March 2013 Archives

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THE RESURRECTION OF THE LORD

Christ is risen!
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen!

David sings the mystery
and the Church takes up his song!
This is the night foretold in prophecy:
"And the night shall be enlightened as the day;
and the night is my light and my delight" (Ps 138:12),
for Christ is risen!

Tonight the light of His Face is signed upon us,
for Christ is risen!
Tonight the veil is lifted from the Countenance of Love,
for Christ is risen!

Blessed the veil that covered His beauty in death!
Blessed the veil that Simon Peter saw,
"not lying with the linen cloths
but rolled up in a place by itself" (Jn 20:7),
for Christ is risen!

1. In the beginning the heavens were splayed across the void
and the fabric of creation was woven by His hands:
a veil translucent upon the face of the earth,
finely woven that through it we might glimpse His glory!
Christ is risen!

In the beginning He made man in His image, in His likeness.
From the dust Adam emerged, facing the splendour of His glory:
the creature reflecting as in a mirror
the Uncreated Beauty from which all beauty springs.

Great was Adam's grief,
terrible the laments of Eve,
when before their darkened eyes
descended the veil opaque and heavy,
the veil that they, by their sin, had pulled down hard and fast
like a window shade in time of war!
But now the long blackout of history is ended,
for Christ is risen!

"Look, my darling Eve," says ancient Adam
in a creaking voice that has forgotten how to sing,
"is that the light of God I see?"
Behold, the peace of paradise,
for Christ is risen!
Shredded are the shades of night!
Sprung from their hinges the gates of the netherworld!
Unchained the chains, unbolted the bolts!
Christ is risen!

Eve, all bent earthward, stooped with the weight of the ages,
lifts her old gray head as if to examine the fruit on a branch,
then, leaning on her walking stick older than time
-- Adam had cut it for her from The Tree --
straightens her crooked back,
and opens her mouth to say:
Christ is risen!

He enters, the Warrior returned from battle,
the King covered with victory,
the Bridegroom "all radiant and ruddy,
distinguished among ten thousand" (Ct 5:10),
for Christ is risen!

2. Behold, the Ram caught in a thicket of thorns!
Behold, the gentle Lamb bound and laid upon the wood!
Behold, the Victim for the Altar!
Behold, the Offering in Love's Undying Flame consumed!
Christ is risen!

Isaac, wide-eyed, looking on,
remembers well the day he was bound fast
and laid upon the altar
by his father's trembling and tender hand.
He remembers the flash of the blade above his head
and, out of heaven, the voice:
"Abraham! Abraham! You have not withheld your son,
your only-begotten son from me!" (cf. Gen 22: 11-12).
"Oh, Father, now I see!
It is as you said:
'God Himself will provide the Lamb, my son,'
for Christ is risen!"

3. Moses, wakened from his sleep,
shuffles out to see the sight,
brooding, grumbling as he goes.
"After forty years of leading them,
the stiff-necked, fickle, dull-witted lot,
could they not at least let a man retired take his rest!
And why that ringing of bells and tambourines?
Would not a slap of the clapper do?"
Not for a minute, my Lord Moses,
for Christ is risen!"

"Could they not have called on Joshua
to see whatever this marvel may be?
I, after all, have seen it all:
the plagues and the parting of the sea,
the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire,
the rush of the waters, the fright of the steeds,
chariots sinking in the mud and Egyptians dead upon the shore!"
(He does not yet know that -- Christ is risen!)

Then he sees Him whom once he knew,
the Friend with whom he spoke face to face (cf. Ex 33:11),
the Glory whose trail of splendour
he spied from the cleft of the rock (cf. Ex 33:22),
the Beloved Son who woke him briefly not so long ago
to converse with Him and with Elijah
of another exodus, His! (cf. Lk 28:31).
Christ is risen!

Behold Him now, more beautiful than on the heights of Thabor!
Then, "His face shone like the sun,
and his garments became white as light" (Mt 17:2),
but now, there are no words to describe him,
for Christ is risen!

4. He comes, the Lover back from combat,
with shining shards of ruby brightness
slashing through his hands and feet!
"His head is the finest gold;
his locks are wavy,
black as a raven" (Ct 5:11),
and across his forehead
a ring of cut diamonds, an incision of stars!
Christ is risen!

"Your Maker is your Husband,
the Lord of Hosts is His Name!"
Christ is risen!
"Fear not, for you will not be ashamed" (Is 54:4),
for Christ is risen!

"'I hid my Face from you' (Is 54:8), it is true,
shroud and veil covered me,
a stone, the seal upon my tomb,
but now my Face unveiled would be your feast,
your tabernacle, your paradise.
Christ is risen!

There is but a lattice of hope between us,
or the membrane of a living faith stretched taut
and wholly penetrable to love.
Christ is risen!

"His eyes are like doves
beside springs of water,
bathed in milk, fitly set.
His cheeks are like beds of spices,
yielding fragrance.
His lips are lilies,
distilling liquid myrrh" (Ct 5:12-13),
for Christ is risen!

5. If you are parched, come to the waters!
If you have no money, come all the same!
Tonight is the festival of the destitute,
the homecoming of the wanderer,
the hospitality of the heavens thrown open to the earth!
For Christ is risen!

Tonight there is water in abundance,
for feet and hands and face and head!
A cascade of jewels for the Bride of Christ,
Splashing wetness on the pavement,
bringing a thrill to every thirsting heart,
for Christ is risen!

Tonight, for our lips, there is something sweeter than honey!
Tonight there is a Chalice brimming with the fruit of the vine!
Tonight there is Bread from heaven to strengthen every heart,
supersubstantial, and having within it all delight,
for Christ is risen!

"Ah," I hear you say, "my fasting was not all it could have been,
and, often, from abstinence I abstained!
My penitence was paltry,
and my prayer-time bound to the miserly measure of the clock!
In giving alms I was stiff-necked and stingy,
and when I tried to bend my mind to the Scriptures
it was my feeble head that bent in sleep!
This feast, I fear, is not for me!"
Nonsense! For Christ is risen!

Tonight all is given away:
pardon for sinners,
healing for the sick,
laughter for weepers,
a song for the sullen,
and for those who have nothing -- everything!
Christ is risen!

Tonight no one gets what he deserves!
Each one gets what he has not earned:
"What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor 2:9),
for Christ is risen!

6. Tonight the stars shine in their watches and are glad (Bar 3:34),
sparks of fire hurled into the murky vastness,
an incandescent train for the King of Glory!
Christ is risen!

Faithful, each remains at her post,
until having spent all her blaze for love,
she falls into the secret place prepared for her,
for Christ is risen!

Tonight, for the foolish there is wisdom!
Tonight, for the weak there is strength!
Tonight, for the simple there is understanding!
Christ is risen!

Tonight, for the uncertain there is discernment!
Tonight, for the anxious there is length of days and life!
Tonight, for the blind there is light!
Tonight, for the battle-scarred and weary there is peace,
for Christ is risen!

7. Tonight, there is a bath to wash away every defilement!
Tonight, there is a cleansing from every uncleanness!
Tonight, every idol comes crashing down!
Tonight, there is a mystical infusion of purity in our inmost parts,
for Christ is risen!

This is the night of the new heart.
This is the night of the new spirit.
This is the night of hearts of stone
exchanged for hearts of flesh (cf. Ez 36:26),
for Christ is risen!

Tonight the panting deer arrives at flowing streams!
Tonight she who puts no limits on her desire
is held fast in the embrace of a Love without limits!
Christ is risen!

Tonight he who has followed his heart's whispering,
-- "Seek His Face" --
feasts, like Simon, on the Face of His Lord,
for Christ is risen!

8. After Moses, after David and the Prophets,
the Apostle draws a breath and speaks:
"Consider yourselves," he said, "dead to sin" (Rom 6:11).
"Dead?" you say, fearful and astonished.
"Dead," he says. "No other way.
-- And alive to God in Christ Jesus" (cf. Rom 6:11).
Christ is risen!

Die then, tonight, die dead to all that is old,
die dead to all that is decayed,
die dead to all that will not rise to join the dance,
for Christ is risen!

9. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary
ran before us to the tomb!
The earth shook and shifted, jumped and heaved!
"What cosmic dance is this?" they asked,
as over rocks and rills they sped,
while beneath their feet the road to His tomb
cracked like the shells of Easter eggs!
Christ is risen!

And then they saw it all:
the gracious Angel seated on the stone,
dazzling brightness,
blinding whiteness,
guards, first shaking like leaves in the breeze,
and then stiff as dead men for fear!

"Do not be afraid;
for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.
He is not here, for he has risen as he said.
Come see the place where he lay" (Mt 28:6).
Christ is risen!

To them it was announced, yes,
but the Mother . . . the Mother already knew!
She, the first in this night as in the night of Bethlehem,
to behold the Human Face of God!
Christ is risen!

Christ is risen that we, going to the altar in this most holy night,
might see His Face shining beneath the sacramental veils!
Christ is risen that we, like so many mirrors lifted high to catch the light,
might dispel the darkness within and without!
Christ is risen that hope may triumph in every heart, in every place!

Christ is risen to go before us:
our Brother to the Father,
our Priest to the Altar.
our Saviour to the world!

Christ is risen!
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen!

Salve, Festa Dies

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It is the custom in some monasteries to go round the cloister, singing the Salve, Festa Dies, in procession before Lauds on Easter morning. Many years ago I awoke on Easter morning with the readings of the Great Paschal Vigil still fresh in my heart, and composed a strophe for each one, adapted to the lilting chant melody of the Salve, Festa Dies. The incomparable refrain is sung in Latin and repeated after each one of the strophes.

The Dominicans had, in various houses of their Order, the practice of carrying the Blessed Sacrament in this Easter morning procession. We read in the book for the Sacred Triduum of the Order of Preachers: In diluculo festi Resurrectionis Domini, in pluribus Conventibus, immediate post Matutinas, in memoriam tanti beneficii, fit Processio, et deportatur sanctissimum Eucharistiae Sacramentum per claustrum, sicit in die Corporis Christi, cum magna solemnitate. Wonderful!

Salve, Festa Dies

R. Salve festa dies toto venerabilis aevo
Qua Deus infernum vicit et astra tenet.

Let the whole cosmos dance in praise,
The skies, the oceans, mountains, hills and plains,
Sun and moon and stars in chorus ranged,
Praise Christ now risen from the dead!

Old Adam stirs from ancient sleep,
And Mother Eve stands up to see the sight,
Christ extends his hand to set them free,
And Hades’ caverns bathe in light!

To Abraham the Guest returns
Who long ago was welcomed 'neath the tree;
Sarah’s joy spills over once again
For Christ is risen from the dead!

He is the First-Born from the dead,
The Lamb by Isaac in the thicket seen
The Lamb once slain upon the mount
The living Shepherd of the sheep!

Now Moses sees him face to face,
The Son called out of Egypt’s narrow place;
The Red Sea crossed, the broad place gained
In Christ now risen from the dead!

The shroud and napkin in the tomb
Love’s face concealed through Sabbath tears and gloom;
The dawn reveals Love’s face in light
And every fear is put to flight.

Come to the waters, all who thirst,
The wellspring flows to wash away the curse;
The Seed, the Sower, and the Bread
Is Christ now risen from the dead!

Baruch his oracle declaims:
With you is wisdom, strength, and length of days;
You send forth light and quick it goes;
You name the stars, for you they glow.

Now hearts of stone are turned to flesh,
The hard and frozen melt beneath his Breath;
The torrent rushes sweet and fresh
For Christ is risen from the dead!

It is the first day of the week;
The bright and deathless Eighth Day let us keep!
Angelic whiteness fill our eyes,
And birdsong tells it to the skies.

Myrrh-bearing women, turn around;
The One you seek by you waits to be found.
Be not afraid, do as I said,
For Christ is risen from the dead.

Let chants of glory roll like waves;
For Christ has led to freedom Egypt’s slaves;
The Father’s thirst at last is quenched,
The Spirit’s dew the Church has drenched.


Ecce Mater Tua

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As His last will and testament, Jesus committed to His beloved heir the care of His mother in whose debt He knew Himself to be. So Christ divided His inheritance between Peter who loved the most and John who was loved the most. To Peter fell the Church; to John, Mary. (Blessed Guerric of Igny, Fourth Sermon for the Feast of the Assumption)

Today is the Great and Holy Sabbath. All is silent. Today belongs to Mary, Virgin Mother of Him whose Sacred Body lies shrouded in the sepulchre. This morning after Prime, I invited the brethren to spend today in Mary's company, close to her sorrowful and immaculate Heart, just as Saint John must have spent that first Holy Saturday in her company, sharing in the sorrows of her sword-pierced soul, and entering into her silence.

On that first Holy Saturday, the hope of the Church was enclosed in Mary's Heart, burning there like a fragile flame in a world suddenly grown cold and empty. One who remains close to Our Lady in the Holy Saturdays of life will never be without hope.

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Whither has your Beloved gone,
O fairest among women?
Whither has your Beloved turned,
that we may seek Him with you?

My Beloved has gone down to His garden,
to the beds of spices,
to pasture His flock in the gardens,
and to gather lilies. . . .

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
that you not stir up nor awake Love
until it please. . . .

Make haste, my Beloved,
and be like a gazelle
or a young stag
upon the mountains of spices.

Canticle 6:2; 7:14

Verbum Crucis

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Struck by the expression on the faces of Christ and of the Angel holding the chalice to His pierced side, I took this photograph of a fresco at the Carceri in Assisi some years ago.

Friday of the Passion of the Lord

Last night He sat with us at table.
His Face illumined the Upper Room
and there, just above the bread and behind the chalice,
beat His Heart of flesh.

John inclined his head;
he closed his eyes like a child secure on his mother’s breast,
and listened there to the rhythm of the Love
that, mightily and sweetly, orders the sun and stars;
to the rhythm of the Love that, with every beat,
stretches upward and spirals inward to the Father;
to the rhythm of Love that meets
the pulse of every of other beating heart.

Last night, He lifted up His eyes to heaven
and, all shining with the glory of His priesthood,
said: “Father, the hour has come;
glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee” (Jn 17:1).

And to His disciples He said:
Desiderio desideravi . . .
“With desire I have desired
to eat this pasch with you before I suffer” (Lk 22:15).
“And taking bread, He gave thanks and broke,
and gave to them, saying:
'This is my body which is given for you:
do this for a commemoration of me.’
In like manner, the chalice also, after He had supped, saying:
'This is the chalice, the New Testament in my blood
which shall be shed for you’” (Lk 22:19-20).

In that moment, the Sacrifice was already accomplished.
The wood of the supper table fused with the wood of the Cross.
The Cross became His altar,
and He became the Lamb
fulfilling Abraham’s prophecy on the mountain:
“God will provide himself the lamb for a holocaust, my son” (Gen 22:8).

After that moment, there was no going back.
Before it the entire cosmos held its breath
in fearful anticipation.
After it, the angels themselves sighed,
and began to breathe again their breathless praises.

Had He not said, “I came to cast fire upon the earth;
and would that it were already kindled!
I have a baptism to be baptized with;
and how I am constrained until it is accomplished” (Lk 12:49-50).
And they, paying attention to His Face
“as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 P 1:19),
remembered that He had said,
“Now is my soul troubled.
And what shall I say?
'Father, save me from this hour’?
No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.
Father, glorify thy name.” (Jn 12:27).

“Then a voice came from heaven,
'I have glorified it,
and I will glorify it again.’
The crowd standing by heard it
and said that it had thundered” (Jn 12:28).

But last night in the Cenacle,
with shadows winding about them like a shroud,
there was no thunder, no voice,
but only the immensity of a silence
that He -- and those closest to His Heart --
knew to be the Father’s sorrowful assent.
And the betrayer, quick to do
what could no longer be delayed,
slipped out.
“And it was night” (Jn 13:30).

In the garden,
His Face was unseen,
for the eyes of His friends had grown heavy with sleep,
and there was none to meet the gaze of the Sorrowing Son
other than the Sorrowing Father
and the Consoling Angel whom He had sent
to wipe His brow,
to caress His head
and, for a moment, to hold His hand.

This the Sorrowing Mother would have done
had she been there,
but even that was denied her.
The Mother was replaced by an Angel!
The consolation that only she could have given
was given by another,
and yet He knew the difference:
though sweet, it was an angel’s, not a mother’s.

Weeping like Eve outside the garden,
she consented to the bitter Chalice:
“Be it done unto me as to your Word!”
Chosen for this, she elected to remain
cloistered in the Father’s Will,
hidden and veiled in grief,
to drink there of the Chalice of her Son, the Priest,
and savour it, bitter against the palate of her soul,
for nought can taste a child’s suffering
like a mother’s palate.

Then the Angel too was gone
and the Father hid behind the veil of blood and of tears,
leaving the Son alone with His sorrow
and with His fear,
to proceed with the Sacrifice:
the priest stopping on the way to the altar
with the chalice already in his hands.

“My heart expected reproach and misery;
and I looked for one that would grieve together with me,
and there was none!
I sought for one to comfort me, and I found none” (Ps 68:21-22).

There began the disfiguration of His Face,
the humiliation of Beauty,
the descent deep into abjection.
Blood oozing from His pores
mingled with tears streaming from His eyes,
and blood and tears alike
precious in the Father’s eyes,
soaked the earth beneath Him
filling the underworld and all the just there waiting
with a strange anticipation.

There followed the kiss of betrayal;
the grieving over one loved even in his sin;
the denial by Peter, His chosen rock, here soft as lead;
and that desolate liturgy crafted by iniquity:
a round of rude processions
first to Annas, and then from Annas to Caiaphas,
and then from Caiaphas to Pilate.

Pilate, unwittingly, summons the world
to gaze upon His Face:
“So Jesus came forth bearing the crown of thorns,
and the purple garment.
And he said to them, 'Behold the man’” (Jn 19:5).

The Seraphim above, hearing this utterance from far below,
turn their eyes of fire to behold the Man.
For a moment
-- if moments there be in eternity --
the ceaseless beating of their ruby wings is stilled
and all of heaven’s eyes
meet the gaze of the Son of Man
and rest riveted to His Holy Face.

