp one: “You do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.”

Instances such as those contrast with how Jesus treated His Apostle Thomas, when Thomas expressed his own disbelief, and that he was going to need some proof. Was Jesus stern? Did He berate him? No, Jesus simply said, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless but believing.” This was the gentle reply with which St. Thomas’s inconstant and weak faith was met.

From what we observe, it follows that there must be something essentially different between the unbelief of St. Thomas, and the unbelief of the world. Our Lord Himself is unchangeable, so it follows that when He gave different treatment to cases apparently the same, the cases themselves must actually be different. What was it, then, which made the unbelief of St. Thomas pardonable, while the unbelieving Jews were treated more harshly? Actually, it’s because we’re seeing two different types of unbelievers. First of all, those unbelievers who questioned Christ during His earthly ministry had doubts and questions which didn’t come out of any love for Christ, or from any sense of their own sinfulness and need for God’s mercy. The root of their unbelief lay in their desire to find Christ in the wrong. They didn’t like His teaching; they didn’t want to have Him for their Master; they couldn’t bear to give up their selfishness and their worldliness, and to become His followers – and that meant that there was nothing in them to which Christ could appeal. The only chance of their salvation lay in their repentance, which they had no intention of doing.

Isn’t it true that so much of the unbelief which we see in the world today springs from selfishness and and the attitude that “I’m going to go my own way”? The sad fact is, most people don’t like to give up the things that keep them away from life with God. They don’t want to deny themselves any comfort or any amusement they happen to desire. They can never have their questions answered, or their doubts settled, because both the doubts and the questions rise out of hearts which are at enmity with God. They refuse to subject themselves to the Will of God. If such people are to come to the knowledge of God and His mercy, it won’t be by arguing with them – no, it will be by praying for them, so that they themselves will decide come to know their spiritual poverty, and bring themselves before God in humility and love.

St. Thomas, on the other hand, represents another kind of unbeliever – and he makes us think of those times and situations in which even true disciples of Christ fall into temporary doubt or unbelief – times which many of us have had.

Notice some important things: first of all, Thomas’s unbelief arose during his separation from the other disciples. Where he was, and what he was doing, during that first appearance of the Risen Christ, we don’t know. But the unbelief that settled on him for that ensuing week was like a dark cloud on his soul, and it was due to his absence from his brothers in the Upper Room. Had he been there, he would have had the joy and assurance the others had received when they saw the Lord.

That’s an important lesson for all of us. We cannot separate ourselves from the Church, from our brothers and sisters in Christ, simply to do our own thing, and expect to be able to keep a healthy faith. Thomas’s separation meant that his mind was left to prey upon itself, and that’s what happens to anyone who tries to “go it alone” – we need the fellowship of the Church, and the sacraments of the Church, and the constant teaching of the Church. When God placed an obligation upon us to attend Mass every week, He did it for our good, and not because He simply wanted to keep us from what we might consider to be “more fun.”

So here’s the difference between the unbelief of the world, and the unbelief of Thomas: the world wants its own glory, and it measures everything by its own standards, and it wants nothing to move it away from its own selfishness. Thomas, on the other hand, loved Christ. He may not have fully understood, but his will and his affections were set on God.

And understanding this difference is especially important if we’re going to understand what Divine Mercy is about. God’s mercy doesn’t mean that we can simply do whatever we want and believe whatever we want, and God will somehow “wink” at it. That’s part of the gross misunderstanding we see in the world around us today.

For a person to receive God’s mercy means that he has to be like St. Thomas – that is, to follow Christ wherever He may lead, in the way of obedience. To receive God’s mercy means that we come to Him with love and repentance, and that we sink before Him with the words “My Lord and my God” on our lips. We cannot expect God’s mercy if we expect Him simply to take us the way we are. No, God’s mercy comes when we take God the way He is. To receive the mercy of God means that we come to Him with love in our hearts, as Thomas did – and with the intention to be obedient to what God asks of us, and with the desire to live faithfully within the Church which Christ Himself established. God’s mercy cannot be received by a clenched fist of defiance, but only by a heart open to the love of the risen Saviour who died for our sins and who now lives for our salvation, and whom we greet with the words, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification: grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness; that we may always serve thee in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
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Pictured: "The Doubting of Thomas" by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1881)

Divine Mercy


DIVINE MERCY
11 April 2021


On DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY, a plenary indulgence, is granted to the Faithful under the usual conditions:

1.     Sacramental confession (within about 20 days before or after);
2.     Reception of Holy Communion;
3.     Prayer for the intentions of Supreme Pontiff (Our Father and Hail Mary).

and who, on the Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday, in any church or chapel, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin:

1.     either take part in the prayers and devotions held in honour of Divine Mercy,

or

2.     who, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed or reserved in the tabernacle, recite the Our Father and the Creed, adding a devout prayer to the merciful Lord Jesus (such as “Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!").


You may obtain the plenary indulgence for yourself, or it may be applied to the soul of one who is departed, but it cannot be obtained for another person still living.

05 April 2021

The Paschal Sacrifice


Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed.
Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
- I Cor. 5:6b-8

Yeast (leaven) makes bread rise, but it is a kind of bacterium, so it also corrupts, and as St. Paul says, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” St. Paul’s point is that one sin can spoil the whole person, and even the wider community, both within and as seen by others.

The only way to assure that there is no corruption is to become a fresh batch of dough. Through baptism, we are unleavened – the stain of original sin is washed away, and we’re given grace to enable us to avoid sin. Through our baptismal consecration, we have been made a holy people, a people set apart for God. Because of that, we must constantly strive to become what God intends us to be, which means that we are to eliminate those corrupting influences which compromise the integrity of the consecration which took place at our baptism.

And what has made us “unleavened”? We are unleavened – we are like a fresh batch of dough – because the true paschal lamb, Jesus Christ, has been sacrificed. In the old rites during Passover the lambs were sacrificed, and St. Paul reminds us that in Christ’s death and resurrection, He is the fulfillment of the Jewish Passover.

In fact, Jesus – the true Passover Lamb – is the perfection of the sacrificing of the lambs in the temple at Passover. The lambs which were sacrificed in the Temple were only a reminder that the time had come for the Jews to clean out all leaven from their homes; the sacrificing of the lambs did not actually accomplish the cleansing of the leaven. But the sacrifice of Christ the true Passover Lamb actually casts out the leaven – the corruption of sin – and makes us “a new creation.” By His sacrifice we are made into a kind of pure, unleavened bread, ready to serve Christ in this world, and finally to be with Him in heaven.

Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification: grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness; that we may always serve thee in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of 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.

04 April 2021

A Hymn for Eastertide


God our Father, Lord of glory,
Thanks and praise we give to Thee;
In Thy mercy to our fathers,
Thou didst bring them through the sea.
So by water hast Thou saved us,
|: Now from Adam's sin set free. :|

Jesus Christ, our Risen Saviour,
Of Thy sacrifice we sing;
As the lamb in ancient myst'ry
To Thy people life didst bring,
So in Eucharistic glory,
|: Thou, God's Lamb, art made our King. :|

Holy Spirit, Breath from heaven,
We Thy precious gifts embrace;
At creation all things living
Thou didst sanctify with grace.
So may we, creation's glory,
|: Be for Thee a dwelling place. :|

Loving mercy of the Father,
Sacrifice of Christ the Son,
Quick'ning power of the Spirit:
In us let Thy work be done!
May we rise to life eternal,
|: That our Paschal joy be won. :|

Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips
Tune: Cwm Rhondda, John Hughes (1907)

03 April 2021

Easter Day


Our celebration of Easter tends to surround us with familiar things. We commemorate all the events of Holy Week, and when we come to the Easter celebration, we expect the familiar music, the traditional flowers, the usual order of the Mass, a sermon which speaks the day's message.

That was not so for St. Mary Magdalene, as she made her sad journey to the tomb on that first Easter morning. She had kept watch with the Sorrowful Mother at the foot of the cross on Friday afternoon. She had seen the lifeless body of Jesus placed in the arms of His Mother, and she knew He was dead. She had helped to make the hasty burial preparations, and now she was returning to finish what she thought would be her last act of love towards her Master. But it was then that things seemed to be disoriented, and not as she expected.

When Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb in the semi-darkness, what she saw was very disturbing. The massive stone had been rolled away from the opening, the entrance to the tomb was wide open, and she knew things were not the way they should be. Her first thought? Grave robbers! In fact, those were the first anguished words from her mouth when she ran back to tell the disciples, Peter and John. "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have put him!"

We can understand her panic and her grief. First they had crucified her Master. Now they had stolen His body – the body to which she had planned to give her final loving care. As soon as she tells them, Peter and John both run to the tomb.

John is faster; Peter is braver. John takes a tentative peek inside and sees the strips of burial linens. He hesitates. But Peter, never one to hesitate over anything, heads directly into the tomb. He sees the burial linens along with the cloth that covered Jesus' head. But something is strange here, out of the ordinary. Everything is neat and in order. The head cloth is folded up by itself, separate from the shroud. Whoever did this was not in much of a hurry. The grave-clothes are exactly as there were on Christ’s body, completely undisturbed. Whatever had happened, it was obvious that this was hardly the work of grave robbers.

John finally gathers up enough courage to go inside the tomb to take a good look for himself. And he records this solemn sentence about his own reaction: "He saw and he believed." He saw the empty tomb and the undisturbed linens, and he believed Jesus' word that He would rise from the dead on the third day. He saw and he believed. That’s where we get the phrase, “Seeing is believing.”

But we should understand that seeing is not necessarily believing. And conversely, believing does not necessarily involve seeing. When it comes to our faith, “seeing” puts the evidence before the eyes, but “believing” is trusting that Jesus is true to His word. It is quite possible to see and not believe.

The Pharisees saw with their own eyes the miracles Jesus performed, but they did not believe. Peter saw the same things in the tomb that John did, but Peter did not believe at first. Later that week, another apostle, St. Thomas said, "Unless I see His wounds and touch them, I will not believe."

It was not just what John saw, but it was also what Jesus had said, which led John to believe. And Jesus prepared us for the fact that it is possible to not see and yet believe, when He said to St. Thomas, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." That’s a direct reference to us. And St. John emphasizes this point when he writes, "They did not yet know from the Scriptures that Jesus had to rise from the dead."

Jesus would soon open their minds to see from the Scriptures that Christ must suffer and on the third day rise. That is why He gave them an empty tomb and undisturbed linens. It was to preach to them on that first Easter morning. They were not yet able to get it from the Scriptures, because it is later, near the end of his Gospel, that St. John writes, "These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name."

We do not see what those disciples saw on that first morning. In fact, we cannot see what they saw. The original sites are there, and we can visit them as places of prayer and devotion, but things no longer look as they did. If we travel to Jerusalem and visit the very site of the resurrection, the only reason we know it is the place is because others have told us that it is. There is nothing there now that would let us know what had happened.

Sometimes we might be tempted to think that it would have been easier to believe all this back then, at the time of Mary Magdalene, and Peter, and John. They were eyewitnesses to all that surrounded Jesus' death and resurrection. They saw all of this with their own eyes. Sometimes it seems as though it would be so much easier, if we could just see “with our own eyes!” Just to be able to peek into the open, empty tomb to glance at the linen burial cloths, maybe a glimpse of a bright angel or two, and a look at the face of the resurrected Jesus. It would be so easy for us to believe if only we could see, or at least we imagine it would be.

But the written record handed down to us tells us differently. Seeing is not necessarily believing. Mary Magdalene saw Jesus with her own eyes and she thought He was the gardener. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus saw Jesus; in fact, they walked and talked with Him for seven miles, but they didn’t recognize him until He broke the bread at the table with them. Seeing is not necessarily believing.

Look around at the people of any Catholic parish. There is little visible evidence to tell the world that it is a gathering of holy people, cleansed and claimed by the blood of Christ. But God has declared that it is so – and He expects us to live in such a way that this fact becomes evident to the world.

The next time you hear someone say, “Seeing is believing,” don’t accept that. It simply isn’t true. If we follow only what we see, we will end up racing from one tomb to the next, from one church to the next, from one preacher to the next, perhaps even from one religion to the next, – always searching for something that we can see with our eyes, but coming up empty. We will end up as Mary Magdalene started out on that first Easter morning when she said, "They have taken my Lord, and I don't know where they have put him."

