31 January 2010

One of the Most Beutiful Passages in the Bible

31 JANUARY 2010. Before praying the noontime Angelus today with the pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter's Square, the Holy Father gave an address that discussed the message of today's second reading from the First Letter of Saint Paul Corinthians, calling it "one of the most beautiful passages of the New Testament and of the whole Bible . . . ." Here is the translated address of Pope Benedict XVI:
Dear brothers and sisters!

In this Sunday’s liturgy is read one of the most beautiful passages of the New Testament and of the whole Bible: St. Paul’s so-called hymn to charity (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13). In the First Letter to the Corinthians, after having explained, using the image of the body, that the different gifts of the Holy Spirit are for the benefit of the one Church, Paul shows the “way” of perfection. This way, he says, does not consist in possessing exceptional qualities: speaking new languages, knowing all the mysteries, having a prodigious faith, or doing heroic deeds. It consists rather in charity -- “agape” -- that is, in authentic love, that love that God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

Charity is the “greatest” gift, which confers worth on others, and yet “does not boast, does not puff up with pride,” indeed, “it rejoices in truth” and the good of others. He who truly loves “does not seek his own interests,” “does not keep track of evil received,” “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

In the end, when we will meet God face to face, all the other gifts will disappear; the only one that will remain in eternity will be charity, because God is love and we will be like him, in complete communion with him.
For now, while we are in this world, charity is the Christian difference. The Christian’s whole life is summed up by charity: what he believes and what he does. For this reason, at the beginning of my pontificate, I wanted to dedicate my first encyclical precisely to the theme of love: “Deus caritas est.” As you will remember, in this encyclical there are two parts that correspond to the two components of charity: its meaning and its practice. Love is the essence of God himself, it is the meaning of creation and history, it is the light that gives goodness and beauty to every man’s existence.

At the same time, love is the “style,” of God and the believer, it is the comportment of him who, responding to God’s love, makes his own life a gift of self to God and neighbor.

In Jesus Christ these two aspects form a perfect unity: He is Love incarnate. This love is fully revealed to us in Christ crucified. Fixing our gaze upon him, we can confess with the Apostle John: “We have seen the love that God has for us and we have believed in it” (cf. 1 John 4:16; “Deus Caritas Est,” 1).

Dear friends, if we think of the saints, we see the variety of their spiritual gifts, and also their human characters. But the life of each of them is a hymn to charity, a living canticle to God’s love!

Today, Jan. 31, we especially remember St. John Bosco, founder of the Salesian family and patron saint of young people. In this Year for Priests I would like to invoke his intercession so that priests always be educators and fathers for young people; and that, experiencing this pastoral charity, many young people will welcome the call to give their life for Christ and the Gospel. May Mary Our Help, model of charity, obtain these graces for us.
©Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana 

FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

31 JANUARY 2010. Today the Church celebrates Sunday of the fourth week in ordinary time. Our time after the Epiphany is drawing shorter as we continue towards the season of Lent.

The readings for today's mass are found here. Both the second reading from the Saint Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians and the Gospel reading from the Gospel of Saint Luke are continuations of where last Sunday's passages left off. Where last Sunday's second reading ended in a question, today's reading picks up from that point and goes on to tell us of the qualities of love. Where last Sunday's Gospel ended with Christ's proclamation of His fulfilling the scripture passage from Isaiah, today's Gospel tells us of the people's fury and attempt to drive Jesus off of the hill on which the town was located.

However, the first reading is a new theme for this week. In the first reading from the Book of Jeremiah we hear the Word of the LORD speaking to Jeremiah. That is, Jesus, the Word, is speaking to Jeremiah. And, what Jeremiah learns is that before he was born the Lord knew him and loved him. The Lord commands Jeremiah to stand up to the people of Judah and preach to them as He commands. To steal Jeremiah's hesitancy, the Lord says He will make Jeremiah "a fortified city,a pillar of iron, a wall of brass" before all those who might defeat him. At the conclusion of the reading the Lord tells Jeremiah that although the people of Judah will resist him, the Lord will deliver him.

In the same manner that the Word speaks to Jeremiah in today's first reading, so to does the Lord Jesus Christ speak to each of us in the Eucharist today. Before we were born, the Lord knew each of us. Consider this, on the cross our Lord thought of each of us and understood the depth of the sacrifice He offered, not just generally for all humanity, but, more particularly, for each and every one of us whom He knows (then and now) by name. Today,by our reception of His Body and His Holy Blood, each of us takes within ourselves the very presence of Christ, through which the Lord will deliver us. Certainly too our world today resists the Gospel message, but we are called to be disciples of Christ and proclaim it with our lives and our words. The Lord, by His sacrifice on Calvary and through the Eucharist, steals us as "a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass" as Jeremiah was strengthened. In fact, even better, for those who correctly receive Holy Communion in accord with the Church's teachings.

As prophesied in the Old Testament, in the Gospel passage the people not only resist the message of Jesus, but they actually, in their fury, try to physically harm Him. Reaction to His words in the synagogue were strong indeed. But, Christ was preserved by the Lord. "Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away."

The Lord delivers each of us in our time of need. It is said frequently: God's grace is always sufficient. The nature of God, Himself, is described for us in the Second Reading's description of love. For God is love, and as we hear today: "[l]ove never fails."

So I pray today that each of us will place our faith in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that each of us will truly make ourselves offerings of thanksgiving to the Lord for His grace and protection.

Prayer After Communion
(from the Daily Roman Missal for today's mass)

Lord,
you invigorate us with this help to our salvation.
By this eucharist give the true faith continued growth
throughout the world.
We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord.

Amen.

30 January 2010

Prayer to Mary for a Good Mind



 By A. Hanrion, S.J.
O Mary, my Mother,
I offer you my soul, my mind, and my heart.
Make of me God's instrument.
Give me a penetrating mind to discover,
firm to judge,
open to understand,
free to serve the truth;
an honest mind in telling what it sees
rather than what it wants to see;
a tolerant mind which does not dictate to other people,
but which explains what it sees clearly;
a mind infused by the light and the truth of your Son Jesus,
patient in faith,
while waiting for the vision of eternal life.

Amen.

29 January 2010

Blessed Villana de'Botti

29 JANUARY 2010. Today we celebrate the feast day (optional memorial) of Blessed Villana de'Botti, a fourteenth century Italian wife and mother, contemplative, worker among the poor, and Third Order Dominican.

Blessed Villana was born in Florence in A.D. 1332, the daughter of the merchant Andrew de'Botti. Blessed Villana was a very pious child and at the age of 13 ran away to join a convent. However, the convent refused her admission and she returned home. To avoid her again fleeing to the convent, Blessed Villana's  father gave her in marriage to Rosso di Piero.

After her marriage, Blessed Villana's life changed--she became lazy and lived an entirely worldly life, seeking out only pleasure. This lifestyle continued for some time until, one day, while on the way out of her home in a beautiful, jewel encrusted dress, Blessed Villana saw her reflection in the mirror as a hideous demon. Recognizing the reflection of herself as a true reflection of her sin stained soul, Blessed Villana changed into the simplest clothes she had and went to the Dominican Fathers at Santa Maria Novella where she made a full confession and received absolution and guidance. This point was the pivotal turning around of her life.

Not long after her conversion Blessed Villana was admitted to the Third Order of Saint Dominic. Blessed Villana quickly advanced in her spiritual life, and while remaining focused on her vocation to married life, she spent all of her free time praying and reading. Her favorite reading was the Epistles of Saint Paul and the lives of the saints. Blessed Villana also worked tirelessly for the poor and, at one point, would have begun begging from door to door had her husband and family not intervened. Often given to religious ecstasies, especially during mass, Blessed Villana also had to suffer through a period of persecution. She became at one point the subject of much ridicule and slander, but even her fiercest opponents eventually came to consider her to be a living saint.

Although her health suffered, Blessed Villana had visions of Our Lady and the Saints.

Blessed Villana de'Botti died of natural causes on 29 January 136 at the age of 30. Her body was taken to the Dominican Fathers at Santa Maria Novella, but they had to wait more than a month to bury her because of the constant stream of mourners. People fought to obtain a shred of her clothing and she was venerated as a saint from the moment of her death. Pope Leo XII beatified Villana de'Botti (cultus confirmed) in A.D. 1824.