Hidden in the crowd is the Mother.
Now from her grief-stricken heart there rises over Pilate’s words
that prayer of the psalmist
entrusted to Israel, and to her, the Daughter of Sion,
for this day, and for this hour:
“Behold, O God, our protector;
look upon the Face of your Christ!” (Ps 83:9).

Charged with the terrible timber of that chosen tree,
all the weight of the sin of the ages
presses into His flesh that He, the Lamb, might bear it away:
the crushing cruelty of my sins and yours:
pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth.

Upon Him lies the burden of every betrayal, every refusal,
every indifference, every defilement,
every blasphemy, every hardness of heart.
This is the heaviness that pushes Him three times to the ground,
grinding His Face into the dust,
that dust out of which, in the beginning, He fashioned man,
His masterpiece, His image, His joy.

Having arrived at the place of a skull
“which is called in Hebrew Golgotha” (Jn 19:17),
He stretches out His hands
to receive the nails
that will hold Him on the wood
in the position of one waiting to embrace and to be embraced,
in the gesture of the priest standing before the altar
for the Great Thanksgiving.
His feet are nailed
fixing Him to this one place at the centre of the earth,
that all who approach the Cross
might find Him there,
the One who, immobilized,
can say only, “Come to me.”
“Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden,
and I will refresh you” (Mt 11:27).

Here the Bridegroom finds His marriage bed,
here Priest and Victim find the altar,
here the King of Glory finds His throne.
Here the Oblation is lifted high;
here the covenant is ratified,
here the Spirit is outpoured
in the Breath of His mouth.

Those who approach His pierced feet,
He raises, by a word, to His pierced side,
repeating from the Cross
what He said last night at table:
“Drink of it, all of you;
for this is my blood of the covenant,
which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28).
The Mother assisting at this,
the solemn once-and-for-all Mass of her Son, her Priest,
follows the bloody liturgy
with the absolute adhesion of her heart
to every gesture, every word.

The Mother sees,
the Mother understands
that the Cross is the new language of new liturgy
for a new temple.
Every alphabet devised by men
is subsumed into the Verbum Crucis,
the language of the Cross,
the one language devised by God
to say all that He would say to man
through Christ, His mediating Priest;
the one language
by which man, speaking through the same Eternal Priest,
can say all that he would ever need to say to God.

For this is the Woman given to John,
to every priest of Jesus
to every disciple of Jesus:
that at the school of the Mother of Sorrows,
all might learn the language of the Cross,
the pure liturgy of sacrificial love.

“'Woman, behold thy son!’
After that He said to the disciple:
'Behold thy mother!’
And from that hour the disciple took her to his own” (jn 19: 26-27).

The language of the Cross,
transcending the Hebrew, the Latin, and the Greek
of the inscription affixed to the tree
will be the mother tongue of the Church,
the language of the saints of every age,
the language of the one Holy Sacrifice
offered in every place
from the rising of the sun to its setting (Mal 1:11).

If you would hear the Word of the Cross (1 Cor 1:18),
remain silent before it and adore.
Approach it not with many words,
but with tears,
and with one burning kiss of reparation and of love.
Plant your kiss upon His feet,
press your mouth against that wound
and wait,
wait in the stillness of the Great Sabbath,
to drink in the brightness of Pascha
from the river of life
that even now gushes from His open Heart.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Psalm 30
Hebrews 4:14-5:9
John 18:1-19:42

Stabat Mater

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This is the lovely translation of the Stabat Mater given in Maurice Zundel's classic, The Splendour of the Liturgy (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1939).

Plunged in grief the mother stood,
Weeping where the crimsoned wood
Held on high her dying son.

Through her soul, whose mourning low,
Told how grievous was her woe,
Sorrow like a sword had gone.

Oh! how sad, how sorrow laden,
Stood the meek and blessed maiden,
God's true mother undefiled.

Trembling, weeping, whelmed in woes,
Witnessing the dying throes
Of her own immortal child.

Who is he who would not weep,
Could he know what anguish deep,
Pierced the mother of the Lord?

Who from sorrow could refrain,
Gazing on that mother's pain,
Weeping with her son adored?

Via Crucis for Priests

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First Station
Jesus Condemned to Death

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God.
(1 Corinthians 4, 1-5)

V. Prove me, O Lord, and try me.
R. Test my heart and my mind. (Psalm 25, 2)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, Lamb without blemish or spot,
You accepted the judgment of a human tribunal,
and by Your humble surrender to a sentence of condemnation,
opened to sinners the tribunal of Your inexhaustible mercy;
look graciously upon Your priests,
that as faithful stewards of the mysteries of God,
they may draw sinners into the embrace of the Father,
Who not sparing You, gave You up for us all.
With Whom You live and reign
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Second Station
Jesus Is Laden with the Cross

Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him; on the left hand I seek him, but I cannot behold him; I turn to the right hand, but I cannot see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held fast to his steps; I have kept his way and have not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured in my bosom the words of his mouth. (Job 30, 10-12)

V. Surely He has borne our griefs.
R. And carried our sorrows. (Is 53, 4)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, laden with the wood of the Cross,
You were regarded as a lamb to be slaughtered;
be the strength of those priests of Yours
who go forward in the midst of tribulation and distress,
famine, weariness, and peril,
that comforted by Your presence,
they may, in turn, be able to comfort those
who are in any affliction,
with the comfort that You have given them.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Third Station
Jesus Falls the First Time

They abhor me, they keep aloof from me; they do not hesitate to spit at the sight of me. Because God has loosed my cord and humbled me, they have cast off restraint in my presence. On my right hand the rabble rise, they drive me forth, they cast up against me their ways of destruction. (Job 30, 10-12)

V. When I thought, "My foot slips."
R. Your mercy, O Lord, held me up. (Psalm 93, 18).

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, Creator of man from the dust of the earth,
You fell beneath the weight of the tree
and, in the sight of all, lay humbled in that very dust;
reveal to those priests of Yours brought low by weakness
the surpassing power of Your grace deployed in infirmity,
for when they are weak, You are their strength,
and when they fall, You raise them up.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Fourth Station
Jesus Meets His Afflicted Mother

What can I say for you, to what compare you, O daughter of Jerusalem? What can I liken to you, that I may comfort you, O virgin daughter of Zion? For vast as the sea is your ruin; who can restore you? (Lamentations 2, 13)

V. Cry aloud to the Lord, O daughter of Zion.
R. Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night. (Lamentations 2, 18)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, despised and rejected by men,
Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief,
Your Virgin Mother beheld Your Face
bruised and bloodied, disfigured and defiled,
and You, in her gaze, beheld a pool of tenderness
for the refreshment of Your Heart and the hearts of Your priests
through the ages;
grant that every priest of Yours
may find in Mary's pure gaze
the courage to advance along the Way of the Cross
until, with her, he enters forever into the joy of Your Resurrection.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Fifth Station
Simon the Cyrenian Is Made to Help Jesus

Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brethren, join in imitating me, and mark those who so live as you have an example in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3, 13-20)

V. Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us.
R. Behold, and see our disgrace. (Lamentations 5, 1)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest,
You sympathize with our weaknesses
for in the days of Your flesh
You were tempted as we are, yet without sin;
with confidence, then, do we draw near to You
humbly praying that Your priests may receive mercy and find grace
to take upon their shoulders that sweet yoke of the Cross
by which You bind them to Yourself in the mystery of Your Sacrifice.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Sixth Station
Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 3, 18; 4, 1, 5-6)

V. Of you my heart has spoken, "Seek His Face."
R. It is Your Face, O Lord, that I seek.

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ,
Image of the Invisible God,
with no form or comeliness that we should look at You,
and no beauty that we should desire You,
open the eyes of Your priests to the light of Your Countenance
that. by contemplating Your Holy Face,
the sacramental character of your priesthood in their souls
may grow ever more radiant
for the glory of Your Father
and the joy of Your Spouse, the Church.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Seventh Station
Jesus Falls the Second Time

Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11, 25-30)

V. My grace is sufficient for you.
R. For my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12, 9)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ,
You fell beneath the weight of the Cross
and so made Yourself close to all who cleave to the dust
in moments of humiliation, failure, and disgrace;
by the grace of Your abasement
raise those of Your priests who have fallen low,
restore unto them the joy of Your salvation,
and strengthen them with a perfect spirit.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Eighth Station
Jesus is Comforted by the Women of Jerusalem

The Lord calls you back, a woman forsaken and forlorn, the wife of his youth, long cast away; your God sends you word, If I abandoned you, it was but for a little moment, and now, in my great compassion, I bring you home again. I hid my face from you, but for a short while, till my anger should be spent; love that takes pity on you shall be eternal, says the Lord, your redeemer. (Isaiah 54:6-8)

V. Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends.
R. For the hand of God has touched me. (Job 19:21)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ,
You revealed the thoughts of Your Heart to the women of Jerusalem,
enjoining them to weep for themselves and for their children;
pierce the hearts of Your priests with sorrow for sin,
giving them the grace to mingle their tears
with those of the spiritual mothers
whom You have called to console and sustain the priesthood
by the hidden oblation of their sufferings and their prayer.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Ninth Station
Jesus Falls the Third Time

He has made me a byword of the peoples, and I am one before whom men spit.
My eye has grown dim from grief, and all my members are like a shadow. (Job 17, 6-7)

V. My soul cleaves to the dust.
R. Revive me according to Your Word. (Psalm 118, 25)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, when you fell a third time
beneath the terrible weight of the Cross
a rain of insults assailed Your Heart in all its tenderness;
allow us, by adoring the mystery of Your humiliation,
to obtain for the most shamed and broken of Your priests
the grace to recover their sacred dignity
and to honour the character of Your priesthood
that is forever inscribed in their souls.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Tenth Station
Jesus is Stripped of His Garments

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2, 5-8).

V. They divided My garments among them.
R. And for My raiment they cast lots. (Psalm 21, 18)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ,
by the abjection of Your nakedness
You won for the children of Adam and Eve
a vesture of grace and of glory
more beautiful by far than the original innocence they lost by sin;
grant to all Your priests the gift of calling sinners to repentance
and of restoring to Your friendship
those whom sin has caused to hide from Your face.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Eleventh Station
Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. . . . Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God. Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. (Galatians 6, 14-17).

V. He Himself bore our sins in His Body.
R. By His wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2, 24)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ,
you were nailed to the wood of the Cross
so that, by Your wounds and by the shedding of your Blood,
those wounded by sin might find healing and copious redemption;
look, then, upon your priests --
heal those wounded by sin
and, in Your inexhaustible mercy,
use them to make many whole,
for You are the Physician of our souls and bodies.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Twelfth Station
Jesus Dies Upon the Cross

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last. (Luke 23, 44-46)

V. One of the soldiers open His side with a spear.
R. And at once there came out blood and water. (John 19, 34)

Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim,
glorious in this, the Hour of Your Sacrifice,
pour forth upon all the priests of Your Church
the sanctifying Breath of Your Mouth.
Wash them in that torrent of mercy
that ever flows from Your pierced side
and, at the hour of their death,
make them worthy of joining You
before the Father in the heavenly sanctuary beyond the veil,
where You are always living to make intercession for us.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Thirteenth Station
Jesus Is Taken Down from the Cross

Now there was a man named Joseph from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their purpose and deed, and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud, and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. (Luke 23:50-54)

V. This is My Body which is for you.
R. I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly. (1 Corinthians 11, 24; John 10, 10)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ,
Immaculate Lamb immolated upon the altar of the Cross,
bestow, we beseech You, upon all your priests
such purity of heart in drawing near to Your altar,
such adoration in the enactment of Your sacrifice,
and such reverence in the handling of Your Holy Mysteries,
that by their decreasing in the eyes of men,
You may increase until, at length,
You are all in all.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Fourteenth Station
Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb

Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. (2 Corinthians 2, 14-16)

V. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
R. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ,
hidden from our eyes,
and silent in the stillness of the tomb,
let the prayer of Your Virgin Mother
enfold the priests of Your Church
and sustain them in the valley of the shadow of death,
that by always carrying Your Passion in their bodies,
they may contemplate Your Face in faith's dark night
and rejoice in the revelation of Your glory.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.


The Birthday of the Chalice

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Maundy Thursday

We entered singing:
“For us, no boasting” (Gal 6:14).
No boasting, that is, of anything that is ours.
For who am I and who are you to boast
in the presence of the Mystery?

Who am I and who are you to boast
on this the night of God’s doing,
the night of the covenant?
“Father,” says the deacon to the priest
at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy,
“it is time for the Lord to act!”
And so, it is all his doing, not ours.
It is time for the Lord to act!

“For us, no boasting,
but in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is health and life and resurrection to us,
by whom we are saved and set free (cf. Gal 6L14).

If you are sick; he is health.
If you are in the grip of death; he is life.
If you have stumbled and fallen low,
once, twice, three times or more,
he is resurrection.

If you are bound up and fettered,
if you are pushed down, or held back,
or laden with burdens too heavy to bear,
he is deliverance and freedom.

If you are oppressed in sin’s narrow place,
he takes you by the hand
and tonight, yes, tonight,
he leads you out into the vast and spacious place
of his prayer to the Father.
“This Father, is my desire,
that all those whom thou hast entrusted to me
may be with me where I am,
so as to see my glory, thy gift made to me,
in that love which thou didst bestow upon me
before the foundation of the world” (Jn 17:24).

This is the birthnight of Eucharistic adoration,
the night of a hushed amazement,
the night of believing disbelief
and of wordless wonder.

This is the night of God at table with man.
Not only does this Companion-God sit at our board to share our bread:
he becomes Bread in every mouth.

This is the night of the Blood of the Lamb:
the birthday of the Chalice,
the first wave of that immense crimson tide
that tomorrow will flow gushing from the pierced side.

This is the night of the astonishing humility of God.
the night of God bending low
to wash,
to kiss,
to perfume the very feet
that will run from the fearful garden in the night,
and from the proud praetorium,
and from the Cross terrible against dark and heavy skies.

“Before you run from me,
O you whom I have chosen to run after me,
let me wash your feet
and mark them sweetly with the imprint of my kiss.
You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn 15:16).

This kiss to your feet is the pledge of my paschal absolution.
My feet, you will see them pierced by a nail;
yours, I would pierce them with a kiss,
that turning, you would come back to me
who have come so far in search of you.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn back,
turn back to the Lord your God!”

Tonight our Priest begins his ascent:
the solemn procession to the high place of his preaching:
to the noble Tree
from which his voice will go out through all the earth.

Tonight our Priest, without leaving us,
goes into the hidden sanctuary beyond the veil (Heb 6:19);
he appears in the presence of God on our behalf (Heb 9:23),
taking not the blood of goats and calves
but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (Heb 9:12).

Tonight the Lamb without blemish is set before us.
Tonight his Blood is given,
not to be smeared on doorposts and lintels,
but to sanctify our lips
and moisten every parched tongue;
to warm every heart grown cold
with a libation of fire;
to give sweetness for bitterness,
and boldness for fear.

Those marked by the Blood of Lamb,
those with the Blood of the Lamb wet upon their lips
and fragrant on their breath
have passed from death to life.

Every mouth sanctified by the Blood
is, in the Father’s eyes, the mouth of the First-Born Son.
Every prayer uttered from Blood-blessed lips,
every kiss offered,
every sigh and every groan,
the Father receives
as coming from the Son.
“In that day you will know
that I am in the Father,
and you in me, and I in you” (Jn 14:20).

The psalmist too sang of the Chalice and of the Blood:
“I will lift up the chalice of salvation,
and call upon the name of the Lord” (Ps 115:13).
Lifted up, it is our thanksgiving: a sun blazing red against the sky.
Pressed to our lips, it is our salvation: the antidote, the remedy,
one drop of which is enough to cure this weary world of every ill.

The Apostle handed on to us
what had been handed on to him.
O humble and glorious Tradition!
Ours it is to receive what he received,
(to transmit and not to betray,)
to cherish what he cherished,
to obey the commandment he obeyed,
to adore the mystery he adored.

“This is my body which is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me. . . .
This chalice is the new covenant in my Blood.
Do this, as often, as you drink it, in memory of me” (1 Cor 11:24-25).

This is the night of the new priesthood.
Awed they are, not quite understanding and not quite misunderstanding
the fearful spectacle of God bent prostrate at their feet.
He, sinless, kneels to absolve the sinner
while the sinner, seated,
has nought to offer but two bare journey-worn feet
and the story they tell.

“What I am doing you do not know now,
but afterward you will understand . . . .
For I have given you an example,
that you also should do as I have done to you” (Jn 13:7, 15).

Feet they will wash, kneeling before them,
but more than feet,
hearts caked with the hard crust of sin,
and polluted souls,
and faces bearing the traces of blood and tears.

Then we did not know what he was doing,
but now we understand the mystic absolution.
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven;
if you retain the sins of any they are retained” (Jn 20:22-23).

For us, no boasting but in what Love has left us:
the Bread and the Chalice
making present His Sacrifice;
and priests with feet washed clean and anointed hands
to pronounce the Absolution,
to lift high the Oblation.

And behind the sacramental veils
shines the Face for which we yearn:
the Face of immolated Purity,
the Face of Beauty humbled,
the Face of the Priest,
the Face of the Victim,
the Face of Holiness,
the Face of Crucified and Triumphant Love.

In looking, adore Him.
In adoring, look at Him.
And so, pass over
from what is old to what is new,
from the land of heavy burdens to the land of freedom,
from darkness to life,
from sin to holiness,
from groans to jubilations,
from tears to laughter,
from sorrow to bliss,
from combat to peace,
from struggle to rest,
from death to life
It is the Passover of the Lord (Ex 12:11).

Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 116:12-18
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-15

In the Garden

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In the garden,
His Face was unseen,
for the eyes of His friends had grown heavy with sleep,
and there was none to meet the gaze of the Sorrowing Son
other than the Sorrowing Father
and the Consoling Angel whom He had sent
to wipe His brow,
to caress His head
and, for a moment, to hold His hand.

This the Sorrowing Mother would have done
had she been there,
but even that was denied her.
The Mother was replaced by an Angel!
The consolation that only she could have given
was given by another,
and yet He knew the difference:
though sweet, it was an angel’s, not a mother’s.

Weeping like Eve outside the garden,
she consented to the bitter Chalice:
“Be it done unto me as to your Word!”
Chosen for this, she elected to remain
cloistered in the Father’s Will,
hidden and veiled in grief,
to drink there of the Chalice of her Son, the Priest,
and savour it, bitter against the palate of her soul,
for nought can taste a child’s suffering
like a mother’s palate.