As believers and members of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church, we do know where Jesus is. First of all, we know He is at the right hand of the Father in heaven, restored to His place of eternal glory. But we also know that He is in the midst of His Church, which is the living Body of Christ. And we know this: the same crucified and risen Jesus, who defeated death and crushed the head of Satan, and whom Mary Magdalene saw in the garden that morning, is located in the tabernacle of every Catholic church, hidden yet really present, unseen yet truly and objectively with us. He calls each of us by name from the waters of baptism, making us new creatures by the power of His death and resurrection. We are buried in Him and He is buried in us. When we receive Holy Communion, He buries His crucified body and blood in us, and He remakes us by giving us new life. He could not be any clearer about it: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise Him up on the Last Day."

Jesus gave His life so that we could have eternal life.

When we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, we are also claiming the promise of the resurrection of our own bodies on the Last Day. In rising from the dead, Jesus gives us a glimpse of the Last Day of the old creation on this day, which is the first day of the new creation. The stone is rolled away. The tomb is empty and orderly. Death has been swallowed up in victory. The disorder and darkness of death has been reordered by the Light of Christ. Death has been swallowed up in victory. Jesus Christ is risen, and in Him, we too will rise in glory.

Almighty God, who through thine Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life: we humbly beseech thee; that as by thy special grace thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
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Pictured: Offering Mass in the Tomb of Our Lord

02 April 2021

The Paschal Vigil


After His cruel tortures, after His horrific suffering and death, after placing our Lord’s body in the tomb, then comes the night which shines with the glory of Christ’s resurrection. It is the night in which we recall and reaffirm our own participation in His resurrection which is ours through the power of our baptism.

So we should consider what baptism means for daily life. Certainly baptism is a one-time thing, but it isn’t something that is done once and then simply remembered with a certificate, like graduations and other milestones in life. It is something done once, but with eternal effects. And so in that sense, baptism is not just a one-time thing “over and done with...” It’s a daily thing in its effects: baptism is a daily garment, something we wear each and every day.

In baptism God has marked us with His seal of ownership, branded us as sheep of His pasture, and taken away the stain of original sin by washing us with Christ’s blood. The Christian life is a daily baptism, and baptism is the daily life of a Christian. It’s a daily dying and rising. Just as we go to sleep each night and get up in the morning, so we daily die to sin and rise up to live in Christ through our baptism.

St. Paul writes, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" He writes this as though everyone would know this and agree wholeheartedly with it. We were buried with Christ by baptism into His death. Baptism unites us with the death of Jesus.

In the death of Jesus on the cross, God has given the world a death in which a sinner may die now and live forever. We can either die now in the death of Jesus and live forever in His life, or we can live now apart from the death of Jesus, and die forever in our own death. There is no third option. Christ Jesus died for sin and rose from the dead.

Scripture teaches us that "the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God." Baptism joins us to the death of Jesus. It nails us to His cross, it buries us in His tomb. God has put our sin out of His sight. He has buried it in the death of His Son. He has hidden it in His wounds. He has sealed it in His grave.

Baptismal death in the death of Jesus is a death with hope. "If we have been united with Jesus in a death like his, we shall also be united with him in a resurrection like his." We know how our story ends. We know how the last chapter comes out for those who are joined to Christ. Christ has died. And we have died with Him. Christ has risen. And we will rise with Him. That means whatever may come our way in this life – whether poverty, disease, pain or persecutions - our present sufferings cannot compare with the glory that will be revealed in us. Whatever burden the cross of Christ may bring to us now, it doesn’t compare with what will be ours in the resurrection of the righteous.

But baptism sets us in a struggle. Because of our baptism, we have become the enemy of the devil, the world, and our own sinful natures. The devil rants and roars against baptism, and will stop at nothing to keep us away from living in its power. The world hated Christ and so crucified Him. That’s why the world tries to crucify everyone who is joined with Christ.

However, by confessing our sins we bury them in baptism. We drown them in the blood that flowed from Jesus' side. This is what St. Paul means when he says, "Reckon yourselves dead to sin." We are to confess our sins. We are to bury them in Christ’s grave. In confession, we are setting baptism to work for us, releasing the power of Jesus' death and resurrection in our lives.

We cannot conquer sin ourselves. Christ alone conquers sin for us, and He does it through the daily application of the fruits of baptism. We no longer live, but we die and are buried in baptism, and so Christ now lives within us. Our life is the resurrected life of Jesus. He is at work in us and through us. We are "alive to God in Christ Jesus" and it is only "in Christ Jesus" that we are alive to God. Apart from Him, we would be dead, but because we are joined to Him by baptism, we live.

O God, who dost illumine this most holy night with the glory of the Resurrection of the Lord: stir up, we pray thee, in thy Church, the spirit of adoption which thou hast given; that we, being regenerate both in body and soul, may render unto thee a pure service; 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.

Holy Saturday


O God, Creator of heaven and earth: grant that, as the crucified body of thy dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; 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.


Stone of the Anointing
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

01 April 2021

Good Friday


Today Golgotha is sheltered within a magnificent and ancient basilica, but on that Friday called “good” it was a barren hill outside the city walls of Jerusalem. It is a hill soaked with the blood of criminals, executed for crimes both petty and grave, and it is a hill consecrated by the Blood of our Lord, our God-made-Flesh.
 
He is the innocent Victim, surrounded by a cruel mob. His ears hear the animosity of those who bear hatred in their hearts. The sentence of death by crucifixion had been dragged reluctantly from the lips of the civil authority. And if we could see, we would be appalled by the hideous efficiency of the soldiers as they complete their brutal work of inflicting death.

Also here are the temple priests who will hurry away from the scene even before the Victim takes His final breath. They have a Passover to keep, but it is a Passover now emptied of any real meaning or power because the Passover lambs have been made impotent by the one true Passover Lamb who is shedding the only blood which can fend off the angel of death.

The Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world. His last powerful cry will prove that no man has taken His life from him, but that He has laid it down of His own divine Will. He will bow His head in token of assent to that deed which was not understood by those who did it. It will be finished. The price of sin paid, the kingdom of heaven opened to all believers, the redemption of man accomplished.

The disrespect and the ill-treatment by those who were there will cease. The mockery and the spite and the violence done to the Saviour of the world will give way to the silent anguish of mournful hearts and the tender care of loving hands. The soldiers will have satisfied their discharge of duty. They will gather up their instruments of execution and they will leave. The people who had come to satisfy their morbid curiosity and spiteful feelings will feel cheated that the spectacle was so brief. The disinterested loiterers will disperse. And this hill, this Golgotha which had been the scene of such cruelty will be wrapped in the silence of death, deserted by all except those few faithful souls who keep a watch of love around the Cross, wondering in their aching hearts what they should do.