Although her general feast day is celebrated on 28 February, the Dominican community celebrates Blessed Villana's optional memorial today, 29 January.

Prayer

O God, our merciful Father, 
you called Blessed Villana back from the emptiness of the world
and aroused in her a spirit of humility and true penitence.
Recreate in our hearts the power of your love and,
filled by that same spirit, may we serve you in newness of life.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Amen.

28 January 2010

Saint Thomas Aquinas


28 JANUARY 2010. Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas, friar, priest and doctor of the Church.

Born in A.D. 1225, Saint Thomas was born into a military and noble family. From an early age Thomas was given a good education and in about A.D. 1239 Thomas was enrolled at the university in Naples. At the age of 19, Thomas resolved to enter the Dominican Order. His family was strongly opposed to this, and his two brothers even went so far as to hire a prostitute to dissuade him. But, Thomas drove her away with a burning stick. Later that night, Thomas was visited by two angels that strengthened his determination to remain celibate.

In A.D. 1245 Saint Thomas went to Paris to study at the university there and came under the tutelage of Saint Albert the Great. When Saint Albert was sent by his superiors to found a new university in Cologne, Saint Thomas went and was an apprentice professor there and, after a while, Saint Thomas returned to Paris to complete his studies for his masters degree in theology.

In the Spring of A.D. 1256, Saint Thomas was appointed regent master in theology at Paris and was assigned the work of defending the mendicant orders against the attacks of William of Saint-Amour. During his tenure as regent Saint Thomas wrote many works and began to work on one of his more famous works, the Summa contra Gentiles.

In A.D. 1259 Saint Thomas returned to Naples where he remained until going to Orvieto in September 1261. In Orvieto, Saint Thomas was named the conventual lector, in charge of the education of friars that were unabvle to attend university. As conventual lector Saint Thomas continued to produce many works, including authoring a liturgy for the newly created feast of Corpus Christi. In A.D. 1268 the Dominicans again named Saint Thomas as regent master at Paris, a post that he held until A.D. 1272. During this second regency, Saint Thomas had a difficult time, including disputes with Saint Bonaventure and John Peckham. As regent, now a second time, Saint Thomas was assigned with the task of combatting radical Aristotelianism.

In A.D. 1272 Saint Thomas left Paris because he was given the opportunity to establish a university anywhere he choose. With the first two parts of the Summa Theologica completed, Saint Thomas returned to Naples to begin a university. On 6 December 1273 Saint Thomas laid aside his pen and would write no more. That day Saint Thomas experienced a long ecstasy that began while he was saying mass. His comment, to those who tried to persuade him to continue working, was this: "I can do no more. Such secrets have been revealed to me, that all I have written now appears to be of little value."

Following this, Saint Thomas took to his bed and never fully recovered his health. Called to attend the Second Council of Lyon by Pope Gregory X, Saint Thomas was injured in route and went to Monte Cassino to recuperate. After a while, Saint Thomas continued the journey, but fell ill again at the Cistercian Fossanova Abbey. The monks there cared for Saint Thomas, who died on 7 March 1274 while dictating a commentary on the Song of Songs.

Fifty years after the death of Saint Thomas, Pope John XXII, sitting in Avignon, France, canonized Thomas on 18 July 1323. Pope Pius V declared Saint Thomas to be a Doctor of the Universal Church in A.D. 1567. At the Council of Trent, Saint Thomas was given the honor of having his Summa Theologica placed beside the Bible and the Decretals on the altar. And, during Vatican Council I, Saint Thomas was declared the "teacher of the church." The celebration of the Feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas is held on January 28 to mark the date of the transfer to Saint Thomas' mortal remains to the Dominican church in Toulouse.

The great body of Saint Thomas' work is supremely important in the fields of theology and philosophy and influenced much of Church teaching since that time. As an example, Saint Thomas teaches that the goal of human life is union and fellowship with God. This teaching should be recognizable by anyone that has studied the Baltimore Catechism. Although Saint Thomas lived less than 50 years, he authored more than 60 works with his own hand or through dictation to his secretaries.

26 January 2010

Saints Timothy and Titus


26 JANUARY 2010. Today the Church celebrates the memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus, followers of the Apostle Paul and local bishops. From the Liturgy of the Hours we read the following:
Saints Timothy and Titus were disciples and assistants of the apostle Paul. Timothy had charge of the Church at Ephesus and Titus of the Church in Crete. The letters written to them are called the pastoral epistles, for they contain excellent admonitions for the instruction of both pastors and laity.

25 January 2010

Prayer for the Unity of All Christendom

We pray to you, our Lord Jesus Christ, for the healing of Your Body, the Church. And that our Protestant and Orthodox brethren will be re-united with us in the Holy Catholic Church. We hope and pray for the fulfillment of Your own prayer: "I pray not only for them, but also for those who believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one . . . ." (Jn 17, 20-22 NAB)

Closing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity


25 JANUARY 2010. Today, as the Church celebrates the Feast of the conversion of Saint Paul, the octave Week of Prayer for Christian Unity also draws to a close. As this week of payer closes, let's call to mind the words of our Holy Father who described this octave as an opportunity "to revive the ecumenical spirit, to come together, to get to know each other, pray and reflect together."

On 18 January 2010, at the opening of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the Pope encouraged the Church with these words:
Our announcement of the Gospel of Christ will be so much more credible and effective when we are united in his love, as true brothers.  I invite, therefore, the parishes, religious communities, associations and ecclesial movements to pray incessantly, in particular during the eucharistic celebrations, for the full unity of Christians.

As this week closes, let us continue to pray for unity among all Christians in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. Information on the octave can be found at a website published by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement here.

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul


25 JANUARY 2010. Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. In today's feast, we recount the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who after an extensive record of brutalizing and persecuting Christians, became the great Apostle Paul. Thirteen of the epistles in the New Testament are attributed to Saint Paul.

While some sources say the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul is a relatively new development on the liturgical calendar, I have not found further detail of the feast's history.

The conversion story of Saint Paul is mentioned in a number of places in the New Testament, but the conversion story is told three times in the Acts of the Apostles. First, it is told as a third person narrative:
Now Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that, if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" He said, "Who are you, sir?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do." The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, for they heard the voice but could see no one. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus. For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank.

There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, and the Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." He answered, "Here I am, Lord." The Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is there praying, and (in a vision) he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay [his] hands on him, that he may regain his sight." But Ananias replied, "Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man, what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call upon your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name." So Ananias went and entered the house; laying his hands on him, he said, "Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me, Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came, that you may regain your sight and be filled with the holy Spirit." Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. He got up and was baptized, and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.
(Acts 9, 1-19 NAB).

Second, Saint Paul himself tells the story of his conversion when he is arrested in Jerusalem:
"My brothers and fathers, listen to what I am about to say to you in my defense." When they heard him addressing them in Hebrew they became all the more quiet. And he continued, "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city. At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated strictly in our ancestral law and was zealous for God, just as all of you are today. I persecuted this Way to death, binding both men and women and delivering them to prison. Even the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify on my behalf. For from them I even received letters to the brothers and set out for Damascus to bring back to Jerusalem in chains for punishment those there as well.

"On that journey as I drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' I replied, 'Who are you, sir?' And he said to me, 'I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.' My companions saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me. I asked, 'What shall I do, sir?' The Lord answered me, 'Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told about everything appointed for you to do.' Since I could see nothing because of the brightness of that light, I was led by hand by my companions and entered Damascus.

"A certain Ananias, a devout observer of the law, and highly spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me and stood there and said, 'Saul, my brother, regain your sight.' And at that very moment I regained my sight and saw him. Then he said, 'The God of our ancestors designated you to know his will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of his voice; for you will be his witness before all to what you have seen and heard. Now, why delay? Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away, calling upon his name.'

