31 March 2010

Wednesday of Holy Week

31 MARCH 2010. Today we again hear the story of the last supper and of Judas' betrayal. However, in this version from Saint Matthew, Judas speaks: "Surely it is not I . . . ."

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot,
went to the chief priests and said,
“What are you willing to give me
if I hand him over to you?”
They paid him thirty pieces of silver,
and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,
the disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Where do you want us to prepare
for you to eat the Passover?”
He said,
“Go into the city to a certain man and tell him,
‘The teacher says, My appointed time draws near;
in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.'"
The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered,
and prepared the Passover.

When it was evening,
he reclined at table with the Twelve.
And while they were eating, he said,
“Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
Deeply distressed at this,
they began to say to him one after another,
“Surely it is not I, Lord?”
He said in reply,
“He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me
is the one who will betray me.
The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him,
but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.
It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”
Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply,
“Surely it is not I, Rabbi?”
He answered, “You have said so.”

(Mt 26, 14-25 NAB)

How often do each of us deny our betrayal of Christ? How often have we looked up to Christ suffering on the crucifix in Church and prayed: "Surely not I Lord." 

Surely it is someone else who has committed the more grievous offense! Surely it not I who deserves to be judged harshly! Surely You love me and You will save me though I am a sinner! Surely I need You, my Lord! And Christ says, "That is it." Beckoning us, He says: "Acknowledge your sinfulness, repent and live your lives in utter reliance upon Me, keeping to a life as I have commanded, and you shall be saved."

That salvation is coming. Though now in darkness, we know the glory of Easter will dawn upon us from on high on Easter morning. 

We need only to lay ourselves open to Christ as he has embraced us from the cross. Arms wide spread ready to embrace us even as He empties Himself for our salvation. Persevere in this last period of darkness before the dawn! Place all your faith in Christ!

30 March 2010

Fidelis!

In this time of persecution of our Church and the Holy Father by a multitude of media outlets, we see the work of Satan in our world.

So, join all the faithful in prayer for our Holy Father:

God, our Father, we ask You to look with mercy and love on Your servant, Pope Benedict XVI, whom You have chosen to govern Your Church and shepherd Your people. May he, through word and through example, direct, sustain and encourage the people in his care so that with them he may share everlasting life in Your kingdom.

Bless the Holy Father, Lord, and sustain him and all the Church in this time of need, as we strive to live the Gospel of Christ in our lives and to bear witness to Christ's love in the face of adversity.
Amen.

Tuesday of Holy Week

30 MARCH 2010. In today's Gospel we see again that Jesus's disciples let him down. In fact, Judas is overtaken by Satan and night falls. From this point forward in Holy Week we are in a spiritual night. Evil has hold of the world around our Lord, and men's plans to kill Jesus are being planned and put into action. Pray that we all may withstand the test, loyal to Christ.

Reclining at table with his disciples,
Jesus was deeply troubled and testified,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant.
One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved,
was reclining at Jesus’ side.
So Simon Peter nodded to him to find out whom he meant.
He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him,
“Master, who is it?”
Jesus answered,
“It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.”
So he dipped the morsel and took it and handed it to Judas,
son of Simon the Iscariot.
After Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him.
So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”
Now none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him.
Some thought that since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus had told him,
“Buy what we need for the feast,”
or to give something to the poor.
So Judas took the morsel and left at once. And it was night.

When he had left, Jesus said,
“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.
If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself,
and he will glorify him at once.
My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.
You will look for me, and as I told the Jews,
‘Where I go you cannot come,’ so now I say it to you.”

Simon Peter said to him, “Master, where are you going?”
Jesus answered him,
“Where I am going, you cannot follow me now,
though you will follow later.”
Peter said to him,
“Master, why can I not follow you now?
I will lay down my life for you.”
Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me?
Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow
before you deny me three times.”

(Jn 13, 21-33, 36-38 NAB)

The icon of the last supper above provides a compelling image of the scene that Saint John provides in today's Gospel reading. There is Judas, morsel in hand, leaving the table. Satan has entered him and his lack of a halo portrays his enmity to the Lord and the his followers. We also see the disciple whom Jesus loved with his head on the Lord's chest. All of the Disciples appear intent on Him, except Judas. And, Judas is clearly in motion and moving away from the Lord, even his feet are pointed outward from the table. Notice, too, that Christ is posed as though giving a blessing and His eyes appear to be looking directly at the viewer.

Christ knew what was coming. He knew of Judas' betrayal and the Passion that He was about to suffer. Yet, from this position of weakness, surrounded by those that would not remain faithful and in the presence of Satan himself, present in Judas, Christ offers us--all of us believers throughout all of time--the blessing of His redemptive love.

Praise the Lord, Jesus Christ!

IMAGE: Simon Ushakov's Last Supper.

29 March 2010

Monday of Holy Week

29 MARCH 2010. Today's Gospel reading is from the Gospel of Saint John:
Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served,
while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples,
and the one who would betray him, said,
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages
and given to the poor?”
He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief and held the money bag
and used to steal the contributions.
So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came,
not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus,
whom he had raised from the dead.
And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too,
because many of the Jews were turning away
and believing in Jesus because of him.
 (Jn 12, 1-11 NAB)

Consider whether we are ready and willing to empty ourselves, holding nothing back--barring no extravagance--for the love of Christ.

Pray for the grace and wisdom of the Holy Spirit to have and exercise such a depth of love for our Savior.

Holy Week Processions: Nazarenos

A fixture of Holy Week, both in Spain and in countries that are or have been heavily influenced by Spain, are the processions of penitential brotherhoods. These processions are performed by the bortherhoods' members wearing a nazareno. The nazareno consists of a tunic, a tall hood with a conical top (capirote) used to conceal the face of the penitent, and sometimes a cloak. The colors of the nazareno depend on the particular procession. The nazareno was widely used in the medieval ages to conceal the identity of the penitent while still permitting the penance to be performed in public. Usually, today, the brotherhoods participating in the processions carry processional candles or rough hewn wooden crosses. Many times, the penitents will process barefoot and in some places will carry shackles and chains as a sign of their penance.

28 March 2010

PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD'S PASSION

28 MARCH 2010. Praise God! We have arrived at the week that is the center of the Church's calendar, to celebrate the mystery that is the center of our faith! Christ Jesus, true God and true man, the Word made flesh and only Son of God, has been sent by the Father to become sin for our sakes, to take on flesh, to suffer temptation, to endure the agony of the passion, to pass from this world into death, to defeat death and break its bonds upon all of humanity, and to rise from the dead triumphantly for the salvation of all.

The readings for today's mass are found here.

In the entry procession, the distribution of palms, and the long Gospel reading recounting the passion of our Lord, we recall and celebrate the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem on the day before his passion, and the horrible, but necessary, events of the passion.

Before or after mass today consider this point: every slap, every insult, every bruise, ever tear of Christ's flesh, every piercing of Him, every drop of Precious Blood that flowed for our salvation is caused by us today. Us, collectively and individually. Our sin, my sin, insults, slaps, bruises, tears at the flesh of Christ, pierces Him, and causes the Previous Blood to flow.

He thought of each of us and all of us during His passion--not in a nebulous way of thinking about future peoples, but in a personal way. True God, Christ knew each of us by name and thought of each of us, considered us personally, in the gifts that He was offering by His most merciful suffering.