It is nearly over, and yet it continues. Loving hands yearn to take the Lord down from the Cross, and yet we leave Him hanging there. Our own sin, our own inaction, our own lukewarm love will not let Him come down from the Cross. How often have we “hid our faces from Him,” and have been ashamed to confess Him before the world, and so have left Him hanging there. How often, when the world has denied Him and insulted Him and abused His mercy and blasphemed His Name and ridiculed His Body the Church, we have held our tongues, and so have left Him hanging there.

So we find ourselves on a barren hill outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem, and we remember how often we have ignored the very truth for which Christ died, as we look upon the Cross and see that battered and bruised face, and view that lifeless form, and realize the part that we have taken in that cruel death.

It is almost more than we can bear. It is as though we should go away and hide our faces from Him for very shame and grief – except His love constrains us and asks us to stay. Our hearts cry out in sorrow for what we have done and for what we have failed to do, and we know that we cannot leave Him hanging there any longer. Our Lord Jesus Christ is no dead body left on a cross. No, His is a living and life-giving Body waiting to be taken down even by those who have despised and rejected him. He is the Bread of Life, of Whom whosoever shall eat, will live.

Therefore, let us draw near in faith and wrap our Lord’s Body in that fine linen which is the righteousness that comes from God. Let us place within the folds of that linen the bitter herbs of our penitence and anoint him with the oils and spices of our gratitude and our love. With reverence and with true devotion let us lay that Sacred Body in the sepulcher of our hearts, so that the miracle of Christ’s love will rise up in our lives, just as He rose up from the grave on the third day.

“It is finished,” He declared from the Cross. So let it be finished. Let it be completed. Let it be fulfilled in us, so that with hands and hearts and lives cleansed by His blood and enlivened by His love, we may not leave Him hanging there, but take Him down from the Cross, and let Him live in us.

Almighty God: we beseech thee graciously to behold this thy family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed, and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the Cross; who now liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

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Pictured: "The Small Crucifixion" ca. 1511/1520 by Matthias Grünewald

31 March 2021

Maundy Thursday


An upper room had been prepared. The unleavened bread was baked. The Passover lamb had been sacrificed and roasted. Jesus was at the head of the table with His Israel, His family. He took the large piece of unleavened flat bread that signaled the opening of the Passover meal. He gave thanks to His Father for the gifts. He broke it and gave the pieces to His disciples. 

Until this point, theirs had been a Passover like any other Passover, recalling God's mercy and love to Israel when He had brought them out of slavery in Egypt into freedom, through the blood of the Passover lamb smeared on their doorposts.

Then Jesus spoke, and what He said at that moment had never before been said at a Passover meal. "Take, eat. This is my body, which is given for you." And again, after the supper, Jesus took a chalice of wine, gave thanks and then said something that had never before been said at a Passover meal, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood." And in doing this, Christ treated the Passover as if it was His own to do with as He pleased – and in fact He could, because it was and is the Lord’s Passover.

With these words, Jesus transformed the Passover meal forever. Under the outward form of the bread, He gives His body as food – the very body He received from His mother Mary; the body that was conceived in her through the Word spoken by the angel in the power of the Holy Spirit; the body that was wrapped in swaddling-clothes and laid in a manger; the body that was whipped and beaten, spit at and slapped; the body that was nailed to the cross, laid in the tomb, and raised from the dead on the third day.

And in the cup, He gives His blood. This is the blood of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. The medieval artists who depicted a chalice at the foot of the cross and a stream of blood pouring into it from the wounded side of Jesus understood the force of Christ’s words, because the blood that was shed on Calvary's cross is our drink.

Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. He was offered up for our sins on the Cross, and in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, this offering is perpetually brought before the throne of Almighty God.

It is in the context of the Upper Room, of Jesus' washing the feet of His disciples and His feeding them His body and blood, of His humbling Himself to His coming death on a cross, that Jesus then says to His disciples, "A new commandment, I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you that you also love one another." Two more times, Jesus says it in His Upper Room sermon: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." And again, "These things I command you that you love one another."

Of what things does Christ speak? What is new about this so-called "new commandment?" It's not love – that’s not new. The commandment to love is an old one. No, what's new is in how Jesus gives His love, by washing us and feeding us. Through baptism and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – and indeed through all the Sacraments – this is how our Lord communicates His love to us. These are Christ’s mandates, His "commandments" by which we are able to love one another as we have been loved by Him. This is what Jesus is saying: "This is my commandment, that you be fed with my Body and my Blood, just as a branch is fed by the vine to which it is attached, so that you may love one another with the love with which I have loved you." "A new commandment I give to you, that you be washed by me and be fed at my table, so that you may love one another as I have loved you."

Jesus' new commandment to His disciples is to receive His love in all the ways He has to give, to be loved by Him so that His love would flow through them to one another. His love poured out for us in His death, poured into us through Baptism and through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, bears fruit as His love has its way with us. The same Body that bent down as a servant to wash the feet of His disciples, now bends our bodies down to help cleanse one another, by forgiving one another, by loving one another. He said, "By this all will know that you are my disciples, when you have love for one another."

We do not love in order to be loved by God. Jesus loved us, long before we loved Him. While we were yet sinners, He loved us and laid down His life for us. His was "love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be."

We love one another because we already are loved by God in Jesus Christ. And we now receive His love so that we can love one another as He has loved each one of us. This is the commandment given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ – and with that truth, we celebrate this Holy Night so that we can be prepared for the glory of our Lord’s resurrection.
 
O God, who in a wonderful Sacrament hast left unto us a memorial of thy Passion: grant us, we beseech thee, so to venerate the sacred mysteries of thy Body and Blood; that we may ever know within ourselves the fruit of thy redemption; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

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Pictured: Gothic Altarpiece of the Last Supper, Jaume Huguet, C.1463

30 March 2021

Spy Wednesday


Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What will you give me if I deliver him to you?" And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?" He said, "Go into the city to a certain one, and say to him, `The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'" And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. When it was evening, he sat at table with the twelve disciples; and as they were eating, he said, "Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me." And they were very sorrowful, and began to say to him one after another, "Is it I, Lord?" He answered, "He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me, will betray me. The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born." Judas, who betrayed him, said, "Is it I, Master?" He said to him, "You have said so."
-Matthew 26:14-25
Elsewhere the Gospel tells us that Satan entered into Judas, but even before this, Judas had shown himself to be dishonest and a lover of money. He kept the money box which was used for the needs of Jesus and the disciples, but he was accustomed to taking money out for himself. When the expensive perfume was used to anoint Jesus, he complained that it could have been sold and the money given to the poor – although he was more likely thinking that he could take the money himself. And now, he goes to the chief priests and asks what they would give him if he delivered Jesus to them. The bargain was struck: thirty silver pieces for the Son of God.