Then the Angel too was gone
and the Father hid behind the veil of blood and of tears,
leaving the Son alone with His sorrow
and with His fear,
to proceed with the Sacrifice:
the priest on the way to the altar
with the chalice already in his hands.

Lest We Betray Him With a Kiss

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The Call to Holiness

My monastic vocation, as it has developed and matured over the years, is intimately bound up with the lives of my brother priests and with their desire for holiness. The Wednesday of Holy Week invites me to meditate on one priest's abject failure, on one priest's sordid betrayal of Our Lord, on one priest's headlong plunge into the darkness of despair. You all know this priest. His name was Judas Iscariot.

What I am about to share applies not only to priests; it applies, in some way, to everyone. Each of us is called to live in the friendship of Jesus. Each of us is called to holiness. Each of us is called to become nothing less than a saint.

Mysterium Iniquitatis

The Wednesday of Holy Week is designated Spy Wednesday: this because it commemorates Judas Iscariot's conspiracy to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas --his friend, his chosen one, his priest-- continues to astonish and grieve us. Why did Our Lord allow such an evil? Why did He not stop Judas, confront him with the horror of his sin, and pull him back from the abyss of iniquity about to open beneath his feet? What a mystery it is that Our Lord should so respect the free will of a man, even when that man's choices are misguided; motivated by the desire for power, or money, or pleasure; or manipulated by Satan, the father of lies!

What Happened?

Let us consider, for a moment, what might have happened, had Judas taken the risk of stepping out of his isolation, of reaching out to another. Why did Judas end the way he did? How did he go from giving up everything to follow Jesus, to betraying Him for a miserable thirty pieces of silver?

The Sickness of Our Secrets

The beginning of Judas' downfall was his secrecy. In the beginning of his discipleship, Judas Iscariot was, perhaps, more open, sharing with Jesus his thoughts, his dreams, his desires, and his fears. And then, little by little, Judas became disillusioned and jaded. He withdrew into himself. He dissimulated his temptations, his fears, his struggles, and his failures.

Something very similar happens when a soul stops going to confession, or confesses too infrequently, or puts off going to confession. One becomes accustomed to living with the sickness of one's secrets. One adjusts to living with them, and they poison us. This is something that the Church has always known. How important it is to lay bare our souls to a trusted spiritual father, to admit not only our sins, but also our temptations and our struggles. This act of humility disarms Satan, and renders him powerless. Only pride, and the secrecy that comes from pride and seeks to dissimulate sin, gives the Evil One a foothold in us.

Judas Stopped Conversing with Jesus

Judas must have stopped conversing with Jesus in a personal way. Certainly he continued talking to Jesus superficially, but mostly about business. He was, after all, responsible for administering the common fund of the Twelve. He stopped relating to Jesus in a personal way, as one trusting friend talks to another, heart to heart.

It is very telling that in Saint John's Gospel, Judas speaks rather caustically about expenses. He sounds calculating and disgruntled. "Why," he asked, "was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" (Jn 12:5) Judas had become all business. There was little love left in his heart. He was concerned about running a successful operation in worldly terms, but in his heart a viper was hid, and it was about to sting him with its deadly poison.

Had He Turned to Jesus

If only Judas had gone to Jesus and said, "Master, I need to talk to Thee. I want to open my heart to Thee. I am troubled, and tempted, and on the verge of committing a very great evil. Save me, lest I perish. Hold me fast, my Jesus, and do not let me go. I trust in Thy love for me. I believe in Thy mercy. I remember what Thou didst say one day: "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me; and him who comes to Me I will not cast out" (Jn 6:37).

It is never too late to stop and open one's heart to Jesus in the intimate conversation that we call prayer. The worst betrayals, the most heinous crimes, and the living death of mortal sin begin their gestation when we forsake prayer, when we stop conversing with Jesus, or only deal with Him when we are obliged to do so by convention or routine. Then, there is no more friendship with Him. There is only business. And so the heart grows hard and cold.

He Could Have Turned to Mary

Judas had another recourse, but he was too proud to make use of it. He could have gone to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Even before the words of Our Lord to Saint John from the Cross, "Behold, thy mother" (Jn 19:27), Mary was a true mother to each of the Apostles. She knew them as any mother knows her children, and she loved them, even with their weaknesses and repeated failures to believe in her Son, to hope in Him, and to love Him. Any one of the twelve could have gone to Mary at any time for counsel, for comfort, for encouragement, and for a mother's blessing. She loved each of them because her Son loved them, and chose them, and called them to leave all things and follow Him.

Judas could have gone to Mary and said, "Mother, behold, my life is filled with wicked desires, with anger, and jealousy, and pride. Mother, I am ashamed to confess this to thee, but I am losing confidence in thy Son. I cannot accept His way of doing things. I am hardening my heart against His teachings. Mother, help me! And Mary, moved by an immense compassion, would have caressed his cheek, and opened her hands in prayer over his head. Mary was then, and remains even now for us, the Mediatrix of All Graces, the Mother of Mercy, the Refuge of Sinners, our life, our sweetness, and above all, our hope in this valley of tears. She would not have condemned Judas. She would not have been angry with him. She would have felt an immense pity for him, the pity of a mother for a wayward child. Mary could have saved him from the terrible fate that awaited him. But Judas did not seek her out. And so Mary would weep for him bitterly.

One can go to Mary at any moment, with any temptation, any weakness, and any sin. Our Lady hates sin, but loves poor sinners. She is disgusted by evil, but is merciful towards those held in its grip. She is repulsed by vice, but full of compassion for those who struggle to become free of it. Seeing us in our sins, she weeps over us, allowing her tears to soften and purify our hearts. Turn to her and she will crush the head of the serpent who plots our ruin. It is enough to look at her image with confidence, enough to say her blessed name, "Mary, Mary!"

He Could Have Opened Up to Peter

Judas could have gone to Peter. Peter had already emerged as the spokesman of the Twelve. Judas could have said to Peter, "Peter, my brother, tonight, let us get together for a glass of wine and a plate of figs. I need to talk. I am confused, troubled, restless. Hear me out. Help me." Peter was often outspoken, and impetuous, but he had a tender side as well. He was capable of compassion. Peter would have listened to Judas. He may have argued with him, as one brother argues with another. He may have reproved him as Padre Pio so often reproved his penitents in order to win them back. But the simple fact of opening up to Peter might have saved Judas. Instead, Judas chose to live with his secret. In the end, it would kill Jesus and cause Judas to hang himself.

It a dangerous thing to hold on to one's secrets, to entertain an inner life populated by demons and noisy with their evil suggestions. There is a solution: it is enough to go to one who represents Jesus, one who so knows the Heart of the Master that he can speak on His behalf and pull us back from the precipice.

He Could Have Asked John to Intercede for Him

Judas could have gone to John. John was Jesus' beloved friend, the one with whom He shared all the secrets of His Sacred Heart, the friend in whose company He found comfort and solace, the friend who would remain with Him even on Golgotha, the friend to whom He would entrust His All-Holy Mother. John was, and is, a powerful intercessor with the Heart of Jesus. Had Judas gone to John and exposed his temptations, John would have spoken to him of the gentleness of the Master, of the love of His Heart, of His readiness to forgive. And John, interceding, would have gone to Jesus, to speak to Him on Judas' behalf.

But Judas could not bring himself to do this. Out of pride certainly, out of jealousy perhaps. And so he went his dark way into the night of betrayal and death.

The Mercy of God

Judas remains a tragic mystery. Had he renounced his sin, or had he repented after it, he might have become one of the shining trophies of Divine Mercy in the early Church. Instead he went his dark way, keeping his secrets, and refusing to reach out to Jesus, to Mary, to Peter, to John or to any one of the company of faithful disciples who might have been able to grab hold of his hand and pull him back from the infernal pit.

The very act of reaching out is an expression of humility, and humility opens the floodgates of Divine Mercy. Apart from an abiding trust in the Mercy of God, one cannot have but a tragic destiny. Merciful Jesus, save us, lest we, like Judas, betray Thee with a kiss!

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Wednesday of Holy Week

At Saint Mary Major

Today’s Roman Stational Church is the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. We go, in spirit, to this ancient church of the Mother of God, asking her to be present to us as we prepare to cross the threshold into the Paschal Triduum. We go to the suffering Christ, to the Crucified, to the Risen One with and through his most holy Mother. The Virgin of Sorrows is the Portress of the Holy Mysteries, the Keeper of the Door of Christ’s Pierced Heart, the Mother of our Joy. We will return again to Saint Mary Major for the Mass of Easter Day to sing our joy to the Mother of God -- Regina caeli, laetare! -- and to share in the joy that was hers at the resurrection of Christ. By framing the Paschal Triduum between two stations at the church of Saint Mary Major, the Roman liturgy suggests that the mystery of Christ is given us enveloped in Mary. Mary, like the Church, embodies and contains the mystery of Christ.

Christ in the Glory of God the Father

We sing today’s Introit in the presence of the Mother of Jesus. “In the name of Jesus let every knee bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth; for the Lord became obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. Therefore our Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:10, 8, 11). She who was the witness of his sufferings on Calvary is the witness of his glory in heaven, for she “has chosen the better part which shall not be taken away from her” (Lk 10:42).

We confess the self-emptying obedience of Christ, obedience even to the death of the cross, calling him LORD. We summon the entire cosmos -- things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth -- to adoration of his Name! Already, we lift our eyes to the see the glory of the risen and ascended Christ. The very melody of the introit scales an entire octave to soar into the heights, obliging us to “seek the things that are above” (Col 3:1). Dame Aemiliana speaks of “the irresistible, shining tone of triumph with which today’s Mass straightaway puts the approaching shadows of evening to flight.” Like Saint Stephen at the hour of his death, we see Christ in the glory of God the Father. “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God” (Ac 7:56). The Crucified is our Kyrios, the triumphant king, raised up into the glory of the Father.

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There is not a single moment of My sufferings
that is not present in this the Sacrament of My Love for you.
Here you will find Me in every detail of My Passion,
for nothing of My Passion has passed away.
All remains actual and efficacious
in the mysteries of My Body and Blood given up for you.

If you would be with Me in My sufferings,
come to Me in the Sacrament of My Love.
If you would keep watch with Me in Gethsemani,
come to My altar, and abide there with Me.
If you would accompany Me in My imprisonment,
in My trial, in My condemnation,
and in My being mocked, scourged, and crowned with thorns,
seek Me out in this Sacrament
where I wait for a little compassion from those who profess to be My friends.

I am still carrying My cross,
and the weight of your sins falls heavy on my shoulder,
and crushes Me even to the ground.
None of this is over and forgotten;
it remains present in the Sacrament of My Passion,
in the Mystery of My Sacrifice made present on the altar
and remaining wherever I am:
the pure Victim, the Holy Victim, the Spotless Victim,
whom you contemplate in the Host.

Here I am present,
crucified, with My wounds pouring out blood,
and My prayer to the Father piercing the heavens.
Here I am present in the very moment of My death
wherein all is consummated.
Here I am present with My open side,
from which flow out blood and water
to purify souls, heal them, and restore them to life.

Would that My friends knew this:
that all of My Passion is contained in the Most Holy Sacrament,
not as something lost to a past that can never be recovered,
but as My perfect and all-sufficient oblation to the Father,
renewed here and now in every detail,
although sacramentally, and without a new shedding of blood.

This all my saints understood:
the presence of My Passion in this Sacrament,
and this Sacrament as the memorial of My Passion.
This the Holy Spirit teaches even to the little and to the poor
who open their hearts to My mysteries made present at the altar.
This is the great reality that, today, so many have forgotten.
For this reason do I ask you to come to Me here
in the Sacrament where I wait for you,
and to offer Me the consolation in My sufferings
that only you can give Me,
and for which I have waited so long.

From In Sinu Iesu, the Journal of a Priest

360 Years of Adoration

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Navigating the Avenues of Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction

March 25, 2013 marks the 360th anniversary of the establishment of the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar by Mother Mectilde de Bar. New monasteries come to birth, and develop, and thrive within the Body of Christ, the Church, and under the care of her bishops. At the time of Mother Mectilde de Bar, the avenues of ecclesiastical jurisdiction were exceedingly complex. Given that Mectilde and her little community were living in the territory of the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris, she needed, first of all, to secure the permission of the abbot of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the natural son of Henri IV, who was the Duke of Verneuil, the bishop of Metz.

The Request Refused

The Abbot-Duke was utterly opposed to the foundation of new monasteries. Paris, he argued, was already cluttered with too many cloisters vying for economic support. He had promised the Queen Regent, Anne of Austria, that he would forbid the foundation of new monasteries in his territory. Already, for lack of resources, six ancient communities under his authority had ceased to exist. In vain did the Countess of Châteauvieux beg the Queen to make an exception; the Queen remained inflexible.

A Vow in Time of Crisis

Divine Providence was at work, all the same. "We know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints." (Romans 8:28) France was in complete turmoil. Forces in rebellion against the crown were gaining ground. The court was obliged to flee to Compiègne. The Queen Regent learned, to her dismay, that the rebellion had spread from Paris and Bordeaux to Orléans and Angers. In desperation she turned to the Abbé Picoté, a priest of Saint-Sulpice, and beseeched him to make whatever vow he thought necessary to obtain from God the return of peace, order, and stability to France.

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The Queen's Vow: Adoration and Reparation

The good priest, knowing absolutely nothing of Mother Mectilde's proposed foundation, vowed that if tranquility were restored to France, the Queen would found a house of religious vowed to adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament in reparation for the outrages committed against the Sacred Body of Christ. The Abbé Picoté, in all likelihood, had heard that the consecrated Host was, more than once, trampled under foot by soldiers, and even fed to their horses. Miraculously, no sooner was the vow made in the name of the Queen, than the whole situation changed. On 21 October 1652, Louis XIV entered Paris in triumph. The revolt was over; peace returned.

The Royal Yes

In the meantime, the Abbé Picoté learned of Mother Mectilde's project. Struck by the affinity between the vow he had made in the name of the Queen and the foundation that Mother Mectilde desired to undertake, he spoke of it to the Queen on 8 December 1652 while the latter was in retreat at the Benedictine abbey of Val-de-Grâce. The graces of the retreat must have been in operation because he found the Queen well disposed. In execution of her vow, the Queen ordered the Duke of Verneuil to authorize the foundation in his territory of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The Duke-Abbot immediately entrusted the whole affair to his Vicar General, Dom Roussel, a Benedictine of the Congregation of Saint-Maur, and the prior of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

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Difficulties

Mother Mectilde and her community now found themselves under the authority of the prior of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. From all accounts, Dom Placide Roussel was anything but placid, in spite of his name. A Benedictine of the Congregation of Saint-Maur, Dom Roussel was a difficult man: legalistic, pessimistic, stubborn, and authoritarian. He had the talent of seeing difficulties where no one else could see them. More than once, Mother Mectilde and the Countess de Châteauvieux returned completely discouraged from a meeting with Dom Roussel. To a friend, Mother Mectilde wrote, "We were to see the Reverend Father Prior who, as much as possible, turns everything upside down."

Dom Roussel required that Mectilde purchase land to build a future monastery and that she collect a large sum of money to assure the upkeep of a community of five. His exigencies blocked the establishment of the monastery at every turn.

Dom Roussel Relents

Mectilde held her peace; she prayed, did penance, and waited. On 24 March, 1653, in response to an intervention by Madame de Châteauvieux, the dreaded Dom Roussel surprised Mother Mectilde by sending her a message authorizing exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament for the following day, the feast of the Annunciation. Benefactors of the monastery had previously provided a chalice, paten, monstrance, and thurible, so that all would be in readiness once the long-awaited permission came.

The First Solemn Exposition

On the feast of the Annunciation, then, 25 March 1653, Holy Mass was sung in the Oratory of the house, and the Most Blessed Sacrament was exposed in the monstrance. Alerted at the last minute, a considerable number of the faithful attended the celebration. During Holy Mass, Mother Mectilde saw the Most Holy Virgin Mary, clothed in the raiment of an abbess, and holding the crosier in her hand. Our Lady presented the nascent community to Jesus the Host, as victims offered to His Eucharistic love. Even today, the Benedictines of the Most Holy Sacrament consider this feast of the Annunciation 1653 as the first solemnity of perpetual adoration of the Institute.

Mother Mectilde wrote to Madame de Châteauvieux, "All that paradise loves and adores, I now possess, thanks to you."

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Into the Silence

Listening to the Passion plunges us into silence. The Word has been silenced. Only a fool would dare to speak. Perhaps there should be no homily today. Anything less than a word out of silence is unworthy of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ; anything more is superfluous. If I am so foolish as to preach today, it is for the sake of silence: a word out of silence, a word into silence. Like Saint Paul, "I am with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling" (1 Cor 2:3). In offering you these few words, my only purpose is to guide you into the harbour of an immense and solemn stillness.

The Mystery of the Cross

The Cross reveals its mystery only to those who allow themselves to be lifted up in its rough-hewn arms and held fast in its embrace. The power and wisdom of God are forever bound to the weakness and foolishness of the Cross.

In the Arms of the Cross

Most of us are repulsed by the Cross. We live in fear of suffering. We are willing to contemplate the Cross from a distance, willing to place it on our walls or to wear it on a chain over our hearts. It is quite another thing to be lifted up in its arms, to surrender to its embrace and to remain there naked, exposed and vulnerable. And yet, the saints are unanimous in testifying that for those who surrender to the embrace of the Cross and remain there, it becomes the Tree of Life, the Marriage Bed, and the Altar of Sacrifice.

My Yoke is Sweet

An ancient liturgical text describes the beginning of Holy Week as a ship coming into harbour. The Cross of Christ is our haven and our rest. Our Lord speaks to us and says: "Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light." (Mt 11:28-29).

The Will of the Father is Always Love

The sweet yoke of Jesus is fashioned from the wood of the Cross. Those whom He draws to Himself find rest with Him in the arms of the Cross. When we struggle and strain against the Cross, we condemn ourselves to a long and restless agony, saying with Job: "My heart is in turmoil and is never still" (Jb 30:27). When we surrender to the embrace of the Cross, we rest with Jesus in the will of the Father. We discover that the will of the Father is always love, and so begin to pray: "Father, not my will, but Thine, be done" (Lk 22:42).