Consider the depth of our Lord's love. Consider His tremendous humility in laying Himself at the mercy of men and suffering as He did for our sakes.

Love the Lord! Thank the Lord! Confess and reconcile yourselves to Christ and the Church! And, prepare yourselves well in this Holy Week for the coming of Christ's salvific resurrection on Easter Sunday.

25 March 2010

The Annunciation of the Lord

25 MARCH 2010. Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord: the announcement of the Achangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary nine months before Christmas that she would bear a Son, having been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, and her son would be the savior of the world.

From the Gospel of Saint Luke, we hear the story of the Annunciation:
And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.
Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end. And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren: Because no word shall be impossible with God. And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
 (Lk 1, 26-38 Douay-Rheims, 1899)

The Solemnity of the Annunciation has been celebrated in the Church since at least the sixth century and is mentioned between A.D. 530 and A.D. 533 in a sermon by Abraham of Ephesus. The first verified mention of the Annunciation is in the Galesian Sacramentary in the seventh century. And, the tenth synod of Toledo (A.D. 656) and the Trullan synod (A.D. 692) speak of the Annunciation as a universally accepted feast of the Church.

The Annunciation gives humanity its clearest example of surrender to the Lord in a manner that is at the zenith of humanity's comparability to the Lord's surrender of Himself for our race. Mary does not question Gabriel and does not defer her response to Gabriel's greeting until a more convenient moment. She simply says, "Yes." This simple yes, which in its nature is probably the most significant response of humanity to the Lord prior to the coming of the Son of God, is no simple nor trivial act. Mary gives herself freely and without reservation to the Divine Will of God, reserving nothing for herself and nothing for the world. And, through this greatest gift of human love expressed in deed for the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ comes into the world to redeem the whole of the history and future of humanity.

Hail Mary, full of grace
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God
Pray for us sinners
Now and at the hour of our death. 


Amen.

IMAGE: El Greco (Spain 1541-1614).

23 March 2010

Saint Toribio de Mogrovejo

23 MARCH 2010. Today the Church recognizes the feast day (optional remembrance) of Saint Toribio de Mogrovejo, the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century Archbishop of Lima.

Born in Leon, Spain in A.D. 1538, of a noble family and highly educated, Saint Toribio was a professor of law at the University of Salamanca, where his learning and virtue earned him acclaim for which he was appointed the Grand Inquisitor of Spain by Philip II, though not an ecclesiastical rank. Saint Toribio was ordained in 1578 and consecrated as Archbishop of Lima two years later. Arriving in Peru on 24 May 1581, Saint Toribio found the abuses of colonial Spain at their worst in Peru. Immediately though he set upon his mission work by traveling the 600 miles to Lima on foot, baptizing and preaching the Gospel of Christ to the native peoples on his journey. Saint Toribio worked tirelessly for the rights of the native peoples against their Spanish colonial masters.

Saint Toribio's favorite topic was this: "Time is not our own, and we must give a strict account of it." He traversed the 18,000 miles of his diocese, generally on foot, three times. Often alone and subject to the elements and hostile peoples, Archbishop Toribio baptized and confirmed nearly half a million souls, including Saint Rose of Lima, Saint Francis Solanzo, and Saint Martin de Porres. 

The roads, schools, and chapels that Saint Toribio built are innumerable, and he founded many hospitals and convents. The first seminary in the Americas was founded by Arbhishop Toribio at Lima in A.D. 1591. During his archbishopric he assembled thirteen diocesan synods and three provincial councils.

Years before Saint Toribio died, he predicted the day and hour of his death. Tradition tells that Saint Toribio contracted fever at Pacasmayo and arrived at Sana in a condition near death. At Sana, he drug himself into the sanctuary where he received Viaticum and died a short time later.

Saint Toribio was beatified by Blessed Pope Innocent XI in A.D. 1679 and canonized by Pope Benedict XII in A.D. 1726.

Prayer

Lord, through the apostolic work of Saint Toribio
and his unwavering love of truth, 
you helped your Church to grow. 
May your chosen people continue to grow in faith and holiness.
Grant 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.

21 March 2010

FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT

21 MARCH 2010. Today is the start of the count-down towards the end of Lent and the dawning of the glory of Easter. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, followed by Holy Week, the death of our Lord on Good Friday, and His glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday morning. Is the anticipation building? Is the sense of urgency to better prepare ourselves to greet the risen Lord also building?

Lent is hard work. It is a time of continual spiritual evaluation--a long and continuous examination of conscience. Today we continue that hard work, but the goal of Lent--dying to ourselves in Christ and rising with Him on Easter Sunday--is coming nearer.

Today's readings for mass are found here.

More to follow later today . . . .

NOVUS:

I have tried to spend the day, in the bit of quiet time that I had, considering the Lord's words to the woman in the Gospel story. My mind wants to focus on what our Lord wrote on the ground as the scribes and the Pharisees tried to trap him with their questions. But, putting that aside, the image that keeps returning to me is one of love. Love is what Christ has for all of humanity--so much so that He humbled Himself to take on a fleshly life and die a cruel and painful death for our salvation, overcoming the power of death by His resurrection. The woman caught in adultery is no different from any of us living today--no different from me. She is loved by Christ, so He forgives her and admonishes her to sin no more. I wonder if this is why Christ answered the scribes and Pharisees like He did? Certainly our Lord saw that the scribes and Pharisees did not want to stone the woman out of love for her. And, certainly He, Himself, did not condemn her for her actions. But, Christ loved the woman. So, the action borne out of love--forgiveness--is what ultimately triumphs.

However, Jesus also did not affirm the woman in her sinful actions either. He did not say: "That's okay, everyone falls sometime." He did not say to her: "A little adultery, as long as everyone consented and no one got hurt, is okay, so I am not going to condemn you." What Christ did say is:
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more."
We cannot know the mind of Christ, nor the heart of the woman, in that moment. But, what an awesome moment! The Lord God made flesh, Jesus the Christ, turns to the sinful woman and relents in His love, admonishing her to "not sin any more." It must be that Christ saw in that woman all that was necessary to give her forgiveness in that moment. Thank the Lord that Jesus Christ is a Messiah of mercy. Praise the Lord for the abundant generosity that he shows to each of us for not condemning us in our sin. No one of us would survive if He did.

I pray that each of us will have a heart, when we meet Christ face-to-face, that merits (to the extent that we are able to strive for such a merit) forgiveness too.

However, let us also be cautious that we do not treat the Lord's blessings as a license. The Lord's mercy is a gift that we need because we are all fallen. However, His mercy is not a permission slip to engage in whatever behavior that each of thinks, each in our own right, is acceptable or appropriate. We should not insult our Lord's mercy and tempt its depth by intentionally protesting in our sin after His mercy has been showered upon us through our payer and through the sacraments. Certainly each of us will fall. Certainly each of us suffers from particular sins that are more difficult to detach ourselves from because of habit or circumstance or our own particular weaknesses. But, we must strive to continue to live in communion with the Word, to truly be Christlike in our life--the call to all Christians--and to live in obedience to the Church, the bride of Christ and the body of Christ on earth. In our effort to live according to Christ and the dictates of the Church, despite our failings, is the opportunity for Christ's mercy to be showered upon us the greatest.

We must live a right life and pray, despite our sin. (As Father Corapi says: "The most important time to pray is when you do not want to pray.")