Could the betrayal by Judas have been because of something as common and low as his love for money? Certainly, it looks that way. There could have been other reasons – some have said that he was trying to force Christ into revealing himself as the Messiah. Some have said that Judas was jealous of all the other disciples and so wanted to do something to ruin their common life together. But if Judas betrayed Jesus for those reasons, why did he ask for money when he went to the high priests? He could have handed Jesus over to them without asking for money.

No, Judas was a lover of money, a worldly man who was looking for personal gain. As St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” And this, no doubt, was an evil act. When Judas approached Jesus in the garden, our Lord asked him, “Judas would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?” Judas had given his betraying kiss before, when he took money into his filthy hands, caressing it as a lover would his beloved.

Spy Wednesday serves as a reminder to us, too, that we can betray Christ for common, low things. We tend to think about our own wants before we think of Christ. We sometimes spend time trying to get things for ourselves while forgetting the needs of others. When we put things before what we owe to God, we’re betraying Christ. When we’re cruel or when we bully someone weaker than we are, we’re betraying Christ. When we delight in gossip, we’re betraying Christ. When we cheat someone, or when we take something which isn’t ours, we’re betraying Christ. When we use foul language, speaking filthy words from the same mouth in which we receive the Body of Christ, we’re betraying Him.

We’re horrified by what Judas did. But we need to look at our own lives, too, lest we are betraying Jesus.

O God, who didst will that thy Son should suffer death upon the Cross that thou mightest deliver us from the snares of the enemy: grant that by the merits of his Passion and Death we may know the power of his Resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

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Pictured: "The Payment of Judas" by Gerard Seghers (1591-1651)

29 March 2021

Tuesday in Holy Week


When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, "Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me." The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus; so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, "Tell us who it is of whom he speaks." So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, "Lord, who is it?" Jesus answered, "It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it." So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, "What you are going to do, do quickly." Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the money box, Jesus was telling him, "Buy what we need for the feast"; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out; and it was night. When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified; if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going you cannot come.' A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus answered, "Where I am going you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow afterward." Peter said to him, "Lord, why cannot I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times."

- St. John 13:21-38

O God, who by the passion of thy blessed Son didst make an instrument of shameful death to be unto us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Pictured: "The Last Supper" by Carl Bloch (1834-1890)

28 March 2021

Monday in Holy Week

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with him. Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said, "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it.  Jesus said, "Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me." When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came, not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus also to death, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.
- St. John 12:1-11
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; 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.

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Pictured: "Mary anointing the feet of Jesus"
by Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902)

27 March 2021

Jesus Christ: Intruder or King?


The Divine Will of God unfolds before us as we enter into Holy Week. What took place in the past is made a present reality for us.

Our Lord Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time, and as He comes, the whole city begins to churn and stir. The simple people come out to meet Him. The thoughtful, puzzled students of Scripture wonder whether this could possibly be “He of whom Moses in the law and the Prophets had written.” They wonder aloud whether this uproar that they were hearing from this crowd streaming down the Mount of Olives and pouring into the city’s eastern gate, might have anything do with the old prophecy about “the Lord coming suddenly to his temple.”

Those whom Jesus had cured of their sickness were blessing Him as they heard Him approaching. Those who had believed in Him felt their faith deepen at the sight of His triumphant entry. And those who had despised Him – well, they still did. And all they could do was sneer at Him and at this crowd of simpletons cheering Him on. As far as they were concerned, He was an unwelcome presence in their holy city – He was intruding on the Passover. In fact, it looked to them like He was trying to bring some new religion to the people – and the proof was this: “Have any of the Pharisees believed in Him?” The answer to that was, “No.” So that settled it. The temple had its traditions, and there was no place for Him there. The Roman occupiers ignored Him, hardly bothering to glance at the pathetic passing procession.

But still, Jesus came. Into Jerusalem He came. For some, He came as an unwelcome intruder; for others, He came as a triumphant king. There were those along the streets who owed to Him the straightness of their limbs and the sight of their eyes and the clear, sane reason of their brains, and they greeted Him with joy. But there were others whom He had disappointed and defeated, who felt that He had trampled on their traditions and contradicted their doctrines and spoiled their trade – and those were the ones who greeted Him with a curse.

What confusion there was in Jerusalem that day! The city was divided against itself. But even with the confusion, Jesus continued on. He claimed the city as His own, which it was. Whether the city welcomed Him or whether it cursed Him, still He went on his way, claiming it all as His own.

And as Jerusalem was, so it is with our own lives, with our own hearts. Each one of us is rather like Jerusalem was that day – we see Him at one and the same time as an unwelcome intruder and as the king whom we love – because there is something in each one of us that is saying to him, “Come in, come into my heart,” and yet at the same time saying, “Go away. I don’t want you to rule over me.

And yet Christ, whether He be king or intruder, whether He be welcomed or rejected, goes on His way, pressing on into each heart’s most secret place, claiming always that He, and He alone, is the heart’s king. This is the claim He makes on us throughout this holiest of all weeks – He is the Man of Sorrows – sorrowful because He is despised and rejected by the world; sorrowful because of our divided hearts. And yet, the struggle in any heart cannot go on forever. Every heart has to decide, just as Jerusalem had to decide. Of course, before the week was over, Jerusalem did decide – tragically so – and Christ was crucified. Hatred triumphed, and Jerusalem crucified its king.

This is what is faced by every heart this week. Just as Jerusalem had to decide, so each one of our hearts has to say finally to Jesus, “Come in” or “Go away.” He won’t go away unless you make Him go; and He won’t come into the inner temple of your heart unless you invite Him to. But our decision has to be made this week – either we walk with Him, or we turn away from Him. Either we love Him, or we ignore Him. He’ll either be the king of your heart, or He’ll be an unwelcome intruder in your life.