"After I had returned to Jerusalem and while I was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord saying to me, 'Hurry, leave Jerusalem at once, because they will not accept your testimony about me.' But I replied, 'Lord, they themselves know that from synagogue to synagogue I used to imprison and beat those who believed in you. And when the blood of your witness Stephen was being shed, I myself stood by giving my approval and keeping guard over the cloaks of his murderers.' Then he said to me, 'Go, I shall send you far away to the Gentiles.'"
(Acts 22, 1-21)

Finally, Saint Paul describes his conversion for King Agrippa in his own defense:
I myself once thought that I had to do many things against the name of Jesus the Nazorean, and I did so in Jerusalem. I imprisoned many of the holy ones with the authorization I received from the chief priests, and when they were to be put to death I cast my vote against them. Many times, in synagogue after synagogue, I punished them in an attempt to force them to blaspheme; I was so enraged against them that I pursued them even to foreign cities.

"On one such occasion I was traveling to Damascus with the authorization and commission of the chief priests.At midday, along the way, O king, I saw a light from the sky, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my traveling companions.We all fell to the ground and I heard a voice saying to me in Hebrew, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goad.'And I said, 'Who are you, sir?' And the Lord replied, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.Get up now, and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness of what you have seen (of me) and what you will be shown. I shall deliver you from this people and from the Gentiles to whom I send you, to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may obtain forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been consecrated by faith in me.'
(Acts 16, 9-18)

As it is by now apparent, the recounting of Saint Paul's conversion thrice is an indication of the great importance it held for the Scripture writers. And its holds great importance for us too.

Each of us, no matter our circumstance or background, can be an instrument of the Lord on the earth. Even those, like Saint Paul, that have persecuted the Church can experience a conversion and go on to serve Christ. It is never too late and nothing any of us has ever done or failed to do can be too big for God. Have faith, that you too can be an apostle of Christ like Saint Paul.

IMAGE: The Conversion of St. Paul, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640).

24 January 2010

THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME


24 JANUARY 2010. Today the Church celebrates Sunday of the the third week in ordinary time. This first phase of ordinary time (between the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and Ash Wednesday) is fairly short, spanning just six Sundays this year. And, so it almost seems as though the calendar gives us a rest between the intense joy of Christmas and the intense penitential preparation that sweeps in with the beginning of Lent. But, there is an anxiousness too because we know Lent is fast approaching.

Today's readings can be found here. The Gospel today is the story of Jesus' return to Nazareth. As was his custom, he enters the synagogue on the sabbath day and reads from the scroll. Following his reading from the passage of Isaiah that he selected he sits and, as those around him look intently at this son of Nazareth whom they believe they know, He says: "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Like Ezra that reads to intent listeners from the book of the law in the first reading from the Book of Nehemiah, so to does Jesus read for an intent audience. However, Ezra reads of the law to the people, while Jesus announces that He is indeed the presence of the law for his audience in Nazareth. And, while the people eat, drink and celebrate following Ezra's reading (even though they began with downtrodden hearts), following Jesus' reading and discourse, the people drove Jesus out of town and attempted to hurl him from atop the hill the town was built on. So it is for Jesus. From the early moments of His public ministry, and with those who believe they know Him, in our Lord's humility He is rejected by the people, the Father's loving creation. The people around Ezra celebrate for having learned the law. The people around Jesus are furious because they believe they know Jesus, making His words unbelievable and angering.

So, for we who would say that we know Christ, there is a question: Do we rejoice in our belief in Him? Or, do we reject Him, saying "I know the world too well to know this story of Jesus to be true?" Think about it. I am not asking about an outward rejection of Christ. I doubt anyone who would read this blog would follow that path. I am asking about all the little ways in our lives each day that we reject the message of Christ, Christ Himself, because we believe we know best how to conduct ourselves.

The second reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians tells us that we are all one body in Christ on earth. However, it does a curious thing--the second reading ends with a question. I ponder on the thoughts of those who decided where in Scripture to end today's second reading. Why leave us hanging with a question? The very next sentence says: "Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. But I shall show you a still more excellent way." (1 Cor 12, 31) Then, the following chapter of the epistle gives us that passage that we have heard at every wedding in the Christian tradition we have attended--where Saint Paul extols the virtues of love ("Love is patient, love is kind.") and teaches that love is the greatest of all God's gifts.

So, what binds us together in the unity of the Body of Christ is God's love for us and our love for Him, expressed in the love we show each other. The people who heard Ezra read the law expressed love for their new knowledge in their celebration. But Jesus' native community in the Gospel does not express that same love; it is overshadowed by their pride. We can image them saying: "Who does he think he is?"

Each time we sin we reject Christ and His message: who does He think He is? I can do what I want, this is my life to live. That attitude, however, is the antithesis of love. In that attitude we cause a part of the Body of Christ, ourselves, to cease to function, even if in a small way. For that reason, among others, Christ and the Church have given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Each time we do not function as a part of the Body of Christ, each of has the opportunity to return to our loving God and reconcile ourselves with Him and our community--the Church. Just as love binds us together, no sin is an island.

Praise the Lord for the gift of reconciliation and redemption that He has given us. Reject all temptation to place our own desires above the teachings of Christ and His Church. And, when the fall occurs, do not let sadness and self-pity prevail, but trust in Christ and return to Him in reconciliation. We are all indeed one Body in Christ. Rejoice in that knowledge.

IMAGE: Ezra reading the law.

22 January 2010

A Priest in the Outfield!


22 JANUARY 2010. I ran across this news story today that needs sharing.

Grant Desme, a 23 year old minor league outfielder, and one of the top prospects in the Oakland A's organization, has announced that he is retiring from professional baseball to enter the Catholic seminary. The story can be found here.

I do not know if Grant would ever read this blog, but our best wishes and prayers go with him in his journey to the seminary. Not only is he giving up the potential fame and money that a successful major leaguer makes, but he giving visible witness to the love of Christ in the world, and humanity's ability--its destiny--to answer that call.

I love baseball. It is one of my dearest dreams to step onto a major league field as a player. (I was a bat boy in high school, so I have been on the field in uniform, but it is not nearly the same thing.) If one game contracts were in the offering for a guy who can't hit and has only a inkling of athleticism in the field, I would pay any amount I could amass to play a single inning. But, as Grant has said, in life each of has to "get down to the bottom of things." It is truly inspiring to see anyone, much less anyone who has the real potential to have fame and fortune from playing a professional sport (something that 99.9% of all men would gladly trade their everyday lives for), stand up and acknowledge that our lives are not our own, but belong to our Lord. We have to follow God's call, and have the courage and confidence in our Lord to hear and head that call. Here is what Grant says:
Baseball is a good thing, but that felt selfish of me when I felt that God was calling me more. It took awhile to trust that and open up to it and aim full steam toward him ... I love the game, but I'm going to aspire to higher things.
I love the priesthood. I have high school and college friends that are priests. I have had the joy in my life to know and love many good priests. The love of a game cannot compare. I remember my first communion with Father Hagerty, receiving quarters and absolution (not at the same time, not in the same setting) from Father O'Connor, Father Malone's homilies with his eyes closed while he described a devious boyhood that grew into a love of Christ that took him half way around the world as a missionary, Monsignor Madden's kindness and gentleness of heart and his ability to kick a soccer ball for hours with the kids after school, Father Alan's growth and blossoming as a priest, and Bishop John Snyder's true humility and obvious love for all of his flock.

Priests get a bad rap in the media because of a few bad actors and the media's penchant to tear down what others hold as dear. And, priests hold themselves out to be radically different in the face of a culture and society that places all the emphasis on money, fame, power, self-satisfaction, and self-indulgence. So, priests are an easy target for those who would throw stones. Many of the comments that were posted on the story of Grant Desme are abhorrent and uncivil in tone and message. This struck me, though, while trying to digest why people would anonymously post such ugly things--priests humble themselves in the presence of the world to serve our Lord. The supreme act of love, Christ humbled Himself to become man and to die a terrible death for the redemption of our sins. Our Lord was scourged and beaten before being executed on a cross. The verbal buffets that are tossed at Grant by the many cowardly commenters permit him to share in Christ's trials and better evidence his love for Christ.

God bless Grant and all those that answer the call to the priesthood, religious or consecrated life. Our world owes a debt to all of them that most cannot or will never understand.

Day of Penance and Prayer for Life

22 JANUARY 2010. On this anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion in all nine months of pregnancy on the backwards-analytic, socio-political finding of a right to privacy in the United States constitution, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops asks each of the faithful to pray and do penance for the violations against the dignity of human life that are carried out each day in our country.
In all the dioceses of the United States of America, January 22 (or January 23, when January 22 falls on a Sunday) shall be observed as a particular day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion, and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life. The Mass "For Peace and Justice" (no. 22 of the "Masses for Various Needs") should be celebrated with violet vestments as an appropriate liturgical observance for this day.
 (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 373).