Tree of Life, Marriage Bed, and Altar

The Cross is the "tree that is planted beside flowing waters, that yields its fruit in due season and whose leaves never fade" (Ps 1:3). Incandescent with the fire of the Holy Spirit, the Cross is the bush that Moses saw "burning and yet not consumed" (Ex ). The Cross is the marriage bed upon which Christ the Bridegroom and His Bride, the Church consummate their love. The Cross is the altar from which ascends a fragrant sacrifice: the immolation of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.

The Mass

How do we pass over from struggle to rest, from the tempest to the harbour? How do we pass over from the barren desert to the Tree of Life, from isolation to communion? How do we pass over from the threshold to the altar, and from the altar to God? By the Cross. Holy Week is the time of our great passover: from darkness to light, from sadness to joy, from time to eternity, from death to life. If you would leave behind the rot of your sins, and the darkness of untruth, and the horror of all that attacks innocence and outrages the Face of Love, then let yourself be drawn to the Cross. To each of us, and in every Mass, Our Lord offers the healing wood of the Cross. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the place, and the means, and the price of our Passover; the Mass is the Church held in the embrace of the Cross.

Come, Surrender

If you are weary, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If you are isolated and afraid, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If you are bitter, or bruised, or fragmented, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If, in spite of your sins, you hunger and thirst for holiness, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If you would make of your life an offering worthy of God, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If you would know the joy of resurrection, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross.

Toward the Eighth Day

In a week's time, having passed from seven days of measured time into the Eighth Day, the Day that will forever free us from the tyranny of time measured against the approach of death, we will hail the festival of Him who triumphs over hell and holds the stars of heaven in his hand (cf. Salve, Festa Dies, Easter processional hymn).

Into the Heart of the Liturgy

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The Pasch of the Lord: Heart of the Liturgy

Hermann Schmidt opens his Hebdomada Sancta with the lapidary phrase: "Pascha est cor liturgiae." The heart of the liturgy is the Paschal Mystery of Christ's death, Resurrection and Ascension, accomplished once and for all in Christ the Head, and extended by means of the liturgy to all his members throughout history. Dame Aemiliana Löher, the Benedictine of Herstelle writes in The Great Week, a book I never tire of reading at this time of the year, that, "It will never be possible for the Church in her liturgy to make anything else present or anything else the subject of her celebration than the Pasch of Christ."

All Christian worship is but a continuous celebration of the Pasch: the sun, dawning each day, draws in its course an uninterrupted train of Eucharists; every celebration of Mass prolongs the Pasch. Each day of the liturgical year, and within each day, every instant of the Church's sleepless vigil, continues and renews the Pasch. (Louis Bouyer, Le Mystère Pascal)

The Liturgy is the Church's Primary Theology

The Paschal Mystery is the ultimate and unrepeatable word from God, to God and about God. Actualized in the liturgy, the Paschal Mystery is the substance and expression of the Church's theologia prima, the ground and reference of her theologia secunda. The complement of Schmidt's aphorism Pascha est cor liturgiae is that the Pasch of Christ, sacramentally mediated in the liturgy, is the wellspring of a living, doxological theology, the only kind of theology that a monk can embrace fully and find himself at home in.

The Mystery of Christ

In repeating the enactment of the liturgy, the Church has access to the "unique, unrepeatable mystery of Christ"; day after day, week after week, and year after year, the Church is caught up in the transforming glory of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, her Bridegroom and Head. Through the actio, the Paschal Mystery irrigates and transforms all of human life, healing those who partake of the sacraments and drawing the Church, already here and now, into the communion of the risen and ascended Christ with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Because it is the heart of the liturgy, the Pasch of the Lord is the heart of theology, and the heart of Christian piety as well.

The Sacred Triduum

The Paschal Triduum begins with the Evening Mass In Cena Domini on Maundy Thursday, continues through the Friday of the Lord's Passion, reaches its summit in the Solemn Paschal Vigil, and comes to a close with Sunday Vespers of the Lord's Resurrection.

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"I was sitting with Abba Poemen one day and I saw him in ecstasy and as I was on terms of great freedom of speech with him, I prostrated myself before him and begged him, saying, 'Tell me where you were.' He was forced to answer and he said, 'My thought was with Saint Mary, the Mother of God, as she wept by the cross of the Saviour. I wish I could always weep like that.'"

Come, O Mother, love's sweet spring,
Let me share thy sorrowing,
Let my tears unite with thine.

Let my heart be all on fire,
Still to seek with fond desire
Christ, my God, my Love divine.

Holy Mother, this impart,
Deeply print within my heart,
All the wounds my Saviour bore.

The experience of Abba Poemen in the fourth century, like that of the author of the Stabat Mater, the "queen of sequences" in the Middle Ages, attests to a sweet and compelling gift of the Holy Spirit to souls in every age: the desire to approach the Blessed Virgin Mary in her sorrows and to avail oneself of the grace of her tears.

Learning How to Die

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Death on Maundy Thursday

We celebrated today the feast of the Transitus of Our Blessed Father Saint Benedict. Yesterday, to prepare for the feast, we read a chapter in Blessed Ildephonse Schuster's Saint Benedict and His Times on the death of Saint Benedict. Blessed Schuster identifies Maundy Thursday as the day of Saint Benedict's death. Following the description given by Pope Saint Gregory the Great in the Second Book of the Dialogues, he explains that Saint Benedict would, in fact, have died at the close of the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, after having received the Body and Blood of Christ. The fact that Saint Gregory specifically recounts that Saint Benedict received both the Body and Blood of Christ in viaticum, would indicate that this final Holy Communion took place during Mass, because the Blood of Christ was not reserved and, apart from Holy Mass, would not have been available.

Live the Way You Want to Die

Death is not improvised. One dies as one has lived. The Eucharistic death of Saint Benedict was the seal placed upon a long Eucharistic life. (Blessed Schuster says that Saint Benedict would have been about eighty years old at the time of his death.) One will die as one has lived. In Chapter 4 of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict enjoins his monk to "keep death daily before his eyes"; this means, in effect, that a monk is to live each day in the very dispositions in which he wants to be found at the hour of his death.

To die loving, I must love always. To die praying, I must pray always. To die forgiving, I must forgive always. To die in a state of adoration, I must live in a state of adoration. To die gratefully, I must live in gratitude. To die peacefully, I must live in peace. To die humbly, I must live humbly. To die united to Jesus in His Passion, I must live united to Jesus in His Passion. To die facing the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, I must live facing the Eucharistic Face of Jesus.

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With Desire Have I Desired

Did not Saint Benedict hear the words of Christ addressed to him: "With desire have I desired to eat this Pasch with thee"? Would not Christ have said to him, "I give Myself in viaticum to you, so that you may give yourself in death to me"?

Death Before the Altar

While physically at Monte Cassino, mystically Saint Benedict died in the Cenacle: it was Maundy Thursday, Holy Mass had been celebrated, and he was standing before the altar, sustained, in his weakness, by two of his sons supporting his uplifted arms. Christ had said to Saint Benedict, "Suscipe me: This is My Body." Saint Benedict assumed the very posture of his monastic profession, and said in response, "Suscipe me: Let it be done unto me according to Thy word." He died offering himself to the love of Christ; he died loving Christ who first loved him; he died adoring Christ, whose face he had recognized hidden beneath the veil of the Sacred Host before It was placed on his tongue. Might Saint Benedict not have prayed in words similar to those attributed to the virgin martyr Saint Agnes: "Behold, I come unto Thee whom I have loved, whom I have sought, whom I have ever desired"?

Death, A Moment of Adoration

For me it is clear: I want to die adoring Jesus Christ, therefore I must live adoring Him. Death can be another moment of perpetual adoration: the moment when the veil falls and one finds oneself face-to-face with Jesus Christ. Death can be the moment when, at last, a man sees the One whom he has desired; when he enters into possession of the One in whom he hoped; when is united forever, where sin is no longer possible, to the One whom he loved on earth, while falling and seeking to rise again and again.

School of Living and of Dying

I want my death, like that of Saint Benedict, to be a moment of recognition, a moment of adoration and of love. What might a son of Saint Benedict say in the hour of his death? "Behold, I come to Him who has so often come to me, lo, all these years, veiled in the appearances of bread and wine. Behold, He receives me into eternity, whom I have so often received in time." Benedictine life is a preparation for death. It is a school of living that, happily, becomes a school of dying. Today's feast makes me profoundly grateful to be enrolled in such a school.

A Torch Lifted High

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A Translation and a Commentary

Back in July 2011 I translated this extraordinary page from the writings of Catherine de Bar, Mother Mectilde du Saint-Sacrement (1614-1698), foundress of the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. I offer it again in preparation for tomorrow's feast of the Transitus of our Blessed Father Saint Benedict. It is a sublime piece of writing and, at the same time, certain passages are hard to understand without entering into the mind of Mectilde de Bar and into her vast spiritual culture, shaped principally by the liturgy and by the Rule of Saint Benedict. For this reason, I have taken the liberty of offering a few comments (given in italics) where I think some explanation may be necessary or helpful.

On the Spirit of Saint Benedict,
by Mother Mectilde de Bar

My sisters, I cannot help but admire ceaselessly the adorable Providence of a God who is infinitely wise and ineffable in His conduct, for having chosen religious of the great Patriarch Saint Benedict to make of them daughters of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, and for having destined them not only to render Him continual homages, but also to be the guardians of this sacred deposit that He has entrusted to His Church.

Mother Mectilde ponders and admires God's choice of children of Saint Benedict to become in the Church perpetual adorers and guardians of the adorable mystery of the Eucharist that proclaims the death of the Lord and makes present His Sacrifice from age to age, and this until the consummation of the world. "For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until he come" (1 Corinthians 11:26).

But I glimpse the reason of the mystery of this choice and of the election that God has made of the children of this great Patriarch, and for this I am not at all astonished; because, although there is something incomprehensible, hidden, and profound in the state [of life] that this glorious Patriarch brought to the earth, and that he inspired in his sons, we see that it has so great a relation to the Divine Eucharist, that I cannot but say that it is the portion and heritage of the religious of Saint Benedict. I should, rather, be astonished that it took the passage of so many centuries before the children of this Blessed Father quickened themselves to enter into possession of the inestimable treasure that the infinite bounty of God held in reserve for them.

Why did God choose Benedictines to enter deeply into the adorable Mystery of Faith and to become, in these latter centuries of the Church, souls entirely dedicated and configured to Christ in the Sacrament of His Love? Mother Mectilde, quoting Psalm 15, identifies the Most Holy Eucharist as the portion and heritage of the children of Saint Benedict. "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup." (Psalm 15:5) She attributes this divine election of the children of Saint Benedict to an affinity with the Most Holy Sacrament that pertains to their very state of life.

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If you ask me . . . where I get that which I have just said, I dare assure you that it is a secret which was shown me in the death of our most illustrious Patriarch, who, wanting to witness to to the love he had for the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, could do it no better than by expiring in His Holy Presence, thereby rendering the last breaths of his heart to this adorable Host, and enclosing his sentiments in the sacred ciborium, so as to produce, in time, children of His Order who would, until the end of the world, offer the adorable Host adoration, respect, and the bounden duties of continual love and reparation.

Mother Mectilde alludes to the death of Saint Benedict as recounted by Saint Gregory the Great in the Second Book of The Dialogues:

Six days before he died, he gave orders for his tomb to be opened. Almost immediately he was seized with a violent fever that rapidly wasted his remaining energy. Each day his condition grew worse until finally, on the sixth day, he had his disciples carry him into the chapel where he received the Body and Blood of our Lord to gain strength for his approaching end. Then, supporting his weakened body on the arms of his brethren, he stood with his hands raised to heaven and, as he prayed, breathed his last.

There is in this passage something at once subtle and profound. In writing of the death of Saint Benedict, Mother Mectilde evokes the death of the Crucified Jesus. Both Our Lord and His servant, Saint Benedict, die with uplifted arms. Both die in an exhalation of love that will bring forth fruit, fruit that will remain (cf. John 15:16). Is not the "inclined head" of Jesus, noted in John 19:30, the key to understanding the summit of the Twelve Steps of Humility in Chapter Seven of the Holy Rule? "That is to say that whether he is at the Work of God, in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road, in the fields or anywhere else, and whether sitting, walking or standing, he should always have his head bowed" (RSB 7:65). Does this not signify the complete configuration of the monk to Jesus in the mystery of His death on the Cross?

Enlightened by a particular grace, Mother Mectilde intuits a secret: it is that Saint Benedict, in his last breath, exhaled a new development in life according to his Rule: an expression of Benedictine life that would surround the august Sacrament of the Altar with adorers, vowed to repair by love the offenses, outrages, coldness, irreverence, and indifference suffered by Love living in the Most Holy Eucharist. "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto his own, and His own received Him not" (John 1:10-11).

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Whereas some adore Jesus Christ in the various states of His holy life, the religious of Saint Benedict bear the title of those who are dead: this is what the blessed Monsieur de Condren, general of the Oratory, says. And so, cannot I say that their state and condition of being dead honours, by reference and relation, Jesus dead in the Eucharist? The Fathers teach us that He is there as one in the state of death. A child of Saint Benedict, living a life that is death, has he not a bond and a reference to Jesus in the Host?

Here Mother Mectilde alludes, I think, to the impressive rites of Monastic Profession and Consecration with the prostration of the newly professed during the Holy Mysteries, and the use of the black funeral pall; she alludes also to Monsieur de Condren's characterization of the Benedictine grace as being one of death in the Pauline sense of the term. "Therefore, if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God: Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead; and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ shall appear, who is your life, then you also shall appear with Him in glory." (Col 3:1-4)

In what sense exactly does Mother Mectilde speak here of Jesus being "dead in the Eucharist"? And in what way is the Benedictine, like Jesus in the Host, in a state of death? The death to which Mother Mectilde refers is that of the Christus Passus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in the adorable Sacrament of the Altar. In the Most Holy Eucharist, sacrament and sacrifice, Jesus Christ is present in the very act of His self-offering to the Father. The moment of death recorded by Saint John -- "Jesus therefore, when he had taken the vinegar, said: It is consummated. And bowing his head, he gave up the ghost." (John 19:30) -- remains eternally present to the Father in the sanctuary of heaven, even as it is present sacramentally in the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. Jesus is on the altar, in the soul of the communicant, and in the tabernacle as He is heaven: the Hostia perpetua. The Benedictine enters into the death and victimhood of Jesus by allowing Him to renew at every moment in the sanctuary of his soul the grace of His Head bowed in death that signifies complete abandonment to the Father. For Mother Mectilde this goes to the very heart of the Benedictine vocation: obedience (RSB 5), silence (RSB 6), humility, and the love of God, which being made perfect, casts out fear (RSB 7).

If it were permitted me to relate in detail the spirit and dispositions that a Benedictine ought to have, you would see that by the faithful practice of the Holy Rule, she would be altogether like a Host, and would enter into wonderful relations with Jesus in the adorable Eucharist.

"Altogether like a Host" -- Mother Mectilde compares the Benedictine monk to the Eucharistic Host at two levels. The first level pertains to the qualities of the Host and the Benedictine virtues: the Host is hidden in the tabernacle, and the monk is hidden in the enclosure of the monastery; the Host is silent, and the monk is silent; the Host has no movement in and of itself, the monk has no movement that is not made by obedience; the Host is abandoned to the will of another, the monk is abandoned to the will of God mediated by his abbot. The Host is, to all appearances, powerless, fragile, and perishable; the monk, too, is powerless, fragile, and perishable. The hiddenness of the Host veils the glory of the Godhead. The silence of the Host befits the ineffability of the Word. The apparent inertia of the Host conceals the love that moves the stars (Dante's "amor che muove le stelle"). The abandonment of the Host into the hands of the one who picks it up -- be he saint or sinner -- reveals the vulnerability of the Word made flesh, obedient unto death. It is in owning his powerlessness, his fragility, and his perishable flesh, that the monk experiences the power, the strength, and the imperishable life of the risen and ascended Christ.

The second level of comparison the Host pertains to the victimhood of Jesus. The monk offers himself, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to immolation on the altar in the Holy Sacrifice. There, Christ the Priest offers him, together with Himself, to the Father: a single victim (the very meaning of the word Host) of adoration, thanksgiving, reparation, and supplication. In the altar, the Host, the Chalice, and the Cross, the monk reads the terms of his own immolation.

But, leaving aside a multitude of proofs that would confirm you in the truth that I am proposing to you, judge . . . if it was not by a choice all divine that we, religious of Saint Benedict, have become daughters of the Sacrament? And do we not owe this grace to the great Saint Benedict, who merited it for us by his precious death, as we have said? Was not his death the pledge of the love which he bore towards this sacred Mystery . . . the promise that, in the latter centuries, his Order would produce in the Church victims immolated to this august Sacrament, who would not only adore by day and by night, but who would be, insofar as possible, the reparators of His glory profaned by the wicked in the Sacrament of Love?

For Mother Mectilde de Bar, it is fitting that, of all the Orders that adorn the Church with their varied charisms, that of adoration and reparation belongs preeminently to the children of Saint Benedict. Mother Mectilde sees in Saint Benedict's wholly Eucharistic death -- which, according to tradition, took place on Maundy Thursday -- an unmistakable sign that his Order was destined, by divine election, to generate adorers and reparators of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and this until the end of time.

Do you not see, my daughters, that Saint Benedict dies standing up, so that we might understand that he exhales, with the effort of love, the sacred Institute that we profess? He conceives it in the Eucharist to be produced more than twelve hundred years later!

Saint Benedict dies standing up. He dies before the altar. His last breath is an exhalation of fruitful love given in exchange for the Holy Viaticum for the final journey. He receives the Bread of Life from the Father and from the Church, and surrenders the breath of life into the hands of the Father that it might become, in future generations, the principle of a wholly Eucharistic life among his sons and daughters in the Church.