But really, to make our decision, all we need to do is lift up our eyes to the Love which was nailed on the cross, and when we see that, how can we choose anything else, other than to walk with Him, and to love Him, and to make Him our King?

25 March 2021

Our Lady in Passiontide


Friday of the Fifth Week in Lent is a day traditionally set aside to honour Our Lady in Passiontide, which is to remind us of the special role the Blessed Virgin Mary played in the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is day when we remember Mary as the Woman of Compassion. In our culture, compassion is often thought of as kindness, or mercy. But there is more to it. It comes to us from two Latin words (cum= "with” and passio= "to suffer”) and literally means "to suffer with." So to be a person of compassion means that we share in the sufferings of another person. It is not simply empathy, but it means that we see the other almost as an extension of ourselves.  If they are suffering, we, too, experience their pain.

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 Lord in whose Passion, according to the prophecy of Simeon, the sword of sorrow did pierce the most loving soul of thy glorious Virgin Mother Mary: mercifully grant that we, who devoutly call to mind the suffering whereby she was pierced, may, by the glorious merits and prayers of all the Saints who have stood beneath the Cross, obtain with gladness the benefits of thy Passion; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

24 March 2021

The Solemnity of the Annunciation


At the Annunciation, God sent His messenger, the archangel Gabriel, to announce to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she would bear the Incarnate Son of God, and it would be Jesus who would take human flesh from her, to bring salvation into the world. When Mary heard these words, she was filled with awe and wonder, and she asked for clarification: “How can this be…?” When Gabriel told her that it would be by the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary responded by saying, “Let it be unto me according to thy word.”

That is an important phrase, “Let it be…” It takes us back to creation itself, when by the word of God, all things came into being.

In the beginning, God said “Let there be light,” and there was. God brought into being everything there was – by His word there came into being all of creation, including man himself. In fact, creation itself is the larger context for the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

As God spoke His creative word in the beginning, so in our remembrance of the beginning of the Incarnation we call to mind Mary’s words, “Let it be…. Let it be unto me according to thy word.” The Virgin Mary’s words, “Let it be,” echo God’s words, “Let there be.” It is, in a way, the continuation of creation and the beginning of our salvation. God says, “Let there be…” and his word brings forth creation; Mary says, “Let it be,” and her words bring forth the Incarnate God into the world.

We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts: that, as we have known the Incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an Angel; so by his Cross and Passion we may be brought unto the glory of his Resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

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Pictured: "The Annunciation" by Arthur Hacker, 1892 

23 March 2021

Sanctified Time

I love the constant round of the liturgical year. The solemnities and feasts, the famous saints and the obscure, they all give the sense of adventure within stability. So many things to celebrate and ponder, but all within the steadiness of the Mass. In addition to the obvious - the gaining of grace - I think this accomplishes something else which is important for us.

We can become so accustomed to our surroundings that we almost stop noticing them. A view that strikes a stranger as being magnificent is scarcely seen by the person who lives with it every day. When we’ve lived with something for a long period of time it takes something or someone to especially call it to our attention. We have a tendency to miss what’s right in front of us. It becomes easy to take one’s spouse or children for granted. We neglect important friendships. They’re always there, so we slip into the habit of not noticing them as we should.

This is one of the reasons why the liturgical calendar is so important. The truths of our faith and the lives of the saints are given specific days on which we are to remember and celebrate them. We have them called to our attention.

Of course, things like the Incarnation, the Passion and Death of Christ, the Resurrection, the Coming of the Holy Spirit, and the lives of men and women which have been sanctified through the totality of Catholic truth aren’t intended just to pop onto our calendar once a year and be forgotten about the rest of the time. They’re always true, and make up the fabric of our faith. But if we don’t call them to mind specifically at particular times, there’s a danger of them simply slipping into the background of our thinking, and we might never really celebrate each of the wonderful things God has revealed to us.

22 March 2021

St. Turibius of Mogrovejo


Together with St. Rose of Lima, St. Turibius is among the first of the known saints of the New World, serving the Lord in Peru, South America, for twenty-six years.

Born in Spain and educated for the law, he became so brilliant a scholar that he was made professor of law at the University of Salamanca and eventually became chief judge at Granada. He was a great success, but he was about to enter upon a surprising sequence of events.

When the archbishopric of Lima in Spain's Peruvian colony became vacant, it was decided that Turibius was the man needed to fill the post. It was generally agreed that he was the one person with the strength of character and holiness of spirit to heal the scandals that had infected that area. Turibius cited all the canons that forbade giving laymen ecclesiastical dignities, but he was overruled. He was ordained priest and bishop and sent to Peru, where he found colonialism at its worst. The Spanish conquerors were guilty of every sort of oppression of the native population. Abuses among the clergy were wide-spread, and he devoted his energies (and his suffering) to this area first.

He began the long and arduous visitation of an immense archdiocese, studying the language, staying two or three days in each place, often with no place to sleep, and little or no food. He made his confession every morning to his chaplain, and he would then celebrate Mass with tremendous devotion. Among those to whom he gave the Sacrament of Confirmation was Saint Rose of Lima, and most likely Saint Martin de Porres. After 1590 he had the help of another great missionary, Saint Francis Solanus.

His people, although they were very poor, also had a sense of personal pride, and they were unwilling to accept public charity from others. Turibius solved the problem by helping them himself, anonymously.

When Turibius undertook the reform of the clergy, along with unjust officials, he encountered tremendous opposition. Some tried to "explain" God's law in such a way as to make it appear that God approved of their accustomed way of life. He answered them in the words of Tertullian, "Christ said, 'I am the truth'; he did not say, 'I am the custom."'

O God, who gavest increase to thy Church through the apostolic labours and zeal for truth of the Bishop Saint Turibius: grant that the people consecrated to thee may always receive new growth in faith and holiness; 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 March 2021

False witness...


It’s upsetting to most people if they find out that others have been talking about them in a bad or false way. When lies are spread around about us, it’s one of the most difficult and devastating things that can happen. It has been rightly said that “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its boots on.”