Elective abortion is always evil. The intentional destruction of innocent human life, no matter what the objective goal, is always evil, be it through murder, infanticide, elective abortion, the destruction of embryos in the vitro fertilization process or for embrionic stem cell research, assisted suicide, euthanasia, or the death penalty. Yet, these evil acts occur every day in our country, and so we pray and do penance for the evil that our laws and our society tolerate or even misjudgingly condone.

21 January 2010

Saint Agnes, virgin and martyr


21 JANUARY 2010. Today the Church celebrates the memorial of Saint Agnes, one of the most extolled virgin martyrs in the ancient church.

Saint Agnes was born in A.D. 291 of Roman nobility and was raised in a Christian family. At the age of 12 or 13, on 21 January 304, during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian (although some historical study may not attribute her death to Diocletian), Saint Agnes was clothed in the robe of martyrdom.

Although some of the accounts of Saint Agnes' martyrdom may be legend, and there are several accounts that vary in their details, the basic principle in all of them is the same. Saint Agnes went joyfully to her death for Christ. The Prefect or Governor wanted Anges to marry his son, but she refused to, remaining instead chaste to Christ. For her refusal, Saint Agnes was condemned to death, but Roman law forbade executing a virgin. So, Saint Agnes was drug through the streets naked to a brothel. However, any attempt by a man to rape her left the man blinded and unable to move, as though paralyzed. After this, Saint Agnes was tied to a stake to be burned, but the wood would not burn. After, a soldier drew his sword and killed Saint Agnes by decapitation or stabbing her in the throat.

"She went to the place of execution," says Saint Ambrose, "more cheerfully than others go to their wedding."

Days after the death of Saint Agnes, a girl named Emerentiana was found praying at Agnes' tomb. She claimed to be the daughter of Saint Agnes' nurse and was stoned to death for refusing the leave the tomb and for reprimanding the pagans for killing Agnes. Emerentiana was also later canonized.

Saint Agnes' bones lie in the church of Sant'Agnese fuori le mura in Rome, built over the catacomb that housed Saint Agnes' tomb. Her skull is preserved in a side chapel in the church of Saint'Agnese in Agnone on Rome's Piazza Navona.

Saint Agnes is often pictured with a lamb. symbolic of her unblemished purity. She is the patron saint of engaged couples, girls, chastity, rape victims, and virgins. Each year two lambs, from the Trappist abbey of Tre Fontane in Rome, are blessed by the Pope on the feast day of Saint Agnes. Then, on Holy Thursday the lambs are shorn and the wool is used to make palliums that are given by the Pope to newly consecrated metropolitan archbishops to symbolize the archbishop's jurisdiction and unity with the Pope.

Prayer

All-powerful and ever-living God,
you choose the weak in this world
to confound the powerful.
As we celebrate the anniversary
of the martyrdom of Saint Agnes,
may we like her remain constant in faith.


Amen.

IMAGE: Saint Agnes by Francisco de Zurbarán (1635-1642) oil on canvas, from Wikimedia Commons.

19 January 2010

Blessed Andrew of Peschiera


19 JANUARY 2010. Today we celebrate the feast day (optional memorial) of Blessed Andrew of Peschiera, a fifteenth century Dominican priest that was a missionary to heretics of his day.

Andrew Grego was born in the beginning of the fifteenth century at Peschiera, on the shores of Lake Garda (pictured), in northern Italy. During his childhood, Blessed Andrew was remarkable for his prayer, abstinence, charity for the poor, and obedience to his father. Blessed Andrew, as a child, always fasted on only bread and water during the whole of Lent. From a young age Blessed Andrew yearned to be a hermit, but because of his youth was only able to live at home, where he lived a mortified and religious life with his family. Blessed Andrew's brothers, however, bore a resentment toward him and treated him badly. After his father's death, Blessed Andrew went to join a cloister and his brothers went with him to the city gate. At the city gate Blessed Andrew gave them a stick he had taken from his father's house, the only thing he had taken, and, on his knees, kissed their feet, forgave their injustices, and renounced any inheritance that he may have. The stick was set forgotten in a corner of the house, but on Blessed Andrew's death many years later, it bloomed with flowers.

At the age of 15 Blessed Andrew joined the Dominican Order at the priory at Brescia, Italy and was educated at the San Marco monastery in Florence, Italy. For 45 years afterward, Blessed Andrew worked as a traveling  preacher in the northern Italian Alps, traveling on foot, working with the poor, hiding from bandits and heretics, and sleeping where he could.

The area where Blessed Andrew preached was overtaken at the time by heresy and poverty. Blessed Andrew worked tirelessly and without fear in the area preaching against heresy and founding many orphanages and refuges for the poor. He caused several churches and monasteries to be erected, and was so loved by the poor that he was given the popular title, "Father of the poor." One historical account of Blessed Andrew's preaching tells that he was engaged in a dispute with heretics when they produced a book that contained many errors and blasphemous statements against the Church's veneration of saints. When Blessed Andrew asked them to open the book to see what it contained, a large viper sprang from the book, as to bear witness to the poison in its pages.

Blessed Andrew, tradition tells, had a tender devotion to the Passion of Our Lord, and in the ancient pictures of him (none of which appear to be electronically available today) Blessed Andrew is usually pictured with a crucifix. There is also historical accounts that Blessed Andrew is pictured, at the chapel in Peschiera dedicated to him, near a crucifix, from which issues a light that is directed at Blessed Andrew's heart. This is said to refer to some miraculous favor that was granted to Blessed Andrew while he was contemplating Our Lord's passion. Tradition also tells that on Fridays, Blessed Andrew wore a crown of sharp thorns which he concealed with under the hood of his habit.

Blessed Andrew died on 18 January 1485 among his Dominican brethren at the priory of Morbegno, Valtellina, Italy. So many miracles were reported to have occurred at his tomb, that Blessed Andrew's mortal remains were moved twice to allow better access for pilgrims. Blessed Andrew was beatified (cultus confirmed) by Pope Pius VII in 1820.

Prayer
(from Short Lives of the Dominican Saints (1901))

O Lord Jesus Christ, 
who didst adorn Blessed Andrew, Thy Confessor,
with the apostolic spirit,
grant us, in imitation of him, 
so to benefit others, both by word and example,
as to reap abundant fruit.
Who livest and reignest world without end.

Amen.

IMAGE: Shore of Lake Garda.

18 January 2010

Prayer to your Guardian Angel


ANGELE Dei,
qui custos es mei,
Me tibi commissum pietate superna;
(Hodie, Hac nocte) illumina, custodi, rege, et guberna.
Amen.


ANGEL of God,
my guardian dear,
To whom his love commits me here;
Ever this (day, night) be at my side,
To light and guard, to rule and guide.
Amen.

IMAGE: Guardian Angel from www.karenswhimsy.com

Saint Margaret of Hungary


18 JANUARY 2010. Today we celebrate the memorial of Saint Margaret of Hungary, a thirteenth century woman who is remembered as a nun, virgin, princess, and mystic.

Saint Margaret was born in A.D. 1242, the last daughter (ninth of 10 children) of the King of Hungary, Bela IV, and Maria Lascaris, the daughter of the emperor of Constantinople. Saint Margaret is the niece of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and the younger sister of Saint Kinga and Blessed Yolanda.

Before Margaret's birth, her parents had promised Our Lord to dedicate their child to Him if Hungary was victorious over the invading Tartars. After their prayers were answered, now nearly four, they placed Margaret with the Dominican monastery of Veszprim. At the age of 12 Saint Margaret moved to a new monastery built by her father at Buda, and made profession of her final vows before Humbert of Romans.

Saint Margaret lived a life totally dedicated to Christ crucified and by her example of living inspired her sisters to follow her in her asceticism, works of mercy, pursuit of peace, and striving to be of humble service. Saint Margaret opposed all attempts by her father to arrange a political marriage between herself and King Ottokar II of Bohemia. Saint Margaret had a special love for the Eucharist and the Passion of Christ and showed a special devotion to the Holy Spirit and Our Lady.