And, too, the Gospel today tells each of us how to respond to the sins of others. While we are not called to affirm others in their sinful actions,we are called to always stand ready to be merciful and offer our love to all, despite their sin. To love each other is the call of Christ. Let us do so, we pray, with the heart of Christ.

Pray that each of us will be an instrument of God's mercy in the world!

20 March 2010

Litany of Saint Joseph

Lord, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us. 
 
God, the Father of Heaven,
Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Ghost,
Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God,
Have mercy on us.
Holy Mary,
Pray for us.
Holy Joseph,
Pray for us. 
 
Noble Son of the House of David,
Pray for us.
Light of the Patriarchs,
Pray for us.
Husband of the Mother of God,
Pray for us.
Chaste Guardian of the Virgin,
Pray for us.
Foster-father of the Son of God,
Pray for us.
Sedulous Defender of Christ,
Pray for us.
Head of the Holy Family,
Pray for us.
Joseph most just,
Pray for us.
Joseph most chaste,
Pray for us.
Joseph most prudent,
Pray for us.
Joseph most valiant,
Pray for us.
Joseph most obedient,
Pray for us.
Joseph most faithful,
Pray for us.
Mirror of patience,
Pray for us.
Lover of poverty,
Pray for us.
Model of all who labor,
Pray for us.
Glory of family life,
Pray for us.
Protector of Virgins,
Pray for us.
Pillar of families,
Pray for us.
Consolation of the afflicted,
Pray for us.
Hope of the sick,
Pray for us.
Patron of the dying,
Pray for us.
Terror of the demons,
Pray for us.
Protector of the holy Church,
Pray for us.  
 
Lamb of God, You who take away the sins of the world,
spare us, O Lord! 
Lamb of God, You who take away the sins of the world, 
graciously hear us, O Lord! 
Lamb of God, You who take away the sins of the world, 
have mercy on us.
V. He made him the lord of His household.
R. And prince over all His possessions.

Let us pray:
O God, Who in Your ineffable providence did vouchsafe to choose Blessed Joseph to be the spouse of Your most holy Mother; grant, we beseech You, that we may be worthy to have him for our intercessor in heaven whom on earth we venerate as our Protector. Who live and reign, world without end. 

Amen.

19 March 2010

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

19 MARCH 2010. Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, the principal feast day dedicated to him on the yearly calendar, the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and earthly father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today's date has been dedicated to Saint Joseph on Western Church calendars since the tenth century. Rome accepted this date as the feast day of Saint Joseph in 1479, and in 1621 the celebration was inserted on the General Roman Calendar. As the solemnity always falls during Lent, canon 1251 provides that anytime a solemnity falls on a Friday during Lent, the obligation to abstain from meat and do penance is lifted.

In 1870 Blessed Pope Pius IX declared Saint Joseph to be the patron of the universal Church.

18 March 2010

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem

18 MARCH 2010. Today the Church remembers the feast day (optional observation) of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, a distinguished fourth century theologian and doctor of the Church.

Saint Cyril was born about A.D. 313, possibly near Caesarea Maritima. While the date and place of his birth is more a matter of historical conjecture, history does reveal that Saint Cyril was ordained a deacon by Saint Macarius of Jerusalem in about A.D. 335, and was ordained a priest eight years later by Saint Maximus. In about A.D. 350, Saint Cyril superseded Saint Maximus as the bishop of Jerusalem.

Today's Liturgy of the Hours introduction to Saint Cyril says: "He was involved in the dispute over Arianism and was more than once punished with exile." (Arianism is the heresy that Jesus was not divine and not one in being with the father.)

As a priest, Saint Cyril was put in charge of the instruction of catechumens. The writings attributed to Saint Cyril that survive today are from his catechetical lectures, written down by those in the congregation. A fine example of Saint Cyril's catechesis is the manner in which he gave instruction on the mysteries of the faith:
But some one will say, If the Divine substance is incomprehensible, why then do you discourse of these things? So then, because I cannot drink up all the river, am I not even to take in moderation what is expedient for me? Because with eyes so constituted as mine I cannot take in all the sun, am I not even to look upon it enough to satisfy my wants? Or again, because I have entered into a great garden, and cannot eat all the supply of fruits, would you have me go away altogether hungry?.. I am attempting not to glorify the Lord, but not to describe him, knowing nevertheless that I shall fall short of glorifying God worthily, yet deeming it a work of piety even to attempt it at all.
 After the death of Saint Maximus, Saint Cyril was consecrated as Bishop of Jerusalem. The Arian bishop of Caesarea supported Saint Cyril's consecration as bishop and, because of the Arian's support, the orthodox criticized Saint Cyril's bishopric. Both would later turn out to be opposed to Saint Cyril in one way or another.

When a famine hit Jerusalem, the poor turned to Saint Cyril for help and Cyril, seeing the poor starving to death, sold some of the Church's goods to buy food for the poor. This is a desperate act that several saints have resorted to, which has probably has saved many lives and souls of the faithful. However, Saint Cyril had a falling out with Acasius, Bishop of Beroea, because Acacius claimed he had authority over all bishops in Palestine, including Saint Cyril, while Cyril argued that Jerusalem was an apostolic see--one set up by the apostles--not subject to Acacius' authority. When Saint Cyril failed to attend councils called by Acacius, Acacius accused Saint Cyril of selling church goods and had him banished from Jerusalem. Saint Cyril stayed in Tarsus while waiting for the appeal of his banishment to be decided.

Constantius called a council to decide the appeal of Saint Cyril, but a dispute arose and no final judgment was ever enteredl. However, Acacius and the other Arian bishops were condemned by the council. Historians believe that the condemnation of Acacius and the fact that no final judgment entered indicates that the charges against Cyril were thrown out by the council. However, we do not have to speculate that this was not the end of Saint Cyril's troubles.

Acacius, condemned by the council, then took his story against Saint Cyril directly to the emperor, with the embellishment that some of the items sold had been gifts from the emperor and a dancer died wearing one of the emperor's robes. A new synod, run by Acacius, was called and again Saint Cyril was banished from Jerusalem, partially on the basis of the acts of the some of the bishops of Tarsus, while Saint Cyril was in exile there.

Saint Cyril's second exile lasted until Julian became emperor and recalled all exiled bishops, orthodox and Arian. Afterwards, Cyril returned to Jerusalem, and after Acacius died Cyril nominated his nephew, Gelasius,  to be bishop of Caesarea and the Arians nominated a rival. While Saint Cyril's actions may appear to be ripe with nepotism, all the orthodox sources spoke of Gelasius' holiness. A year later, however, Julian's recall of exiled bishops was reversed and Saint Cyril, with Gelasius, was again driven out of Jerusalem.

Eleven years later Saint Cyril was allowed to return to Jerusalem, which had been decimated by heresy and strife. While Saint Cyril worked to restore order he was never able to completely put things right in his lifetime. However, he did attend the Council at Constantinople in A.D. 381 where the Nicene Creed and orthodoxy won out over Arianism which was finally condemned. At the same council, Saint Cyril received justice as all previous charges against him were officially cleared and he commended for fighting a good fight against Arianism.

Saint Cyril returned to Jerusalem following the council and died some years later in A.D. 385 or 386. Saint Cyril was declared a doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII.