Oh, my sisters, how divine is our Institute? For how many centuries was it hidden and buried with Jesus in the Host? For how long was it in the sacred entrails of a God-made-sacrament? He was sanctifying . . . both the Institute and the souls that He wished to call to it. Oh, what admirable things do I see and what consolation they give me!
No, no, my sisters, this was not at all the plan of a human spirit, it was not a human creature that ordered, instituted, and chose this: it is Jesus in the Host who received it from the heart of Saint Benedict; and I can say, my sisters, that it was taken from no other place than the Tabernacle wherein this great saint deposited it at the last instant of his life.

Mother Mectilde has no time for those object that Eucharistic adoration is nothing more than a baroque addition to the sobriety of classical Benedictine piety. She sees a quickening of Eucharistic devotion among the children of Saint Benedict as a treasure held in trust until, after the passage of many centuries, it emerged from its obscurity, like a Host brought forth from the tabernacle, to warm and vivify a Benedictine Order grown old and sterile, and cold, and dry.

Oh, what a marvel that God should have entrusted this work to the most unworthy, not of Saint Benedict's children, but to one born out of time! To a soul who had neither the spirit nor the grace to do it! To a poor creature who had nothing remarkable except that she was of all creatures on earth the most criminal, and the one who had most profaned this august Mystery! God chose this sinner to serve as the most common and abject of instruments for so excellent a task, and to confound thereby the human spirit that loses itself when it sees accomplishments of this sort! This was done by a God. Nothing can be said except that one must prostrate oneself very low, and fear that, after having made use of this wicked instrument, He should cast it without recourse into hell.

Mother Mectilde is conscious that her status as a properly professed Benedictine was called into question by certain hair-splitting canonists of her own time. She was, after all a member of the Order of the Annonciade before making profession as a Benedictine at the monastery of Rambervillers on 2 July, 1639. Even as a Benedictine, her life was characterized more by uncertainty and wandering from place to place, than by the security and stability enjoyed by Benedictines of a more classic stamp. "Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful." (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Mother Mectilde admits to being, like Saint Paul the Apostle, a child born out of time. She is, nonetheless, a true daughter of Saint Benedict, entrusted with a holy mission that transcended, by far, her natural capacities. She confesses to being the most common and abject of instruments, but cannot deny that she was the object of a divine election. Admitting this, she prostrates herself before the Divine Majesty and, following the counsel of her father Saint Benedict, fears hell.

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The Mectildian--Benedictine charism is, I would suggest, even more necessary today than in seventeenth century France when it rose up like a torch lifted high to illumine the Eucharistic Face of Christ.

Why I Love Saint Joseph

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Painting by Aristides Artal

With Saint Joseph Today

While the eyes and ears of many are fixed on the historic event unfolding today in Rome, close to the tomb of the Apostle Peter, another man -- a just man, humble, poor, obedient, and utterly pure in heart -- invites us to enter with Him into the hidden sanctuary where the Word made flesh speaks by silence.

Model of Monks

Saint Joseph, espoused to the Virgin Mother of God and charged with the guardianship of the living Bread come down from heaven, is the model of monks, and of all who aspire to the monastic life. He is the living image of what it means to live by the three vows of the Benedictine profession: obedience, conversatio morum (conversion of the way one goes about living), and stability.

Obedience

First, with regard to obedience: Was there ever a man who so listened to the will of God and so allowed it to shape his life and destiny? "Joseph, Son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost" (Mt 21:20); and again, "Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee" (Mt 2:13); and a third time, "Arise, and take the child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel. For they are dead that sought the life of the child" (Mt 2:20). When Jesus at the age of twelve, coming face to face with His Virgin Mother and with Saint Joseph in the temple, uttered the mysterious words, "Did you not know, that I must be about my father's business?" (Lk 2:49), Joseph bowed to the mystery of the Father from whom all fatherhood takes its name, and adoring His Will, accepted to be the earthly shadow of the invisible God, the Deus absconditus, whom no man has seen. The obedience of Saint Joseph lay in his readiness to embrace not only the mysteries revealed by Angels visiting him by night, but also the events willed and permitted by God: disconcerting events, events revealing the power of God in weakness, and the wisdom of God in folly. Such is the obedience of a monk.

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Conversatio Morum

Then, with regard to conversatio morum: Was there ever a man who so readily accepted change, and humbly submitted to a strange and wonderful way of life? God called Saint Joseph to an ongoing change of manners: a change of expectations, a change of certainties, a change of plans. It is an unsettling thing to be asked by anyone to change, but when God asks one to change, the perspective can be terrifying.

Meeting Mary's Gaze

Where did Saint Joseph find the courage to change? I believe that he found it by gazing into the eyes of his bride full of grace. Would it have been at supper in the evening light, while partaking of the bread she had baked? Would it have been in the first light of morning, when she appeared to him lovelier than the dawn? Would it have been when she returned from the village well carrying a jar of water, with their little Jesus at her side? Of one thing I am certain: the courage to change comes sweetly and quickly to the man who, like Saint Joseph, meets the gaze of Mary.

By making the vow of conversatio morum, usually translated as conversion of manners, Benedictine monks promise to change the very things that, for the old creature wedded to sin, have become habitual. The Immaculate, she who looks upon us with eyes of mercy, gives one the courage to change, to forsake old ways and to forswear the comfortable compromises that, in the end, bring nothing but unhappiness, in this life and in the next.

Stability

Finally, with regard to stability; the Introit of today's Mass (Justus ut palma) describes Saint Joseph as a flourishing palm tree and as a Lebanon cedar. That is to say that Saint Joseph was a man with deep roots. If there is anything that wreaks havoc in families and in society today, it is, I think, the instability of men: the inability or unwillingness to put down roots before presuming to spread one's branches.

Deeply rooted in the portion chosen for him by God, Saint Joseph was able to stretch heavenward, and to extend his branches rich in foliage and laden with fruits. The Son of God found protection and security in his shadow. Saint Joseph was sturdy, but supple. He was strong, but flexible. He was rooted, but able to bend. Thus was he able to weather the storms of adversity and the winds of temptation without breaking.

Any monk with experience of the "hard and arduous things by which one goes to God" (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 58) knows that stability goes hand in hand with enclosure. They are, if you will, two sides of the same coin. The monk who wants to be deeply rooted will love the observance of enclosure; and the monk who loves the observance of enclosure will put down roots, and he will flourish.

Saint Joseph accepted to live within the enclosure of an ordinary existence with Mary, his virgin bride, and with Jesus, the Son of the Eternal Father. His was an apparently confining life. It was within the enclosure of his marriage and family that Saint Joseph put down roots reaching hidden streams of living water, and grew, stretching upward, to lay hold of the promises of God.

Not Just for Monks

What I am saying concerning Saint Joseph and the monk can be applied to other states of life as well. The monastic vocation is nothing other than an intensification of the ordinary Christian life. The priest labouring in the vineyard is called, no less than the monk in his cloister, to obedience, conversatio morum, and stability. Married couples, too, are called to obedience, to conversatio morum, and to stability. These are, in fact, necessary components if any happy and holy marriage.

There are, in every state in life, days and hours when one wants to cast aside the yoke of obedience, halt the process of conversion, and run off in search of a change of scenery. More than one monk of the ancient desert monasteries of Egypt escaped to Alexandria for a wild week-end, and returned repentant and humbled, begging to start over again. That being said, in the companionship of Saint Joseph, and under his protection, there is courage for the asking and comfort in abundance. And should one fall out of obedience, or regress in the path of conversion, or give in to the temptation to move out and move on, Saint Joseph's strong hand is but a prayer away. He will always be there to set things aright. That is why I love Saint Joseph.

Father Zuhlsdorf gets it right

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Painting by Simeon Solomon


Father Zuhlsdorf has a brilliant essay on the humble and the sublime in the sacred liturgy.

I am thinking about the infamous red shoes. I am thinking about the non-wearing of the mozzetta. I am thinking about the growing juxtaposition in some conversations of simple liturgy versus lofty liturgy.
Some people are saying, "O how wonderful it is to get rid of all the symbols of office and power and be humble like the poor."
When I first learned to say the older form of the Mass of the Roman Rite, that is to say, when I first learned how to say Mass, because there has never been a single of day of my priesthood when I couldn't say it, I admit that I was deeply uncomfortable with some of the gestures prescribed by the rubrics. I even resisted them. For example, the kissing of the objects to be given to the priest, and the priest and the kissing of the priest's hands... that gave me the willies.
I resisted those solita oscula because I had fallen into the trap of thinking that they made me look too important.
The fact is that none of those gestures were about me at all. They are about the priest insofar as he is alter Christus, not insofar as he is "John". For "John" all of that would be ridiculous. For Father, alter Christus, saying Mass, it is barely enough.
When you see the deacon and subdeacon in the older form of Holy Mass holding, for example, the edges of the priest's cope when they are in procession, or when you see them kissing the priest's hand, or bowing to him, or waiting on him or deferring to him or - what in non-Catholic eyes appears to be something like adoration or emperor worship - you are actually seeing them preparing the priest for his sacrificial slaughter on the altar of Golgotha.

Continue reading here.

Holy Mass This Week

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Today, 19 March, the feast of Saint Joseph, and on Thursday, 21 March, the feast of the Transitus of Saint Benedict, Holy Mass at Silverstream Priory will be at 11:00 a.m., preceded by the Hour of Tierce. On Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, Holy Mass will be at 3:15 p.m.

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Quemadmodum Deus
Blessed Pope Pius IX
8 December 1870

The Guardian of His Choicest Treasures

As almighty God appointed Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob, over all the land of Egypt to save grain for the people, so when the fullness of time had come and He was about to send to earth His only-begotten Son, the Savior of the world, He chose another Joseph, of whom the first had been the type, and He made him the lord and chief of His household and possessions, the guardian of His choicest treasures.

Indeed, he had as his spouse the Immaculate Virgin Mary, of whom was born by the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ our Lord, who deigned to be reputed in the sight of men as the son of Joseph, and was subject to him.

The Intimacy of Saint Joseph with the Incarnate Word

Him whom countless kings and prophets had desired to see, Joseph not only saw but conversed with, and embraced in paternal affection, and kissed. He most diligently reared Him whom the faithful were to receive as the bread that came down from heaven whereby they might obtain eternal life.

Saint Joseph Most Highly Honoured

Because of this sublime dignity which God conferred on his most faithful servant, the Church has always most highly honoured and praised blessed Joseph next to his spouse, the Virgin Mother of God, and has besought his intercession in times of trouble.

Protector and Patron of the Church

And now therefore, when in these most troublesome times the Church is beset by enemies on every side, and is weighed down by calamities so heavy that ungodly men assert that the gates of hell have at length prevailed against her, the venerable prelates of the whole Catholic world have presented to the Sovereign Pontiff their own petitions and those of the faithful committed to their charge, praying that he would deign to constitute St. Joseph Patron of the Church. And this time their prayer and desire was renewed by them even more earnestly at the Sacred Ecumenical Council of the Vatican.

Accordingly, it has now pleased our Most Holy Sovereign, Pope Pius IX, in order to entrust himself and all the faithful to the Patriarch St. Joseph's most powerful patronage, has chosen to comply with the prelates' desire and has solemnly declared him Patron of the Catholic Church.

Liturgical Celebration

He has also ordered that his feast on March 19th by henceforth celebrated as a double of the first class, without any Octave, however, because of Lent. He arranged, moreover, that a declaration to this effect be promulgated through the present decree of The Sacred Congregation of Rites on this day sacred to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, the most chaste Joseph's Spouse. All things to the contrary notwithstanding.

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Prayer to Saint Joseph for Priests

O glorious Saint Joseph,
who, on the word of the angel
speaking to you in the night,
put fear aside to take your Virgin Bride into your home,
show yourself today the advocate and protector of priests.
Guardian of the Infant Christ,
defend them against every attack of the enemy,
preserve them from the dangers that surround them
on every side.
Remember Herod's threats against the Child,
the anguish of the flight into Egypt by night,
and the hardships of your exile.
Stand by the accused;
stretch out your hand to those who have fallen;
comfort the fearful;
forsake not the weak;
and visit the lonely.
Let all priests know that in you
God has given them a model
of faith in the night, obedience in adversity,
chastity in tenderness, and hope in uncertainty.
You are the terror of demons
and the healer of those wounded in spiritual combat.
Come to the defence of every priest in need;
overcome evil with good.
Where there are curses, put blessings,
where harm has been done, do good.
Let there be joy for the priests of the Church,
and peace for all under your gracious protection.
Amen.

Saint Joseph

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This remarkable painting of Saint Joseph, together with the Child Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary, is the work of the Spanish painter, Aristides Artal.

QUAMQUAM PLURIES

ENCYCLICAL OF POPE LEO XIII ON DEVOTION TO ST. JOSEPH

To Our Venerable Brethren the Patriarchs, Primates,
Archbishops, and other Ordinaries, in Peace and Union with Holy See.

During Periods of Stress and Trial

Although We have already many times ordered special prayers to be offered up in the whole world, that the interests of Catholicism might be insistently recommended to God, none will deem it matter for surprise that We consider the present moment an opportune one for again inculcating the same duty. During periods of stress and trial - chiefly when every lawlessness of act seems permitted to the powers of darkness - it has been the custom in the Church to plead with special fervour and perseverance to God, her author and protector, by recourse to the intercession of the saints - and chiefly of the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God - whose patronage has ever been the most efficacious. The fruit of these pious prayers and of the confidence reposed in the Divine goodness, has always, sooner or later, been made apparent.

Human Remedies Are Insufficient

Now, Venerable Brethren, you know the times in which we live; they are scarcely less deplorable for the Christian religion than the worst days, which in time past were most full of misery to the Church. We see faith, the root of all the Christian virtues, lessening in many souls; we see charity growing cold; the young generation daily growing in depravity of morals and views; the Church of Jesus Christ attacked on every side by open force or by craft; a relentless war waged against the Sovereign Pontiff; and the very foundations of religion undermined with a boldness which waxes daily in intensity. These things are, indeed, so much a matter of notoriety that it is needless for Us to expatiate on the depths to which society has sunk in these days, or on the designs which now agitate the minds of men. In circumstances so unhappy and troubled, human remedies are insufficient, and it becomes necessary, as a sole resource, to beg for assistance from the Divine power.

Our Lady's Power in Aid of the Christian World

2. This is the reason why We have considered it necessary to turn to the Christian people and urge them to implore, with increased zeal and constancy, the aid of Almighty God. At this proximity of the month of October, which We have already consecrated to the Virgin Mary, under the title of Our Lady of the Rosary, We earnestly exhort the faithful to perform the exercises of this month with, if possible, even more piety and constancy than heretofore. We know that there is sure help in the maternal goodness of the Virgin, and We are very certain that We shall never vainly place Our trust in her. If, on innumerable occasions, she has displayed her power in aid of the Christian world, why should We doubt that she will now renew the assistance of her power and favour, if humble and constant prayers are offered up on all sides to her? Nay, We rather believe that her intervention will be the more marvelous as she has permitted Us to pray to her, for so long a time, with special appeals. But We entertain another object, which, according to your wont, Venerable Brethren, you will advance with fervour. That God may be more favourable to Our prayers, and that He may come with bounty and promptitude to the aid of His Church, We judge it of deep utility for the Christian people, continually to invoke with great piety and trust, together with the Virgin-Mother of God, her chaste Spouse, the Blessed Joseph; and We regard it as most certain that this will be most pleasing to the Virgin herself.

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Devotion to Saint Joseph

On the subject of this devotion, of which We speak publicly for the first time to-day, We know without doubt that not only is the people inclined to it, but that it is already established, and is advancing to full growth. We have seen the devotion to St. Joseph, which in past times the Roman Pontiffs have developed and gradually increased, grow into greater proportions in Our time, particularly after Pius IX., of happy memory, Our predecessor, proclaimed, yielding to the request of a large number of bishops, this holy patriarch the patron of the Catholic Church. And as, moreover, it is of high importance that the devotion to St. Joseph should engraft itself upon the daily pious practices of Catholics, We desire that the Christian people should be urged to it above all by Our words and authority.

Joseph, United to the Blessed Virgin by the Ties of Marriage

3. The special motives for which St. Joseph has been proclaimed Patron of the Church, and from which the Church looks for singular benefit from his patronage and protection, are that Joseph was the spouse of Mary and that he was reputed the Father of Jesus Christ. From these sources have sprung his dignity, his holiness, his glory. In truth, the dignity of the Mother of God is so lofty that naught created can rank above it. But as Joseph has been united to the Blessed Virgin by the ties of marriage, it may not be doubted that he approached nearer than any to the eminent dignity by which the Mother of God surpasses so nobly all created natures. For marriage is the most intimate of all unions which from its essence imparts a community of gifts between those that by it are joined together. Thus in giving Joseph the Blessed Virgin as spouse, God appointed him to be not only her life's companion, the witness of her maidenhood, the protector of her honour, but also, by virtue of the conjugal tie, a participator in her sublime dignity. And Joseph shines among all mankind by the most august dignity, since by divine will, he was the guardian of the Son of God and reputed as His father among men. Hence it came about that the Word of God was humbly subject to Joseph, that He obeyed him, and that He rendered to him all those offices that children are bound to render to their parents.

The Church, Saint Joseph's Limitless Family Spread Over the Earth

From this two-fold dignity flowed the obligation which nature lays upon the head of families, so that Joseph became the guardian, the administrator, and the legal defender of the divine house whose chief he was. And during the whole course of his life he fulfilled those charges and those duties. He set himself to protect with a mighty love and a daily solicitude his spouse and the Divine Infant; regularly by his work he earned what was necessary for the one and the other for nourishment and clothing; he guarded from death the Child threatened by a monarch's jealousy, and found for Him a refuge; in the miseries of the journey and in the bitternesses of exile he was ever the companion, the assistance, and the upholder of the Virgin and of Jesus. Now the divine house which Joseph ruled with the authority of a father, contained within its limits the scarce-born Church. From the same fact that the most holy Virgin is the mother of Jesus Christ is she the mother of all Christians whom she bore on Mount Calvary amid the supreme throes of the Redemption; Jesus Christ is, in a manner, the first-born of Christians, who by the adoption and Redemption are his brothers. And for such reasons the Blessed Patriarch looks upon the multitude of Christians who make up the Church as confided specially to his trust - this limitless family spread over the earth, over which, because he is the spouse of Mary and the Father of Jesus Christ he holds, as it were, a paternal authority. It is, then, natural and worthy that as the Blessed Joseph ministered to all the needs of the family at Nazareth and girt it about with his protection, he should now cover with the cloak of his heavenly patronage and defend the Church of Jesus Christ.