Saint Margaret died on 18 January 1270. However, she was venerated as a saint during her lifetime. After her death the canonization investigation was begun immediately, including the testimony of 77 persons who said they had received miracles as a result of Saint Margaret's intercession. However, it was not until 19 November 1943 that Saint Margaret was canonized by Venerable Pope Pius XII, on the feast day of her cousin, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary.

Prayer

O God of truth,
through the Holy Spirit
you blessed our sister Margaret with true humility.
Teach us that same integrity
so that we may constantly turn from our selfishness
to your love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Amen.

17 January 2010

SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME


17 JANUARY 2010. Today the Church celebrates the second Sunday in ordinary time, or (more properly) the Sunday of the second week in ordinary time. This is because the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (last Sunday) was actually the last day of the Christmas season.

So, on this day that the Church recalls the Jesus' miracle at the wedding feast at Cana, a happy beginning of ordinary time to all!

Today's readings can be found here. The Gospel message today is a continuation of the manifestation of Christ's divinity and messianic nature that we have celebrated the previous two Sundays. First, the Magi paid homage to the Christ child, then we see God the Father announcing that Jesus is His Son at His Baptism in the River Jordan, and today we are witness to the first of Jesus' miracles and at the end of the Gospel we hear: "and his disciples began to believe in him."

We, like the disciples, are early in our faith journey. On this earth, we are called to proclaim that Christ is Lord, and act in accordance with that proclamation. Mere faith is not enough, our life must give light to that faith, externally and internally--in what we do or choose not to do, and in what we think and believe.

Some have said that it is God's wrath that has been visited on Haiti. This belief is not true. Because Our Lord created nature and allows it to take its course, bad things happen. However, like the image of the Hatian crucifix that is still standing in front of the destroyed church, Our Lord is always with us--even in times like these, even for the people of Haiti.

Pray for all the pour souls in Haiti that have lost their lives in the earthquake and its aftermath. Pray for all those who are left behind to put together the pieces of their lives. And, if you have not already, make a donation to Catholic Relief Services which is heading the Church's universal response to the devastation in Haiti.

14 January 2010

Prayers and Assistance for the people of Haiti


(Reuters/Eduardo Munoz)

14 JANUARY 2010. On 12 January a massive and devestating earthquake struck the small island nation of Haiti. Among the thousands of dead is the Archbishop of Haiti and, reportedly, hundreds of priests. Please pray for the Haitian people and all those of good will who are lending their support.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is accepting donations and mustering assistance for Haiti, which was still recovering from four hurricanes that swept through its shores in 2008. Donations can be made to CRS here. The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti is in critical need of all forms of assistance.


(AFP/David Morel)

For the souls of those killed, we pray:

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.

Amen.

13 January 2010

Saint Hilary, bishop and doctor of the Church


13 JANUARY 2010. Today the Church celebrates the feast day (optional memorial) of Saint Hilary of Poitiers, a fourth century bishop and doctor of the Church.

Born around A.D. 300, in Poitiers (today, France), Saint Hilary was a member of an affluent pagan family and was well educated, even learning Greek, which at the time was disappearing from Western Europe. After his formal education, Saint Hilary took up the study of Scripture. Reading Exodus 3:14 ("I am who am."), Saint Hilary is reported to have said "I was frankly amazed at such a clear definition of God, which expressed the incomprehensible knowledge of the divine nature in words most suited to human intelligence." Moving onward to a study of the New Testament, Saint Hilary came to learn of Our Lord and learned that the point of life was not death, but a life eternal with Christ, which He offers to all of us through his passion, death, and resurrection. "No longer did it look upon the life of this body as troublesome or wearisome, but believed it to be what the alphabet is to children . . . namely, as the patient endurance of the present trials of life in order to gain a blissful eternity."

His conversion of heart now complete, Saint Hilary was baptized and joined the Church. After his baptism, so well known was he for his Christian life and zeal that, even though married with a child (whose name appears to have been Abra), Saint Hilary was elected Bishop of Poitiers in about A.D. 353. As bishop, Saint Hilary had to confront the significant challenge of the Arian heresy, ravaging the Church at the time, which denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. In fact, the Emperor Constantius II, and many local bishops, were Arians. When the Synod of Biterrae was called in A.D. 356 to justify Arianism, Saint Hilary defended the true teaching of the Chrurch--that Jesus Christ was true God and true Man--and rebuked Emperor Constantius II for his Arian beliefs. In turn, Saint Hilary was exiled to Phrygia (today, Turkey) for nearly four years.

During his time in exile, Saint Hilary continued to study and began writing, continuing to administer his diocese from Phrygia. In his writings there are several important works that still exist, including On the Trinity, a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, and a commentary on the Psalms. In his writing on the Holy Trinity, Saint Hilary says: "For one to attempt to speak of God in terms more precise than he himself has used: to undertake such a thing is to embark upon the boundless, to dare the incomprehensible. He fixed the names of His nature: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Whatever is sought over and above this is beyond the meaning of words, beyond the limits of perception, beyond the embrace of understanding."

After a period of time in exile, Saint Hilary had caused such an inconvenience to the Emperor that he was sent back to his diocese, which he appears to have reached in about A.D. 361 shortly after the ascension of Emperor Julian. On his travels back home, Saint Hilary made his way through Greece and Italy and learned of the hymns being used by the Arians as propaganda, Once Saint Hilary reached his diocese, he set to work on Latin hymns to propagate the true teaching of the Church. For this reason, Saint Hilary is sometimes today still referred to as the first Christian Latin hymn writer, although none of hymns today attributed to Saint Hilary can be verified as having been written by him.

In his diocese Saint Hilary continued to create problems for those opposed to the true teaching of the Church, and in about A.D. 364 or 365 Saint Hilary went to Milan to assail the Bishop of Milan for being an Arian. However, Emperor Valentinian protected the bishop of Milan and ordered that Saint Hilary be removed from the city.

In A.D. 365, Saint Hilary published the Contra Arianos vel Auxentium Mediolanensem liber, in connection with the Milan controversy. Saint Hilary's later life was spent in relative quiet, working on his commentary on the Psalter. Toward the end of his episcopate, Saint Hilary encourage Saint Martin of Tours to found a monastery in his diocese.

Saint Hilary died in A.D. 368. After his death, the cult of Saint Hilary developed in association with that of Saint Martin of Tours. In 1851 Blessed Pope Pius IX declared Saint Hilary to be a doctor of the Church.

In his general audience on 10 October 2007, Pope Benedict XVI gave a catechesis on Saint Hilary, from which we learn more of the theology of Saint Hilary:
To sum up the essentials of his doctrine, I would like to say that Hilary found the starting point for his theological reflection in baptismal faith. In De Trinitate, Hilary writes: Jesus "has commanded us to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Mt 28: 19), that is, in the confession of the Author, of the Only-Begotten One and of the Gift. The Author of all things is one alone, for one alone is God the Father, from whom all things proceed. And one alone is Our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things exist (cf. I Cor 8: 6), and one alone is the Spirit (cf. Eph 4: 4), a gift in all.... In nothing can be found to be lacking so great a fullness, in which the immensity in the Eternal One, the revelation in the Image, joy in the Gift, converge in the Father, in the Son and in the Holy Spirit" (De Trinitate 2, 1). God the Father, being wholly love, is able to communicate his divinity to his Son in its fullness. I find particularly beautiful the following formula of St Hilary: "God knows not how to be anything other than love, he knows not how to be anyone other than the Father. Those who love are not envious and the one who is the Father is so in his totality. This name admits no compromise, as if God were father in some aspects and not in others" (ibid., 9, 61).

For this reason the Son is fully God without any gaps or diminishment. "The One who comes from the perfect is perfect because he has all, he has given all" (ibid., 2, 8). Humanity finds salvation in Christ alone, Son of God and Son of man. In assuming our human nature, he has united himself with every man, "he has become the flesh of us all" (Tractatus super Psalmos 54, 9); "he took on himself the nature of all flesh and through it became true life, he has in himself the root of every vine shoot" (ibid., 51, 16). For this very reason the way to Christ is open to all - because he has drawn all into his being as a man -, even if personal conversion is always required: "Through the relationship with his flesh, access to Christ is open to all, on condition that they divest themselves of their former self (cf. Eph 4: 22), nailing it to the Cross (cf. Col 2: 14); provided we give up our former way of life and convert in order to be buried with him in his baptism, in view of life (cf. Col 1: 12; Rom 6: 4)" (ibid., 91, 9).