WRITINGS                                          

Of all Saint Cyril's writings, those about the Blessed Sacrament are considered by many to be the most important. On the Blessed Sacrament, Saint Cyril was unambiguous
Since He Himself has declared and said of the bread: This is My Body, who shall dare to doubt any more? And when He asserts and says: This is My Blood, who shall ever hesitate and say it is not His Blood?
While Saint Cyril acknowledges that the bread and wine are symbols, "in the type of bread is given thee the Body, in the type of wine the Blood is given thee;" he goes on to proclaim the truth that they do not remain in their original condition, but have been changed, though the senses cannot tell us this:
Do not think it mere bread and wine, for it is the Body and Blood of Christ, according to the Lord's declaration . . . . Having learned this and being assured of it, that appears to be bread is not bread, though perceived by the taste, but the Body of Christ, and what appears to be wine is not wine, though the taste says so, but the Blood of Christ . . . strengthen thy heart, partaking of it as spiritual (food), and rejoice the face of thy soul.
The whole of the doctrine of transubstantiation cannot but be seen in these words of Saint Cyril who with them gives us the truth of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

17 March 2010

Saint Patrick

17 MARCH 2010. Today the Church and most of the Western world, albeit in vastly different ways, celebrate the feast day of Saint Patrick, a bishop and the recognized patron saint of Ireland since the eighth century.

Not much historically is known of Saint Patrick with any degree of certainty. Even the dates of his birth and death are the subject of debate and differing accounts. However, there are two letters that have survived to today, the Confessio and the Epistola, that are generally accepted as having been written by Saint Patrick. These letters provide the only historically reliable information about Saint Patrick.

Saint Patrick was born in Roman Britian at Banna Venta Berniae in about A.D. 387. His father, Calpornius, was a deacon, and his grandfather, Potitus, a priest. When Saint Patrick was about sixteen he was captured by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland where he lived for about six years, working as a herdsman. During this period of slavery Patrick's faith grew and he prayed daily. One day, Patrick heard a voice telling him that he would soon go home and that his ship was ready. Fleeing from his captivity, Saint Patrick traveled 200 miles to a distant port where he found a ship and, after additional trials, eventually returned to his home and family in his early twenties.

After returning home, Saint Patrick recounts a vision he received:
I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: "The Voice of the Irish". As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: "We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us."
Later in life, after being ordained a bishop, Saint Patrick returned to Ireland to do missionary work. There he  baptized thousands and ordained priests and traveling from home to home. Not conforming himself to the norms of the Irish age in which he lived, Saint Patrick was often outside of the society and at least once was robbed of all he had an put into chains.However, this did not deter his zeal for the Gospel and his mission in Ireland.

Legend tells that Saint Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, but scientific evidence suggests that Ireland never had any snakes. Today, it is thought that the snakes might refer to the druids, who used the serpent as a symbol. Legend also tells that Saint Patrick used the shamrock to teach the people of Ireland about the trinity--three persons in one God (as opposed to the Arian belief that was popular in Saint Patrick's time).

Although disputed, some accounts say that Saint Patrick died on 17 March 460. Other accounts date his death to A.D. 493.

In the secular realm, Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated in most of the Western world as a celebration of Irish tradition or as a celebration of Ireland herself. As has been said many times, on Saint Patrick's Day, "We're all Irish!"

An excellent and lengthy article on Saint Patrick can be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia, available here.

Prayer

God our Father, 
You sent Saint Patrick
to preach your glory to the people of Ireland.
By the help of his payers,
may all Christians proclaim your love to all men.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

IMAGE: Saint Patrick as portrayed in a stained glass window at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, California.

Saint Patrick's Breastplate


As translated from the old Irish text.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity

The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgment Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop [deck],
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

16 March 2010

Colorado Catholic School Controversy? No Divide of Catholic Education and Catholicism

15 MARCH 2010. A firestorm of controversy in the media has erupted form the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic elementary school in Boulder, Colorado. Reportedly, the school has asked a lesbian "couple" to take the two girls they are raising out of the school. Thinking this is a highly sensitive pastoral and personal issue for the two women involved and, most importantly, the two children, I have not given this particular situation much, if any, attention. However, that changed this evening when I noted on Father Z's blog that the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) had run an extensive story on the two women and their situation with the children and the school. Having read the NCR article and other resources, including the statement of Archbishop Chaput, it appears that there are several points that others with thoughts on this, excluding Archbishop Chaput (I will explain his exclusion later in the post), have not thus far articulated.

First, the older of the women's children (each of the women is the mother of one of the two children) was seeking enrollment into Kindergarten from the Pre-K program. Pre-K at Catholic schools is a wonderful curriculum where the basics of the faith are introduced, but the real educational work of Catholic formation begins in Kindergarten. Knowing that, it is not a surprise that this issue for these two women has manifested at this time. (Incidentally, the school knows this too, and should have forewarned these women that this would happen. If the administrators at the school did not anticipate this problem, I would be shocked and quite saddened.)

Second, the two women are leading a life that is in direct opposition to Catholic teaching on a number of fronts. The two women identify themselves as a lesbian couple, so there is no doubt that they are engaged in a conjugal relationship that is against the teachings of the Church and the natural law. It is also reported that the two women were impregnated through artificial insemination, which is also against the natural law and the teachings of the Church; as well, by that medical practice the two women were at least knowingly complicit in a procedure that systematically destroys innocent human life. And, the two women are raising their daughters in a household that is contributing to the peril of their souls by the example set for the children by each of their mother's lifestyles, which is, in itself, scandalous.

Third, the purpose of Catholic teaching is to instill a deep love for Christ in the students and a deep love for the teachings of the Church, the bride of Christ. All other priorities aside, this is the point of Catholic education. Academics, sports, standardized test scores, scholarship opportunities, and further educational placement are all secondary to this primary purpose. As such, Catholic education is necessarily a partnership between the school and the parents. ( I would venture that there have no doubt been situations in other schools where a heterosexual parent's lifestyle or actions were so manifestly contrary to Catholic teaching that the school requested the children be removed to avoid scandal and harm.) There are certainly those everyday regretable situations where parents do not live the faith in their own homes, so the teachings of the faith are not further emphasized and modeled for children outside of the classroom. This, however, should be the exception. Even non-Catholic and non-Christian, parents who send their children to a Catholic school must be willing to partner with the school to live and emphasize the teachings of the Church communicated through religious education in the school.

So, fourth, a parent or guardian that obstinately lives a life that cannot be reconciled to the teachings of Christ and His Church cannot be a faithful partner with the school. The entire purpose of Catholic education is undermined, and not just for the particular child of the obstinate parent(s). Indeed, as all sin is a defacement of the community, the obstinate parent(s) present a grave danger of scandal for the other children and parents at the school. Rooted in the Word of God and the teachings of the Church, Catholic education, as an outgrowth of the Church's ministry in the world, must not promote scandal nor permit scandal to be promoted within it walls.

No matter how our hearts go out to the two little girls involved in the Boulder, Colorado situation, the decision there to not permit the children to continue to Kindergarten is the right one.

Of course, I am only a lay person who can express an opinion as a member of the faithful. I do not have, nor does NCR or any person that is not ordained a bishop, the teaching authority of the Church and the grave and serious duty to exercise that teaching authority in fidelity with the Word. For Boulder, Colorado, that teaching authority resides in Archbishop Chaput, who has spoken eloquently and pastorally on this matter:
The Church never looks for reasons to turn anyone away from a Catholic education.  But the Church can’t change her moral beliefs without undermining her mission and failing to serve the many families who believe in that mission.  If Catholics take their faith seriously, they naturally follow the teachings of the Church in matters of faith and morals; otherwise they take themselves outside the believing community.