Protector and Defender of the Church

4. You well understand, Venerable Brethren, that these considerations are confirmed by the opinion held by a large number of the Fathers, to which the sacred liturgy gives its sanction, that the Joseph of ancient times, son of the patriarch Jacob, was the type of St. Joseph, and the former by his glory prefigured the greatness of the future guardian of the Holy Family. And in truth, beyond the fact that the same name - a point the significance of which has never been denied - was given to each, you well know the points of likeness that exist between them; namely, that the first Joseph won the favour and especial goodwill of his master, and that through Joseph's administration his household came to prosperity and wealth; that (still more important) he presided over the kingdom with great power, and, in a time when the harvests failed, he provided for all the needs of the Egyptians with so much wisdom that the King decreed to him the title "Saviour of the world." Thus it is that We may prefigure the new in the old patriarch. And as the first caused the prosperity of his master's domestic interests and at the same time rendered great services to the whole kingdom, so the second, destined to be the guardian of the Christian religion, should be regarded as the protector and defender of the Church, which is truly the house of the Lord and the kingdom of God on earth. These are the reasons why men of every rank and country should fly to the trust and guard of the blessed Joseph. Fathers of families find in Joseph the best personification of paternal solicitude and vigilance; spouses a perfect example of love, of peace, and of conjugal fidelity; virgins at the same time find in him the model and protector of virginal integrity. The noble of birth will earn of Joseph how to guard their dignity even in misfortune; the rich will understand, by his lessons, what are the goods most to be desired and won at the price of their labour. As to workmen, artisans, and persons of lesser degree, their recourse to Joseph is a special right, and his example is for their particular imitation. For Joseph, of royal blood, united by marriage to the greatest and holiest of women, reputed the father of the Son of God, passed his life in labour, and won by the toil of the artisan the needful support of his family. It is, then, true that the condition of the lowly has nothing shameful in it, and the work of the labourer is not only not dishonouring, but can, if virtue be joined to it, be singularly ennobled. Joseph, content with his slight possessions, bore the trials consequent on a fortune so slender, with greatness of soul, in imitation of his Son, who having put on the form of a slave, being the Lord of life, subjected himself of his own free-will to the spoliation and loss of everything.

Saint Joseph and the Poor

5. Through these considerations, the poor and those who live by the labour of their hands should be of good heart and learn to be just. If they win the right of emerging from poverty and obtaining a better rank by lawful means, reason and justice uphold them in changing the order established, in the first instance, for them by the Providence of God. But recourse to force and struggles by seditious paths to obtain such ends are madnesses which only aggravate the evil which they aim to suppress. Let the poor, then, if they would be wise, trust not to the promises of seditious men, but rather to the example and patronage of the Blessed Joseph, and to the maternal charity of the Church, which each day takes an increasing compassion on their lot.

Sanctify March 19th, As Though It Were a Day of Obligation

6. This is the reason why - trusting much to your zeal and episcopal authority, Venerable Brethren, and not doubting that the good and pious faithful will run beyond the mere letter of the law - We prescribe that during the whole month of October, at the recitation of the Rosary, for which We have already legislated, a prayer to St. Joseph be added, the formula of which will be sent with this letter, and that this custom should be repeated every year. To those who recite this prayer, We grant for each time an indulgence of seven years and seven Lents. It is a salutary practice and very praiseworthy, already established in some countries, to consecrate the month of March to the honour of the holy Patriarch by daily exercises of piety. Where this custom cannot be easily established, it is as least desirable, that before the feast-day, in the principal church of each parish, a triduo of prayer be celebrated. In those lands where the 19th of March - the Feast of St. Joseph - is not a Festival of Obligation, We exhort the faithful to sanctify it as far as possible by private pious practices, in honour of their heavenly patron, as though it were a day of Obligation.

7. And in token of heavenly favours, and in witness of Our good-will, We grant most lovingly in the Lord, to you, Venerable Brethren, to your clergy and to your people, the Apostolic blessing.

Given from the Vatican, August 15th, 1889, the 11th year of Our Pontificate.

LEO XIII

Hail, Glorious Saint Patrick

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Saint Patrick's Day in Ireland

Today is my second Saint Patrick's Day in Ireland (transferred from yesterday, Passion Sunday). Silverstream Priory is not very far from the famous Hill of Slane where, in 433, Saint Patrick kindled the Paschal Fire in defiance of the Supreme Monarch of Island and the druids.

Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, dear saint of our Isle,
On us thy poor children bestow a sweet smile;
And now thou art high in the mansions above,
On Erin's green valleys look down in thy love.

Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, thy words were once strong
Against Satan's wiles and an infidel throng;
Not less is thy might where in heaven thou art;
O, come to our aid, in our battle take part.

In the war against sin, in the fight for the faith,
Dear saint, may thy children resist unto death;
May their strength be in meekness, in penance, their prayer,
Their banner the cross which they glory to bear.

Thy people, now exiles on many a shore,
Shall love and revere thee till time be no more;
And the fire thou hast kindled shall ever burn bright,
Its warmth undiminished, undying its light.

I Have Taught You

Like Moses, Saint Patrick, having announced the Gospel to the people of Ireland, was able to say, "Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, as the Lord my God commanded me. . . . Keep them and do them; for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people'" (Dt 4:5-6). The gift of the true faith imparted by Saint Patrick brought with it a sacred responsibility, one that the Irish people honoured down through the centuries, even in times of persecution and cruel repression.

Many People Were Reborn in God Through Me

Saint Patrick himself was conscious that God had used him to do great things. In his Confession, he writes: "I am very much God's debtor, who gave me such grace that many people were reborn in God through me and afterwards confirmed, and that clerics were ordained for them everywhere, for a people just coming to the faith, whom the Lord took from the utmost parts of the earth." By preaching, baptizing, ordaining priests, and consecrating virgins, Saint Patrick changed the face of Ireland. He did not blush to apply to the Irish people the prophecy of Hosea: "I will have mercy on her that was without mercy. And I will say to that which was not my people: Thou art my people. . . . And in the place where it was said: 'You are not my people': it shall be said to them: 'Ye are the sons of the living God'" (Hos 2:23-24; 1:10).

Monks and Virgins of Christ

Saint Patrick, conscious of his own weakness, was in awe of the power of the grace of Christ. "How," he asks, "did it come to pass in Ireland that those who never had a knowledge of God, but until now always worshiped idols and things impure, have now been made a people of the Lord, and are called sons of God, that the sons and daughters of the kings of the Irish are seen to be monks and virgins of Christ?" The psalmist expresses Saint Patrick's wonder before the work of grace in the hearts of a great number: "He has not done thus for any other nation" (Ps 147:20).

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I took this photo from the road in front of Saint Patrick's Chapel in Gowell, County Leitrim, where my grandmother Margaret Mary Gilbride Kirby received her First Holy Communion in 1909. In the distance is the wild and reputedly mystical Hill of Sheemore, about which my grandmother often spoke. Five years ago I climbed the Hill of Sheemore together with my good friend John Flynn. The view from the Cross at the summit is magnificent.

The Missionary Born of the Monastery

Irish Christianity was, from the beginning, monastic in temperament and in organization. The Church was barely established when already monasteries sprang into life. Succeeding generations saw a spectacular growth: there came to be monasteries of over three thousand monks, centres of learning, monastic universities of a sort, drawing students from all over the continent. From the sixth to the twelfth centuries, these same monastic centres of learning were seedbeds of missionary work. Irish monks poured into France. Germany, Belgium, and Italy welcomed them. Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI both presented their visions of a Europe infused with the love of Christ, of a "new civilization of love." Efforts toward the rechristianization of Europe can draw inspiration from the ideals of the Irish missionaries of the so-called Dark Ages. The Irish model is a good one: the missionary is born of the monastery. Prayer, asceticism, and scholarship come to fruition in the implantation of the Gospel and in the renewal of the churches.

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And here you see my Dad, 86 years old this year. Dad marched this year in the New Haven, Connecticut Saint Patrick's Day Parade.

The Passion of the Church in Ireland

The faith received from Saint Patrick came, in time, to be sorely tested. The eighteenth century saw the enactment of repressive laws penalizing Catholics: Catholics were prohibited from voting; were not permitted to purchase land or lease it for more than thirty-one years; it was illegal to teach the Catholic religion to children and adults; it became illegal for Catholic priests to remain in Ireland or enter Ireland from abroad; it became illegal to harbour or otherwise assist Catholic priests. Only in 1829 did the British Parliament grant a decree of Catholic Emancipation, making it possible for the Church to emerge from the underground. But another trial was to follow, The Great Hunger that claimed over a million lives. Those who could escaped the famine; wave after wave of impoverished Irish emigrants found a home in America, bringing with them their greatest possession: the Catholic faith. Out of the horrors of The Great Hunger God brought a great good: were it not for the exodus of the Irish at the time of the famine there would be very few English-speaking Catholics in the world today.

New Penal Laws?

Strangely, there seems to be among some in Ireland today, a militantly secularistic ideology bent on the repression of the Catholic Faith in public life. Will we see the enactment of a new set of Penal Laws imposed not by an anti-Catholic oppressor from without but, instead, by Irish upon Irish? Or will we see instead a great Catholic reawakening, and a joyful rallying around the Most Holy Eucharist, the Mother of God, and fidelity to the teachings of the Church?

Transmit the Faith

Moses' words to the children of Israel become Saint Patrick's words addressed to us: "Keep thyself therefore, and thy soul carefully. Forget not the words that thy eyes have seen, and let them not go out of thy heart all the days of thy life. Thou shalt teach them to thy children and to thy grandchildren" (Dt 4:9). The transmission of the faith is more urgent today than ever before. Saint Patrick and those who followed in his footsteps teach us that the surest way of holding fast to the faith is by transmitting it. Deep in the heart of every Christian is a monastic impulse and a missionary impulse. Like Saint Patrick, may we rise today to both of them.

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Saint Patrick's Day

On this feast of Saint Patrick (transferred from yesterday, Passion Sunday), I should like to reflect on his life and mission, and on the patrimony of the Catholic Faith that he bequeathed to his sons and daughters.

The Enlightener of Ireland

"Remember the marvels the Lord has done" (Ps 104:5). The psalmist invites us to remember, among other marvels, the wonderful works done by God through Saint Patrick, the Enlightener of Ireland. Sent to Ireland by Pope Celestine in 432, Saint Patrick delivered the true, Catholic and Apostolic faith to the Irish people. He announced, in the language of his own poetry, "the strong name of the Trinity, Christ's incarnation, His baptism in the Jordan River, his death on the Cross for our salvation, His bursting from the spicèd tomb, His riding up the heavenly way, and His coming at the day of doom" (Saint Patrick’s Breastplate). Patrick, bound fast to the mystery of Christ, enlightened the minds and warmed the hearts of a people "dwelling in darkness and in the shadow of death" (Lk 1:7) with faith in the Son of Mary.

When Every Staff of Bread Was Broken

This is the faith for which the Irish risked home and possessions and life during years of cruel persecution. This is the faith kept alive in the humble telling of the beads, in hospitality heroically given to fugitive priests, and in the preparation of secret altars for the Holy Sacrifice, for nothing mattered to them more than Holy Mass. This is the faith that sustained the Irish even when, as the psalm says, they "were wandering from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another" (Ps 104:13), when "famine fell upon the land, and when every staff of bread was broken" (Ps 104:16). This is the Catholic faith passed on, at great cost, from one generation to the next.

The Transmission of the Faith

A faith that is not passed on grows dim and, like a dying flame, becomes no more than a flicker offering little in the way of light and warmth. The transmission of the faith assures its vitality. Faith is inseparable from tradition, tradition being the transmission of what we ourselves have received from the saints: whole, unchanged, and intact.

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Tradition

There is an old saying -- not an Irish one -- a Middle Eastern one that expresses perfectly what we mean by tradition. "With a trail, the best way to keep it alive is to walk on it, because every time you walk on it, you create it again." So too with the path of tradition: the best way to keep it alive is to walk on it, because every time you walk on it, you create it again.

Things Put Into Our Hands

Every now and then in life things are put into our hands to help us remember the marvels the Lord has done and to help us walk on the path of tradition, creating it again, and discovering it again with a sense of gratitude and wonderment. After the death of my dear grandmother Margaret Mary Gilbride Kirby on March 23rd, 1993, it was necessary to sort through years of accumulated treasures in the house she had lived in.

A Little Irish Prayerbook

Among the things found in that house was a little Irish prayerbook. Its gilded pages are faded now and the once shining stamp of the Sacred Heart on its leather cover is dark with age. It is 153 years old, having been published in Middle Abbey Street, Dublin, in 1860. Blessed Pius IX was Pope. It bears the imprimatur of His Eminence Paul Cardinal Cullen, Archbishop of Dublin, and of the Right Reverend Doctor William Delany, Lord Bishop of Cork.

My Grandmother's Faith

The prayerbook is called The Treasury of the Sacred Heart. In the back of the book in what appears to be a child's hand, there is the date October 11th, 1912. That was the year of my grandmother's second return to America from Ireland. In all she crossed the Atlantic four times. Childhood memories of Ireland enchanted her right until the end of her long life. She spoke of them often, her blue eyes sparkling. As for her faith, she lived it. "I could not on without it," she used to say. It was the faith she received, the transmitted faith, the faith of a holy tradition, the faith of a path beset with brambles and sharp stones. By persevering along the path of tradition, she recreated it for herself, and bequeathed it to her children and her children's children.

A Treasury

If this little prayerbook could talk, what a tale it would tell! I don't know who used it, but it is well used. The pages are worn and the binding coming unstitched. It is a remarkable little volume. Whoever named it, named it well. It is a Treasury. It contains the whole Ordinary of the Mass in Latin and in English, Vespers and Compline in Latin and in English, the Epistles and Gospels of the Sundays and principal feasts, the Seven Penitential Psalms, the Sacrament of Penance, the great hymns of the Divine Office for the whole liturgical year in Latin and in English. It contains meditations for the Holy Rosary and for praying the beads of the Seven Dolours. There is, of course, the Way of the Cross and the litanies that so often followed the Rosary in Irish homes. There are prayers to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and novenas to the Blessed Virgin, to Saint Joseph, Saint Patrick, and other saints. There is also The Jesus Psalter, a splendid old prayer that the Irish cherished and recited in the darkest hours of the Penal Times.

The Tale of A People Who Loved the Mass

Yes, if this little prayerbook could talk, what a tale it would tell! The tale of a people rising before dawn for Holy Mass -- in Latin, with a Communion fast from midnight. The tale of a people sustained by their attachment to the Blessed Mother of God and to her rosary. The tale of a people drawn to the mystery of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: the image of Suffering Love that held a place of honour in every Irish home. The tale of a people who knew their faith: the Gospels, the Commandments, the Precepts of the Church, the Seven Capital Sins, the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Ghost, the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, and all the rest! The tale of a people who made their way often to a dark confessional, there to pour out their misery, their failings, and their sorrow to a man in whom they recognized the merciful Christ, and from whose mouth they received the miracle of absolution and of peace.

Remember . . . and Walk

This little prayerbook from Ireland, now nearly a century and a half old, does speak in its own way. It was placed in my hands for a reason. Perhaps so that I could tell you its story again for this Saint Patrick's Day. "Remember the marvels the Lord has done" (Ps 104:5). And walk in the path of tradition. The best way to keep it alive is to walk on it, because every time you walk on it, you create it again for yourself, and for generations to come.

O Passio Magna

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There are a number of variants of this beautiful prayer on the Passion of Christ. This particular version is found in a book of spiritual exercises by Father Timothée de Raynier of the Order of Minims, published at Marseille in 1778. The same prayer, in a slightly different version, was dear to Mother Yvonne-Aimée of Malestroit.

Those who have prayed the prayer know that it is full of compunction and sweetness. I have discovered the prayer in several languages and with many variants. It has been variously attributed to Saint Gertrude, Saint Bridget of Sweden, Saint Bernard, Saint Bonaventure, Blessed Angelo of Foligno, and Blessed Julian of Norwich.

O passio magna!
O profunda vulnera!
O inestimabilis dolor!
O largissima effusio sanguinis!
O abundantissima effusio lacrimarum!
O dulcis dulcedo!
O mortis amaritudo!
Da mihi vitam aeternam.

O great Passion!
O profound wounds!
O immeasurable sorrow!
O most copious shedding of blood!
O most abundant outpouring of tears!
O surpassing sweetness!
O death suffered in every bitterness!
Give me eternal life.

Fulget Crucis Mysterium

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This lovely medieval image depicts Our Lady Saint Mary, Saint John the Beloved Disciple, and the Wounded Side of Christ. Together, Our Lady and Saint John teach us the contemplation of the Sacred Heart and of the Holy Face.

Last evening, with the First Vespers of Sunday, we entered into Passiontide, the last phase of preparation for the Pasch of the Lord. The Church placed on our lips the great hymn of Our Lord's glorious Cross and blessed Passion, and so we sang: Fulget Crucis mysterium, “the mystery of the Cross shines out.”

The second to the last verse of this age-old hymn, traditionally sung kneeling in homage to the wood of the Cross, is a confession of hope in the Tree of Life:

O Cross, all hail! Sole hope, abide
With us now in this Passiontide:
New grace in loving hearts implant
And pardon to the guilty grant!

The stational church is none other than Saint Peter's Basilica: the faithful of Rome assemble at the tomb of Saint Peter. The purple veils that hide our sacred images recall the great veil that in ancient times was stretched across the whole sanctuary, obliging the faithful to go by faith and longing into the inner sanctuary, the invisible one where Christ is victim, altar and priest.

Go Francis, rebuild my house

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"In the Church of St. Damian where he was accustomed to pray, he heard three times a voice from Heaven saying: "Go Francis, rebuild my house which is falling down." (St. Bonaventure, Legenda Maior, Chap. II) But Francis, because of that deep humility which made him think himself incapable of accomplishing any great work whatsoever, did not understand the meaning of these mysterious words. Innocent III, however, discovered their import through the miraculous vision in which Francis was shown in the act of supporting on his shoulders the Church of the Lateran which was falling to the ground. The Pope then understood clearly that the mission of St. Francis was a very special one, given to him by a most merciful God."