Fidelity to God is a gift of his grace. Therefore, St Hilary asks, at the end of his Treatise on the Trinity, to be able to remain ever faithful to the baptismal faith. It is a feature of this book: reflection is transformed into prayer and prayer returns to reflection. The whole book is a dialogue with God. I would like to end today's Catechesis with one of these prayers, which thus becomes our prayer:
"Obtain, O Lord", St Hilary recites with inspiration, "that I may keep ever faithful to what I have professed in the symbol of my regeneration, when I was baptized in the Father, in the Son and in the Holy Spirit. That I may worship you, our Father, and with you, your Son; that I may deserve your Holy Spirit, who proceeds from you through your Only Begotten Son... Amen" (De Trinitate 12, 57).

10 January 2010

Prayer of Renewal of Baptismal Promises


by Saint Louis de Montfort

I, N., who through the tender mercy of the Eternal Father was privileged to be baptized "in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19, 5) and thus to share in the dignity of his divine Sonship, wish now in the presence of this same loving Father and of his only-begotten Son to renew in all sincerity the promises I solemnly made at the time of my holy Baptism.

I, therefore, now do once again renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born into this world and who suffered and died for my sins and rose again. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church.

Taught by our Saviour's command and formed by the word of God, I now dare to say:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Amen.

THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD


10 JANUARY 2010. Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, thus ending the liturgical season of Christmas.

Today we celebrate thee baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by Saint John the Baptist. The readings for today are found here.

Originally, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord was interwoven with the feast of the Epiphany. However, today the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the Sunday after the Epiphany, although in the United States the feast can sometimes be celebrated on the Monday after the Epiphany (if the Epiphany is celebrated on January 7 or 8), to avoid the feast from occurring too late on the calendar.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord marks the beginning of the first period of Ordinary Time, as the season of Christmas has now come to an end. This first period of Ordinary Time will now last until Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent.

Today's feast is also the day that the Pope traditionally baptizes infants in the Sistine Chapel. The picture below is from the Pope's baptism of 13 infants on the Feast of the Baptism last year.



Considering the depth of humility that Our Lord expressed for us in His baptism by Saint John, Pope Benedict XVI's homily from the 2007 Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is important for us to hear again today:
So far, we have heard the account of the Evangelist Luke, who presents Jesus who remained hidden in the crowd while he went to John the Baptist to be baptized. Jesus had also been baptized, and, St Luke tells us, "was praying" (3: 21). Jesus speaks with his Father. And we may be certain that he did not only speak for himself but also of us and for us; he also spoke of me, of each one of us and for each one of us.

And then the Evangelist tells us that above the Lord in prayer, Heaven was opened.

Jesus entered into contact with the Father, Heaven opened above him. At this moment we can think that Heaven has also opened here . . . . Heaven opens above us in the Sacrament. The more we live in contact with Jesus in the reality of our Baptism, the more Heaven will open above us. And from Heaven - let us return to the Gospel - that day a voice came which said to Jesus: "You are my beloved Son" (Lk 3: 22).

In Baptism, the Heavenly Father also repeats these words for each one of these infants. He says: "You are my child". Baptism is adoption and admission into God's family, into communion with the Most Holy Trinity, into communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. For this very reason, Baptism should be administered in the Name of the Most Holy Trinity. These words are not merely a formula; they are reality. They mark the moment when your children are reborn as children of God. From being the children of human parents, they also become the children of God in the Son of the living God.

However, we must now meditate on the words in the Second Reading of this liturgy where St Paul tells us: "He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit" (Ti 3: 5).

A washing of regeneration: Baptism is not only a word, it is not only something spiritual but also implies matter. All the realities of the earth are involved. Baptism does not only concern the soul. Human spirituality invests the totality of the person, body and soul. God's action in Jesus Christ is an action of universal efficacy. Christ took flesh and this continues in the sacraments in which matter is taken on and becomes part of the divine action.

We can now ask precisely why water should be the sign of this totality. Water is the element of fertility. Without water there is no life. Thus, in all the great religions water is seen as the symbol of motherhood, of fruitfulness. For the Church Fathers, water became the symbol of the maternal womb of the Church.

Tertullian, a Church writer of the second and third centuries, said something surprising. He said: "Never is Christ without water". By these words, Tertullian meant that Christ is never without the Church. In Baptism we are adopted by the Heavenly Father, but in this family that he establishes there is also a mother, Mother Church. Man cannot have God as Father, the ancient Christian writers were already saying, unless he has the Church as mother.

We perceive in a new way that Christianity is not merely an individual, spiritual reality, a simple subjective decision that I take, but something real and concrete, we could also say something material. Adoption as children of God, of the Trinitarian God, is at the same time being accepted into the family of the Church, it is admission as brothers and sisters into the great family of Christians. And only if, as children of God, we are integrated as brothers and sisters into the reality of the Church can we say "Our Father", to our Heavenly Father. This prayer always implies the "we" of God's family.

Now, however, let us return to the Gospel in which John the Baptist says: "I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming... he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Lk 3: 16).

We have seen water; but now the question is unavoidable: of what does the fire that St John the Baptist referred to consist? To see this reality of the fire, present in Baptism with water, we must note that John's baptism was a human gesture, an act of penance, a human impulse for God, to ask the forgiveness of sins and the chance to begin a new life. It was only a human desire, a step towards God with their own effort.

Now this is not enough. The distance would be too great. In Jesus Christ we see that God comes to meet us. In Christian Baptism, instituted by Christ, we do not only act with the desire to be cleansed through the prayer to obtain forgiveness.

In Baptism God himself acts, Jesus acts through the Holy Spirit. In Christian Baptism the fire of the Holy Spirit is present. God acts, not only us. God is present here today. He takes on your children and makes them his own.

But naturally, God does not act in a magical way. He acts only with our freedom. We cannot renounce our freedom. God challenges our freedom, invites us to cooperate with the fire of the Holy Spirit. These two things must go together. Baptism will remain throughout life a gift of God, who has set his seal on our souls. But it will then be our cooperation, the availability of our freedom to say that "yes" which makes divine action effective.
On this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, I pray that each of us will be drawn into closer unity with God, reflecting on the breadth of Our Lord's generosity shown by His own baptism and His love that flows to us through each of our baptisms. May we offer ourselves to the Holy Trinity, this day, in praise and thanksgiving!

07 January 2010

Prayer to the Holy Name


By Saint Bernardine of Siena

Jesus, Name full of glory, grace, love and strength! You are the refuge of those who repent, our banner of warfare in this life, the medicine of souls, the comfort of those who morn, the delight of those who believe, the light of those who preach the true faith, the wages of those who toil, the healing of the sick.

To You our devotion aspires; by You our prayers are received; we delight in contemplating You. O Name of Jesus, You are the glory of all the saints for eternity. Amen.

Saint Raymond of Peñafort, priest


7 JANUARY 2010. Today we celebrate the memorial of Saint Raymond of Peñafort, a Spanish Dominican priest that played an important role in the Church and in the Order in the thirteenth century.

Born into a noble family in Spain, at the castle of Pennafort, in A.D. 1175, Saint Raymond of Peñafort received his education in Barcelona and at the University of Bologna. From 1195 to 1210, Saint Raymond taught canon law. After some time, the Bishop of Barcelona persuaded Saint Raymond to return to Spain, and named him as one of the canons in his cathedral. However, Saint Raymond thirsted for a deeper relationship with God. So, on Good Friday, A.D. 1222, Saint Raymond begged to be admitted to the Dominican Order. Tradition tells that, in part, Saint Raymond was motivated to join the Dominican Order out of remorse for previously talking a young man out of joining a religious order.

From this point onward, Saint Raymond increased the holiness of his life, and by his piety drew many to the Dominican Order. Saint Raymond became a confessor to King James of Aragon, and was known for his wise counsel. Because of this, Saint Raymond was directed by his superiors to write a book on settling cases of conscience, which he did—titled Raimundina.