The Church does not claim that people with a homosexual orientation are “bad,” or that their children are less loved by God.  Quite the opposite.  But what the Church does teach is that sexual intimacy by anyone outside marriage is wrong; that marriage is a sacramental covenant; and that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman.  These beliefs are central to a Catholic understanding of human nature, family and happiness, and the organization of society.  The Church cannot change these teachings because, in the faith of Catholics, they are the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The policies of our Catholic school system exist to protect all parties involved, including the children of homosexual couples and the couples themselves.  Our schools are meant to be “partners in faith” with parents.  If parents don’t respect the beliefs of the Church, or live in a manner that openly rejects those beliefs, then partnering with those parents becomes very difficult, if not impossible.  It also places unfair stress on the children, who find themselves caught in the middle, and on their teachers, who have an obligation to teach the authentic faith of the Church.

Most parents who send their children to Catholic schools want an environment where the Catholic faith is fully taught and practiced.  That simply can’t be done if teachers need to worry about wounding the feelings of their students or about alienating students from their parents.  That isn’t fair to anyone—including the wider school community.  Persons who have an understanding of marriage and family life sharply different from Catholic belief are often people of sincerity and good will.  They have other, excellent options for education and should see in them the better course for their children.
What the two women in this situation have done is taken themselves outside of the community of believers by their many actions and their lifestyle that is manifestly contrary to the teachings of Christ and the Church. But, in their obstinance, they want themselves and their actions to be accepted as a part of the faith community, despite their outward opposition to that same community. Indeed, the women call themselves "practicing Catholics" and they claim: "Our kids go to Sunday school." (This quote, however, raises a question in my mind of how engaged in the Church community the two women actually are. Have you ever seen a Catholic Church that offers "Sunday school?") But, a practicing Catholic is one that, despite sin, tries to live a Christian life in obedience to the Church and actively participates in the Sacraments. Given the manifest opposition of the women's lifestyle to Christ and the Church's teaching, it seems apparent that the two do not truly understand Catholic teaching, or they have chosen to ignore it.

A witness to this lack of understanding or ignorance comes at the end of the NCR article. The article reports that the two women are working on a press release, but wanted NCR to go ahead and report their closing sentence: "We will continue to raise our Children with strong Catholic values and hold faith that through our actions, we are doing our part to create a more loving, inclusive world." The problem here is clear. "[S]trong Catholic values" obviously means something to these women that differs from the teachings of the Church.

Not so! At the same time, however, it appears the women are saying they want to raise their children in the same cultural context in which they were raised (i.e., with an apparent veneer of Catholicism, throw in a few sacramentals and maybe the occasional formulaic prayer for good measure, there it is - strong Catholic values (which are opposed, incidentally, to the central teachings of the Church)), but they also want to be free to decide for themselves what is right and wrong - a part of the community, but outside the community all at once. (In fact, the sentence appears to have the audacity to condemn the teachings of the Church as failing in the contemporary all-important virtue of inclusiveness.) This single sentence is even more disparate from the teachings of the Church because the women go on to proclaim their faith in themselves, and their actions, to "create" a world that is more akin to their views. The Church's faith is in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That faith is rooted in Scripture and the teachings that come to us from more than two thousand years of tradition - undivided and apostolic in its proclamation of the truth. Faith in oneself, expressed alone, to "create" the world anew or remake the world is not the Truth of the Gospel. Such a relativistic view of right and wrong is exactly the tyranny of relativism that our Holy Father has repeatedly warned against. Obedience, humility, honesty, contriteness of spirit are the teachings of Christ.

Having said all of this, though, these two women are not struggling with anything that is different from the burden that each of the faithful also struggles with: that is, sin. All of us are sinners. That is the beauty and grandeur of the gift of salvation that we are each offered by Christ. None of us deserves the gift because of our own merit, but because we are the loved creation of God, and because God has been so generous to offer his own Son for our redemption, we are each given the path to live an eternal life in the splendor of the Truth.

I pray for these two women and for their children: may the light of the Holy Spirit dawn upon them and may they see a true path to faithfulness with the community of believers who will welcome them with an authentic love for Christ, as He loved us. May the Mother of God intercede for these poor souls. I commend to Her intercession the protection of the souls of the two children involved and ask that her assistance and protection will never leave them. I also pray for the school involved, the priests, the administrators, the school community and Archbishop Chaput: God bless them and strengthen each in their ministry and mission to promote the teachings of Christ in this age.

14 March 2010

FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT

14 MARCH 2010. Today the Church celebrates Sunday of the fourth week of Lent. Today's readings are so rich, this space, as well as this author, are entirely inadequate to address them in full. However, there are two points that struck me particularly from today's Gospel reading from Saint Luke--the parable of the prodigal son--which I would like to propose as a Lenten reflection.

It has been said that Jesus' parable of the prodigal son is the most beautiful literary work that human hands have ever penned to paper. I would agree. And, there is a immense richness and many levels at which the parable could be addressed. However, notice the father in the parable, and his proximity to each of his two sons. Then, ask, which son is the prodigal son? These are the two points for reflection that I will explore in this post.

First, the father's proximity to his sons is described twice in today's Gospel. The first description provides for us the scene of the younger son returning from the distant land where he has squandered his inheritance: "While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him." (Lk 15, 20 NAB) The second description of the father's physical proximity to his sons involves the older son who returns from work in the fields to find the celebration over the younger son's return: 
He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”
(Lk 15, 28-32 NAB) Notice that in both passages the father is described as moving toward his sons. In the first passage, he runs out to the son, "[w]hile he was still a long way off" and in the second passage he "came out" of the house after the older son refused to enter. Consider the depth of this meaning. God our Father is constantly coming to us, making Himself available to the Israelites of the Old Testament and the new people of Israel--those for whom Christ has come to redeem, who is all humanity--at all times. Consider that it was God the Father that sent Christ the Son for our salvation. He came to us and came for us, we did not go to Him. And, consider that the love of Christ, pored out for us in Christ's passion, death and resurrection is continually made available to us, indeed brought to us, by the ministers of Christ's bride, the Church.

Just as the two sons are continually being approached by the father in Jesus' parable, so too are we continually being approached by God! Do we merit this approach of our Lord, Creator of the Universe? Not in our own right, but certainly we do merit God's approach through His love. So, let us rejoice and offer ourselves in thanksgiving for that Holy Love!

So, continually being approached by a loving father, it becomes a question of which one of the sons is the prodigal. Traditional teaching, and our experience, tells us that the younger son is certainly prodigal, He asks his father for his share of the father's inheritance--in essence saying to the father, "I wish to treat you as though you are dead." The father complies with the younger son's request, and the younger son quickly turns his back on the father and goes to a foreign land and squanders his inheritance. Consider how we are like the younger prodigal son. We have our inheritance in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ--that is, life ever lasting. But, how many of us take this inheritance, turn our back on God, and go to the distant location of sin (building not a geographical, but spiritual distance from God) to squander the inheritance that Christ's love has wrought? We certainly are prodigal like the younger son.