Pope Pius XI, Rite Expiatis
13 April 1926

In the Heart of the Church

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Saint Gregory the Great with Saints Ignatius and Francis Xavier, by Guercino, 1626.


The One Thing Necessary

Quaerite Dominum et confirmamini,
quaerite faciem eius semper.

From today's Introit, Psalm 104:4.

When the world and the Church are taken by surprise, or shaken, and filled with noisy commentary and debate, the role of the monk is to disappear even more radically into silence and adoration, seeking the One Thing Necessary, seeking the Face of the Lord. Quaerite faciem eius semper.

In the Secret of Thy Face

The monk lives hidden in the heart of the Church, beyond the veil, in her Holy of Holies, where nought is heard but the steady heartbeat of Love. The monk prefers the inviolable silence of the Church's mystic sanctuary -- the Heart of Christ -- to the wranglings of the public forum, and to the exchange of private opinions. "O how great is the multitude of thy sweetness, O Lord, which thou hast hidden for them that fear thee! Which thou hast wrought for them that hope in thee, in the sight of the sons of men. Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy face, from the disturbance of men. Thou shalt protect them in thy tabernacle from the contradiction of tongues. " (Psalm 30:20-21)

The devil seeks always to destabilize a monk and to lure him out of the silence and separation from the world that is his natural habitat. In moments of fear, of confusion, of spiritual disorientation, and of doubt, the wisest and best response is to go more deeply into the heart of the Church, following the example of Saint Thérèse and, before her, of Saint Benedict, Saint Anthony of Egypt, and Saint John the Baptist. It is to follow the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who "kept all these words, pondering them in her heart." (Luke 2:19)

An Unshakable Love

The mystic heart of the Church is found in the silence and hiddenness of the Sacred Host, and in the silence and hiddennness of the desert sanctified by the presence of Christ and of the angels.

We, who mystically represent the Cherubim,
And chant the thrice-holy hymn to the Life-giving Trinity,
Let us set aside the cares of life
That we may receive the King of all,
Who comes invisibly escorted by the Divine Hosts.

(Cherubikon, Byzantine Divine Liturgy)

There, in the heart of the Church, is an unshakable love, a constant indefectible love, a love that reveals itself as mercy in the face of every distress.

Until the Day Dawn

What, then, are we to do with our questions and our fears? We are to let go of them. They will be answered and dispelled in the time and in the manner ordained by God. And if our questions go answered, it is so that we might grow in faith and in hope, while keeping vigil "until the day dawn, and the day star arise in our hearts. " (2 Peter 1:19)

What are we to do with our fears and apprehensions? We are to release them into the maternal Heart of Mary, trusting her to deal with them as she sees fit. We are, after all, children, too little to grapple with the things that frighten us and with the fear of the unknown, but we have a Mother: the Star of the Sea who shines serene and bright over the stormy waves, even in the darkest night.

In Praying Much

For a monk, the answers lie not in talking much, but in praying much, like a child in his mother's arms, held safe upon her breast; like John, the beloved disciple resting his head upon the Heart of Jesus.

Immotus in Te Permanens

Change, all change, but especially the election of a new pope, feels threatening and destabilizing, but beyond all change, and untouched by it, is the God whom we call each day at None immotus in te permanens, "unmoved and unchanging in Thyself." The essence of the divine immutability is that "God is charity: and he that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him." (1 John 4:16) Let us, then, hide ourselves and quiet ourselves by resting in love at the heart of the Church.

The House of My Father

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Liturgy and Life of the Church

My lectio liturgica, during this momentous time in the life of the Church, has been unusually compelling, and this, quite apart from the fact that the opening of the Conclave took place on the feast of Pope Saint Gregory the Great. Thus far, the liturgy of each day this week has spoken with extraordinary clarity to the events underway in Rome.

Wisdom

On Monday we heard that "the wisdom of God was in him [Solomon] to do judgment." (III KIngs 3:28). Hearing this, how could one not beseech God to infuse holy wisdom into the hearts of the Cardinal electors?

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Purification of the Temple

Monday's Gospel recounted Our Lord's purification of the temple in Jerusalem, a vivid image of the purification of the Church: "He said, 'Take these things hence, and make not the house of my Father a house of traffic." (John 2:16)

Whenever the world enters the temple, there enters with it noise, confusion, rivalries, greed, ambition, and incontinence.

• Noise violates the silence without which no man can hear the voice of God.
• Confusion attacks the sacred order that marks the Opus Dei: the work of God in His Church and for her, and the Godward work of the Church, the liturgy of His glory, and of the sanctification of souls.
• Rivalries fragment the unity of the Body of Christ by pitting member against member and organism against organism.
• Greed so preoccupies those held in its grip, that they fail to notice the gift of the Kingdom of God being offered to the poor in spirit.
• Ambition is a cancer, making souls insensitive to the Word of God, and incapable of compunction.
• Incontinence brings spiritual blindness in its wake, and an inability to see and accept the splendour and beauty of the truth.

Via Crucis 2005

Is it not the moment to recall the meditation and the prayer of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger at the Via Crucis in Rome's Colosseum on Good Friday 2005?

We have considered the fall of man in general, and the falling of many Christians away from Christ and into a godless secularism. Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in his own Church? How often is the holy sacrament of his Presence abused, how often must he enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that he is there! How often is his Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words! How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! How much pride, how much self-complacency! What little respect we pay to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where he waits for us, ready to raise us up whenever we fall! All this is present in his Passion. His betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his Body and Blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison - Lord, save us (cf. Mt 8: 25).
Lord, your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side. In your field we see more weeds than wheat. The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures. Have mercy on your Church; within her too, Adam continues to fall. When we fall, we drag you down to earth, and Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall; he hopes that being dragged down in the fall of your Church, you will remain prostrate and overpowered. But you will rise again. You stood up, you arose and you can also raise us up. Save and sanctify your Church. Save and sanctify us all.

No Secrets Between Friends

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Mass Pro Eligendo Pontifice

Homily of His Eminence, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Dean of the College of Cardinals

Vatican Basilica
Monday 18 April 2005

Isaiah 61:1-3a. 6a. 8b-9
Ephesians 4:11-16
John 15:9-17

Fulfilled in your hearing

At this hour of great responsibility, let us listen with particular attention to what the Lord says to us in his own words. I would like to choose only a passage of the three readings, which affects us directly in a moment such as this.

The first reading offers a prophetic portrait of the figure of the Messiah, a portrait that attains all its meaning at the moment when Jesus reads this text in the synagogue of Nazareth, when he says: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21). At the heart of this prophetic text, we find a phrase that, at least at first glance, seems contradictory. In speaking of himself, the Messiah says that he has been sent "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, on the day of vengeance of our God" (Isaiah 61:2).

Divine Mercy

We listen with joy to the proclamation of the year of mercy: Divine mercy puts a limit to evil, the Holy Father said to us. Jesus Christ is divine mercy in person: To find Christ means to find the mercy of God. Christ's mandate has become our mandate through priestly unction; we are called to promulgate not only with words but also with our life and with the effective signs of the sacraments "the year of the Lord's favor."

Death on the cross

But what does Isaiah mean when he proclaims "the day of vengeance of our God"? When reading the prophetic text in Nazareth, Jesus did not pronounce these words; he concluded by proclaiming the year of favor. Was this, perhaps, the reason for the scandal that took place after his preaching? We do not know. In any case, the Lord gave his authentic commentary to these words with his death on the cross. "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree," says St. Peter (1 Peter 2:24). And St. Paul writes to the Galatians: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us -- for it is written, 'Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree' -- that in Christ Jesus the blessings of Abraham might come upon the gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Galatians 3:13).

The mercy of Christ

The mercy of Christ is not a cheap grace; it does not imply the trivialization of evil. Christ bore in his body and soul all the weight of evil, all its destructive force. The day of vengeance and the year of favor coincide in the paschal mystery, in Christ, dead and risen. This is the vengeance of God: He himself, in the person of the Son, suffered for us. The more we are touched by the mercy of the Lord, the more we are in solidarity with his suffering, the more disposed we are to complete in our flesh "what is lacking in Christ's afflictions" (Colossians 1:24).

Maturity in faith

Let us go on to the second reading, the letter of Paul to the Ephesians. It addresses essentially three arguments: in the first place, the ministries and charisms of the Church, as gifts of the risen Lord ascended to heaven; then maturity in faith and in knowledge of the Son of God, as condition and content of unity in the body of Christ; and, finally, the common participation in the growth of the Body of Christ, that is, the transformation of the world in communion with the Lord.

Let us reflect on two points. The first is the path to the "maturity of Christ," as it states, simplifying the text in Italian. More concretely, we would have to speak, according to the Greek text, of the "measure of the fullness of Christ," which we are called to attain to truly be adults in the faith. We should not remain as children in the faith, in the state of minors. And what does it mean to be children in the faith? St. Paul answers: It means to be "tossed to and from and carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14). A very timely description!

Fashions of thought

How many winds of doctrine we have known in these last decades, how many ideological currents, how many fashions of thought? The small boat of thought of many Christians has often remained agitated by the waves, tossed from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, etc.

Dictatorship of relativism

Every day new sects are born and we see realized what St. Paul says on the deception of men, on the cunning that tends to lead into error (cf. Ephesians 4:14). To have a clear faith, according to the creed of the Church, is often labeled as fundamentalism. While relativism, that is, allowing oneself to be carried about with every wind of "doctrine," seems to be the only attitude that is fashionable. A dictatorship of relativism is being constituted that recognizes nothing as absolute and which only leaves the "I" and its whims as the ultimate measure.

Rooted in friendship with Christ

We have another measure: the Son of God, true man. He is the measure of true humanism. "Adult" is not a faith that follows the waves in fashion and the latest novelty. Adult and mature is a faith profoundly rooted in friendship with Christ. This friendship opens us to all that is good and gives us the measure to discern between what is true and what is false, between deceit and truth.

Truth and charity coincide in Christ

We must mature in this adult faith; we must lead the flock of Christ to this faith. And this faith, the only faith, creates unity and takes place in charity. St. Paul offers us a beautiful phrase, in opposition to the continual ups and downs of those who are like children tossed by the waves, to bring about truth in charity, as fundamental formula of Christian existence. Truth and charity coincide in Christ. In the measure that we come close to Christ, also in our life, truth and charity are fused. Charity without truth would be blind; truth without charity would be like "a clanging cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1).

He gives us his friendship

Let us now turn to the Gospel, from whose richness I would like to draw only two small observations. The Lord addresses these wonderful words to us: "No longer do I call you servants ... but I have called you friends" (John 15:15). Many times we simply feel like useless servants, and it is true (cf. Luke 17:10). And, despite this, the Lord calls us friends; he makes us his friends; he gives us his friendship. The Lord defines friendship in two ways. There are no secrets between friends: Christ tells us everything he hears from the Father; he gives us his full confidence and, with confidence, also knowledge. He reveals his face to us, his heart. He shows us his tenderness for us, his passionate love that goes to the folly of the cross.

He gives us his confidence; he gives us the power to speak with his I: "This is my body," and "I absolve you." He entrusts his body to us, the Church. He entrusts his truth to our weak minds, our weak hands, the mystery of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the mystery of the God who "so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (John 3:16). He has made us his friends and, we, how do we respond?

The second element with which Jesus defines friendship is the communion of wills. "Idem velle -- idem nolle," was also for Romans the definition of friendship. "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (John 15:14). Friendship with Christ coincides with what the third petition of the Our Father expresses: "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

Communion of wills

In the hour of Gethsemane, Jesus transformed our rebellious human will in a will conformed and united with the divine will. He suffered all the drama of our autonomy and, in carrying our will in God's hands, he gave us true freedom: "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will" (Matthew 26:39). In this communion of wills our redemption takes place: to be friends of Jesus, to become friends of God. The more we love Jesus, the more we know him, and the more our genuine freedom grows, as well as the joy of being redeemed. Thank you, Jesus, for your friendship!

Go and bear fruit

The other element of the Gospel that I would like to mention is Jesus' discourse on bearing fruit: "I [...] chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain" (John 15:16). Here the dynamism of the Christian's existence appears, of the apostle: "I appointed you to go." We must be animated by a "holy anxiety," the anxiety of taking the gift of faith, of friendship with Christ, to all. In truth, love, friendship with God, has been given to us so that it will also reach others.

Priests to serve others

We have received the faith to give it to others; we are priests to serve others. And we must bear fruit that abides. But, what abides? Money does not last. Buildings do not last, or books. After a certain time, more or less long, all this disappears. The only thing that abides eternally is the human soul -- man created by God for eternity.

From a vale of tears into a garden of God

The fruit that abides, therefore, is the one we have sown in human souls, love, knowledge; the gesture capable of touching the heart; the word that opens the soul to the joy of the Lord. So, let us go and ask the Lord to help us to bear fruit, a fruit that abides. Only thus is the earth transformed from a vale of tears into a garden of God.

He will again give us a pastor according to his heart

Finally, let us return once more to Ephesians. The letter says, with the words of Psalm 68, that Christ, when "he ascended on high ... gave gifts to men" (Ephesians 4:8). The victorious distribute gifts. And these gifts are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Our ministry is a gift of Christ to men to build his body, the new world. Let us live our ministry in this way, as a gift of Christ to men! But, in this moment, let us ask our Lord insistently that, after the great gift of Pope John Paul II, he will again give us a pastor according to his heart, a pastor who will lead us to knowledge of Christ, to his love, to true joy.

Amen.

Pope Saint Gregory the Great

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Your Servants Through Jesus

The feast of Saint Gregory the Great, falling in the midst of Lent on March 12th, and on the opening day of the Conclave, brings joy to the whole Church and, in a special way, to the Benedictine Order. Like Saint Paul, Saint Gregory had a passion for preaching "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" (2 Cor 4:4). "For we preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ our Lord; and ourselves your servants through Jesus" (2 Cor 4:5).

Father and Doctor

Saint Gregory the Great takes his place among the Fathers of the Church, alongside of Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine and Saint Leo the Great. His fatherhood in the Spirit is an ongoing reality. Saint Gregory continues to be a father in the Spirit, sowing the seeds of contemplation even today by means of his writings. The writings of Saint Gregory allow us to hear his voice and to thrive on his teaching. Thus does he continue to help us grow up to maturity in Christ. Saint Gregory the Great is the Doctor of Lectio Divina, the Doctor of Compunction, and the Doctor of Contemplation.

Illumined by the Love of Jesus Christ

Saint Gregory was born into a patrician family in the year 540. His prestigious family background and education prepared him to do great things in Rome. His place was among the learned and esteemed. By age thirty-five, he was well on the way to a successful life, according to worldly standards. And then, like so many saints before him and like so many after him, Gregory was illumined by the love of Jesus Christ in so intimate a way that it changed the direction of his life. "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus" (2 Cor 4:6).

The Monastic Haven

The Gospels and the Psalms became his inseparable companions. Gregory became a monk, a disciple in the school of the Holy Patriarch Saint Benedict, although not without a struggle. "Even after I was filled with heavenly desire," he says, "I preferred to be clothed in secular garb. Long-standing habit so bound me that I could not change my outward life.... Finally, I fled all this with anxiety and sought the safe haven of the monastery. Having left behind what belongs to the world (as I mistakenly thought at the time), I escaped naked from the shipwreck of this life."

Servant of the Servants of God

Saint Gregory was acutely aware of his own fragility. Again, Saint Paul speaks to us today to reveal the soul of Gregory: "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency may be of the power of God, and not of us" (2 Cor 4:7). Benedictine obedience, silence, and humility, together with the daily round of the Work of God, prepared Saint Gregory to become the Bishop of Rome, the Supreme Pontiff and, to use his own expression, the Servant of the Servants of God.

All Pope and All Monk

Saint Gregory did not live the cloistered life for very long, but it marked him indelibly, almost painfully, and this for life. His talents and learning did not go unnoticed. Pope Gelasius sent him as his special delegate to Constantinople where he remained for six years. Upon his return to Rome, he was elected Pope. Today is, in fact, the anniversary of his ordination as bishop of Rome on September 3, 590. All his life, Saint Gregory longed for the silence of the monastery. All his life, he lamented that the affairs of the Church consumed him, leaving him with little time for prayer and contemplation. Outwardly, Gregory was all pope; inwardly, he was all monk.

Non Angli Sed Angeli

Zeal to make known "the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus" (2 Cor 4:6) compelled Pope Gregory to send the Roman monk Augustine together with forty others to preach the Gospel of Christ in England. Saint Gregory had a special affection for the English. Saint Bede, in his Ecclesiastical History, recounts the origin of the English mission:

Nor must we pass by in silence the story of the blessed Gregory, handed down to us by the tradition of our ancestors, which explains his earnest care for the salvation of our nation. It is said that one day, when some merchants had lately arrived at Rome, many things were exposed for sale in the market place, and much people resorted thither to buy: Gregory himself went with the rest, and saw among other wares some boys put up for sale, of fair complexion, with pleasing countenances, and very beautiful hair. When he beheld them, he asked, it is said, from what region or country they were brought, and was told, from the island of Britain, and that the inhabitants were like that in appearance.
He again inquired whether those islanders were Christians, or still involved in the errors of paganism, and was informed that they were pagans. Then fetching a deep sigh from the bottom of his heart, "Alas! What pity," said he, "that the author of darkness should own men of such fair countenances; and that with such grace of outward form, their minds should be void of inward grace." He therefore again asked, what was the name of that nation, and was answered, that they were called Angles. "Right," said he, "for they have an angelic face, and it is meet that such should be co-heirs with the Angels in heaven."

How important it is that we pray today for the Ordinariates established for Anglicans returning to full communion with the See of Rome! Saint Gregory is the "father in Christ" of the Ecclesia Anglicana. Pray today that, through his intercession, the Ordinariates may flourish unimpeded in their mission, and so accomplish that which Pope Benedict XVI had in view when he made them possible.