At this time, the Moors were exacting great cruelties on their Christian captives. On the night of 1 August 1223, the Blessed Mother appeared to Saint Raymond, King James of Aragon, and Saint Peter Nolasco, a penitent of Saint Raymond, telling them that she desired a religious order to be founded for the relief of the poor Christian captives. On the directions of Our Holy Mother, Saint Raymond, himself, wrote the statutes of the new order—the Order of Our Lady of Mercy—for redemption of the Christian captives. To lead the order, Saint Raymond choose Saint Peter Nolasco. Saint Raymond gave the habit to Saint Peter, which was identical to the Dominican habit, except that the mantle was white and the scapular was emblazoned with the royal arms of Aragon.

At about this time too, in A.D. 1230, Saint Raymond was summoned to Rome and became the confessor of Pope Gregory IX. At the direction of the Holy Father, Saint Raymond collected and wrote commentaries on all the decretal letters that had been issued and had been changing canon law since the publication of the Decretum of Gratian. In just over three years Saint Raymond accomplished this tremendous task and, being pleased with the work of Saint Raymond, the Holy Father published a bull making Saint Raymond’s work alone authoritative. This collection of canon law, known as Liber extra was the standard of canon law for almost the next 700 years.

Twice the Holy Father appointed Saint Raymond to an archbishopric, but each time Saint Raymond was successful in getting released from the honor which, tradition tells, would have been painful to his humility.

After the death of Blessed Jordan, the beloved successor of Saint Dominic, Saint Raymond was elected the third Master-General of the Order in A.D. 1238. During his two years as Master-General, Saint Raymond made his mark on the Order, revising the Dominican constitution into two parts, the first relating to the religious life of the friars and the second to their external life, duties and offices. In A.D. 1240 Saint Raymond resigned as Master-General.

Saint Raymond retired to the convent of Barcelona where he lived for 35 more years, working and praying incessantly for the conversion of the Moors, Jews, and heretics. It was at Saint Raymond’s request that Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote his Summa contra Gentiles.

Saint Raymond accompanied the King of Aragon on an expedition to Majorca and boldly rebuked him there for giving public scandal. However, finding that his rebuke had no effect on the King, Saint Raymond prepared to return to Barcelona. The King attempted to keep Saint Raymond on the island by force, but Saint Raymond flung his mantle into the sea  fastened to the end of his staff, serving as a mast, and sailed on his mantle, like a boat, the nearly 100 miles back to the mainland. On reaching Barcelona, Saint Raymond took up his mantle, which was perfectly dry, and was transported through the locked doors of the convent and beyond the acclamations of the crowd that witnessed his landing. Touched by the miracle, the King of Aragon thereafter renounced his evil ways and led a good life.

Widely regarded as the greatest ecclesiastic of his time, Saint Raymond died on the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January 1275 in his hundredth year. Many miracles occurred at Saint Raymond’s tomb, including the issuance of a dust that restored health to many ill persons. Saint Raymond was canonized by Pope Clement VIII in A.D. 1601.

Prayer

O God,
You endowed your priest Saint Raymond,
with the gift of showing mercy to sinners
and prisoners.
Help us by his intercession to be freed
from slavery to sin and
with clear consciences to practice those things
that are pleasing to you.

Amen.

06 January 2010

Saint Zedislava Berkiana


6 JANUARY 2010. This past Monday, 4 January, was the feast day of Saint Zedislava Berkiana (sometimes spelled Zedislava Berka), a lay Dominican, wife and mother that was canonized by Vernerable Pope John Paul II.

Because her feast day is always supplanted in the United States by the memorial of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the Dominican calendar permits a votive mass to be celebrated for Saint Zedislava today or on 8 January. In light of this permission, let's take the opportunity today to learn about Saint Zedislava Berkiana.

Saint Zedislava was born into a wealthy Bohemian (today Czech Republic) military family in A.D. 1215. Her father was the commander of a fortified castle between Vienna and Prague where Saint Zedislava grew up. During her childhood, Bohemia was a place of warfare, facing the great Mongol hordes that continually attacked Christendom. Growing up in a castle, Saint Zedislava assisted her mother with all the things that women were traditionally responsible for, including caring for indigents who daily presented themselves at the castle gates.Saint Zedislava learned not only the faith, but how to minister to the sick and injured with homespun remedies, always with a prayer, from her mother.

As an adult, Saint Zedislava married a soldier and had four children, to whom she was devoted. Her husband was Duke Havel of Lembert, but her marriage was not a happy one. The Duke was a good man, but a battle-hardened rough man with a bad temper; he took his aristocratic function seriously and insisted that Saint Zedislava wear sumptuous clothing and participate fully in the galmorous, but superficial social life exepected of the Duke and his wife.

Given her retiring disposition and being given to prayer, Saint Zedislava's position as the wife of a Duke and mother of four children in a large castle presented many hardships. However, she disciplined herself to spirtualize the many trials that she endured.

For her part, Saint Zedislava felt called to devote her life to Christ. She spent time in a hermitage prior to marrying Duke Havel, and was famous for her loving devotion for the poor. To her husband's displeasure, Saint Zedislava spent much of the family's money on aiding the poor. She convinced the Duke to build hospices and to support the care of refugees that came pouring into Bohemia after the Tartar invasions. Saint Zedislava ministered to the needy with great sincerity in serving Christ and, in doing so, became a model and inspiration for all Christians in the area.

When Saint Zedislava came into contact with the newly arrived Dominicans in Bohemia (Saint Hyacinth and Blessed Ceslaus), she found her calling and the perfect match for her heart. Saint Zedislava became a Dominican tertiary and the founding benefactor of the Order in Bohemia. Saint Zedislava is responsible for building the Priory of Saint Lawrence near her castle, where she received communion daily (an unusual practice for those times), and a convent in Jablonne.

Soon after the completion of the Priory of Saint Lawrence Saint Zedislava died of natural causes at the convent Jablonne on 1 January 1252. The mourning people who knelt by her bedside could see the monuments to the Christian life Saint Zedislava had led: her children, her church, and the inspiration of a saintly wife and mother. In fact, Saint Zedislava appeared to her husband in glory after her death and strongly influenced his own desire for conversion. Numerous miracles have been attributed to Saint Zedislava Berkiana, both during her life and after her death.

Saint Zedislava was beatified by Pope Saint Pius X on 28 August 1907 (cultus confirmed), and was canonized by Venerable Pope John Paul II on 21 May 1995

In art, Saint Zedislava is usually depicted as a Dominican tertiary (in the Dominican habit) wearing a rosary wound with roses, lying in the place of a sick person in bed. Saint Zedislava is the patron saint of difficult marriages and people who are ridiculed for their piety.

What we learn from Saint Zedislava is that a great love of Christ does not require extensive travel or doing extraordinary things, it only requires serving those in need with extraordinary love--love for Christ manifest in service to others. Each of us can follow this model in our own lives. Pray that Saint Zedislava, by her intercession, may assist each of us to pursue perfection in our love of Christ in our own families and daily lives.

Prayer

Faithful God,
by her married life and works of charity
you taught Saint Zedislava to pursue
the way of perfection.
By her prayers, may family life
be strengthened and be a witness to Christian virtue.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Amen. 

IMAGE: Saints Zedislava Berkiana and John Sarkander,  from Sts. Cyril and Methodius' Church in Olomouc, Czech Republic, (Wikimedia Commons).

05 January 2010

Saint John Neumann


5 JANUARY 2010. Today the Church in the United States celebrates the memorial of Saint John Neumann, another saint from these shores. Saint John Neumann was a Redemptorist missionary to the United States who served as the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia from 1852-1860.

Saint John Neumann was born in Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic) on 28 March 1811. He entered the Seminary in 1831 and two years later transferred to the University of Prague to study theology, intending to be ordained as a priest. However, in 1835 the bishop of Bohemia decided there would be no more priestly ordinations as Bohemia already had a large number of priests (a problem that is difficult to imagine today). Undeterred, John wrote other European bishops asking for ordination, but received similar responses that dioceses already had too many priests. So, inspired by the story of Bishop Frederic Barga in the United States, and already able to speak English (amongst seven other languages) John Neumann requested to be ordain in America.