However, the younger son also wises-up in the parable. He confesses his sin to the father and reconciles himself to the father. At this, the father rejoices. But, the parable does not disclose a reconciliation moment for the older son. We learn that he is angry with the father and complains to the father that the younger son has been given favorable treatment. But, we do not hear of this older son's reconciliation. Does that mean the older son never reconciled himself to the father? I do not think Saint Luke gives us enough information to know. However, to be sure we do not see a reconciliation in the parable as it is relayed to us. So, which son is the prodigal?

The younger son who squandered his inheritance, but reconciles himself to a rejoicing father? Or, the older son who is angry with the father and for whom we do not see a reconciliation?

Which of the two sons are we most like? Or, can we see ourselves in both of the father's prodigal sons? How often have we turned our back on God, acting as though He were dead, and squandered the merits that Christ's Blood has bought for us in the valley of sin? And, how often have we been angry with the Lord for what we perceive to be an injustice? Did we reconcile, like the younger son? Or, is our reconciliation with the Lord still in doubt?

Of the many layers of richness in this parable, this much is true: Christ is telling us not to leave our reconciliation with Him in doubt. Our Lord is always coming toward us; the burden for us is lighter than the wood of the cross taken up by Christ, Himself. So, let us rejoice in the Lord's generosity for us and the abundance of His love, made present in a love that is continually pored out on us--brought to us--through the Church. All of us are sinners. All of us, one way or the other, have squandered our inheritance and built a division between ourselves and God. But, the Lord is coming toward us, and waiting with eager anticipation-anticipating celebrating with us our return to Him!

IMAGE: The Prodigal Son, Van Rainy Hecht-Nielsen (1974).

12 March 2010

Favorite Lenten Hym from the Liturgy of the Hours

12 MARCH 2010. From today's Morning Prayer (and also used on other days in Lent):

Lord, whose love in humble service
Bore the weight of human need,
Who did on the cross, forsaken,
Show us mercy's perfect deed;
We, your servants, bring the worship
Not of voice alone, but heart;
Consecrating to your purpose
Every gift which you impart.

As we worship, grant us vision,
Till your love's revealing light,
Till the height and depth and greatness
Dawns upon our human sight;
Making known the needs and burdens
Your compassion bids us bear,
Stirring us to faithful service,
Your abundant life to share.

Called from worship into service
Forth in your great name we go,
To the child, the youth, the aged,
Love in living deeds to show.
Hope and health, goodwill and comfort,
Counsel, aid, and peace we give,
That your children, Lord, in freedom,
May your mercy know, and live.

10 March 2010

et alia

10 MARCH 2010. I am going to use the title of this post, from time to time, to post a series of probably unrelated pieces of thought that I will struggle to organize into a cogent and interesting read for someone out there.

Here goes:

Running on at the keyboard . . .

I know that Lent is a long period of preparation for Easter, but this Lenten season seems to be flying by. More than half of Lent is now behind us and the glory of East is not too far over the horizon.

I remember reading a quote from a cardinal once that said something along these lines: Thank the Lord for purgatory. I will need the time to prepare to see the Lord face-to-face. I understand the Cardinal's sentiment. I need this time of Lent to prepare myself to find again the glory of Easter, but time is drawing too quickly to a close.

I had the honor of serving in the Knights of Columbus 4th degree color guard this evening at the annual Red Mass of the Holy Spirit that is celebrated by all the bishops of Florida each year at the beginning of the annual two month Legislative Session. This year's mass was wonderful, except that our bishop, a tremendous Josephite priest, Bishop John H. Ricard, was not able to attend because he is in a rehabilitation facility. Bishop Ricard is not an old man, not at all, but in recent months he suffered a stroke and has had several complications and set-backs following the stroke. Please pray for Bishop Ricard!

We are tasting our first glimpses of spring weather here in Tallahassee. Dogwood trees are starting to bloom and it was nearly 70 degrees this afternoon. Winter was quite cold this year--Tallahassee saw its longest consecutive string of days with temperatures below freezing (14) in its recorded weather history.

What is the deal with health care reform? Our bishops could not be clearer, and the President seems to be condemned to talking platitudes about reducing abortions, but allowing federal funding of abortion to continue to sail through the health care reform legislative process. Taking the life of an unborn child is not health care! It is not health care for the mother. It is not health care for the unborn baby.

On other life issues, a recent scheduled execution (last week) of a man on Florida's death row has been stayed pending another court review. Have you ever seen death row? I have. It is the single most depressing place in the world that I have been. Men chained and treated like animals. I am not a fan of coddling those who in our society would cruelly victimize others, but the dignity of the human person on death row is institutionally erased. There is a better way. Pray that Florida, and the U.S. as a county, ends the use of the death penalty.

At tonight's Red Mass there was a section of the co-cathedral that was reserved for nuns. It was packed by the start of mass, but I only saw three habits. God bless our nuns who continue to wear the habit. I pray that more nuns will grow to understand that the sight of a habit is an uplifting and needed witness to the world of their identity as Catholic, Christian, religious, consecrated women.

Doesn't the FSU baseball team look great so far this year? They're outscoring opponents by about 40 to 1 (or so it seems). Kudos to Manager Mike Martin, the staff, and the team. But, uh, bring back the sale of frosted pecans at the ballpark. Please!

Seems to me that Archbishop Tim Dolan is everywhere these days. He seems to be a genuinely Christ-centered and loving pastor for the Church in New York. I pray that one day I will be able to sit down with him (hopefully over a meal) and enjoy a conversation with such a pastor. I also pray that the red hat will indeed be bestowed upon him in the yet-to-be-announced (but, highly anticipated) consistory later this year.

Did you realize that there are no Dominican saints on the Order's calendar for the month of March? This means that my daily blogging research gets a bit of a break this time of year. That is actually a relief, because quality time with my breviary is at the top of my priority list this Lent. April will be a busy month.

My wife felt a few flutters of movement from the baby today. We'll learn in a couple of weeks whether the baby is a boy or girl. August will be a busy month.

Take care. May God's blessings be generously bestowed on you all.

09 March 2010

Saint Frances of Rome

9 MARCH 2010. Today the Church remembers the feast day (optional observation) of Saint Frances of Rome, a woman revered as a saint for her life as a wife and her life as a member of a religious order.

Francesca was born to wealthy parents in Rome in A.D. 1384. At the age of eleven, a pious and serious child, Francesca decided to become a nun, but before her thirteenth birthday (not unusual for a girl of her age at that time) her parents married her off to Lorenzo Ponziani, a commander of the papal troops of Rome.

Francesca's marriage to Lorenzo, though arranged, was a happy one that lasted for forty years. While her husband was frequently away on military campaigns, Saint Frances and her sister, Vannozza, would visit the sick and care for the poor, and inspired other wealthy women to do the same. Among the poor, Saint Frances earned the nickname "la Ceccolella" (the queen).

Saint Frances and her husband had six children, but two of them died in the plague. For Francesca, it sensitized her and her husband to the plight of the poor in the war torn and ravaged Rome of the time. Tradition tells that the city had fallen into such disrepair that  wolves roamed the streets. During the military campaigns of Lorenzo, and the strife in Rome, much of the property and possessions of he and Saint Frances were lost or destroyed.

After Saint Frances' home was looted by invaders, she turned it into a hospital and shelter for the needy.