At Mass on Monday in the fifth week of Lent we hear the story of Susanna, from the Book of Daniel. Susanna was a woman who loved God. She was unjustly accused of adultery by two elder judges who had tried to force themselves on her. Since adultery was a serious offense punishable by stoning to death, the law of Moses required at least two witnesses, rather than one, to convict a person. Susanna knew she had no hope of clearing her good reputation and escaping death unless God Himself intervened. God in His mercy heard the plea of Susanna, and Daniel was the instrument God used, resulting in punishment for the two elders who had given false witness.

When we consider the great damage that can be done, either by telling outright lies, or by spinning things to make someone look bad, it’s apparent just how sinful that kind of behaviour is. When it comes to saying anything about anybody, we need to think very carefully before speaking, and often it’s better not to say anything at all.

St. James in his epistle says that the tongue is only a small part of the body, but then he reminds us that a very small flame can set a whole forest on fire. That’s something for us to consider seriously when it comes to our conversations.

Don’t abuse others with your words. Don’t pass along to others what seem to be juicy tidbits about someone. That little feeling of dark pleasure which so often accompanies your judgement on someone else will return as God’s judgement upon you.

20 March 2021

Passion Sunday: Atonement


Our Lord Jesus said, “And I, when I be lifted up, will draw all men unto myself...” 

When He is lifted up upon the Cross, atonement is made. The great gulf is bridged, and mankind is once more made “at one” with God, just as we were before the Fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. The gates of heaven are opened to us, all through the lifting up of Christ and His death upon the Cross. 

We live in the light of the fact that Christ is “the Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,” and in “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” there was made “a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” As we labour in this world in the midst of the evil which surrounds us, we know our need for a true atonement - not just a good example, but an eternal, godly, and forceful healing of our broken lives - lives which have been maimed and crippled by sin.

There is nothing we can do in and of ourselves to merit God’s love, or earn our own salvation. The purpose of seeking spiritual growth is only so that we can better serve the One who has earned our salvation for us, Jesus Christ. He was lifted up upon the Cross so that we can be lifted up to heaven. He was broken so that we can be made whole. 

The lesson we need to learn is to be learned at the foot of the Cross of Jesus Christ - that even though we are sinful and fall short of the glory of God, in spite of it all, God loves us with that yearning, passionate love which led Him to give Himself to be lifted up for us. And because of that, our hearts cannot help but be broken open to receive the Love which knows no rest and which never tires until it has found us, and has brought us to our true home in Christ’s kingdom.

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Pictured: "The Crucifixion" by Stevan Aleksić (1876-1923)

18 March 2021

St. Joseph


Our knowledge about Joseph is not extensive, and yet enough is known to reveal what his character was. What we know of him, we know from the Gospels, and it is there that we see him to be a man who was determined to do what is right in the sight of God, and to do it in a kindly way. He was betrothed to Mary, and according to Jewish practice, betrothal was as sacred as marriage. Because of that, any infidelity before the actual marriage were treated in the same way as infidelity after marriage: death by stoning was the punishment for such sins. By all human appearance, Joseph's beloved betrothed was in just such circumstances, and he had to act in the way that seemed best. Certainly, he was a just man, but he was a kind man, too, and surely what Mary told him made a great demand on his faith. But that is the point: Joseph was, above all, a man of faith and completely obedient to the divine will of Almighty God. When it was revealed to him that Mary was to bear the Incarnate Son of God he took her to be his wife. There was no hesitation, no consideration of what others might think or how they might judge. It mattered little to him that it was assumed he was the human father of this Child -- not that he would have encouraged others to believe such a thing, for he knew the truth -- but it was better than having people think that Mary had shamefully conceived with someone else, and so Joseph took the responsibility, knowing that one day the truth would be known, and that Truth "would make men free." It is in this very situation, brought about by God Himself, that Saint Joseph's justness and kindness are both revealed.

His justness is shown in that he was a devout servant of God, and he ordered his life according to the standard of that law which had been revealed to the Jewish nation. He sought to please God in all things, even when it meant that he would be misunderstood or even harshly judged by the world. And because justness does not exclude kindness, his response to the revelation that Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit was one of deep gladness and joy, and so he took his place in God's plan without fear or hesitation. This place was not one of glory; rather, it was one of quiet reserve. Whether on the way to Bethlehem, or in the stable, or at the Child's circumcision on the eighth day, or in the Temple when He was presented, or in everyday life in Nazareth, Joseph simply was there. Loved and respected both by the Incarnate Son of God and by the Mother of God, he was a man of deep piety and gracious character.

Within Saint Paul's Cathedral in London is the tomb of its architect, and on that tomb are the words, "If ye seek his monument, look around you." How much more impressive are those words when they are used of Saint Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church. There could be no greater remembrance of Joseph's holy life, than that glorious Church founded by the Lord Jesus Christ, the foster-son of the quiet, just, kind man of God.

O God, who from the family of thy servant David didst raise up St. Joseph to be the guardian of thine incarnate Son and the spouse of his Virgin Mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to thy commands; 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.

17 March 2021

St. Cyril of Jerusalem


Cyril of Jerusalem loved to study the Holy Scriptures from the time he was a child, and he made such progress that he became known for his deep faith. He was eventually ordained priest by St. Maximus, Patriarch of Jerusalem, and he was given the work of preaching to the faithful and instructing those preparing for baptism. His Catechetical Instructions, which explain clearly and fully all the teaching of the Church, still exist today for us to read. His treatment of these subjects is so distinct and clear that he refuted not only the heresies of his own time, but also, by a kind of foreknowledge, he was able to expose heresies which would develop later. Upon the death of Patriarch St. Maximus, Cyril was chosen to be bishop in his place.

As bishop he endured many injustices and sufferings for the sake of the faith at the hands of the Arians. They could not bear his strenuous opposition to their heresy, and so they told lies about him, and drove him into exile. They were so violent against him that he fled to Tarsus in Cilicia, but eventually, with a new emperor and the death of many of his enemies, Cyril was able to return to Jerusalem, where he taught his people and led them away from false doctrine and from sin. If once wasn’t enough, he was driven into exile a second time under the Emperor Valens, but eventually peace returned to the Church, and the Arians were once again brought under control, so he was able to return again to Jerusalem. The earnestness and holiness with which he fulfilled the duties of being bishop were evident in the strength and holiness of the Church in Jerusalem.