Arriving in America 1836, Saint John was ordained to the priesthood the same year. His first assignment in the Diocese of New York was working with German migrants in the Niagra Falls area. Father John's diocesan work involved a great deal of travel from village to village, and he spent a good deal of time alone. After four years of diocesan work, and seeking a community, Father Neumann applied to the Redemptorists and was accepted. He entered the novitiate of the order in Pittsburgh and took vows in 1842, becoming the first Redemptorist in the New World. After six years of difficult, but fruitful work with the order, Saint John was appointed as provincial superior of the United States.

Saint John Neumann was naturalized as a United States citizen on 10  February 1848, having lived and ministered in the United States for 12 years.

In 1852 Saint John was consecrated as the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia and embarked on an ambitious campaign to organize and build a Catholic school system in his new diocese. During his tenure as bishop, the Philadelphia Catholic schools grew from one to 100, and the number of new parishes grew so quickly that, for a time, nearly one new parish was opening each month. Bishop Neuman also invited religious communities to become active in the diocese. Bishop Neumann founded a congregation of third order Franciscan sisters and was instrumental in bringing the School Sisters of Notre Dame to the United States to serve in schools and orphanages. However, Bishop Neumann's expansion of Catholicism in Philadelphia did not go unnoticed.

The Know Nothings, an anti-Catholic political party, was at the height of its activities, burning convents and schools, during the bishopric of Saint John. In fact, Bishop Neumann got so discouraged by the acts of the Know Nothings that he wrote Rome and asked to be replaced as bishop. However, he received a response from Pope Pius IX instructing him to continue in his efforts.

In 1854, Bishop Neumann traveled to Rome and was present in Saint Peter's Basilica on 8 December when Pope Pius IX solemnly declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

Saint John Neumann collapsed and died from stroke on 5 January 1860, on a city street in Philadelphia, while running errands. Only 48 years old at the time of his death, he was immediately replaced as bishop by his coadjutor with right of succession, James Frederick Wood.

Bishop Neumann was beatified by Servant of God Pope Paul VI on 13 October 1963 during the Second Vatican Council. He was canonized by Pope Paul VI on 19 June 1977.

Prayer

O Saint John Neumann,
your ardent desire of bringing all souls to Christ
impelled you to leave home and country;
teach us to live worthily in the spirit of our Baptism
which makes us all children of the one Heavenly Father
and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ,
the first-born of the family of God.

Obtain for us that complete dedication
in the service of the needy, the weak, the afflicted
and the abandoned which so characterized your life.
Help us to walk perseveringly in the difficult and,
at times, painful paths of duty,
strengthened by the Body and Blood of our Redeemer
and under the watchful protection of Mary our Mother.

May death still find us on the sure road
to our Father's House with the light
of living Faith in our hearts.

Amen.

04 January 2010

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton


4 JANUARY 2010. Today the Church in the United States celebrates the Memorial of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native born saint of the United States.

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was born in New York on 28 August 1774. Her mother was the daughter of an Episcopal priest, but died when Elizabeth was only three years old. Raised in the cream of New York society as an Episcopalian, Elizabeth married a wealthy business man at the age of 19, and had five children. When her husband's business lost several ships at sea, the family suffered bankruptcy. Soon afterward, the Saint's husband grew ill and was sent to Italy to recuperate in a warmer climate. While in quarantine in Italy, Elizabeth's husband died, but she spent time there with a Catholic family who introduced the faith to her.

Two years later, back in the United States, Elizabeth converted to Catholicism on 14 March 1805, and was received into the Church by the first bishop of Baltimore, John Carroll.

To support her family, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton stated a school in Baltimore, but it failed because of anti-Catholic bigotry. Afterward, Elizabeth moved her family to Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she started another school, Saint Joseph's Academy and Free School. Her efforts in Emmitsburg were assisted by Samuel Sutherland Cooper, a wealthy convert to Catholicism and a seminarian at Mount St. Mary's College and Seminary (today, Mount St. Mary's University). After a time, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was able to found a religious order in Emmitsburg, dedicated to the care and education of poor children. Her order, the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph, was the first religious community of apostolic women founded in the United States, and her school was the country's first free school.

The remainder of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton's life was spent leading and developing her religious order, which grew to include the Suplician priests in Baltimore. Today six religious orders trace their roots to the order founded by Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. Eventually, Saint Joseph's Academy and Free School grew into Saint Joseph College which closed in 1973.

Mother Seton was a characterized by her continual prayer. She followed the apostolic spirituality of Saint Louise de Marillac and Saint Vincent de Paul. In her words:
We must pray literally without ceasing—without ceasing—in every occurrence and employment of our lives . . . that prayer of the heart which is independent of place or situation, or which is rather a habit of lifting up the heart to God as in a constant communication with Him.
She was also known for her deep devotion to the Eucharist, Sacred Scripture, and the Virgin Mary. The Twenty-Third Psalm was her favorite prayer.

Many of the difficulties that Mother Seton faced were internal. She was known as an elegant woman of charm and grace, yet she was not deterred in her work by the calls for her to return to the New York social life. Her hardships came from interpersonal conflicts and the deaths of her loved one's, namely the death of her two youngest daughters and the deaths of young sisters in her community.

At the age of 46, on 4 January 1821, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton died of tuberculosis in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Her body is entombed in the basilica that bears her name: the Basilica of the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Mother Seton was declared venerable on 18 December 1959. She was beatified by Blessed Pope John XXIII on 17 March 1963, and was canonized by Pope Paul VI on 14 September 1975.

Prayer

Lord God, you blessed Elizabeth Ann Seton 
with gifts of grace as wife
and mother, educator and foundress, 
so that she might spend her life
in service to your people.

Through her example and prayers, 
may we learn to express our love
for you in love for our fellow men and women.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Amen.

03 January 2010

THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD


3 JANUARY 2010. Today the Church in the United States celebrates the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord--the revelation that God has become man in the person of Jesus Christ.

We in the Western tradition celebrate this event by commemorating the coming of the Magi, as today's readings tell us. Eastern traditions celebrate the Epiphany differently, commemorating the baptism of Christ in the Jordan River. While the commemorations may differ, however, the celebration of the Epiphany is focused for all traditions on the same miracle: that God has humbled himself and been made manifest as God and mere man.

The celebration of the Epiphany has its origins in the Eastern Church. Early on it appears that the celebration of the Epiphany was tied to the Nativity of Christ, the coming of the Magi, the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan, and the miracle at the wedding feast of Cana--in these events Christ made manifest to all the world that he was indeed man and God. Consider that the Magi that traveled to pay the baby Jesus homage were not Jewish, in contrast to the actions of King Herod, who murdered the Holy Innocents in an attempt to kill the Christ child, and who publicly proclaimed himself to be Jewish. When Eastern and Western traditions diverged, it appears from a study of history that the Western tradition focused the celebration of the Epiphany more narrowly on the coming of Magi; hence, the present solemnity found in the Latin Rite.

Generally, the Solemnity of the Epiphany falls on 6 January or a Sunday close to that date. In a sermon preached on 25 December 380, Saint Gregory Nazianzen referred to 6 January as ta theophania ("the Theophany", an alternative name for Epiphany), saying expressly that it is a day commemorating he hagia tou Christou gennesis ("the holy nativity of Christ") and told his listeners that they would soon be celebrating the baptism of Christ.

Prior to the reforms of 1955 when Pope Pius XII abolished all but three of the liturgical octaves, the Church celebrated the Octave of the Epiphany that began on 6 January and ended on 13 January. Christmastide was calculated to have 12 days, which ended on 5 January and was followed by the Octave of the Epiphany.

The 1970 revision to the General Roman Calendar placed the celebration of the Solemnity of the Epiphany on the Sunday after 1 January. The Christmas season now ends on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is celebrated on the Sunday after the Epiphany.

Today as we celebrate the manifestation of God made man to all of the world, to Jews and gentiles alike, let us raise our hearts to God the Father in praise and thanksgiving for the perfect gift of Christ his Son, Himself, as the supreme sacrifice that will bring about the salvation of fallen humanity.

Prayer

Lord Jesus
may your light shine our way,
as once it guided the steps of the magi:
that we too may be led into your presence
and worship you,
the Child of Mary,
the Word of the Father,
the King of nations,
the Saviour of mankind;
to whom be glory for ever.


Amen.