A year after her nine year old son, Evangelista, died from plague, Francesca received a vision that her daughter, Agnes, was to die too. In return, however, God sent to Saint Frances an archangel to be her guardian for the rest of of her life. This ever-present bright light was said to resemble a young boy that only she could see. A moral adviser, he once commanded her to stop her severe penances: “He who made your body and gave it to your soul as a servant never intended that the spirit should ruin the flesh and return it to him despoiled.” When her behaviour displeased him, he was said to have faded from her sight; and when vulgar language was spoken before her, he covered his face in shame. When she traveled in the dangerous city by night, her angel preceded her with a lamp resembling a headlight to help her find her way.

In A.D. 1425, with the approval of her husband, she founded the Olivetan Oblates of Mary, a confraternity of religious women attached to the Santa Maria Nova church in the Roman Forum. Its women were neither cloistered nor bound by formal vows so were able to devote themselves to the sick and needy. On 4 July Pope Eugene IV declared Saint Frances' oblates a religious congregation of nuns. (The Olivetan Congregation has been apart of the Benedictine Confederation since A.D. 1960.) Since A.D. 1433, the convent of Saint Frances has been in Tor di Specchi, near Trastevere, and upon the death of her husband from battle wounds in A.D. 1436, she retired permanently to the convent and became the superior.

Saint Frances had the gift of miracles and visions. Her visions often assumed the form of drama enacted for her by heavenly personages. She had revelations concerning purgatory and hell, and foretold the ending of the Western Schism. Tradition also tells that Saint Frances was remarkable for her humility and detachment and her obedience and patience. Saint Frances died on 9 March 1440.

Today, the doors of her convent are opened to the public once a year on 9 March. The saint’s room and the main hall can be seen as decorated in the 1480sl. Bright frescos depict Francesca’s visions of divine personages and heaven and hell – a woman’s divine comedy – and scenes from her life, fearlessly venturing through the city, often accompanied by her guardian archangel or sometimes tempted by fiends.

On 9 May 1608, Francesca was canonized by Pope Paul V and a search was undertaken to find her remains. They were found on 2 April 1638 and reburied on 9 March 1649. In A.D. 1869, Saint Frances' body was exhumed and has since then been exposed to the veneration of the faithful in a crystal coffin. The church of Santa Maria Nova is usually now referred to as the church of Santa Francesca Romana. In A.D. 1925 Pope Pius XI declared her the patron saint of automobile drivers because of a legend that an angel used to light the road in front of her with a lantern when she traveled, keeping her safe from hazards.

Prayer

God,
in Saint Frances You have given us
a singular example of both the monastic
and the conjugal way of life.
Help us to persevere in serving You
so that in all vicissitudes of life
we may both look to You and follow You.

Amen.

07 March 2010

THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT

7 MARCH 2010. Today the Church celebrates the third Sunday of Lent. Our Leten journey is approaching the halfway mark: today is the 19th day of Lent.

The readings today bring us the Gospel story of Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob in Sychar. Having left Judea and traveling toward Galilee, Jesus goes to Samaria, a land of great danger and strife. Following the Assyrian invasion in about 722 B.C., the land of Samaria became a place of mixed Jewish and non-Jewish inhabitants who developed their own religious practices along the lines of Judiasm, but still rooted too in serving the non-Jewish inhabitant's other Gods. In the time of Christ, Samaria was a land of conflict between the Jews and the Samarians.

No wonder, then, the woman's surprise when Jesus speaks to her: "'How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?' (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.)" (Jn 4, 9) Imagine the mistrust this woman must have felt in the presence of a Jewish man asking her for a drink. Jews and Samaritans did not speak and shared nothing. Yet, here is Christ, talking with a Samaritan woman. What is more, as the conversation progresses, Jesus reveals to this woman His true being:
The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one speaking with you.
(Jn 4, 25-26) There is certainly much richness in this Gospel passage, but let's consider this point--Jesus' geographical location and his revelation of Himself to the Samaritan woman.

Certainly Christ did not take the easy road to Galilee. Why would He go to a flashpoint of conflict in Samaria like the well of Jacob? He did so because it was a land of conflict. One might even say that He did so because the Samaritans had a Jewish heritage, but had strayed from that faith. Christ is our Redemeer. By His love, His passion and death, and His resurrection He restores all humanity to the fullness of life in Himself.

In going to Samaria, Christ goes to the place where there is most need for redemption, the place of strife. For each of us, Christ wishes to be with us in that place in our soul that is in strife and most in need of redemption. Christ does not want to see us only in our pious manners and Sunday best. He wants to meet us in the depths of our sin, where His redemptive love can make us whole. So, Christ comes to Samaria, to the well of Jacob, most in need of His redemption and, we hear, while there "they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.Many more began to believe in him because of his word . . . ." (Jn 4, 40-41)

So, we see that Christ went to Samaria, too, to bring people to salvation by their belief in Him. In our failings, for those who doubt or disagree with the Church, for those who reject the teachings of Christ and the love of God, it is in that geography of sin that Christ desires to meet us.

Each of us has our own Samaria, where Christ wants to do what for us is probably unthinkable--He wants to greet us. He wants to love us. If only we acknowledge Him. Think of how much would have been lost if the Samaritan woman had ignored Christ's question and run away. Each of us has this calling--to acknowledge Christ in our own Samaria and open ourselves to His love.

For what does Christ bring? He is the Messiah. That is the message He gives to the Samaritan woman. Jesus is not just a Jewish man speaking to the Samaritan woman out of curiosity. He is the Messiah--the Son of God sent to bring redemption to the chosen people of Israel--and He is proclaiming Himself to this Samaritan woman. In this, Jesus breaks down the division between Jew and Samaritan, He offers His love to all.

The new Israel are the faithful of God. Christ's resurrection breaks down the barriers of race and creed and geography. And, Christ wants to meet us--to converse with us--in our Sin to save us.

Listen to the exhortation of Venerable Pope John Paul II--Throw open wide the doors to Christ! And, in this Lenten season, let us throw open our hearts to Christ who seeks to greet us in the depths of our souls most in need of His love.

IMAGE: Mid fourth century depiction of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well from the catacomb on the Via Latina.

06 March 2010

Saint Bonaventure: the Great Theologian

6 MARCH 2010. Last Wednesday, during the Holy Father's general audience in Paul VI Hall, the Pope gave an address on Saint Bonaventure, who was the subject of the Holy Father's second doctoral dissertation. Although a few days old, Saint Bonaventure is not "yesterday's news."

A defender of both Franciscans and Dominicans against those at the time who did not understand the mendicant orders, Saint Bonaventure's teaching is, as the Pope says, "always timely." Below is the full text of the Holy Father's address on Saint Bonaventure:
Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like to speak about St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio. I confide to you that on proposing this theme I feel a certain nostalgia because I remember the research that, as a young scholar, I carried out precisely on this author, whom I particularly esteem. His knowledge has been of no small influence in my formation. With great joy I went on pilgrimage a few months ago to his birthplace, Bagnoregio, a small Italian city, in Latium, which venerates his memory.

Born probably in 1217, he died in 1274; he lived in the 13th century, an age in which the Christian faith, profoundly permeating the culture and society of Europe, inspired immortal works in the field of literature, visual arts, philosophy and theology. Striking among the great Christian figures who contributed to the composition of this harmony between faith and culture is, precisely, Bonaventure, man of action and of contemplation, of profound piety and of prudence in governing.