The Word of God

Saint Gregory preached incessantly. He knew that the Church would flourish only if the faithful were nourished with the Word of God. His homilies and other writings were read and copied throughout the Middle Ages and, in this way, came down to us. Saint Gregory continues to feed us with the Word of God. He calls us to a heart-piercing, life-changing reading of the Scriptures. Blessed John XXIII read and re-read Saint Gregory's Rule for Pastors so as to better fulfill his own mission as Servant of the Servants of God. The saints engender saints. We are known by the company we keep and by the books we read!

The Sacred Liturgy

Pope Saint Gregory was deeply concerned with the dignity and beauty of the Sacred Liturgy. In this he was a worthy son of Saint Benedict. He encouraged the study of liturgical chant and the formation of singers for the glory of God. This is yet another reason for us to seek his intercession at this time of the Conclave, so that the measures taken by Pope Benedict XVI to restore beauty, reverence and dignity to the celebration of the Holy Mysteries may continue to be fostered in the Church. The Holy Father spoke of Saint Gregory the Great in Summorum Pontificum. This is what he said:

Up to our own times, it has been the constant concern of supreme pontiffs to ensure that the Church of Christ offers a worthy ritual to the Divine Majesty, 'to the praise and glory of His name,' and 'to the benefit of all His Holy Church.'
Since time immemorial it has been necessary - as it is also for the future - to maintain the principle according to which 'each particular Church must concur with the universal Church, not only as regards the doctrine of the faith and the sacramental signs, but also as regards the usages universally accepted by uninterrupted apostolic tradition, which must be observed not only to avoid errors but also to transmit the integrity of the faith, because the Church's law of prayer corresponds to her law of faith.'
Among the pontiffs who showed that requisite concern, particularly outstanding is the name of St. Gregory the Great, who made every effort to ensure that the new peoples of Europe received both the Catholic faith and the treasures of worship and culture that had been accumulated by the Romans in preceding centuries. He commanded that the form of the sacred liturgy as celebrated in Rome (concerning both the Sacrifice of Mass and the Divine Office) be conserved. He took great concern to ensure the dissemination of monks and nuns who, following the Rule of St. Benedict, together with the announcement of the Gospel illustrated with their lives the wise provision of their Rule that "nothing should be placed before the work of God." In this way the sacred liturgy, celebrated according to the Roman use, enriched not only the faith and piety but also the culture of many peoples. It is known, in fact, that the Latin liturgy of the Church in its various forms, in each century of the Christian era, has been a spur to the spiritual life of many saints, has reinforced many peoples in the virtue of religion and fecundated their piety.

Teach Us to Sing Wisely

Saint Gregory the Great, Servant of the Servants of God, be present to us today as Father, Shepherd, and Teacher. Teach us to sing wisely, that the words on our lips may pierce our hearts, raising us to the love of heavenly things, and to the glory of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and always and unto the ages of ages.

Saint Francesca of Rome

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This painting, attributed to Antonio da Viterbo the Elder (1450-1516), depicts Saint Francesca being clothed by the Blessed Virgin in the great white veil that, even today, characterizes the Olivetan Benedictine Oblates of Mary she founded in 1433.

Our Lady wears a golden mantle, which Saint Paul at the left wraps around Francesca Romana. Saint Paul also holds a scroll. The mystical scene takes place on a cloud; fiery seraphim accompany the Madonna and Child. Saint Mary Magdalene, in red vesture, and Saint Benedict, in the foreground, drape a protective mantle around twenty Oblates.

Note the angel below the Gothic windows at left. He is busy carding golden threads with a warp and loom. Nearby are two frisky dogs and two cats. Francesca's Oblate Congregation, it is said, was woven together by heavenly graces and harassed by evil spirits in the form of cats and dogs. The grace of Christ prevailed and the Oblates flourished.

The feast of Saint Francesca Romana -- February 9th -- is almost upon us. Saint Francesca is the patroness of Benedictine Oblates; she is a model of married life, of motherhood, of an active charity, and of devotion to liturgical prayer. Loving feastday wishes to our own Oblate Sister Francesca in Oklahoma. May her patroness obtain for her an abundance of heavenly blessings.

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Married Life and Monastic Conversion

Saint Frances of Rome (1384-1440),more properly called by her own name, Francesca, is the patroness of Benedictine Oblates. The Collect for her feast tells us why. The Church has us pray:

O God, Who in Saint Frances of Rome, hast given us a model of holiness in married life and of monastic conversion, make us serve Thee perseveringly, so that in all circumstances we may set our gaze upon Thee and follow Thee.

It is not often that we mention both married life and monastic conversion in the same Collect! Francesca is there to tell us that it can be done.

Another Collect, the one we prayed this morning when we commemorated Saint Francesca at Lauds, highlights the privileged relationship she enjoyed with her Guardian Angel:

O God, Who among other gifts of Thy grace, didst adorn Thy handmaid Francesca with the familiar companionship of an Angel; grant, we beseech Thee, that helped by her prayers, we likewise may deserve to enjoy the company of the Angels.

Patronness of Rome

I find it extraordinary that the Romans should be so proud of their Francesca, even to the point of considering her their special patron. They can lay claim, after all, to Saints Peter and Paul, to innumerable martyrs and glorious Popes, and yet, with all that spiritual richness, they remain attached to Francesca, a married woman, a servant of the poor, a mother to the sick, a spiritual daughter of Holy Father Benedict, and a mystic.

Enthusiasm for Holiness

Francesca did nothing by half-measures. Being Roman, she lived life with a kind of reckless enthusiasm -- not for the usual things Romans get excited over -- but for holiness! Her life was extraordinary in some ways. She went in for fasting, austerities, and almsgiving in a huge way. The devil bothered her continually, not as he bothers us with boring, nagging temptations, but with spectacular assaults. Francesca was in the same league as Saint Anthony of Egypt and the Curé d'Ars.

Intensely Alive

For me, Francesca's appeal is in her warm and very human personality. She was no dried up prune of a saint. She was intensely alive to everything human and capable of the grand passions without which life is bleak and dreary. She suffered struggles, endured sorrows, and bore with every manner of disappointment and hurt. One cannot say that Francesca's holiness was of the tidy sort. One might even say that Francesca's life was a mess. Her desire to serve God and live for him was continually frustrated by persons and circumstances. It was precisely in the midst of these conditions that Francesca grew in holiness, "setting nothing before the love of Christ" (RB 4:21), and "never despairing of God's mercy" (RB 4:74).

Married at Thirteen

As a young girl, Francesca did not want to marry. She lived, after all, in the city of the Church's shining virgin martyrs: Agnes, Cecilia, and so many others. Like them she wanted to consecrate her virginity to Christ, but her parents had other plans. The first big decision in her life was out of her hands. At the age of thirteen she gave in to her parents and married Lorenzo Ponziano, the wealthy nobleman they had chosen for her.

Francesca was expected to be the perfect socialite, charming, beautiful, witty, and worldly as only Romans know how to be worldly. In her heart she longed for the cloister, but the will of God had placed her, concretely, in a setting far removed from it.

They Never Once Had A Quarrel

Lorenzo, Francesca's husband treated her always with love and respect. He accepted that he had married an unusual woman, that she would never be like other Roman wives, and that there was something in her that he, try as he might, would never be able to satisfy. Francesca loved Lorenzo. She recognized his qualities and accepted that loving Lorenzo was part of God's plan for her. It is said that through all their married life, Francesca and Lorenzo never once had a quarrel. For that alone they should both be canonized!

Devotion in a Married Woman

Francesca is best known for a sagacious remark, one that two centuries later Saint Francis de Sales would echo. "Devotion in a married woman," she said, "is most praiseworthy, but she must never forget that she is a housewife. Sometimes she must leave God at the altar, to serve Him in her housekeeping". An indication of Francesca's Benedictine vocation was in her devotion to the Divine Office. One day in praying the Hours she was interrupted five times in succession. Each time she closed her book, attended to what was asked of her, and then returned to her prayer. After the last interruption she found the words of the antiphon she had been trying to pray written in letters of gold. God rewarded her patience as much as her zeal for the Divine Office.

Her Guiding Light

If you have ever seen a painting of Saint Francesca, you may have noticed a little angel standing near her. Francesca had lost her little eight-year-old boy, Evangelista, to the plague. After his death he appeared to her announcing the death of yet another child, her daughter Agnese. I cannot help but relate Francesca;s grief to the passage in Isaiah: "Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you" (Is 49:15). Francesca never forgot the little ones taken from her by death. In exchange for these terrible losses, she was given an unusual grace: that of always seeing her guardian angel. Her angel took on the appearance of a little boy of about eight years (like her son Evangelista); he wore a dalmatic like the deacon at Solemn Mass. Francesca's guardian angel was with her visibly at every moment, assuring her of the love of Christ, giving her counsel and providing her, even visibly, with a guiding light. It was this fact that made Pope Pius XI declare Francesca the patroness of motorists!

Rival Popes

Francesca lived in troubled times. There were two rival Popes, making for schism and Civil War. Lorenzo was wounded fighting on behalf of the true Pope. In the aftermath of the conflicts, he lost his estates. Their home was destroyed and their one surviving son taken hostage. As if that were not enough Rome was beset with looting, famine, and plague. And we think we have troubles!

Mother of the Poor, the Sick, and the Brokenhearted

Francesca rose to the occasion. She fixed up the ruins of her home and opened a hospital. With poor and suffering people all around her, Francesca became a kind of Mother Teresa, compassionate and wonderfully effective. She fed and housed the poor sick picked up on the streets. She arranged for priests to minister to the dying. She reconciled enemies and calmed the rage of those plotting revenge. After the troubles caused by the schism, Lorenzo came home to her, but he was a broken man both physically and mentally. Francesca cared for him with every tenderness.

Benedictine Oblates

Francesca's activities did not go unnoticed. Other Roman ladies, many of them war widows, were drawn to her. Little by little a new form of Benedictine life emerged: women living under the Rule of Saint Benedict, not as enclosed nuns, but as Oblates of the Roman monastery of the Olivetans at Santa Maria Nuova. Francesca's Oblates were free to go out to serve the poor and sick. Their life was shaped to a great extent by the first part of Chapter Four of the Holy Rule, the Instruments of Good Works:

To relieve the poor, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick, to bury the dead, to give help in trouble, to console the sorrowful, to avoid worldly behaviour, and to set nothing before the love of Christ (RB 4:14-21).

Francesca's Oblates survive to the present day, not only in Rome, but also at Le Bec-Hellouin in France, at Abu-Gosh in Israel, and elsewhere. They wear unchanged the distinctive black habit and long white veil dating from the time of Saint Francesca.

Lorenzo's Deathbed Declaration of Love

Lorenzo died in 1436. His last words were for his darling Francesca. They are worth quoting. "I feel," he said, "as if my whole life has been one beautiful dream of purest happiness. God has given me so much in your love." A husband's deathbed confession of undying love! No wife could ask for more.

The Angel Beckons

After Lorenzo's death, Francesca was free to take a fuller role in the Benedictine community she had established. Her sister Oblates elected her prioress. Four years later, on the evening of March 9th her face became radiant with a strange light. "The angel has finished his task," she said; "he beckons me to follow him". Francesca was 56 years old. Her death plunged all of Rome into mourning. Miraculous healings abounded. Rome had another saint.

Acceptance of Things As They Are

Francesca's life tells us that the plan of God for our holiness us unfolds in ways that often contradict our own projects and desires. Our endless planning can be no more than an attempt to control life, to manipulate people and events. Francesca challenges us to detachment from life as we would have it be, and to the acceptance of things as they are. Each of us has unexpected elements that, thrown into the mix, unsettle our plans, making life untidy and somehow bearable at the same time. And each of us has a guardian angel, a light in life's obscurity, a faithful friend and spiritual counselor.

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Our monastery has prepared a Litany for the Election of the Roman Pontiff. We have begun praying it after Compline. You will find the link to a PDF of the text here: http://cenacleosb.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/litany-election-pontiff.pdf

The Charge of Weakly Souls

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When a Monk Needs Time Out

At Chapter today we read the appointed passage from the Holy Rule. It was Chapter XXVII, on the care of the abbot for excommunicated brethren: that is, for brethen temporarily excluded from the corporate prayer and from the common table, not in a punitive way, but in a therapeutic way, motivated by mercy. There are situations in which an abbot is bound to say to a monk, "Go apart for a while, dear son. Take some time out. I dispense you from choir and from the refectory, in order to give you the space and freedom to reflect on why you are here, and on your relationship to God and to others." Even today, the remedy, wisely applied, is an effective one. The monk given "time out" is not, for all of that, neglected. Saint Benedict would have the abbot care for him, as a physician would care for one laid low by illness.

The Care of Souls

What struck me this morning is that the injunctions of Chapter XXVII are applicable not only to the monastic context; they can be applied just as readily to the situation of a parish priest caring for the souls entrusted to him; or to the bishop charged with looking after his clergy; or even to the Pope in his solicitude for the whole Church.

Priests in the Vineyard

I am thinking especially, however, of those priests labouring in the vineyard who are, or who aspire to become Oblates of our monastery. They will find in this chapter of the Holy Rule, as in so many others, luminous principles for their care of souls and for the service of the Church.

Let the Abbot shew all care and solicitude towards the offending brethren, for "they that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick." To which end he ought, as a wise physician, to use every means in his power, sending some brethren of mature years and wisdom,* who may, as it were secretly, console the wavering brother, and induce him to make humble satisfaction. Let them comfort him, that he be not overwhelmed by excess of sorrow; but as the Apostle saith, "Let charity be strengthened towards him," and let all pray for him. For the Abbot is bound to use the greatest care, and to strive with all possible prudence and zeal, not to lose any one of the sheep committed to him. He must know that he hath undertaken the charge of weakly souls, and not a tyranny over the strong; and let him fear the threat of the prophet, through whom God saith: "What ye saw to be fat that ye took to yourselves, and what was diseased ye cast away." Let him imitate the loving example of the Good Shepherd, who, leaving the ninety and nine sheep on the mountains, went to seek one which had gone astray, on whose weakness He had such compassion that He vouchsafed to lay it on His own sacred shoulders and so bring it back to the flock.

Into the Water with Naaman

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Water

We hear in today's Lesson how Naaman the Syrian was cleansed of leprosy in the River Jordan. Naaman descended into the very water that Our Lord Jesus Christ would sanctify in the mystery of His Holy Baptism so that we too might be cleansed of the leprosy of sin and recover the innocence of new-born lambs.

Psalm 50

Saint Benedict, in his disposition of the Divine Office, places Psalm 50 at the beginning of Lauds seven days a week. Why does the Holy Patriarch have his monks begin the day with the Miserere, David's poignant psalm of contrition?

Saint Benedict understood Psalm 50 as a daily renewal of Baptism; he prayed it as the psalm of spiritual resurrection in the joy of a heart made clean. The daily repetition of the Miserere at Lauds brightens every morning with a holy exhilaration, precisely because it declares the possibility of a fresh start, of a clean slate, of a new beginning. There is not a single day on which one cannot say, "Today, I begin" (Ps 77:11). Say this, then, as you take Holy Water in the morning: "Today, I begin, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

Wash Me Clean

In Psalm 50 we ask God, repeatedly and persistently, to cleanse us. "Blot out my iniquity" (Ps 50:3). "Wash me clean from my guilt" (Ps 50:4). "Purge me of my sin" (Ps 50:4). "Sprinkle me with a branch of hyssop, and I shall be clean" (Ps 50:9). "Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow" (Ps 50:9). We cannot cleanse ourselves thoroughly because we do not see where we are soiled. We are as blind to our own sins as we are quick to notice the sins of others. The stain of sin has seeped deep into the very crevices of our souls. God alone can reach into those hidden places and make them clean.

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Holy Water

A lot of folks, even among practicing Catholics, seem to pooh-pooh the use of Holy Water just the way Naaman, in his pride, pooh-poohed the water of the Jordan River. They find it hard to believe that God would make use of something so simple. One does well to recall what Saint Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church, wrote about Holy Water?

From long experience I have learned that there is nothing like Holy Water to put devils to flight and prevent them from coming back again. They also flee from the Cross, but return; so Holy Water must have great value. For my own part, whenever I take it, my soul feels a particular and most notable consolation. In fact, it is quite usual for me to be conscious of a refreshment which I cannot possibly describe, resembling an inward joy which comforts my whole soul. This is not fancy, or something which has happened to me only once. It has happened again and again, and I have observed it most attentively. It is, let us say, as if someone very hot and thirsty were to drink from a jug of cold water: he would feel the refreshment throughout his body. I often reflect on the great importance of everything ordained by the Church and it makes me very happy to find that those words of the Church are so powerful that they impart their power to the water and make it so very different from water which has not been blessed.

Put the Devil to Flight

When first I visited the Franciscan Convent of Perpetual Adoration at Drumshambo in County Leitrim, many years ago, among the things that impressed me were the Holy Water fonts in alls the rooms: at the entrance to the choir, in the chapter room, in the workrooms, and in the cells. Everywhere. I saw the nuns take Holy Water and make a reverent sign of the Cross every time they passed a little font. A little splash of Holy Water puts the devil to flight, recalls the grace of Baptism, and remits venial sin.

Holy Water at Church and at Home

There is Holy Water at the entrance to our churches, so that we can enter the presence of God cleansed of the accumulated dirt of venial sins. Holy Water is necessary in our homes as well; it is an essential element in every Catholic household. Take Holy Water before going to bed, you will get a better night's sleep. Take Holy Water upon rising in the morning; you will have a better day.

Into the Jordan

Naaman, encouraged by his servants, the "little people" who surrounded him, swallowed his pride and "plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of the man of God" (2 K 5:14). "His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean" (2 K 5:14). The God who did this for Naaman is "the restorer and lover of innocence." "Unless you turn," says the Lord, "and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 17:3). Had Naaman not humbled himself by descending into the Jordan, he would have remained unclean and isolated.

In providing His Church with sacraments and sacramentals, Our Lord has equipped us with everything we need to recover and preserve our baptismal innocence, beginning with frequent Confession and the devout use of Holy Water. It is not burdensome to make use of the sacramental means given us by Christ through His Church; and there is comfort in trusting the Holy Ghost to do all that we, of ourselves and by ourselves, cannot do. A verse in the hymn at Lauds during Lent sums it all up:

The hidden wound whence flow our sins,
Wash clean by bathing in the tide;
Remove the things that, of ourselves,
We cannot reach, or put aside.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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