Tradition states that God gave a sign of His divine blessing upon the spiritual leadership of Cyril by granting the apparition of a cross, brighter than the sun, which was seen by pagans and Christians alike. Another marvel happened when the Jews were commanded by the wicked Emperor Julian to restore the Temple which had been destroyed. They no sooner began the work when an earthquake happened and great balls of fire broke out of the earth and consumed the work, so that Julian and the Jews were terrified and gave up their plan. This had been clearly foretold by Cyril. He lived long enough to see the Arian heresy condemned, and he died as a beloved and holy bishop, eventually acknowledged to be a doctor of the Church.

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that at the intercession of thy blessed Bishop Saint Cyril, we may learn to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent; that we may be found worthy to be numbered for ever among the sheep that hear his voice; 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.

16 March 2021

St. Patrick, Bishop and Confessor


St. Patrick is known as the Apostle to Ireland. His specific place of birth isn't known, except that it was someplace in Britain. Some claim he was born in England, others say he was born in Scotland, and still others claim he was born in Wales. Wherever his birth took place, the year was about 385, and his parents were Romans, living in Britain, because his father was overseeing the Roman colonies in Britain.

When Patrick was fourteen or so, he was captured during a raid being carried out by Irish invaders, and he was taken to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep. Ireland at this time was a land of Druids and pagans. During his time of captivity, he learned the language and practices of the people who held him, and even though he was among them as a slave, he began to love the Irish people.

Patrick's captivity lasted until he was twenty years old, and he then escaped, after having a dream from God in which he was told to leave Ireland by going to the coast. When he reached the sea, he found some sailors who took him back to Britain, and he was reunited with his family.

The time came when he had another dream in which the people of Ireland were calling out to him, "We beg you, Patrick, to come and walk among us once more."

He began his studies for the priesthood, and he was eventually ordained. Subsequently Patrick was consecrated to the episcopacy, and was sent to take the Gospel to Ireland. He arrived in Ireland on March 25, 433, and he came upon a chieftain of one of the tribes, who tried to kill Patrick. Patrick converted this chieftain, and he then began preaching the Gospel throughout Ireland, converting many. He and his disciples preached and converted thousands and began building churches all over the country. Kings, their families, and entire kingdoms converted to Christianity when hearing Patrick's message.

St. Patrick preached throughout Ireland for 40 years, working many miracles and writing of his love for God in his “Confessions.” After years of living in poverty, traveling and enduring great suffering, he died on March 17, 461.

O Almighty God, who in thy providence didst choose thy servant Patrick to be an apostle to the people of Ireland, to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error to the true light and knowledge of thee: grant us, by his intercession, so to walk in that light; that we may come at last to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

13 March 2021

Fourth Sunday in Lent: Healing


Jesus said to Nicodemus, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

- St. John 3:14, 15

God had no more rescued the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt before they started to complain because the journey was difficult, and they didn’t like the food, the manna, which God provided for them. As a result of their sin they were afflicted with serpents in the wilderness. But God showed mercy, and He instructed Moses: "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”

The visible sign of the "fiery bronze serpent" being lifted up in the sight of the people reminded them of two important facts: that sin leads to death, but repentance leads to God's mercy and healing. And, of course, the lifting up of the bronze serpent on a wooden pole points to Jesus Christ being lifted up on the wooden cross at Calvary where He took our sins upon Himself to make atonement to the Father on our behalf.

The sacrifice of Jesus' life on the cross is the ultimate proof of God's love for us. The cross broke the curse of sin and death and won pardon, healing, and everlasting life for all who believe in Jesus, the Son of God and Saviour of the world.

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[Pictured: "The Brazen Serpent" by James Tissot (1836-1902)


06 March 2021

Third Sunday in Lent: Zeal


The commanding figure of Jesus Christ strides into the great Temple in Jerusalem. He cleanses it, making a whip of cords and driving out the sellers of animals and the money-changers, overturning their tables and telling them, “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” Christ did this because those who were buying and selling within the temple of God were not doing it for the glory of God; they were not doing it for the worship of God or for the good of man; rather, it was for dishonest personal gain and for selfish reasons.

The Church teaches us that religion is more than just the vertical dimension of the spiritual life. It’s more that simply “God and me.” Ethics and morality must be the practical expression of a true and living faith. How we conduct ourselves in the marketplace reflects our relationship with God. Certain business practices may be legal but that doesn’t ensure they are ethical. Certainly, making a profit isn’t condemned in Scripture, but accumulating great wealth by unjustly taking advantage of someone else is.

So, with the crack of a whip, Christ drove the money changers from the temple. And He did it not only because of the contempt that was being shown to the Temple – a place consecrated to God – but also because of the injustice being shown to the people who were there to worship the God in whose honour the Temple had been built. Christ was not kind and gentle that day.

When good people are faced with evil, it would seem that our Lord has given something of an example to follow. He did not limit Himself to prayer or to talk; He also did something about it. “To everything there is a season,” the Scriptures tell us, and we can see that even in the life of Christ that there was a season to make a stand against evil by taking specific action.

It was necessary for Christ to drive the money-changers out of the temple because of the evil they had brought into the lives of honest people, and because of the dishonour those actions brought to the House of God. So it is necessary at times that evil must be faced squarely by taking positive action, so that the common good might be preserved. Sometimes, for the triumph of good, the whip must be cracked, and evil must be beaten back.

Whether it be civil leaders inflicting injustice on people; or whether it be those who steal the right to life from the unborn; or whether it be the unfaithful cleric who cheats people from knowing the fullness of the Gospel and from worshipping according to the mind of the Church; or whether it be the gossip who destroys the reputation of another – we are called to stand up for the good, and against the evil.

The Gospel tells us that after Christ had cleansed the Temple, “his disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me...’” And so should zeal for the things of God consume us. Zeal is the business side of love, whether it be love of God or love of man. “Zeal,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “is the energy of love.” Zeal, as an ardent love of God, is to be shown in our lives as a desire to promote the love of God, to promote the worship of God, to promote the praise of God, to promote the glory of God. It is to be shown in our spiritual lives as we perform those Christian works of mercy and love that we have been taught by our Lord. And zeal, also, is to be shown in practical ways, as we accept our responsibility for the support and work of Christ’s Body the Church. This is one of the reasons we have places of beauty, consecrated to the glory of God – so that we can be inspired to be zealous for God and for the things of God; so that we can work for justice in this world; so that we can spread the truth of the Gospel by our words and our actions – and also, to give us a glimpse of the eternity of heaven.

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[Pictured: "Cleansing the Temple" by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890)]