He was called John of Fidanza. An incident that occurred when he was still a boy profoundly marked his life, as he himself relates. He had been affected by a serious illness and not even his father, who was a doctor, hoped to save him from death. His mother appealed then to the intercession of St. Francis of Assisi, canonized a short time earlier. And John was cured. The figure of the Poverello of Assisi became even more familiar a year later, when he was in Paris, where he had gone for his studies. He had obtained the diploma of Master of Arts, which we could compare to that of a prestigious secondary school of our time. At that point, as so many young people of the past and also of today, John asked himself a crucial question: "What must I do with my life?" Fascinated by the witness of fervor and evangelical radicalism of the Friars Minor, who had arrived in Paris in 1219, John knocked on the doors of the Franciscan monastery of that city, and asked to be received in the great family of the disciples of St. Francis. 

Many years later, he explained the reasons for his choice: He recognized the action of Christ in St. Francis and in the movement he initiated. He wrote thus in a letter addressed to another friar: "I confess before God that the reason that made me love more the life of Blessed Francis is that it is similar to the origin and growth of the Church. The Church began with simple fishermen, and was enriched immediately with very illustrious and wise doctors; the religion of Blessed Francis was not established by the prudence of men, but by Christ" (Epistula de tribus quaestionibus ad magistrum innominatum, in Opere di San Bonaventura. Intoduzione generale, Rome, 1990, p. 29).

Therefore, around the year 1243 John put on the Franciscan coarse woolen cloth and took the name Bonaventure. He was immediately directed to studies and frequented the faculty of theology of the University of Paris, following a program of very difficult courses. He obtained the different titles required by the academic career, those of "biblical bachelor's" and "bachelor's in sentences." Thus Bonaventure studied in depth sacred Scripture, the Sentences of Peter Lombard, the manual of theology of that time, and the most important authors of theology and, in contact with the teachers and students that arrived in Paris from the whole of Europe, he matured his own personal reflection and a spiritual sensitivity of great value that, in the course of the following years, showed in his works and sermons, thus making him one of the most important theologians of the history of the Church. It is significant to recall the title of the thesis he defended to be able to qualify in the teaching of theology, the licentia ubique docendi, as it was then called. His dissertation was titled "Questions on Knowledge of Christ." This argument shows the central role that Christ always had in the life and teaching of Bonaventure. We can say, in fact, that all his thought was profoundly Christocentric. 
In those years in Paris, Bonaventure's adopted city, a violent dispute broke out against the Friars Minor of St. Francis of Assisi and the Friars Preachers of St. Dominic Guzm├ín. Debated was their right to teach in the university and doubts were even cast on the authenticity of their consecrated life. Certainly the changes introduced by the Mendicant Orders in the way of understanding religious life, of which I spoke in preceding catecheses, were so innovative that not everyone understood them. Also added, as happens sometimes among sincerely religious persons, were motives of human weakness, such as envy and jealousy. Bonaventure, although surrounded by the opposition of the rest of the university teachers, had already started to teach in the chair of theology of the Franciscans and, to respond to those who were criticizing the Mendicant Orders, he composed a writing titled "Evangelical Perfection." In this writing he showed how the Mendicant Orders, especially the Friars Minor, practicing the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, were following the counsels of the Gospel itself. Beyond these historical circumstances, the teaching offered by Bonaventure in this work of his and in his life is always timely: The Church becomes luminous and beautiful by fidelity to the vocation of those sons and daughters of hers who not only put into practice the evangelical precepts, but who, by the grace of God, are called to observe their advice and thus give witness, with their poor, chaste and obedient lifestyle, that the Gospel is source of joy and perfection.

The conflict died down, at least for a certain period, and, by the personal intervention of Pope Alexander IV, in 1257 Bonaventure was officially recognized as doctor and teacher of the Parisian University. Despite all this, he had to resign from this prestigious post, because that same year the General Chapter of the order elected him minister-general.

He carried out this task for 17 years with wisdom and dedication, visiting the provinces, writing to brothers, intervening at times with a certain severity to eliminate abuses. When Bonaventure began this service, the Order of Friars Minor had developed in a prodigious way: There were more than 30,000 friars spread over the whole of the West, with a missionary presence in North Africa, the Middle East and also Peking. It was necessary to consolidate this expansion and above all to confer on it, in full fidelity to Francis' charism, unity of action and spirit. In fact, among the followers of the Saint of Assisi there were different forms of interpreting his message and the risk really existed of an internal split. To avoid this danger, in 1260 the General Chapter of the order in Narbonne accepted and ratified a text proposed by Bonaventure, which unified the norms that regulated the daily life of the Friars Minor. Bonaventure intuited, however, that the legislative dispositions, though inspired in wisdom and moderation, were not sufficient to ensure communion of spirit and hearts. It was necessary to share the same ideals and the same motivations. For this reason, Bonaventure wished to present the authentic charism of Francis, his life and his teaching. Hence he gathered with great zeal documents related to the Poverello and listened attentively to the memories of those who had known Francis directly. From this was born a biography, historically well founded, of the Saint of Assisi, titled Legenda Maior, written also in a very succinct manner and called because of this the Legend. The Latin word, as opposed to the Italian [and English, legend], does not indicate a fruit of imagination but, on the contrary, Legenda means an authoritative text, "to be read" officially. In fact, the General Chapter of the Friars Minor of 1263, which met in Pisa, recognized in St. Bonaventure's biography the most faithful portrait of the founder and it thus became the official biography of the saint.

What is the image of St. Francis that arises from the heart and pen of his devoted son and successor, St. Bonaventure? The essential point: Francis is an alter Christus, a man who passionately sought Christ. In the love that drives to imitation, he was entirely conformed to Him. Bonaventure pointed out this living ideal to all of Francis' followers. This ideal, valid for every Christian, yesterday, today and always, was indicated as a program also for the Church of the Third Millennium by my predecessor, the Venerable John Paul II. This program, he wrote in the letter "Tertio Millennio Ineunte," is centered "on Christ himself, who must be known, loved and imitated to live in Him the Trinitarian life, and, with Him, to transform history to its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem" (No. 29).

In 1273 St. Bonaventure's life met with another change. Pope Gregory X wished to consecrate him bishop and name him cardinal. He also asked him to prepare a very important ecclesial event: the Second Ecumenical Council of Lyon, whose objective was the re-establishment of communion between the Latin and the Greek Churches. He dedicated himself to this task with diligence, but was unable to see the conclusion of that ecumenical summit, as he died while it was being held. An anonymous papal notary composed a eulogy of Bonaventure, which offers us a conclusive portrait of this great saint and excellent theologian: "Good, affable, pious and merciful man, full of virtues, loved by God and by men ... God, in fact, had given him such grace, that all those who saw him were invaded by a love that the heart could not conceal" (cf. J.G. Bougerol, Bonaventura, in A. Vauchez (vv.aa), Storia dei Santi e della santita cristiana. Vol. VI. L'epoca del rinnovamento evangelico, Milan, 1991, p. 91).

Let us take up the legacy of this saint, doctor of the Church, who reminds us of the meaning of our life with these words: "On earth ... we can contemplate the divine immensity through reasoning and admiration; in the heavenly homeland, instead, through vision, when we will be made like to God, and through ecstasy --- we will enter into the joy of God" (La conoscenza di Cristo, q. 6, conclusione, in Opere di San Bonaventura. Opuscoli Teologici /1, Rome, 1993, p. 187).

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